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Why Do Peer Review?

Adrian Bell on July 31, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Why would you want to be a peer reviewer? You’re already very busy with your own research. Are there any compelling reasons why you’d want to take on a task that will require a substantial commitment of time and effort to someone else’s research? For free?

Actually, there are a couple of good reasons why you most certainly would want to volunteer as a peer reviewer. Firstly, you’ll be making a valuable and, yes, important contribution to science, and secondly, it’ll be good for your career. Let’s start with the one about your career.

How does peer review help your career?

Personal prestige
First of all, just being asked to review a paper is an honor. The editorial staff of a recognized journal have read your CV and decided that you have the necessary expertise in your chosen field to reliably judge whether a new piece of research is a worthwhile contribution to the field, and whether they can be confident in hitching their journal’s wagon to its star.

While we’re on the subject of your CV, this peer review will make a fine addition to it. Not only is it a solid achievement in itself, it announces that the senior figures in your field who serve on the journal’s editorial board consider you qualified to act as one of the field’s gatekeepers, able to fulfil the crucial task of keeping it free of poor-quality research, redundant studies, and fraud.

Keeping up with the play
In any field, scientists are inspired by the work of other scientists. By reading and evaluating new studies, you will be touching base with the scientific zeitgeist. Reviewing an original study will show you the promising areas of research that are attracting the attention of your peers and keep you up to speed with the new discoveries that are being made. Reviewing a systematic meta-analysis will show you the new perspectives and scientific consensus emerging in your field.

The insight that you gain from this experience will give you ideas for your own research. How can you build on the results that your peers are out there producing? What holes can you see that you’ve just realized you are in a position to fill? Keeping up with the play keeps you in the game.

So if you’ve ever asked yourself: what can volunteering as a peer reviewer do for my career, keep this in mind. Reviewing your peers’ work means you will be considered an expert in your field and it means you’ll actually become one.

How does peer review benefit the scientific community?

While being asked to review papers is certainly an honor, perhaps more importantly it’s also widely regarded in the scientific community as a duty. Since the beginning of the modern scientific revolution, the system of scholarly peer review has been a crucial tool in the construction of the scientific edifice. Peer review underpins one of the most vital aspects of science – the confidence that the scientific community has in the integrity of the vast database of knowledge that has been built up over the years.

Keeping it real
From the moment they begin their study, authors lift their game in the knowledge that their methods, results, and conclusions are going to be scrutinized by a group of experts in their field. They will do their utmost to ensure the quality of their paper to prepare it for this test. Once the paper is out of their hands and publicly available, their readers can be confident in the soundness of the research, knowing that those experts have pored over it and given their approval. A peer-reviewed paper, by definition, is not a simple statement of opinion, a guess, or a press release.

Nor is it a fake claim, injurious to the body of scientific knowledge. By volunteering to review papers, you will help weed out the spurious claims and shoddy research that can cause such damage if they get through.

Building the edifice
Scientific knowledge is cumulative. New research builds on previous studies. It’s essential that scientists undertaking a new piece of research are building on solid foundations. One flawed study, if others make use of its results, can do untold damage, passing on its flaws to all the studies that take it as their starting point. By volunteering to review papers, you help ensure that when an author cites a previous paper to support their own theories or conclusions, they are not building on quicksand.

Good science
Finally, you’ve done your review and the authors have revised their manuscript in light of your discerning comments and expert insight. The finished product is ready to go out to the scientific community. The scrutiny the paper has undergone means the scientific community must take it seriously. The readers know that experts like yourself have picked over the research with a fine-toothed comb looking for errors, and fixed them. The paper can now claim to be Good Science. Other experts in the field have to deal with it. If they disagree with its results, they must disprove them. If they wish to make their own contribution, they must take the paper’s results into account and build on them.

As the lucid and compelling arguments above have shown, there’s really no question. A chance to grow in your field. Recognition by peers of your expertise. The satisfaction of doing a service to science. Would you want to be a peer reviewer? You bet you would!

Categories: General

Keywords: peer review

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