, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 155-174

Responsible authorship and peer review

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Abstract

In this article the basic principles of responsible authorship and peer review are surveyed, with special emphasis on (a) guidelines for refereeing archival journal articles and proposals; and (b) how these guidelines should be taken into account at all stages of writing.

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land. Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. ... It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated. ... In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. Richard P. Feynman, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” 1 (pp. 310–311)