The trouble with peer review

In response to the challenge offered at the end of the article entitled, "Is Peer Review Broken?"1 I offer the following: Thirty years ago, I submitted a paper for publication that was rejected by one reviewer because the data contradicted other data. I was unaware of the other data and, in fact, that data had never been published. However, only one other person in the world could have produced such data. To overcome this impasse, a colleague suggested that I "visit" my reviewer to discuss mutual research interests and, in so doing, mention the difficulty that I was having publishing my work. The visit occurred, and the resolution was that I refer to the discrepancy between my published data and the reviewer's unpublished data in the discussion section of the paper.

I found it absurd then, and I find it absurd now to discuss...

Defending animal research

Stuart Derbyshire's opinion piece2 wrongly asserts that animal welfare and animal research cannot coexist peacefully, which is the same flawed reasoning that animal rights extremists use. At least here in the United States, most of us understand the intended purpose of the three R's - to reduce painful procedures by refining certain animal models and replacing higher animals with lower animals when this is consistent with the scientific aims.

John U. Dennis
Animal Program Director
National Cancer Institute, NIH
SAIC-Frederick LASP
Bethesda, Md.

Stuart Derbyshire presents ideas that people need to hear.2 As he points out, our use of animals is self-regulating in that no one intentionally uses more than he or she needs.

By the way, a license to do animal research in the United Kingdom was required before 1986. I worked in the Neurocommunications Research Unit at the University of Birmingham in 1971 and remember receiving a formal license to do animal research (it came nicely bound with a ribbon). I wanted to keep it, but was required to turn in back in when I left.

Henry Heffner
University of Toledo

Hear, hear! As a cancer researcher, I burn with anger every time I read some drivel about replacing animal models for in vivo testing.

Beverly E. Barton, PhD
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Stuart Derbyshire's unsubstantiated claims that animal experiments are the "best hope to cure disease" and "advance the cause of human freedom" do not withstand scrutiny.2 His statement that "animals are sufficiently different from humans to justify invasive and lethal activities" is precisely why science should leave irrelevant and confounding animal models behind, and fully utilize the myriad human-specific methods available. These significant differences make animal data inapplicable to human beings, impeding progress and causing human harm.

Derbyshire accepts that animals in laboratories are stressed. A recent review published in Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science shows this to be profound and unavoidable, even from routine procedures.3 "Skewed results" are therefore inevitable.

In his urgency to promote animal research, Derbyshire ignores its record of failure, its ongoing lack of translation to human medicine, and the increasing understanding of interspecies differences that is at the root of it. Introducing alternatives - validated, incidentally, against strict criteria to which the animal methods have never been measured - is a sine qua non of scientific progress.

Jarrod Bailey
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Washington, DC

Stuart Derbyshire responds:

Dennis is in a muddle if he believes that animal welfare and animal research are compatible. There is a reason that we use animals for certain types of research rather than human beings. It is the appropriate concern for the welfare of human beings that prevents us from giving human beings untested drugs, deliberately infecting them with incurable diseases and using them as test subjects for experimental surgeries. I have no sympathy with animal rights, but I will agree that if the aim is to protect the welfare of animals, animal research must stop.

Bailey has another reason for opposing animal research: He doesn't think it works. I welcome the debate, but I would argue that animal research has value regardless of whether medical breakthroughs are achieved. Several examples of such medical breakthroughs demonstrate, however, that it does work: Primates have been used to develop vaccines against rubella, anti-rejection drugs such as cyclosporin, cornea transplantation and the design of the heart-lung transplant. Dogs were used to develop kidney transplantation and open-heart surgery. Control of diphtheria came from guinea pigs and horses. From sheep came control of anthrax, and from cows the eradication of smallpox. The list goes on.

Re: "PETA Asks Journal to Retract Paper."4 The Research Defense Society (RDS) is familiar with PETA's inquiry, and we would suggest that once again PETA has relied on harassment and hyperbole, rather than the facts, to make its allegations. The experiments published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology article are not those for which the University of Wisconsin suspended Terasawa. PETA's misleading attempt to bully the Journal into helping them continue a campaign of harassment, even after disciplinary action has been taken, shows they have no compunction about playing fast and loose with the facts in the name of sensationalism.

William E. Lee
Research Defense Society

How to improve the h-index

Re: the h-index.5 If an author's papers are ranked in decreasing order of the number of citations received, the h-index is the highest number of papers that received h or more citations. It is a simple single number incorporating both publication quantity and citation quality or visibility scores. The h-index is robust in the sense that it is insensitive to an accidental set of uncited or lowly cited papers or to one or several highly cited papers.

However, such an index should be sensitive to the level of the highly cited papers. As the h-index is defined now, once an article belongs to the h-defining class, it is totally unimportant whether or not these papers continue to be cited and, if cited, it is unimportant whether these papers receive 10, 100, or 1,000 more citations.

To indicate the overall quality of a scientist or of a journal, an index should include the performance of the top articles and hence their number of citations should be counted, even when they are declared to be in the top class. I propose the g-index, defined as the highest number, g, of papers that together received g2 or more citations. In other words, the higher the number of citations in the top class that skew the citation distribution, the higher the g-score.

Leo Egghe
Hasselt University
Diepenbeek, Belgium


1. A. McCook, "Is peer review broken?" The Scientist, 20(2):26-34, February 2006. 2. S.W.G. Derbyshire, "Time to abandon the three Rs," The Scientist, 20(2):23, February 2006. 3. J.P. Balcombe et al., "Laboratory routines cause animal stress," Contemp Top Lab Anim Sci, 43:42-51, 2004. 4. S. Pincock, "PETA asks journal to retract paper," The Scientist Daily News, Jan. 26, 2006; 5. J. Perkel, "The future of citation analysis," The Scientist, 19(20):24-6, Oct. 24, 2005.

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