Peer Review

Natural selection and the scientific peer review process

Natural selection describes the process by which variations in a population of organisms are edited over time to enhance the ability of the individual organisms to survive and reproduce in an environment. ….

Some interesting contradictions in your descriptions here Dale.

Certainly, at its best, the peer review system is a great tool for finding errors of fact or logic in a paper.

And, as you described in the case of plate tectonics, it also has a dark side, in that it tends to perpetuate the standard interpretations that are accepted (often as dogma) by most people.

In my understanding, the power of science does not exist in peer review, though it is a useful tool in some situations.

The real power of science is in two factors:

1/ the open sharing of all information; and

2/ repeatability of experiments (as you mentioned).

A slight quibble also with your characterisation of evolution.

Evolution is more accurately characterised by the frequency of genes in the gene pool.

There are many factors that affect that frequency, and survival of individuals carrying a particular gene is one of them; though there are many others. For example, a gene that causes death of the individual, but enhances survival of surviving relatives (on average, over time) if it expresses after the time that most breeding has been done, can still be strongly selected for.

So it is a vastly more complex and subtle system than is implied in a simple reading of your statement above (as I am sure you are aware, but many of your readers may not be).

The notion of ideas being right and wrong is also one that does not sit well with science.

Science deals in probability functions associate with all measurements of all data, and in all conclusions derived.

As scientists, we must deal with a balance of probabilities in all situations, so we rarely, if ever, are able to say something is “wrong” – it is much more accurate for us to say that a particular interpretation seems unlikely or improbable.

Certainly, there are many involved in science who have a poor understanding of understanding itself, and are still firmly wedded to the concepts of right and wrong (as absolutes, rather than as indicators of probability).

I agree with you that people who are attached to ideas, rather that open to possible interpretations, are not able to progress their understanding.

It seems to me that there are many dimensions to understanding.

One dimension is around our understanding of the data, our understanding of probability, of instruments, and of the things we are observing.

Another dimension is that of the interpretive schema we use to construct our models of what is happening, what is often called our paradigms of understanding.

It seems to me that there may be potentially infinite levels of paradigms available for interpretation of any observation, and understanding the relationships of that observation to other observations.

It seems that each successive paradigm offers a refinement in the accuracy available (as in the difference between Newtonian and Einsteinian interpretations – Newton still offers builders a perfectly useful system for building houses, yet is not good enough for GPS satellites). As we develop needs for ever greater accuracy, we require ever more complex paradigms, that are less and less “common sense”.

The peer review process as it exists in much of science, being confined to journals that must be paid for, seems to break one of the fundamental tenants of science (that of open sharing of information – not open only to those who can afford it).

So certainly, the real intent of peer review – which is giving everything to everyone, so that some may choose to test it for themselves, is great. The modern distortions of that that exist today, as modified by the need to make profit, and as are seen especially in medical systems, seem to this reviewer to be much more aligned to making profit for the various sets of vested interests in the system than they are about the open sharing of information and the progress of science. How can it possibly be ethical for a drug company to only publish the test results they want to, and to be able to withhold results that they do not wish to publicise?

How can anyone have confidence in a system that allows such behaviour?

To me, it is antithetical of the concept of science, yet it is firmly embedded in law.

Just one more clear example where the interests of money are clearly against the interests of humanity as a whole.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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