With school being out for the holiday break I can finally dust off the blog and write something original. Lately I’ve been thinking about the peer review process and it’s role in advancing scientific thought. These musings have come from two sources: a conversation with my geomorphology professor and the NASA debacle.
A few weeks ago, I came across a journal article from a planetary science journal that I wanted to read. Unfortunately, my school didn’t have a subscription to the journal and I couldn’t get beyond the abstract unless I wanted to fork over 20$. So, I asked my professor if there was another way of acquiring the article. He politely informed me that there wasn’t (aside from paying the fee) and then he talked about publishing his work on an open source site because he couldn’t get past the peer review.
I didn’t bother to ask why he had a hard time getting published. Maybe I should have. Was he trying to publish questionable material? Is he considered a science quack in the geomorphology field? Or are there other factors in the peer review process that extend beyond methodology? My professor didn’t strike me as a crank and he espoused the scientific method quite frequently. So, I ask the that question with sincerity. As an undergrad, my understanding of such things is fairly limited.
I know that the peer review process is meant to prevent pseudoscience from being published as science. It basically insures the integrity of that discipline and the scientists involved. However, scientists and the editors at these journals are human. I have a hard time believing that they aren’t prone to being biased towards what and whom get published regardless of the validity of the science.
The second part of this post comes from the NASA drama. Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with the veracity of their findings nor with the procedure that the scientists followed. I am not a biologist and I don’t have a background that allows me to weigh in on the subject. What interests me is how science bloggers reacted when told that NASA would only address critiques in a peer reviewed setting. They basically gave bloggers the finger and said their opinions weren’t relevant.
Now, I don’t agree with how NASA handled the issue. I feel like they should have addressed the concerns in a public environment since that is how they chose to announce their findings. However, I feel like some science bloggers wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. As scientists, we’re quick to discredit anything that hasn’t been published in a peer reviewed journal. It’s the standard by which we judge someones work. However, when told our opinions aren’t valid because they’re not from a peer reviewed source, drama follows.
So, I come to the geoblogosphere (and anyone else reading this) with these two questions: How often does the peer review process become influenced by personal biases and at what point does it inhibit science and not advance it?