Sunday, July 01, 2007

Papers not published in peer reviewed journals are not science?

The weaknesses of peer review for scientific papers were discussed in 88 JPTOS 239 as to the frauds of Jan-Hendrik Schon and Hwang Woo Suk which were published in the journals Nature and Science. IPBiz got a chuckle from commentary by George Monbiot at dissidentvoice which noted:

Cockburn appears not to understand the implications of this. Aware that I might as well argue with a tree stump, let me explain ā€” again and for the last time ā€” what it means. If these papers have not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, they are not science. They carry no more scientific weight than an article in the National Enquirer.

The man who wrote them, Martin Hertzberg, has kindly sent me copies. The howling scientific errors Cockburn makes do indeed stem from this work. (They are demolished here) This is why the peer-review process exists: to weed out nonsense.

Peer review is a bit more complex than that. When the journal Science was trying to explain how it published the fraud of Hwang Woo Suk, the rationalizers explained that they only viewed the plausibility of what was submitted. Hwang's fraudulent work, being plausible, was published. "Nonsense" is that which does not conform to previous thinking. Scientific American declined to publish articles on the flights of the Wright Brothers. As a separate matter, peer review is sometimes used to weed out the work of one's competitors. Recall that the first paper on higher-temperature superconductors by IBM researchers (later Nobel laureates) was published in an obscure journal for fear of theft, adverse disclosure, and/or delay/rejection. Separately, when a later improvement on the superconductors was made (by other than IBM), a paper was submitted to Physical Review Letters containing a deliberate false statement of the composition, with the falsity included because it was felt (correctly) that the peer reviewers would disclose the composition to other people. This reminds one of the false map of the Quebec area published by the British back in the 1700's, who figured that a correct map would help their competitors. And indeed the false map impaired the American expedition against Quebec, led by one Benedict Arnold.

Separately, one comment to the commentary included the text:

Iā€™m reminded of something the eminent evolutionary biologist, Richard Lewontin has said. When he picks up the New York Times and reads the scientific section, he is left totally dumbfounded. As he put it, while eminently qualified to understand and discuss his chosen sphere of knowledge, he is unable to make sense out of public science where the science lacks the detailed forum essential to determine any level of validity.

IPBiz notes that, in the early days of DNA "fingerprinting" (profiling), Lewontin published scientific papers to establish that the high probabilities of inclusion were NOT generally accepted by the scientific community. LBE discussed this in his paper in Volume 1 of the University of Chicago Roundtable. Separately, in those early days of DNA profiling, the New York Times published one of the most egregiously incorrect articles imaginable, which led to a rapidly-called press conference which attacked the falsity of the Times article. "Dumbfounded" would be an understatement.

Separately, as noted on June 30 on IPBiz, the journal Scientific American declined to publish articles describing the initial Ohio flights of the Wright Brothers. Scientific American would later question whether the Wright Brothers had achieved certain levels of flight, which in fact had been achieved by the Wright Brothers.

Separately, as to publications in legal journals, IPBiz has noted the recent failure of the Law Library Journal to check citations. Of course, the article in the Stanford Law Review proclaiming Gary Boone the inventor of the integrated circuit (and not mentioning Noyce and Kilby) has to be high on the list showing why one can't rely on the truth of what's in law reviews.


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