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Peer Review Questions and Answers

1. What is peer review?

Peer review is the process by which scientific or other research protocols (i.e., study designs) and final reports are validated. Independent experts outside the government are used by ATSDR's peer review process; generally three to seven reviewers are used.

This review process helps ensure the highest quality of science for ATSDR studies. All study protocols and final reports performed or funded by ATSDR must be peer reviewed.

2. How does ATSDR in particular conduct the peer review process?

The NCEH/ATSDR Office of Science typically asks three to seven independent experts to review the document. These experts will come from scientific fields relevant to the study subject.

In addition, reviewers must have no conflict of interest (as defined by ATSDR's peer review policy). ATSDR tries to use the same peer reviewers for both the study protocol and the final report whenever possible.

Peer reviewers address a standard list of questions. They may also include additional remarks. The reviewers' unedited comments are sent to the "study lead" for a response.

The study lead must respond to the peer reviewers' comments in writing and prepare a revision if necessary. Peer reviewers receive the study investigator's response.

The revised document package must then be approved by the NCEH/ATSDR Office of Science.

3. How does ATSDR make sure that peer expert reviewers are objective?

ATSDR ensures the objectivity of its experts in several ways. One is to engage only reviewers outside the federal government. Another is for the NCEH/ATSDR Office of Science, rather than a study's lead scientist(s), to select the reviewers. Reviewers cannot be affiliated with the study, institution, or study lead. Reviewers sign a conflict of interest form stating that they have no conflict.

4. Is peer review required?

Yes. All study protocols and final reports performed or funded by ATSDR must be peer reviewed.

The protocol must be formally peer reviewed even before the study can begin. Similarly, the final report must complete the peer review process before the written results can be published formally.

Presentations of study data are allowable as long as the data are identified as preliminary.

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