by Brendan D. Murphy
Today Science is up on a
A new god has appeared;
his high priests conduct the
rituals, with nuclear reactors,
moon-probing rocket ships,
cathode tubes and laser beams.
And their territory is
laymen are denied entry.
The defects in the peer review system have been the subject of a
profusion of critical editorials and studies in the literature over
The notion of peer review
occupies special territory in the world of science. However,
investigation of suppressed innovations, inventions, treatments,
cures, and so on rapidly reveals that the peer review system is
arguably better at one thing above all others: censorship.
This can mean censorship
of everything from contrarian viewpoints to innovations that render
favored dogmas, products, or services obsolete (economic threats)
depending on circumstances.
The problem is endemic,
as many scientists have learned the hard way.
The failure of peer review is one of science's dirty "secrets."
[P]eer review is
known to engender bias, incompetence, excessive expense,
ineffectiveness, and corruption. A surfeit of publications has
documented the deficiencies of this system.
Dr David Kaplan
Brian Martin elaborates in his excellent article
Strategies for Dissenting Scientists:
Certain sorts of
innovation are welcome in science, when they fall within
established frameworks and do not threaten vested interests.
But aside from this
sort of routine innovation, science has many similarities to
systems of dogma. Dissenters are not welcome. They are ignored,
rejected, and sometimes attacked. [ii]
Electric Universe researcher Wal
Thornhill stated plainly in our GFM Media interview that
the peer review system amounts to censorship.
scientist Gary Novak is also scathing, stating:
"Peer review is a
form of censorship, which is tyranny over the mind. Censorship
does not purify; it corrupts…There is a lot of junk science and
trash that goes through the peer review process." [iii]
What do [scientists]
have to gain by spending time helping an outsider? Most likely,
the alleged discovery will turn out to be pointless or wrong
from the standard point of view.
If the outsider has
made a genuine discovery, that means the outsider would win
rewards at the expense of those already in the field who have
invested years of effort in the conventional ideas. [iv]
The Problem of
Scientists in particular are prone to being cathected to their pet
theories and opinions, especially if they have been visibly rewarded
or publicly obtained accolades as a result.
Scientists, just like
laypeople, have susceptible emotional bodies and often fairly hefty
egos - partially due to their "expertise" and academic titles,
qualifications, theories, etc.
Dr Malcolm Kendrick comments in
Doctoring Data that,
anyone who is an 'expert' in an area of medicine will be a
supporter of whatever dogma holds sway." [v]
Close study of power
dynamics in medicine bears this out.
Consider the following words from The Lancet's editor
The mistake, of
course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a
crude means of discovering the acceptability - not the validity
- of a new finding…
We portray peer
review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to
make science our most objective truth teller.
But we know that the
system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable,
incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant,
occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong. [vi]
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Peer review, as a
"quasi-sacred" process that somehow supposedly transcends the
foibles and follies of human nature has taken on sacred ritual
Has the paper been
blessed by the Peer Review Priest...?
Peer review is held to be
more than just useful and functional (which clearly it is not,
generally speaking) - it is held as a transcendent, almost
magical, organizing force occurring in the heavenly ivory towers
of Science, which somehow avoids falling prey to human weaknesses by
virtue of those humans' lofty qualifications as "scientists."
Scientists, of course, aren't quite human - they are something more,
something pure, something that the layman can never be.
Students undergo a
'magical alchemical process' as they proceed through educational
institutions and emerge transformed from their chrysalis with their
doctorates, masters, stethoscopes and equations.
They are the Chosen
Ones, the purified, the holy, the saved, the righteous...
It is clear, however, that not only is the popular view of peer
review misleading, but the most prestigious publications are some of
the very worst offenders.
publications - for example, the
journal Nature - have a well
documented history of prejudice against findings or hypotheses that
run contrary to established scientific dogma.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)
in May 2000, Canadian-based researcher, David Sackett, said
that he would,
"never again lecture,
write, or referee anything to do with evidence based clinical
practice," over his concern that "experts" are stifling new
He wants the retirement
of experts to be made compulsory.
