Who is better at determining whether someone’s work has merit than peers within the same field of expertise? For this reason, the peer review process is an effective tool, but when combined with bias, it also has potential to be abused. Even when the author is not made known, in fields with few experts, it may be easy to discern who the author is by simply reading the research paper.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has published basic principles for peer reviews in COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. According to COPE, peer reviewers should:
- only agree to review manuscripts for which they have the subject expertise required to carry out a proper assessment and which they can assess in a timely manner
- respect the confidentiality of peer review and not reveal any details of a manuscript or its review, during or after the peer-review process, beyond those that are released by the journal
- not use information obtained during the peer-review process for their own or any other person’s or organization’s advantage, or to disadvantage or discredit others
- declare all potential conflicting interests, seeking advice from the journal if they are unsure whether something constitutes a relevant interest
- not allow their reviews to be influenced by the origins of a manuscript; by the nationality, religious or political beliefs, gender or other characteristics of the authors; or by commercial considerations
- be objective and constructive in their reviews, refraining from being hostile or inflammatory and from making libelous or derogatory personal comments
- acknowledge that peer review is largely a reciprocal endeavor and undertake to carry out their fair share of reviewing and in a timely manner
- provide journals with personal and professional information that is accurate and a true representation of their expertise
- recognize that impersonation of another individual during the review process is considered serious misconduct
The peer review process can bolster the quality of work that is presented. Reviewers may spot errors during the peer review but it is impossible to catch all errors. An honest, quality effort should be put forth by peer reviewers to advance science and to maintain transparency and the public’s trust.