10 March, 2006
Science’s quality hinges on peer review. How it works: you submit a paper, and the editors of the journal pick a few people in your area (usually two–you can recommend names) and send the paper to them. They read it and recommend a course of action to the editor who makes the decision (reject, ask for revisions & do it all over again, accept). This is usually single-blinded (the author doesn’t know the who the reviewers are) but in practice, the reviewer has the option to sign their review, and fields are usually small enough and editors’ behavior predictable enough that one can sometimes guess who wrote the review. (Science is not a topic but a method of inquiry, and like anything it has its flaws–how this system maintains and even feeds those flaws is a fascinating topic for another post which I’ll only write if anyone wants to hear my take.)
I got one paper to review right after starting at NIH. It was from a journal my doctoral advisor serves on and I figured she had tossed it my way as a rite of passage, me being a Big PhD Now. Lately I’ve been wondering if I’d get any more from the “real world” (by “lately” I mean “earlier this week”). What should pop up in my inbox today but a review, plainly sent to me for advisor-independent reasons. It’s not bounce-worthy. It’s not glee-worthy. But it’s smile-worthy. Someone wants my opinion! I’m a part of the process!
Scientists would laugh at my considering the chance to be a reviewer 1) at all noteworthy, 2) something positive. I guess the bloom is still on the rose…
(Also, it’s in my old area, where I have footing. I still feel adrift in my new field. It’ll be nice, if totally escapist and procrastinatory, to think about that stuff for an hour or two.)