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Peer review is well established across most academic disciplines, and publishers, editors, and researchers devote considerable resources to it. This paper uses examples from biomedical journals to examine its shortcomings. Although mainly anecdotal, the evidence suggests that peer review is sometimes ineffective at identifying important research and even less effective at detecting fraud. Most reviewers identify only the minority of a paper's defects and they may be biased. Peer review plus other editorial processes are associated with improvements in papers between submission and publication, but published papers remain hard to read and a significant proportion contain errors or omissions. While it is hard to quantify the costs, peer review does not seem an efficient use of resources. Research into the outcomes of peer review, the establishment of sound methods for measuring the quality of the process and its outcomes, and comparisons with alternative methods are needed.
Learned Publishing is the journal of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, published in collaboration with the Society for Scholarly Publishing. The journal is published quarterly in January/April/July/October.
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