Sunday, May 18, 2014

Peace of mind and getting rid of peer review

I wrote a blog post a little while ago about how to review a paper, and it clearly tapped into a vein of deep angst for many–it is clearly on many people's minds. Why? Why is it so hard to think about anything else when your paper is in review, even though there's just nothing you can do about it? Brings to mind a point Gautham likes to make, which I find myself agreeing with over and over again: peace of mind is the only thing worth anything in life. And putting yourself out there when you submit a paper is clearly the exact opposite of seeking peace of mind.

There are many among us who stridently advocate for getting rid of peer review entirely (I would certainly count myself one of them). I wonder if on some level this sentiment is driven not just by the flaws perhaps inherent to the current peer review process but also by the desire to reduce the deep personal anxiety associated with the process. I think it's certainly true that peer review introduces unnecessary pain. I also wonder if there really would be much less anxiety in a post-peer review world. Let's face it: criticism is a bitter pill, period. Even generally constructive reviews are usually unpleasant the first time you read them. Sometimes, the reviewers will point out a flaw that you already knew is a problem deep down, and just don't want to admit it to yourself. (Of course, waiting until you submit is a bad idea, but somehow it happens...) Are these problems going to go away if we had post-publication peer review through, for example, comments appended to your paper? I feel like we'll still live in denial about the flaws in our own work, and we'll still get that little hot rush you get when you get a comment pointing out a potential flaw in our argument or data. Submitting a paper for peer review is anxiety producing, but so will be publishing without peer review, although probably in a less arbitrary way.

I think that's because doing science itself is inherently anxiety producing. We're putting something out there that (hopefully) is new and changes our view of the world a little bit. With this comes a natural fear that we screwed up, that our analyses and interpretations are wrong, and that we will be attacked for it. This will be true regardless of what form peer review takes. Well, that's not entirely true. If you don't have our current peer review system, then there's a chance that nobody will comment on (or read) your paper at all. Less anxiety, for sure, but is that really what one would want? Do we really do science for peace of mind?

(I should say that I am absolutely NOT advocating that a benefit of our current peer review system is that it ensures that at least someone reads your paper (probably 2 of the 3 reviewers on average :). It is probably true in many more cases than we would hope, but in and of itself, it's not a benefit.)

No comments:

Post a Comment