(Dis)Agreement in Peer Review
Sven Hemlin Göteborg University
This chapter is concerned with the cognitive and social psychological aspects of the peer review process in science. More specifically, it focuses on judgments and decisions made by individuals in groups that result in disagreements about a scientific matter. The analysis encompasses various kinds of peer review conflicts, whether about a manuscript, a grant proposal, a university department's research, or something else. This research is completed by reviewing relevant literature on peer reviews, group conflicts, group decisions and scientific controversies; and analyzing a peer conflict on a Ph.D. examination committee. The chapter results in a framework for studies of peer review disagreements.
Peer disagreement is a common phenomenon in science. To some it is the gist of scientific development, or at least a fruitful event ( Fuller, 1996; Hackett, 1992; Harnad, 1985; Nowotny [cited in Mendelsohn, 1987]; Popper, 1972). To others a dispute among peers is seen as a weakness in the scientific community ( Cicchetti, 1991; Cole, Cole, & Simon, 1981; Merton [cited in Mendelsohn, 1987]). This ambiguity has been discussed mainly by sociologists and philosophers. Two main reasons for disputes can be found in the literature. Disagreements can arise because scientists hold opposing but rational beliefs (in the sense used by Giere, 1987, for example) about two theories or findings in science. Both theories and findings may be supported by empirical evidence. On the other hand, disagreements can also have their roots in less rational causes. Such causes may influence a decision to support one kind of research before another.