Re: peer review

Phil Nicholls (
21 Jan 1995 22:18:22 GMT

In article <3frj4j$>,
meksikatsi <> wrote:
>In <> (Elaine
>Morgan) writes:
>>I cannot resist posting this quotation from the current issue of
>>Science (p265)
>>"Reviewers may be defensive about a manuscript that
>>provides too large a deviation from received wisdom
>>and perhaps even threatens the reigning paradigm. If
>>you are brilliant enough to come up with such material
>>it may be wise to publish it in less shocking increments
>>or in a book."
>>...the advice is good. It is also
>>the best or only strategy for those whom the reviewers
>>cannot bring themselves to regard as their peers
>>Elaine Morgan
>I will be a bit more blunt by pointing out that the magazine is also
>obliquely referring to politics in science.
>I am talking about the worst kind of politics, where the reviewer, in
>their poisition of power, decides whether the idea is sound or the
>treatment is worthy of the "reigning paradigm" because of his personal
>position in the paradigm.
>Every reader in this forum knows to what I refer.
>I thought science was the pursuit of knowledge based on reality and
>truth. Why is it so hard for some scientists to admit when they are
>wrong, when it will benefit the common quest for knowledge? No one
>cares about the error. Errors form part of the signposts which guide us
>all to the truth.

I will not deny that politics in science is a problem or that those
with commitments to the current paradigm will resist change and use
their authority to resist change. Scientists are human beings,
subject to the same weaknesses as all other human beings.

Every great idea is resisted by the established order. However,
every idea resisted by the established order is not a great idea.
Like it or not, if you want to be heard and taken seriously in
science you have to present your ideas to those who have enough
expertise to effectively critique them. Publish books for the
general reader will get you some followers but will not allow
you to gain acceptance.

The advantage of peer review is that your work is given to several
individuals with expertise in the area. You can assume that they
will take it apart and tear it to shreads if they can. If you
think my critiques of Morgan have been harsh, peer review will be
ten times worse. I am just one graduate student and thermoregulation
is out of my area. Yet in one afternoon I was able to dig up enough
information to show that several of Morgan's assertions were

The advantage is that if you have made a serious blunder you get
to find out about it before you publish it.

I have submitted a request to Primate Talk, an internet mailing list
for primatologists, asking for information about thermoregulation
in primates. I have other things to do right now and can't spare
the time to dig for this stuff. I will let you know about the

Philip "Chris" Nicholls Department of Anthropology
Institute for Hydrohominoid Studies SUNY Albany
University of Ediacara
"Semper Alouatta"