Peer Evil – the rotten business model of modern science

Guest essay by Abzats.

The most exciting period in science was, arguably, 1895-1945. It was marked by discoveries that changed the foundations of modern science: X-rays, quantum mechanics, superconductivity, relativity theory and nuclear energy. Then, compare this with the next 50 years in science. Incomparable. Nothing of that scale or impact. Yes, technology has advanced, but fundamental science – has come to a crawl. Have you ever wondered why? What changed as the 20th century grew older? Among other things, research budgets and the number of PhDs increased exponentially. This cannot be bad.

Well, it can. All depends on the rules of the game. And they have changed. The change went largely unnoticed by the general public. In this article I will try to bring everyone up to speed. I will explain to non-scientists the “business model” of modern science. People may want to know. After all, scientists are burning public money, billions a year. And, I am quite sure, those who get my message will react with “you cannot be serious!” And leaders of organized crime will be pulling their hair out in despair: “why did not we think of this first?”

Single most important element of the modern science machinery is the peer review process. It was introduced a long time ago, but it took over the scientific community at about mid 20th century. Why is it important? Every scientist must publish his or her work. If you do not publish, you will not advance your career. This works the same way as it does, say, for a businessman – if you cannot close a single deal, you are finished. Most journals have adopted peer review policies. Peer review process is also standard for research grants competitions. It is also the foundation of the tenure and promotion process at universities.

Well then, what is it exactly? To save time, let me explain peer review of papers submitted for publication in scientific journals. Once a journal receives a manuscript the journal sends it to 2-3 reviewers, who are experts in the field. Each reviewer writes a report that includes a recommendation on whether or not the manuscript should be published and advice to the author on how the manuscript can be improved. So far so good. Nothing seems wrong. This should work wonderfully. Well, in theory only. In reality it does not. In reality it is more of a disaster.

Let me explain. All the reviewers are anonymous. That is, they know your name but you do not know theirs. This is the first red flag: unless you plan to do something really bad, why do you insists being anonymous? The second red flag is that none of them gets paid. Those who believe in Santa Claus will say, well, they are just nice people volunteering their time to help advance science. Those who work for a living will smell a rat. I can give you one reason: being a reviewer gives you power over other people. Some just enjoy it, others use it to advance their own agenda. Such as approve manuscripts that praise reviewer’s own research and reject those that criticize it.

The power reviewers have is enormous. Put yourself in author’s shoes. You worked hard for six months on a manuscript. Your work is brilliant, if you publish it, not only will you advance your career, it will make you a leader in the field. Then, the manuscript goes to a reviewer who just happens to be having a bad day. He browses through the manuscript for 20-30 minutes, does not like the name of the author (never heard of him, “wrong” ethnicity, or … whatever), and rejects the paper. Can you appeal? No. You can write an angry letter, but you cannot call your attorney. Because nobody is breaking the law. because there isn’t any.

They can ruin your career and drive research, often funded by the public, to a dead end, and they are not accountable to anyone. In such a system, for most scientists the best, or should I say the only, way to advance their careers is by kissing up to those in higher positions: in person, in manuscripts, and in the whole research strategy. This has been going on for decades. As a result of this “natural selection”, the scientific community has been consumed by cronyism. Parts of it are rotten to the core.

Let me give you one example. Last year I attended a Radiation Research Society meeting. It was held in Maui, Hawaii. Why? Obviously it is a great spot for a vacation. You will not find any major research centers in the neighborhood. If you are still thinking of defending this choice, get this – the conference was held at the Grand Wailea Resort. The thing about this place is that luxury here is obscene. It is a kind of place a bum would go to after winning a lottery. And, guess what, I believe I have seen a few. Never before had I seen an invited speaker at a major conference making bodily function jokes. Here I had seen more than one, including a recipient of a lifetime achievement award spelling a word for body waste and thinking it was funny. Do not get me wrong, I am not judging here. But, if he jokes at a preschooler level, would you trust him to be a reviewer of your work? Do I need to mention who paid for the event? Or, that it took place during the worst economic crisis in decades?

A couple of other problems. Reviewers have no real motivation to work fast. Here is what you would see when checking status of your manuscript on a journal’s web site: manuscript to referee, unable to report – sent to another referee, and so on, several times, for weeks and months. Nonsense. With all the technology available, a manuscript can be published within hours. But, no, it has to sit for weeks on somebody’s desk. Somebody who just does not care enough. Or, worse, someone who is interested in delaying the process. The reviewer may be working on exactly the same problem and wants his paper published first.

Another problem that extremely frustrates me as an author are suggestions reviewers make on how I should improve my manuscript. Originally, may be, it was a good idea – your peers offering you advice that will help you improve your work. But it all has gone very wrong. These days these are not suggestions or advice – these are demands. You change your manuscript exactly as you are told, or it will be rejected. I am a well established scientist, why do I have to take advice from someone who would not even reveal his identity or credentials? And, finally, this system is perfect for stealing ideas. After you submit your manuscript you have no control of who will access it. All you can hope for is human decency, and it is not always there.

This brings us to the root of the problem. People, including scientists, are flawed. Few will miss a chance to stab competition in the back and abuse whatever little power they may have. I am not the first to criticize the peer review process. But I am not. Criticizing implies it can be fixed. It cannot. It was a bad idea all along. Then, what can be done? There is no quick and easy solution.

But I know where to start – ban peer review. And I know this can be done, this nonsense can be dealt with. This is not brain surgery, this is all about leveling the playing field, making rules for fair and open competition. These problems have been solved in all other spheres. Only scientists for whatever bizarre reasons received a special treatment and the right to live in lawlessness. Which is so wrong, I cannot find words to describe. Science is one most important sphere of human activity.

Who will find cure from cancer? Who will prevent the planet from becoming uninhabitable? Scientists. Not those from the beaches of Grand Wailea. Real ones. I hope we can still find some and reverse, before it’s too late, the depletion of brains. Let’s get started. Ban peer review!

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158 thoughts on “Peer Evil – the rotten business model of modern science

  1. Interesting essay. Clearly, an overhaul of the process is in order. Is the scientific community up to it?

    Kurt in Switzerland

  2. Rubbish. Wrong, wrong, wrong, Mr Abzats. I recommend this essay is completely re-written to state “peer review is brilliant and should remain anonymous” in order to make it fit for publication.

  3. I don’t think its that simple. If there is no peer review, how can you prevent creationists and people with a perverse agenda, such as promoters of fake medical treatments, from flooding credible journals with junk science? I agree the current system is broken, but I don’t see how having no system is a viable replacement.

  4. I’m not sure that Crick and Watson, and those who came after them in molecular biology, would agree that nothing occurred after 1945!

  5. It’s possibly an extension of the Yes Minister tv show approach from the 70s & 80s. I’ve voiced this here in the past. Two top civil servants are discussing a new potential government appointee t head up a new government department, over an slap up lunch of course, (at taxpayers expense). The new candidate must be knowledgeable in his/her field. They must of course be sound. They must of course be dynamic. The must of course have leadership, team players, etc. Finally, hay must be sympathetic to the guvments views on …………..! Fill in whatever you wish. The rot starts from the top down, always does! That’s how it works in the UK. The job frequently goes with a gong, usually a knighthood/Damehood, all Guvment Chief Scientists/Medical Advisors et al, all get them as part of the job description.

  6. Eric – surely the point is that the current method does not prevent junk science from flooding the journals. In fact, it appears to give it credence due to the “pal-review” process it has gone through. Allowing papers to be published un-censored would open the thinking up to a far wider, and possibly smarter, audience, rather than an elite few with the power to control the dissemination of words and thoughts.

  7. The essentials of this article are exactly correct. The poop jokes are a bit unfair, but the peer review process is completely broken and used by the reviewers to push personal theories and agendas. Unfortunately, the article misses the other corrupt part wherein funding is driven by those same powerful reviewers on editorial boards.

  8. You havent proposed a system to replace it.

    Might I suggest reforming it. ?

    I would also add that in some instances, scientists also control access to equipment and data to begin with, and if you don’t get that access, for whatever reason, you can’t even write something to begin with, let alone publish it. But access to equipment and data should be mandatory, I have seen instances where this does not happen, for all the wrong reasons.

    And also, even if you have access, they also may control who gets interviews and invited to jobs. Guess what happens if you aren’t like them, or liked by them, for whatever reason?

    I would actually agree that this sort of rotteness crosses over to criminal at times, the only way to improve such as system is to introduce mandatory reforms and standards, I don’t see any other way.

  9. “But I know where to start – ban peer review.”
    =============
    To replaced by………what?
    Consensus ?

    How about “ban” press releases ?
    It might slow down some of the stupid policy decisions being made.
    The operative word being “stupid”.

  10. I’d say the whole grants system is at least a big a problem. Rife with cronyism, political correctness and highly politicized.

    But I agree anonymous peer review also stinks. A better system would be provisional publication on the internet with comments. Which gives the authors the chance to amend, and journal editors the opportunity to decide if the paper is good enough to go forward to formal publication and be a referenced paper.

    With the incidental benefit of reducing the amount of vague and ambiguous writing in scientific papers.

  11. A somewhat one sided perspective. I have worked for two journals and published many papers and I have to say that I have never found it to be that way.

  12. I agree – get rid of peer review. Sure there may be other problems crop up, but it cannot be worse than it is now with false science, stab-‘em-in-the-back mentality and every scientist frightened to speak his or her mind until after retirement! It has led to exactly this situation with the greens screaming CAGW and barely a soul on the premises willing to stand up and refute them.

    Not having a perfect solution doesn’t mean having to put up with what is clearly a massive problem.

    Get rid of the big problem, then sort things out from there.

    It might be worth ditching a few of those scientific associations, academies, whatever, while you’re at it. If it’s corrupted, get rid of it. step away from it, start over. The cancer that has invaded science has become terminal. Sooner or later individuals are going to have to make a choice, for one side or the other, and not pretend to be invisible, hoping the maniacs will go away. They won’t. Any scientist pretending it’s not their problem, know this: That’s part of the problem!

    Start fresh. Start with integrity and true science will follow. Not only that, but true scientists will be thrilled to find a clean establishment to get on with science. If scientists don’t do this, there’s no one who will.

  13. Unsubstantiated, speculative, poorly researched, poorly thought through. Joe public blogging at it’s worst.
    Current “fundamental science” is doing just fine. It’s recently confirmed the last piece of the standard model puzzle, a rover is working away zapping rocks on Mars to figure out if it once harboured atmosphere, water and life. Medical science is delving deeper into the neurological mysteries of the brain, complete genome sequencing is now possible, we’re now detecting planetary systems around other stars, learning more about black holes, dark energy, dark matter, everyone has a GPS enabled , mini computer/phone in their pocket.

    Bets of all, the claims in the story are backed up by….an anecdotal story of someone once telling a fart joke at a conference. Please.

  14. Peer review – or pal review, as it is better known in alarmist ‘climate science’ – is essentially the way the Establishment keeps their version of science orthodoxy in place.

    New idea, interpretations and concepts are frowned upon, treated as heresy, and usually rejected, which is the reason so few sceptical research papers get published.

    It is very much like the way Holy Mother Church used to act back in the 15-17th centuries.

  15. People tend to forget that government funding of research is itself a new thing – and a bad business model. It is nearly impossible for government bureaucrats to lose their jobs, no matter how inept they may be. There’s next to no negative feedback in the system to “keep it on track.”

  16. Its hard to see an alternative without a degree of peer review since only those knowledgable in a field can really assess a paper. And the possibilities for abuse and cronyism are always inherent in peer review. Its a grass-roots problem and there may be some – maybe partial – grass-roots solutions:

    – Scientists could publish online the review correspondence from their papers for all to see – as well as free download of the pdf.

    – Boycott Elsevier, Wiley, and the other big publishers who paywall their papers. These companies get 99% of their funding from tax-funded research but cream off fat profit. They can maintain reviewer anonymity behind a smokescreen of corporate legalese, the model suits them well.

    – Publish in Open journals with free pdf download, from journals that are linked to publicly funded organisations (subject to FOIA).

    – Then use the FOIA to demand transparency, reviewers should be identified

    – Better yet, actively create open journals where all review correspondence is published along with the paper, with all reviewers identified, so all the world can read the review correspondence.

    – Look also at the model of a journal like Nature which has full time salaried reviewers. These professional reviewers are not so subject to conflicts of interest like finding a competitor’s paper in front of them for review.

  17. Chris M.

    Eric – surely the point is that the current method does not prevent junk science from flooding the journals. In fact, it appears to give it credence due to the “pal-review” process it has gone through. Allowing papers to be published un-censored would open the thinking up to a far wider, and possibly smarter, audience, rather than an elite few with the power to control the dissemination of words and thoughts.

    I’m not denying the faults of the current system. My concern is removing all filters will leave the field wide open to purveyors of trash science. Like Wyatt Earp once said, the one thing that is worse than a bad sheriff is no sheriff.

    I think a better solution might be to encourage an evolution of journals. Let journals figure out their own filtering strategies. Scientists will select journals which have the better signal to noise ratio. Scientists who are dissatisfied with all existing journals can start their own.

    Isn’t this more or less what WUWT represents? People (including scientists) who are dissatisfied with pal review, and have decided to give their time to other outlets?

  18. With web-based “journals”, the readers can search through the papers so it doesn’t matter how many papers get published so if their junky it doesn’t matter. Next should the BS of prestige and citations. As the presence in a prestigious journal or the idiot citation of a paper say the paper is any better than any other- duplication is the surest method of science. Journal based peer review is an anachronism- from a time when publishing had to produce paper documents.

  19. It is clear to many who care about the integrity of science that something has gone badly wrong. The club, the Team, the vested interests, whoever all play their part. The result is at best mediocrity. However, just plain wrong (as we have seen many times on this blog) can rule the day and grab the headlines: the damage is already done.

    Several years ago an observation was made that excess heat (excess being defined as at a level beyond what was possible from known chemical reactions) was generated in an electrochemical cell. The fact that this observation was made by one of the leading electrochemists of his time did not stop the vested interests from burying this line of enquiry.

    In a world where true science is pursued, this observation by such an eminent person should have sparked interest and enquiry. All that it did was to spark ad hominem attacks and statements from nuclear physicists that the observation was “not possible”. Experiments cobbled together in a few weeks “proved” that the observation was not true. The fact that the experiments leading up to the announcement had taken many years to refine did not come into the reckoning.

    24 years after the initial furore, many small groups of true scientists around the world are still investigating this phenomenon. While there is no agreed theory as to why excess heat is generated, there is no doubt that it is there. It has been independently measured too many times for it to be discounted by anyone other than a believer in the ”not possible” camp.

    There are many similarities between the anti-cold fusion camp and the warmists. The main one is to discount observation when it does not match theories, models, whatever. Another is the use of ad hominem attacks on those who dare to proffer an alternative point of view. The third is a main stream media so wedded to the status quo that it lacks the investigative zeal to look below the surface and recognise what is actually there. A fourth, possibly, is the hair shirt. No more fossil fuels, and all of the misery and deprivation that will cause, must be the way to save the planet. Put against that an energy source that could be cheap and carbon free. There is no sacrifice; the ACGW religion is without its foundation; it simply cannot be possible to save the planet that way.

