Medical journal peer review: process and bias

Pain Physician. Jan-Feb 2015;18(1):E1-E14.


Scientific peer review is pivotal in health care research in that it facilitates the evaluation of findings for competence, significance, and originality by qualified experts. While the origins of peer review can be traced to the societies of the eighteenth century, it became an institutionalized part of the scholarly process in the latter half of the twentieth century. This was a response to the growth of research and greater subject specialization. With the current increase in the number of specialty journals, the peer review process continues to evolve to meet the needs of patients, clinicians, and policy makers. The peer review process itself faces challenges. Unblinded peer review might suffer from positive or negative bias towards certain authors, specialties, and institutions. Peer review can also suffer when editors and/or reviewers might be unable to understand the contents of the submitted manuscript. This can result in an inability to detect major flaws, or revelations of major flaws after acceptance of publication by the editors. Other concerns include potentially long delays in publication and challenges uncovering plagiarism, duplication, corruption and scientific misconduct. Conversely, a multitude of these challenges have led to claims of scientific misconduct and an erosion of faith. These challenges have invited criticism of the peer review process itself. However, despite its imperfections, the peer review process enjoys widespread support in the scientific community. Peer review bias is one of the major focuses of today's scientific assessment of the literature. Various types of peer review bias include content-based bias, confirmation bias, bias due to conservatism, bias against interdisciplinary research, publication bias, and the bias of conflicts of interest. Consequently, peer review would benefit from various changes and improvements with appropriate training of reviewers to provide quality reviews to maintain the quality and integrity of research without bias. Thus, an appropriate, transparent peer review is not only ideal, but necessary for the future to facilitate scientific progress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Humans
  • Peer Review / methods*
  • Peer Review / standards
  • Periodicals as Topic*