Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Evils of Peer Review

Interesting post:

“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?”…”

I think blaming all lack of progress in Science on peer review is a little extravagant.  Some fields, like physics, have essentially reached the limits of what we can learn with the technology available to us.  That doesn’t have anything to do with peer review.  In other fields, like human nutrition and climate science, I think the author’s spot-on.  As I recall, Steve Phinney mentioned that this problem was one of the reasons he moved out of academia and into industry in his book.