Though peer review has been around for quite some time, Hadas Shema at the Information Culture blog writes that it only became widespread after World War II and expanded as journals became more specialized and advances like photocopying made it easier to share manuscripts.
"Today, peer review is the 'golden standard' in evaluation of everything from scholarly publication to grants to tenure decision," she says.
But peer review has its issues. For instance, Shema writes that reviewers often miss instances of misconduct and errors in papers. She cites two 1998 studies that examined whether reviewers would catch weaknesses or errors introduced into manuscripts, finding that an average of two of eight weaknesses or 3.4 of 10 major flaws were detected by the reviewers, respectively. She also notes that peer review has a low inter-reviewer reliability estimate.
"Peer reviewers are the 'gate-keepers' of science, but their gate-keeping is far from perfect," Shema says.