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July 13, 1994

Structural Transformations of the Sciences and the End of Peer Review

Author Affiliations

From the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, Stanford (Calif) University.

JAMA. 1994;272(2):92-94. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520020018004

THREE great structural transformations are now taking place in the sciences. The structures are the conditions, the building plan, the institutional relationships that underlie and shape the way sciences are done today. Transformations affect the structures radically yet systematically—in ways that preserve many of the original elements while creating a set of relationships fundamentally different. Structural transformations are probably impossible to resist. Their consequences are hard to predict. The first and most familiar of the transformations we can think of as internal to research and publishing: it comprises the declining standards and the growing, built-in tendency toward corruption of the peer-review and refereeing processes. The other two transformations we can describe as external to peer review sensu stricto: they are the transition from exponential growth of the sciences to a steady state, and the appearance and development of electronic publishing and electronic collaboration more generally. The three overlap and interact.