Friday, August 6, 2010

The Scientist > August 2010 > Peer Review Rejected

The August 2010 Issue Of The Scientist Features
Great Articles About Peer Review

Editorial > Peer Review and the Age of Aquarius / Sarah Greene


More than 300 years since the invention of peer review and 30 years post-Web, it’s time to act. Lest we forget, the Web was originally designed to disrupt scientific publishing, as recently noted by Michael Clarke in the Scholarly Kitchen blog.

The first major disruption has been open access (OA) publishing, a prerequisite for the new metrics, which thrive on increasing numbers of papers and data. And despite its fledgling status, OA has ushered in a second major disruption to the scientific establishment: post-publication peer review (PPPR), in a variety of experiments and formulations, pioneered by BioMedCentral and PubMedCentral.


 Thus, transparency and ongoing scrutiny by a much wider community can minimize the failures of traditional peer review (depicted on the cover of this issue), and can also bring to light innovations and discoveries that may have been ahead of the curve at the time of publication. Robust involvement by the community is required, and proposed “reputation systems” may be the key to ensure rewards for commenting and revising.



Article 1 > Breakthroughs from the Second Tier / The Scientist Staff

Peer review isn’t perfect— meet 5 high-impact papers that should have ended up in bigger journal


One of the most commonly voiced criticisms of traditional peer review is that it discourages truly innovative ideas, rejecting field-changing papers while publishing ideas that fall into a status quo and the “hot” fields of the day—think RNAi, etc. Another is that it is nearly impossible to immediately spot the importance of a paper—to truly evaluate a paper, one needs months, if not years, to see the impact it has on its field.

In the following pages, we present some papers that suggest these two criticisms are correct, at least in part. These studies were published in lower-profile journals (all with current impact factors of 6 or below), suggesting they should have had less of an impact. But these papers eventually accumulated at least 1,000 citations. Many were rejected from higher-tier journals. All changed their fields forever.

Twenty years ago, David Kaplan of the Case Western Reserve University had a manuscript rejected, and with it came what he calls a “ridiculous” comment. “The comment was essentially that I should do an x-ray crystallography of the molecule before my study could be published,” he recalls, but the study was not about structure. The x-ray crystallography results, therefore, “had nothing to do with that,” he says. To him, the reviewer was making a completely unreasonable request to find an excuse to reject the paper.



Article 2 > I Hate Your Paper / Jef Akst

Kaplan says these sorts of manuscript criticisms are a major problem with the current peer review system, particularly as it’s employed by higher-impact journals. Theoretically, peer review should “help [authors] make their manuscript better,” he says, but in reality, the cutthroat 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.”



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Article 3 > Is Peer Review Broken?

Submissions are up, reviewers are overtaxed, and authors are lodging complaint after complaint about the process at top-tier journals. What's wrong with peer review?

[] / Subscriber Access

Related > Citations: Too Many, or Not Enough?  / William J. Pearce


The introduction of PubMed in the mid-1990s revolutionized the process of finding and retrieving relevant literature. With much of the drudgery and inconvenience gone, long lists of potentially important publications could be compiled quickly and easily on any computer with an Internet connection. The parallel development of reference database management software further expanded the ability to compile and organize large numbers of abstracts, and ultimately article PDFs.

On one hand, these impressive tools greatly facilitated preparation of comprehensive literature reviews with unprecedented breadth. On the other hand, easy access to so many publications reinforced the temptation to read each paper cited less critically, and sometimes not at all. Thus was born the practice of citing numerous diverse publications to support a point of discussion, instead of citing the one or two most relevant publications with the greatest impact on a field, as if quantity and quality of citations were interchangeable and equally persuasive. [snip]



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"Alternative Peer Review: Quality Management for 21st Century Scholarship"

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A Synopsis Of The Presentation In Article Form >>>

"Peer Review in the Internet Age: Five (5) Easy Pieces," Against the Grain 16, no. 3 (June 2004): 50, 52-55.

Self-archived at

See Also

> Invisible Hand(s): Quality Assurance in the Age of Author Self-Archiving

>> Quality Assurance in the Age of Author Self-Archiving 

[] / 110+ Slides


"It's Not About Publication; It's About Ideas"

1 comment:

Gideon Burton said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. A great summary of the issues -- and it's good to see some solid coverage of the problems with peer review. Perhaps this will help to bring about change. My own assessment of peer review's problems (more from the humanities than from the sciences, but still relevant):