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The American Library Association made it very clear today that it will no longer tolerate the practice of peer review—a process that, to most researchers, involves multiple parties taking part to arrive at a final judgment—in any of its academic journals. Such methods are notoriously unreliable, often being riddled with error, and can only produce such results as the peer reviewer has come to expect.
The American Library Association, a group of more than 3,500 libraries and museums across the United States, issued its decision today in the form of a new policy letter on peer review. The policy statement, “Reviewing the Journals: Ethics, Accuracy, and Accuracy in Reviewing Science,” was issued as a result of an “informal survey of scholarly communities” last year that asked “for community feedback and advice on the best way to apply the science community’s Ethical Principles of Science.”
The policy says that “peer review is not sufficient” for ensuring scientific integrity (emphasis added). According to the policy, “In the absence of adequate reviews … reviewers who evaluate manuscripts by way of peer review will no longer be eligible to vote on them.”
The policy further stipulates that peer review is necessary for a publication to be considered acceptable to science. As a result, all peer-reviewed science publications will need to include a “discussion page” and an open dialogue about the quality of the work.
The most likely solution to the peer-review situation is a set of rules around journal transparency that would require authors to list how many other individuals were also involved in reviewing their paper before they were allowed to publish it. This might seem like a simple solution, but it is one that has been around for several years. The problem with the current approach is that it creates an incentive for the authors from the other end of the process to cheat, and that cheating could even go as far as to use their own opinions as a way to influence the evaluation of the work, instead of providing an objective evaluation provided by a third party and verified via an actual trial-and-error process. It is also quite difficult to monitor the process since the authors themselves are not required to disclose any communication about their process in the journal.
The open-door approach to peer-review also raises the question of when an author