Peer review means responsibility

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy is a discussion about the unauthorized climate information release in Climate Scientists, Unfiltered. The commentary reveals much if one is observing the manner of argument. Sometimes there is an insight that gets to the core of the issue. Take, for instance, Orson Buggeigh says:

Peer Review isn’t all that it should be. Just talk to responsible historians about Michael Bellesiles and the Organization of American Historians. Quite simply, the reviewers reading Bellesiles’ manuscript all conveniently happened to be people who favored gun control, so none of them bothered to check his sources or ask any questions about why his findings seemed to be opposite of everything written on the subject to date. The Journal of American History published Bellesiles article and awarded it a prize; Bellesiles went on to expand it into a book, which in turn won an award from Columbia University.

Then the fun began. A man with an MA in history began blogging and posting about the errors he found, which made it clear that Bellesiles was fabricating material or quoting out of context.

Shall we talk about the success of peer review in evaluating the work of Ward Churchill, the pretend Indian with the MA in graphic art from a third tier college hired as an American Indian expert on history by the University of Colorado?

There is a real problem when people with a political agenda can suppress data to protect themselves while manipulating data for political purposes. The scientific community is late getting to the party of politically corrupted study. Welcome to the sewer. That, RPT, is why I will reluctantly give the hackers in this case a pass. Too many allegedly respectable academics refuse to do the responsible thing, which is to demand open access to controversial data, make it public, and let the people who contest the theory try replicating the research to see if they replicate the results. When that happens, bad theories are promptly weeded out. When someone has a political agenda, be it Indian rights, selling more Chevrolets, or climate change, there should be a great deal of skepticism from the rest of us, and much more open evaluation of the claims made. That openness is what is missing from most politically charged work. I won’t call it scholarship. Marketing, perhaps, or propaganda. But not scholarship, because it is a mockery of that word.

There are several key points to note in this comment. One is about the responsibility of peers to assure integrity in the dissemination of research findings. Another is that there have been a number of high profile cases where the peers have failed when it comes to hot political topics. A third is about the tactics used in maintaining bias. A fourth is in the ‘damage’ caused by the perceptions such abuses leave. A fifth is describing the dissonance caused by whistleblowers and the legal problems in forced transparency.

Learning about reality is tough. There is much to see about that here.

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