There is a great deal of information out there on scientific topics, but what can be trusted? The key question to ask is: Has it been peer reviewed?
The peer review process is a system designed to ensure scientific information is trustworthy and that research is carried out rigorously. It also makes the results of research permanently accessible to other scientists so they can repeat the work or use it to inform their own research.
Peer review works in the following way:
After completing a piece of research, scientists write an article about it, describing areas such as the background and purpose of the research, the methods used, the results they obtained and their interpretations of them.
They then submit the article to the editor of a scientific journal. There are hundreds of scientific journals published worldwide and scientists choose a journal appropriate for their research topic. Some of the more well-known overseas examples include Science, Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). A New Zealand example is the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand (JRSNZ).
The editor then sends the article out to referees, who are experts in the subject the article is about. The referees read the paper and comment on aspects such as the quality of the research, any inaccuracies or shortcomings they see, and whether it is worthy of publication.
The editor then reads the referees’ comments and decides whether the paper should be published in their journal.
If you would like to learn more about the peer review process, go to Sense About Science, http://www.senseaboutscience.org