The COVID-19 outbreak has interrupted the daily lives of many in the U.S., thus earning a top spot in media outlets, social media platforms and more.

But the constant information pouring out about the virus has come with caveats, and a reminder that people might not want to believe everything they read.

Conspiracy theories have run rampant throughout the outbreak, as the public clamors for answers. Academic research not yet vetted has been disseminated throughout the internet, leaving observers to jump to conclusions. So members of the science community have been adamant about the importance of having information peer-reviewed before being accepted as anything close to gospel truth.

Dr. Pamela Fly, associate vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern State University, explained the peer review process.

"Peer review is the process through which professionals evaluate one another's work in the spirit of continuous improvement and advancing knowledge in a particular field," said Fly. "Peer review happens in education, engineering, medicine, law, and nearly every professional venue where the creation or application of knowledge is one of the work products."

Readers may notice a difference between a peer-reviewed work and articles from popular publications. Those unfamiliar without the background knowledge of a subject might find it challenging to read a professional journal, which is written with the expectation that other experts will evaluate the information.

And the articles are mostly written using technical terminology.

Most peer review is "blind," according to Fly. Reviewers do not know the identity of the author, eliminating a potential source of bias. Journal editors select two to three peer reviewers from a pool of experts.

"Peer reviewers consider such things as whether the article is grounded in current theory and literature; if the writer's research design and methodology are appropriate to the question or problem; whether the analysis and conclusions are valid and logically drawn from the data presented; and the extent to which the article advances knowledge in the field," said Fly. "Each peer reviewer typically provides written feedback on the article's content and then recommends the article be accepted, accepted with revisions required, or rejected. Having multiple, independent reviewers helps ensure a consensus opinion about an article's merits before it is published."

Practically every public university has an online database that features professional, peer reviewed journals.

The peer review process is widely considered to be the most efficient at quality control, so when people read an article from a popular publication that includes a certain study or science conclusion, they might want to check and see if the information has been vetted by other experts.

"Professionals consider articles in peer-reviewed journals as having met a higher threshold of accuracy and excellence," said Fly. "Selection bias is mitigated by having more than one reviewer attest to an article's quality. Peer review is considered the 'gold standard' for professional review and helps advance knowledge by providing a variety of expert perspectives."

Recommended for you