Peer Review

The process of peer review is a procedure used by most academic journals to maintain their standards of quality, and to ensure that the studies they publish follow appropriate methodologies and use proper techniques. When academic papers are submitted for publication in a journal, that journal will ask two or three other academics within that same field of study (hence ‘peers’) to read the paper and determine whether it is of suitable quality to warrant being published (hence ‘review’). Papers will often be returned to their original authors for revision on any points that reviewers identify need correction or clarification before finally being published.

Peer-reviewed literature is often viewed as being more reliable and of higher quality than non-peer-reviewed literature, as a result of this rigorous review and response process. In practise this is not always the case, as it is quite possible for the peers conducting the review to be equally incompetent or biased as the researchers conducting the original research. This occurs in cases where pseudoscientific bodies have established their own ‘peer reviewed’ journals, such as some creationist or alternative medicine journals. It also occurs in more mainstream academic publications, where there are many documented examples of studies with profound methodological weaknesses or faulty interpretations of data successfully passing initial peer review. Peer review also typically will not guard against outright fraud, in the form of tampering with or inventing research results. Peer review is a doubtless a useful tool for aiding in the evaluation of research, but it is by no means comprehensive or foolproof.

Further Reading

Scrutinizing science – peer review: a short introduction to peer review from Understanding Science

Peer review: collection of resources from Sense about Science

What is peer review?: academic publishing company Elsevier outlines its peer review process

Explainer – what is peer review: introduction with some analysis of pros and cons of the peer review process from The Conversation

Understanding the peer review process: a journal article going into some detail about peer review