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Should peer reviewers sign their names?

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Further to “Open Access founder abandons free science; just go back to “name” journals, he says” but this time on a serious note, bioinformatics prof Thomas Mailund offers an ethical dilemma for honest peer reviewer to think about:

For the last two-three years I’ve been signing my reviews. I find that I write better reviews when I’m not anonymous.

It shouldn’t be like that, but it is. I’m less likely to get lazy if I know that people will see who wrote the review.

It creates a dilemma, though: should I discuss manuscripts with authors before they are published? I am likely to run into them at meetings, and it is hard not to talk about the manuscripts there. If it is authors I’m frequently discussing with online the dilemma is there as well. More.

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

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3 Replies to “Should peer reviewers sign their names?

  1. 1
    TSErik says:

    Certainly they should. If one is influencing scientific progress they should be able to openly stand by their work.

  2. 2
    Dr JDD says:

    The peer-review system is a broken one. It is one of many reasons I left academic science. In a world where research funding is scarce (15 years ago a 25% grant success rate here in the UK is now <5% success for some funding bodies), science has turned to a dog-eat-dog world scrapping for the dregs of money. Peer-reviewers can hide behind anonymity and ensure someone does not get their work published if they do not agree/like them, or worse steal their ideas (this happened to my lab). If you propose a new finding that contradicts a generally accepted theory, despite the experimental rigour of your approach, your fate in the 2-3 experts in your field is usually inevitably rejection. Negative results are not published as this is not progress or new findings (well let's be honest – I am sure many studies have given negative results and even if they could, many would not want to publish as it would question the foundations of an accepted theory).

    I highly commend the book "The Emperor of Scent" by Chandler Burr. It gives quite an accurate insight into the world of peer-review and how established theory is nigh-on impossible to overturn. Yet still, the latest evidence suggests that Luca Turin (the subject of this book) may well be correct about his quantum biology theory of smell (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luca_Turin).

    JD

  3. 3
    Querius says:

    Dr JDD,

    I’ve heard about this issue and experienced one of the issues personally. So how can goofball theories be weeded out, or at least handled fairly?

    What if (wildly optimistic, idealistic ideas follow) . . .

    – Reviewers are qualified, but not anonymous.

    – Only the rigor of laboratory or statistical methods are evaluated, not implications or conclusions.

    – Publication in electronic form is categorized by disciplines, branches, and twigs (using a dotted numerical classification scheme such as used by the U.S. Navy and IBM among others). Think Dewey Decimal System on steroids.

    – Submissions allow qualified discussion and subsequent superseding revisions by the authors over time (rev 2, rev 3, etc.).

    – It’s likely that information about natural things is chaotic. In other words, a submission might be like a butterfly in Tokyo—no one can know for sure what’s the most important one at that time.

    – Similar submissions are available “side by side” for comparison, which would be really interesting IMHO.

    – There’s far too much information being generated now for anyone to keep up. But if each individual could subscribe to the “twigs” on a branch, it would help.

    – Additionally, summaries could be generated for each “branch” for general interest, with the possibility of drilling down into greater detail on any point of interest. In other words, there’s a need for several higher levels of abstraction.

    – Some measure of utility to the discipline might be based on number of times a submission is cited, but admittedly this measure is vulnerable to systematic gaming.

    Does any of this make sense?

    -Q

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