Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Evidence on peer review—scientific quality control or smokescreen?

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 02 January 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:44
  1. Sandra Goldbeck-Wood, assistant editor (
  1. BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Editorial by Smith Papers p 23

    Peer review—the process by which experts advise editors on the value of scientific manuscripts submitted for publication—gis traditionally surrounded by an almost religious mystique. Published papers are an important part of most assessment systems that decide how academic posts and research grants are distributed. Peer review confers legitimacy not only on scientific journals and the papers they publish but on the people who publish them. But if peer review is so central to the process by which scientific knowledge becomes canonised, it is ironic that science has little to say about whether it works.

    Editors have described peer review as “indispensable for the progress of biomedical science.”1 They argue that peer review helps them distinguish between good and bad papers and between good and bad research, that it improves the presentation of what is being published, and even that it educates editors and authors.2 When they ask reviewers to comment on a paper's scientific reliability, originality, relevance, appropriateness to the journal, and other matters, editors hope they are providing some kind of intellectual quality control, allowing the best science to be selected and improved. But is this belief more than just wishful thinking and self aggrandisement by editors and other beneficiaries of the peer review system? The question is all the more relevant because peer review is so time consuming, complex, expensive, and …

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