Peer review at mercy of electronic madness

May 28, 2009

Many British academics will agree with the stand taken by John Gray at the plant science department of the University of Cambridge ("Peer review teeters as experts struggle with burden of work", 21 May). A dehumanising electronic madness is slowly taking hold at research councils. The councils have apparently forgotten that when they request a review of a grant proposal they are asking for a gift.

Here is an example from the economist's world. First, when the Economic and Social Research Council now requests a review, its (unpleasant) Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system is all one hears from. Second, one receives a number of no-reply emails. Third, the long instructions tell the receiver that it is the receiver's responsibility to remember their Je-S review codes, to go to the website, and to do this and that. Who has designed this kind of electronic Je-S system? I imagine it was a young person who knew little about academics and has not thought about the principles of gift-giving. If Christmas operated in this way, present-giving on 25 December would be zero.

Without change, it is likely that electronic rudeness and the presumption of gifts will lead to a disintegration of the refereeing system on which science and social science depend.

Andrew Oswald, Professor of economics, University of Warwick.

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