CPS 300
Introduction to Graduate Study

Peer review

Science is political. Scientific careers depend on publication of research results: "publish or perish". Moreover, those research results may be threatening in some way to other scientists or to various other interests. It is increasingly common to hear claims that scientific conclusions are politically driven, e.g., with respect to climate disruption, destruction of ecosystems and species, stem cells, toxicity of pollutants, and so on. The response of the scientific community is that science is an ongoing process of refinement and consensus that is inherently self-correcting over the long term. And the primary mechanism for that self-correction is Peer Review. The integrity and authority of the scientific community depends on scientists continually checking up on each other.

As a scientist, your work as a scientist will be subjected to peer review. One of your most important responsibilities will be to review the work of your colleagues.

As an author, you should strive to make your reviewer's job as easy as it can be. As a reviewer, you should strive to write fair, honest, well-calibrated reviews that are helpful to your community as well as to the authors.

In either role, it is crucial to understand the culture of peer review and its pitfalls and limitations, and some of the ethical issues you might face as an author or a reviewer. A key aspect of the job is to assess the nature and weight of scientific contributions (yours and others), and match the contribution to the forum (workshop, conference, journal). Here are some readings that discuss these issues.