Peer Review Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Our writers have noted before that “peer review” does nothing but politically enforce groupthink about global warming and other topics. Often it helps superstition masquerade as science. We’re not the only ones who see “peer review” as a source of false confidence.

According to The Telegraph: “Scientific peer reviews are a ‘sacred cow’ ready to be slaughtered, says former editor of BMJ.”

The peer review process – long considered the gold standard of quality scientific research – is a “sacred cow” that should be slaughtered, the former editor of one of the country’s leading medical journals has said.

Richard Smith, who edited the British Medical Journal for more than a decade, said there was no evidence that peer review was a good method of detecting errors and claimed that “most of what is published in journals is just plain wrong or nonsense”.

Research papers considered for scientific and medical journals undergo a process of scrutiny by experts before they can be published. Hundreds of thousands of new studies are published around the world every year, and the peer review process exists to ensure that readers can have confidence that published findings are scientifically sound.

But Dr Smith said pre-publication peer review was slow, expensive and, perhaps ironically, lacking in evidence that it actually works in its chief goal of spotting errors.

Speaking at a Royal Society event earlier this week, he said an experiment conducted during his time at the BMJ, in which eight deliberate errors were included in a short paper sent to 300 reviewers, had exposed how easily the peer review process could fail.

“No-one found more than five, the median was two, and 20 per cent didn’t spot any,” he was quoted as saying by Times Higher Education. “If peer review was a drug it would never get on the market because we have lots of evidence of its adverse effects and don’t have evidence of its benefit.”

He said the process of peer review before publication could also work against innovative papers, was open to abuse, and should be done away with in favour of “the real peer review” of the wider scientific community post-publication.

This article was published earlier this year, but I had missed it when it first appeared. It is an important document to share with others who are intimidated by the rhetoric of “settled science.”