Posted by: cjlortie | November 29, 2013

Novelty in reviews by Göran Arnqvist: Dr. Pangloss was, I fear, wrong.

I found little to disagree with in the post by Lortie – all very worthy points. I am also very much for placing much emphasis on novelty/creativity/newness. Where we differ, I think, is in the amount of confidence and trust we place upon editors. Having been an editor for many years in several journals in our field, and having been an “author” and a colleague for even longer, I have developed a conviction that the system employed by many journals (where the editorial machinery rates newness without “external” input) is sensitive and imprecise. I was trying to make the point in the TREE article that this is very problematic.

“Newness” is this golden but elusive aspect of a work that, even though we all know exactly what it is, remains hard to define and pin down. I think that everyone that has read Pirsig’s “Zen and the noble art…”, who makes much the same point about “quality”, will be able to relate to this. I am much less optimistic than you are that these qualities allow themselves to be explicitly and objectively defined in a manner which would make them operationally very useful. For this reason, I think that creativity or newness needs to be assessed by (1) initiated, educated and wise readers and (2) several such readers. That is the essence of my point.

Now, in the best of all worlds, we would elect editors that are capable of serving as benevolent and wise dictators who fairly and correctly assess the newness of all submitted manuscripts and rules accordingly. This would certainly improve science and save us all a lot of work. Unfortunately, Dr. Pangloss was, I fear, wrong.

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