Here we provide some information about peer review in general, its history, and the different forms it takes, as well as some advice on how to write a good review.
One of the largest ever international surveys of authors and reviewers: the Peer Review Survey 2009 was conducted by Sense About Science. Preliminary findings were presented at the British Science Festival at Surrey University, UK on September 8, 2009.
Types of peer review
There are, essentially, three varieties of peer review. Each type carries with it some clear advantages, as well as some disadvantages:
Single Blind Review
The names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing and is, by far, the most common type.
Advantage: Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions free from influence by the author.
Disadvantages: Authors fear the risk that reviewers working in the same field may withhold submission of the review in order to delay publication, thereby giving the reviewer the opportunity to publish first.
Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the author’s work.
Double Blind Review
Both the reviewer and the author remain anonymous.
Advantages: Author anonymity prevents any reviewer bias based on, for example, an author’s country of origin or previous controversial work. Articles written by ‘prestigious’ or renowned authors are considered on the basis of the content of their papers, rather than on the author’s reputation.
Disadvantage: It is uncertain whether a paper can ever truly be ‘blind’ – especially in specialty ‘niche’ areas. Reviewers can often identify the author through the paper’s style, subject matter or self-citation.
Reviewer and author are known to each other.
Advantage: Some scientists feel this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from drawing upon their own ‘agenda’ and encourage open, honest reviewing.
Disadvantage: Others argue the opposite view. They see open review as a less honest process in which politeness or fear of retribution may cause a reviewer to withhold or tone down criticism. For example, junior reviewers may hesitate to criticize more esteemed authors for fear of damaging their prospects. Independent studies tend to support this.