Glasnost factor in peer reviews

January 23, 1998

SUSAN Greenfield says that peer review procedures are stifling the "derring-do and innovative thinking that gave this country a reputation for truly astonishing science" (Letters, THES, January 16). Possibly, but there has been an awful lot of mediocre science around as well in any supposed golden era of discovery.

Professor Greenfield and the other correspondents are wrong to blame peers and elders for all the perceived injustices in peer review procedures. It is for the funding agencies to make peer review work properly rather than stand aside as passive administrators of their research portfolios. Too often injustices and wrong decisions are blamed on individuals or grants committees instead of the shortcomings of the funding agencies, which do not put procedures in place to ensure that decisions are reached in an open and democratic way.

Peer review is still the "least worst option" for evaluating academic research. Unfortunately the procedures and practices are varied. The Leukaemia Research Fund continually reviews its procedures in order to exclude patronage and prejudice. Members of our advisory panel serve for only three years and are drawn from the whole biomedical community to "advise". No big grant holder can serve on the panel nor site visit another colleague. Feedback is given to all applicants (successful and unsuccessful) and resubmissions are invited.

Peer review must be a dialogue between applicants and funding agencies. Trust can only be achieved if agencies accept that they are the managers of the peer review process not their voluntary committee members and referees.

David Grant

Scientific director Leukaemia Research Fund

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