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Peer Review in Academia: Rationale, Process, and Implications

Introduction

On a global scale, the academic fraternity has for a long time now relied upon a collection of peer for purposes of assisting in the review of the work of other authors. This is a necessary process, as it enables an author to realize certain flows in their work that would have otherwise gone undetected, in the absence of a peer review process (Weller, 2000, p. 1329). A majority of the scientific disciplines periodically utilises peer review as a toll for evaluating the value contained in new knowledge that authors submits to various journals, prior to publication. Peer reviews are individuals that have an experience in the evaluation of the work of other authors, using the suitable research domain. A research domain is a necessary tool for peer reviews, because it enables them to assess the empirical rigor, quality of ideas as well as the collective contribution that a given manuscript conveyers. Fundamentally, peer reviewers could be regarded as more of gate-keepers in the publication of knowledge, since they are charged with the responsibility of discrimination between on the one hand, low-quality work and on the other hand, work of sound quality that warrants publication.

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Peer reviewers have been lauded for their work within the scientific enterprise, by safeguarding its integrity (Miller, 2006, p. 426). This is in addition to their role in safeguarding the status of scholars that are already well established within the academic fraternity. It is important to ensure that the peer review process does not undermine the superior quality of scholars who are determined to gain pre-eminence in the academic fraternity. One of the ways through which the integrity of such scholars can be safeguarded is not allowing inferior work to be published. Even as the peer review system has gained prominence within the academic circle, nonetheless, the system has had its fair share of flaws. The risk associated with the peer review process largely stems from the human judgement of individuals involved. Amongst the leading issues that finds fault in the peer review process is the possibility that a number of the peer review panellists could end up issuing unwarranted harsh critiques on the work of a given scholar.

Rationale

Given that academic peer review is not without its fare share of faults, a novice scholar would therefore be forgiven for questioning the rationale behind the review process. To start with, there is a need to appreciate the fact that in the absence of a strong and sound peer review system, the desired effective operations of scholarly journals would be hindered. Weller (2000, p. 1331) notes that science has relied on the peer review team for a period of over 300 years now. As such, the system has become more of a tradition that is difficult to do away with. There are those who are in favor of the peer review system based on the fact that it hastens the sped at which information is churned into the marketplace. However, it is important to note that the peer review process also ensures that the information that is churned into the market is authentic, which is why it has to be subjected to the rigorous exercise of peer review. With the advent of the internet, there is a lot of information available online. However, the peer review process has ensured that only quality work gets published in peer reviewed journals. This form of refereeing has become quite common amongst the academic circle to the extent that students in certain disciplines are cautioned against citing sources that are not peer reviewed. Viewed at from another perspective, a peer reviewer is in a position to learn more on the new ideas, methods, work as well as references that other researchers may have used, and which a given peer reviewer in question may have overlooked. This is more of an instrumental intrinsic value that is attached to the work of peer reviewing.

The process of peer reviewing, along with the peer reviewers, is vital for the sharpening and vetting of various research contributions. When vetting an article that has managed to reach the stage of publication, new theories are necessary. In addition, there is also the need to ensure that the theory in question is in line with the prevailing management dialogue (Armstrong, 1997, p. 64). Further, it is important to ensure that the author(s) are capable of communicating their ideas and thoughts in a form that warrants publication. For this reason, colleagues will from time to time involve themselves in discussion processes regarding the elements of a good theory, the requirements for an author to manage the processes of submitting their work for publication, and any subsequent revision exercises. Further, peer reviewers are also concerned with the question of why the process of peer review is vital in academia.

In addition to the aforementioned concerns for peer reviewers, the process also demands that the reviewers are subjected to a mentorship process. In particular, aside form the requirements that peer reviewers should be capable and willing to undertake their work, it is necessary that they work hand-in-hand with a guiding editor. The work of such an editor is that of mentorship, since he/she is well versed with the significance attached to the peer review process. In the absence of the mentoring process by the editors and reviewers, along with the advocacy process involved, chances are high that a submission made by a given author or scholar in question may not make it to the publication stage. Accordingly, advocacy and mentorship are important facets of the peer review process (Carpenter, 2009, p. 193). Many of the academic disciplines have associated themselves with the peer review process for a long time now. Some of the peer reviewers in academia have become experts in the field through a mentorship process, in addition to the trial and error method. However, a majority of peer reviewers have gained experiences through observation (that is, by way of reading the reviews of other scholars, or even their individual reviews).

