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Re: Peering at review
Posted for Chris Brochu.
There's been some interesting discussion on the pros and cons of peer review on
As I read it, most criticisms of peer review amount to the charge that peer
review is imperfect. This might sound shocking, SHOCKING!, until one realizes
that peer review is conducted by imperfect human beings, and that the journals
and volumes including peer-reviewed literature are edited by equally fallible
I've been involved in several different aspects of the process, from author
being reviewed to reviewer and associate editor. One learns as much about
one's colleagues as about science when editing, and the flaws in the system
become obvious, but the flaws are all related to the primatological origins of
the reviewers and editors.
Another aspect of peer review is its role as quality control in academic
circles. In academic jobs (e.g. faculty positions), "productivity" is measured
with respect to peer-reviewed papers published and grants received (all of
which require peer-reviewed proposals). Peer review is especially important
here because it helps ensure that apparent productivity on a CV approximates
actual research output.
As I see it, here are our choices:
1. Stick with peer review, a method that, agreed, sometimes fails to catch bad
or dishonest science, and which sometimes prevents good papers from being
published in certain journals, but which also ensures that a majority of
published papers in scientific journals actually conform to the scientific
method. This doesn't actually prevent anyone from publishing anything, and
non-reviewed literature can be cited in peer-reviewed publications; all it does
is act as a filter for a body of literature we regard as "scientific." It's a
stamp of communal approval - yes, an imperfect one - and not a method
2. Chuck review and replace it with.....?