Wednesday, March 01, 2006

'Peer Review'

One thing that has recently come to bother me is that the public at large doesn't know what peer review is. (This becomes very clear in, for example, discussions of whether Wikipedia or blogs are peer-reviewed.) Most people think it means 'review by a peer', which is understandable; but, of course, no academic would consider the fact that their paper was looked over by a colleague, no matter how thoroughly or expertly, 'peer review'. Of course, such a thing is neither necessary nor sufficient for reasonable quality control. Academics, of course, always mean refereeing, where the contribution is officially referred to relevant experts for review in order to determine suitability for publication. It occurs to me that academics should drop the phrase 'peer review' altogether, despite how common it is, as a phrase that just confuses communication between academia and the larger public. (And if you think that it's a trivial issue, I remind you of just how much confusion is engendered in the public in the intelligent design controversy over whether an article was 'peer-reviewed'.)

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