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What is Peer Review in Science? - Definition, Process & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Peer Review
  • 1:21 Background of Peer Review
  • 2:19 The Process of Peer Review
  • 4:10 Possible Issues
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nadine James

Nadine has taught nursing for 12 years and has a PhD in Nursing research

Interested in learning how scientific literature is fact-checked and accepted? In this lesson, you'll learn about the peer review process that happens in science. Examples of the peer review process are included to further your understanding of the lesson.

Definition of Peer Review

Have you ever wondered how a scientific experiment gets funded or how a publisher decides to accept a scientific article for publication? The process for this approval is called peer review. In science, it is the process of evaluating scientific work by a group of experts in the related field. It is also known as refereeing because the work or project must be critiqued before it is published, funded, or implemented. The work or project may be accepted, considered acceptable with revisions, or rejected altogether.

However, peer review is almost impossible to operationally define. An operational definition means that if 100 people examined something, they would all agree on the outcome. In fact, different areas in science actually attempt to operationally define peer review so that the reviewers know exactly what is expected in the critique.

However, the outcome of the peer review is still extremely subjective, or dependent on each person's own opinions, much like love of art. For instance, if you really like abstract art, your critique of it may be very different from someone who does not like abstract art. This is an example of subjective opinion.

Background of Peer Review

Peer review has been in existence for over 300 years, but it was only in 1967 that the current form of the process was implemented by the journal Nature. Are you now asking yourself who qualifies as a peer? Well, that is a very good question. Could a peer be a person who has the same interest as the author or investigator? If so, would that cause bias because he or she is a competitor?

On the other hand, if the reviewer is in the same scientific discipline, does that make him or her an expert? The answer is, it may or may not make them an expert. For instance, a nurse may conduct a study on the effects of physical activity on dementia. Would another nurse who is an expert in child abuse be a good reviewer, simply because she is a nurse? Not necessarily, because she works in a different field and may not understand the ramifications of the study.

The Process of Peer Review

Who actually picks the reviewer in a peer review? Well, that depends on the work or project. Most of the time, the reviewer is not picked by the author of the work or project. There is a specific process for choosing a reviewer. Usually, this is outlined in a policy for the author. However, in some cases, the author may suggest reviewers.

The steps needed for the peer review of a research grant proposal include:

  1. An idea is developed into a research grant proposal by the investigator
  2. The proposal is given by the investigator to several peers to review informally
  3. Review results are given
  4. The proposal is refined to include the review results
  5. The proposal is submitted to experts in the field for a formal review
  6. Review results are given
  7. The proposal is refined to include the review results
  8. The grant proposal is submitted to a funding agency
  9. At the funding agency, the review process begins again, by having experts in the field do a formal review
  10. The expert either (a) accepts and recommends approval of the proposal, (b) considers the proposal acceptable with revisions, or (c) rejects the proposal altogether

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