    What a sad state of affairs.

  20. “X-rays, quantum mechanics, superconductivity, relativity theory and nuclear energy. Then, compare this with the next 50 years in science. Incomparable. Nothing of that scale or impact”

    These are things at the foundations of the known universe. As more [genuine] foundations are discovered, the supply of new ones dwindles. Yet the scientist still wants to be ‘the one’ to find an earth shaking discovery, the fundamental that is causal. You see where I’m going with this?

    The herd. Consensus. AGW. Notice that it is portrayed as earth-shaking. All-encompassing. Threatening…and the cause of everything from Buffalo Bunions to Dwarfism in Red-wattled Lapwings. And silently, behind the scenes, the stars of the show apply their ad hominem methods to cull the doubters, the free thinkers, the DISCOVERERS…while shepherding snidely mirthsome groups of sycophants and hockey-stick yes-men.

    Their false claims (nobel laureates) and facebook adulation (same guy) are gut-wrenchingly petty and shallow….pleas for attention from presidents and kings.

    Abolish it indeed.

  21. Its a mixed picture, in some scientific disciplines peer review works extremely well. It is corrupted in fields that are subject to a political mandate to promote a falsehood. Your article correctly identifies radiation research as such a field. They are mandated to prove that all ionizing radiation exposure is harmful which is a patent falsehood, at doses less than about 25-50 mGy, the effect is either zero or positive (lower cancer, longer lifetime). But allowing even a small statistical harm at ultra-low microsievert doses is very potent politically since everyone in the world gets some miniscule dose from radiation releases. This is where the fictitious statistical kilo-deaths from e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima come from – microdeaths times billions of people. Also of course climate science, mandated to prove that CO2 is the main driver of global climate when it in fact drives nothing – it is only a following index reflective of human input, ocean temperature and geological volcanism and weathering processes. Plus CO2 is good for plants which is good for everyone. But good news sells neither newspapers nor political agendas.

  22. @Anthony: This article was a rant. It would never pass peer review because it lacks a testable hypothesis. I share the author’s frustration, but, there are many people proposing alterations to peer review who have more insight than Abzats. I don’t agree with Monkton on everything, but, why not get him to write the rebuttal to this article?

  23. phlogiston says:
    June 25, 2013 at 1:04 am
    “- Look also at the model of a journal like Nature which has full time salaried reviewers. These professional reviewers are not so subject to conflicts of interest like finding a competitor’s paper in front of them for review.”

    Nature, the journal, is owned by Germans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_von_Holtzbrinck_Publishing_Group

    Maybe you want a green romanticist ideology to filter your science, maybe not.

    Another remark about science now vs. the 19th century.
    The PhD is a Prussian invention. only in the mid 1800’s did Yale begin to offer PhD’s in the USA. Most American PhD students still traveled to Germany to make their PhD.

    Is a PhD a good or a bad thing? I don’t know. But Maxwell or Faraday weren’t PhD’s.

  24. I’ve been reviewing papers in my field for about 30 years, probably about 5-10 per year. Most of the time I believe I either helped make the paper better or else I saved the journal from publishing a below-par paper. I have some evidence for the first case, since authors have sometimes given the anonymous peer reviewers credit for having improved their paper. The many people in my field that I know personally have much the same experience as I do.

    However, the climate science field is different. Here we have rather naive generalist scientists who happened to strike it rich in terms of public awareness, savvy politicos sensing an opportunity, a corrupt UN seeking global power, powerful NGOs like WWF and Greenpeace riding the wave, administrator-heavy scientific organizations seeing ways to funnel money to their membership, poor island nations seeing a way to shame richer ones, and just in general a perfect storm of chance variables coming together. Peer review became pal review for this branch of science. Perhaps a similar branch of corrupt science is the pharmaceutical research studies, where the payoff for getting a drug through clinical trials is worth billions.

    So I would argue that peer review is not necessarily broken for all of science, only for the corrupted branches.

    The poster Abzats above says “Ban peer review!” Interestingly, this has been done for more than a decade now for high-energy physics and cosmology–it’s called Arxiv, where anyone can post a paper. Top physicists use it because they like to get their ideas out there instantly and see those of their colleagues as soon as possible. Yes, there are plenty of kooks doing the same, but no one reads their stuff, so it does no damage. Some of these “preprints” get argued about, changed, and eventually published in a peer-reviewed journal, but in many cases, the publication does not occur, yet the Arxiv version has a powerful ripple effect.

    Whether this would work for climate science is unclear to me. Perhaps we already have a form of this, since persons like McIntyre, Nic Lewis, etc. tend to publish on the blogs more often than in the journals.

  25. Goldie says:
    June 25, 2013 at 12:55 am
    A somewhat one sided perspective. I have worked for two journals and published many papers and I have to say that I have never found it to be that way.

    What was the subject matter?

  26. “Not those from the beaches of Grand Wailea. Real ones.”

    Idealist! Where have you seen a “real scientist” and what you understand under that?
    The guys you met ARE REAL SCIENTISTS.

    You are unhappy about a scientist making “body jokes”?
    Take Einstein.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_18559_6-famous-geniuses-you-didnt-know-were-perverts.html

    You are unhappy with peer review?

    Sorry, there are only two ways proving you are right:

    1. Design and build a working device (e.g. H-Bomb)
    2. Build a scientific mafia supporting your weird (sorry, ingenious!) work

    You remember, in Soviet Union before 1953 there was no “pal review”.
    Just if you failed with the task assigned you by the Kommunist Party (aka Stalin), you will be shot in the best case, or put into GULAG in the worst case.

  27. If a cost/benefit analysis has not been run, it must be a (taxpayer) Government project.
    No business would ever attempt it without all the free money.

    If the spigot is left fully open, the funds/funding will run out. Leaving the hypothetical children in the lurch.
    Which won’t really be a problem, as long as we keep funding our politicians.
    All they need is more of our money, to solve our/their woes.
    I’m sick of it.

  28. If the quality of Mr. Abzats scientific publications can be judged by his proof-reading skils demonstrated here today, then this might explain some of the issues he has encountered.

  29. Oh my, the defenders of anonymous peer review are not pleased, but are reduced to sniping about grammar. That is a good sign that the author is on target.
    Anonynous peer review, plus governments dedictated to using tax payer money in the hundreds of billions per year is not a good recipe.
    Big science research and big medical research are rife with intefrity issues world wide.
    Abzat’s pointing this out is nice way to start a conversation. Dismissing the essay over grammar while avoiding the point is rather shallow, to be diplomatic.

  30. Increase the number of reviewers to 10
    Name a time limit
    Pay them the max rate if they make the time limit, less if they delay
    Rate the paper on the number of positive reviews 3/10 or 7/10, even 0/10 if some wants to revive the flat earth theory
    Publish on a Government website so it is accessible to all.
    Name the reviewers and their rating, they’re being payed now.

  31. JDN says:
    June 25, 2013 at 1:18 am
    “@Anthony: This article was a rant. It would never pass peer review because it lacks a testable hypothesis.”

    Yeah well the peer review system would do everything to preserve its existence wouldn’t it.

    And basically it’s all government science. According to Parkinson’s Law it must become ever more inefficient. We see that in climate science or cosmology – which is wholesale conjecture – or string theory – which is unfalsifiable because it delivers every possible theory all at once – a parametrization explosion like in climate science.

    One could say that the marginal use of further science spending becomes zero or negative. Another manifestation of the Keynesian endpoint.

    Anyone found Dark Matter already?

  32. Crick and Watson. The genome project. Shockley’s transistor. A few things that followed on from that… Vaccines for polio and a few other maladies. A trip to the moon. Some interconnected thingytube that lets machines communicate with each other. Faxes! How can we forget Faxes! Solar power. Nuclear power. Golden rice.Genetically Modified Organisms.

    Just sayin’

  33. I would say that it is not only science that appears to have stalled in the mid 20th century.

    Consider music. All the truly great composers pre-date the 1930s, with the 19th century being the zenith.

    Also art. What art today, really compares to the great masters of yore? The same, to a lesser extent, apples to goldsmiths and silver smiths, and the finest painted porcelain. Is there really any truly great art post the art deco period?

    And perhaps also literature and poetry. Of course there are some good modern day stories, but the art of story telling and accomplished writing, in particular, seems to have diminished these past 100 years.

    Has the world become too cynical, are there no true romantics? I do not know the answer, but there appears to be a greater number of people of average talent and ability, and far fewer truly exceptional geniuses amongst us.

  34. Scientific enquiry wears more than just this shackle. Some countries do not
    fund research They (enter your favourite bogeyman here) do not think can
    be ‘monetised.’ This would have successfully scuttled Relativity and all its
    spin-offs completely.

    It’s little wonder ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ was such a successful TV series.

  35. JP Says
    “Current “fundamental science” is doing just fine.”
    Maybe, but just maybe. On the other hand, all the politicians we elect come
    almost exclusively from Social Science, Political Science, Psychology, Economics
    and Law. Same peer peview process and none of it Science. So fundamental Science is not doing just fine. Look at the trillions going awol in “Govt Science” grants, meanwhile they want us imprisoned on Earth and not to do manned space exploration and space mining? No sense of adventure anymore.

  36. “Only scientists for whatever bizarre reasons received a special treatment and the right to live in lawlessness. Which is so wrong, I cannot find words to describe.”

    I found words to describe it: religion, totalitarianism and some other words that will be snipped.

  37. u.k.(us) says:

    June 25, 2013 at 12:55 am

    “But I know where to start – ban peer review.”
    =============
    To replaced by………what?
    Consensus ?

    How about “ban” press releases ?
    It might slow down some of the stupid policy decisions being made.
    The operative word being “stupid”.
    ///////////////////////////////

    How about publishing everything?
    Why not simply, publish the paper and the revieiwers’ comments on the paper.

    Then let the reader make up their minds as to whether anything (ie., the paper, some part of it, the reviewers’ comments) is of interest and whether the science has been advanced by the paper and/or by the reviewers’ comments. After all, to see what has failed, can often be extremely useful in advancing understanding, and sometimes it can be useful to revisit views that were dismissed say 20 or 30 years earlier.

  38. You bring up a fundamental issue in this post: how is knowledge validated?

    By extension, since the manner of both becoming aware of knowledge and of confirming it cannot be separated from the conditions required to create or discover it – as you allude to in your comments relating to the structural demands that have developed as a con-commitment part of the current system – what are the conditions that allow knowledge to develop?

    “Publish or perish” has been a term summarizing the decay of scholarly vocation for decades – at least for those most aware of its implications in demanding implacable compliance with what is intrinsically a bureaucratic and careerist mentality: for others, it provides a welcome format. The consequent rewarding through promotion, of person or product, and further opportunities and money is obligatory.

    To get this process wrong can only be corrupting – it is inevitable.

    Your focus on the nature of the review process is a good start.

    It is quite bizarre. It should be immediately evident that any component of anonymity is being applied in the completely opposite manner to which it should.

    It is the person submitting the work who should be anonymous. The work must be judged IN ENTIRETY on what it is in itself. There is NO other element that should intrude. ANYTHING that does intrude, including reputation of person or association, is corrupting. ALWAYS.

    Any reviewer, if they are to be anonymous, must produce a cogent analysis that can be seen and judged against the submitted work by all – not just the submitter, and not just by any “decision maker” be they editor or other. The adjudication can otherwise only be meaningless since there is very obviously no basis at all for anyone to believe in it.

    Except of course, as being the Judgement of Authority. Which means the control of knowledge by those whose structural positioning is that of the functionary. The result is at best stagnation but with a ready propensity to the perversion of the pursuit and maintainance of knowledge, and the twisting of interpretations of realities. As we see.

    If any reviewer, or adjudicator, does NOT provide an evaluation that can in itself be judged, they must, at the least, be known. So their capacity in this role is accountable.

    It should be both: they should be known and their reasoning seen and published. If anyone is not prepared to do this, but at the same time puts themselves forward for this responsibility, an immediate conclusion can be reached. They are unfit.

    The above thoughts are not intended to be some sort of definitive solution. They address only an element in a system or tradition which may be entirely redundant or may have never been other than corrupting. It may be that it can be seen that a culture based on free publication and evaluations that do not have to be in effect ratified prior to general availability is now possible. Not just possible, but essential. That is after all, the very essence of inquiry and always has been.

  39. Eric Worrall,
    ” If there is no peer review, how can you prevent creationists and people with a perverse agenda, such as promoters of fake medical treatments, from flooding credible journals with junk science?”

    The Editors of the Journal! What do you think they are paid to do? Do you really think “Nature” would print a creationist story just because there is no peer review? How far do you think “promoters of fake medical treatments” would get trying to get published in The Lancet or the British Medical Journal even if there were no peer review?

    The point of Peer review should be to stop silly mistakes appearing in otherwise genuine research papers. What it is wrongly being used for is stopping the “wrong kind of science” getting published. To be frank it is fairly pointless submitting a sceptical paper with merit to Nature where the editors are disinclined to publish anyway. Peer review is just being used as an excuse to refuse publication because the paper does not follow the party line. It is just being used as a way of abdicating proper editorial decision making.

    What is needed is more journals, or journals brave enough to print articles that challenge the orthodoxy.

    IMHO the big problem is anonymity. Remove that and half the problem disappears.

    At least you know who the editor is and what his agenda is. In my opinion the best kind of review is open on-line review. “credible journals” should have an open on-line forum where scientists can submit papers for review. All reviews must be published so we can see what they say and reviewers names and credentials should be known and not anonymous.

    If a journal wishes they could “vet” reviewers so that only trained professionals are allowed to review but the writer will know who they are. The editor will then decide whether the reviews have merit and whether the paper should be amended. If the writer wants to, they can refuse to change the paper in which case the paper will remain perpetually “in review” and all the reader will see is the on-line un-amended version alongside with the reviews. They can then make their own decision as to whether the reviewers have a point.

    If the paper is amended to the Editor’s satisfaction it is either “published” or tagged as final and becomes part of the journal proper.

    Gradually readers will want to read, and scientists submit their papers to, those journals that have a clear, open, fair and effective review process. Those that print random junk science will end up ignored and no decent scientist would ever submit a paper to them. Likewise those that refuse to publish obviously meritorious papers because the editor or reviewers do not agree with the conclusions will find other more sympathetic journals willing to publish.

    Ultimately it is the readers who will make the decision which journals are successful and which are not.

    This has been the case in general print journalism for ages. That is why we have The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times alongside rags like The National Enquirer or, here in the UK, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian alongside the Daily Sport.

  40. Err.. I can do jokes about bodily fluids and 100x more disgusting things; and if I say someone’s work sucks, then it does. Because the two things are COMPLETELY unrelated. Just saying, because you asked.

    This was an overall terrible ‘news’ item – why did you even post it?

  41. richard verney says:

    June 25, 2013 at 2:14 am

    “And perhaps also literature and poetry. Of course there are some good modern day stories, but the art of story telling and accomplished writing, in particular, seems to have diminished these past 100 years.

    Has the world become too cynical, are there no true romantics? I do not know the answer, but there appears to be a greater number of people of average talent and ability, and far fewer truly exceptional geniuses amongst us.”
    ============
    I was just thinking the same sort of thing, only different.
    Mostly the cynical part, genius is just knowledge with a foundation, it will never go anywhere without curiosity. Not sure there ever were many geniuses to start :)

  42. For those who watch “Big Bang Theory”, or those who don’t:

    “What’s new in the world of Physics?”
    “….. Nothing!”

