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I think we need experiments in peer review - not the replacement of what we have with another system, but a diversity of different systems. The one you suggest might indeed be an appropriate one for journals that expect to routinely handle difficult and sensitive topics. If Tuvel's article had gone through an open review process, my sense is that it would have been published in an improved form. This kind of process would address the need for expertise on the part of editors: there would be a check on them getting it wrong.

I do want to speak up for aspects of the traditional system. For most topics and most journals, it would work fine if people did their fair share of reviewing and did it in a timely manner. Sending a paper out should be a throw in a multi-round game. If the paper is good, then the chances are it will be accepted somewhere decent eventually. The problem with the current system is "eventually" is often a long time away. If reports were timely, most of the problems would be eliminated.

I also want to speak up for hiding behind referees. I *want* to be able to say "my hands are tied; two referees recommended rejection". Of course, they are not literally tied: as an editor I can and very occasionally do override reports. But I have a policy of not doing so. The reason is obvious: papers are submitted by people I know (triple blind reviewing is preferable, but neither of the journals I have significant editorial responsibilities have instituted it, and in any case I can often identify the author from internal evidence). Authors sometimes pressure the editor: I get regular emails along the lines of "Hey Neil, it was great to meet up at X. We should have a drink soon...oh, by the way I just submitted a paper to your journal". I want the shield of deferring to referees, and I want to be able to limit the effects of my own liking or disliking for individuals. As for "ransparently incompetent or biased referees", of course they exist. But are they more common than incompetent or biased editors? Using referees in a multi-round game is better I think than having editors make the decisions. Moreover, when people share their stories of biased or incompetent referees, I sometimes find myself thinking that the bias or incompetence is not on the referee's side at all.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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