Vanity thought #1658. Peer review

Yesterday I mentioned peer review in a positive context, it’s scientists’ equivalent of guru-sādhu-śāstra check designed to weed out substandard theories. That might have been the original intent and that’s how atheists usually present it but the reality is different.

“Peer review” has become an integral part of “scientific method”, they always say how its inherently superior to religious inquiry and peer review process always come up in this context. They somehow think that it doesn’t exist among the believers, but they don’t know the first thing about developing faith so they can be forgiven for their ignorance.

As I said, when peer review works it produces good, reliable results and allows good karma to flow freely to those favored by their gurus and seniors. Without getting their mercy they can’t make any scientific progress and their efforts won’t be recognized by anybody – just like in our guru-vandana song. We are instructed not to disturb other people’s attempts at following dharma and so we should respect this peer review process and encourage people to submit themselves to it.

Now the bad side – peer review is just as open to corruption as democracy and, speaking in absolute terms, it doesn’t mean anything. It gets people published, it gets them paid, it keeps the business of science going, but it doesn’t guarantee quality of work and it doesn’t guarantee that it’s solid science.

Just like that annoying “scientific method”, peer review is a relatively new invention. Modern atheists run with these banners as if they make them special and infallible, and as if science didn’t exist and can’t exist outside of the realm of “scientific method”, which is nonsense. They effectively monopolized the scientific inquiry and made atheism the price of admission and peer review is one of the most effective guardians in this endeavor.

Originally, scientific journals were published by enthusiasts who ran their papers with an iron fist. They alone decided what was worthy of publishing and what was garbage. Then their workload increased and they passed the submissions for evaluation by editorial board. After WWII there was an explosion in the amount of research and editorial boards couldn’t cope with the volume any longer, too. That’s when peer review was brought in – in the middle of the 20th century, and it still wouldn’t be possible without the invention of the Xerox machine because the papers need to be copied and sent to reviewers in faraway places. Anyway, by the 1970 all scientific journals had accepted the system. All in all, it’a about fifty years old, which isn’t much by historical scales.

These days peer review can’t cope with the volume of research, too, and there are calls for improvements to the process. There are too many papers and too few people genuinely interested in vigorously evaluating them, and yet journals need to keep publishing, so the system accommodates.

For all the talk about scientific method, peer review is decidedly unscientific. It’s like a black box or a lottery. Actually, with lottery people know how it works but with peer review it’s a total mystery. Who will review the paper? Are they qualified to judge it? What will they say? Will their judgement be objective and unbiased? Do they happen to subscribe to the opposite view? It’s totally unpredictable. Unless, of course, you know how to work the system and don’t care for their actual opinions.

If you follow your superiors and produce research agreeable to them then there shouldn’t be any problem with publishing it, universities themselves are eager to get their professors into the journals, but going down that road would compromise your scientific integrity and make you a conformist. The real science doesn’t work that way, historically speaking. It needs bold ideas, rocking the boat, challenging assumptions – all the good things they teach kids at school, but when they get to real world workplace they’d better go with the flow or get drowned.

It’s for those independently produced papers pushing science beyond its boundaries that peer review works as a stumbling block. You can google tons of stories where people abused the system either for fun or to prove that it’s broken. I like the one where people took twelve published articles, submitted them again under different names to the very same journals, and only three out of twelve realized that this research had already been published, and out of nine who didn’t realize this eight rejected the papers for their poor quality. Just think about it – 75% didn’t realize that they have already reviewed the submitted papers. It’s like students registering for the same exam over and over again and not remembering that they passed it. And then they read those papers and decided that they were crap even though they have already been “peer reviewed” and published.

There’s also known bias against negative submissions. In medical journals people like to hear about breakthroughs and successful treatments but if you find that their miracles don’t work and want to prove it then it would be a negative submission and it’s very likely to be rejected just for spoiling someone else’s party. There are ways to abuse the system, too. In some cases the researches submitted contact details or “preferred reviewers” who, as it turned out, where the submitters themselves posing under fake names. There are cases of “peers” plagiarizing and cashing in on research they have a chance to read before it gets published. There are cases of pranksters submitting bogus papers filled with random phrases, too. There are cases of people intentionally putting obviously false information into submitted papers and waiting to see if “peer review” catches it. It doesn’t, it approves everything that looks good on paper, pardon the pun.

Those might be extremes but consider how the entire system works – universities pay for the research, then their employees submit the papers, journals accept them for free then pass them to peers for reviewing, which they also do for free, and then the journals publish them and sell them back to the universities for outrageous amounts of money. It’s a lucrative business of virtual monopoly.

Then, a few years ago, scientists decided to rebel and start various “open research” projects where they’d put their articles on the internet free for all, and whoever reviews them would do so transparently. Journal publishers weren’t happy, for course, and decided to fight back. Typically, they’d bundle their journals so that if the universities want access to “premium content” unavailable for free they’d have to pay for tons of other stuff they don’t need. This might be mildly unethical but sometimes publishers go fully illegal by starting fake journals where they’d only publish research favorable to the sponsoring drug companies. This happened to Elsevier, one of the biggest publishers of them all. Just to get the scale – Elsevier publishes 350,000 articles a year and earns 3 billion dollars in revenue. It’s a huge business of science and atheists who make it to be some sort of guardian of truth are delusional.

I don’t know what else to say about it. It’s a sham, obviously not in 100% of the cases but, generally speaking, “peer review” is nonsense. All it means “you got published” and nothing else. It certainly doesn’t mean that your research is solid and should be taken as scientific truth in arguments with the opposition. It certainly shouldn’t be cited by atheists as a qualification to be admitted into a debate, but they would still do it so nothing changes. It’s just another reason why arguing with atheists is a waste of time, even within their own boundaries of scientific method and peer review. Somehow they fail by the standards of their own glorified rationality and logic, and they are unable to see their faults, too.

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