  43. Principea Scientific International are publishing on the internet where anyone can ”peer review” but not cause the problems cited above. They started because of the flawed peer review process. I think it is possible to publish through them.

  44. It is very much like the way Holy Mother Church used to act back in the 15-17th centuries.

    Right–Organized Science has taken over from Organized Religion.

    If papers are posted online, prior to peer review, registered PhD readers could give them thumbs up / thumbs down, which would tend to filter out the wacko stuff.

    Henry Bauer suggested that a “Science Court” (first proposed in the 1970s) could be a court of last resort, to appeal to when peer review goes wrong. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it could only improve the current system. See the thread devoted to Bauer’s recent book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine, at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/11/05/dogmatism-in-science-and-medicine-how-dominant-theories-monopolize/

  45. Anthony, WUWT already, in effect, provides an open, transparent peer review forum but you could formalise that a bit.

    If you had a new tab for ‘Peer Review’ a draft paper could be published as a thread. Two or three people could be invited to become reviewers/moderators. Only comments that were part of the peer review process would be kept and the original article/paper would be changed over time. At some point the paper would be ‘published’ which would mean that comments are closed (and the people involved can get on with their lives). You could even publish it behind a paywall if you wished by removing the thread and putting it on Amazon as an eBook (with all the comments) for a modest price.

    Papers which have already been published elsewhere could also be peer reviewed by this process.

    I think that a process like this could set a new standard for the peer review process in any discipline.

    You should be aware that I asked three of my closest friends for their opinion before posting this and they all agreed so I know that I’m right!

  46. JDN says:
    June 25, 2013 at 1:18 am

    @Anthony: This article was a rant. It would never pass peer review because it lacks a testable hypothesis.

    That criterion would rule out review papers.

  47. “Ban peer review!”

    Symptomatic of just how bad the system is. How much trust do I have in the people running the system? Zero. I agree that the system is so broken that it can’t be fixed.

  48. The fundamental problem that the author identifies is the fact that anonymous reviewers aren’t accountable. What could a journal do to fix this?

    Firstly, tell the author(s) of a paper who the reviewers will be. Have a formal process by which they can challenge the choice of reviewers if they think that any of them have conflicts of interest or lack relevant expertise.

    Secondly, get the reviewers to sign a contract that specifies when the work is to be completed by, and which limits how much they can disclose about the paper to third parties before it is published or rejected.

    Thirdly, pay the reviewers. It’s not reasonable to expect them to work for free, and it’s inevitable that most people will treat unpaid anonymous work for someone else’s benefit as a pretty low priority.

    Fourthly, in the print edition of the journal publish the names of the reviewers along with the paper. If necessary add a few bullet points to indicate any aspects of the paper that the reviewers do not agree with.

    Fifthly, in the online edition of the journal publish the full text of the reviews with notes to indicate which criticisms were accepted by the author and which were not. If necessary, publish every draft of the paper and every comment from the reviewers in the form of an on-going discussion. There are no space limits online so let the readers see everything.

  49. TLM

    What is needed is more journals, or journals brave enough to print articles that challenge the orthodoxy.

    Pretty much what I suggested in my second comment – instead of everyone doing exactly the same thing, set the filtering mechanism free to evolve – let scientists and journals work out their own codes of conduct, their own criteria, and let scientists choose that which works best for them, so the optimum solutions can emerge victorious from the open competition of ideas.


  50. Eric Worrall says:
    June 25, 2013 at 12:30 am

    I don’t think its that simple. If there is no peer review, how can you prevent creationists and people with a perverse agenda, such as promoters of fake medical treatments, from flooding credible journals with junk science?

    You can’t and that is what Abzats is after.

  51. richard verney says:
    June 25, 2013 at 2:14 am
    ” would say that it is not only science that appears to have stalled in the mid 20th century.
    Consider music. All the truly great composers pre-date the 1930s, with the 19th century being the zenith.”

    Blech. Sturgeon’s Law applies: 95% of everything is crap. Meaning you live in a time where you experience all the crap as it happens but you didn’t experience all the lesser known bad composers and authors and painters of their days. Goethe for instance didn’t sell many units; there were pulp authors who outsold him by far, sorry I forget the names, as is natural with such things.

    We don’t know what the 23rd century will cite as the great composers of our age. Philip Glass, Clint Mansell, or maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber? Kraftwerk? Laurie Anderson? I could go on and on.

    A guy clicking around in a sequencer program today might accidentally produce the next big hymn of a transnational superstate. (The EU has picked some snippets from Beethoven as its “hymn”).

  52. Ditto Verney. Everything has stalled. Or more precisely, everything with any connection to academia has stalled.

    I’d say the worst part of the problem is not the publishing but what comes before you can publish. The tenure process GUARANTEES that nobody with unorthodox views will even reach the point of getting grants. Until hiring is loosened up, no change in publishing will matter much. The fraternity will still be a tightly closed echo chamber.

    • This topic should be a subject for debate, with panelists representing both sides. Clearly, not ALL science is corrupted; we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

      It might be instructive to address the most egregious claims and grievances (many of which will come from Climate Science). The promise of Phil Jones (University of East Anglia, Climate Research Unit), now immortalized for posterity, comes to mind: “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

      Kurt in Switzerland

  53. Why has nobody mentioned Climategate? The fact that the ‘Team’ plotted to get rid of a journal editor … QED. The fact that they managed to cow an editor into issuing a written apology … QED.

  54. The medical sciences have faced this problem for a long time. Business interests from big Pharma bias peer review and paper submissions to favour their drug treatments.
    The solution has been meta-analysis of the literature by independent research bodies like the Cochrane institute.
    This is similar to the IPCC.
    Some branches of medical research have also adopted an open, transparent peer review system. Some of the neurobiology journals I think publish the reviewers names, their comments and the authors responses along with the paper online so that the whole process is completely open.

    The idea that abandoning expert assessment of research before it is published will eliminate bias seems ridiculous, and there are certainly no real world examples of this ever working. The sort of nonsense that gets published in journals with no or very lax review standards tends to get them a reputation, such as the ‘dog astrology’ journal! Those familiar with the literature will know which we mean.

    I would expect that the writer of this essay would not have advocated abandoning some form of peer review when faced with the serious level of bias and distortion prevalent in clinical research and drug testing as a means of getting better medical science. But perhaps the inanity of the suggestion is a result of not being aware of how other fields of research have approached the problem of independent, open and unbiased peer review.

  55. @ Kurt in Switzerland says: …and others.
    June 25, 2013 at 4:06 am

    “Clearly, not ALL science is corrupted…”

    ———————————————————————————————————————–

    How do you know that?

    What is corruption?

    Is corruption limited to the deliberate falsification of data or results? Does it include the manner in which any findings – legitimate or false – are presented to others, be they politicians, public, funders or those with with related interests? Does it include representing the basis for a perspective or conjecture as being sounder than it is – by excluding or downplaying alternatives. or by omitting proper weight to reasons that contradict support for the desired direction? Does it include using a position of influence within a certain field to dissuade others in the field from giving due weight to things considered undesirable for whatever reason?

    Is there corruption in the not obviously venal or calculatedly strategic? In the processes and requirements that ratify the legitimacy of any participant? In the nature in which apparent or claimed understanding can be guarded as being “personal” rather than being open? Particularly when the “personal” is used as a base to accrue advantage?

    Is there corruption in the most elemental sense – of something rotten – in acceptance that it is legitimate to refuse to acknowledge a basic reality, with the claim that this is part of discourse and healthy contention?

    This is an issue that goes beyond the degradation of “climate science”. It goes beyond any science. It is a requirement for any human interaction, with others or with physical realities.

    There is no “baby” that is at risk along with the “bathwater”. This is a question of basic principle.

    Regardless of what any particular person might claim to have “seen” or “experienced”. Or how much Blind Faith someone may yearn to have in any area of endeavour or group of participants. No-one can know, even in an area they are involved with, what MIGHT have been but for the nature of the processes and culture that prevail at any time.

    Contemporary culture does not manifest itself only in “climate science”. It is validated and vociferously dictated by all the institutions of science. Of supposed learning.

    It is comprehensive in its extent. It has not come from nowhere. It will not be absent from anything.

    This is very simple.

    Is it by nature antithetical to knowledge to have it adjudicated on by the unseen, the unknown, and the unaccountable, and who are in that position because they accept those terms?

    Is it possible that such a system, of things not seen, can NOT be corrupt?

  56. One possible answer is for unorthodox thinkers to publish their own peer-reviewed journal with rules that allow risky, innovative ideas to be proposed just so long as they are based on logic & scientific evidence. Those who have doubts about the sufficiency of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis, for example, are typically labeled creationists as a way to dismiss their arguments. As a prominent Chinese paleontologist remarked about their findings in the Cambrian fossils, “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In the US you can criticize the government but not Darwin.”

    The doubters have responded by creating Bio-Complexity, a peer-reviewed journal which allows innovative, non-Darwinian perspectives to be heard, critiqued, rejected, or refined. Transparency is emphasized, as is quick publication.

    This is relatively new, so I do not know if it will work on the long term. However, when a scientific article critical of neo-Darwinism was published a few years ago in a peer reviewed journal, the guy in charge, Richard Sternberg, was harassed and eventually driven out of the Smithsonian. Peer review should weed out the junk, but not what is merely politically incorrect.

  57. What exactly will banning peer review achieve? Every whacko theory will get published and no one will have any idea what’s legitimate or not. Not that I’m saying the current system does a stellar job of that now. Just make the authors anonymous or make the reviewers known, and call it a day. Oh, the reviewers don’t want their names known? Why not? Have an agenda to take care of or something? And paying reviewers is a bad idea, simply because of the abuse it could lead to (Big Corp. paying reviewers for favorable reviews, etc.)

  58. Actually, when it comes right down to the beginnings, the Internet was designed for that purpose (peer review). And today we have it. But the disdain and contempt the ‘establishment’ has for the reviews from the Internet is evident (in the recent submission of Dr. Tol alone).

    But that it is not liked, reviled, and generally spat upon by the establishment does not detract from its effectiveness, nor its utilitarianism. A paper is reviewed in days (at worst weeks). Grammar is not the cause of rejection, flaws in both method and results are. And they are discovered. Why? Because there is not a concern about protecting ones turf, but rather in using the research to further knowledge. The reviewers are not paid. They get no credit for finding the flaws. What they do get is another piece to a puzzle which they are seeking to fit together.

    Perhaps the answer has been right under our noses for the past 40 years. We have seen papers shredded – justifiably so – by Internet reviewers. None anonymous. These were not petulant criticisms, but detailed analysis of flaws with the papers themselves. Sometimes the problems were minor in which case the author can then rewrite the paper with corrections. other times, they were major enough to warrant (and sometimes with success) the withdrawal of the papers.

    The Peer review process as is is a hindrance to science. The peer review process as it could be might bring us back to another golden age of discovery.

  59. I support in general Abzats’ comment. There are multiple problems related to how scientific research is funded, as to what subjects are investigated, and there are problems concerning how research results are discussed and disseminated. I do not however necessarily believe or support the solution is the end of peer review. There needs to be scientific review of results before publishing to clear up basic errors in the analysis or the data. The reviewers should not however be able to block research because it challenges their beliefs or their hidden agendas.

    Let’s park what the solution is and look at some specifics to understand the problems. There are a list of outside forces that block and inhibit the progress of science. The key issues differ somewhat from field to field.

    We are all aware that political forces and commercial forces can affect research and block changes. An example would be medical research. For example, the cause of roughly 80% of the cases of cancer, 95% of the cases of diabetes, 95% of atherosclerosis disease, 90% of arthritis, and so on was discovered roughly 15 years ago. The problem, as to why the majority of the people are not aware of the solution is not scientific. The solution works and has been proven to work, the problem is the solution has profound implications on commercial medicine and agriculture. Another example is climate ‘science’. One of the forces blocking and shaping climate science research is AGW is being used as the justification to push a political agenda. Another force is there are companies and individuals that are taking advantage of the green scams.

    The solution when there is conflict between scientific truth and commercial/political agendas goes beyond peer review. The existence and function of this blog is part of the solution. When there is obvious conflict between scientific truth and commercial forces/political agendas a necessary part of the solution is to publically discuss the specific forces/conficts, to discuss the observations, and to discuss the conflicting analysis. As the truth becomes known to a wider and wider audience it appears in the end the truth will prevail, there is an optimum solution based on truth.

    Abzat I believe is discussing a different inhibiting force. Something that block the progress of normal science.

    I found it puzzling when I started researching astronomical observational and analysis anomalies, twenty years ago, that it appears the astronomical observations and anomalies point to multiple fundamental breakthroughs in basic physics; star trek type breakthroughs; related to the connection between matter, space, and energy.

    The anomalies in question concern what happens when very large objects collapse and how the very large objects resist the collapse.

    Twenty years ago, the astronomical community blocked telescope time to investigate the anomalies. The logical premise was it would be a waste of valuable observation time to investigate the anomalies. The astronomical/astrophysics community also blocked papers that attempted to discuss the anomalies, as the anomalies in question challenged fundamental beliefs concerning cosmology. The researchers that continued to attempt to discuss the anomalies and to push alternative hypotheses were marginalized, branded as crank like. The careers of some of the assistant graduate people were ended because of their support of the principal scientists that were involved. Advances in astronomical observational science in the last 20 years have confirmed the anomalies are real, not due to the observational error or due to statistical biases.

    What is interesting to our climate science story, is the explanation for the anomalies in question, explains the physics of what is currently happening to the sun, explains what causes the glacial/interglacial cycle, and so on.

    We truly live in interesting times.

  60. Blame the bean counters.

    Consider a bean counter working at a university employing a bunch of scientists doing research. The bean counter worries that these very expensive and highly skilled people (some of them get paid more than the bean counter) might be wasting the budget and not working hard. But the bean counter doesn’t really have a clue what these guys do. In the back of his mind he is utterly convinced that some of them are lazy and should be sacked. But frustratingly he can’t tell which ones.

    Promotion time comes around and a lot of the scientists apply for promotion. The bean counter can’t tell which of them are doing the mysterious things they do well enough to be promoted. What to do? From the bean counter’s point of view it is a mess!

    Ergo peer review – the bean counter’s friend. It gives a way of keeping score – a concrete output which even a bean counter can understand and feel comfortable with because of course it is something that can be counted. The bean counter now thinks he understands what is going on in this strange world of science. It is all about producing these peer reviewed paper thingies. Scientists with lots of papers are good. Those with few are bad. What was hard is suddenly made simple.

    It is a touch more complicated than this; some journals are regarded as better than others; some papers are cited more than others. But this is the kind of problem the bean counter feels very comfortable with. He is very happy constructing all sorts of weighted schemes for adding up the numbers of the papers and the citation rates and the qualities of the journals and thus comparing one scientist numerically against another. He now feels fully empowered to pass judgement on scientists – sacking some – promoting others – despite the fact that he still doesn’t have the slightest clue what it is they do.

