A couple of years ago I had a vigorous discussion of climate change with a young lady in the first year of her PhD studies. She had great faith in the peer reviewed literature. She hadn’t read it but she felt the consensus could not be wrong because it was peer reviewed.
In the meantime, someone has done some research on the peer review process …
Douglas P. Peters and Stephen J. Ceci
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 5, pp 187-195.
Department of Psychology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D. 58202
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 74853
A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables.
The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices.
With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated.
If the null hypothesis was that the journals reject 80% of articles at random it was not disproved.