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Peer Review Process Cannot Be Agreed Upon By Peers


Some say that journals should be more open to controversial subjects, while their peers disagree. If these two groups were to start a peer reviewed journal consisting of what ought to comprise the peer review process, it would never get off the ground, due entirely to peer disagreement. In this case it is two people and their respective advisory boards that disagree. The journal Medical Hypotheses has an editor named Bruce G. Charlton, who consults, on occasion, an editorial advisory board as to what should be published in the journal and what shouldn’t. His point of view is that he is a chooser, not a changer, as to what journal entries are to be published. He doesn’t re-write the song after it’s been recorded, he only decided whether it should be played on the air. This isn’t satisfactory to Elsevier, who has asked Charlton to either resign immediately or implement a series of changes, including a traditional peer-review system, according to this article at The Scientist.com.

In addition to instituting a peer-review system, an external advisory board assembled by Elsevier also recommends that articles on controversial subjects, such as any that support racism, not be considered for publication.

The journal’s editor-in-chief Bruce Charlton told The Scientist that such changes are “vehemently opposed” by the editorial advisory board, as well as at least 150 scientists who have published in the journal.

Is the moral such that if you happen to find yourself in disagreement with an editorial advisory board, as Elsevier is, create your own advisory board to counteract them? It reminds me that expert witnesses are for hire on both sides of a court case. It’s indicative, really, of a narrowing of thought and research all too common in modern science, a certain tribalism and gang mentality.

Medical Hypotheses has been in hot water since earlier this year, after AIDS researchers complained about an article it ran by AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg. The journal currently aims to publish provocative papers, which are selected by Charlton.

Publishing provocative papers for the sake of being provocative doesn’t strike me as a sound policy (I am not saying this is what the journal indeed does), but neither does suppressing research findings in science, which is, by definition, an ongoing affair. I am not advocating for anything published in the journal, I am representing a story, the particular viewpoints of which go to the heart of a philosophical point of view regarding science and it’s publications:

But it does consist in its destroying the accepted, universal and proclaimed and popularised dogma: “You must accept the conclusions of science.” Scores and hundreds of times I have heard, through my youth and early manhood, the repetition of that ultimatum: “You must accept the conclusions of science.” And it is that notion or experience that has now been concluded; or rather excluded. Whatever else is questionable, there is henceforth no question of anybody “accepting” the conclusions of science. The new scientists themselves do not ask us to accept the conclusions of science. The new scientists themselves do not accept the conclusions of the new science. To do them justice, they deny vigorously that science has concluded; or that it has, in that sense, any conclusion. The finest intellects among them repeat, again and again, that science is inconclusive.

~G. K. Chesterton, The Well and The Shallows

1- Science is blind (there's that word again) to controversy 2- IMHO the best form of "peer-review" is to get your ideas out there for a wide audience to scrutinize- as opposed to some select few. 3- We may need more journals...Joseph
March 19, 2010
12:48 PM

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