Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The responsibility of referees, 12 May 2009.

The responsibility of referees, 12 May 2009.
(transferred from my departmental home page)

Refereeing is an onerous and thankless task. In these days of the degeneration of the processes of scientific research the job has become an almost impossible one. My impression now is that almost no-one reads papers, refereeing jobs are given to students, etc, as a result of the enormous boom in publication of articles with little original content. This boom is fed by the adoption of mechanical means of judging worth, for example paper numbers, impact factor, Hirsch index, etc.

We seem to have abandoned our responsibility to make judgements.

The result is that referees now tend to write superficial reports, while, being anonymous like drivers on the highway, retaining the right to abuse the authors on the basis of prejudice.

I don't exclude myself from these comments.

It is not just referees but editors who need to consider their responsibilities. There has been a case discussed recently, about which I have only a vague opinion (not having studied the case), of the journal Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. Though much criticism has been made of the publishers, and the founding editor, none has been made of the Associate editors or honorary editors which include such respectable names as R.M. May and G. Casati. It is clear that there has been a separation of responsibility, probably also as a result of the boom in publication.

I have a final point to make: to put the responsibility clearly on referees and editors I want to make public when a paper of mine is rejected. This makes it possible over time to make some comparison between accepted and rejected papers, something which is not available at the moment.

As a first example, CALCO09 rejected our paper "L. de Francesco Albasini, N. Sabadini, R.F.C. Walters, The compositional construction of Markov processes, arXiv:0901.2434v1, 2009."

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