Reviewing papers for publication: privilege, pain, or perhaps a responsibility

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Publishing papers in the peer-reviewed medical literature is the time-honoured method of reporting novel research findings. Emergency medicine research is no exception to this, and the key to maintaining standards is high-quality peer review. Peer review has been extensively criticized as subjective, open to bias and lacking in credibility, but ultimately it is here to stay until its critics come up with something better to replace it with – which I think is unlikely given how long it has stood the test of time.
We have many challenges in contemporary emergency medicine 1–6, not least of which is that the volume of submitted and published papers continues to rise steadily. For the European Journal of Emergency Medicine, the annual number of submissions has more than doubled in the last few years. The quality has also improved, which is excellent for the reader but poses challenges for the editorial team. We owe it to authors to have their hard work assessed as objectively as the peer-review process will allow and in a timely manner. With the increasing quantity and quality of submissions, this is proving to be increasingly difficult.
The most common request I make at meetings of the European Society for Emergency Medicine is for colleagues to recommend new reviewers to add to the expertise I can call upon to review papers. This leads to some excellent new blood coming into the system, and we particularly welcome senior trainees and new specialists at the beginning of their emergency medicine careers. We are also very grateful for recommendations from established reviewers and editorial board members.
Many reviewers, including myself, view the task of reviewing papers as a privilege – especially when one considers that you get to read this research before anyone else does, even the readers of the journal. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that many reviewers now find the process increasingly painful, primarily because of the time commitment required to evaluate a paper and write a constructive review.
Even more distressing from an editor’s perspective is the trend for our best researchers to excuse themselves from participating in the reviewing process despite repeated requests for their expertise. This editor feels strongly that those who benefit the most from the peer-review process are the researchers and authors of submitted papers, and the best researchers have a moral and ethical responsibility to contribute to reviewing as well. Without these altruistic contributions to the peer-review process, the standard of published papers will inevitably deteriorate and ultimately researchers, authors, readers and our patients will all suffer.
As a reader of this journal, I urge you to commit to contributing to the peer-review process, either by reviewing yourself or by giving your trainees and colleagues the time and support to undertake peer-review activities as part of their professional activities. The scientific foundation of our discipline is critically important, and it is incumbent on us all to support high-quality peer-review activities as much as possible.
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