Journal editor withholds peer reviewed comments on submitted paper

Rachael Hill rachael at stiggle.freeserve.co.uk
Thu Jan 18 11:04:16 EST 2001


What can be done to obtain the anonymous peer reviewed comments on a
submitted manuscript after they are withheld without explanation by a
journal editor?

I wrote a technical criticism of a previously published paper and
submitted it to the American journal where the original paper was
published. The editor obtained comments from three independent referees,
and from the corresponding author of the original paper. My manuscript
was rejected, but I accept editors have the choice of what they publish.
However, the editor refused to send me the peer reviewed comments, and
those of the original author. He summarised what he himself described as
the complex statements of all parties in a few sentences. He refused to
explain this decision, elucidate further his vague comments, and has
ignored all further correspondence. In the journal's own ethical
guidelines it is implicit that reviewers' comments are returned to
authors.

My criticisms had previously prompted an internal inquiry into the work
at the UK Institution where the work was done (which coincided with my
almost immediate redundancy). The outcome of the inquiry was that
experimental work must be done to establish the validity of the results
(the results have not yet been shown to be valid, although it is fifteen
months since the inquiry concluded). I wrote to the journal after I was
refused the report of the internal inquiry, despite a written promise
that I would receive a copy "in any event". The Institution also refused
to discuss the findings of the report with me. The results of the
research were being used by a senior member of staff to attract millions
of pounds of venture capital money to set up a private company on the
Institution's premises, in which the Institution is a major shareholder.

There are now six sets of peer reviewed comments on my criticisms of the
research (two from the internal inquiry, and four from the journal). I
can't get any of them. Where is open scientific debate?

UK freedom of information laws are laughable. I wondered if there was a
way to obtain the peer reviewed comments through US freedom of
information laws. I have yet to find a single reference to this problem.
Any suggestions/advice/other cases would be most welcome.

Rachael at stiggle.freeserve.co.uk

18/1/01.




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