Archive for the ‘Peer Review’ Category


Glacial Advancement

January 12, 2010

Looks like there are some dust storms brewing over another statement in the IPCC report.

I’m not familiar with this particular controversy, but it seems to me that there are at least two ways of looking at it. One way, which is the way that I anticipate some from the contrarian community will view it, is as suggesting that this is yet one more nail in the coffin for the IPCC report. Another way, which is the way that I’m much more inclined to view it, is as suggesting that this is yet further evidence that the body of scientific knowledge is proceeding normally, albeit glacially, with the right sort of scrutiny.

Many are quick to suggest that the IPCC data is cooked or rigged in some way, but if there are observed errors in the report, and if then future iterations of the report are responsive to corrections of those errors, doesn’t that suggest that the process is in fact more open than is sometimes asserted?


Redubbing Peer Review

November 26, 2009

Roger has a new post up on any attempt to redefine peer review. It’s worth a read. I don’t really disagree with his main point about the spirit of peer review, and he’s certainly pretty well entrenched in the politics of this whole thing, so I think he’s right to say that the crowding-out strategy isn’t a very good one. Peer review will win in the end, even without FOIA requests and stolen e-mails. Which is all to say: I think we should still put a good deal of stock in articles that pass peer review, and we should also weigh strongly the credibility of journals.

Given the reactions to the CRU e-mails coming from more skeptical quarters, however, and given Godwin’s law, one suspects that maybe this video captures what some think was going on.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Is Peer Review Unbiased?

November 22, 2009

A lot of cantankerous finger-pointing has been going on recently, mostly over the CRU hack. You can read all about it below. (The comments thread at the Feeding Frenzy post gives my read on the allegedly incriminating e-mails. Short summary: There’s no there there.)

One topic that keeps popping up is the claim that this shows the bias in peer review, thereby somehow undermining the research.

Newsflash: Peer review is not unbiased. Never has been; never will be. As a standard, peer review ought to be unbiased, and referees ought to do what they can to expunge bias from their determination of what gets published and what doesn’t, but nobody — and I mean, nobody — is capable of distancing themselves entirely from biases. Paradoxically, that’s why we have institutions like blind peer review.

The difference here rests on an important distinction between regulative ideals and standards of practice,where the former relate to what the latter ought to be structured around. In other words, bias-free evaluation is a regulative ideal that should, everything else equal, govern the actions of all practitioners within a given context C. As a result, practitioners put into place standards that will help better meet this regulative ideal.

That the ideal is not, and cannot be, met — it’s an ideal, remember — is a presumption of the standards of practice. The standards are in place in order to steer the discussion away from less messy matters. True, practitioners should be striving to meet the ideals independently of the standards of practice. Supposing that the standards allow some infiltration of bias, the practitioner ought to take extra steps to eradicate this bias. So there’s a natural tension there. This tension exists in all scientific disciplines; and it exists even in the humanities. It exists any time there is a discursive contradiction or dialogical conflict between two or more parties.

Curiously, it is precisely this tension that gives rise to some of the banter in the e-mails. Journal X appears to have B sort of bias. Journal X conforms with the standards of practice, but by having B bias, doesn’t meet with the regulative ideal. Ergo, we ought to do what we can either to modify the standards of practice of to forcefully expose this bias. This kind of reasoning applies to all parties here, to the skeptical and the dedicated crowd.


Denialism Squared

November 16, 2009

Oh great. Now what are we to believe? First there’s this list of 450 peer-reviewed papers authored by alleged climate deniers, and then this denial of denialism by policy science whipping-boy Roger Pielke Jr.

This leads me to introduce my new variation on an old logic puzzle, the Denier’s Paradox: “I hereby deny everything about my next sentence. I thereby affirm the previous sentence.” Ahh, a performative conundrum only a philosopher could love.


Naïve Realism

November 1, 2009

On Friday, Roger Jr. pointed to a recent study in Science observing that climate change is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional problem involving many more pollutants than CO2. He writes the following:

This recent research suggests that we must now be open to the possibility that there will not and cannot be a single policy approach to addressing the full spectrum of human influences on the climate system. The recognition of complexity may present an opportunity to move climate policy forward, by providing a justification for reconsidering the flawed (and some would say doomed) approach.

I think Roger’s point is fairly clear, but others on his comment board make great hay of his claim. Some even take his observations to be a full-blown indictment of climate science altogether. As evidence of this, Marc Morano takes the opportunity to impugn climate science by headlining on his blog with the words “Settled Science?” and then linking to Roger’s post. Missing only is the Drudge-style siren.

I simply fail to see how this [Roger’s post, coupled with the study in Science] is anything like an indictment of climate science. I suspect that the confusion has something to do with a presiding misconception that somehow science, generally speaking, and climate science, narrowly speaking, infallibly uncovers facts about the objective world. It’s hard to say what’s behind this, except that this sort of naïve realism is just exceptionally common. Too bad it’s also deeply flawed.

More after the jump…

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Curly Wants His Money Back

October 29, 2009

Steve McIntyre gives the impression in his recent post that I somehow think peer review is a closed system. He doesn’t say as much, but I gather that he assumes I don’t attribute much weight to the role of blogs in the peer review system. Here’s what he has to say, specifically regarding my comments:

Roger Pielke Jr had opined hopefully that this concession would finally settle at least one small point in paleoclimate. Pielke said that “it looks like this dispute will in fact be resolved unequivocally through the peer-reviewed literature, which for all of its faults, is the media of record for scientific claims and counterclaims”. Pielke was obviously aware of the role of blogs (both Climate Audit and in Finland) in this dispute and was here focusing more on the fact that Kaufman was admitting the upside down use in a formal venue, rather than the role of the journals in extracting the admission from Kaufman. This point was misconstrued by Ben Hale here who interpreted Roger’s post as evidence that the Kaufman error had been detected and resolved by journal peer review and due diligence, when that’s not what happened at all. (I posted a comment at Hale’s to this effect.)

I added the colorful language. More after the jump…

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