How science works: peer review

'How science works' is a professional topic I'm in a good position to explain to the general public and am not prevented from talking about due to competitive pressures. As I see examples, I'll repost them here with notes.

Ars Technica has posted a brief article about the peer review process, more specifically, how scientists feel about it. Peer review is the process of showing a scientific paper to other scientists before allowing it to be published. The other scientists read the paper in detail and make sure that it's self-consistent and not trivial.

Peer review is managed by the editors of scientific journals - say, for example, Physical Review B, Condensed Matter and Materials Physics. Such journals embody the institutional memory of a discipline. The reviews are written by volunteers, often chosen from authors who have published in the journal before. Writing useful reviews regularly is a good way to get on an editor's good side. Because the journal only has to manage the process, and not actually do it, it's unlikely that peer review is contributing to the ongoing explosion in journal prices. That's a separate topic I might discuss, though I'm largely out of that game.