The ‘other’ benefits of peer review

Editors note: Over the last few years peer review is often much maligned. I am still a believer — at least until something clearly superior comes along. Apart from the obvious benefits to Journal (and their are editors), many believe peer review also helps authors and even the reviewers themselves. The following is the concluding section of a recent Opinion piece in the Scientist which should encourage you to read the entire posting. I have underlined one sentence that I believe to be particularly important.

A two-way street

Of course, applicants are not the only ones to benefit from peer review; the investigators who take time out from their busy schedules to review the applications submitted by others also have much to gain. Most obviously, they get to observe how strong writing skills and clear presentation lead to successful applications, thereby improving their own grantsmanship. But reviewers also get to learn of new discoveries in the applicants’ preliminary data and new techniques or applications of existing methods that might benefit their own work.

Indeed, the AIBS survey of reviewers indicated that more than 70 percent felt that their participation in peer review was particularly useful in exposing them to emerging scientific areas and technologies. Moreover, reviewers may then choose to track particular investigators presenting their work at scientific meetings and in publications, and may even explore collaborations once the work is in the public domain. And in the shorter term, when reviewers get together during face-to-face panel meetings, their interactions often lead to collaborations. In some respects, the discussions among reviewers during a review panel meeting are very similar to the exchanges that occur during a scientific meeting.

As such, participation in the scientific peer-review process is an exceptional opportunity for both new and seasoned faculty. Not surprisingly, NIH study section members have always enjoyed a higher success rate with their own applications than the general scientific community has, with a current funding rate more than 8 percent higher than the general success rate. Given these clear benefits, scientific peer review should not be viewed as just another hurdle or a nagging chore. Rather, it should be seen as an opportunity to share ideas, learn from others, and embrace the collective effort to move science forward.

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