In today’s scientific community few practices are as sacrosanct as the process of peer review. In order to preserve quality in scientific publication, there have been longstanding policies among academic publishers of having a document reviewed and approved by one’s professional peers. If a piece of work does not meet the approved standards, it does not get published.
An academic’s professional prestige is based in large degree upon whether, and how much that person has had their work published in a peer reviewed publication. It would be considered shameful and wholly unprofessional to many scientists to create their own blog or website and publish research findings on such a venue. You are supposed to go through the traditional, approved channels. However, there can be problems with this approach.
“Peer review, originally introduced in the 17th century as a means of vetting contributions to the Royal Society, is widely used to assess research. It serves science well and is seen as, while perhaps not perfect, far better than anything else we have been able to devise. So why do I refer to the tyranny of peer review? It may be unduly risk-averse, fostering incremental research at the expense of higher risk proposals that offer the prospect of a transformational change: a ‘dead hand’ for high risk, high potential returns . . .”
“I have heard it said that Tim Berners-Lee’s original paper on the World Wide Web was rejected as not sufficiently significant! Rationalise that if you can with the impact this advance has had on society .. .
“Proposals that don’t fit within established disciplines are said to give particular difficulty for the peer review establishment. After all, excellence in peer review requires excellent peer reviewers. Just who are the peers appropriate to judge anti-establishment, or rather extra-establishment, research?”
Now peer review in principle can be a very good thing. It can keep poor quality research from being published and provide an incentive for researchers to be thorough and rigorous. However, I believe there are aspects peer review that can have a stifling effect upon science and discovery. When peers are the guardians of orthodoxy within a certain discipline they may suppress unpopular subjects and keep unconventional research from being published. Peer reviewed publications are sometimes unwilling to publish research that supports theories that go against the prevailing opinion.
The peer review culture can also have an effect on the allocation of funds for research. Funding bodies are often looking to allocate money for “acceptable” research areas — meaning that unorthodox (but promising) projects miss out. Media coverage also tends to gravitate to safe research areas with many media outlets not wanting to see unfashionable in the topics they cover.
One of the interesting aspects of Andrea Rossi’s launch of information about his energy catalyzer technology is that information has been published in a free online outlet — The Journal of Nuclear Physics. The title of the site sounds very conventional, but in essence his outlet is a blog.
No doubt this approach has incurred the scorn of many scientists. But let’s take a look at his site. On the front page is this statement.
All the articles published on the Journal Of Nuclear Physics are Peer Reviewed. The Peer Review of every paper is made by at least one University Physics Professor.
There is also page about “Advisers” which reads:
All papers will be reviewed by our scientific council to ensure scientific rigor and compliance with copyright law.
Publications will not be corrected and will be published “as received” in chronological order of receipt.
The authors are solely responsible for the contents of their papers.
Prof. Stremmenos Christos (Bologna University – Italy)
Richard Noceti, Ph.D. (LTI-global.com)
Rossi has selected his own group of peers and is trying to use the peer-review process in a different venue. I expect his move has been looked down upon by many in the scientific community but if his e-cat invention turns out to be a revolutionary source of nuclear energy there may be a lot of rethinking about the way scientific publication takes place in the future. If you have a scientific breakthough, and you can’t get your peers to pay attention, is it any surprise that in this age of digital publication that people might try a new approach?