Essay

A paleolithic peer review

Bill Sullivan
April 18, 2024

You might think review panels have only been around for the last century or so. You would be mistaken. Archeologists recently discovered the following etched into the wall of a cave deep below the campus of Flintstone University, an R1 research institution.

Research Plan

Midday fatigue is a significant problem affecting the majority of our tribe, reducing our ability to hunt and gather effectively.

Our preliminary studies show that when goats eat the berries of plants in the genus Coffea, they become more energetic.

We hypothesize that coffee berries may be used to brew an energy drink for humans.

Our research plan will involve steeping the grinds from the coffee berry fruit or seed (or placebo) into heated water for 10 minutes. Samples will be blinded and consumed by age-matched participants. Energy levels of participants will be quantified 30 minutes later, assessed by how far each subject can run.

Unfortunately, the proposal was not discussed, delaying the discovery of coffee for many years. Here are the reviews:

Reviewer 1

- The premise is flawed as what happens in goats is not guaranteed to happen in humans.
- The PI has no experience grinding seeds.
- Water source is not specified.

Reviewer 2

- Leaves are already used to brew tea. Proposal lacks innovation.
- It is surprising that the PI did not determine whether goats are more energetic after consuming other foods.
- Only oral dosing is proposed. The PI should include alternate routes of administration.

Reviewer 3

- PI did not ensure that all participants would have equal leg lengths, complicating interpretation of the data.
- What if the alleged effects of coffee berries are not felt until 31 minutes postconsumption?
- Findings will have low impact: It is unlikely that most people would go to this sort of trouble when they could easily take a nap.

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Bill Sullivan

Bill Sullivan is a professor at Indiana University School of Medicine and the author of several books.

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