Editor has crucial role

May 6, 2005

Tim Birkhead states that we are "in free fall to a random refereeing process" (Working Knowledge, April 29).

Unfortunately, his arguments lack cogency. For instance, the UK does not dominate the world's scientific output, so the notion that the research assessment exercise has led or could lead to the shoddy state of affairs he describes is not credible.

Similarly, his prediction that "eminent scientists" might hive off reviewing tasks to undergraduates is difficult to swallow. It assumes that senior researchers would agree to undergraduate-standard reviews being submitted with their imprimatur and also that journal editors would accept such reviews at face value.

It is journal editors who are responsible for securing adequate reviews and, more important, judging their worth. What Birkhead has missed is the crucial role played by editors. Indeed, it is poor editors that are responsible for "fairly random" editorial decisions.

I suspect that had his ill-informed piece been subjected to even a superficial review, it would have been rejected.

D. A. Barry
Edinburgh University

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