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Peer review

Misconduct in research

Peer review is what makes research science. A claim to knowledge has to be accepted by the scientific community to be considered true. It has to be carefully scrutinized from methodological, argumentative and source critical perspectives and thereby shown to fulfill scientific demands. Peer review has been much criticized for not working properly. This and repeated reports of peer review fraud have led to a demand for new and clear guidelines and improved systems for doing peer review.

Leading guidelines

The most imprtant guidelines have been issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) - the former by their Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, influential far beyond medicine, the latter through the Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. In addition, the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity has a section on good practice for peer review.

Among Policy Statements from The World Association of Medical Editors there is one on how to define peer review and one on how to choose reviewers properly. Also COPE has made a Statement on inappropriate manipulation of the peer review process.

Publishers and journals often have their own guidelines on peer review. The most well-known probably is Best Practice Guidelines on Publication Ethics from Wiley, but also check out Publishing Ethics Resource Kit from Elsevier. Finally, there are several proposed oaths that an individual might make her own, such as My reviewer oath.

Open review, pre-print & post-publication peer review

Today there is substantial support for open science and voices have been raised for making also peer review more open. It could lower the number of misconduct cases, raise the quality of review, and make peer review a more important merit. A Open Science Peer Review Oath has been created and in order to be able to enhance the merit of doing peer review Publons has been initiated. There is also the idea of "pre-print peer review", that is, doing the review alrady before the article is sent to a journal, see for example Peerage of science.

You can also speak of post-publication peer review, that is, when other scholars read already published material critically and discuss the relative merit of the papers in public, as is being done for example on twitter or PubPeer.

Peer review of funding applications

Also applications for funding are peer reviewed. A similar discussion about quality as the one above has taken place regarding such review. To instruct reviewers for the Swedish Research Council there are instructions for every scientific area, including a policy on conflicts of interest and a strategy for equality. They include some basic principles for peer review:

The Global Science Council have published a statement on merit review for applications. Furthermore, NIH have collected a number of illuminating guidelines on their webpage Peer Review Policies and Practices. Also here alternatives and reform have been discussed, as for example in Alternatives to Peer Review in Research Project Funding, by the Rand Corporation. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the European Code of Conduct lists a number of unacceptable practices relevant for funding applicants.

Last updated: 2020-04-12


Rules & guidelines

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