Re: Review Journals

From: Albert Henderson <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 12:22:32 +0100

        The shortage for post-graduate researchers, practitioners,
        and policy makers is in state-of-the-art reviews that are
        comprehensive and authoritative. For instance, the standards
        of many medical journals for reporting expensive clinical
        trials (CONSORT) recommend that authors "state general
        interpretation of the data in light of the totality of the
        available evidence." JAMA editors emphasized this
        commitment to quality by asking authors to use a checklist
        that includes this recommendation. Unfortunately, as Fytton
        Rowland pointed out last week, it is the research sponsor -
        for example, the NIH - not the journal, that calls the
        tune. A study reported at the International Congress on
        Peer Review held at Prague in 1997 showed little evidence
        that authors complied or that journal editors were able
        to insist on it. (I can supply cites for anyone interested.)

        This shortage undermines authorship and credibility of
        grant proposals. It also casts a shadow of bias and
        insularity on research results. Insularity, of course,
        comes with the burden of too-many-to-count unevaluated,
        undistilled reports of primary research -- including
        journal articles as well as unreviewed preprints.

        One of my engineer friends calls this a "signal to noise
        problem." The greater the noise, the greater the energy
        must be to obtain a clear signal. At the risk of
        repeating the obvious, author-"archiving" preprints
        contributes more to the problem than to the solution.

        Newt Gingrich, speaking as a politician rather than a
        scientist, emphasized the policy implications of incoherence.

        However, the problem that he perceived has been recognized
        for decades as impairing the producitivity of research. It
        continues to fester as many scientists, like bureaucrats,
        prefer to work harder rather than smarter.

Albert Henderson
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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