Peer Review

Peer review is the evaluation of the work process and output of an individual or group by a contemporary specializing in the same field. It is an educational exercise that can provide an exchange of ideas and the trading of best practices. It must be an unbiased, independent and critical assessment. Peer review is valued in a number of fields, such as science and policy, research and practice, is widely used in accountancy and academia and is particularly prized in the managing of scientific publications. Carried out well, it can maintain or enhance the quality of a specific piece of work and can also serve to raise the standards of the whole profession.

Peer reviewers are not only experts in their field; they must be trained in the art of peer review itself. They can make decisions on which manuscripts to publish, which proposals to fund or which programs to sustain or trim; as such, the peer review process is highly regarded by its advocates. This process is not a new phenomenon. In fact, peer reviewing was applied to historic manuscripts such as the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society as far back as the 17th century. In the following years it enjoyed sporadic success in various fields. Peer reviewing to obtain funding is traced to the 20th century. In the 1930s, for example, the National Advisory Cancer Council was authorized to review applications for funding and "certify approval" to surgeons.

Peer review is a significant force in the scientific arena in maintaining objectivity, preserving solid science, avoiding conflict of interest and preventing fraud. The primary practitioner of peer review is acknowledged as the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). It was used to good effect in the United States after the Cold War (roughly from 1946 to 1991). At that time, it was important in bringing a more balanced approach to research funding decisions. This was in light of the political contamination of science that was witnessed in Germany by the Nazis, and the manipulation of genetics in the Soviet Union by Trofim Lysenko (1898 to 1976). During this period the NSF broadened participation in peer review to historically black colleges and universities and also took into account the geographic distribution, age, gender and ethnicity of investigators.

In the publication of journals, peer review is important in assuring the quality and suitability of material for publication; by explaining problems about the paper it allows the author to improve a manuscript. Reviewers of medical journal submissions are picked on the basis of their knowledge of the manuscript topic. They have gained their expertise from having written, researched, or spoken on the same or similar subject. There may be more than one reviewer working on each submission; for some journals, the editor may request two reviews before a manuscript can be submitted. A result of this process is the raising of the standards of scientific journals.

In some areas, the peer review process is more valued than others. In one case it was shown to have had no effect on the outcome when a series of papers were submitted to an editor for publication. In this example, Stephen Lock (an editor of the British Medical Journal from 1975 to 1991) put peer review to the test by evaluating the papers and determined which ones he intended to publish before receiving any input from reviewers. Following the peer review, his opinion was similar to his first instincts on the papers. In accountancy, peer review has been praised in helping to disseminate changes to professional standards. It has been embraced throughout the profession and many Certified Public Accountancy (CPA) firms offer peer review services to other CPAs. It is said to have reinforced standards such as integrity, objectivity and independence in accountancy, and also serves to strengthen the profession by clarifying the many sources of professional guidance available to practitioners.

Several problems exist in peer reviewing. One of them arises through a potential conflict of interest: where a peer group is small, there is greater likelihood that those being reviewed are friends or have potentially compromising relationships with the peer reviewer. The standard of peer review itself requires further scrutiny. A benchmark has not been established across the board and there is even debate about what may constitute a peer. However good peer reviewing should include the submission of thoughtful comments and timely completion of the review.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Peer Review in Publication
Sataloff, Robert T.
Journal of Singing, Vol. 68, No. 1, September/October 2011
Evolutionary Trends in Peer Review
Morey, Angela; Garner, Angelia; Faruque, Fazlay; Yang, Gongchao.
Journal of Allied Health, Vol. 40, No. 3, Fall 2011
Is Peer Review in Decline?
Ellison, Glenn.
Economic Inquiry, Vol. 49, No. 3, July 2011
Peer Reviewing the Peer Review Process
Tamdgidi, Mohammad H.
Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Vol. 4, No. 1-2, Fall 2005
Effect of Peer Review on Citations in the Open Access Environment
Bhat, Mohammad Hanief.
Library Philosophy and Practice, June 2009
Designing Peer Review for Pedagogical Success: What Can We Learn from Professional Science?
Trautmann, Nancy M.
Journal of College Science Teaching, Vol. 38, No. 4, March-April 2009
The Metrics of Science and Technology
Eliezer Geisler.
Quorum Books, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "The Metric of Peer Review"
Responsible Conduct of Research
Adil E. Shamoo; David B. Resnik.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Publication and Peer Review"
Publishing for Tenure and Beyond
Franklin H. Silverman.
Praeger, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Peer Review"
Judgment and Decision Making: Neo-Brunswikian and Process-Tracing Approaches
Peter Juslin; Henry Montgomery.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "(Dis)agreement in Peer Review"
Peer Review under the Microscope: One Journal's Experiment Aims to Change Science Vetting
Brownlee, Christen.
Science News, Vol. 170, No. 25, December 16, 2006
Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition, Culture, Power
Carol Berkenkotter; Thomas N. Huckin.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Sites of Contention, Sites of Negotiation: Textual Dynamics of Peer Review in the Construction of Scientific Knowledge"
Search for more books and articles on peer review