Peer Review Or Peer Pressure?

Everyone who’s written a paper knows the pressure of a grade. At some point, maybe in High School, maybe after obtaining a doctorate, the student has enough grasp of the subject material to help grade, not just be graded. This type of evaluation, grading papers written by those with similar education, is known as Peer Review. In professional careers which require publishing, Peer Review is required before publication. Some Peer Reviews are mostly editorial functions. Are the sources cited properly? Is everything spelled correctly? Other Peer Reviews, often called refereeing, require as much expertise and skill in the subject as possible. These reviews examine the technical details. Did the research follow proper protocols? Are there obvious errors? Does this paper use the most reliable information available? Are the conclusions warranted by the data?

In the end, peer reviews just advise the publisher. When the peer reviewing process is complete, the publisher can publish the paper, ask for the author to make changes, either major or minor, or reject the paper outright.

The Peer Review System is designed to produce the most accurate, professional results possible. No one expects perfection, but a system relying on honest professionals throughout the world should produce very accurate documents. Professionals throughout the world insist the system, though imperfect, works. Professionals point to overall higher quality, shared knowledge, since no one can know everything, but most important, enforced uniformity.

In this idealized world, everyone is honest, everyone is professional, everyone is competent and the end results continually advance the frontiers of knowledge. The real world is just the opposite.

In the real world, the driving motives are money and prestige, not advancing the frontiers of knowledge with honest professional standards. Honesty is acceptable, as long as the grant money keeps coming and no one important is embarrassed, or thinks that they might be embarrassed. If the money stops, then the right people must be placated. If the right people complain, then apologies and retractions are necessary to keep one’s job.

A famous example might keep anger and outrage to a minimum. On February 15, 1898 the USS Maine exploded and sank in the Havana, Cuba harbor. An 1898 Spanish inquiry concluded that a fire in the coal storage bunker ignited munitions. An 1898 US inquiry concluded that the cause of the explosion was a mine. Based on the US inquiry, this report became the final reason for the US to declare war on Spain. In 1911 a new inquiry built a cofferdam and removed the parts of the USS Maine from Havana harbor. Once again, the US inquiry concluded that the cause of the explosion was a mine. This inquiry destroyed all evidence. In 1974 Admiral Rickover conducted his own private investigation. He concluded that the original Spanish investigation was correct and that the reports of a mine were politically motivated. In 1998 a National Geographic Society investigation concluded that there was no evidence of a Spanish mine, the actual cause was inconclusive. Many investigators believe that there was a mine, but it was attached to the ship in just the right place to ignite the coalbunker. That person would have needed access to confidential US information.

This blog will not resolve the USS Maine explosion. It demonstrates that money and politics control the final results of a professional research paper, in this case several research papers, not an honest desire for the truth.

Up to this point, most people, even professionals will agree. Of course, there’s peer pressure, but they will argue some peer pressure is good. The question is how much and what kind of peer pressure.

We were told several times that we need to have our books and articles peer reviewed by people who disagree with us, not just by people who agree with us. Anyone who makes such a statement proves that he does not understand what a legitimate peer review is. An honest peer review requires a reviewer (referee) who is honest and qualified. If the honest, qualified referee disagrees with you, so be it. The referee needs to be clear and thorough as to why he disagrees. But if the referee agrees with the paper, he needs to state why, with equal clarity and thoroughness. The issue is not agreement or disagreement, but honesty and competence. For example, a paper on the Apollo 11 moon landing does not need to be peer reviewed by someone denies that men have ever been to the moon just for balance.

The problem is that today’s “professional standards” include religious bigotry. Certain religious myths are now required for publication in any periodical with any academic standing. Secular Humanism is required. Richard Dawkins, David Attenborough and many others insist that the teaching of creationism, or even God, must be banned from schools. Only their religion can be taught. The ban must be “statutory and enforceable.” Anyone who examines the facts and concludes that the earth is not millions of years old will never be published. Anyone who examines the facts and concludes that the universe is designed will never be published. Anyone who examines the facts and concludes that the there is a something called “spiritual” will never be published. Anyone who examines the facts and concludes that there is more to the universe than the material part will never be published. Science is no longer an examination of the facts but bowing to authoritative pronouncements. Because censorship keeps them from getting published they are condemned as “unprofessional” and “not capable of being published.” This peer pressure keeps them from being published, getting tenure, or even being hired.

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