The drawbacks of the referee system
September 13, 2012
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Stephen Mumford (Nottingham) writes for the Times Higher Education.
The reasons peer review permits unqualified reviewers are no doubt complex. Of particular concern, however, is the fact that reviewers are also largely unaccountable. Most reviews are probably performed within an hour or two, and there appears to be little sanction against a sloppy negative review when editors are always short of space. Nothing is as infuriating as working on a paper for a long time – sometimes years – only to be told by a reviewer who has looked at it for an hour that it’s not been thought through. All sorts of spurious counter-arguments can be ventured by a referee and the author has no right of reply. Referees know that they will almost certainly never have to explain or justify their criticisms, so they have a free shot at someone else’s work. And needless to say, referees have to undergo no formal training for their role.