The History of Peer Review: A Member’s Role in Continuing This Legacy With JEPM

(The)pristine path (to publication) does not usually exist in the real world of assembling a journal. It is strewn with boulders and potholes called politics, ethics, conflict of interest, tardy review, and, worse, incompetent review.”
-Stuart J. Salasche, MD
Editorial in Dermatologic Surgery

Becoming a peer reviewer is an important role taken on by a scientific professional. Peer review allows for the creation of new knowledge and its dissemination to the wider academic and research communities through publication. This contribution by the scientist is a critical component of the overall publication process and confers added value to a submitted paper. Because academic careers depend on being published in high-quality journals, peer review is both a privilege as well as a great responsibility. The diligent peer reviewer must function as both an “Author Advocate” as well as a “Journal Advocate.”

The history of peer review is more interesting than you might imagine. With the invention of the printing press by Guttenberg around 1440, it became important to regulate scientific knowledge prior to it being shared broadly with the public in written form. Novum Organum by Francis Bacon in 1620 defined a universal method for the generation and assessment of new science and this method became the foundation upon which the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge was founded in 1662. They started a Journal Philosophical Transactions in 1665 that was initially edited by Henry Oldenburg.

Two hardware inventions were great leaps forward in peer review, namely the typewriter of the 1890s and the Xerox photocopier of 1959. The typewriter allowed for circulation of carbon copies among a committee for review, while the Xerox gave scientists the ability to replicate manuscripts for distribution, which greatly facilitated the ability of new journals to conduct successful peer review in a timely manner. In today’s digital world, the ability to replicate a manuscript is something we take for granted, but you can imagine the difficulties of conducting peer review in the days when a singular hard copy of a manuscript was available.

The benefits to the reviewer were best described in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education in 2016 by Ilgen and colleagues in their article, “Group Peer Review: The Breakfast of Champions.” Highlights include the opportunity to learn theory, research approaches, and curricular designs by evaluating conceptual frameworks, methods, and novel programs. The attentive reviewer will enhance their writing skills via exposure as well as stay up to date with new research initiatives and curricular innovations. Lastly, there is the sense of paying it forward around prior reviews of one’s own published work.

All this to say that becoming a reviewer for JEPM is a great way to write your chapter in the history of peer review as well as to get involved in the Society for Education in Anesthesia. We are always looking for experienced and talented reviewers. For the novice reviewer, Associate Editor Lara Zisblatt, EdD, MA, PMME launched a peer review mentorship program this past year whereby less experienced reviewers can get coaching in the peer review process when that is helpful toward getting started. So sign up as a reviewer for JEPM today and lets go make history!

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