Does Peer Review Help Scientists?
Funding New Projects
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
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
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.
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.