November 8, 2008
As justly stated by Nature Reviews Microbiology Chief Editor Susan Jones1, a review is judged by referees based on the literature that has also been approved by peer review. However her statement that "authors report what is published in the literature" deserves some attention.
Reviews are usually written by 'experts' therefore it is to be expected that the reported literature in a review is scrutinized and analyzed independently by the authors for its scientific integrity based on a specific expertise. Denying authors’ responsibility for flaws in their work also denies their qualification as experts. In other words without responsibility, experts they are not.
The review by authors Boris Görke and Jörg Stülke titled: Carbon catabolite repression in bacteria: many ways to make the most out of nutrients (Nat Rev Microbiol) was commented upon by author Martine Crasnier-Mednansky in a correspondence titled: Is there any role for cAMP-CRP in carbon catabolite repression of the Escherichia coli lac operon? Anonymous referees judged the content of the correspondence worthy to be published for readers of Nature Reviews Microbiology. Reply to the correspondence by Görke and Stülke failed to take into consideration the argumentation set forth in the correspondence by Crasnier-Mednansky (see IN REPLY TO). They re-iterated their view on carbon catabolite repression and even praised the published peer-reviewed literature that was proved questionable by Crasnier-Mednansky. Justification made by Chief Editor Susan Jones to publish the reply by Görke and Stülke was that authors should not bear consequences for papers that still stand in the literature, particularly in this case a 1997 PNAS article by Hiroji Aiba and coworkers2 (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A).
The issue was further emphasized because of the proposal by Görke and Stülke, in their review on carbon catabolite repression, to change textbooks to reflect their view on the issue. Will they then bear responsibility if textbooks are changed to reflect their view on carbon catabolite repression?
How do we judge an author’s expertise? Obviously several years of studies with a record of publications in a particular field constitute expertise. Recognition by peers is also generally indicative of expertise. Certainly editors of scientific journals do recognize expertise. It is our belief they should also acknowledge that expert authors should be held responsible for errors in their manuscript regardless of whether the work is theirs or someone else’s. An expert in a field should be competent to scrutinize whether or not a work they are citing is good or bad. No responsible author would ever assume that a work is good simply because it passed a peer review!
1 Susan Jones is Senior Editor at PLoS Medicine since January 2009
2 Correspondence between PNAS Chief-Editor Randy Schekman and Chief Science Officer Martine Crasnier-Mednansky Diauxie correspondence
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