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History of U.S. Geological Survey scientific peer review and approval, 1879–2019

November 10, 2020

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior, has valued and used a scientific peer review and approval process since its creation in 1879. Bureau approval, formerly called Director’s approval, has been described in several USGS documents since 1900, and peer review has been codified in policy since 1959. Peer review of USGS manuscripts is intended to ensure the accuracy of data, the scientific validity of interpretations, and the consideration of alternative interpretations. This rigorous quality assurance process is considered deliberative because of the iterative exchange of ideas and opinions among the involved parties.

Peer review practices differed between USGS organizational units until implementation of USGS Fundamental Science Practices  (FSP) in 2006, which formalized Bureau-wide science practices, including peer review and approval, for all Bureau scientific information products released to the public or other Federal agencies. FSP policies also address review and approval requirements pertaining to the release of USGS-funded data and software and endorse quality-control standards for USGS laboratories. Bureau approval signifies the scientific excellence of information products, validates and ensures that all necessary reviews have been conducted, and confirms that information products meet USGS science quality standards and have the full backing of the Bureau. The extent, scope, and history of the peer review and approval process within the USGS are documented herein, so future USGS scientists and the public understand how consistent approaches in developing, reviewing, and publishing USGS scientific information have been and continue to be essential in maintaining the reputation of the Bureau for reliable and impartial Earth science research and data collection.