We love a good moan, don’t we? In fact, Mola mola’s First LawTM states that any two scientists, within 10 minutes of meeting in a social situation, will have discussed a minimum of two of the following three topics: 1. The tyrany of Impact Factors
2. The injustices of the funding system
3. The iniquities of peer review

Well, on the issue of peer review at least the UK government feels your pain. A new Commons Select Committee

…invites evidence on the operation and effectiveness of the peer review process used to examine and validate scientific results and papers prior to publication. The Committee welcomes submissions on all aspect of the process and among the issues it is likely to examine are the following:

  • the strengths and weaknesses of peer review as a quality control mechanism for scientists, publishers and the public;
  • measures to strengthen peer review;
  • the value and use of peer reviewed science on advancing and testing scientific knowledge;
  • the value and use of peer reviewed science in informing public debate;
  • the extent to which peer review varies between scientific disciplines and between countries across the world;
  • the processes by which reviewers with the requisite skills and knowledge are identified, in particular as the volume of multi-disciplinary research increases;
  • the impact of IT and greater use of online resources on the peer review process; and
  • possible alternatives to peer review.

The Committee welcomes submissions from scientists whose material has been peer reviewed, those who commission peer reviews and those who carry out peer review.

(Incidentally, in no way should this be seen as an attempt by certain right wing forces, frustrated by the failure of inquiry after inquiry to find any wrong-doing at a certain East Anglian institution, to undermine instead the very machinery of science. Oh no, that would be a terribly cynical interpretation.)

Now, there’s a lot that can be said on this, and various tweaks that I would like to see to the system as it currently stands. But I’m posting this now because I worry that the enquiry will be dominated by strident voices with, shall we say, eccentric ‘solutions’ to problems that I’m yet to be convinced really exists. I don’t think the peer review system is in crisis (there, I’ve said it!), whether for assessing grant proposals or reviewing manuscripts. Rather, I think it works pretty well in its primary role (good stuff tends to get through (eventually…), poor stuff gets weeded out).

I feel strongly that this moderate view needs to be heard by the enquiry. I intend to submit something, and will post my submission here. You should have a go too.