ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 10. Peer Review
Some information that is shared during peer review is shared confidentially, that is, with the understanding that it will not be shared with anyone else without permission. Confidentiality is generally required during:
- grant reviews,
- manuscript reviews, and
- personnel reviews.
During grant and manuscript reviews, confidentiality helps protect ideas before they are funded or published. In personnel reviews, confidentiality is important to protect personal privacy.
Peer reviewers have an obligation to preserve confidentiality during the review process if they have been asked to do so. While this obligation might seem obvious, it can be compromised in some seemingly harmless and other more harmful ways. For example, although researchers sometimes do, it is not acceptable to do any of the following without getting permission:
- ask students or anyone else to conduct a review you were asked to do;
- use an idea or information contained in a grant proposal or unpublished manuscript before it becomes publicly available;
- discuss grant proposals or manuscripts you are reviewing with colleagues in your department or at a professional meeting;
- retain a copy of the reviewed material (generally manuscripts and grant proposals should be shredded or returned after the review is complete); and
- discuss personnel and hiring decisions with colleagues who are not part of the review process.
There may be times when some added advice during a review may be helpful, but reviewers should not seek this advice without getting permission. It may also be tempting to use information in a grant application or manuscript to speedup your own research, but until it has been made public, confidential information is not available for use, even to reviewers. If you are not comfortable protecting confidential information, then do not agree to be a peer reviewer.
Researchers who are in a position to pass judgment on the work of colleagues have significant power. They can hasten orslow that work; credit or discredit it. They have the power to shape entire fields of research and to influence public policy. If you have that power, make sure you use it responsibly and with some compassion, knowing that what you say and do directly affects the careers of other researchers.