CCL: On "defending" and "opposing" science

Dear Andreas and Fatima,

Indeed I agree with you on the statement that it is easy to reverse engineer who your referee was. In particular in a highly specialized fields the real experts are usually little in number, hence there is a lot of 'inbreeding'  in the review process. While one can already extrapolate from the comments who the referee is, the same is the case for manuscripts. Even if the authors would be hidden it can become clear after reading a few paragraphs, in particular when authors cite their own work. However, what I was hoping to achieve was to influence the first impression. Preventing a biased first impression would already mean a significant difference in my view (after all, the first thing you see after the title is usually the authors, even before the abstract!). 

So I agree that keeping authors hidden will not be the ideal solution, I just think it would add to making things a little less biased. Indeed Fatima, a possible compromise could be that this anonymity is dropped after the first round of reviews. A very good suggestion indeed. 

I also agree that the final recommendation by the referee should be added in the header. This transparency would add to a more balanced judgement I would say...

I am not aware of any location to propose these recommendations, however I would guess that the more or less crowd sourced PLoS ONE might be open for suggestions? Perhaps they are willing to implement these ideas? After all little coding should be needed for them to make these changes as they are already a fully electronic journal. 

What are your ideas on this?



On Sun, Aug 19, 2012 at 9:54 AM, Andreas Klamt klamt(_) <> wrote:
Hi Gerard,

I agree regarding the inadequate balance of being authors disclosed vs. reviewers being anonymous. But I would go the other direction: Disclose the reviewers.
Two arguments:
- an expert in the field will anyway recognize the authors after reading the abstract and 10 lines.
- and after a while you also identify 50% of the reviewers based on their style and arguments.
Hence let us operate with open face. If we have good arguments we should be sufficiently able to justify a rejection of a paper even if we know and like a certain colleague. Indeed, I several times put my name into a review, because based on my specific knowledge and arguments the authors anyway would have easily know who I am.

But if you suggest to disclose the reviewers in the final publication header, you need to add also the recommendation given by the reviewer, i.e. whther he/she suggested to accept/reject the paper.  His would be a good thing in the way that a reviewer wold have to be more cautious in rejection: If he suggests to reject a good paper, which is finally accepted, it would be finally known to the community that he had recommended rejection. Now if he has good arguments, he needs not be afraid of this. But if he does not, he would be ashamed.

Does someone know how such suggestions about improvements of the peer review system can be brought into panels who finally decide on that?


Am 18.08.2012 21:50, schrieb Gerard JP van Westen gerard.vanwesten]![
Dear All,

I should say I agree with Andreas Klamt, to me it sometimes seems peer review sets the boundary low. However I have also had experiences where a referee could not always substantiate negative comments which seemed subjective rather than objective. I can therefore understand that one can get frustrated. But would still argue that the scientific method as it is, is the best available (at least I cannot think of a better way). 

That said however, to me it seems strange that referees are anonymous but authors are not. Perhaps I am over simplifying the situation, but a paper should be about the science. The science should be sound and as you said, the authors should be able to respond to questions and defend their paper. BUT it should not matter who they are. When authors are disclosed on a manuscript it always indirectly includes their full career in the form of previously published papers, conferences, personal encounters etc. This will always influence an objective judgement (wether negative or positive it is difficult to remain completely objective). I would therefore argue that authors should also be anonymous on a manuscript (it should only be known to the editor who is who). 

In addition, I would argue to add the referees that reviewed a paper to all published papers (perhaps added to the header as the editor is added to the header in PLoS ONE). This will allow authors to continue the discussion with a referee after a paper has been accepted. I concur that discussion if a good thing, and in particular post publication discussion as this orm of discussion allows the whole field to be involved rather than a select number of people. In addition it could perhaps lead to a reduction of papers that are accepted too easy as the referees responsible for this acceptance are also named on the paper. Likewise, referees that positively review a paper are also in some small way connected to it. 

In any case, just my $ 0.02.



On Sat, Aug 18, 2012 at 10:02 AM, Andreas Klamt klamt]*[ <owner-chemistry],[> wrote:
as most other contributors, I think that you are seeing things too pessimistic here. Critical discussion and opposition really are important for the advancement of science. Indeed, I believe that we need more of that and that we have to find more open ways to oppone and discuss scientific results. We need more discussion in conferences after the talks, and we need a better way of discussion of scientific papers. Sometimes I have am considered as inpolite when I ask a really critical question after a scientific presentation. But how can that be? I think everybody who presents or publishes in sciences should have good arguments for all of his statements and results. If that is the case then he will be well prepared to reply to that question. If not then the question has disclosed some weekness in his research and it should help to improve. Discussion at the end of talks also are too much bilateral between speaker and opponent. Usually no real discussion between many of the experts in the room evolves. But that would be interesting and sometimes needed. Today mostly the discussion is just a question by an opponent and an answer by the speaker, and it ends a bit vague. If the question was unfair or the speaker not well able to find the right answer, he goes home with a bad feeling, and if on the other hand the reply was wrong or unfair, the opponent goes home with a bad feeling. It would be good if we would have the culture of discussion that in such a situation other people stand up in order to either support the speaker or the opponent, or have a third oppinion.

I think we need this culture even more in scientific literature. We need more "Comments on paper xyz", and we need comments on comments, but usually the latter are not allowed by the editors any more. Hence it is like in the conference room: The author has the last word, and if the reply on a comment is again misleading, the opponent has no way of replying any more. And we need the discussion on papers on a shorter time scale and at one place. Today each round takes 2 months at minimum. Nowadays it should be doable to do such discussion of a paper electronically, and it should be available online at the end of each article. Hence, when downlaoding an article you could have a quick look whether there has been a discussion and what the average opinion had been.

