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Publication Validity and Quality

I think the debates raging here, SV-POW, and elsewhere, stimulated 
unintentionally as they were by Rob Gay's booklet, are good, healthy, and 
necessary.  But in order for there to ever be some resolution to this set of 
problems, perhaps it's time that we started discussion about _solutions_, 
rather than circling around the issues.  I know that PhyloCode has some verbage 
discussing the requirement for peer-review, and that's a start, but here's some 
other issues:

* who should (or will) define what is and is not a "publication" for the 
purposes of taxonomic validity?  The ICZN?  The PhyloCode?  A third, entirely 
separate committee?  The ICZN, as others have noted, is either wholly 
intractable and stolid, or else it moves in a tectonic time frame and is 
therefore useless in light of the rapid pace of technological change. I don't 
know nearly enough about the PhyloCode to comment on its ability, but have to 
wonder whether or not the idea of a publication is too different from its 
primary mandate to need to fall under its purview.  A third organization -- the 
International Commission on Publication Validation or somesuch...?  Who would 
be on that commission -- taxonomists, obviously, but should publishers have 
representation, too?  Who would choose these people?  Of course, even if such a 
body existed and had a set of definition, how would it be enforced?  Or labeled 
(e.g., a "stamp of approval")?

*  what criteria should be used to define "publication"?  Most seem to believe 
that peer review should be a primary consideration, and I actually agree...but 
as many have noted, it's hardly a universal panacea -- there have been 
perfectly awful papers published that have been through obviously lapse peer 
review, down even to terrible grammar, let alone facts.  It's obviously 
impractical that all peer reviews should have to go through some sort of 
singular committee that assesses whether or not the peer reviews have been 
adequate -- actually, that's what individual editors (or editorial boards) for 
individual publications are _supposed_ to do, so it all comes down to 
individual variation between editors...and some are clearly more lapse (or less 
able, I hate to think) in doing their duties...perhaps for perfectly valid 
reasons (they have to teach, write grant proposals, write papers of their own, 
supervise students, etc.), or perhaps from sheer laziness (or laissez-faire 
attitude about acceptability).  Would reviews be any better if, for example, 
reviewers were paid to review?  If there were full-time reviewers without other 
duties?  Should publishers themselves, then, have a say about what they will or 
won't accept?  Are they even educated enough on the subject to do so?  I'm not 
pretending to have any answers here -- I've spent a fair amount of time 
thinking about this subject and haven't come up with any answers...personally, 
I try and apply a very high standard of rigor when I review papers, but I'm far 
from perfect and certainly miss things, especially on subjects where my own 
knowledge is, um, less than maximal.  So when I see crap get published, I get a 
bit irked with the authors _and_ the reviewers, and wonder how the heck the 
paper passed muster -- obviously, _my_ idea of muster, but clearly not a 
_universal_ concept of muster! 

     Food for thought...

Jerry D. Harris
Director of Paleontology
Dixie State College
Science Building
225 South 700 East
St. George, UT  84770   USA
Phone: (435) 652-7758
Fax: (435) 656-4022
E-mail: jharris@dixie.edu
 and     dinogami@gmail.com

"I have noticed even people who
claim everything is predestined, and
that we can do nothing to change it,
look before they cross the road."

                   -- Stephen Hawking

"Prediction is very difficult,
especially of the future."

                   -- Niels Bohr