Process

There are a number of authors, who have examined the peer review process into details (for example Meadows 1998, pp. 177). All of these authors are in agreements that there are four fundamental roles that the scholarly literature plays, namely, disseminating current knowledge, ensuring that the existing canonical knowledge is well archived, ensuring the quality control of the already published information, and the allocation of credit and priority to different authors and their works. Accordingly, peer reviewers are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that all of the aforementioned functions are fulfilled during in the peer review process. Even as several scholarly articles are subjected to the process of peer review, nonetheless, the paradigm appears to be towards the scholarly articles, and their subsequent publication in peer reviewed journals. The peer review process also finds application in conferences when authors are submitting proposed papers. In addition, the awarding of contracts and research grants along with the publication of scholarly monographs are all subjected to the peer review process. The peer review process begins with the vetting of a submitted report by a journal’s editorial department. At this point, such a paper could be rejected by the editorial department on grounds that it is ‘out of scope’. Alternatively, a paper may be rejected on grounds that it depicts low quality. Once a paper manages to go through this initial hurdle, it is then sent for vetting by a team of experts (they are usually two). These experts are requested to rank the paper in terms of how fast it may be published (for example immediately, publishable after initial improvements and amendments, or even not publishable).

Most of the time, these experts issues a verdict that a paper in question can only be published after it has undergone some improvements and amendments to warrant publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Accordingly, these referees are also required to offer the suggestion regarding how they would want the paper to be amended prior to publishing. Scholars contend that this function of improving a research paper prior to its publication is necessary, since it ensure that the overall quality characteristics of a scholarly literature are maintained (Starbuck, 2003, p. 346). There is a need to appreciate the fact that nearly 80 percent of all the papers that gets published shall have received one form of revision or another. A few concerns have however been raised regarding the peer review process. Some of these concerns raised include bias, subjectivity, detecting defects, abuse, misconduct as well as fraud. If left unattended, these concerns are capable of affecting the quality and effectiveness of the peer review process.

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A few scholars have even accused peer review referees of subjectivity. This entails summary rejections of the works of an author by an editor even before the referees have examined it. It also includes the choices that an editor makes regarding those referees who are to review the work submitted for publishing.

Implications

The peer review process has had several implications on the academic field, one of which is the unnecessary harsh critiques that would-be publishers are subjected to by the some members of the peer review team. Even though reviewers are normally trained to detect existing flaws in research, in addition to offering debate regarding merits of diverse methods and theories, nevertheless they have at times been seen to focus exclusively on aggressively highlighting and uncovering the flaws that may be contained in a given submission. The situation is further complicated by reviewers who may see themselves as superiors, as opposed to peers; in as far as the science hierarchy is concerned (Starbuck, 2003, p. 347). When an individual is charged with the responsibility of an evaluator, such an effect may be experienced. The implication is that frustrated authors may emerge, having already developed a bad attitude regarding the peer review process. Another implication of the peer review systems in academia entails biased judgments. There are various forms of biasness. For example, journals that lacks blind review, doctoral origins, particularistic criteria regarding to the social relations of an author, and the prevailing affiliations play a significant role in as far as the issue of biasness is concerned. This form of criteria gives clues, eve if these are imperfect in nature, regarding how competent the author (s) manuscript is. Moreover, such clues so provided may in fact prove beneficial in helping reviewers to overcome instances of biasness in future while reviewing research papers.

