Thursday, June 25, 2020

Peer review: How is that working out for ya?

A paragraph from a form editor in chief of a major journal in my specialty area:

Less than a month later, this got me into trouble. Apparently I had upset some Very Important People by “desk-rejecting” their papers, which means I turned them down on the basis of serious methodological flaws before sending out the work to other reviewers. (This practice historically accounted for about 30 percent of the rejections at this journal.) My bosses—the committee that hires the editor in chief and sets journal policy—sent me a warning via email. After expressing concern about “toes being stepped on,” especially the toes of "visible ... scholars whose disdain will have a greater impact on the journal's reputation," they forwarded a message from someone whom they called "a senior, highly respected, award-winning social psychologist." That psychologist had written them to say that my decision to reject a certain manuscript was "distasteful." I asked for a discussion of the scientific merits of that editorial decision and others, but got nowhere.
The rest of the article is worth reading. Peer review is not all it's cracked up to be. Peer review is better than nothing, and definitely better than government meddling into what gets published. However, it only works to the extent that eminent scholars can't do an end-run around editorial decisions, and of course the extent to which peer reviewers have sufficient information to make informed decisions.

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