Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On Peer Review

I love peer review. It makes sense. There is just too much information in the world, even within a given subject to expect an editor to have enough knowledge to make an extremely well informed decision. So the help of experts is enlisted and we generally shield out the crap.

As someone who deals with the peer review process daily, I understand that it's far from perfect. Sometimes we get articles here and after sending them to 10 or so reviewers, only one person has agreed to review. When you get 20 articles a day, you can't take more time than it takes to invite 10 people, so you go with what you have. Sometimes that one review is all you have.

Often, the authors of a paper will supply a list of preferred and non-preferred reviewers. The reviews done by preferred reviewers are often strongly in favor of publication. When we can't find enough reviewers and the only reviewer ends up being a preferred reviewer, it's highly likely that the decision will be based on a strong review in favor. This is rare, but it happens. It also doesn't necessarily guarantee publication, as our editor is an expert in the field (but nobody is an expert in everything). Sometimes we get a couple of people to agree to review and then, 30 days later, only one has actually done a review. Again, we base the decision on a single review if we must.

When I stumbled upon this post at Pharyngula today, I wasn't entirely surprised to hear that somehow, creator-talk had finally found its way into a peer-reviewed journal. I assume it happened in this fashion: reviewers are requested, none are found, editor uses preferred reviewers and gets back reviews in favor of publication and decides to publish based on the reviews.

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