|Year : 2014 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 117-118
Peer review: A system full of problems but the least worst we have
Department of Community Medicine, Padmashree Dr. D Y Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Pimpri, Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Date of Web Publication||4-Feb-2014|
Department of Community Medicine, Padmashree Dr. D Y Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Pimpri, Pune, Maharashtra
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: Author is Editor in
Chief, Medical Journal Dr. D Y Patil University, Pune.
|How to cite this article:|
Banerjee A. Peer review: A system full of problems but the least worst we have. Med J DY Patil Univ 2014;7:117-8
Ancient wisdom cautions us to be wary of our friends and learn to use our critics as means to self-improvement.  This logic is based on the premise that friends out of kindness will not point out our flaws. For those in power, sycophancy precludes getting any constructive criticism from cronies, perhaps prompting Napoleon Bonaparte to remark, "…the people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know."
Cronyism in academics can adversely affect the merit and robustness of publications. To overcome these human shortcomings, the peer review process evolved globally to critically appraise the quality of research findings prior to publication. The double-blind method of peer review followed by most journals in which reviewers and authors are unaware of each other's identities allow for evaluation of papers free of cronyism and cowardice.
The process of peer review is supposed to improve the quality of the published papers. At the same time, the peer review has been criticized by many on the grounds that it can stifle innovation and creativity. Reviewers may tend to reject a paper if it challenges their own prejudices. It has been alleged to be subjective and inconsistent. One of the most vocal critics is a former editor of the British Medical Journal.  Others have called for reform in the methods of peer review.  Still others have stressed its merits. There is evidence that many authors feel that peer review improves the quality of the articles that they publish. In a survey of 320 authors, 73.8% of authors stated that the peer reviewers provided constructive guidance and 75% agreed that the reviews provided adequate rationale for the final decision by the editors.  Similarly, a survey among 445 authors found a high satisfaction rate of 98% among authors of accepted manuscripts, whereas more importantly, 80% of authors whose manuscripts were rejected also expressed satisfaction at the peer review process. 
The debate on the pros and cons and methods of peer review will continue indefinitely akin to the debate on the best form of governance. "Famously, it has been compared with democracy: A system full of problems but the least worst we have."  The strengths of the peer review system far outweigh the weaknesses.  The main strength lies in ensuring a level playing field without fear or favor. Without anonymous peer reviewers, editors of journals with high rejection rates will have a lot of enemies!
Whatever its merits and demerits, peer review shields young and inexperienced authors whose work if published without proper peer review may cause embarrassment to them later in their careers. Given the greater visibility due to electronic retrieval of published work, any glaring error in a paper will be detected soon. Though peer review may not be able to detect all cases of scientific misconduct or fraud it can alert the editor to fundamental flaws in a paper.
Peer review can be considered as the first step to check scientific misinformation. Other checks are comments and criticism by the readers in the form of letters to the editor and blog spots. Papers with serious flaws or found to be based on fraudulent data or plagiarism can be retracted, with serious repercussions on the professional career of authors who lack integrity. Teaching the medical profession critical appraisal of published literature can also contribute. No individual system by itself is foolproof.
Finally, the integrity of the peer review process can only be as robust as the integrity of the people involved.  Editors and publishers are in a position to ensure fair peer review. Technological advances such as electronic editorial systems with inbuilt peer review support software have greatly facilitated the search for reviewers across national boundaries. The editorial team of the Medical Journal of Dr. D Y Patil University Pune has been successful in reaching out to reviewers globally with the help of electronic peer review support software. At the time of writing, we have on our panel over 1000 reviewers, covering all medical and allied specialties from over 65 countries. An appreciable proportion of our reviewers are from abroad. This greatly enriches the quality of reviews besides promoting global exchange of ideas. The exchanges in the peer review process are electronically logged with provision for author and reviewer mapping. This ensures integrity of the peer review system by being amenable to external audit.
Lastly, a note on the peer review of this editorial. Like charity, peer review should begin at home. The editorial was sent to two external referees. Both are editors-in-chief of indexed peer reviewed journals and not personally known to the author. While one commented favorably, the other was not impressed. It was also brought out by one of the reviewers that there is a trend now-a-days to publish the names of the referees along with the article by some journals. However, we feel that this practice will make junior reviewers hesitant to take on review assignments. We have a policy whereby the reviewer can volunteer to write a short commentary which we publish with the main paper. Those who wish to remain anonymous can refrain from this practice. Both the reviewers of this editorial commented that more details of the peer review process should have been included. However, our journal policy is to keep the editorials short. Interested readers can get more details on the peer review debate from the references listed below.
| References|| |
|1.||Greene R, Elffers J. Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies. In: The Concise 48 Laws of Power. New Delhi: Viva Books Private Limited; 2003. p. 5-8. |
|2.||Smith R. Peer review: A flawed process at the heart of science and journals. J R Soc Med 2006;99:178-82. |
|3.||Thörn A. Peer review: A closed system in need of reform. Lakartidningen 2002;99:3106-8. |
|4.||Shattell MM, Chinn P, Thomas SP, Cowling WR 3 rd . Authors' and editors' perspectives on peer review quality in three scholarly nursing journals. J Nurs Scholarsh 2010;42:58-65. |
|5.||Gibson M, Spong CY, Simonsen SE, Martin S, Scott JR. Author perception of peer review. Obstet Gynecol 2008;112:646-52. |
|6.||House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Peer Review in Scientific Publications. Eighth Report of Session 2010-12. HC 856. Published 28 July 2011. London: Authority of House of Commons, the Stationery Office Limited; 2011. Available from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmsctech/856/856.pdf. [Last accessed on 2013 Oct 16]. |