Medical Research Peer Review Process: What You Need to Know

Every legitimate medical journal has a peer review board hired by the journal to evaluate whether studies submitted for publication meet the journal’s standards.

Peer review boards look closely for issues such as:

  • reliance on outdated or disproved scientific or analytic methods
  • questionable interpretations of data used to make unsubstantiated conclusions
  • potential ethical conflicts of interest on the part of the scientists that could affect the validity of the results

Peer Review Process

Peer review can take weeks, months or in some cases even years depending on the nature of the concerns. Studies confirming existing research will likely take less time to review than those breaking new ground. The board may consult with study authors about wording, methodology, and findings and has broad gatekeeping authority to reject studies outright.

Publication acceptance rates vary. Prestigious journals may have a very low acceptance rate due to submission volume while a niche journal may have fewer submissions and a higher acceptance rate.

Publication of inaccurate, misleading, ethically compromised or fraudulent medical studies can damage a journal’s reputation and cause confusion in the medical field.

Limitations of Peer Review

Lack of Consistency Between Journals

In addition to universal basic research standards, medical journals may apply their own particular additional standards. For instance, a scientifically valid study could be rejected because the journal dislikes the format or the way methods were applied. Journals are not a homogenous group. A study rejected by one may be later published by another.

Human Limitations

Despite their expertise, peer reviewers are still human and may overlook important concerns or otherwise make mistakes. Their objectivity could become compromised by the prominence of the researchers, the journal’s need for material, or because a discovery could potentially enhance the journal’s reputation.

Other potential influences:

  • institutional affiliation of reviewers and/or researchers
  • bias based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of personal identity
  • different opinions regarding statistical analysis and other research parameters

Commercial Interests

Drug companies, medical device makers and other private entities may submit distorted studies that support their products.

By MedTruth Editors

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