|Mr. Kolker, |
Just a few comments.
Having been through the peer review process once myself, I believe that, in our age, it is quite a hindrance to scientific progress, as opposed to a boon to it. Yes, it does provide a mechanism for checking people's work and ensuring that it is accurate. But it also takes an extremely long time to get anything published, simply because the feedback mechanisms are so slow. I wrote an economics paper in eight hours, submitted it to a journal, and got back a response with a tiny number of requested corrections a full year later. It took me two hours to make the corrections, I submitted the paper again, and it got published another half-year later. At that rate, important and perhaps ground-breaking discoveries might be left to fester on the tables of referrees who have zero economic incentives to review them quickly. The journal I submitted my paper to was a good journal also — with no nasty political agendas or political criteria for publication. Most other scientific journals are fraught with these problems in addition to the time delays.
I believe the Internet is an excellent antidote to the peer review process. Anyone can publish a work online, but not everyone will be able to convince people of the value of his work. The good works have a chance of spreading faster than the peer review process will permit, especially if some kind of free-market quality determination system springs up. Granted, this has not yet happened, but that is because academia is notoriously slow to adapt to new technologies and new ways of thinking.
Consider this: a person publishes a paper online. The paper can be read by anyone, but individual scholars who like its contents and believe them to be of value can place their virtual seal of approval on the paper, and then have the paper rise in status as a result. The more seals of approval from scholars or other reputed authors of scientific works a paper has, the higher its quality rating and the more reliable it will tend to be. How much a person's judgments of a particular paper are weighted might depend on the number and quality of his own past contributions.
With regard to Mr. Rawlings, I am pleased that anyone would wish to share ideas outside the rigid constraints of the peer review process. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with publishing works that contain errors, provided that one is intellectually honest and is willing to correct the errors when either they are pointed out to him or he discovers them himself. In that respect, the Internet is a much better form of “peer review” than the traditional kind, because anyone can notice the errors and report them, and there is a much larger pool of people who potentially have access to the work. Moreover, the errors can be rectified right away, instead of the author having to go through the tedious and expensive process of issuing errata.
Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, and virtually all the pioneers of science and mathematics were not subjected to the constraints of the conventional peer review process. That was a twentieth-century invention, and it is high time we discarded it as a relic of the past.
Gennady Stolyarov II
Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator: http://rationalargumentator.com
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