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Book Review Searching Questions Guardians of Science. Fairness and Reliability of Peer Review. By H.-D. Daniel

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BOOKS
Searching Questions
Guardians of Science. Fairness and
Reliability of Peer Review. By H.-D.
Dunirl. VCH Verlagsgesellschaft,
Weinheiin/VCH Publishers, New
York. 1993. 118 pp., hardcover
DM 78.00, $ 50.00.-ISBN
3-52729041-911-56081 -751-8
The subtitle “Fairness and Reliability
of Peer Review” well describes what this
book is about. The author, H.-D. Daniel,
is one of Germany’s
leading experts in
this area and is thus
well qualified to examine this question.
The data on which
the study is based
relate to the refereeing of one year’s
output of .4ngeiiwirl/e
Chcwic~.
Manuscripts submitted for “Angewandte” are usually reviewed by two independent referees whose
recommendations are then evaluated by
the editor. To that extent the procedure is
essentially the same as that normally applied to proposals submitted to the German Research Association (Deutsche
Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), and
thus the results are also relevant to the
situation there. The author analyzes all
the observations according to the rules of
the art of statistics. He begins by trying to
quantify the degree of agreement between
the two specialist reviewers. If the recommendations ;ire classified on a scale of
1 to 4. ranging from acceptance without
change through two levels of revision to
rejection. the statistical agreement seems
surprisingly poor. However, if the recommendations are treated as being in agree-
(
-
Thib section contains book reviews and a list of
new b o t i k b receiced by theeditor. Book reviews are
written by invitation from the editor. Suggestions
for hooks to be reviewed and for book reviewers
a r e welcome. Publishers should send brochures or
(hettei-) hooks t o Dr. Ralf Baumann. Redaktion
Angewindte <‘hmmie. Postfach 10 I 161, D-69451
Weinheini. Federal Republic orGermony. Theeditor rcscrves the right of selecting which books will
be revieaed Uninvited books not chosen for
revieh \$ill not he returned.
ment when they differ by only one point,
the degree of consensus turns out to be
satisfactory. To examine the “correctness” of decisions to reject, Daniel uses an
interesting approach: he traces the fate of
manuscripts that have been rejected and
subsequently published elsewhere, and
compares their frequency of citation with
that of papers appearing in “Angewandte”. As expected, the frequencies for
the former are appreciably lower than
those for the latter. Even Daniel does not
know whether this might be simply because papers in “Angewandte” are generally cited more often (the journal has a
high “impact factor”), and therefore one
cannot conclude very much about the individual papers from this analysis. However, in the absence of any better approach this is certainly a useful piece of
analysis. The book contains many other
statistical analyses which are worth studying by everyone who is concerned with
refereeing, either actively or passively, in
other words every scientist engaged in research or university teaching.
There are two aspects to refereeing procedures. First there is the “correctness” of
the decisions. As an insider I can confirm
that, at least in the case of German referees, recommendations are made in good
faith and to one’s best ability. Secondly,
however, there must be confidence within
the scientific community that this is so.
Since both the journals and the D F G preserve the anonymity of referees so far as
possible (for very good reasons), great importance attaches to books and articles
such as this which show, at least statistically, that the procedures are above reproach. However, I was somewhat surprised that Daniel gives no hint of
recognition that, in the nature of things.
every referee report must contain an element of subjectivity. All attempts to correct this by quantitative measures merely
shift the problem to somewhere else.
Daniel restricts himself to aspects that can
be analyzed quantitatively. Thus he takes
no account of the message that may be
read “between the lines”. We learn nothing here about the reviewer who writes a
damning report but cannot bring himself
to recommend rejection, nor about the
one who gives a report that is intended to
be favorable but qualifies it with sarcastic
comments. In such cases the editor needs
to be able to weigh up the situation and to
know the peculiarities of his reviewers. I
am disturbed by the many cases that are
cited of manuscripts that were initially rejected (by a wide variety ofjournals, mostly well-known) but were later honored by
Nobel prize awards. Unfortunately. refereeing systems probably suffer from a certain degree of conservatism. and have difficulty in dealing with anything which
conflicts too much with current thinking---even when, as is usually the case, all
those involved make great efforts to avoid
this and value originality above all else.
In such an important matter as refereeing it is not surprising that there have already been many attempts at improving
the system. One chapter lists every such
proposal that I am aware of. and analyzes
the experiences that have resulted from
these in various places. For me personally
this was the most interesting part of the
book, showing as it does that there is
probably no alternative to continuing
with the present system. Here the ethical
guidelines laid down by the American
Chemical Society, which are reproduced
in the book. deserve to be observed generally.
To complete this scholarly work Daniel
includes a comprehensive bibliography of
published work on the subject of refereeing together with extensive notes. The
whole work is written in fluent English:
11 8 pages that are well worth reading.
M a nf ied Mahnig
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Bonn (FRG)
Three-Dimensional Chemical Similarity Searching. By C. Pepperrell.
Research Studies Press, Taunton,
UK, 1994. XV, 304pp., hardcover
E 57.50.--ISBN 0-86380-145-5
For well over a century chemists have
relied on the two-dimensional structural
formula for the display and communication of chemical information. This mode
of representation of structure has certainly been the traditional mainstay for the
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