Cultural confusion: white papers vs. peer review

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Sandra Porter
One of the greatest shocks when I started working in industry was the realization that the peer-reviewed paper, the most valuable form of currency in the academic world, was valued so little. In academics, there is a well-established reward system for getting your work published in peer-reviewed journals. Whether or you not get hired, get money to do research, get to keep your job (i.e. get tenure), all depend on depend on your ability to get papers written and accepted by your peers. (Community colleges are an exception to this, there it's your teaching abilities that matter, not your publications.) After years of academic indoctrination and soaking up academic values, it was pretty depressing, in some ways, to learn having peer-reviewed publications no longer mattered. In the commercial software world, peer-review has no or little value. Many people don't know what it is, and if they do know, they don't care. The business people seem to think that scientific papers are written by ghost-writers and the software engineers think they're written by people from marketing. You mean, a white paper and a peer-reviewed scientific publication aren't the same thing? No! No! No! Just to set the record straight, white papers are marketing publications that serve to explain the technology used in a product. Peer-reviewed publications are scientific articles that must be read and accepted by other scientists. Peer review is not a perfect system, but it does have meaning, at least to other scientists. I also learned that there are some very good reasons why many companies don't bother with the peer-review system. Mostly, there aren't many incentives for software companies to publish peer-reviewed papers. These papers take an incredible amount of time to write and revise. For a business, the price of that time is often too high and the return on the investment is too low. A white paper, which doesn't require peer-review, can be written and distributed at a much lower cost and in much less time. So, I'm quite happy that now, thanks to BPR3, if we blog about peer-reviewed research, we have some new icons that we can use to identify what's what. If you are a reader, look for this icon to find out if a post is about peer-reviewed research. If you are a blogger, you can use this icon to let your readers know that you're writing about research work that was strong enough to withstand review. The guidelines and icons are here.
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