Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Peer Reviews and Scientific Consensus

Within academia the gold standard for publication remains peer reviewed journals. Indeed, for many academics, it is the sole standard: so much so in some disciplines, that books (especially textbooks) and any other forms of publication (especially blogs), are discounted relative to peer-reviewed journal articles when decisions are made with respect to tenure, promotion and merit pay. Despite numerous examples of peer-review bias, failings and inaccuracy, the system often appears to be sacrosanct. It is within this context that this post is significant, especially as it profiles comments made by an eminent and well-seasoned academic.
As the review points out:
  • Personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion and a great deal of plain incompetence and irresponsibility are no strangers to the scientific world; indeed, that world is rife with these all-too-human attributes. In no event can peer review ensure that research is correct in its procedures or its conclusions.
  • Peer review, on which lay people place great weight, varies from important, where the editors and the referees are competent and responsible, to a complete farce, where they are not.
This does not mean that peer-reviewed journals should be abandoned, nor should they be disregarded. However, it does mean we should not place them on an unwarranted not uncritical pedestal, nor should we ignore the value that new media, such as blogs and on-line journals, have as alternative venues for intellectual discourse.