Many of us have often come across the terms “peer review”, “peer-reviewed journal” or “peer-reviewed paper” at some or the other point of time. But, how many of us know what exactly the term “peer review” refers to or what the “peer review process” is all about? Let us discuss this key aspect of the research process.
According to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), peer review is the critical assessment of manuscripts submitted to journals by experts who are not part of the editorial staff. Peer review, which is also known as refereeing, has become an inevitable part of the quality control process, which determines whether a paper is worth publishing/funding or not.
The origin of peer review often dates back to 18th century Britain. However, it became a key part of the research process only in the second half of the 20th century, triggered by the growth of scholarly research. As the reviewers are specialized in the same field as the author, they are considered to be the author’s peers; hence, it was coined as “peer review”.
Peer Review Process
The author submits the paper to the respective journal. The Journal Editor forwards that paper to experts (reviewers) in the relevant field. These reviewers thoroughly analyze the quality of the paper, validity of the data and methods used, and the accuracy of the results. They provide their judgment on the paper whether: there is scope for improvement, it is ok as it is, or it is not worth publishing. If there are changes to be made in the paper, the reviewers list in their comments the particular areas that have scope for improvement. Then the paper is returned to the Journal Editor who sends it to the author with the appropriate decision: accepted as it is; accepted with revisions; or rejected. Accordingly, the author makes the changes and resubmits to the same journal, or resubmits to another journal.
Types of Peer Review
Peer review can be classified into three types based on the levels of transparency:
Single-blind review: In this case, the author’s identity is known to the reviewers, but not vice versa.
Double-blind review: In this case, the identities of the author and reviewers are hidden from each other.
Open peer review: Here, the author’s and reviewers’ identities are known to each other.
At present, the peer review process is implemented by a majority of scientific journals. It helps to prevent falsified work from being published. Its importance has become such that, most research are not considered to be serious stuff unless they have been validated by peer review. A peer-reviewed paper that is accepted for publication is looked upon as a work of quality. But, this process has its own disadvantages. It is an extremely time-consuming process. The long wait can be extremely frustrating for the researcher and can even jeopardize his academic progress. Moreover, sometimes the element of bias creeps into the peer review process. The reviewers’ judgment might be influenced by their own perception of things, the identity of the author, and at times, even the country of origin of the author.