Friday, May 27, 2011

When nasty peer review goes into the open...

in the august journal Langmuir, over the concept of the Gibbs adsorption isotherm (GAI).

It started with a paper (a group from Eindhoven) commenting on these 2 papers (by a group at Emory), and which then elicited a response from the Emory researchers.

The opening salvo (as the paper abstract no less) from Eindhoven:

Recently, some arguments were published that cast doubt on the validity of the Gibbs adsorption isotherm. The doubt was on whether the often visible linearly declining part in the surface tension versus logarithm of concentration plot of a surfactant solution, just before the critical micelle concentration, really represents a situation of constant adsorption. Those published arguments are partly of a conceptual nature and partly based on experimental evidence. The conceptual arguments appear to be based on a misunderstanding of the theory, while the arguments based on experimental evidence stem from an inaccurate treatment of these data. Our conclusion is that none of the relevant arguments put forward are valid. The experimental evidence, if properly treated, is in line with the Gibbs theory.

Ouch. Surely you won't expect the Emory group to take such a punch in their face without a counterpunch of their own. And so they did:

In the preceding paper, Laven and de With defend the classical Gibbs analysis. If one ignores their ad hominem comments (see, for example, their abstract), then what remains is a deceptively authoritative text devoid of any additional experimental data. In response, there is no need for us to repeat in detail all our experimental evidence.Only two experiments, based on conductivity and monolayer data, will be discussed briefly to illustrate the general tenor of the Laven and de With arguments.

Wow. The knives are out in the open for blood. I see nasty peer reviews all the time, but this is the first time I have seen such reviews become publicly archived and indexed as articles on a reputed peer-reviewed journal.

Who reviewed those two papers, and the Editor went ahead and have them both published with such word choices? Most of us tend to think of journal papers as the type to read in order to fall asleep, but this goes to show they can be exciting in a way...

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