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Peer review problems and scientific shenanigans (allegedly!)

Stem cell researchers said that a small, powerful group working behind the scenes had blocked the publication of some research papers in order to advantage others, for reasons of selfish ambition rather than honest science. It was further alleged that some journals published certain research because it would generate more citations (good for their reputation) while better work was ditched if it was thought less likely to generate ‘hits’.

On the BBC web site (1) we read

“Stem cell experts say they believe a small group of scientists is effectively vetoing high quality science from publication in journals. In some cases….to deliberately stifle research that is in competition with their own. (How very Darwinian!)….14 leading stem cell researchers have written an open letter to journal editors.’ In which they alleged "papers that are scientifically flawed or comprise only modest technical increments often attract undue profile. At the same time publication of truly original findings may be delayed or rejected".

‘Only papers that satisfy this select group’

Two internationally-renowned researchers , Robin Lovell-Badge, from the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), and Austin Smith, from the University of Cambridge, spoke to BBC News about their concerns. Professor Lovell-Badge said: "It's turning things into a clique where only papers that satisfy this select group of a few reviewers who think of themselves as very important people in the field is published.’

Reflections of ‘Climate Gate’

This story comes shortly after the ‘Climate gate’ scandal involving the University of East Anglia’s climate research unit. Leaked Emails proved that certain information about climate change was being suppressed while other evidence was exaggerated (3). The peer review process was apparently used to prevent certain information coming to the public eye, so that only ‘approved’ evidence was considered, ensuring that the ‘right’ conclusion, the one that agreed with the politics, was reached. The content of the emails is widely available on line (search on climate +gate + east +Anglia) and reveals a shocking level of arrogance and many would suggest evidence of a conspiracy with intent to suppress the truth.

Expelled for thinking about allowing dissent!

Again, one recalls the Michael Reiss affair, in which as we have discussed earlier, an Anglican minister who is also a qualified biologist was forced out of his job in education at the Royal Society for suggesting a respectful dialogue might be permissible if evolution were questioned by a sceptical student in the classroom. Also, the earlier case of Richard Sternberg (documented in the film ‘Expelled!-No Intelligence Allowed’), who was forced out of his job editing the Smithsonian journal after he allowed publication of a peer-reviewed paper by Stephen Meyer which was critical of Darwinism. Sternberg and Reiss both accept Darwinian evolution; it seems that their unforgivable offence was to suggest that Darwin might be allowed to be questioned. The evolutionist establishment is so terrified of the weakness of its position being exposed that it destroys the careers of its own people if they even think about allowing ‘the wrong questions’ to be asked!

MMR scandal

We have just seen child health researcher Dr Andrew Wakefield criticised by the General Medical Council for his conduct over the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and childhood autism. CSM does not take a position on the rights and wrongs of MMR vaccine or climate change-the science should decide based on due consideration of ALL the evidence- but very evidently there was, and is, a severe disagreement with people taking sides and unable to agree on what the evidence really means. In this particular case, there was an outbreak of measles due to a loss of public trust in the vaccine. Wakefield was being paid by lawyers representing allegedly vaccine damaged children and did not declare this potential conflict of interest. (2) He must have known that all potential conflicts of interest must be declared, you are not even allowed to make a response to an item in the British Medical Journal without declaring conflicts of interest or ticking a box to say you have none. This is not to single out Dr Wakefield particularly, but to show how easy it is to have an undeclared major conflict of interest undiscovered for years even in such a high profile case as this. How many more undeclared conflicts of interest are there? Where money, newspaper sales, reputation, ambition and strong feelings are involved, what price impartiality and an honesst search for truth?

Incidentally, on the MMR/autism furore, it is noteworthy that the British media, particularly the BBC, was very quick to give detailed and prolonged publicity to Wakefield’s minority views even though the whole scientific and medical establishment said the evidence was against him. Contrast this with the near total media blackout on Darwin dissent.

Who reviews the reviewers?

CSM is not suggesting that researchers and editors are generally less honest or otherwise morally worse than other people, but they are surely not immune from temptations like personal ambition, envy, pride or love of money which may occasion some of them to lie, cheat, slander, misrepresent, plagiarise, bully, backstab and conspire in order to get their own way. When we considers the role some scientists-and doctors- played in the criminal secular humanist dictatorships of the 20th century, it seems that they are at least as capable as any other group of descending to the lowest levels of depravity. That is one reason why we need peer review-just as we need elections-but who reviews the reviewers?

The scientific process, including peer review, has served us well on the whole, but like any system run by flawed men and women, it can be done well or badly. The above examples reveal that scientists are as imperfect as the rest of us, and are as capable as other men of behaving badly to promote their personal interests.

Catch 22

Those of us who dare to point to the scientific implausibility of abiogenesis, the lack of evidence for evolution of one kind of animal to another, the facts of genetic entropy, irreducible complexity and other strong scientific evidence against Darwinian evolution, often receive the put-down ‘show me that in a peer reviewed journal!’ However, ‘We only accept peer-review Darwin criticism, but we control the peer review process and criticism of Darwin isn’t allowed in peer-reviewed journals, therefore there is no peer reviewed criticism of Darwin!’ And just look what happened when Stephen Meyer had something in a peer review journal-the editor was persecuted and nobody came to his rescue. That sent out a signal-don’t question Darwin or you’ll be sorry.

Now you know how we feel!

It is noteworthy, if not mildly amusing, that secular observers in the areas of stem cell and climate change research are now making similar charges to those which Darwin sceptics have made for years-that the peer-review process at its worst can be used to suppress ideas that are not approved of by the authorities. That is how theocracies and tyrannies behave. Science should follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if that means overthrowing yesterday’s orthodoxies.

Ed: See also Fred Pearce "Climate change emails between scientists reveal flaws in peer review" http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/02/hacked-climate-emails-flaws-peer-review

Sources

(1) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8490291.stm

(2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-548331/MMR-scare-doctor-Wakefield-earned-150-hour-law-firm-planned-sue-vaccines-manufacturer.htmlbut

(3) http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100017393/climategate-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-anthropogenic-global-warming/

This message was added on Thursday 4th February 2010

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