What is Peer Review? A process for instilling confidence in scientific information and funded research

Many different kinds of processes and disciplines are included in the overarching term peer review. The term is commonly used to describe the process of reviewing literature or manuscripts submitted for publication in professional journals or other periodicals.

In the most general sense we can define peer review as the following:

Peer Review
The evaluation of one party’s work by another party with expertise in the same field or a related field. The evaluated work may be, among other things, a proposal to conduct scientific research, ongoing research itself, or a submitted paper based on ongoing or completed research.

The specific type of peer review conducted by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education concentrates on the evaluation of scientific research proposals that seek public funding. ORISE coordinates scientific peer review for the U.S. Department of Energy and other government agencies using a process that helps these agencies assess research proposals for scientific merit and confirm that funding is well allocated. Through expert evaluation by carefully selected reviewers, the peer review process also ensures that research conclusions are credible before they are widely distributed and that project goals have either been met or have progressed enough to be deemed suitable for continued support.

Reviews of funding applications are sometimes called “merit reviews.” The Code of Federal Regulations defines DOE merit review as “a thorough, consistent, and objective examination of applications based on pre-established criteria by persons who are independent of those submitting the applications and who are knowledgeable in the field of endeavor for which support is requested.” (10 CFR 600.13; 64 FR 56420, Oct. 20, 1999).

Since 2014, the Code of Federal Regulations has required federal agencies to “design and execute a merit review process” for applications for most competitive grants (2 CFR 200.205). DOE merit review requirements predate the general federal requirement by decades. The ORISE peer review process fulfills all DOE and CFR requirements. ORISE also maintains peer review integrity by ensuring confidentiality and effectively managing conflicts of interest by potential reviewers.

As a result, the agencies that have entrusted the review process to ORISE have the confidence necessary for strategically applying limited resources while promoting the highest quality science. This commitment to quality assurance and scientific integrity has guided ORISE as it has planned, organized and conducted independent reviews and other meetings related to:

  • Research proposal review
  • Performance review and evaluation
  • Award determination
  • Program evaluation
  • Evaluation of scientific documents and other information
  • Time allocation on supercomputers
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Benchmarking Study – Peer Review Travel

One popular way to conduct peer review is through face-to-face panel meetings where experts come together to discuss and critique proposals. These reviews almost always involve travel for at least some of the participants. However, little has been written about the travel-related aspects of peer review. The focus of this study was on the travel-related aspects of this process, which is overseen by peer review organizations. This study also describes related aspects of peer review of grant and proposal funding, such as the types and amounts of reviews conducted and reviewer satisfaction.

Read the study