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U.S. Geological Survey Manual

502.3 - Fundamental Science Practices: Peer Review


OPR: Office of Science Quality and Integrity

Instruction: This replaces Survey Manual (SM) chapter SM 502.3 - Fundamental Science Practices: Peer Review, dated May 24, 2006.

1. Purpose and Scope. Peer review, as a cornerstone of scientific practice, validates and ensures the quality of published USGS science. This policy updates the Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) requirements for peer review of USGS information products and applies to all USGS scientific and technical information, whether published by the USGS or an outside entity.

2. Authority. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Department of the Interior (DOI) guidelines address means to safeguard both excellence and objectivity of science through peer review.

A. OMB, Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies (February 22, 2002)
B. OMB, Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review (December 16, 2004)
C. DOI, Information Quality Guidelines Pursuant to Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (October 2, 2002)

3. References.

A. SM 502.1 - Fundamental Science Practices: Foundation Policy
B. SM 502.2 - Fundamental Science Practices: Planning and Conducting Data Collection and Research
C. SM 502.4 - Fundamental Science Practices: Review, Approval, and Release of Information Products
D. SM 205.18 - Authority to Approve Information Products
E. SM 500.25 - Scientific Integrity
F. 305 DM 3 - Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities
G. SM Part 1100 - Publishing
H. USGS General Records Disposition Schedule, Chapter 1300-Publishing Records
I. USGS Information Quality Guidelines (Website)
J. USGS Peer Review Agenda (Website)
K. Fundamental Science Practices of the USGS (Website)

4. Policy.

A. Peer review is required for virtually all science information products (SM 1100.1), regardless of media, whether published and disseminated by the USGS (SM 1100.3) or by an outside entity (SM 1100.4) if the author has full time, part time, or volunteer (including emeritus) USGS affiliation or shared affiliation (for example, between the USGS and a university). In keeping with practices in the broader scientific community, directives from Government authorities, and USGS FSP, the following also applies for USGS information products.

B. USGS defines peer review (also referred to as technical peer review, refereeing, or scientific peer review) as scrutiny of work or ideas by colleagues (peers) who are well qualified and who are of equal standing with another. In the scientific field the implication is that education and/or experience qualify one to comment on the work of others in a particular field of expertise. Qualified peer reviewers of USGS information products must have no stake in the outcome of the review or publication of the work, are not associated with the work being performed, and are without conflict of interest.

C. A minimum of two peer reviews by qualified reviewers is mandatory for all USGS science information products (exclusions are detailed in 4.I-J) that require peer review. Guidance on other peer review requirements, including additional reviews is detailed in 5.A-G. All peer reviews, including any additional peer reviews required by the USGS and outside publications (refer to 5.B), must be included with the product package (the revised manuscript with reviewers’ comments addressed, the peer review reconciliation, and all original peer reviewer comments) that is submitted for Bureau approval.

D. Involvement of non-USGS authors does not allow USGS authors to bypass the USGS peer review process. Where a non-USGS author is the lead and a USGS scientist is a co-author, the USGS scientist must comply with USGS peer review requirements in this chapter or the USGS scientist may not be listed as a co-author. USGS scientists with joint university affiliations are not exempt from complying with USGS peer review requirements.

E. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for peer review of influential scientific information and highly influential scientific assessments must be met if the product is determined to fall into either of these categories (refer to the OMB Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review or the USGS Peer Review Agenda Web site).

F. To ensure safeguarding unpublished USGS information, draft manuscripts that have not received Bureau approval and that are sent for peer review to outside entities, such as peer-reviewed journals and others outside the USGS, must carry the nondisclosure statement in 5.F below that explicitly states the manuscript is being distributed for peer review only and may not be disclosed prior to USGS approval for release. Additionally, a draft USGS manuscript may be submitted to an outside entity, for example as a courtesy to co-authors, and in these cases, the courtesy review statement found in SM 502.4, section 5.A(4) must be included.

G. Peer-reviewed information products sent to an approving official for Bureau approval must include the original comments from the peer reviewers, reconciliation indicating how review comments were addressed, and the final manuscript after reconciliation (SM 502.4 and SM 205.18).

H. Outside publications (SM 1100.4) used by USGS include but are not limited to scholarly peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed journals and books published by scientific societies, universities, or commercial publishing houses and publications of cooperating agencies. USGS information products for release in outside publications, except in peer-reviewed journals, must receive peer review as described in this chapter and Bureau approval before being submitted to the outside entity for release. For peer-reviewed journal articles, the requirement for a minimum of two peer reviews still applies, with one review initiated or coordinated by USGS (reviewer may be internal or external to USGS) and one review initiated or coordinated by the journal (reviewer selection and criteria are determined by the journal). The USGS and the journal peer review processes may be conducted concurrently or may be conducted sequentially, however, Bureau approval will only be granted after all peer reviews are complete, comments are reconciled, and the manuscript, all peer reviews and reconciliations are submitted for Bureau approval. The manuscript submitted for approval must reflect all changes made in response to both USGS and journal peer reviews. The USGS author and the approving official work together to ensure confidentiality requirements of the journal where the manuscript is submitted are not compromised.

