People like to look at other people’s stuff. Some people don’t like to look at other people’s stuff, but have to for the greater good. In science, people look at other people’s papers and judge them for the good of science. Not just in a judgemental “why-the-hell-would-you-look-into-that” way, but in a way that lets someone know if the science was up to par. Good science constitutes of the following: 1. Good sample size 2. Good statistical analysis with conservative/reasonable parameters for significance 3. Good methods that control for appropriate variables and standardize trials 4. Good hypothesis that is falsifiable with appropriate background information to justify it Of course, there are other components as well, but this seems to be the standard set of traits one wants to see in good science. The peer review process is there to help weed out the bad science and to help other researchers get a different perspective on their own work. The peer review process starts when someone sends in an article to a journal. The editor reads the paper, then decides then and there if it has potential or not (they’re very discerning people). Then, the editor sends off the paper to a group of experts in that field. Disappointingly, you can’t really apply to be a peer reviewer with only an undergraduate degree and a passion for science. No, no, you have to have a PhD and do real science all the time and be an experienced researcher. Researchers and professors are invited to be peer reviewers by the journal, and they do the job for free. They make notes about what the authors of the paper should change, such as an extra statistical test they should do, or what was potentially wrong with their methods. They also ask questions that should be addressed and can provide input for the discussion content. The peer reviewing process takes months, but the fruits of their labor is totally worth it. Peer reviewers are basically the best. Why? Because they help make science the awesome, rigorous field it should be. Science, at its foundation, is not a fluffy thing. It’s methodical, but imaginative. Conservative in analysis, but passionate in exploration. Science is realistic, and peer reviewing helps to make sure that everyone in the field is being considerate of all sides and covering their bases to have good science. If someone were to submit an article that had fabricated data, the peer reviewer would be able to point that out. Or, if someone wrote a paper that had terrible methods and the outcomes would have easily been due to something entirely different than the proposed mechanism, we’d want to be able to catch that. Peer review is there to keep the science pure. Sadly, it’s not always that brilliantly orchestrated. Ideally, there would be a rigorous peer review process for every paper that gets published, but some journals are not very careful about what they publish. Papers with fabricated data go through. Papers that have been written by computer programs with absolutely no real data go through. Papers with obvious methodological concerns get through all the time. Multiple studies have been conducted about the peer review process (or apparently lacktherof) in the age of the internet, and it seems that many journals, especially lower-level scientific journals, don’t really follow through with their promises of scrutinization (see the extra links below). I’m excited about this, though, because it’s opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for reforming the peer review process. There is talk of having open access to manuscripts for peer review, meaning that instead of a couple people reading a paper, 50+ people could be reading the same paper with the same careful goal in mind. I personally like this because it lets people get involved in the peer review process that may not have been able to before. Like students. Or undergraduates with a passion for science. Like me. It’s a collaborative process. My belief is that young scientists should be able to participate in the process of examination, even if its just observing from the outside. No one has to take the advice given, but with it all out in the open,
it seems like a better method for ensuring transparency and stringency in the scientific process. That said, there is this thing called pride. Scientists have egos and, like any other rational person, like to have credit given where credit is due. If someone is trying to discover a new compound that could kill cancer, they want to be the first ones to discover that particular compound. There’s a great deal of competition in some fields of science, and although it is healthy sometimes, there is the problem with peer review being an open thing; if it’s made public before being published, other people may get ideas about their own work and crack the secret code of said chemical quicker, or perhaps get another idea that could undermine the next step of the paper’s authors study (see the story of Watson/Crick and Rosalind Franklin and other scientists; it’s very dramatic). My opinion is still that open access peer review is the way to go. I may think differently once I’m a high-powered researcher with my own lab and my own pride to take care of, but for now, let me judge your papers. Maybe? Extra links 1.http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full.pdf – John Bohannan spoofs a bunch of journals with a terrible fake paper. 2. http://www.nature.com/news/publishers-withdraw-more-than-120-gibberish-papers-1.14763 – Computer generated articles get published.