Peer Review Anonymity on Trial
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Jan 11 15:11:51 EST 1996
ANONYMOUS PEER REVIEW: "LEGAL" BANDITISM
Finally we got it - Anonymous Peer Review (APR) is
challenged in a Court.
Recent issue of Science Magazine (22 December 1995,
p. 1912-1914) reports on a lawsuit of one group of
biomedical scientists against another group. One
group sues another for an undisclosed amount which
is mentioned to be 'well over $ 100 millions' (!).
The allegation: use of the confidential information
obtained in the process of peer reviewing an article
Few points worth noticing:
(1) This case confirms the immoral practice of journals
sending articles for review to DIRECT COMPETITORS rather
than having it reviewed (much better - openly) by competent
people who are at a good arm length from the research under
(2) Names of key players (accused and accuses) are
reported in the article. To the likely embarrassment of
the journals, it sets a precedent that you are no
longer fully protected by the alleged 'confidentiality'
of APR. I believe, this is a positive news and such
confidentiality should be explicitly dis-stated by the
(journals should warn reviewers that their names and
reports can be published in case the controversy arises,
by the discretion of the journals, not just by court
orders). Furthermore, there is another a likely
important POSITIVE implication of this. It points that
the very principle APR principle is not sound legally.
Depending on the outcome of the case, it may pave the
way for the eventual formal criminalization of APR.
(Repeat: ANONYMOUS peer review, open peer comments is
a fully valid mechanism).
Should this desirable development to occur (in this
century/millennium or the next) it will likely have a
positive effect on the scientific ethics. Science is not
a place for a institutionalized secrecy at first place,
despite all the (il)logical twisting which is often
applied by interested parties to defend APR system.
(3) The papers in question were submitted to Nature,
the most prestigious place for biomedical 'discoveries'
(or claims to them). Was a real discovery made in this
particular case or not, is not my point (personally,
I believe the likelihood of a USEFUL discovery is very
But the very fact that the authors cared mostly WHERE their
paper is to be published rather than been motivated by
a genuine desire to report their findings to the community
ASAP (they could do it in matter of just a couple of days by
circulating a pre-print and thus avoiding peer review altogether),
shows that the fundamental pathology of the present publication
system in science. The whole game of APR is largely contr-
productive for the progress of science (as it delays it and
opens ways to corrupt the process).
Especially now, when the printing and/or electronic
technology are so widespread, affordable and fast and
the excuse 'not enough paper/disk space' is simply
There is no point to continue APR whatsoever. It should
be repaced by the system of open comments from the
community. The route to accelerate the REAL progress in
biomedical research (and other areas of science) is to
publish EVERYTHYING researchers find worthy to communicate
without delay, having an efficient abstracting service
(already largely available) and STOP CARING TOO MUCH
WHERE THE PAPER IS PUBLISHED. If researchers are worthy
been paid salaries they are worthy to be heard from
on paper AND electronically.
Scientists: you are serious and intelligent people (or
at least that's what many still think of you).
STOP SILLY GAME of "what journal is the most 'prestigious".
Does it make any difference on what paper your article is
published as long as you have something important to say.
Let journals like Science, Nature, etc publish just short
reports on what goes on and have full texts published in
a much more limited paper editions (very few need full
texts anyway) AND have them availble electronically.
Fierce battles to secure personal interests ('who said
what') is the MAIN reason why (contrary to some optimistic
claims at this thread) there is indeed relatively LITTLE
progress coming from 'biomedical establishment' to a real
medicine. Biomedical scientists think much more how to
beat each other than how to beat major deceases. The above
lawsuit is a clear-cut illustration of a deep moral crises
of the present research enterprise (and not only biomedical).
Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
e-mail: BEREZIN at MCMASTER.CA
More information about the Bioforum