Steps, Conduct and Judgment

Office of Research Integrity
US Department of Health and Human Services
Links to several articles including: Peer Review Quick Guide, Ethics of Peer Review, and Peer Review Tool.

Peer Review
Association of American Colleges and Universities
Quarterly briefing on emerging issues in undergraduate liberal education peer review.

Responsible Authorship and Peer Review
Responsible Conduct of Research (2003-2004). Columbia University
Module includes a list of references for topics of authorship and peer review.

How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment
Lamont, M. (2009). Harvard University Press
Describes a study of the peer review evaluation system.

Is Peer Review Broken?
Salisbury, M. (November, 2009). Genome Web Magazine
Asserts that peer review is unscientific since a handful of people review someone’s work. 

Peer Review Steps out of the Shadows
Cartlidge, E., News Editor (January 2007). Physics World
Article considers the limitations of traditional peer review, and the possibility of an “open peer review.”

Responsible Authorship and Peer Review
Responsible Conduct of Research (2003-2004). Columbia University
This module is part of a larger course on the responsible conduct of research, and includes an extensive list of references that the authors of the module believe to be most important regarding the topics of authorship and peer review.

Peer Review

Purpose of peer review
The peer review process is designed to examine the work of a scholar or scientist through review by other experts from the same field, called “peers” or “referees.”  The procedure relies on a group of such experts, and is usually anonymous; neither the author of the work nor the reviewers know who is involved.  This process is common for studies, articles and grant proposals. Peer review requires a community of experts who are able to perform impartial review.  This is a difficult process since history has shown that the significance of an idea may not fully be appreciated among its contemporaries.

Definition of peer review
Peer review refers to screening of submitted proposals or manuscripts, and encourages authors to meet accepted standards of their discipline.  It is designed to prevent dissemination of irrelevant findings, unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal views.  Publications that have not undergone peer review are likely to be regarded with skepticism by scholars and professionals. New faculty members who understand the process and follow expectations carefully will be most successful as they compete for awards or to be published in refereed journals.

History of peer review
Very little investigation has been done on the historical development of peer review.  Some report the first example of peer review on record as Henry Oldenberg, founder and editor of The Royal Society (a British scientific institution) instituting it for the journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1665.  It gradually become a standard part of medical science, but did not penetrate into science and academics broadly until the 20th century, becoming a regular part of academic work by the middle of the century.  Its origin in medicine is not surprising, since the consequence of poor science is harm to patients. (Thomas)

Steps of the peer review process
The steps of peer review vary depending on the institution doing the review, and whatever the review is, for a journal article, manuscript, grant application, or other research related activity.  In general a paper or application is submitted by a particular deadline, it is forwarded to peers in the field who have a defined time to review it, the reviews are tabulated and sent back to the author for either acceptance, acceptance with changes, or rejection.  At that point an author has the opportunity to revise a submission and resubmit if changes were requested, or to think about the feedback and rework the piece and send it to another venue for consideration if rejected.  Rejection rates are very high for the most respected journals, so that should not discourage new faculty members who are submitting work for publication.

Role of faculty members in peer review
The peer review process depends upon faculty members to complete the reviews, hence the “peer” aspect to the process.  Accomplished faculty members who have built a reputation in their field may be invited to review for a publication or organization, or may volunteer to do so as part of their scholarly service.  As a new faculty member, take advantage of opportunities to be involved in the review process when they arise.  Start small with a departmental, college or campus award program, and then branch into professional organization and foundation requests for reviewers.  This critical aspect of scholarly work provides a service to the field, and is an enriching experience for the reviewer as well, since they have an opportunity to review the work of colleagues across the country doing scholarly research.

Challenges of peer review
The process is not without controversy, as it can be used to suppress valid and innovative concepts that are new in a field, and therefore not well recognized by experts.  There are a number of examples of errors in peer review, both with letting questionable research by, and for holding up innovation.  In spite of the ethical challenges, it remains a respected part of academic knowledge production.  The most recent challenge to its usefulness is the explosion of knowledge posted on the internet with little filter.  Addressing this issue is the topic of much consideration in the academic community.

Questions to ask about Peer Review:

top of page