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A Flawed Process Is At The Heart of Science and Journal Publications

Editor, Prevent Disease
Waking Times

Peer review is at the heart of the processes of not just medical journals but of all of science. It is the method by which grants are allocated, papers published, academics promoted, and Nobel prizes won. It has allowed government agencies to approve untold numbers of drugs and vaccines, or rubber stamp thousands of chemicals as safe. It has until recently been unstudied. And its defects are easier to identify than its attributes. Yet it shows no sign of going away.

When something is peer reviewed it is in some sense blessed. Even journalists recognize this. When the BMJ published a highly controversial paper that argued that a new ‘disease’, female sexual dysfunction, was in some ways being created by pharmaceutical companies, a friend who is a journalist was very excited–not least because reporting it gave him a chance to get sex onto the front page of a highly respectable but somewhat priggish newspaper (the Financial Times). ‘But,’ the news editor wanted to know, ‘was this paper peer reviewed?’. The implication was that if it had been it was good enough for the front page and if it had not been it was not.

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Scientific process,

peer review, and separation of powers are all valuable concepts, but it takes a certain amount of honesty, a certain amount of not being given to dishonest gain, for the whole ball of wax to work. We the people don't seem to have that certain amount of either, anymore, which is why our good system isn't working.

Peer review has its flaws

But what is the alternative ? Someone has to decide what goes into a Journal or what grants to fund. An editor or program director can't do that themselves.

Social media and the internet can offer community review, like wikipedia or Kuro5hin, but that has problems as well, and with academics probably wouldn't work because reviewing is something that alot of people do not have much time for.

As someone who is involved in academics, I don't think it really matters, since most people that participate want to "assume the position" and are in the business of making their peers happy. Almost all the academic literature are papers that are in agreement with the status quo, and have some other small bit of proof, and are competing for who says "I agree" the most elegantly.

The few that are less willing to please have a hard road, and better get ready for alot of rejection.


Your comment,

"Someone has to decide what goes into a Journal or what grants to fund,"

seems to assume that funds will be coercively taken and reallocated. Is such theft acceptable? I think you know very well that if individuals decided what to do with their own resources generated from their own labor (which are part of their life---that is to say, if we were able to exercise our right to life), then these journals would not exist as they do because the resources would not be poured into them, and our lives of leisure as academics would not exist either. We would be forced to produce something to feed ourselves instead of just living off the dole.

As it stands, anyone who actually works to support himself and this evil system is a fool. At least it is an unsustainable system which will probably come to an end at some point.

If you were an entrepreneur

And wanted to put your money to work, by funding scientific, social or artistic development, how would you do it ? - You would probably hire experts to help you decide what to fund. If you sold a journal, you would want experts to help you decide the best articles to put in your Journal, to increase the sales as much as possible - this is essentially where the peer review system comes from. Its true, that with the addition of government money, the system gets distorted, and leads to alot of junk - the result of moral hazard.

But there is a place for academics for education and research in a free market. Its just so distorted by Government funding - which BTW is a huge subsidy for the private sector (science funding) and is a tremendous propaganda tool (social sciences)

But even without government funding, academics would exist, just be alot smaller and more efficient.

The Article makes some good points.

The idea of peer review is that it provides some sort of measure of safety. It also provides a Procrustean Bed for ideas, such that non-conforming ideas are cut off, and reviewers force authors to stretch papers to meet standards of conformity.

As one who has some connections to the world of academia, I can tell you that papers are rejected for the most ridiculous of reasons, and some times researchers will gang up on someone they want to punish and make sure that their papers get rejected just by making a phone call. I have published papers, edited papers for others, answered reviewers, and I have even reviewed papers and rejected some.

Some papers are poorly written and half-baked, half-assed, and such need to be rejected.

On the other hand there is much intellectual dishonesty in academic circles and the academic mainstream is often realistically compared to a open sewer. Indeed I have suggested that rejected papers should be published online with the permission of the author.

The reader should beware of everything he reads.

Laozi said:
The highest good is like water.
It flows in places that are rejected by men,
and so is like the true way.

Fortunately some good does make it through the academic system but I would say that it is true that the great mass of what is published in journals is either pure crap or adulterated crap. It will get worse and worse as the evil administrators of academic evil force graduate students to publish papers in order to get their degrees.
The grad student will often be forced to assume the position on his knees and disgustingly fellate the status quo thinking of the academic powers that be.

There are a quite few good students and quite few good professors who are not felching Baal, but there are many that do, because they want to be successful. I was told flatly that if I wanted to be successful I would need to learn how to lie. Not all of the lying bastards get caught. Most dont because they are smart enough not to get outside the boundaries of accepted thinking. Some guy who made up tonnes of data on VIOXX was unlucky and got burned badly. It's sort of unfortunate. Actually Vioxx was a pretty good drug but overprescribed. All pain killers are controlled poisonings. So are cannabis and alcohol poisons, my libertarian and anarchist friends. Your body can tolerate some poisons. Plant products contain a multitude of toxicants. Broccoli is good for you because it contains a toxicant that strengthens your enzyme systems.

I have read thousands of research papers. I have read the abstracts of perhaps 100 papers today and read some 20 or so in detail, and have singled out a half a dozen or so to share with co-workers. I am not in academia per se anymore but research papers are a resource for us.