    And being a fully modern manager he of course also feels obliged to crack the whip and increase productivity. Those damned lazy scientists must work harder! We want MORE papers in BETTER journals. More, more, more! A bonus for Phil who published the most. Jones didn’t publish? Sack the lazy sod – he is letting the side down.

    Scientists of course know this is a load of crock. The production of papers is not the real output of science. Putting too much emphasis on this distorts the way in which science is done. It drives people away from the controversial – the difficult – the fundamental – the important – into working in peculiar little niches where results are easy to come by and papers can be churned out by the score. Most scientists are aware that the system has serious problems. Wed rather spend more of our time thinking about the science and less of it fussing around with papers and journals and peer review. But the bean counters have control of the money and insist on these rules. If you don’t play their game you are likely to have trouble feeding your kids.

    Things are slowly changing. There are much better ways of publishing work today. A paper can go up on the preprint server and be commented on and revised in real time. It is quick and accurate. Good work is recognised. Bad work is obliviated. Scientists don’t need to publish papers to exchange ideas and talk to each other. We have telephones. We have skype. We can hop on a plane and go visit someone. But the sticking point is always the people with the money – the bean counters. They are just extremely reluctant to give up their measuring stick. And those high up in the academic world are the ones who have been most successful at pumping out peer reviewed papers. They may not see an urgent need for change.

  61. jc says:
    June 25, 2013 at 5:04 am
    “Is there corruption in the most elemental sense – of something rotten – in acceptance that it is legitimate to refuse to acknowledge a basic reality, with the claim that this is part of discourse and healthy contention?

    This is an issue that goes beyond the degradation of “climate science”. It goes beyond any science. It is a requirement for any human interaction, with others or with physical realities.”

    Human interactions depend on trust. Trust becomes impossible in a society under the control of a secret police.

    Hope that answers your question.

  62. Then, compare this with the next 50 years in science. Incomparable. Nothing of that scale or impact.

    Just a drive-by comment, this list could be expanded, and I’ll extend the 50 years by a bit:

    Transistors (and the work leading to integrated circuitry so tiny that there are more transistors in use than there are ants).

    Elucidating the structure of DNA.

    Lasers, touted as a solution looking for a problem, have been found to be solutions for an amazing array of devices.

    Understanding the chemistry behind photosynthesis and many other biochemical processes. (Laser femptosecond light pulses are a vital tool in this arena.)

    Restriction enzymes. One reason I did not pursue a career in biology was that I realized how important protein sequencing was and that the best way to do that was by sequencing DNA, and that I just couldn’t see any way of doing that. Six years later, restriction enzymes were put to use. 20 years later I was on conference calls with Celera Genomics about issues with the operating system on the computers they used to complete the human genome. Much of the tech involved was post 1945 tech….

    Giant magnetoresistance (GMR) immensely increased the data density usable on computer disk drives. In 1972 I had my own 25 MB disk pack at work that I mounted on a $30,000 disk drive. My home computer has a drive that fits in my pocket that has 40,000 times the storage. However, the main storage is a small box of “solid state disk” with 10,000 times the storage and no moving parts, just lots of transistors.

    Take your typical teenage cell phone of today. Mental exercise: Transport it back to 1945. Show it around to folks at the Manhattan Project. Even without the infrastructure for GPS, Internet, or even phone calls, it would be an astonishing device.

  63. “The most exciting period in science was, arguably, 1895-1945. It was marked by discoveries that changed the foundations of modern science: X-rays, quantum mechanics, superconductivity, relativity theory and nuclear energy. Then, compare this with the next 50 years in science. Incomparable. Nothing of that scale or impact. Yes, technology has advanced, but fundamental science – has come to a crawl. Have you ever wondered why?”

    1/ No, as the post 1945 era has been the most productive in the history of fundamental science.

    Quantum electrodynamics
    Discovery and explanation of parity violation in the weak nuclear force
    Discovery of the weak force neutral currents
    Discovery of quarks
    Unification of electrodynamics and the weak force forces of nature
    Concept of spontaneous symmetry breaking
    Development of quantum chromodynamics – theory of the strong nuclear force
    Confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson
    The development and completion of the Standard Model in particle physics

    Discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation
    Discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating

    BCS theory of superconductivity
    Discovery of high-temperature superconductivity
    Development of the transistor based on QM and, later, VLSI
    Discovery of graphene

    Plate tectonics and continental drift

    The double helix structure of DNA
    The “central dogma” of biology: DNA makes RNA makes protein.

    Information theory: Shannon’s entropy and mutual information

    Proof of the Poincaré conjecture

    Etc.

    2/ Peer-review existed pre-1945

    3/ There are many problems with peer-review.
    This is well-known and had been a subject of much debate

    As a minimum, it should be double-blinded.
    The reviewers should not know the names and institutions of the authors and vice versa.

    The case of climate science is an interesting one in that a small group of activists had managed to hijack the process turning peer-review into pal-review.
    For example, the quality of climate science papers submitted to journals such as Nature and Science are sub-standard when compared to most other fields.

    If nature continues to ignore the man-made global warming script,
    then eventually people will start to ask question regarding the the AGW hypothesis.
    This had already started to occur

    4/ In physics and related fields, idea theft is difficult due to the existence of the arXIv pre-print server

    http://arxiv.org/

    where papers are posted pre per review

    5/ This article exhibits the common myth of a past “Golden Age” and the author would do well to familiarize himself with the basics regarding the history of science. Otherwise it comes across are an amateurish diatribe.

  64. My brush with academia.

    While getting my MBA, I took a class with a finance professor who was into stock analysis. This guy was impressive at first. Everyone thought he had it together..

    The currently accepted method for stock analysis involved a large flat file…and tedious manual extraction and comparisons. It took a day to do a single regression with a pair of stocks. The mathematician in me appreciated the approach, but the data analyst in me just laughed.

    I offered to set him up with a modern RDBMS with R and some other tools and a full load of the flat file with all the attributes described. I showed him what we did at work with a MUCH larger data set and a much greater population of attributes. He was astounded and excited. He saw he could do regressions of a whole industry in a day or a whole economic period in a week.

    I dropped by his office two weeks later and he was cool to the idea. When I pressed him on it, he said, “But how will anyone reproduce my work?” I still think he is playing with his flat file and manual regressions and publishing papers based on this.

    The current state of climate analysis is not much better.

  65. DNA, physiology, cell biology. Science today is moving faster than ever before. It just seems like the old discoveries matter more because the new ones haven’t been exploited in technology to their fullest extent yet.

  66. And regarding item /1/ in my previous post, someone had previously mentioned lasers as a post-1945 development.

    When discovered, lasers were a solution in search of the problem. Today lasers are everywhere.

  67. Mr Guest Blogger,
    You certainly got the period right 1895 to 1945 was a period of practical science that gave us our modern world. The advances since have been small advances on old themes. Practical things have advanced, the theoretical not so much, a wrong turn around a century ago has seen science mired in imaginary particles, imaginary dark energy and dark matter, to save their imaginary science. Thus new ideas are pilloried to save their precious theories. Ric Werme Oddly the first use of a cellular type phone was used in WW2 used by the secret service from aircraft contacting resistance fighters on the ground in occupied France. Not a lot new under the sun. Science has been going backwards, it is the practical experimenters that have given us the modern world.

  68. There are “hot” topics in physics where several groups are publicly known to be pursuing the answer to the same problem. The solution often results in publication in one of the top ranked journals. The possible conflict of interest for the reviewer is obvious. What to do? Well, when I submitted a manuscript in that circumstance, I would include a very short list of competing groups and ask that the reviewer not come from one of these. As fas as I could tell the editors (e.g. PRL) generally met my request.

  69. @ DirkH says:
    June 25, 2013 at 5:32 am

    “Human interactions depend on trust. Trust becomes impossible in a society under the control of a secret police.”

    ———————————————————————————————————————–

    Trust requires belief. Belief requires confidence that what is seen is true. When presented by another person, confidence in what is true depends on confidence that the person presenting it firstly knows what is true and secondly will present it honestly.

    In a situation, a group, a sect, a culture, a world, that does not allow others to be in a position to evaluate the capacity for knowledge and the commitment to honestly, there can be no human trust. There can only be an imitation of it showing itself in acceptance buttressed by necessity, desire generated by powerlessness or need for identification, and hope.

    Policing comes in many forms and its activity does not have to be secret in any one action, but can be in effect secret in that its claims to legitimate existence are not themselves properly seen or even conciously understood by the proponents. Where there is this effective secrecy there will always be an abuse and betrayal of trust.

    Whatever opinions might be proffered about policing of anything else, science, more so than anything else, has as its first demand that truth or otherwise be seen and that secrecy is anathema. If there is to be any reference or judgement about the role of societal and cultural norms, and the requirement for honesty and openness in these, then science must – not in its activities, but in its expression of these values – exist as it should.

    Science cannot and should not assume the role of dictating societal structures and expectations. A significant part of the very degradation that can be seen now comes from the attempted utilization of science for legitimizing things beyond its ambit, built easily on the hubris and ignorance of some of those practicing as scientists themselves.

    But science, having a distinctive role in the application of these principles, with a discipline demanded of it that, to a degree not present in other areas, should exclude those people and propositions that fail in this, cannot exist in a more general degradation, and conversely by being what it should be, can form a major part, by way of a cultural and personal imperative, in how societies exist more generally.

    And it is true that secret policing whatever form that takes, as a nominal scientific adjudication, or as a general suppression of human capacity for confidence in the ability to make judgements and therefore trust is incompatible with human potential and therefore the ability to exist.

    The result has always been and always will be decay, and not least for those who support and participate in this. Any group of people, or society, subject to this has a future of increasing barbarism. It is capitulation to the primaeval.

  70. “johnmarshall” above has it right. Check out the Prinicipia Scientific International’s peer plan with a set window during which anybody can give in put, after which input is considered and revisions made. There might even be a second round of review. They also think normal peer review is more like pal review and gives the reviewer too much power to do unethical things.

  71. Jim Rose says:
    June 25, 2013 at 6:40 am
    “There are “hot” topics in physics where several groups are publicly known to be pursuing the answer to the same problem. The solution often results in publication in one of the top ranked journals. The possible conflict of interest for the reviewer is obvious. What to do? Well, when I submitted a manuscript in that circumstance, I would include a very short list of competing groups and ask that the reviewer not come from one of these. As fas as I could tell the editors (e.g. PRL) generally met my request.’

    Good point.

    Ditto.

  72. Day to day we live in and use items that are old inventions, improved. Cell phone are an improvement on Bell and Marconi’ s work. Modern airplanes are improvements of planes from the 20’s. It is a much bigger step from no aircraft to one, than it is to improve the first one. Cars, trains, internal combustion engines, cameras, computers photovoltaics, wind turbines etc. are all inventions that have been improved drastically. But improving is not inventing, the days of the single bright person putting his or her name on something is gone, too afraid of failure and lawsuits. I don’t think we could build new railways or highway systems anymore, the transnational railways and Interstates were built in a decade, now approval for a single bridge may take that long. Most of the roads in my area are 150 or more years old, they have been improved but not many new ones built. People like, Benz, Diesel, Bell, Faraday, Volta, Tesla, Edison, Curry, Einstein, Atanasoff and Ford all provided a new idea all together not improvements ( except Ford). Texting may be a more mobile form of the telegraph and Morse Code, but it is just an improvement. In decades and centuries to come what indivuals will be remembered? Maybe Gates and Jobs?

  73. richard verney says:
    June 25, 2013 at 2:14 am

    I would say that it is not only science that appears to have stalled in the mid 20th century.
    Is there really any truly great art post the art deco period?….

    Has the world become too cynical, are there no true romantics? I do not know the answer, but there appears to be a greater number of people of average talent and ability, and far fewer truly exceptional geniuses amongst us.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    E.M. Smith covered just this question at isms, ocracies and ologies In short the entire philosophy has changed since The Enlightenment gave us the Scientific Method as a way of thinking and the US Constitution.

    What matters most to me is just “What is this ‘Enlightenment’ and what does it have to do with the USA?” It was, at it’s core, a movement away from a world driven by a Religious Authority and away from a world driven by a Civil Central Authority (be they Kings or Emperors) and toward a world of free individuals thinking for themselves.

    What we have now is a swing back to using ‘Feelings’ instead of reason which allows ‘Practical Politics’ to use propaganda to control people. SEE: Dumbing Down America by Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld for how John Dewey’s Progressive school system was used to create unthinking individuals. Robin goes into greater detail at Invisible Serfs Collar

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” ~ H. L. Mencken

    Those in control feel threatened by genius and normally will do anything to control and kill it. So now Gifted children and adults are at high risk for being identified as ADD. and being ‘Medicated’ at ages as young as 6 years via government schools.

    SIDE EFFECTS

    Long-Term Effects of Ritalin: Changes in Brain Development

    Ongoing research shows early-life use of Ritalin (methylphenidate) has complex effects that endure later into life. A study published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that exposure of Ritalin in youth may later disrupt development of brain cells in the hippocampus, region of the brain critical to memory, spatial navigation, and behaviorial inhibition. Damage can lead to memory problems, disorientation and depression in adulthood.

    In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to suffer damage; memory problems and disorientation appear among the first symptoms.

    EM Smith goes on to discuss the “Counter-Enlightenment” This is what we are currently seeing effects of in our current crop of ‘Scientists’ using Post-Modern Science instead of the scientific method.

    That reference to “Romanticism” and the “Counter-Enlightenment” matters; and rather a lot. We will see that from those roots grows most of the current conflict between “Progressive” and “Socialist” movements and the Traditional American Enlightenment. Not directly, and not with a pure note, but with a strong current all the same.

    One sidebar: While the Enlightenment tried to curtail the power of Kings and The Church, it was NOT an anti-religious movement. In the USA we see this clearly in the fairly strong presence of religion in The Founders. Congress opened with a prayer. So too the Courts. It was a later twist that turned the “Age of Reason” into “Humanism” and away from religion altogether. That thread reaches back through Renaissance Humanism and eventually ends in something called Secular Humanism. When someone speaks of the “Separation of Church and State” meaning no official state religion (but religion in the Public Square is OK), that is a Renaissance Humanist, headed into the Enlightenment ideals. When they say it instead means “Ban God from school and the public square”, they have moved into Secular Humanism….

    To put it bluntly Abzats has identified a symptom of a much wider problem.

  74. ***
    MattN says:
    June 25, 2013 at 5:09 am

    Every whacko theory will get published and no one will have any idea what’s legitimate or not.
    ***

    Maybe you wouldn’t….

  75. DirkH said: MattN says:
    “June 25, 2013 at 5:09 am
    “What exactly will banning peer review achieve? Every whacko theory will get published and no one will have any idea what’s legitimate or not. ”

    Totally unlike today…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_matter

    Did you read my whole post? 3rd sentence that you didn’t include says exactly: “Not that I’m saying the current system does a stellar job of that now.”

  76. The major problem is obvious. The transparency of the peer-review system. It should be open and transparent, and all parties must know the names and associations that are making advancement. The community being what it is, the academic rivalry and jealousy is rife. And this is something which is not healthy for the overall scientific process.

