Peer review and false science

Nihil obstat, Imprimatur and index of forbidden books

 

Peer review often makes me think about what was common in my small catholic country in my catholic youth.

Some experts at the bishop’s office decided what might be published or read.

I found a document written by Pr.Dr. Cornelia Oertle Bürkl of the Berner Fachhochschule, unfornately in German. I translated a few excerpts 

 

»Falsifications, Freedom and Objectivity in Research »

 

The 21st century is probably going to enter history as the century of falsifications

Even the elitist ETH of Zürich had to digest in 2009 a research, peer reviewed paper, which was based on fake chemical data.

The reasons for these deviations are multiple: not only the « publish or perish » pressure, but mainly the fact that it Germany to-day 70% of research is sponsored by industry. This is to walk on a sharp ridge: how to maintain freedom and integrity when the sponsor expects results which are in his interest. Matthew and Luke said 2000 years ago: „No one can serve two masters“. And Max Weber 100 years ago: » Facts are more important than interests ».

 

There is also the blog entry of Bart Knols on MalariaWorld of 4 June 2013

List of Predatory Open Access Publishers 

“As long as there is much money to be made in academic publishing we will continue to see an increase of these misleading claims that look good but are all geared towards one thing: money”. Who is in charge of peer review in these journals where you have to pay large amounts for the publication of your paper?

And there is also the famous book of Federico Di Trocchio

 

“Le Bugie della Scienza” (The big Swindle in Science)

 

Again the translation of a few excerpts: “ The history of Galileo is well known, but it is less known that the Nazis rejected Einstein’s relativity theory and replaced it by a “ Deutsche Physik”, that Stalin promoted the biology of Lyssenko to a creed,

It has become vital for the manager of an academic research laboratory to-day to do a lot of PR-work to find sponsors, be it from industry or his own government. He knows that a few key words in a research project can open the doors: climate change, sustainability, future generations, toxic health effects, even for innocuous molecules.

The origin of this corrupted research system started in the US. It may have led to some major breakthroughs in science, but it also led to obedience. Creativity is stifled.

Peer reviewers are recruited from this school: they too often are mercenaries.”

They leave little chance to young research teams from the South to see their papers published in glorious Journals from the North.

 

Why do many people prefer their paper to be peer reviewed?

The new work is submitted to what amounts to a committee of people who are (at least presumed to be) eminent in the field.

The trouble is that the reviewers, being eminent in the field, are by definition wedded to whatever the conventional wisdom may be on that subject. Anything new or startling, especially if it contradicts the current “consensus”, is virtually certain to be rejected. Peer review only partially fulfills the requirement for questions and critics from the rest of the scientific community. Scientists abdicate their responsibility to examine and attempt to disprove discoveries in favor of turning over to gatekeepers who ensure that nobody rocks the boat. It’s particularly pernicious when funding is involved. A bureaucrat charged with deciding who gets the money for experiments is unlikely to be deeply knowledgeable about the field, and must therefore play it safe by going with what the reviewers say is reasonable. It means, ultimately, that the pace of scientific discovery is slowed to a crawl.

So it is, today, with “climate science”. There does exist a consensus — that the Earth is warming, that the result of the warming will be disastrous, and that human activities are responsible for it — and contrary views or assertions are savagely attacked as “denialist“. While “researchers” who echo the Conventional Wisdom are allowed to conceal or even destroy data that might contradict their thesis.  In peer reviewed papers!

Let’s hope that what happened to Climate Science will not happen to Malaria Science.

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