Re: A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2002 13:13:59 +0000

On Tue, 19 Nov 2002, Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> It is absolutely untrue that the journals and universities that certified
> the Bogdanovs are second-rate. That's just a knee-jerk reaction.
> It's true that the University of Bourgogne is not quite Harvard and
> that some of the journals involved are not top-flight either. Still,
> we should expect any such authority to reject utter travesties. The first
> journal to publish the Bogdanovs, Classical and Quantum Gravity, has not
> only published many good papers, it also responded to the Bogdanov affair
> in a first-rate way: by publicly admitting error. Usually journals have
> no comment when they publish really bad papers.

Greg is certainly in a better position to judge the quality of the
journals in question than I am. It is unfortunately not clear what
follows from his own view, however, even if the journals and university
departments in question are first-rate...

> To conclude, yes, this is evidence that there is something wrong with
> the current implementation of peer review. I have made the same point
> before using other examples. Coincidentally I recently proposed some
> reforms in this opinion piece:

Greg's views on peer-review reform have been discussed in this Forum
before (which is why I have redirected this discussion to that thread).
It will be interesting to continue this discussion about the viability and
effectiveness of Greg's "Open Journal" proposal, as outlined in the above
opinion piece, if and when it has actually been tested and shown to work
as predicted (preferably on a sample sufficiently representative, large
and long to be credibly generalized to the current refereed literature
as a whole -- but initially, to continue the discussion, any empirical
results will do).

Greg feels that classical peer review is dysfunctional and unnecessary,
and that the only reason all physicists and mathematicians, even those who
self-archive their unrefereed preprints, continue to submit their papers
to peer-reviewed journals (and often to self-archive the refereed version
too) is for the sake of their university promotion/tenure committees,
who are not qualified to evaluate their work for themselves.

This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why researchers all still submit
their work to classical peer review. Another might be that they feel that
peer review improves the quality of research (not necessarily their own,
but perhaps everyone else's...). Another might be because they prefer to
use refereed research, tagged by the quality level of a journal-name with
a known track record, rather than having to try to referee everything for
themselves, or relying on pot-luck. Or they might, like good referees,
just be waiting patiently to hear the outcome of controlled trials of
alternatives to classical peer review, before being ready to adopt them.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Nov 19 2002 - 13:13:59 GMT

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