Parents and Peers

The kids were very sweet in their uniforms this morning and we walked them to school together. Fanny quickly caught up with some classmates and was explicitly NOT going to say bye to us. Johanna held my hand and told me not to go – until she saw her friends. She promptly let go and instructed me not to embarrass her with goodbyes. She said it in a nice way though, knowing that telling us off for being embarrassing would result in our famous monkey-dance – a truly embarrassing pantomime of a gorilla dancing around, scratching its head and, in severe cases, also its bum. I only ever had to do the whole routine once, right in front of Fanny’s teacher in grade four. In certain situations, Robert just puts his hand on his head and does the slightest scratch – and they know!

Even if all kids think their parents are embarrassing at times it is essential for parents not to be led to think their opinions, presence, and knowledge of their youth’s whereabouts and company are not important. Parents can and are expected to regulate their youths’ behaviours in domains of safety and health, including alcohol drinking, drug use, and smoking. Appearance, leisure and social choices, however, are domains that youths perceive as personal (Smetana, Metzger, Gettman & Campione-Barr, 2006) and parents can run into massive resistance when they try to regulate these areas. Having said that, you can probably still get through, but you need to pick the right time, the right tone, and the right issue… If you’re lucky, a significant peer might agree with you and you’ve got a homerun!

I started the day’s work at home with finishing the peer-review of an article for Acta Paediatrica, a major paediatric journal in Europe. Peer review is the engine of the scientific world. Without it, there would be no publications in international journals, no PhD or masters theses, selection of projects to be funded, academic promotions, or conference presentation approvals. However, as a scientific community, I fear we form a context that risks confusing originality with bad science. What if the peer-review process – defined by its own socially constructed box – misses ideas and people “out of the box”? It is often said that truly great scientific discoveries were not quite understood at the time they happened. In fact, many scientists were persecuted or left without jobs, honed, and expelled from scientific societies thanks to disapproving peers. I try to stay as open as I can, reminding myself that scientific “truths” are fragile things – many of them don’t survive long. But I am not sure I could tell a genius from a madman, if I had to judge their work.

There are also more down-to-earth risks with peer-review. My father told me about a time he sat on a scientific committee run by the European Union. He is a highly regarded researcher in his area and he said that many of the project plans were absolutely excellent, much better than his own ideas at the time. It takes a person of his calibre to acknowledge someone to have better ideas than himself; not to steal those ideas; and not to disapprove the grant out of pure jealousy – scientist are humans and these things do happen, unfortunately. On the other hand, he is experienced enough to “talk back” to editors and referees, which is a good thing. Sometimes, the peer reviews we get are of such low quality that they should never have been sent to the authors. Doing a good peer review is actually an art. You need interest, insight, empathy, and time. I also think any criticism should be fair, relevant, and constructive. I try to write in a way that I should be able to sign my name even though peer-review is usually blind.

One thought on “Parents and Peers

  1. I agree with the remarks concerning peer reviews. Whenever I get a paper which I do not think relevant or good enough for that specific journal, our teacher from the fourth grade comes to my mind. She taught us to criticize each others’ work, and emphasized the point always to start it with a praise. So many times I remind myself that in order to be constructive I must find something good in that paper worth at least for a tiny praise. Sometimes it is almost impossible though, but still…

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