Intelligent Design

Peer review: Have we run out of polish for the iron rice bowls?

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At Slate, Daniel Engber offers another slam at peer review:

When journal editors are asked about these ideas, they often quote Winston Churchill’s line, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Or rather, they quote other journal editors quoting that line. But it’s a poor analogy, since few alternatives to peer review have been tried in modern times. And democracy isn’t really a good description of peer review, either. Sure, peer review allows scientists to participate in a system of self-governance. But wouldn’t BMJ’s policy of open review or Ginsparg’s proposal for Web-published preprints be far more democratic?

So far, though, the Churchill quoters are winning.

You know, “The worst system , except for all the others.” The trouble is, any system can exhaust the benefits for which it was brought in- in this case, to cope with the flood of post-World War II science efforts. In my own view, it has become the same sort of drag on fresh thinking as reliance on Aristotle was in the early modern period of science.

If the object is to do good science while pleasing all possible reviewers, and the gist of the paper is an idea that disconfirms their theories, one may have to downplay findings, quit the field, or go nuts. Michael Behe is a rare example of someone who stood up to all the garbage, just to make a simple point or two about the shortcomings of Darwin’s Rice Bowl.

Other peer review alerts:

Peer review: How much more believable than fortunetelling?

“Peer review, mere review, and smear review”

“Peer review: Life, death, and the British Medical Journal

Science: A year-end wad of fraud, falsified data, and other award-winning tenure strategies …

Peer review: What if your peers would have to be otherconspiracy theorists? (No, really!)

Peer review: Gold standard or gold in “them thar hills”

3 Replies to “Peer review: Have we run out of polish for the iron rice bowls?

  1. 1
    mike1962 says:

    Peer review has a tendency to follow the consensus and entrench it. The thing is, anyone can start their own publication and staff it with reviewers. Because of the following, it really IS a democracy, at least in democratic countries.

  2. 2
    mike1962 says:

    Sorry, substitute “latter” for “following” in the above.

  3. 3
    Neil Rickert says:

    Most working scientists are well aware that peer review is only an imperfect filter. The real gold standard for science is in the reaction of other scientists after publication. Mercifully, for most bad papers that sneak through peer review, the reaction is a big yawn.

    In the case of the arsenic-based life paper, the press conference ensured that the reaction would be more than a big yawn.

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