The UnAustralian

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
The Peer Review System

At the heart of the modern scientific system is the peer review process. This is used as a method of quality control. Essentially, when a research wants to publish some research, they submit their work to a scientific journal, who forwards it on to several anonymous reviewers. These reviewers analysis the research, and make suggestions on whether or not it should be published. Assuming that the work is of good quality, the reviewers pass it, or suggest that the original researchers do some more work (as an example, a friend of mine recently submitted an article which contained some assumptions about the nature of the electronic interactions within a molecule - one reviewer suggested that one of the assumptions was fair from certain, and suggested a way which it could be tested - the overall effect was that the paper when published was considerably stronger than when it went in).

However, in controversial fields, peer review serves another purpose. It keeps crap out. Fields like evolutionary biology are constantly flooded with BS claims, such as evolution breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics. By insisting that a scientific article has a minimum standard (no adjusting scientific laws to suit ones arguments, conclusions must be consistent with data, etc etc), this sort of rubbish is consigned to where it belongs - on the internet.

Now, pesudoscientists, having discovered an insurmountable barrier to entry, generally adopt one of several responses. Some claim that peer review is censorship (cough... John Daly... cough), others create their own peer reviewed journals (cough... Journal of Creation... cough) and live off in fantasy land, and some simply troll message boards.

Just to be fair, it should be pointed out that some pesudoscientists have published in peer reviewed journals (the scientific sort). Robert Gentry comes to mind. However, these people are in very very short supply.

Overall, the peer review system is good for science. It does have it's faults. Most researchers have stories about their vital research being held up by reviewers from hell. However, this is a small price to pay for a efficient quality control technique.

| 8:36 PM