Peer review was first institutionalized by the Royal Society of London in 1665, and is basically a good idea. Disinterested experts in a field vet a scholarly contribution and assess a scholarly paper before announcing it worthy to be published. Peer review encourages quality and helps authors to sharpen their work. But peer review is not mandatory to assure quality, and it's not clear that the peer review process lives up to it's theoretical aspirations.
TheBestSchools Magazine has published Baylor University's Dr. Robert J. Marks's critical analysis of the peer review process in five parts:
Part 1, "The Way it Was," details the history and process of peer review.
The Peer Review Procedure
Here is the innocent sounding procedure followed today if you want a paper published in a scholarly journal.
1. Submit the paper electronically online.
2. The journal's Editor-in-Chief acknowledges receipt via email and assigns the paper to one of the journal's Associate Editors. The title Associate Editor has numerous variations such as Topical Editor or Area Editor. Hopefully there is a match between the Associate Editor's expertise and the topic of the paper.
3. The Associate Editor solicits reviewers for your paper. The reviewers ideally will also be top experts in the paper's area.
4. The reviewers, whose identities are concealed from the author, write reviews of the paper
5. The Associate Editor makes the decision communicated to the author using a form letter with reviewer comments attached. Sometimes there are a few iterations before the Associate Editor makes a final decision.
Part 2, "The Sausage Factory," deals with the difficulty of both finding qualified reviewers and getting a consensus review of submitted papers. Marks likens finding top tier peer reviews to recruiting kindergartners to rank the taste of boiled vegetables.
Part 3, "Towers of Mostly Babble," addresses the ever growing number of journals and published conference papers. Marks examines the degradation of quality in peer reviewed materials as academics race to publish as much as possible in order to advance their careers because, "The Dean can't read, but the Dean can count."
Part 4, "How to Publish Your Scholarly Paper," details Dr. Marks' incorporation of the teachings of Dale Carnegie into writing an effective and detailed response letter that will get your paper published.
Part 5, "Artificial Unintellegence," tackles a difficult aspect of academia produced by modernity---Will journals accept a paper written by a computer? Marks examines academic dishonesty of the highest rank and its effect on the credibility of peer review.