Day By Day

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority -- Peer Review at Lancet

From Tim Blair:

Whenever he mentioned Lancet’s previous MegaDeath survey from Iraq, John Pilger always stressed that the report had been peer-reviewed:

“ ... this rigorously peer-reviewed report ... ”

“ ... a peer-reviewed study published in the Lancet ... ”

“ ... a comprehensive peer-reviewed study in The Lancet ... ”

“ ... a peer-reviewed Anglo-American study, published in the British medical journal the Lancet ... ”

“ ... a peer-reviewed study in The Lancet ... ”

“ ... a Johns Hopkins Medical School study which was published and peer-reviewed in The Lancet ... ”

You get the picture; the study has been peer-reviewed, you proles! Don’t question it! Yet there are some who doubt the authority of peer review:

The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability—not the validity—of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.

A recent editorial in Nature was right to conclude that an over-reliance on peer-reviewed publication “has disadvantages that should be countered by adequate provision of time and resources for independent assessment and, in the midst of controversies, publicly funded agencies providing comprehensive, reliable and prompt complementary information."

Who is this peer-review heretic? Why, none other than Lancet editor Richard Horton.

(Via J.F. Beck, who has further Horton news. Also, please drop by the site of stats teacher Notropis, currently asking a few commonsense questions about the latest Lancet lunacy. Previous Lancet posts here, here, here, here, and here.)

Read the original post with comments here.

The peer review system as originally conceived was supposed to guarantee the quality of the work published. It no longer does and has not for several decades. The whole process can no longer be trusted.

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