I. Abstracts or extended abstracts with no new interpretive information or with previously published interpretive information do not require peer review. The need for peer review of abstracts that contain new interpretive content is at the discretion of the Science Center Manager. Extended abstracts that contain new interpretive information require peer review and Bureau approval. Extended abstracts typically are multi-page; summarize scientific studies, results, and principal conclusions; and are often included in a larger volume containing other abstracts intended for release as proceedings or refereed journal publications.

J. Poster sessions and presentation materials for scientific meetings, conferences, and hearings that are presented once and not left for conference dissemination or posted on a public Web site do not require peer review. If these products are left for conference dissemination or posted on a public Web site, or if they do or do not contain new interpretive material, the need for peer review of them is at the discretion of the Science Center Manager. Presenters are cautioned that it is inappropriate to display sensitive, confidential, or proprietary information in these materials and they must consult with their supervisors and other managers before presenting any materials that potentially contain such information.

5. Guidelines for Peer Review. The following provides additional requirements.

A. Reviewer Selection. Peer reviewers should be selected for their relevant scientific and technical expertise, including those who may apply different methods of study to related scientific questions. Peer reviewers may be internal or external to the USGS. Where possible, one reviewer will be from outside the originating office in which the review is conducted or outside the USGS, and the reviewer should not be the customer. Draft manuscripts that have not received USGS Bureau approval that are sent to an outside entity for peer review must carry the nondisclosure statement shown in 5.F. Additional Guidance on peer review selection is found in OMB Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review.

B. Additional Reviews. A minimumof two peer reviews are required for all science information products as stated in 4.C. Additional peer review may be necessary and required for information products published by the USGS and outside entities, depending on the product and the intended audience. Articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals (refer to 4.H) for example, require a minimum of two reviews but additional peer reviews may be requested by the USGS (generally at the discretion of the author’s supervisor, Science Center Manager, or the approving official); and additional reviews may also be required by the journal (typically peer-reviewed journals conduct two or more reviews) all of which would increase the number of reviews that may be required for these specific products.

C. Peer Reviews Are Rigorous and Thorough. Peer reviews typically evaluate or critique the clarity of hypotheses, the validity of the research design, the quality of data collection procedures, the robustness of the methods employed, the appropriateness of the methods for the hypotheses being tested, the extent to which the conclusions follow from the analysis, and the strengths and limitations of the overall product. Reviewers should check that methods used to collect data and produce results are defensible and adequately documented (refer to SM 502.2); facts and interpretations are presented straightforwardly, without apparent bias; conclusions are based on the best available data interpreted with sound scientific reasoning that avoids speculation; forecasts and predictions of natural hazards are scientifically sound; and manuscripts are clear in presentation. In addition to reviewing the manuscript, peer reviewers should follow the guidance in the USGS Peer Review Checklist. The checklist provides a framework to summarize the peer reviewers’ perspectives on various aspects of the manuscript.

D. Reviewer Ethics and Conduct. USGS pursues vigorous and open peer review of its science and its information products. Issues related to scientific excellence, objectivity, integrity, and conflict of interest are dealt with in accordance with established DOI and USGS codes of scientific conduct (SM 500.25).

E. Peer Reviews Are Deliberative and Predecisional. The final peer reviewed and Bureau approved report represents the agency’s best scientific interpretation and factual data on the subject at that time. Peer review of draft manuscripts is intended to assure the accuracy of data, the scientific validity of interpretations, and the consideration of alternative interpretations. The rigorous quality assurance process (including peer review) embodied in the USGS FSP is deliberative because of the iterative exchange of ideas and opinions among the involved parties. Peer reviews are considered predecisional because they represent the collective thoughts that are being analyzed in order to arrive at that final product. The disclosure of an unapproved manuscript and associated peer reviews could allow incorrect or incomplete information to be ascribed to the USGS. The public could be greatly harmed if incorrect or out-of-context information was used for public policymaking or resource management. Therefore, whether requested, for example, under the Freedom of Information Act, the Information Quality Act, or other means of public inquiry, peer review comments are predecisional, deliberative unpublished USGS information (SM 500.14) that should not be disclosed because release could cause foreseeable and serious harm to the USGS, the DOI, and the public.

F. Nondisclosure Prior to USGS Approval for Release. In agreeing to be a peer reviewer for a USGS information product, reviewers must agree to be bound by the strictest scientific ethics in ensuring confidentiality of the science that is being reviewed and to not disclose or divulge any results or conclusions, or to make any public statements regarding the science before it is published and released. Information distributed for peer review must carry the following statement requiring nondisclosure prior to the information being approved by USGS for release: “This draft manuscript is distributed solely for purposes of scientific peer review.  Its content is deliberative and predecisional, so it must not be disclosed or released by reviewers. Because the manuscript has not yet been approved for publication by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), it does not represent any official USGS finding or policy.”At a minimum, this statement must appear on the title page of the manuscript.

