Broken peer review is nothing new

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I have been pressing on with The Annotated Turing and have now made it to page 163. And I see no reason to withdraw my earlier enthusiastic partial review: I just wish I’d read it a year or more ago as it has no immediate bearing on the MSc this year, though is still a great read when it comes to a proper understanding of computing.

But what strikes me is that the book details a number of errors in the original “On Computable Numbers…” paper. Most of these appear to be typographical or similar mistakes, but they actually render Turing’s written argument broken in several places. And – even though one of them was immediately obvious to me (actually, I assumed I had misunderstood Turing’s point until I read Charles Petzold‘s commentary) they don’t seem to have been corrected in print for another decade.

Bluntly that suggests that whoever reviewed the paper did not too through a job on it. Of course, none of this means it was wrong to publish the paper – it is truly an intellectual milestone of the 20th, or any other century, but it does suggest that recent controversies over the weakness of peer review and the caprice of the editors of scientific journals is nothing particularly new.