Types of peer 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.
Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions free from influence by the author.
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.
Both the reviewer and the author remain anonymous.
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.
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.
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.
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.
History of peer review
Did you know?
- It is thought that review by peers has been a method of evaluation since ancient Greece, although it was not standard practise in science until the mid-20th century.
- The physician Ishaq bin Ali al-Rahwi (854-931 CE) of Syria first described the peer review process. He stated that a physician must make notes of a patient's condition on every visit. When the patient was cured or had died, the notes were examined by a local medical council to decide whether the physician had met the required standards of medical care. If their reviews were negative, the physician could face a lawsuit from a maltreated patient.
- As early as the 17th century, scientific clubs (or societies) of gentleman scholars argued over the origin and validity of different theories and discoveries, and helped establish a formal process for announcing, validating and accrediting scientific discovery to the appropriate person.
- Peer review has been a formal part of scientific communication since the first scientific journals appeared more than 300 years ago. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is thought to be the first journal to formalize the peer review process.
- Albert Einstein's "Annus Mirabilis" was not peer reviewed except by the journal's editor in chief and co-editor.
Today, validation by peers and publication in a scientific journal continues to be the method through which authors register, validate, disseminate and archive their discoveries and results. The publication process and the speed at which articles are peer reviewed and published are key elements in the appropriate accreditation of scientific findings.
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.
The peer review process is an essential part of the publishing process. It validates and confirms a researcher’s work and establishes a method through which work can effectively be evaluated.
The publication of an article in a peer reviewed learned journal is an essential building block in the development of a coherent and respected network of knowledge. It is a direct reflection of the quality of the work of the authors and the institutions that support them. Peer-reviewed articles support and embody the scientific method. It is therefore important to agree upon standards of expected ethical behaviour for all parties involved in the act of publishing.
Please find below a selection of policies that may be of interest to you as a reviewer:
More information on Elsevier Policies
- Alan Meier's guidelines for reviewing technical papers
- Pick-a-peer option 'undermining review system'.
- A special peer review brochure has been created by Sense About Science (SAS) and sponsored by Elsevier. You can download the brochure as a PDF file.
- The Council of Science Editors (CSE) gives guidelines on roles and responsibilities in peer review.
- The Publishing Research Consortium's study on Peer Review.
- In a piece that appeared in the Guardian Online, Elsevier's Adrian Mulligan argues: Don't judge peer review by its occasional failings.
- Presentation on The Peer Review Process
- Presentation on things to look for when Reviewing for a Medical Journal