  77. I disagree with the author that peer review is always anonymous. I tell people who I am after I’ve reviewed their manuscript (the journal sometimes gives you the option of doing this). And as other commenters have said, not all scientific fields are alike. Focus on the problem “children”, as it were, and let the relatively well-behaved kids continue on uninterrupted.

  78. The reason science went downhill is because the theory of evolution became popular. Why would anyone think they can find the laws of science when they believe everything originated from chaos and disorder? “God does not play dice with the universe”, said Einstein. “Don’t you tell God what to do”, replied Neils Bohr. The new generation of scientists regard the universe as a casino rather than an orderly functioning machine. Why waste your time finding the laws of science. Just plug your random data into a statistical equation and your science can be a 9 – 5 job.

  79. The alternative to peer review is independent confirmation / replication of results. There is no reason why any hypotheses should be squelched from publication. The wheat is separated from the chaff by waiting to see if subsequently another independent scientist can confirm or replicate the results / predictions. This may take the form of running an experiment to confirm (or deny) a theoretical hypothesis, re-running a complex experiment to verify that the results are repeatable, or independently analyzing a given dataset to see if the conclusions drawn from such are robust. This is how the scientific method works. Peer review is worthless — its just opinion vs. opinion.

  80. I’m not sure I buy totally into the idea that peer reviews have totally destroyed science. Peer review is important if one is on the faculty of a university, or belong to a public scientific organization. But, not all scientists work this way. Many work for private corporations and research arms of these organizations. Ground breaking research in some field can turn out to be valuable to these firms bottom lines. Additionally, not all nations use peer review in the same we we do. We should also remember that it took Einstein 15 years to get his initial theories on Relativity proven in the field. Yes, the Great War put a damper on things. But the War only accounted for 4 of those 15 years.

    I think there are 2 other facets that also come into play. The first is that most of the ground breaking discoveries in physics and chemistry have already been discovered. Both fields since 1900 have become more and more specialized. Perhaps it is more difficult for a theoretical physicist to theorize, as the depth of these specialties have become so complex. Secondly, the “best and brightest” of our society no longer go into the hard sciences (at least not in the West). At least in the United States, the primary and secondary levels of education have become so poor that many intellectually gifted students fall through the gaps. One hundred and twenty years ago there existed a very large pool of under class students in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia who came up through the public school systems and easily transitioned into our elite institutions of higher learning (see the the alumni of Dewitt Clinton High in Manhattan and you will see my point). But those days are long gone. Yes, there are brilliant scientists today. But, I believe their numbers are small in comparison to say 1920.

  81. I am not convinced that the current peer review process is the problem. In many areas of science and particularly in the new field of climate science governments all around the world have thrown huge wads of cash towards climate research. With huge sums of money and research geared towards finding problems affecting the climate then by god problems can and will be found. It can’t really be described as corruption in a narrow sense, because researchers are merely following the direction they have been given by government.

  82. The biggest reform you could make to the present system without completely abandoning it is to make the reviewers’ identities known to the authors. Now, having said that, I consider the peer review process to be nearly worthless in every regard and I don’t think the quality of science would go down if it were abandoned completely.

  83. Henry Bauer’s name was mentioned briefly above, but I think that his arguments deserve a wider audience, especially amongst the commentators here who are assuming that climate ‘science’ is a unique case of rogue science, and everything else is tickety-boo.

    A few people added medical science to the list of rogue sciences, not enough I’m afraid.

    Bauer’s argument is that the entire social set-up of science, too many people chasing too few grants and not enough prestige to go round, has thoroughly corrupted the whole scientific process from top to bottom in every field. Peer review is just one subset of what is going wrong, the dirty tricks that researchers use to gain and keep status apply to every field in every possible way. He cites examples from medicine, geology, cosmology, physics, and I would happily add psychology to the list.

  84. If only there were some large medium for information to be shared with others all over the world by simply uploading the information and transferring the data over cables and digitally through the air. Then peer-review could be unanonymous and be made broader by being reviewed by the entire research community in that field. It could be called the interweb or world wide net.

  85. Thanks, Abzats. Very interesting article.
    Science publishing should be open, let the whole community be the judges, in a free-market style.
    Anonymous, unpaid reviewers take too long and can easily be corrupted.
    Transparency is the key. Free, public publishing in the Web is a likely way out of this problem that is at its worst in climate science.

  86. Complete and utter nonsense.

    This starts from a false premise, namely that science has stagnated. In reality there are whole fields of study which simply did not exist pre 1945 – all of molecular biology for example, anything to do with lasers, all computational based science. Everything from DNA to Black Holes. Nearly all particle physics. All modern electronics. Nearly all polymer chemistry. Quantum electrodynamics. All of astronomy other than that with visible light (which is most of it). Plate tectonics.

    In nearly all fields the peer review process works fine. Just because problems exist in one or two areas, climate science and some medical sciences, there is no need to throw out the baby with the bath water.

    This is just another ‘golden age’ fallacy.

  87. There is one enforcement of reality, of true science: when results must be right due to direct ties to applied science, to engineering working in the real world.

    But that applies to some fields far less than others, like in climatology having a model with repeated wrong predictions is no problem to those involved.

    “The second red flag is that none of them gets paid. Those who believe in Santa Claus will say, well, they are just nice people volunteering their time to help advance science. Those who work for a living will smell a rat. I can give you one reason: being a reviewer gives you power over other people.”

    Doing work without pay is also an aspect of the highest-postcount members on various web forums and the dominant deletionists on wikipedia controversial articles. Many of the former, on anything from politics to computer games, tend to be on average the most ideologically motivated, groupthink-enforcing, ego-driven in the worst way, and dishonest subset of the population I’ve ever seen, utterly into bashing the writing of those they dislike for reasons which have jack to do with pursuit of objective truth…

    If anything, the only surprise is that science hasn’t been harmed worse by the present peer review system’s design, which must be credited to the better nature of many scientists, though not everyone who calls himself or herself a scientist deserves the term.

    “It was introduced a long time ago, but it took over the scientific community at about mid 20th century. Why is it important? Every scientist must publish his or her work. If you do not publish, you will not advance your career.”

    Aside from other problems, it encourages the scientific equivalent of patent spam.

    Anyway, the present system is indeed broken. Reviewers should be non-anonymous and paid, among other changes (such as those Zalotocky suggested).

  88. I am an academic in a social science field. All our journal articles are double blind. It seems like such a simple fix. I naively thought all scientific fields used double blind reviewing.

  89. I’m sorry but I disagree.

    I do agree that peer review as it stands is shockingly weak as a standard of scientific excellence and has been corrupted beyond recognition in several disciplines.

    It’s like democracy; the worst form of government imaginable, and yet better than anything else that’s been tried.

    Overhaul is clearly in order; no publication without full disclosure of all data and methodology. ‘Proprietary data’ claims should result academic dismissal.

    Also; no more unpaid and anonymous peer-review. Paid reviews published alongside the final work. You want to get rid of the stink; sunshine is the best disinfectant. The pay will assure that people are willing to do the work. There are always hungry newly minted PHd’s out there willing to actually do the groundwork necessary to ensure a competent review. But they aren’t too interested in doing it for free.

    Finally; if you want to be a peer reviewed journal; fully disclosed board, including their involvement with academic and private institutions and no-pay wall. Period. Universities can and will pay the subscription price, regardless of on-line availability, and availability of the paper, its data, and methodology should be freely available to any who wish to check the math. Otherwise you are the great and powerful Oz, standing over there behind the curtain.

    As far as the board members themselves; the first time they publicly advocate a political position or policy that relates to their field; they should be cut off from all government funding. If they are a professor at a public institution; gone. It is okay for a scientist to campaign, but not on the public dime. Go to a private institution if that is what you want to do. It isn’t a question of academic freedom, it’s about using government (tax) money to campaign. If you want to use your government paid position as a bully pulpit; you need to first get yourself elected to office.

    That isn’t to say they shouldn’t be allowed to write a letter to their representative if they feel so inclined. But to testify in front of congress is an overtly political act. Congress doesn’t do science. To engage in the kind of rhetoric and outright obfuscation as some of these people have amounts to official misconduct. Government funded ‘proprietary’ research? The mere claim demands a criminal sentence of jail time.

    Of course, given the recent levels of official misconduct currently being ignored or excused; my final observation is the real solution to all of this is to get the government out of ‘soft science’.

    If the Army needs a new laser or the Navy wants a new propulsion system; go for it. If non-deterministic models of massive chaotic systems who’s inputs are not well understood are the topic; forget it. The government has no place in paying people engage in either tasseography or haruspicy. Such is the state of modern climate ‘science’.

    We need to learn to distinguish between real science and the use of complex statistical models to forecast the behavior of massive chaotic systems whose inputs are complex to the point that even they cannot be reliably modeled. That is shamanism, not science. (Picture Mike Mann in a full zulu-mask dancing around a bunch of bristle-cone pine cores while grad students holding fluorescent light bulbs recite an al-gorian chant.) If you think about it; the reading of entrails and tea leaves to predict the future is a really good analogy for the ‘science’ of GCM’s.

    Anyway; back to my original point; you have to name some better form of review, you cannot simply suggest we do away with the current method of scientific refinement without suggesting an alternative means. Otherwise you have cast us back into the dark ages with no mechanism by which we can agree to improve our scientific understanding.

  90. Interesting point of view. Indeed, if you read through Chemical Abstracts, there are far fewer, but more interesting, and better written entries before, say, 1960, than afterwards. About 90% of what appears in present day research is useless nuance with more useless nuance as references. Not only that, the articles and abstracts are written in language that is arcane, and yet often imprecise.

    I couldn’t blame it all on the peer review process, but there’s something to think about.

  91. In Re; Austin6/25, 6:22 am;

    Austin, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I got my bachelors in business, with an ‘emphasis’ on finance. Yes, it is a similar problem. What the good professor most likely realized is that, once you’ve done massive regressions on whole industries, all you’ve really accomplished is forecast one of your major inputs; economic growth and development. It is circular reasoning. If you knew the answer (how much economic growth will occur in the next quarter, ceterus peribus), you could probably have a model predict fairly accurately how any particular industry would do over that period of time. Less so on a particular stock, but still; once you agregate all the stocks in an industry, and correlate all the industries; you have modeled the economy. Economic growth is simply the aggregation of how each economic productivity unit performed.

    Except for one problem; your model assumes a whole bunch of relevant inputs that are simply not known; the economic implications of elections and legislation, the impact of regional weather on agricultural output and construction productivity. Demographic patterns, fed monetary policy and paradigm shifts in technology all play into it. It is simply not possible to model these things with any degree of accuracy.

    So you are left with the circular reasoning of the CAPM model and the weak form efficient market hypothesis. No matter how large your data set, there is simply no place in CAPM for Fannie May’s ‘liar’ loans, Obamacare, google glasse, or hurricane Sandy.

  92. @ Eric Worrall
    June 25, 2013 at 1:06 am (and others)
    I am a scientist working in the field of cardiovascular genetics. Even here we often have to deal with biased, unfair, and superficial reviews. I had papers rejected only becasue somebody decided that they had a “low priority” without any serious methidological issue. Surely blind peer review is not the perfect way to select good science out from the bad one. Perhaps one should think to develop a kind of ranking allowing to select the most correct and professional reviewer.
    However there is another issue I think we have to consider: the pressure for publication that scientists have to face every day, Publications are needed for career, publications are needed to get money to found other research and for young fellows to grorw. The research costs are continuously increasing while the funds are shrinking. So, there is a more substantial issue than the peer review. It is the entire way of how science production is organized that needs to be reassessed and redesigned
    I bet that if we remove the peer review process the amnount of junk science oublished will further increase. Duble blind review process is not a solution as well since it is very easy to spot papers from competitors once you know them.

  93. I cannot agree with the author’s statement that “these problems have been solved in all other spheres.”

    I’ve been earning my living as a professional translator for more than 30 years. In translation business, some agencies (middlemen who find translators for corporate clients) are using anonymous “reviewers” to evaluate translations. The problem here is the same as in the scientific peer review process. American translation agency owners, as well as their employees that coordinate translations, usually don’t know any language but English. “Reviewers” are often competitors who cannot find work, because their translations are of lower quality that those they review. You can imagine the consequences.

    Personal vendettas are also abound. I’ve been working with a certain editor for more than 20 years. He is an intelligent person but cannot write very well. For this reason, he has been taking editing work instead of translation work. (Editing pays much less than translation but gives one a power to tell the client if this or that translator is good or bad. Strange, illogical, counterproductive situation, but that’s how it is.) In the past, I never had bad reviews from this editor. As years went by, we have become closely acquainted. Recently, while talking to him on the phone, we had a sharp disagreement about a personal matter that had nothing to do with our translation work. Et voila! I suddenly stopped getting work from an important client who uses him as a translation reviewer, despite the fact that this client and this reviewer were happy with my translations for many years.

    I think this situation is very similar to the evil peer review situation in science. I am sure it exists in other professional fields as well.

  94. The answer might be to use something like the Opensource model that developed things like Linux and the Arduino. Everything in the open. Stupidity or Heresy (the latter might be rational with disagreement on the premises) will appear, and you can always “fork” the publication.

    I noticed a complaint about “creationists flooding the scientific journals”. Do you mean writing nonsensical papers, or legitimate criticism of an interpretation, not much different than a skeptic criticizing a global warming model (which a wamer will not do)?

    Let all discussion occur in the open, even if it is sharp – either you can show your point from reason, or have to resort to ad hominem, emotion, authority, or whatever else.

    Put it differently (remembering the movie Expelled), would you rather have someone who knows how to argue his point very effectively, but you disagree on one of the unprovable premises, or some total idiot sycophant that can just spout talking points, but agrees with your views? Which is better for science? I prefer rational heretic (the jester-fool in the king’s court) to the stupid sycophant. I even hate the stupid sycophants that agree with me worse since it makes me appear to be stupid and foolish.

    “Peer Review” is a star chamber of the incumbent inquisitors looking for heretics. Perhaps it was not intended to be that way, nor have Journals be the critical factor in careers, but that is the current system and it is broken.

  95. I find it amazing this WUWT allows this fundamentally flawed essay on its sight. This entire essay is what I like to call, “young people have no respect these days”. Right from the first sentence “1895-1945” was the “most exciting period,” Really? No. What about the human genome project, dark energy, dark matter, cellular biology and how cells die, exoplanets, lasers, cloning, and I could go on. There is no evidence that science has slowed down, it’s just moved to different areas, specifically the biological sciences and less astrophysics. There is no evidence science has slowed down at all.

    Have we slowed down in “fundamental” sciences well yes, because fundamental sciences are just that fundamental. The fundamental sciences like Atomic Theory, Chemical Theory, and micro biology all happened long before the early twentieth century, and people like Einstein and Bohr built off Faraday and Maxwell before them, just as Hawking built off his predecessors in the 1980’s and 90’s. Science is science it moves along, it is your perspective that give you the impression you have. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_scientific_discoveries

    The essay then goes on to explain how peer review process has slowed everything down, and yes it has slowed everything down that was the point. After the disasters of eugenics and Piltdown man, aether space the scientific community felt more scientific rigor was necessary, and justifiably so. Piltdown man went on for 40 years, and it was easily disprovable, science even without peer review, is slow.

