Plenary Session Presentations
The Uncooperative Reviewer
R. M. Chandler-Burns
Final critical remarks on Floyd Bloom's plenary paper
While Bloom lauds the print journal's 200-year history he makes
us feel unsure of what the real problem is vis a vis the peer reviewer.
I can think of no other reason to have put inverted commas around the
superlative best in ["Often the 'best' reviewers are under their own
pressures."] if not to question whether we really do have the best
even under ideal circumstances. 'Best' indicates a not-so-hidden
irony to my mind's eye.
Secondly, the title and subtitle section allusion to Achilles'
heel also brings to mind more than just the idea of peer reviewers
being a weakness for even the strongest of journals. Remember, Paris
aimed his arrow at Achilles' back which was protected quite well with
layers of leather and bronze except the back of the lower extremities.
The arrow was guided by the gods to seek the part that was not
protected, namely the heel (the dorsal part of the foot being
protected by leather leggings, it is assumed). That I know of, peer
reviewers have not aimed arrows at any important (or minor) journal
demanding more perks for their services, and we can discount the idea
there is a fifth-column movement to weaken print journals. So,why
talk of monetary incentives? Free journals? Bloom's only real
complaint about peer reviewers is that of not taking seriously the
imperative to be prompt in their replies: ["...the major temporal sink
remains the delays in return of useful reviews from those asked to
review." "...prompt, high quality reviewing is the essential element
of scientific manuscript review process." "Editors also select
reviewers for their capacity to respond with reviews to papers in a
timely manner."] Is the Achilles' heel metaphor only used for
complaining about late-arriving reviews, uncooperative reviewers?
Should the title of the plenary really have been: "How much
longer can print journals dominate in science if peer reviewers
continue to be remiss in promptly returning the MS?" That sounds a
bit silly, buy may be the only point Bloom wishes to make in a
round-about way. The immediate competition, it seems to me, is not
the electronic journal but with that high impact print journal and
her daughters coming out of the U.K. for the past 100 years.
Does the electronic experience that Bloom is receiving from
_Brain Research_ foretell the future for the print journal? Will
just eliminating paper make a qualitatively different instrument for
the researcher to read or to publish in? It seems to me that
specialized journals will go the electronic path with the pre-E-print/
E-print/post-E-print format eliminating the need for anonymous
peer-reviewing as we know it, leaving the general science magazine
with its commissioned pieces for the layman to be bought at the
magazine/newspaper stand. And the advertising monies? Oh, they will
be there in the electronic versions as well (and probably with what
print CANNOT give--FILMED MOVEMENT!) I wonder if this is what Bloom
really sees down the road.
R. M. Chandler-Burns
Mon Dec 14