Peer Review Week 2021 has been announced for September 20–24 with the theme of Identity in Peer Review. Simon Linacre, who volunteers for the event’s Steering Committee, takes a look at the importance of the event and this year’s chosen theme.


For those new to scholarly communication, the annual celebration of peer review probably seems one of the more unlikely events to occur in the crowded calendar. It makes sense for relatively novel ideas such as open access and open science to have their day – or week – in the sun in October, while other events supporting academic research and universities in general pepper the rest of the year. So why is boring old peer review so special?

Well, it may be a surprise to learn it’s not that old, and when you dig deeper you find it is anything but boring. While journals began life in the 17th Century – 1665, to be precise – it seems the first peer reviews only took place in the 18th Century, and external reviews in the Victorian period. According to academic publishing historian Alex Csiszar, peer reviews grew from these beginnings very slowly, and only took hold in mainstream science journals in the post-war period.

Furthermore, this year’s theme shows that issues and challenges facing the world today are very much relevant to the process of peer review. Identity in Peer Review was the first Peer Review Week theme to be chosen by the public, and will explore the role of both personal and social identity in peer review. It is hoped that the various events and activities during the week will develop a more diverse, equitable and inclusive approach to peer review. Academia has seen increased emphasis on the taking of steps to ensure research literature reflects and amplifies diverse voices, and of course the manner in which peer review is conducted is key to that.

Peer Review Week steering committee co-chair Danielle Padula says: “If the past year has taught us anything, I think it’s that recognizing the composite of identities that make up who we are as individuals, organizations, and populations, and the links between those identities, is essential to the future of scholarship and, ultimately, global progress. The pandemic has illuminated myriad deep-seated inequities that we need to address in all areas of society, with academia being no exception. And I think that starts with unpacking various aspects of personal and social identity and how we need to rethink the systems in which we operate to acknowledge and make space for diverse identities.”

Looking back to learn about the future is an apt approach, given that the past of peer review is not far behind us, and radical change potentially so near in the future. As ever, focusing on peer review makes a lot of sense for everyone with an interest in knowledge sharing and scholarly communications. Roll on September.

If you are interested in learning more or volunteering, please visit the Peer Review Week website, or you can contact Danielle Padula (dpadula@scholasticahq.com) or Jayashree Rajagopalan (jayashreer@cactusglobal.com), who are co-chairing this year’s PRW steering committee.

3 thoughts on “Peer Review Week 2021: Identity in Peer Review

  1. A mild correction. The first documented peer review comes from Ishāq ibn ʻAlī al-Ruhāwī in his Ethics of the Physician which documents a process where the notes of a practising Islamic physician were reviewed by peers and the physician could face a lawsuit from a maltreated patient if the reviews were negative (Spier, 2002).
    Spier, R. (2002), The History of the Peer-Review Process, Trends in Biotechnology. 20 (8): 357–358, doi:10.1016/S0167-7799(02)01985-6

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