Letter to the Editor 5,2
To the Editor:
I would like to raise a concern about a PPPJ editorial policy change, and hope your readers might respond with their perspectives.
You recently wrote me that as the new editor of this seminal organ you have instituted "a strict peer review procedure"-and with that approach I demur. As you may know, there are mounting remonstrances against such collective practice, and the words of Candace B. Pert in the April 2 issue of The Scientist seem poignantly apropos:
Scientists generally believe that they are-or ought to be-always objective and dispassionate, devoid of emotion and bias in the conduct of their own work and their critiques of others. But isn't this really a self-serving deceit?
Indeed, all of our behaviors - including our reactions to the work of our colleagues-have a psychologically based, emotional component that affects our very perceptions. The more divergent, the more unsettling any new information is, the stronger will be our emotional reaction to it. And the more radical the innovative finding or hypothesis, the stronger the defense of the status quo-particularly if it has relevance to one's own work, reputation, and livelihood. Thus, claims of failure to "replicate" made by experts vested in an outworn paradigm must be scrupulously examined for technical discrepancies.
Unfortunately, in today's witch-hunting climate, the barest whiff of controversy turns off the generally genteel solid scientist who now reads "hoax" between the lines of science news and avoids the whole messy business like the plague.
At the heart of this discussion are the critiques that commonly accompany reviews of manuscripts and grants-the scholarly nit-picking critique, its emotion revealed in content superficially devoid of feeling but clearly aimed at suppressing new information. It is the kind of critique that fails to recognize novelty or importance and succeeds in communicating between the lines: "I just don't believe your work could possibly be correct (or as important as mine); therefore, I am going to stop it!" Original research is usually reviewed by so-called experts in this or that area; but both experts and areas are apt to be outmoded when new discoveries and merging disciplines-psychoneuroimmunology, for example-are occurring at a breathtaking pace. Since experts by definition are products of the currently reigning paradigm, they may be particularly poorly suited for recognizing novel breakthroughs. Science experts by definition are products of the currently reigning paradigm, they may be particularly poorly suited for recognizing novel breakthroughs. Science is not a democratic process: Unanimity of expert opinion-no matter how powerful or highly placed the experts-is no guarantee of scientific truth.
I trust my colleagues' data. I also believe that it is more important to publish the slightly uncomfortable study than to publish the solid-to-thepoint-of-being-boring work. Fraud is an infinitely smaller danger to scientific progress than is the suppression of the quest for novel, invigorating Truth.
When new and important work never sees the light of day and innovators are eliminated from the system before their contribution can penetrate it-this is the real crime!
It is not merely that I fear for dissemination of my own findings: Because a few nascent periodicals like the PPPJ have been personally generous toward the prelearning discovery, I would expect greater-not lesser-thematic latitude as these publications gain strength from their own pioneering example . . . adolescents realizing authenticity of character. This is why when I read of a "strict" reversal in direction, I understand vital liberalism suffering conservative anxiety-exuberant orality constricting anally-in an oxymoronic effort to legitimize the leading edge. Based on such wonderful precedent as its stellar repertoire of endearing iconoclasts, I see the PPPJ and peer review as antithetical (it is hard not to suspect that a number of adventuresome pieces previously appearing, under group rule would never have surfaced . .. including one of my favorites by a certain northern anthropologist-"Womb = Woman = World").
I believe Sibelius once remarked that he could not recall any statue erected to a committee (or was it a critic?)-for reasons bureaucrats by definition can never fathom. While the likelihood of PPPJ peer reviewers being less than hyper-enlightened is extremely remote, I find that the principle invoked by this change flies in the face of what preand perinatal psychology has fought so hard to preserve: individual vision backed by courage not adulterated by consensus. What needs to continue, Charles, is the editorial creativity of your predecessor.
But my qualms may be misplaced: Prove me wrong by the ongoing inclusion of thoroughly vexing, risky, trendsetting articles-whether selected by demonstrably unbiased ballot or that truly egalitarian majority ... of one. Anyway, the very best wishes in your Sisyphean task!
Brent Logan, PH.D.
Director, Prelearning Institute