Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence submitted by Dr Andrew Sugden, Deputy Editor and International Managing Editor, Science (PR 91a)

1.  In relation to Q144 and Q145 (see transcript), could you send further information from your colleagues as referred to?

The relevant US supreme court case is Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals—see for some general discussion and a link to the full opinion. I'm told that this has been used pretty heavily since then, including in the Dover decision on evolution. Essentially, the Daubert standard sets the scientific standard for evidence given in court by expert witnesses, such that part of the definition of scientific evidence is that it is based on publication(s) in the peer-reviewed literature. On the face of it this seems a sensible direction, though in the US system it has apparently led in some cases to the exclusion of some types of legitimate evidence from court proceedings (see, or Difficulties could arise from too rigid a definition of peer review (for instance if scientific evidence in the "grey literature"—gov't reports and so forth—was excluded from the definition). So while I stated in verbal evidence that the system could be useful, clearly there are potential pitfalls in its application.

2.  What training does Science provide for its editors and editorial board members and how often is this refreshed?

Our editors are trained and mentored on the job by their more senior and established colleagues. They are appointed largely on the basis of their scientific experience and credentials, and so their training at Science magazine is focused on the workflow procedures for manuscript handling and peer review, and on Science's criteria for selection (see my written evidence). Because all manuscripts are handled through a common electronic system, the work and decision-making of each editor is transparent to the rest of the group, which reinforces common standards of practice and uniformity in scientific standards. New editors are also sometimes encouraged to attend relevant short courses run by bodies such as the Association of Learned & Professional Society publishers. Training is not formally refreshed, because all our editors are in regular communication with each other, and also meet every week as a group. All editors undergo an annual performance appraisal. Members of our Board of Reviewing Editors, who are professional scientists, do not receive any training from us, beyond instruction on the level and method of input we ask of them. They are appointed on the basis of their established scientific credentials, and in most cases are rotated from their service on the Board after three to five years (ie the Board itself is refreshed).

26 May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 July 2011