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Matt Ridley: Peer Review Of Science Is A Deeply Tainted System

May 26, 2017

By Paul Homewood

From GWPF:


True, it was a low-grade, pay-to-publish journal of the kind that has proliferated recently as a money-making venture, but the authors were recommended to try that journal by a serious journal, and the peer review was genuine. As the authors have written of their own work: “We don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals.”

This happened last year, too, when Professor Mark Carey published an even more absurd paper arguing that “a critical but overlooked aspect of the human dimensions of glaciers and global change research is the relationship between gender and glaciers” and introducing “feminist glaciology”. In that case, however, the professor continues to insist, against all evidence, that he was serious. Science magazine gave him a lengthy, softball interview to justify his work after it was laughed at on the internet. I still think he’s a joker in deep cover.

Neither paper would have been published if it had not fitted the prejudices of much of academia: leftist, postmodern, relativist, feminist and moralising. “The academy is overrun by left-wing zealots preaching dangerous nonsense,” says Boghossian. “They’ve taught students to turn off their rational minds and become moral crusaders.”

As a system of ensuring quality in research, peer review is in deep trouble. It allows established academics to defend their pet ideas and reward their chums. Its one-sided anonymity, in which the referee retains his anonymity but the author does not, could hardly be better designed to ensure cronyism.

Worse, as a recent report by Donna Laframboise, a Canadian investigative journalist, concluded: “A journal’s decision to publish a paper provides no assurance that its conclusions are sound . . . Fraudulent research makes it past gatekeepers at even the most prestigious journals. While science is supposed to be self-correcting, the process by which this occurs is haphazard and byzantine.”

Peer review’s flaws now allow people with an axe to grind to dismiss even the most rigorous and careful of science along with the nonsense. It’s time for science, and the softer social sciences in particular, to get their house in order.

  1. Malcolm Bell permalink
    May 26, 2017 9:04 am

    This is just one dimension of something which has gone seriously wrong in our universities. In economics, physics, cosmology, evolution studies, climate studies, politics, history, medicine, law, we can see increasing growth of “opiniom” and “authority” which link powerfully to political agendas which have centralist concepts at heart.

    “Right or wrong, just learn and implement this and we will ensure tou always get the money – or else”.

    We may be in deep trouble. We are in the hands of the university cartels who have established themselves as the only, absolutely the only, true source of fact and wisdom. They are the exclusive “go to” for advice and guidance for government. Consequently they are steadily becoming the source of the lethal cultural revolution that has got us into such a mess with economics, climate change, the EU and population.

    • Athelstan permalink
      May 26, 2017 10:16 am

      two schools of thought one and the same; Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School.

      And liars usually are bent on statistics.

    • May 26, 2017 12:33 pm

      I consider that when we took the “Ten Commandments” off the American school walls and forbid them from those hallowed halls, we were demanding the opposite. Those who wanted that have obtained their desires.

      It is now “reasonable” to lie, cheat, steal, etc. Not only are there precious few consequences, but you may receive accolades from like-minded colleagues. Dare I say “peer reviewers?”

      Integrity and moral behavior need to be reintroduced into society, especially academia.

    • Tim Hammond permalink
      May 26, 2017 1:36 pm

      I wouldn’t blame just academia. The problem is that governments, companies and others go to groups that they believe “represent” or can articulate the views they need to consider.

      In the vast majority of cases, those groups are self-appointed and extreme.

      Recently i worked with a large business that was thinking about diversity issues (of course) and was taking advice from a tiny little campaigning outfit, obsessed with micro-aggression. As a result, this business sent out emails that effectively called everybody unconscious (or worse) racists,

      Oxford University has recently sent out the same sort of stuff, based on the views of a tiny minority of fanatical but deluded people.

      • Malcolm Bell permalink
        May 26, 2017 6:42 pm

        I rest my case. QED

  2. Bitter&twisted permalink
    May 26, 2017 10:13 am

    This junk got through peer review? Unbelievable.

    I submitted a paper to a (reasonably reputable) medical journal just under 2 months ago, Got the reply back yesterday.

    Reviewer 1 was full of praise “I think it is a well conducted study and the results are interesting”.
    Reviewer 2 was less charitable “Although these data are interesting, there are several concerns that preclude acceptance at this point”.
    Basically I now have to tick a load of (largely irrelevant) boxes- my main concern is that by answering this nit-picking it will be very difficult to remain within the very tight word limit.

    But hey this is not climate or social “science”, so it is not “pal” review, nor can I stuff it full of post-modern, discursive, dialectical bulls*** and get a “free-pass”. Therein lies the difference.

  3. dearieme permalink
    May 26, 2017 10:37 am

    Donna Laframboise: what a lovely name. I’m glad she’s on the side of the angels.

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      May 26, 2017 2:39 pm

      Give the raspberry? Hmm. Things often sound better in French 🙂

  4. Dung permalink
    May 26, 2017 11:02 am

    The book ‘The Delinquent Teenager’ by Donna is a riveting demolition job on the IPCC ^.^

  5. Gerry, England permalink
    May 26, 2017 1:10 pm

    I must admit I used to think that peer review was a full review of the paper including checking the method, data and results. Through the global warming scam I have learnt that it amounts to no more than a glance through in their spare time of no more than an hour or so. Of course since code and data are often hidden – in contravention of journal policy in many cases – you couldn’t check properly anyway. Look at the fight McIntyre & McKitrick had with Mann and the ‘hookey stick’. And that’s before we get to pal review.

  6. Tim Hammond permalink
    May 26, 2017 1:31 pm

    Perhaps the funniest and most extraordinary thing about this paper is that a number of people are defending it!

    According to some, its conclusions are correct even though the methodology is somewhat suspect…

    Check out the Twitter account of one of the authors:

    In other words, we already know the truth, we just need to find a way to prove it. Of course that has pretty much always been the case in the social sciences, sad to see it becoming normal in other sciences now.

  7. Broadlands permalink
    May 26, 2017 1:34 pm

    The direction that science is taking is worrisome. Peer-review has always been subject to biases, especially with a controversial topic, but when some editors say that they won’t even consider “skeptical” evidence the problem is severe? A partial solution might be that the names of the referees be made public…after editorial acceptance or rejection. It is just too easy to hide behind certain anonymity and throw out “faint praise” but recommend rejection.

  8. Roger Graves permalink
    May 26, 2017 1:37 pm

    Peer review is no indication that your paper has been read, let alone understood. But this is nothing new.

    Many years ago, working for the Marconi Company (of blessed memory), we once developed a sentence generator, consisting of four columns of suitable technical phrases, with words such as ‘digital’, ‘phase-space’, and ‘waveform’ in them. We then hooked up a random number generator to it and churned out a thousand words or so of completely meaningless garbage, which we then submitted as a bona fide technical report. What still worries me to this day is that nobody said a word; there was no reaction to it whatsoever. The only conclusion I could gather is that most technical reports were briefly scanned, if at all, then filed and forgotten.

    Perhaps the same thing applies to technical journals nowadays. Journals are intended as write-only memory. One gains prestige and advances towards tenure by publishing papers, but no-one expects that anyone is going to read the damn things.

  9. Dung permalink
    May 26, 2017 6:40 pm

    People do not seem to realise that only scientific THEORIES need peer review, they are reviewed because they are not proven. A theory that has been tested by experiment or real world observation and found to be correct stands as scientific FACT

  10. May 29, 2017 12:05 pm

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

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