Reviewer of the Month (2022)

Posted On 2023-09-21 18:18:40

In 2022, mHealth reviewers continue to make outstanding contributions to the peer review process. They demonstrated professional effort and enthusiasm in their reviews and provided comments that genuinely help the authors to enhance their work.

Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding reviewers, with a brief interview of their thoughts and insights as a reviewer. Allow us to express our heartfelt gratitude for their tremendous effort and valuable contributions to the scientific process.

May, 2022
Anthony H Ecker, Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center, USA

December, 2022
Simon Leigh, University of Warwick, UK

May, 2022

Anthony H Ecker

Dr. Anthony H Ecker is a clinical psychologist at the Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston Texas, USA. He is also an investigator with the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness, and Safety, and the South-Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, and Assistant Professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. He conducts research on adapting, evaluating, and implementing innovative mental health treatments.

Dr. Ecker reckons that peer review is essential to science, which enables scientists and consumers of science to trust scientific findings and the outlets that publish them. Peer review is a powerful tool for setting and maintaining standards, and is also an incredible resource for becoming a better scientist. His own work has been shaped by the expertise and generous offerings of feedback from countless reviewers.

Speaking of the limitations of the existing peer-review system, Dr. Ecker thinks that one key limitation is time. Peer review is viewed as the bedrock of scientific publication process and an essential task for academics to engage in, yet it is often underrecognized and relies solely on volunteer availability. It is necessary to improve the way that peer review is recognized or worked into scientists’ day-to-day at the institutional level to make the activity more accessible to qualified reviewers who may not be in a position to volunteer.

Dr. Ecker always minimizes biases during a review by trying to make as few assumptions as possible. By attending to what is on the page, rather than trying to connect dots that are not in the writing, he can focus on the quality and novel contribution of the manuscript.

As a scientist and practitioner, allocating time to do peer review can certainly be a challenge,” says Dr. Ecker. Seeing peer review as a key component of his role as a scientist, he blocks time in his schedule whenever possible for reviewing. He also tries to have pending reviews easily accessible to fit in during cancellations, and brief breaks between other tasks. He expresses that he gains a lot from reviewing, such as learning about exciting new directions in the field or cutting-edge methods, so he considers the reviewing time also as professional development and education time.

Dr. Ecker believes that as a human subject’s researcher, seeking institutional review board (IRB) approval is absolutely the gold standard for protecting participants and patients. If IRB is omitted, that work would not be suitable for publication (with some caveats for publishing things like quality improvement work, etc.).

(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)

December, 2022

Simon Leigh

Dr. Simon Leigh is passionate about digital transformation, across all aspects of life sciences. Originally trained as a health economist and working with NICE, he has shifted focus into the assessment, accreditation and development of digital health technologies, where he has worked since 2015. Dr. Leigh is an honorary research fellow in digital transformation at the University of Warwick, in addition to director of research at the World’s largest health-app evaluation company (ORCHA) and a medium sized pharmaceutical consultancy (VISFO). His most recent focus is on the role of digital intelligence and social media to inform decision making within life sciences, including widescale opinion sourcing from platforms such as Reddit, TikTok and Twitter (X). As someone championing the importance of patient voice in life sciences, Dr. Leigh enjoys applying traditional scientific methods to these wide-reaching platforms to uncover the true, unfiltered, unprompted opinions of patients and consumers, focusing subsequent research efforts. Connect with Dr. Leigh on LinkedIn.

mHealth: What role does peer review play in science?

Dr. Leigh: It’s absolutely critical but terribly under-appreciated and lacking in sustainable support. We work in an industry that quite rightly holds peer review up as a pinnacle of science, an additional hurdle to ensure that only relevant and methodologically sound findings are given credence. However, we really far too heavily on those required to give up their spare time to achieve this. I think the kudos system is a good start, but I do believe that as part of APCs, perhaps some of this should find its way back to those putting in the effort to review these papers, and applying their years of hard-earned knowledge and experience, often for free and at their own expense.

mHealth: What do you consider as an objective review?

How do you make sure your review is objective?Dr. Leigh: It is much easier to perform an objective review if all the materials you require are in front of you. It is only when key details are missing that we are required to make value judgements or assumptions regarding methods, and this is where objectivity is lost. For any reviewer, the findings should not really be of concern, what should be of concern are how these findings were obtained. I tend to care very little about what a research paper is telling me, but spend far more time scrutinizing the assumptions, ensuring the methods are sound and justified, and that the analysis provided is transparent and repeatable. I think if you go into a peer review expecting a certain result, you are going in with the potential for disagreeing with the authors, on grounds which are not completely scientific. Every new finding has at some time, broken the prior collective belief of what is “expected”. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised at all if we come across “unexpected” findings. Rather we should celebrate them.

mHealth: Peer reviewing is often anonymous and non-profitable, what motivates you to do so?

Dr. Leigh: I enjoy helping good science to become mainstream. It is becoming increasingly difficult to dedicate time to peer review however, and I think this is the peer reviewer’s paradox. As you become more experienced, have authored more papers, reviewed more papers and have generally had time to refine your approaches to objectively reviewing papers, you typically also become busier. As you become busier, the opportunity cost of peer reviewing increases substantially as your time is in essence “worth more”. This acts as a barrier to peer review in the absence of sufficient incentives to correct this market imbalance. As a result, I think you will find most peer reviewers who provide a high volume of peer review those much earlier in their careers, with the energy and the lower opportunity cost of doing so.

mHealth: Is it important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI)?

To what extent would a COI influence a research?Dr. Leigh: If the COI was stated in full, it shouldn’t matter greatly. You may pay extra attention to the methods and focus a little more intently on the findings, particularly if there are financial interests, but this is not a deal breaker. The issue is when you perceive there to be a COI which is not adequately disclosed.

(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)