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Peer review has some problems – but the science community is working on it

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12.07.2018

Peer review is the central foundation of science. It’s a process where scientific results are vetted by academic peers, with publication in a reputable journal qualifying the merits of the work and informing readers of the latest scientific discoveries.

But peer review sometimes gets a bad rap – criticised for a purported lack of transparency, low accountability and even poor scientific rigour.

There’s now considerable movement towards tweaking or even remodelling the peer review system. Key areas of focus include making journal editors more directive in the process, rewarding reviewers, and improving accountability of editors, reviewers and authors.

Read more: Science isn't broken, but we can do better: here's how

The peers in the peer review system are volunteer academics with expertise relevant to the paper being considered. But it’s hard to find suitable volunteers.

Reviewing is more complex and onerous than just rejecting or accepting a manuscript. More often than not, a reviewer suggests additional experiments that authors have overlooked, or challenges the interpretation of some of the data. This initiates a dialogue between author and reviewer aimed at improving the integrity and scientific merit of the paper.

It takes time – at least seven to eight hours per paper done properly, with no remuneration or recognition for the reviewer and hence rarely regarded as a priority in a busy academic schedule. As a result, scientific rigour can be lost when reviews become fast-tracked.

Read more: Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research

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© The Conversation