The peer review drugs don’t work [Faith Based Science]

The peer review drugs don’t work by Richard Smith.

From the post:

It is paradoxical and ironic that peer review, a process at the heart of science, is based on faith not evidence.

There is evidence on peer review, but few scientists and scientific editors seem to know of it – and what it shows is that the process has little if any benefit and lots of flaws.

Peer review is supposed to be the quality assurance system for science, weeding out the scientifically unreliable and reassuring readers of journals that they can trust what they are reading. In reality, however, it is ineffective, largely a lottery, anti-innovatory, slow, expensive, wasteful of scientific time, inefficient, easily abused, prone to bias, unable to detect fraud and irrelevant.

As Drummond Rennie, the founder of the annual International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, says, “If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market.”

Cochrane reviews, which gather systematically all available evidence, are the highest form of scientific evidence. A 2007 Cochrane review of peer review for journals concludes: “At present, little empirical evidence is available to support the use of editorial peer review as a mechanism to ensure quality of biomedical research.”

We can see before our eyes that peer review doesn’t work because most of what is published in scientific journals is plain wrong. The most cited paper in Plos Medicine, which was written by Stanford University’s John Ioannidis, shows that most published research findings are false. Studies by Ioannidis and others find that studies published in “top journals” are the most likely to be inaccurate. This is initially surprising, but it is to be expected as the “top journals” select studies that are new and sexy rather than reliable. A series published in The Lancet in 2014 has shown that 85 per cent of medical research is wasted because of poor methods, bias and poor quality control. A study in Nature showed that more than 85 per cent of preclinical studies could not be replicated, the acid test in science.

I used to be the editor of the BMJ, and we conducted our own research into peer review. In one study we inserted eight errors into a 600 word paper and sent it 300 reviewers. None of them spotted more than five errors, and a fifth didn’t detect any. The median number spotted was two. These studies have been repeated many times with the same result. Other studies have shown that if reviewers are asked whether a study should be published there is little more agreement than would be expected by chance.

As you might expect, the humanities are lagging far behind the sciences in acknowledging that peer review is an exercise in social status rather than quality:


One of the changes I want to highlight is the way that “peer review” has evolved fairly quietly during the expansion of digital scholarship and pedagogy. Even though some scholars, such as Kathleen Fitzpatrick, are addressing the need for new models of peer review, recognition of the ways that this process has already been transformed in the digital realm remains limited. The 2010 Center for Studies in Higher Education (hereafter cited as Berkeley Report) comments astutely on the conventional role of peer review in the academy:

Among the reasons peer review persists to such a degree in the academy is that, when tied to the venue of a publication, it is an efficient indicator of the quality, relevance, and likely impact of a piece of scholarship. Peer review strongly influences reputation and opportunities. (Harley, et al 21)

These observations, like many of those presented in this document, contain considerable wisdom. Nevertheless, our understanding of peer review could use some reconsideration in light of the distinctive qualities and conditions associated with digital humanities.
…(Living in a Digital World: Rethinking Peer Review, Collaboration, and Open Access by Sheila Cavanagh.)

Can you think of another area where something akin to peer review is being touted?

What about internal guidelines of the CIA, NSA, FBI and secret courts reviewing actions by those agencies?

How do those differ from peer review, which is an acknowledged failure in science and should be acknowledged in the humanities?

They are quite similar in the sense that some secret group is empowered to make decisions that impact others and members of those groups, don’t want to relinquish those powers. Surprise, surprise.

Peer review should be scrapped across the board and replaced by tracked replication and use by others, both in the sciences and the humanities.

Government decisions should be open to review by all its citizens and not just a privileged few.

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