Peer review and scientific integrity

By Serge Horbach, doctoral student at the Institute for Science in Society, Radboud University, and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University

The quality, credibility and integrity of the scientific literature are increasingly becoming the subject of heated debate. The increase in the number of cases of scientific misconduct and the (according to some related) issue of the current replication crisis in science, puts the credibility and status of scientific findings, hence the scientific literature, under stress (Begley & Ioannidis, 2015)

Within this debate, the gate-keeper of the scientific literature, the peer review system, came under close scrutiny. A key issue in the debate and research on scientific integrity has been to what extent processes of self-regulation are able to track and prevent misconduct (e.g. Hiney, 2015; Stroebe, Postmes, & Spears, 2012)

The peer review system in particular has long been central to the notion of self-regulation by scientific disciplines (Horner & Minifie, 2011). However, scholars have not reached consensus on the ability and responsibility of the peer review system to detect fraudulent and erroneous research. Some currently argue that ‘safeguarding the scientific integrity of published articles’ is of peer review’s core responsibilities (Guston, 2007; LaFollette, 1992; Rennie, 2003; Stroebe et al., 2012), others argue that the system was never designed nor meant to do so and hence contend that we cannot expect peer review to filter fraudulent from non-fraudulent research (Biagioli, 2002; Smith, 2006; Südhof, 2016).