Is the peer-review system objective and reliable?

When I argue, if what I am arguing can be supported by peer-reviewed literature, then I always appeal to peer-reviewed literature. But there are problems coming out with this system.

Look at this article from Evolution News.

Excerpt:

Darwinists have had to back off considerably from the once-confident assertion that peer review in science journals constitutes, as Jerry Coyne put it in 2005 in The New Republic, the “gold standard for modern scientific achievement.” The whole institution of peer review is so besmirched now as to arouse, not even amusement anymore, but something more like pity.

In the same article, Coyne maintained that it was precisely by “By that standard” that advocates of the theory of intelligent design “have failed miserably.” You mean by the standard of what is now revealed as the intellectual and scientific equivalent of insider trading? Or more like racketeering and simple fraud.

The existence of a blog like Retraction Watch is, in this respect, a sign of the times, a measure of the extent to which science publishing has fallen into derision. Their post from a couple of days ago, on a “peer review and citation ring at the Journal of Vibration and Control,” has been widely reported, including the retraction of 60 papers from that journal. Sixty!

“This one deserves a ‘wow,'” observes author Ivan Oransky. Indeed. The cat is really out of the bag.

Slate:

It may not be entirely fair to liken a “peer review and citation ring” to the academic version of an extortion ring, but there’s certainly fraud involved in both. Retraction Watch, a blog dedicated to chronicling which academic papers have been withdrawn, is reporting that SAGE Publishing, a group that puts out numerous peer-reviewed journals, is retracting 60 papers from its Journal of Vibration and Control after an internal investigation uncovered extensive evidence of severe peer-review fraud.

Apparently researcher Peter Chen, formerly of National Pingtung University of Education in Taiwan, made multiple submission and reviewer accounts — possibly along with other researchers at his institution or elsewhere — so that he could influence the peer review system. When Chen or someone else from the ring submitted a paper, the group could manipulate who reviewed the research, and on at least one occasion Chen served as his own reviewer.

Previously, I blogged about the problems in the peer-review process, linking to an article from The Economist and to a podcast featuring Tulane University physicist Frank Tipler.

I’m still going to argue peer-reviewed evidence if I have it, but if some is used against me, I’ll have to take a closer look.

5 thoughts on “Is the peer-review system objective and reliable?”

  1. This is just one of the problems with the modern peer-review process. Peer-review is a very helpful process, when done right. However, peer-review is ONLY a very basic screening process designed to eliminate obvious baloney and poor experimental design.

    Contrary to popular belief, peer-review does NOT mean that another researcher has verified the results of a study, that the results of the study are accurate, or that the conclusions of the researcher(s) are valid. It only tells us that a couple other people in the same field don’t smell anything fishy about it. And that’s when it’s done well.

    When it isn’t done well, those “other researchers in the field” may be fictional, biased, scratching each other’s backs, or poor judges of another person’s work. It happens. A lot. In fact, it’s well known that if you want to be published, simply do what other people in the field do and cite them a lot. And you probably want to suggest your friends and those you cite often as reviewers. They will review your paper positively if you have good things to say about their work. It’s politics, pure and simple. What we need is a revamp of the peer-review process to make it harder for this kind of politics and fraud to go on.

    It’s also important to make it known that the current peer-review process has its limitations and problems and that being peer-reviewed does not mean an article is necessarily true. It should be evaluated on its own merits, just like any other idea.

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  2. Working in a research institution, it is not uncommon to hear of articles simply to have been given a “rubber stamp” it based on past experience with the author, but sometimes there is a political/ideological drive behind it.

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  3. Peer review is at best a slender reed, and at worst is a career development racket. What we need is to demote all published papers until they are confirmed by another scientist’s published paper.

    Replication of results is a lot more compelling.

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  4. I’ve had “peer review” and “citation index” (I believe the second is the right term) by a particular lefty used against me as a bludgeon, as if citing either means his position is gospel truth. So, I looked up both terms on, of all places, Wikipedia, and even at that site both were described as less than reliable and heavily politicized. It is next to impossible to get a good review if one’s research yields results that conflict with the current consensus opinion. Worse, one’s research may be reviewed by a leading proponent of the leading theory at the time. Imagine how that proponent might review work that possibly exposes his own as wrong.

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