[b-hebrew] Shoddy politics and peer review

davidfentonism at aim.com davidfentonism at aim.com
Fri Nov 24 20:16:16 EST 2006


Having once been a part of The Academy, I can attest to what Karl says is the case in some instances. He did omit the fact that often, too, graduate student work is pilfered which certainly happened to me on more than one occasion. Having said this, I am not taking a position one way or the other. I love academia despite its foibles.
   
 -----Original Message-----
 From: yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
 To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
 Sent: Thu, 23 Nov 2006 6:18 AM
 Subject: [b-hebrew] Shoddy politics and peer review
 
  On 11/23/06, K Randolph rote:

> Though I am not part of academia now (I have dyslexia, can you believe
> that?), my father and grandfather were both professors, so I have
> observed some of the dirty underside of academia that they don't want
> the hoi polloi to know about. I have seen data falsification, even in
> the hard sciences, in order to get past the gauntlet of a powerful
> professor to get the sheep's skin. I have seen professors denied
> tenure for no reason other than that they espoused an unpopular theory
> even though otherwise their work was top notch. I have seen shoddy
> work praised simply because it was politically correct among other
> professors. I have seen students given lower grades, or even denied
> their degrees, because they did not agree with their professors on
> tangental beliefs. I have been outside of academia for decades, but
> your comment below reminded me of those days.

Well, the real problem with all the above statements is that I can't
verify these statements and I can't accept that what you've seen is
indeed what you describe.  For example, perhaps you were impressed
that "students were given lower grades or denied degrees, simply
because they did not agree with their professors on tangental
beliefs".  But perhaps also, the professor gave the lower grade because
the student simply didn't understand the material and felt it necessary
to invoke his own beliefs rather than the studied material, which,
correct or not, is the knowledge on which he was being tested.  I don't
know what happened in all the above cases.  It is clear to me that
some shoddy politics are involved in academics or we wouldn't have
cases like British universities "banning" Israeli studies due to the
political actions of the government.

> On 11/22/06, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> >
> > You missed a sentence, "You are expected to know the value of
> > offering your book to criticism from your peers in the linguistics
> > department."  That says it all.
>
> That says nothing. All too often that peer review system is now used
> for censorship of ideas outside of the mainstream, a fact that some
> reviewers openly admit. Work that has solid methodology, peerless
> analysis, yet will be rejected for publication because of politics.
> Now I don't know all of Prof. Fried's theory, so I can't really
> comment on that, but I would not be surprised that in discussing his
> theory with his colleagues, they may have rejected it for what ever
> reasons that they have.

I wasn't talking about the peer review system.  I was talking about the
value of letting your book receive criticism from your peers.  And
particularly, "that says it all" refers to Fried having dropped that
sentence exactly in a place that he responds almost sentence by
sentence.  In the end, however, all of science is a peer review system.
Someone studying physics, must enter dialogue with other physicists
on his theories.  If someone has some theory regarding physics but
refrains from direct discussion of his theory with his peer, and does
not address concerns raised by peers about holes in his theory, his
theory will suffer.  If the theory never enters the discussion of physics,
it will not survive.  This may be a setback for science but definitely it
is a setback for the theory itself.  The scientist, therefore, should
strive to engage his peers in discussion of the theory.  In the case of
Isaac Fried's book, the book is widely available in academic libraries
(perhaps somewhat due to Fried's own "marketing" efforts).  However,
while it was published the same year as the Cambridge Encyclopedia
that I mentioned (2004), I am not finding any review or even citation of
the book by linguists.  Thus, peer review or not, it does not end up
engaging linguists or Hebraists.  That suggests a problem.

> In short, the peer review system is way overhyped, and broken.

The system may have its problems, but one shouldn't assume that
politics always govern the peer review.  Perhaps the peer review ends
up failing in some cases because of shoddy politics.  However, that's
not necessarily the case.  A second or third opinion and comment is
always good, and its importance can hardly be understated.

Yitzhak Sapir

   
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