Peer Review

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Wed Oct 4 06:16:50 EDT 2000

I really appreciate Norbert's comments on peer review which happens to 
be a bug of mine.  When asked why he never got a PhD, George Evelyn 
Hutchison is said to have replied "who is there who could examine me". 
It seems that particularly in the sparsely populated field  of 
systematics (and not much better field of lep behavioral ecology), it's 
not likely that there are many potential reviewers.  Indeed, I've had 
two editors send back papers (rejected) because they couldn't identify 
reviewers for the subject (bad choice of journal on my part). 

If peer review doesn't establish validity, it does impart a credibility. 
We get a lot of mileage when we can tell judges that "it has been 
published in a peer reviewed journal". 

A colleague of ours has collected the peer reviews of his papers (mainly 
of his rejected papers) and analyzed how little the peer reviewers knew 
about the subject and how much shooting from the hip etc.  Lamentably, 
this paper too was rejected. 

Peer review in some cases has opened up the opportunity for plagiarism 
or competition.  We have two personal instances where a reviewer (whose 
ID was not difficult because they named the authors we hadn't cited), 
recommended rejection and then published the same ideas in the same 
journal. But maybe only two such events over 30 years could be construed 
as a validation rather than condemnation of the process. 

Peer review of research proposals is more dangerous because the 
proposals go to people in the same field.  

Thus the cards seem loaded (to mix a metaphor) in favor of rejection, 
which helps editors who can only accept about 30% of the submitted 

It's not a great system, but to mouth off about peer review invites ad 
hominem responses, and in my institution, at least, it renders all of 
your work suspect; after all what quality research(er) would be afraid 
of good peer review. 

Mike Gochfeld

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