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Friday, November 17, 2006

Peer review: My recent piece sure garnered plenty of comments

The piece I put up the day before yesterday on peer review has garnered a lot of comment. The riff piece at Evolution News and Views probably did too.

Clearly, I was on to something.

There have been some thoughtful reactions, some establishment huffing, and some bizarre reactions. These stand out:

- many people treated the problem as one I had invented, when in reality it only came to my attention because I had lots of stories in an inbox slot featuring high-level dissatisfaction and broadly based new systems . I let a number of stories on peer review get away before I realized that this was definitely slow-cycle news - perfect for a backgrounder.

- some assumed that I had written the piece to highlight the ID guys' troubles, but their troubles are really only a small piece of a bigger problem, and rated only a mention in the article. What I said was "- given the woeful state of peer review - papers that support or undermine ID hypotheses would probably be neither better nor worse recommended if they were never peer reviewed, just published, amid cheers and catcalls."

(Don't forget that, just as ID guys' papers may be unfairly held back, Darwinists' papers may be unfairly advanced, with glaring errors for the ID guys to pick apart. Both outcomes undermine the quality of the system as a SYSTEM.)

- Many people had a hard time grasping a fact that seems simple to me: There is no conflict between the inevitable limitations of a system and the fact/possibility that it is not working. Indeed, that is the precise circumstance that drives the demand for a new system. When I am told that the peer reviewers cannot possibly examine the data in detail due to time constraints, I agree that that is true. But in fields where data rules, I am hardly surprised that new systems are sought where eager grad students may be more than willing to spend the time in order to make their name.

My own view is that the system will become more open and dynamic whether anyone likes it or not because that is simply how things go these days.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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