Peer Review: A light-hearted reply 8-)

David Kristofferson kristoff at
Sat Nov 4 11:11:11 EST 1995

Unfortunately I've been too busy running BIOSCI/bionet lately to enjoy
it, but this discussion is too intriguing to pass up 8-).  I apologize
if the issues below have already been addressed; if so, please just
say so.  I've been through my share of grant/contract battles over the
years too unfortunately.

Dr. Berezin's proposals are very interesting, but I wonder how he
would react to the following problems:

1) The peer review process focusses on a single concrete proposal.
Despite the fact that the information to review is relatively finite,
how many times have you seen reviewers who do nothing prior to jumping
on an airplane to, e.g., Washington, D.C., and then attempt to read
eveything the day before.... Given the fact that most reviewers are
already extremely busy and are not paid for their work, do you think
that it would be less work to evaluate an entire track record than a
single proposal??!!??  It seems that one runs the danger of allowing
people to sluff off into "paper counting" with the track record
method.  Reviewers undoubtedly already do take the proposer's track
record into account when looking at a proposal, but if that is what
they are supposed to focus on in its entirety, the conscientious
reviewers will be burdened with a far larger assessment task than
passing judgement on a single proposal (the "At Hahvahd we read
papers, not count them" syndrome), while the less conscientious ones
will even be able to watch the in-flight movie to DC 8-) since it is
much easier to BS about a large track record than actually address a
concrete issue on the table.  Counting the number of times papers are
referenced would also have made heros of, e.g., the cold fusion group.

2) In my mind the people who are really getting the shaft these days
are young scientists who have a far less-established track record.
Not only do postdocs get paid less than secretaries at many companies
and have minimal benefits to boot (god help them if they decide to be
selfish, marry and have a family ...), staking their future on a
system that rewards the past without any consider of the quality of
future thought makes the life of young investigators even more
perilous.  If you saw the Oct. 6th issue of Science on the Future of
the Ph.D., many people are already questioning their sanity after
having chosen science as a profession.  Adding further burdens to them
might seriously impact the future of science.  If I wanted to be
facetious 8-), I could even see a new kind of fraud develop, i.e.,
posthumous proposals winning funding or professors emeriti funding
bungalows in Tahiti with NIH money ...

Having said this, I don't mean to sound like I love the current
system.  The current system is a big reason why I switched careers

Have fun with this!  I probably won't have time to write extensive
replies, but I'm happy to be able to provide all of you the
opportunity to do so!!


				David Kristofferson, Ph.D., M.B.A.
				BIOSCI/bionet Manager
				Sr. Director, Scientific Market
				   Strategy, Knight-Ridder
				   Information, Inc.
				former Director of Govt. Business
				   Development, IntelliGenetics, Inc.
				former Manager of GenBank National
				   Nucleic Acid Sequence Database
				former Manager of the BIONET National
				   Computer Resource for Molecular
				Extensive publication record in the
				   area of Microtubule Dynamics
				   ADDRESS 8-):
				biosci-help at

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