Peer review: A bird's eye view

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Peer review: A bird's eye view

Academic and scientific research is a methodical process that involves several decisions. Communicating and disseminating research findings is of paramount importance, especially given how scientific inventions and breakthroughs can have several ramifications for human life and society. As such it becomes extremely important to validate the research and findings that are being disseminated, and this is where peer review comes into the picture. There is an ensemble of reasons why researchers’ work undergoes quality control in the form of peer review before it is accepted for global dissemination.


The role of peer review in disseminating reliable research: Peer review indicates the evaluation of research manuscripts via individuals qualified to support the efficacy of the practice or research methodology. In performing their duties, peer reviewers help guarantee the trustworthiness and exactness of the work accepted for publication. Published papers that are peer-reviewed are attested for their quality and are subjected to a higher standard as compared to non-peer-reviewed works. Peer review necessitates subjecting an author’s work and his/her experiment to scrutiny from other specialists in a related field, in order to validate its efficacy and ascertain its suitability for publication.


The fundamental goals of peer review are to attest whether a work falls within the journal's scope, to indicate whether the research subject has been clearly formulated, and to determine if the proper procedures have been followed to address the observable issues involved. Reviewers check the methodology of the work to identify whether the results can be aligned with it and assess the modernity and creativity of the research findings. They also evaluate the readability of the work, estimating how logically the content has been presented and whether the conclusions are strongly reasoned. By extension, authors frequently receive beneficial information on the best way to present their research findings.


Benefits for reviewers: There are many intangible rewards associated with being a peer reviewer. The first of these is the opportunity to assist the profession and give back to the academic community by enabling the publication of relevant research. Peer review plays a huge role in bringing about improvements in quality research. It is also individually gratifying for reviewers to be able to contribute to strengthening publications. Engaging in peer review also helps reviewers improve their knowledge about the field and publication trends in that area of research, which in turn can considerably improve their ability to create high-quality, publication-worthy research. Peer review is commonly considered to be part of the self-regulatory nature of the sciences.


Reviewer recognition: Reviewers are mostly not paid for their time and offer their services pro bono. Some publishers provide their reviewers free access to their archives. Some companies have also entered the reviewer recognition space (e.g., Publons and ReviewerCredits) and they aim to validate and concretely recognize the dignity of reviewers’ efforts.


Complications in peer review: Being a peer review is no mean feat. You are responsible for guarding against false findings and research imperfections being reported, while helping unseal genuine discoveries. You are additionally required to constructively comment on the research of your peers, which is the result of their blood, sweat, tears, money, and years of effort. While this attests the significance of peer review it also hints at the fact that peer review is complicated.


In recent years, peer review has faced criticism for various reasons, including instances where reviewers were unable to detect serious issues in a work. The reasons for failures in peer review could include the fact that reviewers, themselves being researchers trying to make their mark in their field, could be managing immense workloads, or that the number of submissions journals receive has been increasing, but has not been complemented by a parallel increase in the number of reviewers editorial boards have access to or can recruit.


Two other concerns expressed against peer review are that it isn't transparent enough and that it is extremely difficult (sometimes impossible) for peer reviewers to be objective, which results in their subjective opinions seeping into the review. Further, reviewers may not be able to comment on the value of a research paper or a new concept because of various reasons such as their own unavailability to take on reviews or existing conflicts of interest.


The biggest criticism of the peer review process is that it takes really long and could extend over weeks or months, even years in some cases. Further, owing to the rapid emergence of predatory journals, it is often tough to ascertain or believe some journals’ claims about following the peer review process diligently.


Concluding remarks: The peer-review process is an important step in the research communication process and in a way it plays a part in enabling scientific advancements. While the significance of the process itself cannot be contested, the fact remains that the scholarly publishing community is indeed faced with some critical challenges around peer review. Not only could these challenges stand in the way of us disseminating reliable, validated research, but these could also potentially demotivate researchers from taking up peer review themselves.


Suggested references & resources

  • Lee, C. J., Sugimoto, C. R., Zhang, G., & Cronin, B. (2013). Bias in peer review. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(1), 2-17.
  • Bornmann, L. (2011). Scientific peer review. Annual review of information science and technology, 45(1), 197-245.‏
  • Jefferson, T., Alderson, P., Wager, E., & Davidoff, F. (2002). Effects of editorial peer review: a systematic review. Jama, 287(21), 2784-2786.‏
  • Kronick, D. A. (1990). Peer review in 18th-century scientific journalism. Jama, 263(10), 1321-1322.‏
  • Burnham, J. C. (1990). The evolution of editorial peer review. Jama, 263(10), 1323-1329.‏
  • Weller, A. C. (2001). Editorial peer review: Its strengths and weaknesses. Information Today, Inc.
  • Rowland, F. (2002). The peerreview process. Learned publishing, 15(4), 247-258.‏
  • Jefferson, T., Wager, E., & Davidoff, F. (2002). Measuring the quality of editorial peer review. Jama, 287(21), 2786-2790.‏
  • Lundstrom, K., & Baker, W. (2009). To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer's own writing. Journal of second language writing, 18(1), 30-43.‏
  • Ware, M. (2008). Peer review: benefits, perceptions and alternatives (p. 2008). London: Publishing Research Consortium.

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Published on: Sep 25, 2020

National ambassador of Iraq at ReviewerCredits. Enthusiastic about scientific and academic publishing, advance research methods, and research investment.
See more from Dr. Zahra Al Timimi


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