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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 
the list.

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 
human beings.

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 
of censorship.

2.  Chuck review and replace it with.....?