    The peer review process is fundamentally sound but it can be exploited when the pool of reviewers is too small, despite the anonymity of the reviewers, they still know each other. Very young sciences have this problem and pseudo sciences as well. Where things cannot be independently and conclusively tested are more difficult to overturn, because of the whole reliance on statistics and unrepeatable science.

    The article goes on to talk about volunteerism and the “Santa Claus” notion that “they are just nice people volunteering their time to help advance science.” This is exceptionally cynical and completely false, I could site thousands of examples of volunteers helping in their respective fields, people do it on a daily basis, do some people have an agenda yes, can it be politicized sure, but volunteerism works great and has for thousands of years. I would cite examples but I wouldn’t even know where to start.
    As for the review process, all authors feel their paper is “brilliant” the problem is most of them are not, and there is limited room in the journal, it’s this exclusivity that gives the paper its reputation, its ability to filter the non-science. You are all for throwing out the peer review system, but you give no alternative to this process, you have 100 papers, you can only publish 5, how do you decide? Everyone one knows what everyone is writing about generally you can tell whose paper is whose. Even if the papers are submitted anonymous, you can’t get perfect objectivity, how do you decide? Are you going to choose the reviewers(Bias)? Voting system? Who gets to vote(yet more bias)? In a world of limited resources, who gets in the journal? You can’t publish it all.

    Or do we go Wikipedia route, any nut bar living in his basement can now become a reviewer, it was suppose to be unbiased in the end it quickly became extremely biased and politicized.

    Paid editors? Who hires them? What is their expertise? What are their biases? Journal boards have lazy friends too, bringing money into the situation only brings in more politics not less.

    “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” – Churchill

    Peer review is like democracy, it’s bad but everything else we tried is worse and with limited resources someone has to decide, who should it be?

  96. donaitkin says:
    June 25, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Re: Watson & Crick

    CodeTech says:
    June 25, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Re: Big Bang Theory
    ——————————

    The TV show writers failed to note that naming & confirmation of the Big Bang Theory itself originated in the post-1930s period during which Leonard said nothing had happened in physics.

    In addition to the scientific advances Abzats mentions from 1895-1945, there were antibiotics (arguably applied science), the Modern Synthesis of Darwin & Mendel, Hubble’s discovery of universal expansion & Pauling’s covalent bonds, among others.

    But from the just-past 50-year (1945-95) period of pal review & corrupted science which he IMO rightly decries, we had not only the aforementioned structure of DNA (building of course on prior work), leading to molecular biology & genetics (including recombinant DNA), & Big Bang Theory, but semiconducting materials (again arguably applied science), plate tectonics (based upon the discovery of sea-floor spreading, explaining Wegener’s hypothesis from the prior period), the acceptance of catastrophism in geology (pioneered by Bretz in the earlier period) & String (now M) Theory (for good & ill), again among others (such as discovery of pulsar neutron stars).

    In the present 1995-2045 period we’ve so far discovered that the expansion of the universe appears to be speeding up.

    IMO, most other 50-year periods since 1545 vie with Abzats’ arguably most exciting early 20th century however (except 1695-1745), but perhaps none more so than 1845-95 (Snow, Darwin, Pasteur, Lister, Mendel, Koch, Mendeleev, Maunder, Maxwell, Kelvin). Tesla straddles the periods, but, like Lister, is also arguably a technologist rather than pure scientist.

    It’s still possible since 1945 despite life in the belly of the Big Science beast for scientists working on their own without “funding” to make major contributions, if not on the scale of country gentlemen like Darwin or rude mechanics like Faraday.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Marshall

    But it may be harder than ever now to overturn false orthodoxies, with the awesome power of the state-media complex defending itself. At least the authorities haven’t yet brought back burning at the stake, much as they might like to.

  97. You all have a computer sitting in front of you. Imagine you could somehow take it back in time and show it to the very best scientists you could find from the first half of the 20th century.

    You could not even explain what it was for, let alone how it worked.

    That alone should alone should be sufficient to put to rest the idea that science has stagnated.

    As for improvements to the peer review process, double-blind reviewing could be tried and might be a slight improvement, but it would not have a major effect for the simple reason that it is easy to guess who the authors of a paper are – I have never seen a paper where the authors did not refer to their own, previous, work!

  98. Not all peer review is anonymous. I have been involved multiple times (reviewer and reviewed) where it was not anonymous. The most serious problem with peer review has already been identified many times at WUWT: “pal-review.” Often times the authors know exactly who their reviewers are – their core group of like-minded people.

    I agree with you that many conferences are planned for desirable vacation spots and many (most?) attendees use them as vacations. It is a non-sequitor to imply that picking a cushy vacation resort for a conference means that the research presented there must be flawed by improper peer review.

    I find these vacation spots to be hypocritical when chosen by environmental groups or supposedly altruistic groups for their conferences. Vast amounts of resources could be saved by simply putting the presentations online and letting questions and answers be handled online.

    For those who are interested, the Radiation Research Society meeting at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel in Maui Hawaii that Abzats referred to was in 2010, not “last year”. Here is the program…

    http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.radres.org/resource/collection/114D1634-D152-49CB-BDF5-270084CD30F4/RRS_2010_Program.pdf

    Here is the list of abstracts…

    http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.radres.org/resource/collection/114D1634-D152-49CB-BDF5-270084CD30F4/RRS_2010_Abstract.pdf

    Mr. Abzats, I found your article to be a little over-the-top. If you are concerned about anonymity, please use your real name. I doubt very seriously that it is “Abzats.”

  99. Yes, technology has advanced and fundamental breakthroughs have declined.
    But this may be just a natural cycle in knowledge accumulation.

    However, the problems of cronyism and established schools of thought dominating debate are easily observed so let’s deal with that.

    The root of the problems are that funding and security are given to researchers for publishing papers – regardless of the paper’s value. Who can tell the value of a paper?

    But if funding was disproportionately given for forcing the withdrawal of papers then the pruning process would occur. And people would still propose new ideas because forcing withdrawal is always easier when you have a reputation of your own.
    Also journals that refused to allow easy withdrawal would wither on the vine as attention would go where the easy pickings come from.

  100. MattN says: “…And paying reviewers is a bad idea, simply because of the abuse it could lead to (Big Corp. paying reviewers for favorable reviews, etc.)

    What we have now is Big Science paying reviewers with favors, etc.

  101. DirkH says:
    June 25, 2013 at 1:19 am
    phlogiston says:
    June 25, 2013 at 1:04 am
    “- Look also at the model of a journal like Nature which has full time salaried reviewers. These professional reviewers are not so subject to conflicts of interest like finding a competitor’s paper in front of them for review.”

    Nature, the journal, is owned by Germans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_von_Holtzbrinck_Publishing_Group

    Maybe you want a green romanticist ideology to filter your science, maybe not.

    I guess you’re right, salaried editors of a prestigious journal are kind of public figures and come under political pressure regarding AGW etc, so compared to peer review it may be out of the frying pan into the fire as regards impartiality, certainly in connection with climate.

    BTW the company I work for has also been bought be German scientific equipment manufacturer so I guess I’ve also become an honorary German :-)

  102. Peer-Reviews can readily be published in the online versions of the journal. While papers are usually written in a rather strict style [evolved over time], reviews tends to be a lot less structured and more ad-hoc. This opens the questions if the reviews should also be copy-edited [as the papers] or left as ‘raw’ as they come. Here are some examples from my own work:
    http://www.leif.org/research/swsc130003.pdf [review at bottom of file]
    http://www.leif.org/research/ApJ88587.pdf review here: http://www.leif.org/research/Responses%20to%20Reviewer%20for%20ApJ88587.pdf
    http://www.leif.org/research/Semiannual-Comment.pdf review here: http://www.leif.org/research/Review-History-2011GL048616.pdf
    http://www.leif.org/research/Waldmeier.pdf review here: http://www.leif.org/research/Review-History-2010GL045307.pdf
    http://www.leif.org/research/2009JA015069.pdf review here: http://www.leif.org/research/IDV09-Review-History.pdf
    http://www.leif.org/research/McCracken%20JGR%202.pdf review here: http://www.leif.org/research/McCracken%20Reply.pdf

    Was it useful to have the reviews?

  103. The matter is more complex than presented. During many years as professional scientist, I found bias and incompetence in reviewing. (Conversely, sometimes reviewers miss gross errors, which are then published) The author has, however, a chance to fight back and prove error or bias in the review. I had to struggle most for the manuscripts I tought my best. One manuscript went through four pairs of reviewers; in the end, the Editor decided in my favor. Also, there are several journals in each field. Once, an editor rejected a manuscript judged publishable by both reviewers. I succeeded with the competition.
    The problem is, however, the evaluation of research proposals. Research money.is given as grants, from government agencies and private foundations. At some time, private foundations began judging proposals first by ideology. The agencies get the proposals reviewed. There is no appeal, one can prove bias or idiocy in a review, it still stands. In adddition, affirmative action is applied (women and recognized minorities first), by design. I could propose a much better approach, but (1) this is not the place and (2) those who set up the process wouldn’t care to look at alternatives.

  104. One experience I had with bad peer review. The reviewers’ comments
    indicated they had not really read the paper–and one was incompetent,
    as he stated that “The final result is wrong, as energy does not scale
    correctly as an intensive property.” Energy is EXTENSIVE, not INTENSIVE.
    Another reviewer made a throwaway comment about how this paper
    neglected “…the easiest method of finding quantum corrections…”
    which had nothing to do with the subject of the paper!

    On the other hand, my very first paper drew a future Nobel Prize winner
    for Physics as reviewer, who really strengthened (and in one part, tactfully
    corrected!) the paper.

    My experiences suggest that it’s a crap-shoot as to whether you will get
    an involved, dedicated reviewer or someone who will not provide any benefit
    at all, and may even be obstructive.

  105. @DirkH
    You’re preaching to the choir on all those points of science. But this article was still a rant. There are many possible rants against peer review. I have my own favorites. But a plan to reform/replace peer review would involve creating new metrics for defining success and failure, who lives as a scientist and who dies as a non-scientist. It would involve some way to know whether the plan succeeded or failed. This article was a rant, not a plan. This website is usually better than this, and so I objected.

    @rogerknights: review articles are extracted from papers that had testable hypotheses. They are more like a history. This article was nothing like a history of criticisms of peer review. It was a personal opinion with no ability to conceive that it might be wrong or misguided. For a something like a history of criticisms of peer review and science in general, read “Machiavelli’s Laboratory” by Berman. It’s online, free, and much better than this Abzats piece.

  106. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these?
    for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.

    Ecclesiastes 7: 10.

  107. Eric Worrall says:

    June 25, 2013 at 12:30 am

    I don’t think its that simple. If there is no peer review, how can you prevent creationists and people with a perverse agenda, such as promoters of fake medical treatments, from flooding credible journals with junk science? I agree the current system is broken, but I don’t see how having no system is a viable replacement.

    Eric: SIMPLE! Editors of Journals themselves can make that decision. By the way, why the “knee jerk” reaction on “creationists”? A slight bit of intellectual bigotry here? I used to receive a variety of “Journals” in my past engineering life..nothing having to do with the origin of life, or “creationism” would have ever appeared in such journals. Come to think of it, the writings on those matters are NOT SCIENCE to begin with, but rather SPECULATION. As an engineer, I tend towards REAL SCIENCE (i.e., experiement, repeat, confirm, move on…) So much else is SPECULATION disquised as “science”.

  108. Long time lurker, first time poster.
    I have to say this is probably one of the least reasonable articles I have come across on WUWT in my time reading here. Many articles I cannot accurately comment on but this one needs further comment.

    Yes, peer review is flawed. As many have indicated, until a better system is found, then this is the best currently available. That said, it’s more often the body performing the review that is more flawed than is the process. If the community is sufficiently small, as perhaps climate science is, then group-think can take over what is a reasonable process and bias it substantially. This can be done in any number of ways, some contrived, some not. Ultimately it does poison the process and climate science is not the only field to have this happen, but this is at times simply human nature.

    As to the author’s red flags I think I disagree with all of them.
    Anonymity is a good thing as most fields are competitive. A good editor, that selects reviewers, should have the common sense to select reviewers that are not directly in competition with the author(s) of the paper under review. This may not always be possible as the expertise is limited sometimes in very highly specialized areas. Many reviewers in my field will actually give up their anonymity as they are seeking clarification and will contact the lead author. Not all will do this, but many will. If they choose to remain anonymous I find it hard to fault that given many authors can be equally as petty as is ascribed to the reviewers.
    As for getting paid or not, I can more easily see bias creeping in when someone is getting paid, especially if we are to go with the meme that journals like Science or Nature are readily biased towards certain viewpoints within specific fields. Providing payment will lessen this bias? Most of the journal reviewers I know of do it out of a sense of service to their respective academic societies – the motive is altruistic in many cases. Many of the younger reviewers do it as a way to build up their curriculum vitae – this holds weight with their academic institution (a service component is written into many teaching and research positions); likely not the same weight as publishing, but when you are starting out you’ve presumably published all of the work you can from graduate school so there is a lag while you re-establish at a new position.

    I would agree that reviewers do indeed have power and some will abuse it. However going on the assumption that your paper is above reproach of a reviewer, biased or not, is leaning fairly far into the reaches of arrogance. Familiarity, as happens when one researches something intensely and subsequently publishes something leaves one open to glaring oversight at times. One also may not be well versed enough in statistical analysis to select the appropriate analysis for the methods utilized. My graduate supervisor always drilled into our heads that the type of analysis must be determined ahead of time, not trying to squeeze some data into a desired or familiar analysis after the fact. Linear regression isn’t always the appropriate choice no matter how familiar you claim to be with it.

    When a publisher rejects your submitted paper it’s more often than not because the paper is not sufficiently strong or adds nothing new to the discourse. Yes, of course there are times that the editor’s biases are the only sufficient reason for no publication but this kills neither your publication nor your career. Take the advice of the reviewers, rework the paper as suggested (assume some level of humility) and if you can’t re-submit to the original journal, find another journal. Does anyone seriously believe that if Nature doesn’t publish your paper you can’t submit it to another journal? I suppose someone could work in a field so narrow that there is only a single journal to publish in but I cannot think of that field. Nature and Science are about prestige (ego?) in many cases. There are many other ‘lesser’ journals that are perfectly suitable as an avenue to publish ones work.

    As far as the cronyism example, it’s fairly clear the author has never actually participated in organizing a scientific meeting of any size. While I wouldn’t for a second debate the luxury of the Grand Wailea (I stay up the road in Kihei when fortunate enough to visit Maui), many large hotels in ‘luxurious’ locations often offer quite spectacular deals in terms of hotel room costs, meeting room space and other amenities, typically in low or shoulder seasons simply because the space would otherwise sit empty. The rates are often much less expensive for the meeting organizers than they would be in more boring locales. The organization I work with routinely meets in San Diego or sometimes other ‘nice’ locations. The reasons aren’t for luxury or warmth, it’s simply because of the size of the organization at times, coupled with maintaining a reasonably low cost for attendees (registration, airfare and accommodations are the big three). Certain places simply won’t book meetings under certain sizes – Minneapolis rarely accommodates meeting groups under 3000 people simply because they can and do get filled up by larger groups which provide a far better return for the city than smaller groups. There are many, many reasons for selecting a location for a meeting. That Grand Wailea meeting was probably cheaper in September than it was to go to Minneapolis in June or December. So really, given ‘we know’ who was paying for it, maybe they made the right choice. I’ve been to meetings in “exciting places” (Turkey) and “boring” places (Bloomington, IL). The locale is irrelevant because I tend to attend the sessions rather than indulge in the opulence. The Grand Wailea might be a whole lot nicer than the Travelodge but I’m there for the content, not the venue. My spouse on the other hand… and that too is a factor in selecting locations. Maybe it shouldn’t matter but it is considered.

