• Rennie, Drummond. "Editorial Peer Review: Its Development and Rationale." Peer Review in Health Sciences. Eds. Goodlee and Jefferson. London: BMJ, 1999. 1-13.
  • In the narrower sense of prepublication review, peer review seems to have begun in the early eighteenth century. Kronick cites as an example the first volume of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Medical Essays and Observations, published in 1731. The preface describes the (anonymous) process: “Memoirs sent by correspondence are distributed according to the subject matter to those members who are most versed in these matters. The report of their identity is not known to the author.” The Royal Society of London, when, in 1752, it took over responsibility for the Philosophical Transactions, set up a “Committee on Papers” to review articles, and the committee was empowered to call on “any other members of the Society who are knowing and well skilled in that particular branch of Science that shall happen to be the subject matter ...”
    Denis de Sallo, the first editor of the first scientific journal, in the first issue of the Journal des Scavansin 1665, wrote: “we aim to report the ideas of others without guaranteeing them”. In the same vein, the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, in 1785, noted that “a majority of votes, delivered by ballot, is not an infallible test in literary or philosophical productions”. The Edinburgh Society’s statement concludes:
    The sanction which the Society gives to the work now published under its auspices, extends only to the novelty, ingenuity or importance of the several memoirs which it contains. Responsibility concerning the truth of facts, the soundness of reasoning, in the accuracy of calculations is wholly disclaimed: and must rest alone, on the knowledge, judgement, or ability of the authors who have respectfully furnished such communications.
    It is clear, then, that systems of peer review, internal and external to journals, were put in place by editors during the eighteenth century in order to assist editors in the selection of manuscripts for publication. It was appreciated from the start that the peer review process could not authenticate or endorse because the editors and reviewers could not be at the scene of any crime.
    Commendably, the journals from the beginning threw the ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the article squarely upon the author. Peer review makes an assumption of honesty, and, though it can assist in establishing scientific validity, it cannot guarantee it. (2)

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