Does Constructive Criticism Help?

Several years ago, a man named Alan Kaiser tried in vain to publish an article about an archaeologist who plagiarized a female student’s work. He ultimately failed to do so, but he did eventually end up publishing it as a book, and he also wrote the article “Why The Peer Review Process Works Even When It Doesn’t” in order to illustrate his experience and what he learned from his failure.

The story in question that he was trying to publish involved a woman named Mary Ellingson, who wrote her dissertation on a number of figurines that she had excavated. However, her advisor, Robinson, published her dissertation as an entire chapter in one of his books, without giving her credit. As Kaiser thought this was an interesting story, particularly with regards to the role of women in research, he was eager to publish this article.

However, the article was met with a lot of criticism; not only did a few people doubt that the story was very interesting, but also a lot of people tried to justify Robinson’s behavior or insist that the scandal should be kept quiet; Kaiser suspects that that is due to the conservative nature of the field.

While Kaiser never managed to get his article published in a journal, he was able to take in all the criticisms he received from professional editors and peer reviewers alike, and instead published the story as a book. He therefore concludes that even though there are some flaws in the peer review system, it is still a system that works, and it can lead to unexpected benefits even if a story is initially met with rejection.