B a r b a r a  T h o m p s o n
Astrophysicist
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
March 9, 1999
Rockets Run on Email

    11:45 am: I have to finish what is called a "referee report." Scientists publish their work in scientific journals. Before they can publish their work, the papers have to be reviewed by other scientists. Usually, it's an anonymous process-the editor of the journal sends out a paper to other scientists, and the author of the paper doesn't know who they are! I am reviewing a paper by another researcher in solar physics-fortunately, it's well-written and I don't have to spend a lot of time correcting errors. However, it's not easy to review a paper, even if it's well-written. I have to take several trips to the library to make sure that the statements in the paper are accurate. Fortunately, the Goddard library is one floor above me, so it's not a long trip. Even worse, the people in this paper announce the "discovery" of something. Claiming you've discovered something is very dangerous!!! Sometimes it's already been discovered by other scientists, but you don't know about it. I think of possible observations by a Japanese experiment which might have been able to see the same thing that's in this paper. I am unable to find any record of it in the library, so I return to my office. I write in the report that it's possible that there might be Japanese observations, and that maybe the author should check to make sure.

I mail the report to the editor of the journal, who will anonymously forward my report to the author of the paper. I tell the editor that it's a very good paper and it is important that it be published soon! This helps the editor in determining whether the paper is "worthy" of the journal. It also helps the author if the author knows that another scientist approves of the work and finds it important.

The review process can take a long time. Sometimes you have to go to meetings and sit on panels. The panels usually are reviewing requests for a lot of money! When SOHO was being developed, it had to go through a lot of reviews. The scientists who worked on the review panels spent a lot of time helping in this process. Every year you can spend weeks on reviews, but they are very necessary. Scientific progress depends on it.

I look out the window and it is snowing really hard. I am dreading cleaning my car off.


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