Some information that is shared during peer review is shared confidentially,
that is, with the understanding that it will not be shared with anyone
else without permission. Confidentiality is generally required during:
- grant reviews,
- manuscript reviews, and
- personnel reviews.
During grant and manuscript reviews, confidentiality helps protect
ideas before they are funded or published. In personnel reviews, confidentiality
is important to protect personal privacy.
Peer reviewers have an obligation to preserve confidentiality during
the review process if they have been asked to do so. While this obligation
might seem obvious, it can be compromised in some seemingly harmless
and other more harmful ways. For example, although researchers sometimes
do, it is not acceptable to do any of the following without getting
- ask students or anyone else to conduct a review you were asked
- use an idea or information contained in a grant proposal or unpublished
manuscript before it becomes publicly available;
- discuss grant proposals or manuscripts you are reviewing with colleagues
in your department or at a professional meeting;
- retain a copy of the reviewed material (generally manuscripts and
grant proposals should be shredded or returned after the review is
- discuss personnel and hiring decisions with colleagues who are
not part of the review process.
There may be times when some added advice during a review may be helpful,
but reviewers should not seek this advice without getting permission.
It may also be tempting to use information in a grant application or
manuscript to speedup your own research, but until it has been made
public, confidential information is not available for use, even to reviewers.
If you are not comfortable protecting confidential information, then
do not agree to be a peer reviewer.
Researchers who are in a position to pass judgment on the work of
colleagues have significant power. They can hasten orslow that work;
credit or discredit it. They have the power to shape entire fields of
research and to influence public policy. If you have that power, make
sure you use it responsibly and with some compassion, knowing that what
you say and do directly affects the careers of other researchers.