Today, with the debate about the future of peer review more fraught than ever, it is crucial to understand the youth of this institution. What’s more, its workings and its imagined goals have evolved continually, and its current tensions bear the marks of this. The referee system has become a mishmash of practices, functions and values. But one thing stands out: pivotal moments in the history of peer review have occurred when the public status of science was being renegotiated.
Current attempts to reimagine peer review rightly debate the psychology of bias, the problem of objectivity, and the ability to gauge reliability and importance, but they rarely consider the multilayered history of this institution. Peer review did not develop simply out of scientists’ need to trust one another’s research. It was also a response to political demands for public accountability. To understand that other practices of scientific judgement were once in place ought to be a part of any responsible attempt to chart a future path. The imagined functions of this institution are in flux, but they were never as fixed as many believe. More.
Peer review, the “gold standard of science” (NIH, 2012) was troubled from the start?
It’ll be interesting to see how peer review handles the current move toward rethinking evolution in the light of new information.
See also: Venerated medical journal under attack
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