Censorship

John R. Grehan jrg13 at PSU.EDU
Thu Dec 20 09:42:14 CST 2001


Zdenek Skala raises some interesting points and I have offered further comment.

At 09:45 AM 12/20/01 +0100, you wrote:

>(b) - the findings are not new or are not generally interesting

This can be a tricky one. For those who do not like geography, panbiogeography
is definitely not interesting. If  biogeographers do not like geography, then
by default they would by this criterion, be justified in preventing
panbiogeographic publications. I have had cases where some journal editors
have responded with the view that panbiogeography is not of general
interest, therefore
they would not publish (this is an observation on the facts, not a judgement).

>(c) - the article is internally inconsistent, i.e. it does not use the
>method properly, or the conclusions are not implied by results, or there
>are logical inconsistencies, etc.

This has not been a major problem - certainly not as a basis for supressing
panbiogeography.

>The (c) is probably the main point; if the reviewers "believe that there
>is fundamental problem with scientific quality" they should be very
>explicit about it and show clearly where is the problem. Here is the key
>role of the editors: the supervising of the review process (not all
>reviews need to be of acceptable quality, likewise the submitted
>papers).

Absolutely! I agree fully. I think that marks the difference between
experiences in
New Zealand and journals overseas. In the earlier days when panbiogeography
was definitely looked upon as something radical it was the journal Systematic
Zoology that became important for publication as that journal was focused on
controversy and therefore open to publishing alternative views and
promoting debates.
Even then publication was not always easy as reviewers could be very
demanding. But
offsetting the reviewer role was the professionalism of editors who
accepted re-submissions
and rebuttals so the reviewer could not act as an absolute censor. There
was a case with a German journal where a panbiogeographic paper was
rejected simply because the editor said that as long as he was editor of
the journal no paper mentioning Croizat would be accepted. Fortunately
another editor involved with that journal recogized this response as
inappropriate and the paper was published.

The trouble occurs in New Zealand where, as Geoff Read has indicated, the
role of the reviewer seems to be seen as one of a censor and where editors
just follow that directive and panbiogeography is locked out. A notable
exception occurred with publication of the New Zealand Journal of Zoology
special issue where it took editorial consultation to determine that it was
in the best interests of New Zealand science to allow publication of the
1988 symposium. Interestingly, I understand that the publication became the
best selling special issue of any of the government journal series up to
that time.

>Suppressing the "sidebar" articles results in suppressing the scientific
>discussion; it is often the "sidebar" views that promote it most
>effectively. It should be the prime interest of editors to carefully
>examine if the article is rejected due to low quality or due to its low
>conformity to mainstream views.

Yes, and even then what is this 'mainstream'? In biogeography this is a
problematic issue and recent reviewers have emphasized the fragmented state
of biogeogrpahy as a discipline. Under these circumstances perhaps there is
no 'mainstream' when it comes to biogeographic analysis. Most
'biogeographers' are systematists who practice systematics of a particular
group and their analyses tend to be of those groups, so comparative
geographic approaches are probably not attractive.  Darwinian centers of
origin and dispersal (with or without vicariance) still remain by far the
most popular accounts (especially by molecular systematists) to 'explain'
distributions even though the scientific merits of dispersalist narratives
have been put into serious question by prominent biogeographic theorists.

Regarding the issue of scientific quality, I made an effort to have the
paper examined by specialists in both the biogeography and the geology in
order to address any problems in that area. None of the journal reviewers
bothered to raise any problems with scientific quality
in deciding against the paper.

I am now considering a panbiogeographic study of the Macronesian islands.
These islands are perhaps unanimously assumed to be 'oceanic' and the biota
the result of overseas dispersal so its going to be an interesting
challenge. There is a lot more phylogenetic and distributional data
available so the task will be both simpler and more complex than the
Galapagos study. It will be interesting to see of the Macronesian
biogeographic community will be willing to allow publication of a
panbiogeographic study in order to promote critical evaluation of these
islands.

John Grehan

John Grehan
Frost Entomological Museum
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Entomology
501 ASI Building
University Park, PA 16802. USA.

Phone: (814) 863-2865
Fax: (814) 865-3048

Frost Museum
http://www.ento.psu.edu/home/Frost/index.html




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