is the a process used by every major academic publication. The intent of the peer review process is to assess the quality
, correctness and suitability of the submitted manuscript
prior to passing it on to the publications' professional editing staff.
In most cases, a manuscript will be examined (cursorily) by the associate editor in charge of the particular field of study (in smaller publications, there is only an editor-in-chief, and this person will do the preliminary examination). The associate editor will then decide whether the manuscript, in its current form, should indeed be put through the peer review process. If the manuscript does not meet the standards of the journal, then it will in most cases be sent back to the authors with a letter explaining the situation. If it is sent out for peer review, however, it is normally sent to two (sometimes three) reviewers contacted by the associate editor. These individuals (normally professors or their equivalents) will then assess the manuscript for the quality of the research and findings. Their job is to determine whether or not the research contributes something novel or important to the field of study and whether or not it fits with the mission statement of the journal. In most cases, the reviewers will have either minor or major corrections for the authors if the manuscript is not refused outright. At this point, in most cases, their job is done. After the authors make certain modifications or respond to the reviewers concerns, the associate editor may accept the manuscript for publication. At this point, the copy editing staff takes over and works the text into a format acceptable for publication.
The peer review process can be fraught with errors, but it is generally accepted (at times, begrudgingly) as the best method to ensure accuracy and truthfulness in the material being published. The reviewers will normally catch the majority of minor or major flaws in reasoning or interpretation, and most make a very concerted effort to examine every manuscript in an objective and fair-minded manner. In some instances, however, personal enmity prevents a reviewer for accurately or fairly assessing a manuscript, at which point the editorial staff should send the paper out for further review.
In most cases, the review is done anonymously, in order to protect the reviewers from possible future recrimination and also to encourage honesty and frankness when criticizing a manuscript. This anonymity is sometimes abused, however, and it again falls to the editorial staff to recognize such and react accordingly. In recent years, some reviewers have argued and begun to identify themselves, and there is some debate as to whether or not this is a good idea.
Whenever I hear someone bash the peer review process, I'm reminded of the expression often cited concerning the limitations of democracy
: "It's the worst system out there, except for all the others