Everyone’s a critic

June 11, 2015

Trisha Greenhalgh disagrees with my opinion that pre-publication peer review is a waste of time (“Peer review not yet sunk”, Letters, 4 June). Her disagreement, however, is based on a small technical point on one paper that I mentioned in support of one of the many arguments I advanced. Even if she were right in her one point, it would hardly amount to a refutation of my arguments.

She quotes one of the studies we at the BMJ did that showed that peer reviewers are poor at detecting errors in papers. She says that she was a reviewer in one of the studies and saw so many errors in the paper that she described only three. She says, without any evidence, that she is “sure many reviewers would have done what I did”. As far as I can remember, she’s wrong; and she may be unaware that we did similar studies more than once.

She also says that “the BMJ’s staff – then, as now – viewed peer review as a technical task (‘spotting errors’) rather than a scholarly one (interpretation and judgement)”. I can’t answer for now, but I doubt that that is the case, and certainly it wasn’t when I was the editor. Most of the discussion when peer reviewing the papers was around interpretation, and indeed some of the “errors” that we inserted in the papers were to do with interpretation.

It remains true that most reviewers don’t spot most errors, some of them egregious.

I accept that there are problems in studying peer review, but the case stands that we have substantial evidence of the downside of peer review and virtually none of the upside.

Perhaps Greenhalgh might be able to design some better studies to investigate the value or otherwise of peer review.

Richard Smith
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest