What is required of an external referee?
Prior to publication, it is important that all systematic reviews receive feedback from specialists to maintain the high scientific standard expected from Cochrane reviews. To ensure this, Cochrane Vascular asks that protocols and reviews must be refereed by at least two external referees in addition to an editor and statistician of the Review Group. External referees are crucial to Cochrane publications. Referees and editors should not have direct financial or personal conflicts of interest concerning the topic addressed.
What is the process?
External peer referees are selected and invited by the editorial base to act as referees. Before accepting they should consider:
- if the topic is within their special field of interest;
- if their current workload permits completion within the requested deadlines;
- if there is any potential conflict of interest.
It is not easy to specify how much time is required to referee as each protocol and review will vary. However, by their nature protocols are less complex than reviews.
Once a person agrees to referee a Cochrane review, they are sent a copy of the protocol or review, a checklist for comments (to be returned to the Group) and the Cochrane Vascular guidelines for referees. We ask referees to submit courteous and constructive comments on the review that identify its weaknesses or flaws, as well as ways of improving it. Referees are ususally requested to return these comments to the Review Group within two or three weeks.
The Managing editor collates the referees' comments with those of the editor and statistician, sends them to the review authors, and negotiates changes to the review. The final version of the review is approved by the Co-ordinating Editors prior to its publication in the Cochrane Library.
The refereeing process is not anonymous. Comments and criticisms by external peer referees and the Cochrane Vascular editorial team are sent to the authors with the names of their originators attached, unless requested not to.