Peer Review Dephasing

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Tue Jun 4 22:40:45 EST 1996

On 5 Jun 1996, Ricardo Moro wrote:

> I have publish a couple dozen papers and books and I have 
> been subjected to most basic issues concerning to the routine of 
> getting a paper published. I have reviewed a few papers too. Here 
> is my little piece of mind if it can be of any use:
> There are 3 different issues relating the problem:
> A) The relative qualities of different media to diseminate 
> information. Even though a monitor image quality is poor it still 
> beats the photocopies we all use in the lab or office. Also, the 
> computer works in colour, which is not the case with most 
> journals or library photocopiers. In summary, I would rather have 
> a 1024 x 768 pixel colour picture available on my computer than a 
> B&W photocopy lying around the lab.
> B) The process of peer reviewing sucks, mostly because it is 
> tainted with political convenience. Peers are not such, they are 
> the masters that determine whether you have a career or not. How 
> about this equation: PEER=REFEREE ?
> C) The object of publishing is NOT anymore to diseminate 
> infomration, but is the currency we scientists use to determine 
> our worth. I find that disgusting.
> Ricardo Moro, Vancouver.
> -- 
> Ricardo Moro


Fully endorsing what Ricardo Moro is saying, I especially
would like to emhasize his 3rd point, that is that with
the advent of e-publishing the role of traditional paper 
journals is getting more and more supperficial - now it is 
largely a support mechanism of the existing power hierarchy 
in science (establishment and underdogs as exterme ends) 
through the (largly fictitious) mechanism of 'peer review'.

Should peer review indeed be confined to the function
of editorial improvement of the manuscripts, nobody would
objected it (even anonymity would be OK in this case).
However, this is magnificently NOT the case and with the 
practice of MASS rejections peer review primarily works as a
mechanism of oppression of new ideas and enforcement of
conformism. This must be stoped or at least decisively

Because the establishement is not about to give up
its power of control, peer review can be (gradually)
put into a disuse by the combination of some grass 
root methods. Electronic publishing is, of course,
the prime asset which can be helpful in this matter. 

One of the functions of electronic publishing (now still
almost unheard of) should be, I believe, the massive 
SCIENTIFIC CRITICISM of already published (peer reviewed)
papers. Paradoxically, criticism in science has a much
lower profile than in other areas (arts, literature, etc).

The reason for this is that in science the criticism itself 
(so far, at least) was itself subjeted to a peer review. 
If you see a published paper which you believe is a crap,
the only thing you can do about it is to write another
paper refuting it. For many reasons, it is very seldom
an easy task and more often than not is impossible
(especially, if the crap paper is written by scientific
VIPs). So, all you can do it to keep a fist in your
pocket. Peer review article by 'authorities' published in 
a 'highly prestigiuos' peer reviewed journal was 
virtually uncriticisable by anyone, especially by
those who did not build yet their 'prestige level'.

Not any longer in the Internet world. Now, 
e-publishing can provide a good corrective to the 
(so far almost unchallenged) dictate of the peer 
My practical recommendation therefore, is to
encourage posting of in-substance critisism of
of the so-called 'high quality' (peer reviewed,
in 'good journals') science in those cases when 
people believe that such-and-such paper is lousy 
one (or plagiarized, copycatted, etc) and if they
can substantiate their criticim.

Will people sign their criticism or post it 
anomimously is up to them. Although, I personally
prefer signed criticism, I can see the point of
posting anonymously in those cases when the critics
have reasons to expect reprecations.

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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