The Daily Dose: Peer-review system in need of study and reform

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With the COVID-19 outbreak continuing to spread across the world and showing no signs of abating, authorities have discouraged travel in at-risk areas. According to the Associated Press, “Police manned checkpoints in quarantined towns, governments issued travel warnings and more flights were suspended Tuesday as officials desperately sought to stop the seemingly inevitable spread of a new virus. Clusters of the illness continued to balloon outside mainland China, fueling apprehension across the globe that was reflected in sagging financial markets.” The coronavirus has now spread to Austria and Croatia in Europe. Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister of Health in Iran, Iraj Harirchi, has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and is under quarantine. He is in charge of the country’s response to the outbreak.

We like to believe that the transfer of disease heads down a one-way zoonotic highway. But the truth is that we are on-so-mistaken. Sometimes, we can infect the animals. New research suggests that the two-way highway was in play when it comes to salmonella. As per Science, “A new study suggests early farmers in Eurasia brought a more deadly form of salmonella on themselves when they switched from a nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to farming. By settling down in close quarters with domestic animals and their waste, they gave Salmonella enterica, which was lurking in an unknown animal host, easy access to the human gut where it adapted to humans. Pigs picked up the pathogen later, perhaps from people or another animal.” Now, isn’t that something?

Peer-review is supposed to be the gold-standard when it comes to approving submissions to academic journals in every field. However, recently, more voices have called the process into question. And while studies have been done, they have tended to focus on a single journal’s approach. According to a Commentary in Nature, “There is a lack of systematic research on how journals manage the process (such as selecting, instructing and rewarding reviewers, managing conflicting reviews, or publishing reviewers’ reports); on how to define the quality and utility of individual reviews; and on how to assess peer review (such as who participates, how and why). Nor is there a way to compare the reactions of authors and reviewers at different journals or in different disciplines.” The time has come for a more coordinated, holistic review of current peer-review practices.

The novel coronavirus may be threatening this world’s inhabitants, but that doesn’t mean that the search for life on other celetial bodies has stopped. Au contraire. Two new Mars Rovers are set to launch soon. They will be equipped with tools to search for proof of ancient Martian life and to also bring samples back to the Earth at a future date. Meanwhile, the search for actual alien life is looking beyond the red planet and toward Jupiter. As per, “There’s a very real chance that tiny creatures are swimming around in the dark, frigid seas of Enceladus and Europa today, many scientists believe. And momentum is building to go out there and look for it in a variety of ways — ideally, by getting life-hunting robots into one or both of those buried oceans.” Something to look forward to in these dark, COVID-19-dominated times.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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