Peer reviewers rejected Fisher’s paper that defined variance

The rejection of R.A. Fisher’s groundbreaking paper defining variance seems to be one of the bigger mistakes of peer review:

Fisher completed his paper on Mendelism and biometry by June 1916 and submitted the paper to the Royal Society of London for publication. The referees suggested it be withdrawn. He subsequently submitted the paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which with his financial assistance published it on 1 October 1918 under the title “The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance.”

The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, William Provine (1971), p. 144

This paper has 2439 citations according to Google (which sounds extremely low), as well as its own Wikipedia page. I’d call that a success.

In addition to its importance in statistics, the paper was a key landmark in the synthesis of genetics, evolution, and biometry.

Your Opinion Matters

The idea of peer review is typically associated with science. My brother feared a mythological villain known as “The Third Reviewer” more than any childhood bogeyman. The food world is no stranger to reviews either. Frankly, science you have it easy.

Not the best I've ever had

In the food world, true peer review, where chefs are reviewing the work of other chefs, is usually reserved for culinary competitions and reality shows. Instead, we have professional reviewers. These are food journalists, akin to science journalists. They are professionals at reviewing and can vary widely in ability. They may or may not have expertise in the actual creation of restaurant food. They generally have spent a lot of time in and around restaurants. They are not exactly peers, but we try to be very nice to them lest you wind up in Guy Fieri’s shoes.

What scientists generally don’t have is the “everyone else that sits down and orders a plate of food” review. If you are like me, you do a little review in your head every time you sit down at a restaurant to eat. That internalized review might even get shared with your friends and family; but the advent of sites like Yelp have made it possible to broadcast those little reviews to the world.

Peer review of articles and grants can make or break a scientific career. Professional restaurant reviews can make or break a restaurant. So can those amateur, Internet reviews. Continue reading “Your Opinion Matters”

Predator X: Too Bad Ass for Peer-Review?

Predator X (Atlantic Productions publicity illustration)

Suffice it to say that earning the title Predator X should require a resume loaded with specific instances of statistically significant bad assery[1]. Big fangs or some kung fu lessons might get you Predator L or, even, E, but we are talking about Predator Freaking X here. By law, Predator X must be one bad mother. . .

Shut your mouth!
I’m talking ’bout Predator X.
Then we can dig it.

Predator X[2] was a pliosaur, a group of prehistoric marine reptiles (within the order plesiosauria) characterized by large body size, long heads, short necks, conical teeth, four flippers, and eating tasty things that had the misfortune to be smaller than them. Basically, pliosaurs were sea monsters, and sea monsters are already pretty bad ass.

Artist impression of the pliosaur Liopleurodon (by Nobu Tamura - CC 3.0)

Originally discovered in 2006, Predator X was the subject of a History channel documentary in 2009. Predator X was the subject of all manner of articles with the notable exception of the academic, peer-reviewed variety[3]. Hmmm, the publicize before peer-review strategy sounds familiar to me.

What makes Predator X deserve all this attention? According to the team from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum Predator X stands out even in a clade of sea monsters:

Its anatomy, physiology and hunting strategy all point to it being the ultimate predator – the most dangerous creature to patrol the Earth’s oceans – quoted in New Scientist (link to original press release no longer available[4])

Wait, did I just say University of Oslo Natural History Museum? What does that remind me of? Continue reading “Predator X: Too Bad Ass for Peer-Review?”

What a real scientific discussion looks like

John Timmer on some climate change back-and-forth.

After reviewing debates over two papers published in American Geophysical Union journals,

These situations tell us a couple of valuable things about the current state of climate science. First of all, they make it obvious that papers that go against the consensus can still get published, even when they come from people who very notably fall outside the scientific community’s mainstream. And, in fact, the scientific community takes these things seriously—seriously enough to check the math and examine the data sources.
Continue reading “What a real scientific discussion looks like”