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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
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
Oh, well. My 2 cents. Fire at will. =)
Matthew F. Bonnan, Ph.D.
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL 61455
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