Perils of Peer Review

Your columns have carried considerable discussion of the privileged nature, or otherwise, of peer reviews of funding applications (for example, The Scientist, July 11, page 11). There has always been trouble in this direction—ever since Columbus failed to quote previous work by others in his field and omitted to submit 18 copies. More recently, in 1845, the British engineer J.J. Waterston, with an interest in mathematical physics, wrote a paper on the molecular theory of gases, which a

William Gibson
Oct 2, 1988

Your columns have carried considerable discussion of the privileged nature, or otherwise, of peer reviews of funding applications (for example, The Scientist, July 11, page 11). There has always been trouble in this direction—ever since Columbus failed to quote previous work by others in his field and omitted to submit 18 copies.

More recently, in 1845, the British engineer J.J. Waterston, with an interest in mathematical physics, wrote a paper on the molecular theory of gases, which anticipated the work of Joule, Clausius, and Maxwell by 10 or 15 years. The referee of the Royal Society to whom the work was submitted wrote: "The paper is nothing but nonsense." Waterston's work lay hidden thereafter for 45 years until resurrected by Lord Rayleigh.

Gray's Anatomy was panned by a book reviewer of the first edition who saw no future for it. The most recent editions are the 36th English and the...

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