Peer Review as Talisman

Mark Steyn says:

Like all the poodles of the environmental beat, Margot O’Neill repeats those magic words “peer review” every couple of paragraphs like a talisman to ward off evil deniers.

From my “Scientific Peer-Review is a Lightweight Process” :

By the way that proponents of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) wave it about as a talisman to ward off criticism, a lay person could be excused for thinking that peer review is a rigorous process that is central to the functioning of science and that verifies the conclusions of a scientist’s research.
Peer review is nothing like that.
Peer review isn’t even central to science. Science functioned fine for centuries without peer review and scientists who work in secret or proprietary environments do not use it. Instead, peer review serves economic and social functions related to scientific publishing and does nothing else. Peer review somewhat protects the integrity of scientific media, not the quality of science itself.

I would just like to point out that Mark Styen steals from the best. ;-)

8 thoughts on “Peer Review as Talisman”

  1. I once had an older surgeon come up to me at a meeting and tell me that he had recommended a paper of mine not be published because I had not listed a previous paper of his in my bibliography. It was finally published but not in the journal he edited. Kissinger once said that faculty politics was much more vicious than the relationship with the Soviets because so little was at stake.

  2. Don’t let the pretend peer review process of the Warminists turn you off too much. Science is actually very much about consensus. Scientists rely on ‘the scientific consensus’ for 99.9% of their work. If they didn’t they wouldn’t get anywhere – they’d be standing in a well rather than on the shoulders of giants.

    What is bogus about the Warminists is that their rubbish is not peer reviewed by the scientific community – only by their special mates. They kept themselves separate from the scientific community by refusing to release their data and methods. They are mobsters being judged by a paid-for jury.

  3. Brett_McS,

    Science is actually very much about consensus.

    I strongly disagree. Scientists definately develops consensus views of things but the actual progress of science depends on the repeated destruction of those consensus views. The greybeards develop a consensus view of a problem then some overly bright grad student comes along and demolishes the entire intellectual edifice.

    It is this ability for a lone individual to demolish the accepted consensus that seperates the emprical fields of science, engineering and business from the non-emperical fields such as the law, art, journalism etc. In non-emperical fields, the consensus is everything because they have no emperical means of seperating good ideas from bad so they are forced to rely only on consensus to determine the truth of a proposition.

    Science may appear to have a consensus like process but its really just the accpetance of emperically tested hypothesis that at one time destroyed the existing consensus. Calling that a true consensus process is like saying that it is a consensus that the sun rises in the east every morning.

    The real difference between a emperical consensus and a mere group comformity consensus is that emperical consensuses converge on one specific choice out of many whereas group conformity consensuses evolve by finding the middle ground amoung all the possible choices.

  4. “the actual progress of science depends on the repeated destruction of those consensus views”

    That’s a myth. If it were true there would be little or no scientific progress.

    Science actually progresses by expanding the consensus over time, not by destroying the earlier consensus. Processes and phenomenon which were little understood in the past, or about which there were many competing, incomplete theories become known and understood: That’s expanding the consensus, and that is what is going on.

    There are some very, very rare cases where a small part of the consensus is over-turned, and these are typically what is written up in books and celebrated. But they are extremely rare, typically of narrow focus, and do not impact at all on 99.9% of what scientists do.

  5. Brett_McS,

    I take it you’re not a fan of Thomas Kuhn?

    I think he oversold the entire “paradigm shift” business but the essential idea is correct. Science advances by a disruptive prosses and the really big advances occur when someone wrecks the accepted theory that came before.

    I think the key point here is that in science, the emperical proof comes first and then consensus rapidally follows as individuals who held positions contrary to the emperical evidence rapidally abandon their positions. In contrast, outside of science consensus usually emerges as by averaging out all the competing positions.

    You do see this sort of process in science but only when a field or question is in its hypothetical stage. Of course, at that point, it not yet science.

  6. You’re correct about Kuhn. He got it wrong. My professor in History and Philosophy of Science was a rabid Kuhnian, but that was the typical enthusiasm of the philosopher on the margins of science. Ask real scientists how they work. If they have actually thought about it (most haven’t) they will tell you that science is a constructive process of building and adding to the consensus. Even parts which have been superseded (classical theories) are often still used as a practical matter. Science is far more self-constructive than it is self-destructive. Fortunately.

  7. But my main point is not to dismiss peer review too much because of the bogus version displayed by the Climate Crooks – who should all be in jail.

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