from the peer-reviewed-by-anonymous dept.
A judge has ordered that anonymous peer reviewers for an article in a science journal be unmasked on behalf of the exercise regimen company CrossFit, Inc.. The journal is published by a competitor of CrossFit:
In what appears to be a first, a U.S. court is forcing a journal publisher to breach its confidentiality policy and identify an article's anonymous peer reviewers.
The novel order, issued last month by a state judge in California, has alarmed some publishers, who fear it could deter scientists from agreeing to review draft manuscripts. Legal experts say the case, involving two warring fitness enterprises, isn't likely to unleash widespread unmasking. But some scientists are watching closely.
The dispute revolves around a 2013 paper, since retracted, that appeared in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In the study, researchers at The Ohio State University in Columbus evaluated physical and physiological changes in several dozen volunteers who participated for 10 weeks in a training regimen developed by CrossFit Inc. of Washington, D.C. Among other results, they reported that 16% of participants dropped out because of injury.
In public and in court, CrossFit has alleged that the injury statistic is false. CrossFit also claims that the journal's publisher, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) of Colorado Springs, Colorado—which is a competitor in the fitness business—intentionally skewed the study to damage CrossFit. NSCA in turn has countersued, accusing CrossFit executives of defamation. Amid the legal crossfire, the journal first corrected the paper to reduce the number of injuries associated with CrossFit, then retracted it last year, citing changes to a study protocol that were not first approved by a university review board.
CrossFit suspects the paper's reviewers and editors worked to play up injuries associated with its regimen, and it has asked both federal and state judges to force the publisher to unmask the reviewers. In 2014, a federal judge refused that request. But last month, Judge Joel Wohlfeil of the San Diego Superior Court in California, who is overseeing NSCA's defamation suit against CrossFit, ordered the association to provide the names.
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Attendees of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute meeting debated whether or not science journals should publish the text of peer reviews, or even require peer reviewers to publicly sign their paper critiques:
Scientific journals should start routinely publishing the text of peer reviews for each paper they accept, said attendees at a meeting last week of scientists, academic publishers, and funding organizations. But there was little consensus on whether reviewers should have to publicly sign their critiques, which traditionally are accessible only to editors and authors.
The meeting—hosted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) here, and sponsored by HHMI; ASAPbio, a group that promotes the use of life sciences preprints; and the London-based Wellcome Trust—drew more than 100 participants interested in catalyzing efforts to improve the vetting of manuscripts and exploring ways to open up what many called an excessively opaque and slow system of peer review. The crowd heard presentations and held small group discussions on an array of issues. One hot topic: whether journals should publish the analyses of submitted papers written by peer reviewers.
Publishing the reviews would advance training and understanding about how the peer-review system works, many speakers argued. Some noted that the evaluations sometimes contain insights that can prompt scientists to think about their field in new ways. And the reviews can serve as models for early career researchers, demonstrating how to write thorough evaluations. "We saw huge benefits to [publishing reviews] that outweigh the risks," said Sue Biggins, a genetics researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, summarizing one discussion.
But attendees also highlighted potential problems. For example, someone could cherry pick critical comments on clinical research studies that are involved in litigation or public controversy, potentially skewing perceptions of the studies. A possible solution? Scientists should work to "make the public understand that [peer review] is a fault-finding process and that criticism is part of and expected in that process," said Veronique Kiermer, executive editor of the PLOS suite of journals, based in San Francisco, California.
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