Does the peer review system work?

Time for a little provocation: a Slate article on peer review for scholarly articles. Not, to be sure, a peer-reviewed article, but interesting nonetheless.

I’d suggest three things:

  • In many, perhaps most fields, peer review does not determine whether a paper will be published–only where it will be published. (A point the article raises, if indirectly.)
  • It’s nearly impossible to do a proper study of the worth of peer review because virtually all scholarly articles go through the process. (A point also raised directly in the article: That is, where would you find a control group for a study?)
  • Peer review implies to many people a standard of quality that it doesn’t and probably can’t consistently deliver.

Easy for me to say, of course: I don’t claim to be a scholar, and have done maybe half a dozen peer-reviewed articles in my entire career (maybe not that many). I have served as a peer reviewer, to be sure–but not in STM. And I have seen articles that I judged to be pretty much worthless show up in print, if not in the journal for which I reviewed them. (No names, please, especially since it’s been many years…)

3 Responses to “Does the peer review system work?”

  1. T. Scott says:

    For peer review at the Journal of the Medical Library Association go here:

  2. walt says:

    T. Scott’s comment is a little cryptic–but if you follow the link, you’ll find an excellent discussion of how peer review does (and doesn’t) work at JMLA.

  3. Darra Ballance says:

    You may also wish to take a look at the blog YoungFemaleScientist ( Her post “Advice, give and take” on 4/6/05 is about her experience as a reviewer. She has also posted her opinions about being on the receiving end of peer review.