Assuring quality of research

Quality assurance essentially underpins the whole process of scientific method. There must be confidence within the research community that previous research in the field has been carried out satisfactorily and the conclusions are appropriate to the results.

Peer review has long been the accepted means by which the quality of research can be assured, though it is also accepted that the system is under great strain with the ever-increasing amount of academic serial publications. Further strain is added by an equivalent increase in the number of articles being submitted for publication, and versions of the same article that may be available. This has led to only occasional questioning of peer-review’s role as the foundation for quality assurance of research outputs: enquiries have usually supported peer review’s position. However, there is a great deal of thought going into how the system for operating peer-review might be adapted to reduce the time taken to gain a reviewer’s report.

Objectives

RIN’s Statement of Principles sets out four key goals for public policy in this area:

1. Published research results, datasets and other less formal information outputs to be both subject to rigorous peer review and made available for reuse
2. Experimentation and innovation in peer review procedures and timing to be carried out regularly
3. Clear information to be provided both on the peer review status of research results and how users can gain access to the most up-to-date version should results be amended after initial dissemination
4. Participation in peer review to be recognised as an essential responsibility of the research community 

Given the consensus within the research community for the peer-review system to be maintained, the aim for any adaptation of policy in quality assurance must primarily be focused on how the peer-review process might be developed to ensure confidence in its long-term sustainability.  Beyond assuring that reviews are carried out with due urgency, there is a need for policy-makers to at least reduce, if not remove completely, anxiety among stakeholders that the system as it is conducted now cannot survive for much longer. This includes assuring content that has been subject to peer-review is recognised as such, and that peer-review is unambiguously presented as being an essential part of any researcher’s responsibilities to their own community. Policy must also be applied to remove any ambiguity as to which version of an output a user may be seeing, and where the most-up-to-date version might be located.





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