Intended for healthcare professionals


Improving peer review: who's responsible?

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 18 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:657
  1. Frank Davidoff, editor emeritus, Annals of Internal Medicine (
  1. 143 Garden Street, Wethersfield, CT 06109, USA

    Peer review needs recognition at every stage of scientific life

    Peer review matters. Why? Firstly, scientific assertions can't be proved; they can only be disproved. The doubts raised by peer reviewers are therefore a crucial element in scientific reasoning.More specifically, as Francis Bacon put it in 1605, the “registering and posting of doubts has a double use:” it not only guards us “against errors,” but also furthers the process of inquiry, causing issues that would otherwise be “passed by lightly without intervention” to be “attentively and carefully observed.” Moreover, since scientific findings effectively don't exist until they're in written form, the doubts raised during editorial peer review come at a particularly crucial step in the overall scientific process.1 Secondly, the exchange of information for professional recognition is the principal instrument of social control within the scientific community.2 Approval by peer review is perhaps the single most powerful expression of that recognition. Thirdly, and more pragmatically, journal editors depend heavily on peer review to accomplish their two main tasks—selecting papers and improving their quality1 3—even though editors themselves are apparently the source of substantive improvements to manuscripts more often than either peer reviewers or statisticians. …

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