Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by the British Psychological Society (PR 87)

The British Psychological Society thanks the Select Committee for the opportunity to respond to this inquiry.

The British Psychological Society ("the Society"), incorporated by Royal Charter, is the learned and professional body for psychologists in the United Kingdom. The Society has a total membership of approximately 50,000 and is a registered charity.

Under its Royal Charter, the objective of the Society is "to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of psychology pure and applied and especially to promote the efficiency and usefulness of members by setting up a high standard of professional education and knowledge".

The Society is committed to providing and disseminating evidence-based expertise and advice, engaging with policy and decision makers, and promoting the highest standards in learning and teaching, professional practice and research. The Society is an examining body granting certificates and diplomas in specialist areas of professional applied psychology.

This response was prepared on behalf of the Society by the Research Board. We hope you find our comments useful.

Prof J A Ellis Cpsychol

Chair, Research Board

1.  THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF PEER REVIEW AS A QUALITY CONTROL MECHANISM FOR SCIENTISTS, PUBLISHERS AND THE PUBLIC

1.1  The main strengths of peer review lie in its usage of experts to evaluate the quality of research; the use of individuals who are most familiar with existing literature and appropriate standards of rigor.

1.2  This provides a guarantee of the validity and scientific warrant of the knowledge produced with public funds and placed in the public domain.

1.3   The main weaknesses of peer review arise if a double-blind review procedure is not adopted. Editors and reviewers can be subjective; favoritism or other biases may come into play; and feedback may be unconstructive.

2.  MEASURES TO STRENGTHEN PEER REVIEW

2.1 The use of on-line peer review together with the adoption of a standard process across similar outlets, with agreed panels and templates, might strengthen researchers' and the public's confidence in the process.

3.  THE VALUE AND USE OF PEER REVIEWED SCIENCE ON ADVANCING AND TESTING SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE

3.1 It ensures the quality of research and the use of robust methodology via scrutiny from appropriate experts. Even rejected research proposals can benefit from this process as, for example, weak arguments can be strengthened as a result of constructive feedback.

4.  THE VALUE AND USE OF PEER REVIEWED SCIENCE IN INFORMING PUBLIC DEBATE

4.1 There should be greater quality assurance associated with peer reviewed science. However, the media often misinterprets findings and researchers need to be more aware of how research may be (mis)interpreted by both the media and the public.

5.  THE EXTENT TO WHICH PEER REVIEW VARIES BETWEEN SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINES AND BETWEEN COUNTRIES ACROSS THE WORLD

5.1 There is a considerable degree of variation between countries across the world; especially in the usage of double-blind procedures.

6.  THE PROCESSES BY WHICH REVIEWERS WITH THE REQUISITE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE ARE IDENTIFIED, IN PARTICULAR AS THE VOLUME OF MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH INCREASES

6.1 There is considerable variation in the processes by which appropriate reviewers are identified - senior figures, databases/pools/colleges of experts, on-line search engines (Google, Google Scholar).

7.  THE IMPACT OF IT AND GREATER USE OF ONLINE RESOURCES ON THE PEER REVIEW PROCESS

7.1 The speed and efficiency of the peer review process has been significantly increased as a result of increased IT and on-line resources. On-line submission and review have also greatly reduced associated costs; as well as significantly increasing the "pool" of potential international reviewers.

8.  POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES TO PEER REVIEW

8.1. We believe that high quality but more transparent peer review remains the best option for the assessment of UK scientific research.

British Psychological Society

15 March 2011


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 July 2011