Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why the wrong papers get published

I recently came across this article by Peter J. Rousseeuw.

Rousseeuw, P. J., 1991: Why the wrong papers get published. Chance, 4 (1), 41-43.

The premise is that reviewers are fallible, and the result for the peer review process gets disastrous...and quickly.

Rousseeuw derives an equation for the probability of a good papers getting published, given certain inputs. Assuming that a reviewer can recognize a good paper 70% of the time and a bad paper 70% of the time, the probability of good papers getting published is 37%.

Rousseeuw also recognizes that the inability of finding the best reviewers (or their unavailability to do the review) can result in this percentage being even lower. I have been fortunate that most of my first-choice reviewers accept my invitation to perform reviews, but I know other editors that have to really work to find even adequate reviewers for manuscripts.

To sum up, Rousseeuw argues that from the perspective of an author, it would appear the solution would be to make more submissions. Fortunately, he concludes, "In the long run it pays to strive for quality, because it is easy to acquire a bad reputation." I couldn't agree more.


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