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Watch the AllTrials TEDx talk on YouTube

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Evidence matters to the public

Join us on 1st November at Parliament to make the case

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Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Peer Review Education Resource

Peer review is the process by which scientific progress is critically appraised by other scientists in order to validate the work. It is one of the most important checks and balances that exists in science. Peer review acts as a quality control on research, ensuring that the highest possible standard exists for all published work.

A short explanation of peer review

When a researcher, or team of researchers, finish a stage of work, they usually write a paper presenting their methods, findings and conclusions. They then send the paper to a scientific journal to be considered for publication.

If the journal’s editor thinks it is suitable for their journal, they send the paper to other scientists who research and publish in the same field asking them to:

  • Comment on its validity – are the research results credible; are the design and methodology appropriate?
  • Judge the significance - is it an important finding?
  • Determine its originality - are the results new?
  • Does the paper refer properly to work done by others?
  • Give an opinion as to whether the paper should be published, improved or rejected (usually to be submitted elsewhere).

The scientists (peers) assessing the papers are called referees or reviewers.

 

The peer review process

Peer review flow chart

 

Why is this relevant?

Every day there are stories in the news about new scientific discoveries. How do we know what to believe? 

  • The system of peer review subjects research to independent scrutiny by other qualified experts (peers).  
  • Peer review can help you make sense of science stories as it tells you that the research has passed the scrutiny of other scientists and is considered valid, significant and original.
  • Peer review means that statements made by scientists in scientific journals are different from other kinds of statements, such as those made by politicians, newspaper columnists or campaign groups.  Science is therefore more than just another opinion.  

Sense About Science believes a thorough understanding of peer review is essential to meeting the national curriculum requirement, expressed in statement 4c at Key Stage 4, that pupils should be taught:

"how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and the role of the scientific community in validating these changes."

We have created this education resource for Key Stage 4 science teachers. The resources on these pages explain the process and will arm students with the tools to question science stories in the media.