The peer review industry: implausible and outrageous

Tim Crane:

Suppose there was a wholly state-funded bakery, whose aim was to create world-class cakes and to encourage the development of excellent cake-baking. Everyone in the bakery – the master bakers, the managers, the kitchen assistants, the human resources consultants, the cleaners – is paid by the state. But the bakery is not allowed to give or sell the cakes directly to the public. Rather it is obliged to give, free of charge, all the best products to a number of “cake brokers”, each one specializing in a different kind of cake. These brokers are profit-making companies. To maintain baking standards, the brokers ask expert tasters from around the world to give their (unpaid) opinions on the quality of the cakes produced, ranking them and making recommendations about which should be released to the public. The brokers then put the best cakes in nice boxes and sell them back to state-funded “cake repositories” at a price they set themselves. Some cake repositories are free to use, but most of them give their cakes away only to their members, many of whom pay a fee of around £9,000 per year, or more. The cake brokers make a healthy profit and regularly raise their prices, knowing that no self-respecting cake repository would deprive its members of the best cakes in the world.