University Policies and
- Describe the concept of peer review and
its importance to the scientific enterprise.
- Given brief descriptions of a range of
situations involving the peer review of the work of others, the
learner will 1) indicate the extent to which the reviewers actions
violate the responsibilities of the reviewer, and 2) distinguish
better from worse remedies for offenses.
Policies and Procedures
Peer review is the researcher’s jury
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do not review work on which you are not
- Do not review work on a subject where
you are involved in a contentious dispute.
- Do not delay.
- The work is confidential.
- It is a heinous sin to appropriate work
from a paper or grant you are reviewing.
- Avoid the "Matthew effect",
i.e., To him that hath, shall be given. (Merton, 1985)
From "Teaching the responsible conduct
of research through a case study approach; A handbook for instructors".
Association of American Medical Colleges, 1994.
Case C1: Reviewing
Research Grant Applications
Don Fletcher is a full professor at a renowned
university and has a reputation as an outstanding scientist. His
work has had a number of potentially profitable practical applications,
which led him to join with some venture capital partners in forming
a company to commercialize his inventions. Now several years old,
the company is a financial success.
Dr. Fletcher is also a member of a National
Institutes of Health (NIH) study section—one of the many
peer review groups at the NIH that evaluate the scientific merit
of grant applications. Despite the long hours, he is pleased to
serve since he recognizes the importance of his contributions
to the peer review system. In addition, he believes it is an excellent
way of keeping absolutely current with the work done in his and
related fields. He is very aware of the importance of confidentiality
as reiterated in the statement read before each study section
Dr. Fletcher just returned from reviewing
a fascinating grant application from a scientist working in a
closely related area of research. After evaluating the application’s
preliminary work report, Dr. Fletcher came to realize that much
of his own current NIH-funded and corporate research was proceeding
down a blind alley. A meeting to review his research team’s
progress is fast approaching, and he is due at corporate headquarters
tomorrow to discuss his company’s research and development
- What could Dr. Fletcher report to his
research team? To his company?
- Should Dr. Fletcher have proceeded differently
in the case of this grant review?
- Some people may have difficulty in segregating
ideas that they gain in the course of reviewing grant applications
from ideas they develop on their own or glean from nonconfidential
sources. If you were in Dr. Fletcher’s situation, how
would you ensure that you did not benefit inappropriately from
information or ideas acquired during the course of your duties
as a study section member?
- Policies for peer review involve both
the need for expert assessment and the avoidance of breaches
of confidentiality. Develop a set of rules that you believe
should guide the peer assessment.
Case C2: Reviewing
Submissions to Journals
Anne Baldwin is a postdoctoral fellow working
in a highly specialized area of research on lentiviruses and prions.
Her boss, Dr. Sam Richardson, recognizes Anne’s talents
and believes that she is the most promising postdoctoral fellow
in his lab.
Anne’s contributions have included
aiding Dr. Richardson in identifying a rather obscure pathway
by which the prion responsible for Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease,
a degenerative brain disorder, emerges from years of latency to
initiate active infection.
When Dr. Richardson is asked by a leading
neurobiology journal to review an article on the pathology of
Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, he decides to involve Anne because
of her skills and specialized experience. He makes a copy of the
manuscript and asks Anne to write her own critical review of the
piece, just as if she were the actual reviewer. This exercise,
he reasons, would afford Anne a good opportunity for exposure
to the process of peer review, while putting her in touch with
the latest literature on her primary field of research.
- Is Dr. Richardson’s idea a good
one? Why or why not? Are there other ways for him to involve
Anne in reviewing the article?
- Dr. Richardson’s motives for having
Anne participate in this manner seem well-intended. What might
be come negative reasons for involving Anne in this way?
- What concerns might Dr. Richardson’s
approach pose for the author of the article? What issues are
posed for the journal in which the article may appear?
- If Anne feels uncomfortable about Dr.
Richardson’s request, how might she respond?
- Assume that rather than sharing the
paper with Anne, Dr. Richardson distributed it to the laboratory
’s "journal club" for discussion. What kind
of problems does this scenario pose?
- Trial set to focus on peer review; Science
273:1162-1164, 1996. (Report of a dispute between two companies
based on the charge that one of them appropriated data from a
paper one of their employees was referring for Nature.)
- Baue, A. E. 1985. Peer and/or peerless
review: some vagaries of the editorial process. Arch. Surg. 120:885-888.
- Merton, R. K. 1988. The Matthew effect
in science II: cumulative advantage and the symbolism of intellectual
property. Isis 79:621.