Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | September 17, 2010

Peer-review in a world with rational scientists: Toward selection of the average

A paper by Stefan ThurnerRudolf Hanel on arXive. Abstract:

One of the virtues of peer review is that it provides a self-regulating selection mechanism for scientific work, papers and projects. Peer review as a selection mechanism is hard to evaluate in terms of its efficiency. Serious efforts to understand its strengths and weaknesses have not yet lead to clear answers. In theory peer review works if the involved parties (editors and referees) conform to a set of requirements, such as love for high quality science, objectiveness, and absence of biases, nepotism, friend and clique networks, selfishness, etc. If these requirements are violated, what is the effect on the selection of high quality work? We study this question with a simple agent based model. In particular we are interested in the effects of rational referees, who might not have any incentive to see high quality work other than their own published or promoted. We find that a small fraction of incorrect (selfish or rational) referees can drastically reduce the quality of the published (accepted) scientific standard. We quantify the fraction for which peer review will no longer select better than pure chance. Decline of quality of accepted scientific work is shown as a function of the fraction of rational and unqualified referees. We show how a simple quality-increasing policy of e.g. a journal can lead to a loss in overall scientific quality, and how mutual support-networks of authors and referees deteriorate the system.


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