In science, peer review is the critical evaluation of an academic's work by others in the same or similar field of study.
Typically performed to ensure the quality of work that's published is of a suitable standard, the peer-review process is widely regarded to be a good indicator that the study or paper contains reliable information.
While this is a sound rule of thumb, not all review processes are equally critical or deserving of the same level of trust.
Even though peer review greatly increases the validity of published research and reduces the chance that an incorrect or seriously flawed paper makes it to publication, a peer-reviewed study isn't necessarily the final word on a subject.
How is peer review performed?
Different publications will enforce their own peer-review policies, which in turn reflects their reputation within the academic community.
There is no single method, but when researchers submit a paper to a publication, these would be the traditional steps:
1. Initial review: The editor who commissions material for a particular journal or periodical receives submissions. Any that have glaring problems (such as not fitting the publication's scope) are rejected.
2. Peer review: Submissions that aren't rejected are passed to a handful of reviewers with relevant expertise, typically chosen by the editor, although the authors might make suggestions in some cases.
The most common types of peer review are:
Single-blind: the authors don't know who the reviewers are, allowing the reviewers to offer honest feedback;
Double-blind: neither the authors nor the reviewers are revealed, allowing not just for honest feedback, but for a reduction of potential bias against the author(s);
Open: the identities of the reviewers and authors are not concealed at all, allowing for a transparent discussion of the work.
The peer-review process can result in the rejection of a paper if it's found to be fundamentally flawed; it is accepted for publication with no changes; or, most likely, it will be returned to the authors with suggested changes.
4. Author revision: Work that is returned to the authors with suggested revisions is expected to be modified or justified. This can result in a discussion between the reviewers and the authors, which sees it eventually accepted and published, or rejected.
Depending on the process, as few as one in ten submissions (or even less) might be accepted for publication.
Once published, peer-reviewed academic work continues to be debated by others in the scientific community, and beyond, including the general public.
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