Monday, 26 May 2014

How does peer review work?

It amazes me so often that science deniers (especially creationists) will say something along the lines of "science is biased and is suppressing the research that shows their science is wrong." So I thought I would take the time to explain how peer review works for the publication of an article in an accredited scientific journal.

Once all the research has been done (retested to be sure) and the data has been analyzed, it falls on the lead scientist to write up the conclusions. This initial draft is then sent to all the co-authors and they agree or disagree with the conclusions and give a report. This step is used to refine the manuscript and to make sure there are no data interpretation errors. Importantly, this is done so as not to show bias and conflate findings that are not in fact there.

This information is then used to refine the manuscript for submission to a journal, however before that happens the manuscript is again sent to all the co-authors for approval for submission. This process can repeat multiple times.

Now the manuscript (after a few months usually) is ready to submit to a journal. The manuscript now goes to the desk of the Editor of a journal who determines if the information is relevant to the quality of the journal and if the conclusions make sense. If the editor deems that the quality is not high enough, the manuscript is rejected immediately. If this happens then the authors will revise the manuscript and try resubmit at the same journal or revise the manuscript and submit to a lower quality journal.

If the Editor approves a manuscript, this manuscript is sent to (usually 3 or more) three anonymous referees who will review it for scientific integrity. These referees determine if the data is flawed and if the conclusions are correct. This is necessary as it erases confirmation bias which can happen when the original scientists see what they want to see. These referees then contact the Editor and say whether they think the manuscript should be accepted or rejected. A unanimous decision is required to proceed past this step.

The manuscript now with comments and suggestions is sent back to the authors either with a rejection or provisional acceptance letter. If rejected this process repeats from the beginning with refining and sending to co-authors.

If accepted, the authors will now need to answer all the referees comments and refine the manuscript. This refined manuscript then gets sent back to the referees for a second time. This process can repeat multiple times.

Once this above process is complete and the referee and Editors are satisfied. Then and only then is the manuscript finally ready to be published as a scientific article

Oh, and its not over yet. The manuscript when published can still come under scrutiny and if found to be fraudulent it can be retracted.