Letter: System where dissent survives

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P D SOMERVILLE juxtaposes a preference for work published in scientific journals over views of individual experts with the Spanish Inquisition tyranny over Galileo (Letters, 8 May).

The purpose of peer refereeing is not to eradicate dissent. Primarily, it is to ensure that published work has employed a recognised methodology and that it builds upon previous work. However, departures from either criteria are accepted as long as they are recognised and justified as such and are advocated in a way which responds to previous work.

The intent is to enable researchers to advance knowledge in a tentative and communal way.

This is not to suggest that intellectual cliques do not develop. However, in such difficult cases, two or three referees, a journal editor and the entire editorial board may be called upon. This is not a perfect system, but the evolution of scientific knowledge is accepted as being a subtle and delicate social process, a balance between the momentum of currently held ideas and the refreshing disturbances of new ones.

David C Lane

City University

Business School

London EC2