The Group of Eight (Go8) – representing Australia’s research-intensive universities – welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Peer Review Guide to support the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.
As a foundation principle, the Go8 strongly supports peer review as the internationally recognised standard of practice for assessing research, and as a critical element to ensure the excellence of Australia’s research and the appropriate use of public funding for research. In the same vein, the Go8 also strongly supports an adherence to the principle of autonomy from the political process when Government is assessing peer reviewed recommendations.
Recognising that the new Code is a principles-based document, supported by specific guidance on key matters relevant under the Code, and by the policies of individual institutions, the Go8 makes the following points:
- The rigour of peer review processes is essential to ensuring appropriate decision-making in grant and funding allocation, as well as ensuring the quality of research outputs
- While the draft Peer Review guide comments rightly on the responsibilities of researchers to participate in peer review, more emphasis could be placed on explaining or shedding light on the circumstances whereby issues of potential breach, misconduct or conflict of interest may arise
- If possible, broad examples may be needed to illustrate potential cases where the Guide and the Code need to be invoked
- Further articulation may be needed regarding what may constitute failure to conduct peer review fairly and responsibly.
- As a case in point, the limited pool of potential peer reviewers in Australia, along with the reality of close collaboration and research relationships in our research system (including mentoring by senior researchers), means that further guidance than currently stated in the draft Guide may need to occur of when and how a conflict of interest might arise.
- The draft Peer Review Guide in discussing conflict of interest refers the reader to the draft Guide on Conflict of Interest which itself does not specifically dwell on the issue of peer review.
- Conflict of interest circumstances affecting peer review differ from those mentioned as in the draft Guide on Conflict of Interest such as consultancies, membership on boards, and membership of advisory groups.
- The draft Peer Review Guide could also include a segment on how disputes or issues around peer review can/ should be addressed.
The Go8 further notes the applicability of the Code and these instrumental guides in bringing consistency of approach across the sector and in assisting in cases that may cross institutions or involve individuals who have moved between universities. The guides have the challenging task of both being relevant and providing sufficient guidance without overstepping into the area of institutional policy and autonomy. However, another factor is the guidance of early career researchers who may derive only limited benefit from the draft Peer Review guide as currently written. In short, the Go8 recommends that more specific guidance and advice may be needed to ensure the optimal usefulness of the Peer Review Guide.