The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
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Double Blind Epilog

Double-blind* peer reviews are an intersting idea that I’ve discussed not too long ago. Several journals, most recently those in the Nature group, are experimenting with this format. I won’t go back over the previous arguments, but I want to present one point of view I liked, John Dennehy’s at his blog, the Evilutionary Biologist:

My own experience suggested that it is wise. I recently received a manuscript where I was aware of the authors’ identities. The final author (of several) is quite well respected, if not eminent. The paper, however, was crap. As I sat down to write the review, I began to second-guess myself. Maybe I don’t know what I am talking about and Dr. Eminent has a much better command of the subject, after all I am just a junior faculty and he is a big shot professor at a prominent university. In the end, after talking to colleagues, I decided I was correct in my initial assessment and returned a “reject” review. A few weeks later I received an email showing that my decision was supported by a similar conclusion from the other reviewer.”

The point of course, is not that Dr Eminent does not deserve respect for his eminent achivements & knowledge of the field He watches over. The point is that each manuscript must stand on its own merits. But it is a natural impulse. Do I really think Eugene Myers would make such a basic alignment error? Who am I to tell David Baltimore how reverse transcriptase works?

I would like to add a small footnote to this argument, setting aside the considerations about basic fairness. I’m sure Dr Eminent paid his dues. But probably the last time Dr Eminent came to the bench, he had on a bell-bottom lab coat & the funding future looked bright now that Tricky Dick had announced The War on Cancer. If it makes you feel more secure in your judgement, you’re basically arguing with the mini-Eminents. You can take ’em, John.

* IN traditional peer review, the identity of  the referee(s) is not known to the author(s), but the referee knows who wrote the manuscript. In the double-blind system, referees receive anonymized manuscripts. I’ve seen a couple of versions of these, basically redacted documents, with black bars across the author & affiliation fields.

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