Perfection is the enemy of the good

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Thu Mar 7 21:17:27 EST 2002

"Perfection is the enemy of the good"  Somebody else said that.  If we had
waited for perfection our BUTTERFLIES OF NJ would still be in the word processor
(where I suppose some critics think it belongs).  On the other hand we waited
long enough and had enough hostile reviewers that many errors were caught before
publication (it hurt at the time).

I agree with Kurt that it is unfortunate that broader and/or fairer citations
didn't occur.  But I also agree that it is virtually impossible to get
omniscient reviewers, particularly on papers with broad geographic or taxonomic
scope.  Most journals get only two reviewers, a few get three and fewer get
four, but even that doesn' t matter.  Reviewers have limited time and may be
inclined to read more or less thoroughly.  Some reject (or at least severely
criticize most of the things they read) while others blandly approve of almost
anything---correcting a few typos and deleting extraneous verbiage.  I think I
try to strengthen and clarify, but I often have to take on faith that certain
facts and citations outside of my own familiarity are accurate or appropriate.
If I find several factual errors or mis-representations (a freqauent sin) in
sections I know, I am likely to assume that other sections are flawed as well.

What makes my blood boil (2nd to not being cited) is being cited as supporting
the opposite of  the point I made in the paper.  It's obvious that the cit-er
didn't read the paper.
As more and more research relies on abstracts only (because they are so readily
available) there is good reason to assume that mis-representations of published
works will become more frequent and probably more serious.

Mike Gochfeld

"Johnson, Kurt" wrote:

> I want to make certain no one misunderstands; I have stated personally to
> Carla Penz that I am not doubting the integrity of editors or the process
> there; she says herself that one can only go with what reviewers say and, if
> they are not fully knowledgeable, they should say so.
> So there is no such insinuation coming from me.  My comments mirrored the
> complaint (right or wrong) of people complaning to me over the email.
> So, yes, the editor does their best to fine reviewers they feel competent.
> Often, however, people end up unsatisfied.  People complaining about this
> paper are people who have published on Strymon (especially regionally) and
> they were certainly not asked to review it etc.  These decisions ARE fully
> the perview of the editor; that is how it works and I have no problem with
> that.  It is just unfortunate that the list could not have been cleaner of
> errors, and, since some of the errors there (and omissions from the
> literature regarding other things) are rather salient to people who know
> Strymon in their own regions, we end up with unhappy people.  As I mentioned
> as well, the status of "lumping" or "splitting" in any group depends on who
> is conceived by the editors of journals, and others in those fiduciary
> capacities, as the experts.  Its quite clear that in skipper and riodinids
> cryptic/sibling species are "welcome" (elaborate papers demonstrating them);
> but they do not seem to be "welcome" in theclines even when they do have a
> literature around them.  A similar situation erupted after the paper on
> Awawacus where workers at the BM noted that d'Abrera's publication
> concerning the fact that the OD/original figure of dolylas did not fit any
> known butterfly (and thus its application was TOTALLY subjective) and that
> others (Johnson, in print) had opined that the name might best be
> suppressed, this entire literature was left out of the paper on Awawacus so
> that it was not an issue.  The reviewers in that case were also apparently
> not knowledgeable enough to notice it, or if they did, also decided that
> conundrum was not important.  If needing to be dismissed as information,
> this fact might at least have been mentioned.  The point is that the review
> process cannot catch all these things; in the case of the Strymon paper, if
> there are problems in the appendices' synonymic list it is more likely the
> reviewers were not knowledgeable at this level of detail and just assumed it
> was correct.  I think that is what most reviewers would do, IF they were not
> really expert on the group itself...they bow to the author.  So, the system
> is all we have, but no foolproof.  You know that Keith Brown made this same
> point, in detail in print, about problems in the book on Costa Rican
> butterflies by DeVries.   No one is perfect.
> best,
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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