The Peer Review Crisis in Science Publishing

by Ariel Fernandez

The peer review system is broken. Every working scientist who submits grant proposals and publishes papers knows it. Of my 350 or so papers spanning 32 years of scientific career, I can recall at most a dozen occasions where I sincerely felt compelled to thank the referee for his/her helpful and illuminating comments. As for grant proposals, cronyism has become too pervasive to be ignored.

Shoddy refereeing is not free from consequences, perhaps the most obvious being the poisonous atmosphere of post-publication peer review, or PPPR for short. The aim of PPPR is prima facie quite commendable: to correct the miscarriages resulting from poor peer review. In fact, PPPR has become an imperative. The problem lies in the fact that PPPR has been hijacked away from the journals by angry people (some even call themselves haters) that, emboldened by a travesty of Constitutional protection and often by anonymity, vilify creative people to bolster their own standing in society.

In a rather contentious blog, Dr. Weishi Meng characterizes the poisonous atmosphere under which certain forms of PPPR are conducted as “McCarthyism”. I initially frowned at the thought but upon reflecting, I am afraid that I would have to agree: PPPR is a hysteria often fueled by hatred and ineptitude shrouded in anonymity under the lofty pretense of scientific betterment.

Let us hope that scientific journals manage to reinstate a responsible peer review system that will do away with this aberration, so that only credible scholars may challenge a published paper by seeking publication of their findings subject, of course, to peer review.

Ariel Fernandez

Ariel Fernandez’s Professional Webpage