Photo: Jeffrey Beall

Peer review has been for a long time a staple of true science. Scientists’ willingness to disclose their research and analysis protocols, data, analysis procedures, and conclusions to commentary and debate is a requisite and necessary step to the advancement of science. Publication in a peer reviewed journal is a first step in the process of public disclosure, eventual public debate by peers and the general public. It also opens up the possibility for other scientists to reproduce one’s results -or at least try to do so- and present evidence disputing results or even the whole research process done by a scientist. Here I am talking about judging the quality and the relative strength of the evidence presented in any publication which turns out to be quite complex but something that one has to do and one which biosafety regulators/decision makers will be confronted when making regulatory decisions.

Scientists or other persons who publish a paper or opinion piece and then refuse to disclose what is behind their paper/opinion piece or submit their evidence for scrutiny usually fall in the camps of activists or quack/junk science practitioners.

Certainly, peer reviewed publications can be ranked based on many different indicators. Usually top ranked international journals are those with a more selective publication process, readership, and impact. This does not mean that publishing a paper in a national or regional journal, then one has to dismiss such publication. This simply means that we have to examine the evidence a bit more carefully as the degree of scrutiny may have been a bit less stringent, but not necessarily so.

We have also to recognize that there are different stages to the research process and in fact some papers are in the process of being reviewed and submitted for publication. This is why most serious scientists are extremely careful about prematurely publicly launching their research without having the proper peer review, as the later may indeed find issues with the research, analysis or conclusions. In our standard operating procedures at IFPRI, we have to have a peer reviewed publication behind our press releases and other public outreach and communication materials.