Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

How do we make sense of peer review?

Posted by stevepog on 15 September, 2009

As a follow-up to yesterday’s  tweet about the Sense About Science’s sensibly titled Peer Review Survey, a few thoughts. Out of the press reports on the Elsevier-funded study I’ve scanned though, a common phrase seemed to “no one has come up with a better method than peer reviewing, so we’re stuck with it”.

My colleague rpg has much more practical knowledge of the peer review process than I do, so as a relatively lay person I firstly wondered what the fuss was about. I know it’s of utmost importance to academics (and their funders) to have their papers appear in peer-reviewed journals.

And scientists who work outside the mainstream can miss out on exposure in their so-called top tier journals. But one of the great things that F1000 does is feature brilliant papers in lesser known publications, so they don’t get forgotten in the global soup of academic research.

Mark Henderson at The Times blogged on the strengths and weaknesses of peer reviewing, particularly the point that reviewers shouldn’t need to have their names known for peer reviewing to be an acceptable practice. Not an idea we subscribe to for business purposes at F1000 but he’s right in suggesting that young researchers may be scared off if they knew their name would appear alongside their reviews. Then again, as a former journalist I took that risk every time my byline appeared next to a contentious news story. If you want the knowledge and experience, you have to take some risks.

Some interesting stats in the survey that many have commented on related to plagiarism and fraud. While 81 per cent say that peer review should detect plagiarism and 79 per cent say that it should prevent fraud, only about 35 per cent say it is capable of doing both. I was discussing this topic with two recently graduated medical communications colleagues last week and they both said it would be an extremely difficult issue to police.

If a reviewer needed to have an in-depth knowledge of all major papers written on a particular topic, including remembering vital chunks of text that are likely to be plagiarised, they would probably also be in the running to replace Ben Pridmore or Brad Williams in the memory stakes.

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