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Student Presentation ImageHow Does Peer Review Help Scientists?

Funding New Projects
When a scientist develops a new research question, usually he or she must write a proposal to get money to carry out the research. Federal and state governments, universities, and private individuals are among the many sources of funding for these proposals. But who decides whether the proposal is good enough to be funded?

To determine their quality, research proposals are reviewed by other scientists. These scientists - who are reviewing the work of their peers - recommend funding a project if it is well designed and appears useful.

Improving Research Plans
Whether or not a research proposal is funded, reviewers provide constructive criticism. For example, reviewers might suggest improvements to the experimental design or outline other possible procedures. Scientists use these peer review comments to improve their research plans. If their research proposal is rejected, they can revise it and try again for funding.

Publishing Results
When scientists have completed their research, how do they share their results with other scientists? Who judges whether the research is good enough to be published?

First, scientists write articles to explain their methods and results. Then they submit these articles to professional journals (for example, Science or Nature). Each journal has an editor who sends the articles out to other scientists for peer review. The editors then use these reviews in deciding which articles to publish.

If the peer review comments are bad, the article might get rejected. Alternatively, if the comments are very good, the editor may decide to publish the article in the journal. If the comments are ok (neither very good nor very bad), the editor may ask the scientist to improve the article and try again. The scientist will then likely use the peer review comments to improve the article.

Providing Constructive Criticism
Peer review helps scientists do their job better by giving them feedback from others. It also helps control the quality of scientific research and publications. But even in professional scientific communities, peer review does not always work perfectly. Sometimes, great research proposals or publications are turned down because they are too creative or way ahead of current scientific thought. And sometimes scientists get discouraged by negative or rude comments. For peer review to be effective, reviewers need to respect each other and provide criticism that will be helpful rather than destructive.



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