Peer review—evaluation by colleagues with similar knowledge and
experience—is an essential component of research and the self-regulation
of professions. The average person does not have the knowledge and experience
needed to assess the quality and importance of research. Peers do. Therefore
many important decisions about research depend on advice from peers,
- which projects to fund (grant reviews),
- which research findings to publish (manuscript reviews),
- which scholars to hire and promote (personnel reviews), and
- which research is reliable (literature reviews and expert testimony).
The quality of the decisions made in each case depends heavily on
the quality of peer review.
Peer review can make or break professional careers and directly influence
public policy. The fate of entire research programs, health initiatives,
or environmental and safety regulations can rest on peer assessment
of proposed or completed research projects. For peer review to work,
it must be:
- free from personal bias, and
- respectful of the need for confidentiality.
Researchers who serve as peer reviewers should be mindful of the public
as well as the professional consequences of their evaluations and exercise
special care when making these evaluations.