Why is peer review important in science?
Have you ever thought about what gives the credibility of a scholar’s article in a scientific journal? Why do you believe more in its statements than, say, of an essay found on the internet? Certainly, scientific papers had been approved before publication. By whom and how? The scientific community has come to a good solution: during the so-called peer review process fellow researchers, experts in the same field evaluate and recommend publishing the work of others.
Peer review is not exclusively applied to scientific papers but to many types of documents – it is part of EU’s government policy as well, for example. In our article, however, we focus on showing how peer review works in, and why it is important for the evaluation of scientific papers. This includes all fields of scientific and medical research, such as biology and life science, business and economics, medical and health science, arts and humanities, and so on.
Each paper in every scientific field must undergo a peer review – so to guarantee the novelty and relevance of the reported results, correctness of the reasoning, clarity of the presentation and the expected impact of the findings.
The process behind peer reviews
For you, as a scholar author of a manuscript in some field of science, the publication process begins with sending your paper for the journal you think can be interested in your work. More and more often this can be done via an online system, in many cases still over email. It is unlikely to be requested to use the traditional way and mail it on paper.
At some journals, in the next phase journal editors go through your work and check if the paper meets the criteria of the journal’s author guidelines. At this time, the quality of the publication is not examined yet, only the sections and stylizations matter. Be sure to learn the expectations before you decide to send your paper to the chosen journal.
Following this, your work gets into the hand of the Editor-in-Chief (EiC). He or she is the one who decides if your paper is appropriate for the journal and if it has something original and interesting to say. If the Editor-in-Chief comes to the decision that the work is not worth publishing, your paper may be rejected without peer review.
If the EiC gives a green light, the journal invites reviewers they think are qualified to do the peer review. It could be just one person, but most commonly it means at least two or even more peers. They are chosen to be renown scientific researchers in the same area.
The invited referees then turn to do the actual review. As the first step of the process of peer review, these fellow scholars will carefully read your paper to be able to evaluate it. Depending on the type of their comments, they may express them by a few sentences or provide a detailed point-by-point review.
Three outcomes can happen after that: the best-case scenario is that the reviewers recommend the journal to publish your paper. The worst that could happen is that they reject your work and there is the middle course: they send the paper back to you for a minor or major revision.
The different types of peer review
Transparent and unbiased peer review is an essential requirement of ethical scientific publication. Traditionally, peer review is strictly confidential and anonymous, which can be assured by several possible scenarios to be reviewed next.
In the single-blind review method, the name of reviewers remains unknown for the author or authors. You might ask, why they give so much attention to anonymity. Well, it gives the reviewers the freedom to be honest in their criticism, as they do not have to worry about their name being revealed to the author. However, the single-blind review has disadvantages as well. Since the authors' identity is public, it might lead to discrimination based on gender or nationality. If the peers know whose work they are dealing with, then they can rely on his previous publications instead of evaluating the actual submission objectively.
To avoid any kind of discrimination, most of the journals prefer double-blind peer review.
Double-blind peer review
The double-blind peer-review process means that the reviewers are not aware of the identity of the authors, and vice versa; both parties' names are kept in secret. At a first – somewhat naïve glance – it should give no chance for discrimination of any kind, so both the journal and the author could be sure, that the review is based only on scientific aspects; bias would be totally out of the equation. However, can it be? In some cases, it is just simply impossible to be anonymous. For example, if the author is famous, well known among the scientific community, the reviewers may recognize him from his unique writing style. Anonymity is hard to maintain in small scientific fields where only a few experts are qualified enough to publish and review. In recent times, many manuscripts are publicly available as preprints by the time of the review, so that their authors can be identified.
No kind of anonymity can avoid all bias, unfortunately. Even your grammar can lead to prejudice: publications written in bad English often get bad reviews based on non-scientific criteria.
Open peer review
With the growing need for Open Science, various scenarios for also making the peer review more open have been tested by many journals. Open review is an umbrella term for several features. Open identity, expressing that the identity of the author and the reviewers are known to each other. Open review, meaning that that the review is published as a supplement to the article: the readers can have a perfect and comprehensive picture of the discussed topic. Open participation assumes that the manuscript is publicly available, e.g. in preprint form. Then any member of the community can add valuable comments to the review process.
Although open peer review increases accountability and credibility, some reviewers might find it uncomfortable and refuse to participate in open peer review.
In this scenario the author and reviewer are not opponents. The goal is the same: to create a valuable, genuine, and readable publication. So why not let them work as a team? That's exactly what collaborative review is about. They go through the article together and make the necessary corrections. This method is constructive and opens the way to communication. Critics say, the collaborative review gives no chance to independent and unbiased opinion and it might blur the distinction between authoring and appraisal.
Why is peer review important?
Peer review is beneficial for every participant. For readers who want to read quality publications, it is a quality standard, a guarantee for scientific integrity.
The author can get feedback about his work from respected colleagues from the same research field. It might lead to a higher reputation and the option to publish from time to time in the most renowned journals. Funding bodies decide depending on these publications whether to finance research or not.
As for the journal, peer review makes the decision-making process easier. It gives more certainty that the paper they received is worth publishing and has significant scientific value. In the long term, being reliable is the most important thing a journal could have. Selecting the best papers enhances the reputation of the journal.
Science cannot work without authentic journals and publications. Peer review is the guarantee that every discovery, theory, and conclusion is approved by the scientific community. Peer review works as a compass for every scientist: it helps to prioritize what to read and what to give credit to. Peer-reviewed journals and publications are more often cited by mass communication to inform the public about the important scientific news. There are over 20.000 journals on the market; peer review makes it easier to distinguish.
At AKJournals you can only read peer-reviewed publications from acknowledged authors reviewed by acclaimed scientists.