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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

An exercise in peer review

A few years ago I was involved in the organisation of a conference. The selection process for speakers at the conference involved the submission of abstracts for the presentations / papers, which were reviewed by all members of the scientific committee, who ranked the abstract on a scale from 0 (reject) to 4 (excellent). The rankings of each of the reviewers were averaged for each paper and any paper with an average score of less than 2.0 was rejected.

Over a hundred abstracts were submitted and fewer than five papers were ultimately rejected from the conference.

Unbeknownst to the scientific committee, one of the submitted abstracts was a fake, created to test the review system. The abstract was written by the wife of one of the conference organisers, who knows very little about the field of Fire Safety Science. She was given a few recent copies of 'Combustion & Flame' and left to create a nonsense abstract, using words and phrases found in genuine abstracts.

The fake abstract read as follows:

Pressure, Elongation and Deformation Analysis of SB in Laminar Partially-Mixed Flames

Centre for Flame Research
Hayward, California
United States

Pressure effects, elongation rates and deformation coefficients on Soot Ball (SB) manipulation in peripheral fragmentation has been investigated in a thick-under chaotic-zones regime using non-compromising direct flame propagation models with physicochemical processes. It is commonly known that the effects of SB phenomena quantitatively as well as qualitatively perpetuate the growth rate, according to Chebyshev polynomials, of solid propellant flames and therefore follow an anisotropic analysis. An apparatus which simulates sufficiently high steam partial pressures was erected to deliver the thermo chemical conditions needed and much desired to approach the soot model studied in the present work. Internal gas velocity analysis in the flame region and the Guinier and Prodo-based scattering theory were essential elements to the development of this work. The Stochastic fields greatly contributed to thermal equilibrium between phases nevertheless allowing for heat transfer during the process of acceleration. Measurements of heat transfer serve to further evaluate the SB phenomena confirming the findings by Singh et al. (2006). Nevertheless, the deformations were observed to remain static.

The abstract received an average ranking of 1.7 from the scientific panel, relegating it to rejection. However, this was a better score than two genuine submissions and two members of the panel ranked the abstract with a score of 3!

Still, its good to know that peer review works. Sometimes.

1 comment:

Guillermo Rein said...

Great story with happy ending. This hoax is much better written than any of those from the "An Automatic CS Paper Generator" at MIT: