9.401 | Fall 2022 | Graduate

Tools for Robust Science

Week 6 Challenge: Time and Effort Are Wasted by Arbitrary Gatekeeping

The Challenge

Scientists communicate findings through publications in peer-reviewed journals.  However, this process is slow and prone to biases as it relies heavily on existing social networks of scientists. It also relies on the unpaid labor of researchers who are not incentivized to write thorough or well-thought-out reviews, which can lead to inconsistent or unhelpful reviews. Peer review can also be biased by the status, institution, or demographics of the authors.  This process hampers scientific progress. To combat some of these issues, scholars have begun to post pre-prints which allows researchers to post a copy of their paper at any stage. However, this can lead to public dissemination of findings that have not been confirmed by other scientists. All of this came to a dramatic and explosive point in the controversies about preprints and pandemic research. We will consider challenges associated with peer review, and tools designed to hold on to the good parts while jettisoning the bad.


In sum, peer review is slow, prone to error, potentially biased, and there’s no incentive for anyone to do it well, but doing without peer review is also problematic! In your response paper, describe specific examples of when and why peer review and/or rapid dissemination of results are important for your science, something you learned from the readings you didn’t already know, and/or a personal experience you’ve had that really brought home the challenge of peer review and/or rapid dissemination of results.

Somewhat older resources:

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2022
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments