Peer review – the “tyranny” of the third reviewer

Yes, I know, this video clip is old hat. It’s been used so many times it has got boring. And, maybe most readers won’t really relate to the way it is used here.

Still, those who have published scientific papers and suffered the emotional roller-coaster of peer-review will be aware of the problem of the “third reviewer.”

The more cynical will describe the peer review process as a bit of a farce. Usually, a journal will use three reviewers. Many times the first one presents a glowing, but undetailed report, recommending publication. The second reviewer will reject the paper out of hand, recommending that no way should it be published. But their recommendation is similarly undetailed.

The third reviewer will have done the work, hopefully in detail and conscientiously. And they may recommend publication – but only after their detailed critiqued is dealt with. But many authors dread their report because it usually means a lot more work for them – maybe, more experimental work.

I have seen authors get very emotional about specific peer reviews of their papers – and it is usually the “third reviewer” that upsets them. It means more work – and the detailed critique seems to be harder to handle than the undetailed outright rejection of the second reviewer. Perhaps the Hitler video clip is not too far from the truth.

Still, I think the peer-review process hangs on the “third reviewer.” There need to be far more reviewers who take their role seriously in this way. The first two reviewers are just lazy and opinionated – their comments are worth nothing.

For more on the peer-review process and its problems read Is scientific peer review a “sacred cow” ready to be slaughtered? « Science-Based Medicine

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One response to “Peer review – the “tyranny” of the third reviewer

  1. I have to admit to a single peer reviewed publication. I have no idea who the peer reviewer was, even though it was decades ago and the research subsequently influenced government policy. The paper was published with no alterations. I consider myself fortunate.

    There have been several subsequent presentations at conferences, none of which have had any influence on research or medical practice, as far as I am aware.


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