To kick start the week Katrina Newitt, the peer review manager for SAGE, spoke with Emily Jesper, assistant director for Sense About Science, a charitable trust that supports people to make sense of scientific and medical claims in public discussion, on the importance of peer review for the academic community. (SAGE is the parent of Social Science Space; Sense About Science is a partner of Social Science Space. This interview originally appeared at SAGE Connection as part of that website’s Connecting with the Community series.
Q. Why does peer review matter to Sense About Science?
Over the past decade, Sense About Science has been working to promote an understanding of peer review among policy makers, journalists, social influencers and civic organizations.
Through workshops and discussions, we’ve encouraged researchers to stand back from the system and think of the role that peer review plays in wider society. We want to encourage researchers to share the question “Is it peer reviewed?” with the public. It’s a great first question to ask to assess the status of scientific claims in the media; the status of findings is as important as the findings themselves.
Contrary to the fears of some researchers when we launched our public guide to peer review I don’t know what to believe in 2005, we have found that people understand that peer review is an indicator of scrutiny rather than the final word.
Q. Peer review can be a highly contested topic in the news and within scholarly communities. Do we need alternatives to peer review?
I don’t think so. It’s the best system we have for maintaining quality in science. Why should we leap from individual failures in the system to dismiss the bigger principles at stake? We don’t do that in other systems which fall short of their principles. Lawyers will regale you about court delays and inadmissible evidence. But we don’t say we need an alternative to justice. We ask how the system can deliver it better.
Q. As a community what can and should we be doing to ensure the quality of academic research?
Support for early career scientists to get involved in the peer review process will allow the next generation of researchers to be ready to play their role in scrutinizing research, as well as gain insights into other developments in their research area. Workshops run by Sense About Science and partnered by SAGE and other publishers support early career researchers to find out how peer review works, the challenges for peer review, and how to get involved.