Peer review

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The publication of an article in a peer reviewed learned journal is an essential building block in the development of a coherent and respected network of knowledge. It is a direct reflection of the quality of the work of the authors and the institutions that support them. Peer-reviewed articles support and embody the scientific method. It is therefore important to agree upon standards of expected ethical behaviour for all parties involved in the act of publishing.

Please find below a selection of policies that may be of interest to you as a reviewer:

More information on Elsevier Policies

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History of peer review

Did you know?

  • It is thought that review by peers has been a method of evaluation since ancient Greece, although it was not standard practise in science until the mid-20th century.
  • The physician Ishaq bin Ali al-Rahwi (854-931 CE) of Syria first described the peer review process. He stated that a physician must make notes of a patient's condition on every visit. When the patient was cured or had died, the notes were examined by a local medical council to decide whether the physician had met the required standards of medical care. If their reviews were negative, the physician could face a lawsuit from a maltreated patient.
  • As early as the 17th century, scientific clubs (or societies) of gentleman scholars argued over the origin and validity of different theories and discoveries, and helped establish a formal process for announcing, validating and accrediting scientific discovery to the appropriate person.
  • Peer review has been a formal part of scientific communication since the first scientific journals appeared more than 300 years ago. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is thought to be the first journal to formalize the peer review process.
  • Albert Einstein's "Annus Mirabilis" was not peer reviewed except by the journal's editor in chief and co-editor.


Today, validation by peers and publication in a scientific journal continues to be the method through which authors register, validate, disseminate and archive their discoveries and results. The publication process and the speed at which articles are peer reviewed and published are key elements in the appropriate accreditation of scientific findings.

In September 2009, Elsevier partnered with Sense About Science, an independent NGO working to promote the public's understanding of 'sound science' to launch the 2009 Peer Review Study, the largest survey ever international survey of authors and reviewers providing insights into questions such as: Should peer review detect fraud and misconduct? What does it do for science and what does the scientific community want it to do? Will it illuminate good ideas or shut them down? Should reviewers remain anonymous?

Peer Review in Discussion

* Peer Reviewers satisfied with the system Times Higher Education, 9 September 2009

* Peer review reviewed Nature blogs, 8 September 2009

* Peer review under the microscope Chemistry World, 9 September 2009

* Researchers show loyalty to peer review but want a lot more from it Information World Review 8 September 2009

* BBC World Service Interview with Tracey Brown (ca.15 mins into the programme) 9 September 2009

* Sense About Science Survey Asks Scientists About Peer Review Editor's Update Issue 27 2009.

"Science Fact or Science Fiction? Should peer review stop plagiarism, bias or fraud?", British Science Association Festival, panel debate with Tracey Brown, Sense About Science, Dr.James Randerson, The Guardian, and Dr. John McConnell, Editor of The Lancet Infectious Diseases

* "Quantifying the Value of Peer Review" T.Scott Blog, June 10th 2009. T. Scott Plutchak, Librarian from UAB Medical School. The blog references a talk by David Shulenburger, Vice President for Academic Affairs, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC)

* Sixth International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, September 10-12, 2009 Vancouver, BC, Canada.

* "Publish or be damned: peer review, the public and you" AAAS Conference, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Water Tower, Sunday Feb 15th 2009

* Seed Magazine's 2008 interview with Sense About Science Director Tracey Brown

* "Call to scrap peer review in hunt for brilliant ideas" Times Higher Education by Zoe Corbyn, 18 December 2008

* "Don't Judge Peer Review by its Occasional failings" - Science blog post, April 15, 2008

* Peer Review in Scholarly Journals - perspective of the scholarly community: an international study from the Publishers Research Consortium, January 25, 2008

* "Is Peer Review in Crisis?" - Perspectives in Publishing No 2, August 2004, by Adrian Mulligan

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Types of peer review

Single blind review
Double blind review
Open review
Peer review process flowchart
Reviewer guidelines

Single Blind Review

The names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing and is, by far, the most common type.peerreview
AdvantageReviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions free from influence by the author.

DisadvantagesAuthors fear the risk that reviewers working in the same field may withhold submission of the review in order to delay publication, thereby giving the reviewer the opportunity to publish first.

Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the author's work.

Double Blind Review

Both the reviewer and the author remain anonymous.
AdvantagesAuthor anonymity prevents any reviewer bias based on, for example, an author's country of origin or previous controversial work.   Articles written by 'prestigious' or renowned authors are considered on the basis of the content of their papers, rather than on the author's reputation.

DisadvantageIt is uncertain whether a paper can ever truly be 'blind' – especially in specialty 'niche' areas. Reviewers can often identify the author through the paper's style, subject matter or self-citation.

Open Review

Reviewer and author are known to each other.

Some scientists feel this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from drawing upon their own 'agenda' and encourage open, honest reviewing.

DisadvantageOthers argue the opposite view. They see open review as a less honest process in which politeness or fear of retribution may cause a reviewer to withhold or tone down criticism. For example, junior reviewers may hesitate to criticize more esteemed authors for fear of damaging their prospects. Independent studies tend to support this.

Peer review process flowchart










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