    As to the lifetime achievement award winner making jokes I’d prefer to judge their ability to review a paper on their accomplishments. That they can make a joke means I want to have a beer with them.

    I will agree that people are the root of the problem, of that there is no question. That the author thinks there are few people that will miss a chance to stab another in the back is selling scientists as a group fairly short. It may in fact be more of a comment on the author than on those in the community.

    I think the premise is a nice one in that there are problems with peer review but banning it? Silly. Constantly belittling it as a system provides no useful benefit and is frankly one of the memes I find most frustrating. The system isn’t the problem, it’s the people in the system. Sometimes you get sufficient bodies in a system that the system or organization itself becomes corrupted, as many of us presume to be the case with the climate community. Certainly the climate community provides many examples over time that there are serious issues within.

    Further the problem has become science by press conference and a willing and culpable media. The old adage is that you only need to repeat something three times for someone to retain and believe that information. In our era of constant media bombardment via MSM, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, etc. even the most absurd of premises becomes the TRUTH fairly quickly. Perhaps the greatest problem is that funding agencies seem to have lost a number of things: intestinal fortitude required to defend funding decisions – if it’s not hot, trendy, a crisis or potentially profitable, we won’t fund it. The crisis aspect may well be the most important driving force of the funding equation. If the sky is falling the money will follow. Now where have we seen that before?

    Sorry for the lengthy rant but in general I love WUWT but this detracts from the impact I’m afraid. Scientists know of the flaws in the peer review process but until you have a better system, it’s what we got. Work within it to improve it. Where it is flawed, provide proof to show it is flawed (there’s a quote above from ClimateGate that readily shows it).

  109. There is peer review, and then there is climate peer review.

    Remember Mann’s quote: “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer review literature is” ?

    Climate peer review has been corrupted by a relatively small clique of journals, referees and corrupt scientists, who work together to keep the grant money flowing. They cannot abide other scientists telling the truth: that there is nothing either unusual or unprecedented happening with the climate. Thus, they promote climate alarmism, and the baseless demonization of “carbon”.

    Climate peer review has been thoroughly corrupted. For those who might question that fact, read A.W. Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion. Montford shows how Mann and others have gamed the climate peer review system: journals and referees are threatened — and alarmist scientists have even succeeded in getting scientists fired for simply expressing scientific opinions that do not agree with the curent alarmist narrative.

    Climate peer review is the problem, not peer review in general.

  110. Well, one could have instead eponymous reviewers, a type of special editors. This would remove part of the problem of cronyism because it would become evident. After all when a scientist goes through the education loop he knows his/her professors. Submitting papers is like taking an exam in a sense.

  111. jimmi_the_dalek says:

    You all have a computer sitting in front of you. Imagine you could somehow take it back in time and show it to the very best scientists you could find from the first half of the 20th century.

    You could not even explain what it was for, let alone how it worked.

    Actually, I could easily explain how it works, and assuming I’m talking with a group of intelligent scientists I’m pretty sure within 5 minutes I could have them up to speed on at least the concepts, if not the details required for them to recreate the technology.

    As for what it’s for, who couldn’t understand the concept of arguing with strangers and looking at pictures of cats?

    That alone should alone should be sufficient to put to rest the idea that science has stagnated.

    Computer science is more about incremental improvements than groundbreaking science, and doesn’t really apply. Each person and project increases knowledge, and computer science doesn’t require fantastic theoretical proofs – either it works or it doesn’t.

    I personally don’t think the concept of peer review is irredeemably broken, but I do believe there needs to be better controls. Big science is suffering from two major issues: huge money, and huge egos. Both tend to corrupt almost everything they contact.

  112. donaitkin says:
    June 25, 2013 at 12:34 am
    I’m not sure that Crick and Watson, and those who came after them in molecular biology, would agree that nothing occurred after 1945!
    ——–
    Agree, and the human genome is quite a wonder. So is the transistor, etc., etc.
    Sometimes it is best to look beyond your own discipline before saying all progress has stopped.

  113. The most exciting period in science was, arguably, 1895-1945. It was marked by discoveries that changed the foundations of modern science: X-rays, quantum mechanics, superconductivity, relativity theory and nuclear energy. Then, compare this with the next 50 years in science. Incomparable. Nothing of that scale or impact.

    Exactly.

    I am currently reading a book by Lee Smolin called The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes. In it Smolin writes:

    …It may also be the strangest and most frustrating period in the history of physics since Kepler and Galileo began the practice of our craft four hundred years ago. The story I will tell could be read by some as a tragedy. To put it bluntly— and to give away the punch line— we have failed. We inherited a science, physics, that had been progressing so fast for so long that it was often taken as the model for how other kinds of science should be done. For more than two centuries, until the present period, our understanding of the laws of nature expanded rapidly. But today, despite our best efforts, what we know for certain about these laws is no more than what we knew back in the 1970s. How unusual is it for three decades to pass without major progress in fundamental physics? Even if we look back more than two hundred years, to a time when science was the concern mostly of wealthy amateurs, it is unprecedented. Since at least the late eighteenth century, significant progress has been made on crucial questions every quarter century.

    Even when science was “the concern of mostly wealthy amateurs,” physics progressed more than it has in my entire working career (now ended). It makes me glad I didn’t go into that field – because it appears my career would have done nothing to have furthered science. I may have published all sorts of papers. I might have gotten caught up in string theory or quantum physics – but to what end?

    Smolin goes on…

    When I meet old friends from college and graduate school, we sometimes ask each other, “What have we discovered that our generation can be proud of?” If we mean new fundamental discoveries, established by experiment and explained by theory— discoveries on the scale of those just mentioned— the answer, we have to admit, is “Nothing!”

    So it is not just the science bashers who see this. Even the insiders do.

    I recommend the book, but it is a heavy slog through most of it. But it is very informative about the state of the science.

    Steve Garcia

  114. Peer review has to exist to maintain some standards, but must be changed especially for any science that is controversial. Any controversial topics needs to be divided in two peer review groups, for and against. They both decide if it passes both alternative views, but if one passes it gets through. The paper only fails if both peer review groups reject it.

  115. I personally think that the problem Abzats is describing has a more fundamental problem and that is treating scientists as some sort of “Rock Gods” especially by the media. When you watch the news, how many times do you hear the phrase, “Scientists say….”

    The first thing we need to do is to humanize scientists – they are not Gods of any description. Lets face it if the world was depopulated and you were left with a scientist and a farmer who are on opposite sides of the planet, who has the best chances of survival? Who will you rely on to provide you with food?. I think that the world status of scientists is way too high. With the status of scientists set so high now you have the opportunity for corruption with peer review being one of the forms.

    Just as an example, lets go back to Newton. Could you imagine the chuckles if a newspaper in 1687 had come out with the headlines “Scientists discover laws of motion” followed by, “It is thought that these laws could allow men to fly to the moon”. I don’t think so.

  116. Big Don says:
    June 25, 2013 at 7:36 am

    The alternative to peer review is independent confirmation / replication of results. There is no reason why any hypotheses should be squelched from publication….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Correct. If I recall correctly ~90 to 95% of the peer -reviewed papers are crap anyway and are disproved 5 to 10 years down the road.

    How many papers have we seen here at WUWT that are less than worthless?

    Do not forget Scott Armstrong’s recommendation to young scientists:

    From the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1982.
    Plain Prose: It’s Seldom Seen in Journals

    Written by Dick Pothier

    If you want to publish an article in some scientific or medical journal, here is some unusual advice from Scott Armstrong, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Choose an unimportant topic. Agree with existing beliefs. Use convoluted methods. Withhold some of your data. And write the whole thing in stilted, obtuse prose.

    Armstrong, who is the editor of a new research publication called the Journal of Forecasting, offered the advice in a serious, scholarly article last month in the journal’s first issue. He said yesterday that he had studied the publication process in research journals for years.

    “Although these rules clearly run counter to the goal of contributing to scientific knowledge — the professed goal of academic journals — they do increase a paper’s chance of being published,” Armstrong said.

    “Some readers may feel that the suggestions here … are extreme,” he wrote in his article. “However, they provide a description of many papers published in the social sciences…. It is not by accident that intelligent and successful scientists produce such work.” Armstrong surveyed dozens of recent studies on how articles in such journals get published, and the result, he said, “was rather depressing, if our job is to get that research information out and have the readers benefit from it.”

    In one study, Armstrong said, academics reading articles in scientific journals rated the authors’ competence higher when the writing was less intelligible than when it was clear.

    In another study, Armstrong said, research papers were mailed to a sampling of dozens of researchers. Half the scientists received a paper that described an experiment confirming existing beliefs; the other half received a paper describing an identical experiment but with a different conclusion that challenged the consensus.

    Although the methods used in the two sets of papers were identical, the scientists surveyed generally approved of the procedures used in the papers that confirmed existing beliefs and generally disapproved of the same methods when they were used to contradict what most scientists believed, Armstrong said.

    “Papers with surprising results are especially important for adding significantly to what is known. Presumably, the editors of journals want to publish important papers,” Armstrong said. “On the other hand, they are concerned that the journal might look foolish — and so they reject many of the important papers.”

    For young academics who wish to be published in such journals, Armstrong said, “the factors that would seem to be a deadly combination would be choosing an important problem and obtaining surprising results.”

    Other studies, Armstrong said, indicate that obscure writing helps those who have little to say. And having little to say may also be an advantage, especially if the author withholds some significant data. “This will allow the researcher to continue publishing slightly different versions of the same research,” which Armstrong says is a common practice. Armstrong’s own specialty is the study of forecasting, and the new journal that published his how-to-publish article covers forecasting in many study areas, including economics, sociology, finance, psychology, and engineering…..

    That was in 1982, I doubt that things have improved in the last twenty years.

  117. The claim that not much basic science has been developed since 1945 is bogus. We have made great strides in earth science, Astronomy/Astrophysics, cosmology, elementary particles and biology. Dark matter, plate tectonics, acceleration of the expansion of the universe, string theory, the Higgs boson, and most exciting of all DNA. In addiition increases in computer power are making simulation of complex systems possible. These systems could include the earth’s atmosphere and the human brain.

  118. Armchair sociology and anecdotes are inadequate arguments. Do some science, real science, and come back and report your findings.

  119. I agree 100%. There is no recourse in peer review. Consider that Einstein had a very hard time, in the early days of his career, getting a position in a university, of any kind. Why? Surely not because of a lack of talent or effort. His papers were initially ignored by the scientific community. It took him seven years after publishing his first great paper to be recognized by the community as a leading scientist. This to the greatest mind of the century. This type of thing happens every day in the scientific world these days – great work is altered, sometimes rejected. All because of a system of authority called peer review. What is needed is a more open process.

  120. Double-blind Peer Review won’t protect good researchers even if others don’t spot their work if the research is some radical like that crystallographer who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with his work on odd crystallographic symmetries. For years he couldn’t get published. For those who say journals should use paid Peer Review, no Pay Wall etc. That’s financially not possible- where would the money come from but deleting Peer Review is finanically possible- pay the small cost by Pay Ads. Peer Review is an inherently slow and faulty process. Apparently scientific papers don’t contain any maths so they don’t need to checked by an appropriate mathematician. No methods so no methodological analysis needed. Peer who aren’t strong in those area are that are needed. Why don’t universities or collectives of institutes have internal peer review- Peer Review wouldn’t needed at all then ?

  121. CodeTech @ 2.09

    So you think you could explain how a computer worked in 5 mins to at scientist from say 1940?

    OK you have 5 mins to explain, the LCD screen, the transistor, the laser, integrated circuits, and the polymers the casing is made from, and then (unless it is Turing you are talking to) the whole concept of an ‘automated calculating machine’ and the fundamentals of programming. I wish you luck.

  122. Bob Kutz says: @ June 25, 2013 at 8:41 am
    …..(Picture Mike Mann in a full zulu-mask dancing around a bunch of bristle-cone pine cores while grad students holding fluorescent light bulbs recite an al-gorian chant.) If you think about it; the reading of entrails and tea leaves to predict the future is a really good analogy for the ‘science’ of GCM’s…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Actually the reading of entrails was probably a bit more scientific. Entrails being animal innards.

    This comment comes to mind when ever I hear that observation on entrails

    George E. Smith says: @ July 22, 2010 at 9:36 am
    …Marmots are great forecasters ! Back in the dark ages; round about the time when the Chinese invaded Mongolia; those northern nomadic tribes were great hunters and trappers; and traded in furs, including Marmots.

    Once in a while; every few years or so, a Trapper would come back into town from his trap rounds; and tell the villagers that he had observed some Marmots up on a mountain that were all acting silly as if they were drunk on something.

    At that news; the villagers would collect up all the recently collected pelts, in the town center, and burn the whole lot up; then they would burn the entire village to the ground; and move off into some adjacent valley, and start all over again.

    Nobody knew why; it was just part of the tribal lore that they had learned from their ancestors; the Gods would be angry if they didn’t follow the ritual.

    So when the Chinese invaded, and took over the place, and confiscated all the furs for themselves to send back to China; nobody thought to mention the ancient traditions that must be followed; and so when the Marmots started acting silly again; nobody dared to tell their Chinese masters, that they had to burn the town down.

    The furs went back to China; along with the Bubonic Plague that the Marmots were the vector for; and those furs subsequently made it to Europe; and the great Plagues took off in Europe.
    So Marmots are great predictors; if you know how to read them.

    Every now and then the ground squirrels in the Kings Canyon National Park, all come down with Bubonic Plague and they have to close regions of the Park to campers. Plague needs a burrowing rodent like vector that hibernates through the winter; so the fleas that carry the virus don’t all die during the winter cold.

    Given internal parasites like liver flukes, barber pole worms, hookworms, tape worms… can weaken, or in the case of barber pole worms and strongyles kill your prey animals or can infect humans, checking out the entrails could easily give a ‘Shaman’ clues as to the future health of his tribe or their prey animals. Therefore ‘the reading of entrails’ could be considered more scientific than GCMs in the hands of a knowledgeable shaman just as ‘the reading of marmots’ was.

  123. Cloa5132013 @ 4:09

    “Why don’t universities or collectives of institutes have internal peer review”

    Many do – it is common for someone about to publish a paper to give a departmental seminar on the subject – that sorts out really basic mistakes.

  124. buggs says:
    June 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Long time lurker, first time poster.
    I have to say this is probably one of the least reasonable articles I have come across ….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    That maybe true but it certainly got an interesting discussion going.

  125. This comment thread exposes and clarifies a VITAL problem of which the AGW scam is but a minor symptom. Thanks Abzats.

