Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents

7 Conclusions

277.  Peer review in scholarly publishing, in one form or another, is crucial to the reputation and reliability of scientific research. Pre-publication peer review has evolved in a piecemeal and haphazard way to meet the needs of individual scientific communities. The process, as used by most traditional journals prior to publication, is not perfect, and it is clear that considerable differences in quality exist. However, despite the many criticisms and the little solid evidence on its efficacy, editorial peer review is considered by many as important and not something that can be dispensed with.

278.  In order for current peer-review practices to be optimised and innovative approaches introduced, publishers, research funders and the users of research outputs (such as industry and government) must work together. There is much that can be done to improve the quality of pre-publication peer review across the board and to better equip the key players to carry out their roles. We note that new innovations in pre-publication review are being introduced that have the potential to accelerate the pace of research communication and avoid duplication of effort by the research community, with the consequent drain on resources. Publishers can learn much from one another and should share best practice where possible—particularly in relation to the ways in which data are managed and in terms of promoting publication ethics and research integrity. It is clear that breaches in the latter damage both the scientific record and public confidence in science.

279.  The publication of peer-reviewed articles is not only important in terms of maintaining a robust scientific record, it also has an impact on the careers of researchers and the reputations of research institutions. We have been assured by research funders that they do not use journal Impact Factor as a proxy measure for the quality of research or of individual articles. However, representatives of research institutions have suggested that publication in a high-impact journal is still an important consideration when assessing individuals for career progression. We consider that research institutions should be cautious about this approach, because as we have previously noted, there is no substitute for reading the article itself in assessing the worth of a piece of research.

280.  While pre-publication peer review continues to play an important role, the growth of post-publication peer review and commentary represents an enormous opportunity for experimentation with new media and social networking tools. Online communications allow the widespread sharing of links to articles, ensuring that interesting research is spread across the world, facilitating rapid commentary and review by the global audience. They also have a valuable role to play in alerting the community to deficiencies and problems with published work. We encourage the prudent use of online tools for post-publication review and commentary as a means of supplementing pre-publication review.

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Prepared 28 July 2011