Peer Review and Quality

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Jan 17 19:58:11 EST 1996


> Don't get me wrong... what I am talking about here is how 
> much slop which does get through peer-review, accepted into 
> the community .....


Nice point. (how much crap comes through peer review).
But let's make logical steps in attempt to see how 
the whole process likely works:

(1) if you publish crap which is non-peer reviewed 'every 
one instantly knows that this a crap'.

(2) but if same crap gets published through PR (most gets
through, don't worry), especially in 'prestigious' journal, 
it's no longer a crap ... at least who dares to question ?

(3) Hence the rat race to get publsihed through PR 
INCREASES (not decreases) a drive for more and more 
crap to print (about 90 % of all published).

(4) It's not that most people deliberately want to publish 
crap, but since the mechanism is that EVERYTHING which gets 
published through PR automatically gets some kind of
a validation sticker (somewhat similar to a money laundring 
process), the pressure to publish ANY-THING (and eventually 
almost anything slips trough PR), inevitably results in a
very large proporton of garbage.  The paradox of PR is 
that, in average, it leads to the results EXACTLY OPPOSITE
to what is the alleged itention of PR (to be quality
control cleansing mechanism).  

IN SCIENE, not the other way around.   

(5) PR is essentially risk insurance. Paper in a PR journal
essentially re-deposits the risk from the author on-to the 
system (special bonus - system is anonymous, so almost NO 
attributed personal responsibility for the risk). People 
naturally like when the risks are re-assigned from them. 
I guess, this effect is among the main (though hidden) 
psycholgical reasons why PR is so comfortable for so many 
and so many nice words are said about it by its defenders.

(6) In the peer-less environment (no peer review, or at 
least no in-depth PR, just relevance check and common sense), 
the publication will be at the SOLE risk of the author, hence
people will be thinking twice (or many more times) before

(7) as a result, de-peer reviewisation of science will 
REDUCE (not increase) the amount of sloppy papers and very 
likely proportion of garbage will sharply FALL (not all 
people will be happy with the last aspect, though).             

As experiment, start running non-peerreviewd
sewctions of the journals. Papers published
there will be labled clearly "NOT PEER REVIWED".
See how many authors will opt for this
category as opposed to standard peer-review (APR)
process. Perhaps, to run a controlled experiment,
(for the beginning) allocate 10 % to 20 % of
all space for NPR section. Impose length limitations,
if you deem necessary, but accept EVERYTHING 
relevant to your area on a line-up basis (first
come, first published - the length of line will
likely be eventually deternined by the waiting
period). Naturally, those submitting to NPR
can NOT submit the same to PR process.
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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