What Does It Take to Change an Editor's Mind? Identifying Minimally Important Difference Thresholds for Peer Reviewer Rating Scores of Scientific Articles

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Abstract

Study objective:

We define a minimally important difference for the Likert-type scores frequently used in scientific peer review (similar to existing minimally important differences for scores in clinical medicine). The magnitude of score change required to change editorial decisions has not been studied, to our knowledge.

Methods:

Experienced editors at a journal in the top 6% by impact factor were asked how large a change of rating in “overall desirability for publication” was required to trigger a change in their initial decision on an article. Minimally important differences were assessed twice for each editor: once assessing the rating change required to shift the editor away from an initial decision to accept, and the other assessing the magnitude required to shift away from an initial rejection decision.

Results:

Forty-one editors completed the survey (89% response rate). In the acceptance frame, the median minimally important difference was 0.4 points on a scale of 1 to 5. Editors required a greater rating change to shift from an initial rejection decision; in the rejection frame, the median minimally important difference was 1.2 points. Within each frame, there was considerable heterogeneity: in the acceptance frame, 38% of editors did not change their decision within the maximum available range; in the rejection frame, 51% did not.

Conclusion:

To our knowledge, this is the first study to determine the minimally important difference for Likert-type ratings of research article quality, or in fact any nonclinical scientific assessment variable. Our findings may be useful for future research assessing whether changes to the peer review process produce clinically meaningful differences in editorial decisionmaking.

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