28 June 2010

Vendetta, Part 2

Several people disagreed with my previous post about academic reprisals. So it seemed to me worth trying to explore the problem further.

It seems to me scientists fear reprisals because there are two things that they want:

  1. Publication in high visibility journals, the “glamour mags.”
  2. Grants.


Those two resources have two features that make the threat of reprisal genuine:

  1. Anonymous peer review.
  2. Scarcity.


Dealing with fear of reprisals at the level of the scientific community is a multi-part problem, each with different solutions.



The publishing model for journals is changing under our feet right now, and I think many of those changes are going to be good for breaking the prospect of reprisal. There are more and more venues where someone can publish, and it’s unreasonably to think a rival can block them all.

Journals are also promising targets for change because each one is independent. One dedicated editor or publisher can change how that venue works. There may be some limits to that, as Medical Hypotheses showed, but overall, editorial boards could really be change agents on this issue if they want to be.

Grants... much harder. This may be a situation where (gasp!) the politicians force change in federal funding. Transparency and accountability are fairly big issues for governments. Listen to this story (Part 2) about the G8/G20 and listen for how often “transparency” and “accountability” are mentioned.

Obviously, I advocate far more transparency in the review process. Just this morning, the editor-in-chief pf the British Medical Journal argued that the lack of accountability in peer review was a problem. This is the overwhelming direction the rest of the world is taking, governments and business and non-governmental organizations alike.

To that end, I’m giving up reviewing anonymously. And I’ve already started. I submitted some reviews over the weekend, and I signed them. I don’t know if the person in charge will keep my name on them, but there’s not a lot I can do about that.

I realize that I’m in an unusual situation that makes it easier for me to try to put my money where my mouth is. I don’t need six figure grants to do my research. I’m probably never going to have a paper in one of the fancy journals. I’ve sort of self-selected myself out of the rat race.

(But I’m still a rat!)

2 comments:

drugmonkey said...

I think you are either unimaginative or naive about the nature of reprisals that can have detrimental effects. Many such can occur without cover of anonymity because of a power differential. Many reprisals could never be proven- they are in the nature of professional evaluation and choice.

Zen said...

Drugmonkey: I may well be both unimaginative and naïve. As I said, many researchers are in a much different situation than me.

But is the claim that anonymity does not facilitate reprisals? At all?

Hm. There's probably a body of research on that question. I may spend some time reading some abstracts.

Neither "That's just the way the world is" and "You can't make things perfect" are compelling reasons to me not to try to make things better.