Evolution of Peer Review

Peer review Sep 16, 2022 Ver este post en Español

Peer review has undergone a series of changes throughout history and its expansion and use, becoming a mandatory factor in the development and improvement of academic and scientific quality, has not always been as we know it today. The peer review process has evolved over time to what we know and will continue evolving in the future.

On the occasion of Peer Review Week next week, it is a good time to talk about the
development of peer review and its current status, as well as the different types that exist and what it contributes to science today.

What is Peer Review?

Peer review is now understood as a key process in validating academic articles. It consists of a review of an academic paper by experts in the field, who assess the quality of the research and provide structured critiques based on their professional experience and knowledge to improve the article.

This process improves scientific research and is assumed to be essential for publishing today, but this has not always been like this.

The evolution of Peer Review

To truly understand and appreciate how far we have come in terms of the evolution of peer review, it is important to take a moment to look back on this ever-changing and developing process in scientific publishing.

Historians of science trace the concept of "peer review" as a method used for the evaluation of written work back to ancient Greece (5th century BC) and Middle Eastern scholars (around 900 AD). In another relation, it is suggested that "the first documented description of a peer review process" is probably found in a book called "Ethics of the Physician", by a Syriac author, which states that:

"It is the duty of a visiting physician to make duplicate notes of the patient's condition at each visit..... The doctor's notes were examined by a local council of doctors, who would decide whether the doctor had performed in accordance with the standards then prevailing"

The following story goes back to 1665 with the claim that "The first record of a pre-
publication editorial peer review" attributed to Henry Oldenburg, the first editor of the "Philosophical Transactions" of the London Royal Society. It should be noted that Oldenburg, then, used his own personal judgment, as editor, in the selection process without recourse to outside opinion; he did not appeal to experts.

In other accounts, the first peer-reviewed publication is considered to be the "Medical Essays and Observations" published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1731.

The Royal Society of London began in 1752 with what is known as the "Committee of Papers". The function of this committee was to review manuscript abstracts and "vote in secret" on what to publish. In the 1760s, the French Académie
Royale des Sciences also appointed small committees of "rapporteurs" to evaluate the inventions and discoveries of outsiders. The reporters, however, used written, jointly authored reports rather than votes, which made the process more like peer review.

However, the term "peer review" as it is known today has only been in use since 1969 or 1971 (according to Merriam-Webster and The Oxford English dictionary respectively).

Up to the Present Day

The evolution of peer review was a slow process. Its acceptance as a process for validating scientific work would not take hold until the Second World War (possibly due to the large amount of scientific material at that time). It was not until the mid-1990s that this process became commonplace. The advent of the Internet also helped this to happen, maximizing its expansion through the speed of data sharing. Today, we find different types of peer review:

  • Single blind - where reviewers are aware of the authors' identities, but
    authors do not know who reviewed their manuscripts.
  • Double-blind - neither the authors nor the reviewers know the identity of each other.
  • Open - reviewers are aware of the identity of the authors and the identity of the reviewers is disclosed to the authors. In some cases, journals also publish the reviewers' reports along with the final published manuscript.

Nevertheless, peer review today is by no means a perfect process. Reviewers still find inequalities between the work they do and the benefits they can derive from it. Authors also encounter problems with the work that reviewers often do. In addition, journal editors often find it difficult to find reviewers because of all the work involved and the conditions offered.

You can read more about the conditions for both reviewers and authors in our blog post: https://blog.orvium.io/balance-between-authors-and-reviewers/

Is Peer Review Worthwhile?

Although it still has a long way to go to be a more perfect process, peer review ensures a path to more collaborative and higher quality science, bringing different researchers closer together and adding extra value to the work.

That is why, despite the barriers and the bias that it can still present, we can not forget that it is a process in constant evolution, so it is important to encourage its change for the better in the future.

One of the tools that can be used to avoid bias in peer-reviewed work is registered
reports. These reports are articles that review a study proposal before research begins. Those that meet sufficient quality standards are accepted before the results are even known. This prevents that in the subsequent peer review process, the research conducted is not validated for its possible negative results. You can learn more about registered reports at the following link: https://blog.orvium.io/registered-reports/

Orvium and Peer Review

On our platform, we value the work of reviewers, and we know that without them, the value of current research would not be the same. That's why we do our best to make it possible for anyone to review, whether they have previous experience or not.

If you are a user of our platform, feel free to try reviewing an article in your field. In addition, we also give you the option to invite specific professionals to review.

If you have more questions about us and how we work, don't forget to visit our platform and check out our new videos, explaining the different steps to follow within Orvium.