[Coral-List] Peer Reviews and Political Arguments

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Wed May 21 22:07:40 EDT 2014

Having read the politics-on-Coral List discussion, the point about peer
reviews seemed to be the key issue. Peer reviews are a touchy subject, and
as Gregor once pointed out, they are 'the currency of science'. The
questionable bit is when that currency is used to legitimise claims that a
method or a paper's conclusions, having been 'peer reviewed' supports
concepts which were probably never intended by the authors of the peer
reviewed method or paper. A team of peer reviewers are brought together
with a clear frame of reference for their assessments, but the choice of
reviewer can be difficult to assess as to their 'legitimacy', as a basic
requirement is that they are anonymous. The greatest trust that is required
in the peer review system therefore lies in the choice of reviewer by
editors and grant managers. So it is would be wise to always question the
choice of reviewer, as well as the frames of reference peer reviewers are
working under. Not always easy I know.....

Its no wonder there are 'robust arguments' as that is the nature of
scientific discourse and it can't be any other way. That is, unless a new
system of checks and balances are employed in the peer review process so a
reader can determine for themselves the legitimacy of the choice of
reviewers and the frames of reference used, so as to assess the level of
applicability or usefulness of a scientific finding.

I found this interesting extract on Wiki regarding RA Fisher (he of the
F-test fame). 'An inveterate pipe-smoker, Fisher was opposed to the
conclusions .... that smoking causes lung cancer. He compared the
correlations in their papers to a correlation between the import of apples
and the rise of divorce in order to show that correlation does not imply
causation. To quote his biographers, Yates and Mather, "It has been
suggested that the fact that Fisher was employed as consultant by the
tobacco firms in this controversy casts doubt on the value of his
arguments. This is to misjudge the man. He was not above accepting
financial reward for his labours, but the reason for his interest was
undoubtedly his dislike and mistrust of puritanical tendencies of all
kinds; and perhaps also the personal solace he had always found in
tobacco." You could ask why he didn't use his F-test to look at the link,
but data for that came later I assume.

Here lies the truth, we are all humans with belief systems, and one has to
admit it's a constant battle to maintain objectivity in scientific
research.  For this reason I support the call to maintain healthy
scepticism on all matters and to support any means to be able to express
alternative viewpoints on all things scientific (eg, Coral List). But maybe
the biggest battle is a personal one in keeping ideology out of it. I
suspect this what Doug was alluding to in his recent post on Coral List and
political arguments.


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