G. Documentation and Recordkeeping. Review and approval records for published USGS information products and for information products and articles published by outside sources include metadata information such as author, title, purpose, publishing media, editorial review, delegated Bureau Approval, and other appropriate USGS and outside source review and approval concurrences. Also included are the peer reviewer comments, the author reconciliation document, and written consent or permission of the copyright owner for using copyrighted materials in USGS information products and articles (SM 1100.6). These records are part of the official record and are maintained in accordance with USGS General Records Disposition Schedule (GRDS) recordkeeping requirements (SM 432-1.S1, Chapter 1300) at the originating office (for sensitive or confidential documentation) or digitally in the USGS Information Product Data System (IPDS).

6. Responsibilities. Compliance with this policy is incumbent on all employees within the Bureau. Specific responsibilities are as follows:

A. Associate Directors and Regional Executives. Associate Directors and Regional Executives set FSP policy for USGS peer review practices and collaborate with each other regarding the content and application of these practices to ensure consistency. Regional Executives in collaboration with the Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI) execute and ensure compliance with the peer review policies and practices. Regional Executives also work with the OSQI to mediate or assist in resolving peer review issues that cannot be resolved directly between Science Center Managers, approving officials, and others.

B. Office of Science Quality and Integrity. The Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI), in collaboration with Regional Executives, executes the policies and practices governing peer review. OSQI collaborates with Associate Directors and Regional Executives regarding the content and application of consistent USGS peer review practices and maintains the policy documents and procedures that pertain to FSP.

C. Science Center Managers. Science Center Managers ensure that an accepted and consistent peer review process is in place within their unit that meets standards for scientific quality. If necessary, they contact the Regional Executive for assistance in resolving peer review issues. They ensure that only properly peer reviewed products are forwarded for approval (SM 502.4 and SM 205.18). Science Center Managers ensure that peer review archival records are maintained in their center as part of the project file for each information product or are placed in the IPDS. They are also responsible, with concurrence from the Regional Executive and in collaboration with OSQI, for identifying a given information product as influential scientific information or highly influential scientific assessment pursuant to the peer review requirements in the OMB Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review.

D. Approving Officials. Approving officials include Science Center Managers (or equivalent) and Bureau Approving Officials (BAOs) in the OSQI. They ensure that USGS standards for scientific quality are followed by confirming that peer review and other requirements are met in accordance with this chapter and SM 502.4 before granting Bureau approval of information products for release (SM 205.18). They ensure that authors have adequately addressed peer review comments (that is, reconciliation is part of the package submitted for approval). Science Center Managers and BAOs in serving as approving officials may require that an information product receive additional peer reviews as needed to ensure the ultimate quality of the product and, if necessary, contact the Regional Executive or the OSQI Director, respectively, for assistance in resolving peer review related issues.

E. Authors’ Supervisors. Supervisors have the initial responsibility to ensure the quality of science information products by authors they supervise.  They select or ensure the selection of appropriate independent and qualified peer reviewers, facilitate sending the manuscript to peer reviewers, and ensure reviews and reconciliations are adequate. Supervisors (if qualified as described in this chapter and without conflict of interest) are allowed to perform peer reviews of products by authors they supervise that are intended for peer-reviewed journals (with the exception of products identified as influential scientific information or highly influential scientific assessment as defined by the OMB); in these cases they also consult with the Science Center Manager and approving official to ensure there is no conflict of interest. They ensure that the author has adequately addressed peer review comments and has prepared a final draft of the product that is suitable for submitting for approval. They inform the Science Center Manager about any product content that might be sensitive or controversial and identify any internal or external groups or agencies that might have particular and/or immediate interest in the product. Before peer review, they nominate information products to the Science Center Manager that they deem appropriate for consideration as influential scientific information or highly influential scientific assessments and ensure their office coordinates with staff in the OSQI to develop the required documentation about influential products for posting on the USGS Peer Review Agenda, if products so qualify.

F. Authors. Authors support the peer review process by suggesting or nominating qualified peer reviewers for their own work and the work of other USGS scientists and by participating in peer reviews of the work of others (refer to 5.A-G). They consult with the supervisor or approving official as needed with regard to the appropriateness of peer reviewer selections. They objectively consider and appropriately address all peer reviewer comments they receive and ensure that responses are adequately reconciled in writing. Authors forward the product package (revised manuscript with reviewers’ comments addressed, peer review reconciliation, and original peer reviewer comments) to their supervisor. The USGS senior author must ensure that Bureau approval is obtained after reconciliation of all peer reviews and that the approved manuscript is subsequently submitted for release in a timely manner to ensure meeting the publisher’s (USGS or the outside publication) due date.

G. Peer Reviewers. Peer reviewers must follow the requirements in this chapter, specifically those in 5.C-F.


/s/ Karen D. Baker                                                                                          December 16, 2011
_____________________________________________                              _______________
Karen D. Baker                                                                                               Date
Associate Director for Administration and Enterprise Information


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