As all participants in professional evaluations know, especially those concerned with rewards, and promotion and tenure, there is a pecking order according to which candidates display their accomplishments. Among the top criteria in the publish-or-perish world of academia, the listing of published papers in peer-reviewed, prestigious professional journals ranks extremely high.
Authorship is rewarded; lack thereof leads to disqualification. Apart from asking how prolific an author is, or how seminal or inconsequential a publication is, or what part the author played among multiple authors, the most important question an evaluator asks is, “Do the candidate’s publications appear in peer-reviewed, high-quality journals, or in lightweight, easy-to-get-into magazines or similar printed products?”
The Journal of Food Science (JFS) is a peer-reviewed scientific journal. There are hundreds like it throughout the world. They essentially form a construct to archive human intellectual progress. The best and the brightest record their achievements here. These journals are not only collectors, they are also guardians against irrational, even low-quality, scholarship. This is where refereeing comes in. The very food scientists who publish are also the ones who serve as peer evaluators (“reviewers” or “referees”) to guarantee the status of the journal and therefore, indirectly, its credibility and that of science and scholarship altogether. It is imperative that colleagues stand in judgment of each other. Sure enough, they are constantly reminded to do so and periodically called on by editors to perform specific evaluations.
As one of the associate editors for JFS, I have brought into print about 600 manuscripts over the past decade. If you consider 100 rejections and several withdrawals, I must have corresponded with 1,400 referees, at least, throughout that period. Many of these I have “used” numerous times, some up to three times per year. Overall, my experiences have been gratifying, and my regard and appreciation for all these food science colleagues have grown all along.
As of January 2000, JFS will be slightly altered, and the manuscript review process also, thanks to the efforts of our Scientific Editor, Owen Fennema. There will be more issues per year, and the journal will have five subdivisions of related papers. Referees will no longer be approached with a manuscript; they will now first be asked, electronically, whether they are able and willing to do a review within a 3-week period (requiring about 2–3 hours of work). These changes will certainly speed up publication time.
Anyone wanting to serve as a JFS referee should submit name and address to Therese Schaley, JFS Senior Editor at IFT, 221 N. LaSalle St., Chicago, IL 60601 (phone 312-782-8424, fax 312-782-8348, e-mail [email protected]). See the September/October 1999 issue of JFS for details.
What it comes down to is this: Peer review is a quality control process meant to guarantee quality. It is an evolving process. It aids authors, journals and their editors, and entire professional fields—and, added all together, science and society throughout the world and time. Its obvious advantages include validation of someone’s work, archiving priority claims for a new concept, protection from plagiarism, assurance of authenticity, and value added through referee input. Disadvantages might be delay in rapid publication, difficulty with true referee impartiality, and occasional incorrect judgments and disagreements.
From an author’s standpoint, it is indeed a terrible disappointment to be faced with a rejected manuscript. However, not all is lost. It has been said that eventually all manuscripts are published, they just filter down in the publication hierarchy. After all, there are nonrefereed journals and, at the bottom, the vanity presses which are willing to take all comers for a price.
JFS is among the very best publications. According to the latest (1997) Journal Citation Report from the Institute of Scientific Information in Philadelphia, JFS is ranked tenth in Impact Factor, second in Immediacy Index, and first in Cited Half-Life among 83 journals of food science and technology.
We want to keep and fortify our position at the top. It can only be done with the contributions of dedicated JFS referees. Thank you, all, for the help you have given us editors over the years . . . and welcome to all the new ones who will contribute in the future.
by Manfred Kroger, an IFT Fellow, is Professor Emeritus of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.