Monday, March 15, 2010
Peer review idiocy
In the Wall Street Journal over this past weekend, Peter Berkowitz argues that peer review is a corrupt system with no objectivity and little value. He says this in connection with the climate science kerfluffle, claiming that peer review makes it easy for scholars to reward friends and punish enemies. He argues by analogy: we don't let athletes referee their own games, so why should we allow scholars to do the equivalent? He does somehow seem aware that there is a real fundamental problem with ditching the system, though - the ability to competently evaluate intellectual work requires actual expertise. I think Berkowitz gravely underestimates the qualification/expertise problem when it comes to actual physical science. Sometimes the particular technical areas are incredibly challenging, requiring years of study to appreciate the subtle problems and issues. Your choice is to let the people who have done such legwork do your evaluations, or to let people without the proper background make decisions. Those of us who do science know that peer review has its set of problems, but, like democracy, it's the worst system except for all the alternatives. Harping on its flaws without having a real discussion of these difficulties or offering alternatives is just intellectually lazy.
Posted by Douglas Natelson at 8:30 AM