Academic Questions Authors in New York Times Peer Review Debate

Ashley Thorne

Stanley Trimble, Bill McKelvey, and Mohamed Gad-el-Hak each contributed to the New York Times “Room for Debate” discussion, “When Science Goes Psychic.”  

The publication of a highly disputed essay on Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) in a peer-reviewed journal prompted the Times to ask, “How does the peer review process ensure good quality research? Are there factors that the standard process cannot take account of? Or is ESP simply a claim that should not be entertained as a subject of scientific inquiry?”

Trimble, McKelvey, and Gad-el-Hak, along with Wayne W. Grody, co-authored a major article published in the fall 2010 issue of NAS’s journal Academic Questions, “The Glut of Academic Publishing: A Call for a New Culture,” a version of which was also published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In their comments on Room for Debate, these authors draw on their findings in the AQ essay.

Stanley Trimble, professor of geography at University of California at Los Angeles and former editor-in-chief of the Elsevier journal Catena, encourages journals to publish controversial articles so that their claims can be evaluated by many experts. If the ESP article really is based on unsubstantiated claims, he writes, its errors will be exposed in “the clear air of science.”

Bill McKelvey is Professor of Strategic Organizing and Complexity Science at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He catalogs some historical examples of journals publishing controversial scholarship, and he argues, like Trimble, that questionable studies should be published so that they can be weighed on their merits. Scholarship in the social sciences, he writes, is unfortunately not as easy to confirm or refute as that in the hard sciences.

And Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, observes that “The peer review system in all fields is not infallible. There are too many submitted manuscripts, and competent reviewers are often overwhelmed.” Although the peer review system is flawed, it is worth saving, he writes. The only way to do so is to decrease the volume of scholarly publications by prioritizing the quality over the quantity of output.

Read these and other contributions to this “Room for Debate” discussion here and share your thoughts on the peer review process in this article’s comments section below.

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