Meanings of “Peer” and “Peer Review”

Is there any accepted meaning of “Peer” and “Peer Review”? Should not this question be consensually answered before defining and implementing any peer reviewing process?

Weller (2002) asserts that “Since editorial peer review is a process, its definition can and does vary according to how the process in envisioned.” There is a general obvious definition: “evaluation by one’s peers”, but the meaning of “one’s peers” differs according different editorial policies and according different universities’ regulations. Furthermore, since the meaning “evaluation” depends, by definition, on the epistemological values of the reviewer and the editor (or conference organizers), how can we know if these values do not contradict each other, and are in agreement with those of the author or, at least, with those epistemological values shared by the disciplinarians of the respective disciplines? What about inter-disciplinary articles? Who are adequate peers for its respective reviewing? What epistemological values are to support the evaluation process?

DeBakey (1990) affirms that “ ‘Peer reviewing’ has become a stock term, but –he asks– is a reviewer of a manuscript…always a peer: a person who has equal standing with another, as in rank, class or age?” (p. 347, cited by Weller, 2002, p. 16) So, if we define “peer” as a person who has equal standing with another, as in rank (equal standing of academic rank, for example) few conference organizers or editors can rightfully and with certainty say that their journals or proceedings are “peer” reviewed.

Stumph (1980) asserts that “For most advanced scientists only a few or no peers exist. In their research new areas are explored, often with special techniques and approaches. There is thus a high probability that one or several aspects of a proposal will not be appreciated by the judging ‘quasi-peers’…for advanced scientists, a competent review cannot be achieved unless a reviewer who is working in the same field with similar amount of experience is consulted.” Consequently, “the closest scientific peer is a competitor. Even Though reviewers try to be fair, nobody likes his or her programs for original ideas to be screened and judged by a real or potential competitor.” (p. 822).

Combining his arguments with those of Stumph (1980), Chubin (1990) concludes that “Scientists are at the mercy of peer review systems that may offer neither ‘peers’ nor ‘review’.” (p. 194; emphasis added)

More on this issue at


Chubin, D. R. and Hackett E. J., 1990, Peerless Science, Peer Review and U.S. Science Policy; New York, State University of New York Press.

DeBakey, L., 1990, Journal peer reviewing. Anonymity or disclosure? Archives of Ophthalmology, 108(3), pp. 345-349. Cited in Weller, A. C., 2001, Editorial Peer Review, its Strength and Weaknesses, Medford, New Jersey, p.16.

Stumph, W. E., 1980, “ ‘Peer’ review,” Science 207, 22 February, pp. 822-823.

Weller, A. C., 2001, Editorial Peer Review, its Strength and Weaknesses, Medford, New Jersey.


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