The issue of bias has also come up, thanks to the peer review process, and more so in as far as gatekeeping is concerned. This is a scenario whereby editors and reviewers utilize suitable indicators during the evaluation process of manuscripts. Although many reporters have thus far reported satisfaction with the ‘objectivity” of peer reviewers in their work, nevertheless, there is the possibility of other authors failing to report satisfaction in case they detect any form of bias towards for example, simple writing, nonconformity results as well as additional elements of their work that bears little or no correlation with the merits contained therein. Complexity bias is also a common occurrence in peer review. Although there is little evidence to support the existence of complexity bias in peer reviewing of journals, nonetheless, the few isolated cases in literature are quite compelling. For example, Armstrong (1997, p. 178) undertook a study that was aimed at exploring the issue of complexity bias in academia. The author sought to examine the level of competence of passages that had been retrieved from the already published journals. Each one of the passages that the author chose had already been rewritten in various forms. One of the versions of the passages had been rewritten using straightforward, yet simple language. On the other hand, the other version of the passage had been rewritten using complex language. Armstrong was bale to reveal that the chosen faculty members who had reviewed the passages written in the simple version had a tendency of assessing it in a less positive manner, as opposed to their peers who had been subjected to passages written in a complex language. Another form of biasness during a peer review process is confirmation bias. In this case, reviewers are inclined to support research showing little on no deviation from either the preferred or prevailing wisdom. Therefore, any authors who appear to deviate from this scenario would more than likely have their work rejected by the peer review team, because their work does not support the ideas and notions that the hold, regarding the submitted paper.

Dissensus amongst the reviewers themselves is yet another implication of peer review in academia. This is term used in reference to the disagreements that may crop up amongst a group of reviewers during the actual process of reviewing a paper. This is an eras that deserved to be explored with a lot of attention because of the possibility that the ensuing disagreement might result in a submitted paper failing to be published, thereby thwarting the effort and dedication of an author, simply because the peer review team fails to agree on principle (Miller, 2006, p. 425). This is an area that received a lot of attention from the academic arena since it occupies a central position in peer review. Dissensus is capable of causing a lot of anxiety amongst authors, and this could perhaps explain why it is still perceived as being prevalent. Dissensus may lead to authors questioning their talents, based on the inconsistent reviewed that they are likely to receive from their colleagues. However, many are the peers who accord their colleagues useful and positive reviews, the issue of dissensus notwithstanding. Harsh critique is another issue of the peer review process. There is a mild form of critiques by peer reviewers to authors, often referred to as coaching. Ideally, coaching is meant to assist authors in improving their manuscripts. As such, it involves more of supportive commentaries from peers.

Conclusion

Peer review- the practice of authors relying on colleagues to review their submitted manuscript for review prior to its publication- has been practiced within the academic arena for a long time now. There are many reasons for peer the peer review process. For authors, this is a chance for them to have an ‘objective’ look at their work, thanks to the efforts of their colleagues. To the peer reviewers, this is chance for them to gain access to the ideas and thoughts of their colleagues, in effect building their knowledge base within the academic arena. However, questions have been raised regarding the peer review process, especially on the issue of the objectivity of the reviewers. There are authors who are of the opinion that some peer reviewers frustrate heir efforts to have their work published. In addition, even amongst the peer reviewers, cases have been reported about their inability to agree on the right mode of reviewing. Accordingly, various forms of biasness characterize the peer review process, such as the complexity bias. Nonetheless, there is a need to appreciate the importance of the peer review process, because it plays a significant role in drawing a line between on the one hand, superior quality work that warrants publication and on the other hand, low quality work, the existing criticism notwithstanding.

Reference List

Armstrong, J. S. 1997. Peer review for journals: Evidence on quality control, fairness, and innovation. Science and Engineering Ethics, 3: 63–84.

Carpenter, M. A. (2009). Mentoring colleagues in the craft and spirit of peer review. Academy of Management Review, 34(2):191–195.

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Meadows, A.J. (1998) Communicating Research. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Miller, C. (2006). Peer review in the organizational and management sciences: prevalence and effects of reviewer hostility, bias, and dissensus Academy of Management Journal, 49(3): 425–431.

Starbuck, W. H. (2003). Turning lemons into lemonade: Where is the value in peer reviews? Journal of Management Inquiry, 12: 344–351.

Weller, A.C. (2000). Editorial Peer Review for Electronic Journals: Current Issues and Emerging Models. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51(14):1328-1333.

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