The Ministry of Referees and Discussants
Faith and Economics, 2002
Posted: 26 May 2011
Date Written: 2002
Once there were three professors toiling in three different universities. One day, each of the three received an envelope containing a research manuscript along with a request from a journal editor that the professor read and review the paper as an unpaid service to the journal. The first professor was a new, untenured faculty member who immediately recognized the author of the manuscript as a well-known scholar who would likely be asked to serve as an external evaluator of his application for promotion and tenure in a few years’ time. This worried the young man, who was desperately trying to publish his own, very similar research. He correctly calculated that if he delayed writing the referee report, and attacked the manuscript on a few relatively minor points, he could necessitate a cycle of revision and resubmission and further delay its inevitable publication. Furthermore, if he authoritatively invoked his own work as having already made some of these same points, he could induce the prominent author to cite the referee’s work, and he could not only win needed citations and the race to publish the common results, but he could also establish his own work’s value in the eyes of this scholar. So after a delay of eight months, he wrote just such a referee report. The second professor was nearly as eminent as the manuscript’s author, and had an exceptionally full schedule. He therefore routinely either deferred refereeing manuscripts for journals until he faced a trans-oceanic flight - he could never sleep in airplanes - or passed them to a graduate student to perform the task, which he thought good training for them. In this particular case, the referee delighted in the prospect of humbling his more esteemed colleague. So he kept the manuscript for several months, began reading it eight hours into a fourteen hour flight, then hurriedly wrote a scathing referee report before his laptop batteries ran out and the pilot called for electronic devices to be shut down. The third professor was, like the first, untenured and relatively unknown. Conscious of how important it was to her to receive prompt and constructive referee reports she quickly reviewed the manuscript. She noticed the same errors that the previous two professors had found, but knew that these could be resolved using a technique she was working on but had not yet published. So she carefully wrote a report that not only criticized the flaws in the submission, but mapped out the technique by which these could be corrected, thereby enabling the established author to possibly “scoop” her at a time when she needed publications and recognition. Now, I ask you, which of the professors served science and God best?
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