Friday, May 23, 2014

Peer Review and the Publishing of Scientific Journal Articles

In getting an article published in scientific journals, the possible author must submit to the process of peer review.  Depending on the seriousness of the reviewers, the quality of the journal, and the theoretical or practical importance of the research finding,  the paper may be subjected to intense scrutiny.  While the process usually yields quality articles to be ultimately published, one article in psychology was negatively reviewed by peer reviewers of several journals before ultimately being accepted by the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology.  This article (by Garcia and Koelling, 1966) was reviewed by one with "the probability of obtaining these results is the same as finding birdshit in a cuckoo clock." 

Ironically, the Garcia and Koelling article ultimately published became one of the most widely-cited ones in the conditioning and learning literature.  It demonstrated that certain forms of conditioning could be situation-specific.  Also, it demonstrated that conditioned taste aversions could be readily acquired to nausea-invoking stimuli.

Not all papers submitted for review get the full treatment; some reviewers, busy with their own research, gloss over papers that they are peer-reviewing and make few critical comments.

With regard to the journal-publishing activity itself, there has been a tendency for multiple authors of scientific journal articles within the past 20 years or so.  The apotheosis (or the final absurdity) of this occurred with an article by E. Topol et al. published in The New England Journal of Medicine (1993).  It listed 976 co-authors from 15 different countries!  Now that journal is perhaps the most prestigious in medicine, but that may be overdoing it a bit.

Somehow, the various strategies for increasing the number of citations on one's vita can be likened to stuffing one's bra.  (Let's be honest, many of  us have done this on occasion.)  The expectation, which often is true, is that the people scanning the vita as part of the academic or research hiring process, or in screening candidates for a research grant will simply look at the quantity of publications cited, not their quality.


The Bastard King of England said...

Did each one of the 976 get a word in? It must have been one hell of a paper!

TexWisGirl said...

the graphic is cute. i never stuffed my bra. :)

Bilbo said...

"...the various strategies for increasing the number of citations on one's vita can be likened to stuffing one's bra." One assumes that the equivalent expression for male would-be publishers is "putting a roll of quarters in one's pants pocket." Great post!

Grand Crapaud said...

An honest woman! Saying that publications are counted, but not necessarily read!

Hell Hound said...

It sounds like the reviewers really had it in for the first paper. The review process sounds so arbitrary.

Mike said...

As soon as I get 975 more people together I'm going to review your post.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I wonder how many of those 976 got a free ride on being cited for a publication.

Cloudia said...

"Publish or perish"
What about the professor who is made co investigator on all the grad students' studies? Helps both parties. . . . Sometime I'll tell you about studying with Elaine Hatfield PhD one-time most cited social science researcher. . . Have you seen "Masters of Sex? about the dinosaur days of sexuality research?

ALOHA from Honolulu