I am shocked–shocked–to find scientists abusing peer review

November 23, 2009 at 4:39 pm

| Gabriel |

A major climate lab in Britain was hacked (leaked?) last week and a lot of the material was really embarrassing. Stuff along the lines of obstruction of freedom of information requests, smoothing messy data, and using peer review and shunning to freeze out contradictory perspectives. From the WaPo write-up:

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” Jones writes. “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree. “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal,” Mann writes.

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor,” Jones replies.

All I can say is:

Most people have been looking at this in terms of the science or politics of climate change, but I’m completely with Robin Hanson in thinking that those are non sequiturs and what’s really interesting about this is the (office) politics of science. I mean, is anyone who has ever been through peer review at all surprised to hear that peer reviewers can be malicious assholes willing to use power plays to effect closure against minority perspectives?

On the other hand, while I think this is an affront to decency, this doesn’t really give me severe problems as a matter of scientific epistemology. Sure, I’d rather that scientists took the JS Mills ideal of the market of ideas with a “let me hear you out and then if I’m still unconvinced I’ll give you my good faith rebuttal.” Nonetheless, I’m enough of a Quinean/Kuhnian to think that science isn’t about isolated findings but the big picture and the dominant perspective is probably still right, even if its adherents aren’t themselves exactly Popperians actively seeking out (and failing to find) evidence against their perspective.

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