A recent interview (How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner) of Sydney Brenner is going around. It contains a link to a witty and allegorical article he wrote in Current Biology 1996 complaining against ‘Nascence’ that the readers might enjoy.
The plaintiffs claim that by not being able to publish in Nascence, they have suffered injury to their professional careers and are claiming compensatory damages. It can be argued that this is the fate of many scientists and that their claims should be rejected just as their paper was, but we intend to establish that the plaintiffs were wrongfully excluded, that they were unable to confront the negative referee directly and that the Editor was negligent in not checking the validity of this referees statements. Even though the Editors will claim that many factors were taken into consideration in their rejection, it is a fair implication that it was the negative comments of one referee that turned the balance.
Your Lordship may find it surprising that, in a profession that prides itself on the objectivity and rigour of scientific argument, individuals are allowed to make ex cathedra statements without any direct support and that the journals believe that they need to preserve the anonymity of such commentators. Their names have now been provided by the defendants on pain of imprisonment, since your Lordships ruling that failure to do so would be viewed as contempt of court.
We intend to prove by cross examining the referee that the statements had no justification. We also will show that the Editor, although possessing an academic qualification of some relevance, was essentially a lay person in this
specialised field and should have sought additional opinion rather than giving undue weight to a negative view, not once but twice.
Kudos to Brenner for realizing the problems about twenty years back. Here are his thoughts on peer review. We agree with almost everything he said here and in the rest of the interview.
I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system. Its corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists. There are universities in America, and Ive heard from many committees, that we wont consider peoples publications in low impact factor journals.
Now I mean, people are trying to do something, but I think its not publish or perish, its publish in the okay places [or perish]. And this has assembled a most ridiculous group of people. I wrote a column for many years in the nineties, in a journal called Current Biology. In one article, Hard Cases, I campaigned against this [culture] because I think it is not only bad, its corrupt. In other words it puts the judgment in the hands of people who really have no reason to exercise judgment at all. And thats all been done in the aid of commerce, because they are now giant organisations making money out of it.
Elsewhere, Brenner gave away the secret formula for developing creativity :)