Why peer review matters to Sense about Science, the public and early career researchers

Sense about Science is an independent campaigning charity that promotes understanding and use of scientific evidence and challenges its misrepresentation. We equip people with the tools they need to make sense of science and evidence, which is why we have focused on peer review. This fundamental process within science is used to assess validity, significance and originality of research findings. However, peer review is not just relevant to scientists. Peer review matters to the public too.


For the public, knowing that published research has been scrutinised by other experts in the field can help in understanding why a claim that is backed up by a peer reviewed paper is likely to be more reliable than someone’s opinion. We’ve found that being able to ask “Has it been peer reviewed?” is a key starting question for anyone, scientist or not, to weigh up evidence. So we’ve worked with the public to promote a wider understanding of this process, including through our guide, I don’t know what to believe, which opens up how peer review works, its limitations and how it can be used to assess evidence.

Challenges for early career researchers

Peer review also matters to early career researchers (ECRs); our Voice of Young Science network of ECRs tell us they’re keen to know more. But they also raise concerns and questions about recent controversies around peer review, issues of fraud and biases in the process, and whether this means the peer review system is broken. They feel there is a lack of training and lack of opportunity to discuss these issues. With other external pressures on the process, including ever-increasing numbers of papers published, rising pressure on researchers to publish in high impact journals and a shortage of reviewers to scrutinise studies, ECRs involvement in this fundamental process is increasingly important.

Tips and resources for early career researchers

We listened to the concerns of ECRs and began a programme of work dedicated to supporting ECRs to get involved in peer review. We launched a Peer Review: the nuts & bolts guide written by ECRs who interviewed journal editors to find out what goes on behind the scenes. We also run free Peer Review: the nuts & bolts workshops for all ECRs to discuss peer review in detail (warts and all!). The next workshop is at Glasgow Caledonian University on Friday 4th November. You can find more information and apply here.

Top tips from editors and scientists at the workshops:

  • Get involved in (or start!) a journal club in your lab
  • Let your supervisor know you’d like to start reviewing. You can shadow their reviews, compare notes and ask them to introduce you to journals.
  • Give yourself plenty of time for your first reviews, and don’t say yes to everything
  • Leave 24 hours between reading the manuscript and writing your review
  • When reviewing, focus on the methods of the paper first and foremost.
  • Ask yourself 3 simple questions:
    • What is the question being asked?
    • Is it original?
    • Is it suitable for the journal in question?
  • James Shaw and Stewart McMillian are two ECRs who’ve attended the workshops and have shared more top tips on SAGE’s Connection blog hereand here.

Participants’ comments:

  • “I really enjoyed the session, it was full of important info and examples of peer review and publishing practices I didn’t know about before, thanks!”
  • “The workshop is really very interesting, especially to young academics who will gradually pass through the process of peer reviewing of article papers”
  • “I felt encouraged to explore things further and apply to be a reviewer”

And as this week is Peer Review week, there’s no better time to celebrate peer review and discuss its challenges and how it’s changing. Check out talks and webinars happening all week here, and follow the discussion on Twitter: #PeerRevWk2016

This post is part of SAGE’s Peer Review focused content for Peer Review Week 2016.

Related content from SAGE Connection:

Recognition for Review: Who’s Doing What?

How to solve common issues holding manuscripts back- Part 1

SAGE’s Reviewer Gateway- supporting reviewers through the peer review process

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