More Peer Review - More Garbage

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Oct 2 15:01:47 EST 1995

The following by Dr. Nicholas Theodorakis is an excellent 
case story. It also gives food for some thoughts. Those 
who care can read my comments afrer Dr. Theodorakis' article.
Alex Berezin 

On 2 Oct 1995, NICHOLAS THEODORAKIS wrote:

> Did anybody see the article in this Sunday's (1 Oct.) Washington Post
> about protein folding, written by a staff writer named David Brown? It was
> mostly about Rose's folding program, but it went into a lot of background
> (written for the proverbial educated layman) about protein synthesis,
> structure, minimum free energy, secondary and tertiary structures, etc.,
> It also gave some background about why the problem was important and
> interesting, without resorting to the excess hyperbole that usually
> accompanies articles in the popular press.  It started on page A1 and 
> continued for nearly two full pages (including diagrams and a picture of 
> George Rose).
> I have to say that this was the best science article in a newspaper that I
> have read in a long time (maybe ever); certainly better than anything 
> I've seen in _Discover_(ok, too easy - better than many _Scientific 
> American_ articles).  We are quick to complain when the popular press 
> does a bad job in representing science; here I think we should give 
> credit where it is due.  BTW, in a nice touch, the writer finished by 
> mentioning that Rose's work was funded in part by the NIH.
> -- 
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> 			Nick Theodorakis
> 			ntheo at
> 			Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, MD

There are, of course,  excellent (though not too many) 
scientific journalists and also occasional scientists
who write for public, often very well. The problem is
that mainstream "establishement" (both openly and
hiddenly) opposes these efforts to maintain its priveleged
position as a priesthood of "sacred knowledge" and 
conceal the fact that often there is not too much to
hide at first place. But let's fools think so. 

Unless you are somebody at the level of Carl Sagan, 
or Stephen Jay Gould, you can hardly afford this without
risking your reputation and often even more essential
career stocks. Mainstream scientific establishement living
off the publish-or-perish ideology, does everything to
marginalize, discount public education and lucid,
understandable expositions of scientific issues. Unless 
your work has "passed" secretive Gestappian process of
"expert peer review" it counts for noting. No popular 
article will count at your CV, or if it will - largely 
at negatives.  

It is largely a fallacious (though widespread) belief 
that secretive (anonymous) peer review improves the quality 
of research. In reality its net effect is just the 
opposite - proliferation of mediocrity and garbage. The 
only true quality control mechanism in science is OPEN 
feedback communications (many routes available for this,
but they all remain suppressed). 

Science is the ONLY major social institution relying
on SECRECY in its prime operation. In all other areas 
(literature, arts, sports, etc) criticism, even the most 
harsh, it invariably open. Thus, secretive peer review 
is testemonial to the inherennt WEAKNESS of science
enterprise, AT LEAST AS IT PRACTICED TODAY. Spirit of 
inquiry can only be freed if this ugly system is 
dismantled BY US (don't blame Newt & friends for this). 
Yes, some good science is still done in this oppressive 
atmosphere, but it happens IN-SPITE of the peer review, 
not because of it. 

We (scienists) will NOT arrest the continuing decline of
social prestige of our profession until WE do decisive steps
in defrocking the present secretive peer review and move 
towards its replacement by open interactive modes of assessment. 
In research funding it translates in abolishing "project
funding" and replacing it by funding of RESEARCHERS on
the basis of (ranked) assessment (sliding scale). This is
an anathema for the over-blown granting bureaucracy of
NIH/NSF/NSERC, etc. as it will greatly simplify the process
and reduce the need and "social status" of parasitic paper 
Attached is some additional bibliography.  


Berezin, A. A. (1993). The Superconductiong Supercollider
     and peer review. Physics World (Dec.), 19. 

Berezin, A. A., R. Gordon & G. Hunter (1995). Anonymous peer   
     review and the QWERTY effect. Amer. Physics Soc. News,  
     March 1995. 

Berezin, A. A. & G. Hunter (1994). Myth of competition and NSERC
     policy of selectivity. Canadian Chemical News  46(3), 4-5. 

Berezin, A.A. (1995). Does Science lose out in the 
     competition for funds ? (Forum),
     Physics World, August 1995, p. 15-16. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1983). Canadian medical research strategy for    
     the Eighties I. Damage-limitation or superelitism? Med.      
     Hypotheses  11, 141-145. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1983). Canadian medical research strategy for    
     the Eighties II. Promise or performance as the basis for the 
     distribution of research funds? Med. Hypotheses  11,         

Forsdyke, D. R. (1989). Sudden-death funding system. FASEB J.     
     3(10), 2221. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1989). A systems analyst asks about AIDS         
     research funding. Lancet  2(December 9), 1382-1384. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1991). Bicameral grant review: an alternative to 
     conventional peer review. FASEB J.  5, 2312-2314. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1992). Bicameral grant review: how a systems     
     analyst with AIDS would reform research funding.
     Accountability in Research  3, 1-5. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1993). On giraffes and peer review. FASEB J.  7, 

Forsdyke, D. R.(1994). Authorship and misconduct. Nature 370, 91. 

Forsdyke, D. R. (1994). A theoretical basis for accepting         
     undergraduate academic record as a predictor of subsequent   
     success in a research career. Implications for peer review.  
     Accountability in Research  3, 269-274. 

Gordon, R. (1993). Grant agencies versus the search for truth. 
     Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance   
     2, 1-5. 

Gordon, R. (1993). Alternative reviews. University Affairs        
     (Assoc.of Universities and Colleges of Canada) 34(6), 26. 

Horrobin, D. (1981/1982). Peer review: Is the good the enemy of   
     the best?  J. Res. Communic. Stud.  3, 327-334. 

Horrobin, D. F. (1990). The philosophical basis of peer review    
     and the suppression of innovation. J. Amer. Med. Assoc.      
     263(10), 1438-1441. 

Kenward, Michael. (1984). Peer review and the axe murderers",
     New Scientist, 102 (1412), p. 13 (31 May, 1984). 

McCutchen, Charles W. (1991). Peer Review: Treacherous Servant,
     Disastrous Master. Technology Review, vol. 94, #7,  
     (October 1991), 28-40.

Osmond, D. H. (1983). Malice's Wonderland: research funding and   
     peer review. J. Neurobiol.  14(2), 95-112.

Savan, Beth. (1990). Science Under Siege (The Myth of             
     Objectivity in Scientific Research, CBC Enterprises,         
     Toronto, 1988. 

Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert. (1972). Dionysians and                     
      Apollonians, Science, 176, 966 (1972).
Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546


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