PEER REVIEW

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Nov 21 15:42:03 EST 1996


PEER REVIEW BUREAUCRACY

November 1996 issue of "Physics World" has a
Forum article by Prof. Don Braben (University
College, London. UK), "The Repressive Regime of 
Peer-Review Bureaucracy".

To quote briefly:

Proposal rating is anathema for new science.
Few major discoveries or inventions are greeted
with consensus ... All this is well known,
but because peer-review bureaucracy is now
the determinant of excellence, the natural
inclination to reject change has become
insitutionalized.
 
< .....>

Clearly, the problem with science in many
countries is not just one of funding. In my
view, the peer-review bureaucracy is 
responsible for the growth of the crazy idea
that you can only do world-class research
if you have access to the best - i.e. the
most expensive  - equipment.

(end of Braben's quote)

As a British author, Prof. Braben does not
mention expicitely NSERC, MRC, NIH, or NSF
all of which all using the same mythology,
the mythology in which the grantsmanship 
bureaucracy hardy believes itself, but uses 
it for the political purpose of cheating 
the taxpaying public. 

Major myths are:

(1) MYTH 1: Myth of "Underfunding" ("Science is 
VEEEEERY expensive, hence we need MOOOOORE money, 
overwise we [ Fat Cats ] starve, and poor public 
won't survive without us [ and our Science ], etc, 
etc. So you, scientifically illiterate plebeians
[ public, Congress, Parliament ] have an OBLIGATION 
to fund us".  

Truth: most science is NOT expensive and
a lot of good science can be done on 
budgets 5-10 times LOWER (or perhaps even
20 times) than are used by a typical single-prof 
grantsmaship empire with several slave postdocs. 
Overwhelming majority of researchers will 
do a lot of good science for the annual total 
research budget of $ 15,000 (USA) or $ 20,000 (Can),
if they are to work themselves instead of 
going 10 times (or more) per year for a leisure 
on Hawaii Conferences. Many scientists will do 
well even with half of the above amounts. 

(2) MYTH 2: "The higher the peer review scoring,
the better is to-be science". 

Overall, the opposite is true (with the exception
of a clearly incompetent work). Peer review tends
to eradicate innovative work, and often even 
a good quality work. The reasons are explained
elsewhere.
 
(3) MYTH 3: "The fierce funding selectivity is the 
path to 'excellence'"  (sort of, excellence 
enforcement mentality, dominated in NSERC & others).

The reality is that what is encouraged is the
mediocrity and conformism. Innovative work 
must be carefully concealed or mislabled to get
funded. Not all can do such trickestry. 

Of course, no changes in the above agencies 
(and in the peer review smoke screen) are going
to happen from within these institutions. Old
boys are pretty comfortable with their club.

But at least, the taxpaying public has the 
right to know the truth on what really goes 
on behind the curtain of secrecy of the 
so called  APR (anonymous peer review) system, 
the system which is a shame for the 20th century 
science. Not surprisingly we (scientists) lost
so much in the eyes of public in the last few
years, and the downsliding continues.        

**********************************
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
**********************************





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