Publish or perish. It's a dictum drummed into the heads of scientists from the time they begin their studies. Jobs, grants, and promotions--everything of possible import to the budding academic scientist--hinge, to a great extent, on getting one's research into print. But self-advancement also goes hand-in-hand with the progress of science, for publishing papers is the prime means by which important findings are disseminated within the scientific community. To publish a paper in a journal, where it can be studied and cited by other researchers, is to make a permanent contribution to the fund of knowledge.

In light of the pressure to publish felt by most investigators, it's only natural for them to view with some trepidation the system by which journals evaluate papers. Cloaked in confidentiality as it generally is, the process of refereeing can seem altogether mystifying, like some sort of cabalistic rite. But in reality, there's nothing...

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