Author Raidell Avello Martínez– Translation: Erika-Lucia Gonzalez-Carrion
Since the XVII century, scientific journals started to be published. The Journal of Scavans was published in Paris in 1655; after some time, it appears in England the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and so on, and so forth it was increasing in a fast way, during the XIX century, the number of journals. Towards this phenomenon, since the XX century, it was evidenced the need to implement a method to validate scientific works written by the researchers that were presented to journals.
This method was called “peer review”, and its proposal is to measure the quality, feasibility and credibility of the investigations, looking to be published, either its processes or effects or to present them towards funding organizations. This method is named peer review, because the manuscript is checked by researchers, presumably experts, in the same way as the author, in the area.
The method of peer review has become an essential and fundamental part of the scientific publication process, even though it receives a lot of critics, it continues being the main method, within the scientific journals, to: validate a new scientific contribution; confirm good practices when communicating research results through formal criteria as: coherence when writing, domain of the disciplinary area from the technical vocabulary, logic structure of representing the scientific content (structure of the scientific articles); verify good scientific practices through criteria of contents: current issue, relevance for the scientific community, clarity in the applied methods and that could be contrasted, the research results reasonable enough to be presented; guarantee the scientific character of the publication since the decision taking towards its editorial flow, inside, for example, a journal.
This method has been applied in different ways that have been established as standards that are the most used by the scientific journals, among them, are:
The double-blind systems, in which both the reviewers as the authors are anonyms; it represents an attractive alternative. Currently, it is the most used, due to it eliminates from the articles any clue or signal that could help to identify to either the authors or the reviewers. With this approach, it is aimed to preserve the anonymity, with the aim to ensure in that way that the review is fair. However, in a short are it is difficult to hide the identity of an author, particularly if the author is trying to become known through self-cites in previous works.
In the single-blind system, the reviewer knows the identity of the author, but the author does not know the identity of the reviewer. This is an accepted practice, even though it could be vulnerable to nepotism, reason why its ethical foundations have been so many times under critics.
The open system reveals the identities of both, authors and reviewers, and the authors have the capacity to identify the comments from the reviewers.
The system of implementation of the peer review process has evolved and has been impacted by the development of the technologies of the information and the communications and by the apparition of movements as the open access and the open science, reason why there have been established complementary systems of evaluation, as it is the case of the review based on comments, where readers could comment either before and/or after the classic review, or instead of the classic evaluation.
On the other side, the most common practice is that there could be at least two reviewers; however, it is very common that journals assign a third evaluator to facilitate the publication decision, and in sometimes, as it is the case of Comunicar journal, it uses 5 or more:
“COMUNICAR acknowledges receipt of the works sent by the authors and gives periodically account of the process of estimation/ dismiss, as well as, in case of the review, of the blind evaluation process and later edition. The Editors Board will estimate the work for its evaluation to the Reviewers Board, confirming if it fits with the journal’s themes and if it accomplishes the publication guidelines. In that case, it will proceed to its external evaluation. The manuscripts will be evaluated in an anonymous way (double-blind) by five experts. In view of external reports, it will be decided the acceptance/ rejection of articles for their publication, as well as, if it proceeds, the need of introducing modifications. The period for evaluating works, once estimated for its review is maximum 100 days. The authors will receive the evaluation reports, in an anonymous way, in order them to make, in their cases, the corrections or opportune replies.”
In the same way, each journal adjusts its evaluation criteria, and its common that in their websites explain how it is developed the process, moreover, they give clues to the reviewers to help them to make the review and guarantee aspects that the journal considers important. Independently from this clues for each journal, it is possible to synthesize some common aspects that are present, invariably, in any evaluation of a scientific manuscript:
- Scientific novelty
- Organization and representation of the contents
- Thematic relation according to the journal
- Relevance of the methods
- Homogeneity with the guidelines of the journal
- Correspondence among the different sections of the structure of a scientific article.
- Methodological value of the conclusions
- Adequate use of the scientific literature
As it was previously mentioned, the method of peer review has received numerous critics and questionings, among them, there could be mentioned:
- Delay of the process
- Disciplinary bias, cultural, regional, among others
Other concern towards this process is the low availability of reviewers, this is given by the increase of the quantity of the journals, which demands great quantity of evaluators, and in sometimes, there is the need to recruit researchers that do not have the adequate competencies to develop this task, frequently, not paid. It is for that reason that the big publishing houses, as Elsevier, give a month of free access to its insignia database, “SCOPUS”, for each review, to attract reviewers and guarantee the quality of their journals, that undoubtedly, until today, is in a review process of excellence.