Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility. In academia, scholarly peer review is often used to determine an academic paper's suitability for publication. Peer review can be categorized by the type of activity and by the field or profession in which the activity occurs, e.g., medical peer review.
Professional peer review focuses on the performance of professionals, with a view to improving quality, upholding standards, or providing certification. In academia, peer review is common in decisions related to faculty advancement and tenure.
A prototype professional peer-review process was recommended in the Ethics of the Physician written by Ishāq ibn ʻAlī al-Ruhāwī (854–931). He stated that a visiting physician had to make duplicate notes of a patient's condition on every visit. When the patient was cured or had died, the notes of the physician were examined by a local medical council of other physicians, who would decide whether the treatment had met the required standards of medical care.
Professional peer review is common in the field of health care, where it is usually called clinical peer review. Further, since peer review activity is commonly segmented by clinical discipline, there is also physician peer review, nursing peer review, dentistry peer review, etc. Many other professional fields have some level of peer review process: accounting, law, engineering (e.g., software peer review, technical peer review), aviation, and even forest fire management.
Peer review is used in education to achieve certain learning objectives, particularly as a tool to reach higher order processes in the affective and cognitive domains as defined by Bloom's taxonomy. This may take a variety of forms, including closely mimicking the scholarly peer review processes used in science and medicine.
Scholarly peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal or as a book. The peer review helps the publisher (that is, the editor-in-chief or the editorial board) decide whether the work should be accepted, considered acceptable with revisions, or rejected. Peer review requires a community of experts in a given (and often narrowly defined) field, who are qualified and able to perform reasonably impartial review. Impartial review, especially of work in less narrowly defined or inter-disciplinary fields, may be difficult to accomplish, and the significance (good or bad) of an idea may never be widely appreciated among its contemporaries. Peer review is generally considered necessary to academic quality and is used in most major scientific journals, but does by no means prevent publication of all invalid research. Traditionally, peer reviewers have been anonymous, but there is currently a significant amount of open peer review, where the comments are visible to readers, generally with the identities of the peer reviewers disclosed as well.
The European Union has been using peer review in the 'Open Method of Co-ordination' of policies in the fields of active labour market policy since 1999. In 2004, a program of peer reviews started in social inclusion. Each program sponsors about eight peer review meetings in each year, in which a 'host country' lays a given policy or initiative open to examination by half a dozen other countries and the relevant European-level NGOs. These usually meet over two days and include visits to local sites where the policy can be seen in operation. The meeting is preceded by the compilation of an expert report on which participating 'peer countries' submit comments. The results are published on the web.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, through UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews, uses the technique of peer review to evaluate progress made by its member countries in improving their environmental policies.
The State of California is the only U.S. state to mandate scientific peer review. In 1997, the California Governor signed into law Senate Bill 1320 (Sher), Chapter 295, statutes of 1997, which mandates that, before any CalEPA Board, Department, or Office adopts a final version of a rule-making, the scientific findings, conclusions, and assumptions on which the proposed rule are based must be submitted for independent external scientific peer review. This requirement is incorporated into the California Health and Safety Code Section 57004.
Medical peer review may refer to clinical peer review, or the peer evaluation of clinical teaching skills for both physicians and nurses, or scientific peer review of journal articles, or to a secondary round of peer review for the clinical value of articles concurrently published in medical journals. "Medical peer review" has been used by the American Medical Association to refer not only to the process of improving quality and safety in health care organizations, but also to the process of rating clinical behavior or compliance with professional society membership standards. Thus, the terminology has poor standardization and specificity, particularly as a database search term.
Process, costs and criticisms
It has been argued that peer review is impossible to define in operational terms, someone performing the exact same research could just as easily be a financial competitor as a collaborator, creating potential for conflict of interest. Definitions of what constitute the review process may vary across journals and disciplines. A study by the BMJ inserted deliberate errors into publication which successfully avoided fact checking.
Journals may take over a year to publish. Most reviewers are not paid, with the cost of review for the BMJ estimated at £100 per paper. On average the academic community pays roughly $5000 for access to a peer reviewed paper.
There is strong evidence of bias against women in the process of awarding grants. The editorial peer review process has also been strongly biased against `negative studies', those findings where in intervention does not work.
One randomized trial found blinding reviewers to the identity of authors improved the quality of reviews), although this presented a means of experimentally assessing peer review, two later studies found contrary findings that blinding reviewers improved the quality of reviews. These studies also showed that such blinding is difficult to achieve, and that reviewers could identify the authors in about a quarter to a third of cases.
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The review process was double-blind to provide anonymity for both authors and reviewers, but was otherwise handled in a fashion similar to that used by scientific journals
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