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Peer reviews. A peer reviewer’s view
  1. Philip D Welsby
  1. Retired, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Corresspondence to Philip DWelsby, 1, Burnbrae, Edinburgh EH12 8UB, UK; Philipwelsby{at}

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This author has published on various medical topics and is obviously on several lists as a potential reviewer for papers on subjects of which he has only slight detailed knowledge. There appears to be no definition of, or qualifications for, a peer reviewer other than that he or she is, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be an expert in a particular field.

About a million research papers are published each year and researchers are pressurised to publish because grants, enhanced reputations and rewards may follow (perhaps including a Nobel prize). Peer review is one way for reputable journals to promote good science. But there are numerous problems as outlined by Richard Smith, a previous editor of the British Medical Journal.1

Peer reviewers are usually busy people and often provide their opinions without charge. Journal editors, unless they reject submission independently, must choose and trust that reviewers are up to date especially concerning potentially important recent developments.

For the purposes of this account, a differentiation is made between research studies and research trials. Studies are solely observational and replications are unusual because surrounding circumstances often change with the passage of time. In contrast, trials are interventional. Trials should address predefined specific questions and the methods used should contain sufficient information to allow exact replication. Replication of trials is problematic because of the expenses involved and details of the exact methods used in the original trial may not be comprehensive. Double-blind randomised placebo-controlled research trials are said to be gold standard, but comparative trials are more important. The former only suggests that treatments given were more effective than placebo. Reviewers need to know is whether treatments are better than a known effective treatment.

Traditionally studies and trials comprise titles, abstracts, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusions and references.

Reviewers should ensure that …

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  • Contributors I am sole contributor.

  • Funding No funding received.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.