    MFG, omb

  126. jimmi_the_dalek says:
    June 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    CodeTech @ 2.09

    So you think you could explain how a computer worked in 5 mins to at scientist from say 1940?
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    From The Computer History Museum

    Charles Babbage (1791-1871), computer pioneer, designed the first automatic computing engines. He invented computers but failed to build them. The first complete Babbage Engine was completed in London in 2002, 153 years after it was designed….

    It was the engineering that was the problem not the ‘Science’ Babbage then devoted time into improving the quality of machine tools. (As a computer illiterate why am I the one pointing this out?)

  127. Gail

    I am asking if CodeTech could explain the working of the computer on your desk – not a Babbage machine – for which you will need transistors, lasers, LCDs etc etc – you probably could not even explain the LED indicator lights to a scientist from the 1940s (not in 5 minutes anyway). The point is that all of those are based on principles discovered after 1945.

  128. j_the_d, maybe you don’t understand enough of the history of computing and the internals of a modern computer.

    As I said, I’m talking to intelligent people in 1940, right? So obviously they understand the concept of a switch, and a relay, then the electron valve (vacuum tube). Extend that to the transistor, which in a digital system operates as a switch. It’s pretty obvious that once you have that basic understanding the idea of printed circuits is simple, and improved technology making ICs doesn’t require a great leap of understanding. The idea of a machine state toggle every clock is pretty simple to grasp, what would be fascinating is their reaction to my explaining how we can do that a few billion times per second.

    The concept of step programming has its origins in loom cards, Hollerith cards used in the census, and player pianos, I don’t really see how you think someone in 1940 wouldn’t understand the same concept being implemented in the computer instead of using physical cards. The way we’ve broken functions down into logical modules would make it simple to understand the separation between storage, processing, memory, display, etc, too.

    Thing is, back in those days it was extremely improbable that these technologies, the beginnings of which were already in place, would ever become small and inexpensive enough for an individual to own. In the 80s I used to record in a million dollar recording studio, and it seemed pretty unlikely that I would be able to have equal or better quality equipment in my home for just a few thousand, but I do.

    Storage, case construction, lasers, still not brain surgery, each has been an incremental improvement on earlier technology. For example, you can comprehend that at some point computers will be significantly faster and have what seems to us to be huge storage capability, but the details of the technology, and the applications that will be developed for them, are still a mystery to us today. If someone came back from 50 years in the future and showed you where technology has gone I doubt you’d be lost or incapable of understanding.

    I’d be far more interested in their time travel system.

  129. CodeTech says:

    June 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm
    ==============
    I almost called you on that “intelligent people” thing you posted awhile ago.
    Never overestimate the intelligence of your audience, some of us are dumber than a box of rocks, which is to say, we appreciate your/or anyones explanations.

  130. Gail

    You miss the point completely. Read the whole thread. Many people have objected to the OP’s postulate that science has stagnated after 1945 and have given multiple examples of why this is wrong, from molecular biology to astrophysics. I pointed out that sitting in front of everyone who reads this thread is a device, a modern desktop computer, which relies on technologies whose basic principles were not even established in 1945 – it is not that they are evolutions of older technologies – they rely on things which were not even thought of, like transistors and lasers. Lasers are not an incremental improvement on earlier technology – they emerged in the 1950’s as a completely new invention.

    Your attempt to describe a modern computer in terms of what was known in 1945 would end up falling foul of Arthur Clarke’s Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

    The point of my comments were not related to the history of computers as such, but were intended as another illustration that the had started from a ridiculous assertion, and gone on to inevitably reach a ridiculous conclusion.

  131. I barely ever comment on blog posts but this… this… made me want to stand and applaud!

    I have been telling my colleagues that we need to ban peer review for soooo long. It is a failed and ego-driven model. I feel like it is based on the fairytale impression you pointed out: “scientists are magical selfless beasts living to discover and uncover. They have the morals of angels and are never petty”.

    I can tell you from experience that egos are the hallmark… that people pull rank all the time and we have to do the equivalent of kiss rings if the name is well known enough. At the very least can reviewers be compensated and the process be double-blind?!? I mean come on!

    I’ve been trying to think of another system and quite honestly the only real answer is peer-review by being rewarded for better results. Who gets to decide better results? Well, in markets thats done through profit and losses. So the better system must take advantage of such an incentive. Currently, there is only profit (if you play ball) and no real loss in research, and therefore no incentive to get the right answers for the right reasons.

    thank you for having the chutzpah to just come out and say what everyone knows is true…
    ps- we’ve all had our “Maui” conferences that we’ve attended. My maui was a beautiful mountain town in switzerland.

  132. In Eisenhower’s farewell address, just after his warnings of the military industrial complex, he warns us of a state of scientific research that sounds all too familiar:

    “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.”

  133. My experience with reviewers is that on the whole their comments have resulted in a considerably improved paper and I have learned a lot from them. A few clearly were out of their depth or read what they expected to see rather than what was written. My personal preference would be double blind review or completely open.
    I look on reviewing tasks as an obligation for participating in science. It is my role to help good papers be better and poor papers are a learning experience for the authors. Poor papers take a lot more effort to review.

  134. Besides, jimmi_the_dalek, I did clearly state:

    Actually, I could easily explain how it works, and assuming I’m talking with a group of intelligent scientists I’m pretty sure within 5 minutes I could have them up to speed on at least the concepts, if not the details required for them to recreate the technology.

    Arthur C. Clarke observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And just like magic, explaining the steps in between takes away the wonder and mystery.

  135. so the reviewers are annonymous and there are no standards? what could possibly go wrong!

    How can a review by an annonymous reviewer that is not to any standard have any meaning?. How do we know that the review wasn’t done by Wanda the Fish or Mad as a Hatter? Or even done at all?

  136. rogerknights says:
    June 25, 2013 at 2:56 am

    It is very much like the way Holy Mother Church used to act back in the 15-17th centuries.

    Right–Organized Science has taken over from Organized Religion.

    Er, there’s a reason science (and universities!) originated and flourished in Christian Europe, rather than, say, China, the Roman Empire, Islam, or ancient Greece. The Church taught that a reasonable, law-giving God created a reasonable, law-following universe that human beings could understand with their God-given reason. That simple but profound concept was missing in other cultures and hence they never developed science, despite many technological innovations.

    I don’t say this as a Catholic — I’m not — but just want to set the record straight.

  137. Forgive me for mentioning melanin politics, but your point about anonymity and “funny names” makes me wonder why people like Jesse Jackson are not trying to sue.

    If you want to see something funny, Talbot was addressing a bunch of diet researchers and none commented on the facts he presented. That makes sense, since they are probably scared to death to even been seen hearing a critic of their research in case their manuscripts get rejected.

  138. Reviewers do answer to journal-editors, who know the reviewers’ identities. If, for example, they publish something which they had reviewed, or which they were in the process of reviewing, the editor is supposed to report this. After that, they do not get to publish on anything related, or at least not review for any journal again.

    Also, we have had some pretty stunning advances. It looks, to me, like the basic laws of physics just got rewritten, to a significant degree, just last year. Check out the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics, look at the implications for application with entangled particles, look over the laws of relativity and causality, and then tell me we’re not looking at a viable mechanism for causality-violation.

  139. Dumping Peer review makes sense: over time it locks in orthodoxy of thinking with entrenched, and quite possibly low level, performers given a power via the review process to rein-in new developments.

    The alternative which makes sense is Support Review/Endorsement. Scientists should publish what they can, when they can – get it out there to be debated. The problem really rests with the Journals who must pick and choose what to publish (the current review system both helps them to decide what to publish, and provides a mechanism for them to decide for themselves – by choosing the reviewers – but not appear to be actually making the choices).

    For a Positive Review/Endorsement approach: get your paper written, and get prominent people (scientists or whoever) to endorse it to persuade a Journal to publish. The writer may need to convince peers or peer-equivalents to endorse their paper to get it published, but if they can’t do that, likely it isn’t worth publishing. All the Journals need to do is decide on the basis of what papers they like, and/or appears credible, assisted by who is prepared to endorse the paper.

    Not a perfect system, but less imperfect than the current peer review system.

  140. Why cant peer review be double-blind with the peer review neither knowing the scientist involved or the institution behind it, they would have to be more careful then as they might be stepping on the wrong persons toes.

  141. j_the_d, as you know, your comment was in moderation and I didn’t see it when I last posted. Interesting that we both brought up Clarke’s quote.

    However, you are not correct. Transistors were only a breakthrough in how they worked and how small they could be. Vacuum tubes and relays perform similar tasks. A transistor is easily explained, it’s not complicated, especially to someone who understands even the basics of electricity. So is a laser, although the laboratory behemoths in the 60s can barely be compared with the tiny counterparts that read your DVD. In fact, for a while lasers were a solution looking for a problem.

    Can you actually compare the step-by-step-by-step progress of the computer industry since WW2 with the breakthrough research done during the Manhattan Project, or by the Curies, or by Einstein or Planck or… well, as the point of the post, any of the greats before the current epoch?

    I bet only a very few people can even NAME a modern Scientist, with the possible exception of Hawking. Einstein’s picture is instantly recognized by pretty much everyone on the planet.

    And no, I’m not saying progress has stagnated, although I posted the Big Bang Theory clip because it’s hilarious. Things have changed, a lot. I suspect a lot of the change in how Science is done was because the US needed to keep the “secrets” of The Bomb from becoming too widely known.

    Any reasonably intelligent person extracted from the 1940s to today, or even the 20s or earlier, would integrate just fine, although they might not like the level of communication we’ve achieved. Text messages? Phone calls in the car? Discussing deep topics with a literally world-wide audience, all participating in real time? To my parents’ generation, it’s too much, but it’s not voodoo.

  142. As someone who has been peer-reviewed, and does peer review, a simple change seems sufficient to me – be open about who the reviewer is, if their comments are taken into account (my first paper was apparently reviewed by three people, but only one’s comments were relayed to me – I have later learnt that the then editor who I was dealing with had a healthy habit of taking recommendations to publish with minor changes which he saw as non-substantive as simply saying publish, especially for papers by early-career researchers). If you say publish, fine, you can do this anonymously, but if you want to change something or reject, you should at least say who you are.

    I have had one rejection (probably fair enough) anonymously, and I have therefore no idea if I got something wrong (probable) or simply offended someone. But I have had rejections where reviewers have been courteous enough to discuss the paper with me afterwards with the aim of producing something from the good bits (I am not giving the impression of competence here am I?). And although I have never recommended rejection, if I do recommend changes it is with full permission to contact me for more details.

    I think anonymity allows a small number of experts to cast their judgements, which is never healthy. If review was undertaken on conditiion that you had to explain your problems and at least have a name against them, this would get round that problem – either the experts would be obviously seen to be gate-keeping, or they would refuse to review so much and the pool would be wider. A simple change, but one which gets round many of the problems of the system – it leads to the simple question “why am I objecting to this, and would I want my name publically associated with that objection?”.

  143. “They can ruin your career and drive research, often funded by the public, to a dead end, and they are not accountable to anyone. In such a system, for most scientists the best, or should I say the only, way to advance their careers is by kissing up to those in higher positions: in person, in manuscripts, and in the whole research strategy. This has been going on for decades. As a result of this “natural selection”, the scientific community has been consumed by cronyism. Parts of it are rotten to the core.”

    For those outside of this process, it still has abundant application to our own lives. Notice the article acknowledges that “technology has advanced,” but not “fundamental science.” However, that is about to change if the dynamics of “gate-keeping” through anonymous peer review are applied to all innovations in technology, energy, and agriculture. This is what the Precautionary Principle espouses. It is the principle that all technology must pass through an approval process and that if it is determined that it may have some harmful effect on the environment, it must be prevented from being developed. So rather than eliminating the unaccountability inherent in peer review, the heartless globalists and environmentalists are working to extend this process to technological innovations.

  144. If you step back from the picture just a few feet farther, I think the case can be made that the process of strict enforcement of current theories in science begins with the hiring practices of most academic institutions. The Universities are quite insular, and progressives do not often hire conservatives; they are also less likely to get tenure. This is well-documented. Just look objectively at academia and Hollywood. So there is not a lot of promise in the alternative science movements either. These are showing clear patterns of being completely co-opted by heartless environmental and world empire (UN) activists.

  145. “All the reviewers are anonymous. That is, they know your name but you do not know theirs. This is the first red flag: unless you plan to do something really bad, why do you insists being anonymous? ”
    … wrote the essayist and published under a pseudonym. So much for his/her credibility.

  146. The credibility of a paper is built on science and the logic, reason and intuition of science people – this does not need protecting as those afraid of junk science proliferation are saying – I’m sure that a wide open forum and review would stimulate new thinking, intuition, creativity. If something is not worthy, it will fall by the wayside in a natural way, inherent in the fundamental science process. If people eroneously pick something up and run with it, they will help prove one way or the other. History of science it littered with wrong turns leading to amazing discovery.
    Suspicion must arise when certain entities insist on the need for control and controlling the field. We now have new tools to spread the word and young open minds disgusted with the secrecy, manipulation, corruption and profit mentality of todays fake ‘democracy’ systems. There is incredible science out there, already known that has not seen the light of day because of secrecy and whathaveyou. The knowledge belongs to all, all have paid for it. We stand on the shoulders of giants, let us not forget that – I’m sure many of them are looking down, appalled at the disgraceful behaviour and severely compromised morality of (many) so called men of science, the theft of light and the fruits of the mind from the masses who have more recently enabled such investigation, discovery and progress. Our planet is a mess because the technology and science to ‘save’ us has been stolen, theft of the most evil kind. Wake up people and do something about it. A commenter above quoted a list of recent accomplishments, e.g. the mars landers, lhc, etc. If only he could see where we would have been if the science process had been respected and honoured by all, without greed, ego or alterior motive. He could have been writing (other) commentary from Mars itself.
    NJ

  147. While I have not reviewed all comments, the elimination of anonymous review is not an answer. That suggestion ignores the power relations that exist in science. It is true, however, that anonymity often leads to irresponsible behavior. With internet technology, we can have the protection of anonymity while preserving responsible behavior.

    Extended abstract (5 min. read):

    Stodolsky, D. S. (2002). Computer-network based democracy: Scientific communication as a basis for governance. Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Knowledge Management in e-Government, 7, 127-137.

    http://dss.secureid.org/stories/storyReader$14

    Comprehensive

    Stodolsky, D. S. (1995). Consensus Journals: Invitational journals based upon peer review. The Information Society, 11(4). [1994 version in N. P. Gleditsch, P. H. Enckell, & J. Burchardt (Eds.), Det videnskabelige tidsskrift (The scientific journal) (pp. 151-160). Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers. (Tema NORD 1994: 574)]

    http://dss.secureid.org/stories/storyReader$19

  148. Again Re Peer-Reviewed Science

    – The House Committee on Un-American Activities functioned to investigate disloyalty and subversive organizations.
    – The Inquisition was a group of institutions within the judicial system of the Roman Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy.
    – Big Brother is George Orwell’s dictator of Oceania.
    – Hope for peer-reviewed science?

    http://universe-life.com/2011/01/25/hope-for-2011-science/

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

    http://universe-life.com/

    -The Genome is a base organism evolved, and continuously modified, by the genes of its higher organism as their functional template.
    -The 20yrs development, and comprehensive data-based scientism worldview, in a succinct format.

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