The Incredible Value of the Peer Review Process: Peer Correction

Written by: John Spink

Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative

ffi blog V2 No44 peer croppedThe peer review, scholarly journal process is long and tedious… and absolutely critical to building a firm foundation for Food Fraud prevention. At least Food Fraud is now considered for publication. There have now been more scholarly journal articles that include the words “Food Fraud” in the last four years than in the previous 100 years combined.

Sometimes – especially when dealing with interdisciplinary concepts – we focus so much on the process of writing that we don’t step back to see how the foundational concepts have evolved. We recently had two key concepts clarified during the peer review process in our recently-submitted articles.

Article 1: Types of Counterfeiters – Remove “Ideological” Counterfeiter

A reviewer of our “Defining the Types of Counterfeiters, Counterfeiting, and Offender Organization” article questioned the inclusion of the “Ideological” counterfeiter in our list (published in Crime Science in 2014). They argued that a terrorist would conduct a fraud act to make money. Making money is not an “ideological” act for the terrorist. The money they make could be used for a terrorist attack, which would be an “ideological” act. Considering the motivation, the Food Fraud activity would probably fall under the “Opportunistic” type of counterfeiting.

The core research on defining the types of counterfeiting – or, more broadly, types of product fraud — for this article started during State of Michigan Food Defense projects, so our initial focus was on terrorists. Through the evolution of the manuscript development we shifted to economic crimes but did not fully filter out the “Ideological” fraud motivation.

Removing the Ideological type was a nuance and not core to our hypothesis or discussion… but it was a great opportunity to get it right.

We are grateful editor Dr. Gloria Laycock (University College London) for organizing a reviewer team that is motivated and engaged enough to help us clarify this point.

 Article 2: Situational Crime Prevention, Routine Activity Theory, or a Hybrid

We received comments from a reviewer for an article that is under review. The reviewer provided an incredibly thorough set of comments. The reviewer pointed out that we had not clearly explained our application of Situational Crime Prevention and of Routine Activity Theory. These are two distinct theories but seem very similar with three core factors, often presented in a triangle, and often discussed together in the research.

  • Situational Crime Prevention: This is a more overarching concept that includes “Environmental Criminology” (the space of crime not protecting nature), “Rational Choice Theory,” “Routine Activities Theory.” The theory is based on “victim,” “offender,” and “place” to create a “problem.”
  • Routine Activities Theory: This is a more applied theory that focuses on everyday events in the life of criminals. The theory is based on a “suitable target,” “motivated offender,” and “absence of a capable guardian” to create the “Criminal Event.” The entire system is often referred to as “The Chemistry for a Crime.”

Our research evolved while working with practitioners, and in our Executive Education/ Short-Course programs. During that work we move through the concepts of Situational Crime Prevention and then to Routine Activities Theory. We summarize the concepts into a single triangle figure that is fundamental to Routine Activities Theory titled “The Chemistry for a Crime.” Our first major article, “Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud,” referred to this as “The Crime Triangle” and stated it was adapted from Felson’s Crime in Everyday Life. (Reference: Spink & Moyer, 2011 which references Felson, 1998). While there are many triangles applied to criminology theory, we utilize the Crime Triangle adapted from Felson’s model of target (victim), offender (fraudster), and capable guardian (guardian and hurdle gaps). “These three elements produce the predatory crime triangle. […] With a guardian present, the offender avoids attempting to carry out an offense in the first place. […] Most offenders, however, have a pretty good idea of what they can get away with.” (Reference: Felson, 2006, Crime in Everyday Life, pg. 53).

The clarification of Situational Crime Prevention and Routine Activities Theory was a nuance and not core to our hypothesis or discussion… but it was a great opportunity to help us clarify this point.

We are grateful for this editor for organizing a reviewer team that is motivated and engaged enough to help us clarify this point.

It is important that articles on Food Fraud are being submitted, entered into the peer-review process, and getting such great attention from reviewers. Food Fraud is also becoming a topic for published articles.

Food Fraud Topics are (Finally) Being Reviewed, Accepted, and Published

If a concept is not published in a scholarly journal then academics generally consider the concept does not exist. What is lost in the discussion in this blog post is the great accomplishment that Food Fraud articles are being reviewed, accepted, and published.

When we submitted our article “Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud” – which was published in IFT’s highly ranked Journal of Food Science in 2011 – we had to persuade and defend that this was in the “aim and scope” of a food journal.

The Food Fraud Term in Scholarly Publication

A Google Scholar search on “Food Fraud” netted 247 results before 2011 and 394 after (“Economically Motivated Adulteration” had 14 (fourteen) and 183 results, respectively).  To emphasize that point… there have been more scholarly publications related to Food Fraud in the last four years as there had been in the previous history of publishing scholarly articles.

For emerging issues in Food Fraud and Food Safety there has been an emphasis on a “science based approach” that especially values the “peer reviewed” and “scholarly” publications. This emphasis is not to create a barrier to new ideas but to make sure the foundational concepts are well thought through and clear. This blog post provided two examples of the value of the peer review process. It is important for scholars and practitioners to pursue scholarly publications. Fortunately, Food Fraud is now defined as in the “aim and scope” of food journals. More articles are being submitted and published. With this success and momentum more scholars will be more motivated to conduct Food Fraud research. Utilize these great resources by reading these articles. JWS.

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John Spink
Dr. Spink has been focused on product fraud since the Michigan State University’s Food Safety Program and the School of Packaging began research on the topic in 2006. This work expanded to the behavioral sciences and criminology and led to the establishment of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Initiative in 2008. In 2009 the work shifted to the School of Criminal Justice where the Initiative evolved into a Program.