Sounds Familiar? Clique of Reviewers, Asinine Editors Stifle Scientific Research

And so we learn that the issue of having major scientific publications rely way too much on the biased opinion of a restricted number of self-appointed “experts” apparently working together to promote their own good selves rather than to advance knowledge, is not confined to climate research alone:

Journal stem cell work ‘blocked’ by Pallab Ghosh, Science correspondent, BBC News

Stem cell experts say they believe a small group of scientists is effectively vetoing high quality science from publication in journals.

[…] Professor Lovell-Badge [from the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR)] said: “It’s turning things into a clique where only papers that satisfy this select group of a few reviewers who think of themselves as very important people in the field is published.

You can get a lot of hype over a paper published on stem cell research that’s actually a minimal advance in knowledge whereas the poor person that is doing beautiful research that is not catching the eye of the editor, you don’t get to hear about that, even though it could be the world changing piece of research.

[…] These kinds of allegations are not new and not confined to stem cell research. But professors [Austin] Smith [of University of Cambridge] and Lovell-Badge believe that the problem has become particularly acute in their field of research recently for two reasons.

Firstly, research grants and career progression are now determined almost entirely by whether a scientist gets published in a major research journal. Secondly, in stem cell science, hundreds of millions of pounds are available for research – and so there is a greater temptation for those that want the money to behave unscrupulously.

[…] Even if research is not being deliberately stifled, high quality work is being overlooked as an “accidental consequence of journal editors relying too much on the word of a small number of individuals“, according to Professor Lovell-Badge.

[…] One of the main reasons for this, according to Professor Smith, is that journals are in competition. Editors have become dependent on favoured experts who both review other people’s stem cell research and submit their own papers to the journal. If the editor offends these experts, they may lose future papers to a rival. This is leading to the journals publishing mediocre science, according to Professor Lovell-Badge.[…]

Curiously, the above is getting plenty of air time on BBC’s Radio4’s flagship programme, “Today”. Of course there’s some attempt at mimimizing the issue…on my part, I strongly believe that one of the main issues is about Editors getting their personal biases in the way. They should become more “publishing executives” rather than “unquestionable super-reviewers”: otherwise, the future of science will be a load of hyped rubbish.