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Peer review

Developments in science and medicine are frequently the subject of news headlines and public discussion. With increasing amounts of scientific information being put into the public domain, and a growing number of organisations involved in promoting and discussing scientific research, it can be difficult to judge which research claims should be taken seriously. Which are ‘scares’? Sometimes scientists are reported as saying conflicting things. How do we know what to believe?

The arbiter of scientific quality

There is a system called peer review that is used by scientists to decide which research results should be published in a scientific journal. The peer review process subjects scientific research papers to independent scrutiny by other qualified scientific experts (peers) before they are made public.

More than one million scientific research papers are published in scientific journals worldwide every year. Despite its extensive use and recognition among scientists in assessing the plausibility of research claims, in the rest of society very little is known about the existence of the peer-review process or what it involves.

Sense About Science believes that peer review is an essential arbiter of scientific quality and that information about the status of research results is as important as the findings themselves. We have a very serious commitment to popularising an understanding of how scientific quality is assessed. To this end, we published a short guide to peer review. The guide was one of the key recommendations of our Working Party on peer review, which was established in 2002. We have also developed, together with teachers, an education resource complete with worksheets, articles, and comprehension and role play exercises. It will arm students, and anyone else that uses it, with the tools to question science stories from the media.

In July 2012, members of the VoYS network launched their own guide to peer review for early career researchers Peer review: the nuts and bolts.

Sense About Science’s work on peer review

2004   

Report of the Sense About Science working party on peer review, chaired by Professor Sir Brian Heap FRS, Peer Review and the Acceptance of New Scientific Ideas.

2005

UK workshops with education bodies, patient groups and information providers to produce a user-friendly short guide to the peer review process, I Don’t Know What to Believe.

2006

Commitments from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the Government Office for Science to peer review in consultations and evidence in policymaking.

2008

Peer Review Education Resource (www.senseaboutscience.net) is launched to illustrate the work of science publishers to 13-18 year olds through the science curriculum.

UK national Peer Review Workshops program.

2009

Preliminary findings Peer Review Survey 2009, the largest global survey of authors and reviewers.

2010

International Peer Review Workshops, including AAAS, ESOF and US science festivals.

2011

Sense About Science give evidence on peer review to UK Parliament Science & Technology Committee.

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee publish report on Inquiry into Peer review in Scientific Publications.

Tracey Brown speaks on 'Making sense of science and evidence' at the STM conference.

2012

Members of the Voice of Young Science network published a Nuts and Bolts guide to peer review for early career researchers. 

2013

The US version of 'I don't know what to believe' is launched.

The Chinese translation of 'I don't know what to believe' is launched. 

Three workshops called "Peer Review: The nuts and bolts" held in the UK for early career researchers.