Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 531–540 | Cite as

Why be my colleague’s keeper? Moral justifications for peer review

  • Joe CainEmail author


Justifying ethical practices is no easy task. This paper considers moral justifications for peer review so as to persuade even the sceptical individualist. Two avenues provide a foundation for that justification: self-interest (the right behaviour is that which maximally serves one’s own interests) and social contract theory (the right behaviour is that which best meets obligations set in binding social contracts). A wider notion of “interest” permits the self-interest approach to justify not only submitting one’s own work to peer review but also removing oneself momentarily from the production of primary knowledge to serve as a rigorous, independent, and honest referee. The contract approach offers a non-selfish alternative and relies on four types of binding social contracts: those implicit in accepting funds, those implicit in asserted professional status, those to contribute what is of most value to society, and those to defend the ideals of the Academy. Efforts to restore respect for rigorous, independent, honest peer review should begin in earnest.


peer review social contract individualism moral economy of science 


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Copyright information

© Opragen Publications 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science and Technology StudiesUniversity College LondonLondonUnited Kingdom

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