This part particularly appealed to me, for obvious reasons:
Once politicised in this way, peer review becomes a sort of quarantine, where ideas can be contested only by a select few before being presented to us as a fait accompli. Take, for example, the attitude of epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. They state imperiously: “Almost all of the research presented and synthesised in The Spirit Level had previously been peer-reviewed…In order to distinguish between well-founded criticism and unsubstantiated claims made for political purposes, all future debate should take place in peer-reviewed publications.”
Such disdain for arguments motivated by “political purposes” speaks (non-peer-reviewed) volumes.
As I have said before, there is no better alternative to peer review and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. The only problem with peer review is its public perception as a stamp of absolute truth. While honest academics in any field tend to be realistic about their limitations, something about human nature requires things to be seen in black and white, good and evil, right and wrong.
That peer review is merely a form of editorial control, which—at times—represents nothing more than allowing colleagues to publish an article the house magazine is a truth that is lost in the rush for certainty. As a rule of thumb, anyone who defends their work on the appeal to peer review and the appeal to authority alone, while shying away from debate about the work itself, should be treated with suspicion.
Peer review is valuable and worth defending, but only inasmuch as it promotes impartiality and standards within specialist fields. It should not be used as an arbiter of how we run our affairs. We already have a system for that – it’s called politics. And we are all qualified to participate in it, by virtue of being born human.
Please go read.
Sandy Starr will be appearing at the Battle of Ideas in London at the end of the month. Should be interesting.