Archive for June, 2015|Monthly archive page

Bias in Peer Review of Research

In Education, Intellectual Property, Research and Development on June 30, 2015 at 6:38 PM

Reviewing research papers for conferences and journals is a part of my job. When I review journal papers, I get to see the comments of other reviewers when the review is complete and comments are sent out to the authors. In the last few months, I have seen review comments which were obviously influenced by the author’s affiliations and past work. I am not saying that the author had any role to play in it because I know it is not possible in those journals. To me, those reviewers sounded as if  they were fans of the authors. Sometimes they adopted a condescending  approach but their comments never reflected the depth of academic rigor. They were more like “Yeah, I know it is a difficult problem. But you guys are well known. So, let me just say yes to your work without concerning myself too much with all that you have stated”. Mind you that mostly it is the decision of the majority that actually counts in a review process. So, if you are reviewer who reviews papers based only on its content, quality, novelty and such other parameters, without caring for author affiliations etc., you might be surprised with such biased reviews. This is one way in which an undeserving paper  gets published successfully. I think that is one reason why most conferences (at least in my field) insist on a blind-review process. The author names and affiliations are not available to reviewers during the review process. This is an example where peer review fails. There are a number of studies and commentaries on the strengths and the weaknesses of peer review which I won’t go into in this post. You can read some sample examples here and here.

The kind of bias that I just mentioned is akin to the culture of fan following in entertainment industry or in sports. You are a fan of someone, you will always support him/her. I have not yet figured out why journals have not adopted a blind review process. I guess if they do, they can reduce the effect of such biased reviews. I am interested in knowing about the review process in your fields and your experiences as a writer, reviewer editor etc. Please feel free to comment.