Essay | The Fiction of Peer Review

This essay by Ivo De Gennaro and Gino Zaccaria offers a diagnosis of the fundamental transformation that has occurred in the nature of the pivotal figure of all systems of research evaluation: the peer. This diagnosis, in turn, sheds light on the new “climate” that, as many feel, increasingly charaterizes scientific life on a planetary scale.

«The English word peer indicates “a person of the same rank”. In its true sense, the peer is “the person who has the right to be judged by other people of his same rank”. This notion therefore applies perfectly to those who, being equal (and thus, as we have said, “separated”) in the ward of truth, have the right to be judged as researchers only by those who, in turn, draw their measure of judgment from the very same cognitive need, while they must remain untouched by those judgments that draw their criteria from a different source. Such is the element of justice which informs the “freedom of scientific research”. / However, precisely this reference to the original meaning of the peer permits us to discern a difference; indeed, an essential inversion. In fact, while the concept of the peer, as we have seen, implies the right to be judged by those equal in rank, thus assuming first and foremost a sense of support and protection, nevertheless, in systems of research evaluation, this notion refers in the first place to those who have the right to judge or, more precisely, to whomsoever is invested with the mandate (the role, the function) to evaluate his or her peers. Consequently, the peer now appears primarily as the bearer of a requirement of, and will to, control

Paul Klee, Von der Liste gestrichen (1933)

De Gennaro, Zaccaria — Fiction