Intended for healthcare professionals


And now, evidence based editing

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 30 September 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:826
  1. Richard Smith,
  2. Drummond Rennie
  1. Editor BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  2. Deputy editor JAMA, Chicago, IL 61610, USA

    The third congress on peer review will be in Prague in September 1997

    Peer review is slow, expensive, prone to bias, corruptible, and possibly anti-innovatory.1 Yet it is central not only to the production of scientific journals but to all of science. Like democracy it may be an imperfect process, but it is better than the alternatives.2 3 4 Or is it? Just as nobody has conducted a randomised controlled trial of cervical screening against placebo so nobody has done such a trial of peer review. Such a trial would probably now be impossible--as it is deemed to be for cervical screening--but editors and others are beginning to research the process of peer review.4 5 6 Most questions about the peer review process cannot yet be answered on the basis of evidence, but some can: for instance, we have evidence that blinding reviewers to the identity of authors leads to them to produce better opinions7 and that structured abstracts contain more information than unstructured ones.8

    Research into peer review was greatly encouraged by two international congresses on peer review research organised by JAMA4 5 6; and JAMA, together with the BMJ and Project Hope, is now planning a third congress to be held in Prague in September 1997. One reason for bringing the conference to Europe is to try to encourage research into peer review in that continent. Although some of the pioneers of peer review research have been European,1 9 most of the work presented at the two previous congresses was American. As a spur to encourage research into the preparation, publication, and dissemination of health research, the BMJ, the Lancet, the Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde (Dutch Medical Journal), and others have founded Locknet, a network of interested people named after Stephen Lock, former editor of the BMJ and one of the first proponents of research into peer review.10 Locknet has groups researching decision making processes in peer review, authorship, dissemination of the material (including to the mass media), scientific integrity, peer review in specialist journals, relations with the pharmaceutical industry, peer review in research funding, and peer review of economic evaluations. Anybody interested in joining should contact Richard Smith at the BMJ.

    The second reason for holding the congress in Prague is that the processes of scientific debate and critical appraisal of all scientific material were deeply corrupted in the former communist states. And yet these processes are of fundamental importance to the development not only of a scientific culture but also to the economies of these countries. More important for a developing country than food is the seed to grow food; just as important as the seed is to know how to grow the seed; and possibly most important of all is the possession of a culture that allows the scientific debate that leads to development of knowledge. We hope that by holding the congress in Prague we can contribute to the continuing development of scientific culture in the formerly communist countries.

    We hope as well to be able to bring editors, scholars, and others from the developing world to the congress, and in addition to three days for presenting the results of research there will be one day devoted to teaching on peer review and one day to discuss how the new electronic possibilities (like the Internet) might improve the worldwide communication of health research. And peer review is central to that communication in order to ensure the dissemination of high quality, relevant, and accessible material. So far much more attention has been paid to quantity than quality.11

    Anybody interested in receiving more information on the congress should contact either of us.


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