Peer Review Anonymity

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Nov 1 22:38:15 EST 1995

On 1 Nov 1995, Graham Clark wrote:

> -(CLARK):
> ->  Personally, I would
> -> rather have a peer, who actually works in my field, than an editor 
> -> evaluating my work.
> -
> -Why do you need peer to nurse your work ? Are 
> -you not confident enough in yourself ? Suppose,
> -you are given a choice between two options:
> -
> -(A) your paper goes through the anonymous 
> -peer review, and can be delayed or rejected.
> -
> -(B) it goes straight to the press (subjected
> -to just a minor technical editing).
> -
> -What option you prefer ? A or B ? Why ?

> Who said anything about nursing? Give me (A) any day. Confidence has
> nothing to do with it. Delay and rejection are never what I desire
> but rejection is never, or should not be, without a good reason. If
> there is a good reason why a paper of mine should not be published
> I would like to know why. I have almost never had reviewers comments
> that were petty or non-constructive. The resulting paper is usually
> improved as a result of incorporating reviewer's comments. I am happy
> to suffer the delay if the result is a better paper. Anyway, the review
> process for most journals is shorter than the time to press once 
> accepted.

On most statements above you will undoubtedly find a 
large degree of disagreemnt. I can settle with you on 
(essentially) all the above, PROVIDED you are ready to 
admit that option B should be available to those who 
choose to use it. Overwise, we are back on square one and 
no matter how the terms can be relabled the system 
essentially remains a censorship and the only practical 
way to deal with it is to get around it. Similarly to tax 
evaders who learn how to get around the revinue, we are 
(most of us) learning how to cheat the peer review system. 
(Anonymous) peer review (APR) is simply a nuisance 
(mistake of science history) we are to live with 
at present time (fortunately, not for much longer) and 
not a single argument was presented that APR indeed 
serves a truly positive purpose save minor cosmetics. 

Nothing what you say above about the constructibve comments 
from colleagues helping you to improve the manuscript 
requires ANONYMOUS peer review  - you will get much 
(MUCH !) better mileage on this by asking your colleagues 
DIRECTLY to read your manuscript and give you criticism or 
comments (self-administerd peer review, if you wish;
undoubtedly we are more qualified than anyone else to
know who understands your work the best and who can 
provide you the best input).

> -(CLARK): 
> -> Actually, I view it as a privilege to be asked to serve the scientific
> -> community in this way. Pity you don't feel the same.
> -
> -Certainly, it is your right to feel proud that you do
> -participate in this activity (to serve as anonymous 
> -reviewer). The point I am raising here, however, is that 
> -neither you [ nor anyone else for this matter ] has so
> -far presented a single convincing agrument that such 
> -activity does in fact improves anything ("quality of 
> -science", say).

> Pride does not enter into it. I feel I benefit from peer review and so
> I am happy to reciprocate. If your experience of peer review has been
> negative, that's too bad. But you have certainly not provided an
> alternative that to my mind has any merit at all. 

As a scientist you likely know that the best (and, 
actually, the only) instrument (in science at least) to 
resolve the issues is to conduct the experiments. 
What I am suggesting is a (broadly speaking) an experiment
and you say that you don't see the point to conduct such
an experiment because you ALREADY decided that the 
result will be negative. Scientifically this means
that you subscribe to a metaphysics (a-priori knowledge). 

Nothing unusual about such position - actually, it is 
quite typical in science. As a rule, majority (everywhere, 
not just in science) does not want change and sides with
the status quo. Science progresses largely by the 
initiative of those few who push for a challenge of those 
things which appear already settled and "self-evident".
Anonymous peer review (APR) as a science benefactor
is one of such myths, now (fortunately) is about to

"If people are given choice between changing their 
believes and proving that there is no need for a change, 
almost everyone gets busy on a proof"
* John Kenneth Galbraith *    

> It merely makes
> scientific publishing a free for all.

Which it should be at first place. Read 
Paul Feyerabend "Science in a Free Society".

> -You do not provide input to the authors of the 
> -(paperback) books or movie directors before they 
> -realeased their products. Why science is
> -different ?  

> If you believe that there is no review or editing in the non-scientific
> publishing world or in movies you are dreaming!

I don't believe it and I did not say it.
Reviewers in the above (literature, movies,
arts, etc) are NOT your peers and this makes
enormous difference. You don't have commercial
writers censoring their direct competitors - in 
science you have precisely this. 

>  Graham
>  ________________________________________________________
>  C. Graham Clark, Ph.D.
>  Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases,
>  National Institutes of Health,
>  Bethesda, MD 20892
>  Ph.: 301-496-4740
>  FAX: 301-402-4941
>  e-mail: gclark at

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