Oh! The murky world of academic publishing

One more point on the “make the peer reviews open” curve among many, many other things of importance and interest:

One of these was a U.S. journal called The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (no relation to the British journal of the same name that published, then retracted, the Kuklo paper):

Dr. Andersen contacted the American journal’s editor, Dr. James D. Heckman, who confirmed in an e-mail message that Dr. Kuklo had submitted the report in mid-2007. The journal rejected it two months later, sending Dr. Kuklo the comments of an editor and two outside doctors who had reviewed it, Dr. Heckman wrote.

Dr. Andersen, curious about what Dr. Kuklo had actually submitted, asked Dr. Heckman for copies of those reviews. But the editor turned him down, even though Dr. Andersen was supposedly one of the study’s authors. In a recent interview, Dr. Heckman said that his journal, like many others, considered such reviews confidential and shared them only with a study’s lead author.

“It is all confidential information,” Dr. Heckman said, when asked by a reporter for the reviews. “It is protected by the peer-review process.”

So, what’s the rationale for making the lead author privy to information the journal keeps confidential from the coauthors? Wouldn’t the journal editors want all of the named authors to be able to do pre-publication quality control work on the study?

In light of policies of this sort that actually block communication with coauthors, I have to wonder whether journal editors have a very different view of what authorship involves than do many working scientists. Do journal editors mean to give their readership the wrong impression of who is willing (and able) to stand behind the papers they publish?

Must-read post of the day!


2 Responses to “Oh! The murky world of academic publishing”

  1. coolnik Says:

    On the contrary, I would even say: make the peer reviews doubly blind. That is, as the authors do not know the identity of the reviewers, the journals should also make sure that the reviewers are not aware of the identity of the authors.

    For one, this doubly blind peer-review will ensure that the manuscript will be judged solely on the basis of its merit, and not on the basis of the “prestige” of the co-authors. Once the authors know that their manuscript will be judged based only on the content, they will not add the prestigious authors just for the sake of it—the incentive of doing so simply will no longer exist.

    Plus, the reviewers will not be predisposed against the manuscript coming out from an unknown research institute.

    Perhaps, there are indeed some cons to doubly-blind reviews, but it can be worth a try.

    • Guru Says:

      Dear Coolnik,

      I agree with you that double blind reviews will also work. However, it still depends on some editor making sure that everything is done according to norms; you never know when the next case will turn up which tells about the favouritism played by the editor. On the other hand, making everything public will have the same benefits in addition to adding transparency, which is a good thing. As they say, sun light is the best disinfectant!

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