Friday, September 18, 2009

Peer Review

Courtesy of the RSC (an organization that I do a fair amount of peer-review for) comes a preview of a survey on peer review. Having not taken part in the survey, I'll comment on parts of it that I find interesting.

"The survey found that respondents were divided over potential incentives for taking part in peer review. Over half felt payment in kind (e.g. journal subscription, waiver of their own publishing costs) would make them more likely to review, 41 per cent said cash payment would be their preferred reward (though this drops to 2.5 per cent if the author has to cover the cost), while 39 per cent favoured published acknowledgement in return for their services."

I'd be all in favor of any journal subscription, but I can easily see that that would mean zilch to someone who already has such access through their institution. Since most publishing is now electronic to some degree, providing access can be done at no direct cost to the publisher, although at the potential loss of paid access. Cash outlays on the other hand, are a tangible cost that would require increases in access fees to compensate for it. (I find it laughable that 41% would take the cash, unless they knew the author was paying for it. Is this another case of how isolated that ivory tower is from reality? Do they really think that the publishers (many of which are non-profit societies) are just going take the hit themselves? Somehow the logic of all this isn't very clear to me.)

"A further finding was that although reviewers see detecting plagiarism as a noble aim, it is not practical within the current peer review framework."

This got my eyebrows hunched. Given the easy access to searching tools, it's pretty darn easy to at least perform a cursory look for palgarism: just enter a few phrases from the paper and see if anything matches it. It's a technique that school teachers use, and though it is not a guarentee as it is only a statistical approach, it still can work amazingly well. Additionally, the evidence is almost irrefutible.

Lastly, "While there are undeniable gripes about the peer review system in its current form, no viable alternatives have yet presented themselves that could drastically improve the way research papers are reviewed and published - a fact echoed by the reviewers who took part in the survey."

That does sum it up quite well.

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