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The significance of the peer review process against the background of bias: priority ratings of reviewers and editors and the prediction of citation, the role of geographical bias

Tobias Opthof, Ruben Coronel, Michiel J. Janse
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0008-6363(02)00712-5 339-346 First published online: 1 December 2002

1 Introduction

Editors are facing larger numbers of submitted manuscripts than they can publish [1]. In their selection process of papers they depend on the advice of one or more peer reviewers [1]. It is thus important that the process is fair and as unbiased as possible.

The origin of ‘peer review’ dates back to 1752, when the Royal Society of London obtained the fiscal responsibility for the Philosophical Transactions [2]. There are few historical accounts of the evolution of editorial peer review [3]. Today, specialized research on the peer review system is only just starting to emerge and has been the topic of four world congresses [4–7]. This type of research focuses—amongst many other issues—on themes as whether or not masking the identity of authors to reviewers influences the reports of reviewers and whether or not anonymity of reviewers is a relevant topic [4–7].

Previous reports on the editorial process of Radiology [8] and the Journal of Clinical Investigation [9], have indicated that reviewers set markedly different standards in their appreciation of manuscripts. The concordance between reviewers on identical manuscripts is limited [9]. The fact that in the social sciences published papers have an almost 90% chance to be rejected when resubmitted to other journals casts doubt on the validity of the peer review system [10]. Such data are to our knowledge not available for the biomedical sciences. However, there is circumstantial evidence that peer review can successfully discriminate between manuscripts that have a greater chance to be cited in the future. Thus, Wilson showed that papers rejected by the Journal of Clinical Investigation were cited at lower frequency if published by other journals [11]. Manuscripts rejected by Cardiovascular Research were also cited at significantly lower frequency, even if published by …

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