The debate into the merits and/or problems with peer review as a system in itself as well as one for catching scientific fraud has probably been going on for as long as the peer review process itself. Every time a retraction turns up peer review’s detractors throw their arms up in the air claiming that this is why peer review doesn’t work. I haven’t seen much in the way of a viable alternative to peer review being suggested than the simplistic “just blog your research”, which in itself has many more problems just waiting to happen than the peer review process has presently. Many complaints of the peer review process don’t really seem to be about peer review itself — rather, about the scientific class system we find ourselves in. The world of impact factors and journals of esteem skew peer review. This is without a doubt. Some are trying to turn the tide with a recent phenomenon of publishing “negative” results. Or rather, results that have no positive bias and have no wow-factor. Examples of open access journals are becoming more common in that respect.
But going back to peer review, very few ask the question of what peer review is actually for?
It is important to have this discussion as a reminder. I think as scientists, sometimes we forget what publication means. Publication is never the last word. Publication through peer review ensures that what is presented is of suitable scientific “merit” to be presented to the wider scientific community. That your findings can be reproduced by other scientists in the field. Peer review establishes a minimal scientific unit, if you will, for the larger community.
This whole debate, as important as it is, really reminds me of a this paper: