What The Scientific Community Doesn't Want You To Know About Peer Review Studies
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Doesn't Want You To Know About Peer Review Studies
Acoustics is an important field. But in biomedicine faulty research and a dubious peer-review process can have life-or-death consequences. In June, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and responsible for $30 billion in annual government-funded research, held a meeting to discuss ways to ensure that more published scientific studies and results are accurate. According to a 2011 report in the monthly journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, the results of two-thirds of 67 key studies analyzed by Bayer researchers from 2008-2010 couldn't be reproduced.
Dubious studies on the danger of hurricane names may be laughable. But bad science can cause bad policy.
The authors pointed to several reasons for flawed studies, including "poor training of researchers in experimental design," an "emphasis on making provocative statements," and publications that don't "report basic elements of experimental design." They also said that "some scientists reputedly use a 'secret sauce' to make their experiments work—and withhold details from publication or describe them only vaguely to retain a competitive edge."
Papers with such problems or omissions would never see the light of day if sound peer-review practices were in place—and their absence at many journals is the root of the problem. Peer review involves an anonymous panel of objective experts critiquing a paper on its merits. Obviously, a panel should not contain anyone who agrees in advance to give the paper favorable attention and help it get published. Yet a variety of journals have allowed or overlooked such practices.
Yet a look at the organization's own submission guidelines makes clear that if you are a National Academy member today, you can edit a research paper that you wrote yourself and only have to answer a few questions before an editorial board; you can even arrange to be the official reviewer for people you know. The result of such laxity isn't just the publication of a dubious finding like the hurricane gender-bias claim. Some errors can have serious consequences if bad science leads to bad policy.
But even the most rigorous peer review can be effective only if authors provide the data they used to reach their results, something that many still won't do and that few journals require for publication. Some publishers have begun to mandate open data. In March the Public Library of Science began requiring that study data be publicly available. That means anyone with the ability to check should be able to reproduce, validate and understand the findings in a published paper. This should also ensure that there is much better scrutiny of flawed claims about sexist weather events and hermaphroditic frogs—before they appear on every news station in America.
Monty Henry, Owner
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