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What good is peer review?



I really tried to hold back on this one, I swear!

Peer review is an integral part of the scientific process. The reason we "trust" peer-reviewed articles more than non-reviewed ones is that other reviewers who usually don't have a vested interest in our article have evaluated its merits and found it to be scientific (or not). In other words, the data presented is probably not forged, unclear, or unrepeatable, the method of data collection is sound, etc. This doesn't mean non-reviewed articles do not have good data or merit, but now the only way to catch potential mistakes is after the data is already out there -- we have enough of this trouble already with peer reviewed articles (as Greg Paul alluded to in his earlier post). I would think that would make things even more confusing.

For example, I publish a non-reviewed article on what I consider to be a new species of Apatosaurus. It goes into circulation, other people start citing it and using it to construct phylogenies, functional assessments, etc., when somebody realizes that I have mistakenly mis-interpreted an already well-known Apato species. What a mess! Now we have to have other articles that come out and say, "no, this really isn't a new species, ignore it, etc." This is something that may have been caught in peer review, and prevented this whole mess to begin with. Anyways, aren't we still reeling from Marsh and Cope? =)

True, we could do away with peer review as a just another blockade to publishing interesting ideas, but then quite a bit of non-scientific or poorly done science would end up in print. And although most of the bad stuff would be caught eventually, why publish poorly supported data in the first place? Again, imagine all the additional confusion!

Some other thoughts: What should peer review be replaced with? And, if we're not going to review articles to see if they have scientific merit, why trust any scientific publications at all? Or, why not have a journal called, "Interesting Ideas About Fossil Vertebrates," or "Speculations on Prehistory" with no peer review? I wonder, do they ever debate the merits of peer review in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, etc.?

If you want to do dinosaur science, then by definition that requires some form of outside review and having data that can be evaluated by others. Seems to me, paleontology is considered not to be a "real" science by various other scientists because these folks perceive what we do as somehow "lesser." If we do away with peer review, what are we saying to other researchers about the quality and integrity of our work? I don't think you can have it both ways here -- either you bite the bullet and accept peer review as part of the process, or you by-pass peer review but let the science suffer.

Oh, well.  My 2 cents.  Fire at will. =)

Matt

Matthew F. Bonnan, Ph.D.
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL 61455
(309) 298-2155
mbonnan@hotmail.com
MF-Bonnan@wiu.edu
http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfb100/



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