Abelson, Philip H. "Scientific Communication," Science 209 (4 July 1980), pp. 60-62.
This is another of the celebration articles in Science, written to celebrate this important occasion
by the long-term editor of that journal. Abelson addresses the problem of communications and
suggests, interestingly, that editing is a paradoxical task in that writers write for their purposes,
readers read for their purposes, editors work for their own interests, critics have their own
functions, and the whole is a very mixed bag. In short, the functions of magazines are diverse
and, perhaps, paradoxical.
"(Editors of scientific journals)...told me that many scientists depend on their colleagues or the
grapevine to inform them of any paper that is particularly significant to them. In general,
scientists do not feel great incentive to read much." (p. 61)
Consider this special function of journals: "In private conversations and even in public lectures,
scientists often are not rigorous. They tend to be careless about announcing the results of
experiments that may not have been well controlled, duplicated, or even performed. However,
most of them are much more cautious about what they try to put into print. They fear that other
scientists will examine their work and will be zealous in pointing out its defects, both at the time
it is being reviewed and later when it appears in print. A scientist who publishes sloppy work can
suffer destruction of reputation and, for a scientist, that is very serious." (p. 61)
Abelson defends the peer review system. He does not suggest the unintended functions of these
gatekeepers and knows of no other way of providing for excellence.