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Cronyism

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In the academic psychological community the tendency towards Cronyism the partiality to long-standing friends, is a mechanism which bolsters scientific orthodoxy.

Psychologists are after all people and are subject to the same social and group dynamics as others.

The psychological tendency for people to trust and like people with similar views as themselves means that they aggregate in social groupings which influence and underpin the social structure of the scientific community.

So for example the board of journals, lists of reviewers etc are often drawn up with these forces at work and as a consequence biases, subtle or otherwise can be introduced into the intellectual fabric of the discipline.

A recent UK parliamentary briefing paper explicitly addressed this problem in terms of peer review being an inherently conservative process, that encourages the emergence of self-serving cliques of reviewers, who are more likely to review each others’ publications favourably than those submitted by researchers from outside the group.

They highlighted a number of dangers of this situation For instance, they thought it might:

  • Discourage researchers from moving into new fields in which they have no track record
  • Make it difficult for junior researchers to obtain grants or publish their research
  • Present difficulties for multidisciplinary work, since peer review committees that do not contain individuals qualified to judge all aspects of a proposal may be less likely to approve the funding.
  • Result in the publication of ‘safe’ research that fits neatly into the conventional wisdom and work against innovative, ‘risky’ or conventional ideas.


References

Horrobin DF (1990), JAMA 263, 1438-41.

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