Peer review is a system for assessing the quality of scientific research before it is published. It is an essential
dividing line for judging what is scientific and what is speculation. The process screens articles and requires that
authors meet the standards of their discipline and achieve scientific objectivity.
Peer review is conducted independent of the research itself. Unlike the research, which is routinely funded by endowments,
government grants, foundations and other institutional sources, the peer review process is managed and paid for by the
journal publishers. Publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year to manage this rigorous review, maintaining
the integrity of scientific and medical research.
Importantly, a publisher has no influence whatsoever in the decision whether to accept or reject an individual article for
publication. Editors and editorial boards make such decisions. Publisher neutrality and editorial independence are cornerstones
of the scientific, technical and medical communication system, allowing the impartial validation of research findings and
ensuring that science is more than opinion.
The independent charitable trust Sense About Science has published a guide to peer review and why it is so important, both to
science and the public. Click here to read more about what others are saying about the importance of peer review.
What happens during the peer review process?
The peer review process begins upon the completion of a manuscript
reporting on a research project and its submission to a peer reviewed
journal for consideration.
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Upon receipt of the raw manuscript, journal editors take the first step
in the peer review process by first determining whether it is within
the scope of the publication and merits further review by independent
subject matter experts, often called 'referees.'
These impartial and objective referees, who are experts in the
same field of endeavor, then scrutinize the manuscript for originality,
significance, validity, and clarity of theory and findings. Referees
will often comment on the manuscript, providing input that helps
authors improve or expand on the original submission. Because peer
review must be rigorous to ensure the quality of the findings, this
part of the process can take weeks or even months to complete,
depending on the nature of the original manuscript
After a submission has successfully undergone this thorough review, it is returned to the journal editors for a final
determination of its suitability for publication. Most people are surprised to learn that many submissions are not
accepted for ultimate publication. In fact, some prestigious journals have acceptance rates as low as 10% .
Regardless of the acceptance rate, journals expend great resources handling manuscripts that are not published.
Submissions that undergo a successful peer review and are
selected for publication then go through the pre-publication process.
This is a painstaking process involving final editing and proofreading,
layout, graphics and other aspects of the process of publishing,
distributing and archiving the material. The entire process - from the
initial receipt of the original manuscript through peer review,
revision and final publication - is entirely managed and financed by
the journal and its publishers.
What role does the publisher play?
Publishers manage the peer review process, provide the
infrastructure for the process to operate and bear the substantial
costs associated with overseeing and conducting peer review and
preparing articles for publication.
The publisher, along with the editor, sets the journal's
general aims and objectives and also assists the editor(s) in selecting
the composition of the editorial board.
Publishers provide the framework and technical tools for
editors to facilitate the peer review process for electronic
submission, reviewing, editing, etc.
Publishers provide proofreading, copyediting, layout, graphics,
branding to the article, preparing articles for publication, and
marketing and promoting the research.
Publishers disseminate information globally through large scale
platforms designed and built to serve the functionality needs of
While the process involves many versions of an article,
publishers preserve and safeguard the final published journal article,
which serves as the definitive record of the minutes of science.
To learn more about the peer review process, visit Sense About
Science and read their guide, "I Don't Know What to Believe: Making
Sense of Science Stories."