Peer review isn’t an issue normally covered by the mainstream media, but near the end of last year, an article in Science magazine made a big enough splash to catch the attention of NPR and other national outlets outside the ivory tower. “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” highlighted some of the issues with the system of peer-review for journals and other publications, including the egregious failure of the process to weed out a paper submitted with completely fabricated credentials:
Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper’s short-comings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless. I know because I wrote the paper. Ocorrafoo Cobange does not exist, nor does the Wassee Institute of Medicine.
The whole point of the peer-review process is to make sure that any work in a particular field is reviewed by the people who are best positioned to question the biases, methodologies, results, and conclusions of that work: other people who are experts in that same field. Ideally, it sounds like a great system, but in reality it’s a flawed model for several reasons. For starters: meaningfully culling submissions means reading them carefully — and that takes time many established experts don’t have. So reading either happens more hastily, or it’s done by less experienced members of the field (who usually have even less time). Either way, the ideal situation is already breaking down, and quickly.
This Thursday at 4pm Eastern on LLU Live #25, I’d like to talk about how we fetishize the idea of peer review, and whether the right method moving forward is to kill peer review altogether, or maybe to just reform the model. Regardless of where we individually stand on the question, I’d like to come away with some alternative ideas for ways to encourage high-quality writing, while also taking advantage of new publication methods.
Instructions for joining the conversation can be found on our Live Events page. I hope to see you there!