In science explain the necessity for peer-review and why sometimes there is resistance to new scientific theories. What is scientific peer review?
Scientific peer review is the evaluation of scientific research findings or proposals for competence, significance and originality, by qualified experts who research and submit work for publication in the same field (peers). Most commonly, peer review is used by the editors of scientific journals, who ask well-qualified experts to provide written opinions about research papers that have been submitted for publication. On completing a project or stage of work, researchers write up their results into a paper presenting their experiments, findings and conclusions, and send the paper to a journal to be published. Scientific papers are sometimes written by individual scientists, but frequently the authors are groups of scientists who have worked as a team on the research.
The journal’s editorial staff selects experts in the same field of work who are qualified to judge the scientific merits of the paper – its competence, significance and originality – and who are themselves involved in research and publication and subjected to the same discipline (peers). For some journals the editorial staff is employed by the journal and for others the work is done by professional scientists who act as editors as an additional activity. The selected experts, known as referees (or reviewers) review the paper and judge such things as whether the design and methodology of the research were appropriate, the data are plausible and the paper is written clearly. The referees are asked whether the paper acknowledges prior work, whether it is suitable for the journal’s scientific readership and whether it should be published in its current form or with revisions. Sometimes peer review is used to decide which papers should be delivered at scientific conferences.
Many funding bodies ask scientific peers to assess whether proposed research is likely to contribute something new and significant, and whether it uses suitable expertise and methods. Peer review helps to keep funding decisions objective. Peer review provides corrective feedback on papers describing research results submitted for publication. This is the process through which research findings become formally public.
Why is peer review used?
Peer review is an expert advice system to help editors of scientific journals in judging the scientific value and plausibility of research papers they receive, and deciding which should be published. This helps to make journals a reliable source of new information and discoveries for other scientists to investigate or build on. We can think of peer review as “a form of scientific quality control” or “an error detection system”. But it is a much more critical and dynamic process than many other forms of quality regulation. It is based on using the scientific judgement of other experts who are also trying to advance knowledge in the area as to whether work is competent, significant and original.
Peer review is also used by many other academic journals, for example in the social sciences and humanities, to determine whether work is sufficiently competent, significant and original to merit publication. Publishing requires very specific and substantive feedback about each paper, not just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision. Referees might notice mistakes in calculations, or the absence of sufficient safeguards for checking results, for example, or inappropriate statistical tests. Whether research has been conducted by distinguished scientists in an eminent laboratory or by less established teams, it is subject to this scientific scrutiny. A useful summary of peer review has been provided by a group of social scientists: “Researchers can make mistakes that render their conclusions worthless; and even when they conduct their research properly, they are also all too likely to exaggerate its importance. A...
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