I am not suggesting here to blow up and dismantle the whole peer review system dead and buried, but the mentality that if something’s been published, better in prestigious journals, it’s something news-worthy at the zero end of the spectrum and something to turn the whole research direction into new grounds at the far zero end of the spectrum.

To start with the whole intent of the process, it happens just because you have an intermediate being called the editor of a journal, who is mostly a half-baked being, even if very well cooked. The editor doesn’t have expertise in what he intends to cull, publish, or reject: he depends on his political expertise in recruiting reviewers who are, in the ideal scenario, unbiased and very knowledgeable. The first thing here is that now too much of the status of an article’s publication-worthiness depends on how “acceptable” it is to those reviewers: it might be a radical new idea that others might not be willing to accept at all, clashing with their own deeply and longly held beliefs; it might be an idea that goes against the prevalent practice and dares to ask the wrong questions, wrong not simply because they are audacious but also because they might lead to losses for those corporations who are funding the research bodies on whose grants the reviewers are spending lives and the very same journals are running! The second thing is that too often and too soon the editor’s aim becomes to garner enough positive reviews, so that s/he can justify an article’s inclusion. This is especially true for journals in the mid-prestige range, because they have to fight for enough interesting articles, not being bombarded like the high-prestige ones. (Not to mention the difficulty in getting the “experts” when you’re a low-prestige journal!) Even taking the case of books and while sending out the manuscript for review, and if you really want some kind of a book on that subject in your catalog, or you want to just have a first-mover advantage, you just want three positive reviews, or two out of three!

To continue with the process itself, there’s been a lot said, a lot unsaid. If it’s a niche area, to find the reviewers is a difficult business. You ask the author, and then contacting his suggested ones is hardly a blind process, is it? Even if you don’t contact the author, more often than not he would know who all could be the reviewers and how exactly he needs to politick! I remember myself scouting reviewers for a book on control engineering, but where the author touched on a curious mixture of topics, based on which he himself taught at a prestigious university, but which were not to be found at other universities: the manuscript seemed interesting, but here the reviewer has not only to see whether what’s written is good, but also whether it’s “likely to be useful for students and faculty,” that is, marketable. A solution here would be getting the manuscript reviewed by students of that particular discipline, rather than any so-called manuscript. They will be unbiased as long as anonymity is followed, will be keen as it will enhance their knowledge plus it’s like judging someone so early on (and human beings love judging, oh yes they do), and will be enthusiastic over the whole process and make fine science men and women themselves later on with this exposure. But the same thing doesn’t work elsewhere: especially where students have always thought only what they’ve been taught!

Most science students scoff at things they have been taught to scoff at: that’s the most simple explanation that comes to mind. Most philosophy and even other humanities students will soon flow into different isms, testing themselves how well have they understood each one. And forget that while a work might use references as supporting evidence and while they themselves might support a work with referential arguments as some kind of hallowed precints to question which a layman will tremble, still that work cannot use them as props. Also, what if I base my article upon a research that I could do and of course the students have no access to? The reviewer’s work is anyway not to question the researcher’s veracity of assertions: s/he assumes that the said research was indeed carried out. S/he only has to scrutinize the results that I infer from my observations: what I observed is sanctified beyond the pale of doubt just by my signing on the dotted paper in a legal framework that I did so. If I did not, I will be culpable. Yes. But how many times is that done? Isn’t it again one of the failures of the peer review process?

Last but not least is the whole problem of bloating yourself on citations: publish as often as you can, especially in high-impact journals, and that’s the goal of writing, because that then leads you to more money, higher status, legendarity. The media and the periodicity of these journals don’t help either. Fickle researches published in a high-prestige and high-impact factor journal are standard news items in tabloids; and the journals themselves have to churn out something or the other in an issue, they can’t be just not publishing occasionally! Immortality is not a valued item now; the world loves its schmaltzy glitz. And in journals anyway it was never an item of consideration. Breakthroughs seem very common now; we are tired, and we need a constant reflux of them; and we do that awarding more PhDs, reporting every new research that told us how women were found out to be wired differently, and not saying anything based on our instincts but finding a proof for everything since it’s a world we know which laughs when you don’t have anything to back up what you said—even if you were right! And then research itself getting funded by corporations investing large amounts of money into getting a brand down people’s throat: how poorer can the imagination get?

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