June 2, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Scientists Want to Toss Peer Review

It has been a criterion of science, but peer review is loaded with problems and probably should be replaced.

Two UK professors, writing in The Conversation, ask: if Einstein didn’t need or like peer review, why should we?  In many debates about the defining criteria of science, peer review is held up as a prerequisite.  But science got by just fine without it for centuries.  It’s a relatively recent invention, say Andre Spicer and Thomas Roulet in their essay.

Many of the core scientific discoveries were not peer reviewed to modern standards. For example, the publication of the foundational paper describing the double helical structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 would have been jeopardised in the context of the classic review system as we know it, because of its speculative nature.

At the prestigious journal Nature, the peer-review system was only formally introduced in 1967.

Spicer and Roulet tell about Einstein’s bad experiences with peer review, where his epochal papers almost got rejected.  They describe how current peer review processes, even in leading journals, are costly and time-consuming, often reject innovative papers yet allow poor work to get published.  It’s no guarantee of quality.  It’s time to try something new, they say:

Some, like Einstein before them, think that the peer-review system should be abandoned in favour of a “market of ideas” where the best research would naturally be identified by the crowd, hence reducing the cost of the review process. There are many potential dangers of these alternatives to peer review, the most obvious being expanded opportunities for “bad science” to masquerade as legitimate work. However, given the immense cost and frustrations associated with the peer-review process, we think it may be worth considering alternatives.

A mixed forum for discussion of research, with peer review being just one, “would have pleased Einstein,” they think.

This is for those critics of creation research that hold up peer review as the sine qua non of science.  What should matter is the evidence.  One maverick with the truth trumps a thousand members of the consensus.



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