Why is science so sloooow 2

Updating Magic Universe

WHY IS SCIENCE SO SloooOW? — continued

The modest output of major discoveries compared with a century ago, despite the huge increase in the scientific workforce, was the theme of an earlier post on this subject, which you can see here http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/why-is-science-so-sloooow/ . A relevant extract  from the Magic Universe story on “Discovery” included this paragraph about the use of peer review to resist the funding and publication of novel research.

As a self-employed, independent researcher, the British chemist James Lovelock was able to speak his mind, and explain how the system discourages creativity. ‘Before a scientist can be funded to do a research, and before he can publish the results of his work, it must be examined and approved by an anonymous group of so-called peers. This inquisition can’t hang or burn heretics yet, but it can deny them the ability to publish their research, or to receive grants to pay for it. It has the full power to destroy the career of any scientist who rebels.’

Lovelock made those remarks in a lecture in 1989, but the situation remains grim. This month the life sciences magazine The Scientist has interesting articles on peer review.

One, entitled “Breakthroughs from the Second Tier”, describes five “high-impact” papers that should have been published in more prestigious journals than they were. You can see it here http://www.the-scientist.com/2010/8/1/30/1/.

Also in The Scientist is “I Hate Your Article” by Jef Akst, who quotes David Kaplan, professor of pathology at Case Western Reserve University:

Theoretically, peer review should “help [authors] make their manuscript better,” [Kaplan] says, but in reality, the cut-throat attitude that pervades the system results in ludicrous rejections for personal reasons—if the reviewer feels that the paper threatens his or her own research or contradicts his or her beliefs, for example—or simply for convenience, since top journals get too many submissions and it’s easier to just reject a paper than spend the time to improve it. Regardless of the motivation, the result is the same, and it’s a “problem,” Kaplan says, “that can very quickly become censorship.”

Akst’s full article is here: http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57601/ . It goes on to discuss some of the ideas on offer for easing the peer review problem. That’s the basis for this brief update to be added to Magic Universe.

Amid growing recognition of problems with peer review, a few scientific journals tested various remedies. As reported by The Scientist magazine, by 2010 they included ending the anonymity of reviewers, so that they could both be held responsible for their comments and be acknowledged for their work, which was time-consuming. Another policy was to insist that reviewers should concern themselves only with the rigour and proper reporting of the work, not with its impact or scope. And to speed up publication, reviewers’ comments made for one journal might be passed on to others. Some journals went so far as to publish preliminary versions of papers before the peer-review process was complete.

Reference

The Scientist, Vol. 24, Issue 8, p. 30 and p. 36, Aug 1 2010

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5 Responses to Why is science so sloooow 2

  1. Richard111 says:

    The AGW debackle was a sad enlightenment for me.
    I had assumed a “peer” was an equal in the field
    of science being reviewed.

    Maybe the time has come for public review on the internet and dissenters should identify themselves and list their qualifications to correct or adjust claims published.

    • Robinson says:

      “list their qualifications”

      I don’t think this, as it’s an appeal to authority, should really be a part of the review process. Of course you need some way of deciding whether comment A is more likely to be true that comment B, and you can’t always decide based on the facts therein, but a system based on authority is kind-of what we have at the moment and it’s * eminently* corruptible.

  2. [...] Has “peer review” failed?? By ktwop An interesting, provocative and thought provoking post by Nigel Calder here. [...]

  3. Robinson says:

    Peer review should be ditched. We don’t need it anymore. We have the internet, so all papers can be published. It should be replaced by a system of comments. That is to say, all papers are published but then distinguished experts can add comments and those comments can be disputed or otherwise. Review should become a system of argument, which is what the blogosphere has kind-of taken up in any case.

    It is then up to the interested reader to decide whether to take the paper on board or the comments.

  4. Doug Lavers says:

    As far as I can make out, a certain [German] paper entitled “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” would never have been published in today’s environment.

    Too speculative.

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