Do Science Journals Need an Alternative to Peer Review? asks Victoria Turk at Motherboard:
Of course, peer reviewers can hardly be expected to sleuth out if papers have been doctored, or even if the wrong data or images have accidentally be used; they can only go on what’s in the paper. “Journal editors do not expect peer review to ferret out cleverly concealed, deliberate deceptions,” Nature explains in its peer review policy. “A peer reviewer can only evaluate what the authors chose to include in the manuscript. This contrasts with the expectation in the popular press that peer review is a process by which fraudulent data is detected before publication (although that sometimes happens).”
But other issues with peer review have been brought up in the past: there are suggestions that the process could lead to bias, and there has been large-scale controversy in the past over the lack of rigour at apparently peer-reviewed journals, as revealed by Science’s sting involving entirely fabricated articles accepted for publication last year. That’s not to mention the time and expense it adds to publishing new discoveries.
In this case, it’s quite telling that problems with the papers were first raised by the blogosphere, which represents something of a polar opposite to the closed, secretive process of traditional peer review. As we all know, anyone can say anything online—and sometimes that’s a good thing.
It’s especially a good thing if people have been reluctant to say anything for years (or decades), for basically ineffectual reasons, until finally Nobel Prize winners are, as Rob Sheldon noted here, dumping the journals:
Scientists can be just as irascible as the rest of us, so one irritated scientist is nothing new. But now there are whole communities that are estranged from the gatekeepers at Science and Nature. The brand is taking a major hit, and the bottom line is starting to get affected.
The alternative to peer review is likely to emerge from the Internet, not from closed meetings.