The long-respected system of peer review is increasingly under attack. According to many scientists and academics, peer review is ineffective and time consuming at best and a tempting venue for favoritism and plagiarism at worst. The main problems with peer review stem from two basic issues: inconsistency in the reviewing process itself and too many submissions to top-tier journals. According to Drummond Rennie, executive editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, “If peer review was a drug, it would never be allowed on the market.”
Problems with the Reviewing Process
Peers miss an amazing amount of mistakes, inconsistencies and outright fraud. Generally unpaid, peers have little motivation to give articles the thorough dissection they need. Peer reviewers are often asked to review far more articles than their schedules allow, a situation documented by Daniel Myers in a recent essay about his experiences as a peer reviewer. As a result, peers tend to breeze through an article, decide whether it sort of makes sense or not and pass it along to the editor with a recommendation based more on what they had for breakfast than the integrity and quality of the research.
The recently discredited work of Woo-Suk Hwang at Seoul National University is an excellent example. Woo-Suk Hwang’s work went through a rigorous peer review process that entirely failed to catch the researcher’s massive amounts of fraud. Peers caught up in today’s publish-or-perish academic environment are often too overwhelmed with their own department’s writing demands to devote the correct amount of time and attention to the articles of their fellow scientists.
Submission Increases and Stylistic Changes
Authors are going to increasingly desperate measures to get editors to publish their work. In recent years, there has been a serious uptick in the amount of time scientists spend networking with editors in attempt to make a personal connection that will make rejection less likely. Another tactic is to exaggerate the results of a study, creating a flashier article at the expense of good science. Articles that have any link to human diseases are always more popular and writers have been known to stress very tenuous links between their research and human health just to appeal to editors.
The peer review system is deeply flawed but salvageable. Authors and publishers are losing confidence in the whole system for good reason, and many authors are now pushing for its abandonment. Peer reviews is an essential control for maintaining the integrity and quality of research and those interested in saving it need to make changes sooner than later to prevent the breakdown it’s headed toward.
Taken, with consent, from Acredited Online Colleges. Writen by Laura Lyons