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On peer review

Editorial for the 8(3) issue of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

By Leigh E. Rich and Michael A. Ashby

Every January, the American Dialect Society (ADS) votes on the “word(s) of the year,” reflecting a word or phrase that has inordinately affected a culture and its citizens (obviously, primarily those in the United States). In 2010, the term earning the crown title was “app,” perhaps to the glee of Steve Jobs and “Macophiles” but chagrin of English professors everywhere. Other winners in recent years have included “tweet” in 2009; “plutoed” (“to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet”) in 2006; “truthiness” (“the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true”) in 2005; and even “weapons of mass destruction” or its abbreviation “WMD” in 2002 (American Dialect Society n.d.).

If the ADS were to poll academicians strictly about academic matters, however, this year’s winner—or at least a worthy candidate—might be “peer review.” It seems we are all talking about it. Or thinking about it. It is, after all, the “golden standard” in academia, the stick (or carrot) by which quality, funding, and promotion and reputation are measured. It is thus a process we never should ignore or take for granted.

But why does it continue to trouble us so? As bioethicist David B. Resnik explains in his recent essay on the subject, it certainly is not new. The process of peer review stems from the “mid 1700s,” when the editors of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London “launched a system of peer review to evaluate manuscripts before publication” (Resnik 2011, 24). [continued …]

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Rich, Leigh E., and Michael A. Ashby. 2011. Peer review: Editorial for the 8(3) issue. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 8(3): 221–224.

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