Peer-review: A New Signature of Quack Science

Crackpot scientists are very efficient in taking a scientific idea and distorting it beyond recognition. A recent victim is the peer review process.

One of the trademarks of science is the strict requirement of accuracy in publishing results of investigation. Scientists screen other scientists’ work to make sure that it is legitimate and accurate before allowing it to be published in a professional journal. This process has come to be known as peer-review. The higher the standards of reviewing, the more respected the journal. Peer-review makes scientific journals different from popular — best selling — books and magazines, whose primary criterion for publication is to attract as many readers as possible.

Scientific peer-review not only blocks results of miscalculations or careless experiments, but  filters crackpot ideas, which are usually put forth by outsiders who think that they can undermine relativity without knowing much about it, or cosmology without understanding the technical details of the current theory.

For decades, pseudoscientists were content with publishing their nonsense in trade books — as opposed to textbooks where sample chapter are reviewed by peers, who recommend for or against publication — and, more recently, on blogs. As the content of the books and blogs came under the scrutiny of scientists and their inaccuracy and outright fallaciousness were exposed, pseudoscientists began to tailor the cosmetics of their discipline to the appearance of science. Peer-review process stood out as a necessary mascara!

Within the immense popularity of pseudoscience among the illiterate public — which includes CEOs of publishing companies — and the primacy of profit making, some otherwise reputable publishers saw a financial opportunity for providing the outlet for the dissemination of pseudoscience peer-reviewed by pseudoscientists. The word “peer-reviewed” gives a (false) legitimacy to published articles and beguiles their readers into believing that their contents are as trustworthy as scientific articles. Now pseudoscientists are blaring the word “peer review” for every such article or journal so much so that it has now become a signature of pseudoscience:

If an author/publisher keeps insisting that their articles are “peer-reviewed,” chances are that the articles are quack science!

This is because you rarely hear the word in the scientific literature: real scientific articles are peer-reviewed by default! No advertisement is necessary.

To evaluate the rigor of a journal’s peer-review process, look at the qualification, background, and the institutional affiliation of the editors of the journal. Take Nuclear Physics B, a journal published by Elsevier, a leading scientific publisher. The website of the journal describes it as being devoted to the specific field of high energy physics (including theory, phenomenology, and experiments). Its editorial board consists of many notable physicists specialized in the specific fields of high energy physics. For example, under High Energy Physics-Theory you find three editors: L. Rastelli from Stony Brook University, S. Stieberger from Max Planck Institute for Physics, and H. Verlinde from Princeton University. The background of all these editors, their affiliation, and their list of publications are publicly available, and all of the editors are among top researchers and educators only in theoretical high energy physics — nothing else, not atomic, or quantum, or molecular physics and certainly not in “quantum dynamical psychology!”

Education drives the evolution of our species.