The debate on peer review has to go beyond the way research councils distribute their funds. But your suggestions (THES, leader, January 9) for expanding the debate do not take it very far. The issues that peer review poses for journal publications or applied research are identical to the issues it poses for the funding of academic research in that, in either case, it rejects dissenting, innovative and risky ideas and projects.
However, when peer review is part of an institutional structure that can affect hiring decisions, such as in the case of the research assessment exercise, it can be used directly or indirectly to cleanse paradigm-divided disciplines of non-mainstream ideas and research agendas. This is already happening in economics and civil engineering.
Consequently, peer review not only rejects dissenting and innovative research projects, it can also impose intellectually deadening conformity on whole academic disciplines by eliminating intellectual diversity. In light of this latter possibility, perhaps it would be better to have no peer review at all.
Frederic S. Lee Reader in economics De Montfort University