The reason why I think that we need such discussion culture and forum is that I am less optimistic about peer review meanwhile. No question, we need the peer review system to filter out some rubbish and to have a barrier which hinders unserious people to submit all rubbish as scientific papers. But I am afraid that much too many bad papers go through the system and after passing can claim to be peer reviewed. Some influencing people in the community who know the editors since long get everything published, even if one reviewer has detected substantial mistakes. In one case I proved mathmatically that some equation which was considered by the author as something new, was mathmatically identical with an earlier published equation of someone else. I suggest not to publish the paper with that wrong claim. The paper appeared essentially unchanged in an ACS journal. Asking the editor how this could happen, he answered that he had gotten two positive and one negative reports. Thus we had accepted it. Asking him, whether he had sent my substantial concerns to the other reviewers in order to reconsider their opinion, he answered that that would not be within the rules of the journal. And just yesterday I saw that a paper by an influencing author appeared online essentially unchanged, although I again had a raised a number of severe concerns.  Therefore I believe: We need more critical post-peer-review debates.


Am 18.08.2012 02:43, schrieb Sergio Manzetti sergio.manzetti-$
I think JJ and Amy are getting closer to the point I am stating. There are many cases where people with great ideas never make it to the surface, either because they are not "strong" enough to "battle" against opposition or criticism, or they simply don't want to. I know of one who had a great method to treat people, but because it was never scientifically validated, he received cold showers each time he opened up his method to scientist. In the meantime, his method treated a lot of people, and they recovered. Scientists ARE trained to validate, annihilate, exclude, disregard and eventually accept. This trait of the scientist is to me a little stupidious, it seems like House in the series at the hospital. He goes through a bunch of hypotheses and tests them all on the patient, meanwhile the patient suffers and at the end after hitting the right hypothesis he calls himself a great doctor (or at least appears to be one). Same thing are scientists, they are recognized as great after they have learned on how to tramp down opposition as the first step in their life as scientists, then they have to defend their research to grant-organization, and fill up the applications with "why this is so important for the future and society". Still in a near pseudo-darwinistic   behavior, the scientist fights through the hierarchy of late nights and hard work, and at the age of 70 reaches the Emeritious stage. To many this is "life at its best", and many are also good examples of nice events, but at the end of the day, the way scientist DO science is build on that everything has to be bullet and water proof before he even discusses the theory with others, otherwise the classical debates begin. I have also heard from previous Senior Scientists passing the age of 50 of witnessing and ENJOYING debates where scientist where verbally annihilating each other, and I recall particularly what this professor said in the context with the debate he saw "it was blood on the dance floor". At the end of the day it is a litigious procedure that scientists have to "survive" through, and it creates FRICTION. This friction is my whole point of the discussion: It is energy and can be used to do great science (pr other positive things), and not wasted on discussions and debates. Those are just for entertaining the competitive nature in people. Competition, debate and discussion requires energy, again, that energy can be used for other things and is valuable.
Therefore, the quite and contemplating scientist who doesn't bother about debating or showing his results before reaching a full final format, and perhaps not even showing them then but wait till people are not so interested in debating him, is a calm and relaxing scientist, that cares about the object of science, not the subject behind it or those around it.



----- Original Message -----

From: j j robinson jameschums^^^

Sent: 08/17/12 09:48 PM

To: Manzetti, Sergio

Subject: CCL: On "defending" and "opposing" science

Dear CCLers,
might I suggest the original correspondent watches the film "Insignificance". We all have knowledge... but I prefer insight, understanding..I suspect I am simply too stupid to find the truth.. Experiment, observation, hypothesis. The debates are not battles of gladiators, nor personal and/or natural philosophy - is patient observation, measurement, correlation, verification of experimental facts, comparison, perspective, understanding..we debate with others to make sure we are not simply deluding ourselves or that other are not deluded. We can agree to differ, review papers, admit mistakes..we are human too. Results and conclusion do not simply result from pressing the return key and waiting to see how many "hartree's" come out at the end.
J J Robinson - personal email - opinions are personal only.



 Prof. Dr. Andreas Klamt
 CEO / Geschäftsführer
 COSMOlogic GmbH & Co. KG
 Burscheider Strasse 515
 D-51381 Leverkusen, Germany
 phone  	+49-2171-731681
 fax    	+49-2171-731689
 [University address:      Inst. of Physical and
 Theoretical Chemistry, University of Regensburg]
 Join us at the 4th-COSMO-RS-Symposium April 2013
 Details at
 HRA 20653 Amtsgericht Koeln, GF: Prof. Dr. Andreas Klamt
 Komplementaer: COSMOlogic Verwaltungs GmbH
 HRB 49501 Amtsgericht Koeln, GF: Prof. Dr. Andreas Klamt

-- Prof. Dr. Andreas Klamt CEO / Geschäftsführer COSMOlogic GmbH & Co. KG Burscheider Strasse 515 D-51381 Leverkusen, Germany phone +49-2171-731681 fax +49-2171-731689
e-mail klamt()
web [University address: Inst. of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, University of Regensburg] Join us at the 4th-COSMO-RS-Symposium April 2013 Details at HRA 20653 Amtsgericht Koeln, GF: Prof. Dr. Andreas Klamt Komplementaer: COSMOlogic Verwaltungs GmbH HRB 49501 Amtsgericht Koeln, GF: Prof. Dr. Andreas Klamt