Sackett says that,
the truth is impaired in the presence of an expert."
Trusting "experts" in
oncology, for example, is generally a very good way to
artificially speed one's trip to the grave, particularly if one
And yet "Experts" are now
on a rarefied level that perhaps only celebrities can understand -
they are virtually demigods today.
In the main, "experts" are those people in the establishment who
espouse the mainstream dogma and reify the politically correct
"Experts" are lionized
because the world that made them experts promotes and validates them
when they affirm the already established beliefs - and the media is
complicit in this.
If you want to be
horribly misled on any number of important issues, just head
the TV and listen to the
Research Just Bullshit?
Harvard Medical School's Dr. Marcia Angell is the former
Editor-in-Chief at the New England Journal of Medicine, where
she spent twenty years poring over scientific papers, saturated in
the dubious practices that pervade the world of medical research.
She states bluntly:
It is simply no
longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is
published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or
authoritative medical guidelines.
I take no pleasure in
this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my
two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Most "experts" in
medicine are, psychologically speaking, simply engaged in well-paid
groupthink and confirmation bias exercises, vigorously affirming and
defending their ego's construction of the world.
Medicine and, science in
general, to paraphrase physicist Max Planck,
"advances one funeral
at a time."
Once the public has
accepted the scientific establishment's truths, narratives, and
designated "experts" then researchers whose research yields results
deviating from the accepted norm can be immediately branded as
crackpots, lunatics, fringe nuts, pseudo-scientists and so on,
regardless of how meticulous their methods, and irrefutable their
The media is crucial in this
control dynamic because it sells the establishment's reality.
Thus is the politically
correct status quo maintained.
Lets Garbage Through - and Lots of it!
review" censorship exemplifies the
neophobia in the world of science
which serves to protect the status quo rather than improve knowledge
by weeding out dubious epistemologies and results, as it is meant
This supposed mechanism
of "quality control" has resulted not only in the dismissal of much
important and credible research, but it has also let fraudulent
research - and lots of it! - be published at the same time.
Papers that appear to
support fashionable ideas or entrenched dogmas are likely to fare
David Kaplan, a professor of pathology at the Case Western
Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, has stated
Peer review is
broken. It needs to be overhauled, not just tinkered with.
The incentives should
be changed so that: authors are more satisfied and more likely
to produce better work, the reviewing is more transparent and
honest, and journals do not have to manage an unwieldy and
corrupt system that produces disaffection and misses out on
Is it any wonder that
John Ionnidis reported in his famous 2005 paper:
findings are false for most research designs and for most
Given the already
outlined problems, is it really surprising that, in Ionnidis words,
findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing
Dr. Marc Girard, a
mathematician and physician who serves on the editorial board of
Medicine Veritas (The Journal of Medical Truth), has written,
The reason for this
disaster is too clear: the power of money. In academic
institutions, the current dynamics of research is more favorable
to the ability of getting grants - collecting money and spending
it - than to scientific imagination or creativity. [xi]
In general, peer
reviewers - generally not time-rich - don't try to replicate
experiments and rarely even request the raw data supporting a
Peer review is, according
to Richard Smith writing in Peer review in health sciences,
thought to be slow,
expensive, profligate of academic time, highly subjective, prone
to bias, easily abused, poor at detecting gross defects, and
almost useless for detecting fraud. [xii]
What about fake peer
Springer Nature, who publishes the
aforementioned Nature journal announced the retraction of 64
articles in 10 journals in an August 18th statement in
This followed an internal
investigation which found fabricated peer-review write-ups linked to
The purge followed,
of "fake peer review" by several other major publishers,
including London-based BioMed Central, an arm of Springer, which
began retracting 43 articles
in March citing "reviews from
fabricated reviewers". [xiii]
Yes, that means reviewers
that don't exist - recommended as "reviewers" by the people
submitting their work for publication.
Imagine writing a paper
and being able to nominate a non-existent person to review your
work, and the contact email supplied to the publisher for this
purpose is actually one you made up, which routes the paper back to
you (unbeknownst to the publisher), so that you can then secretly
carry out a (favorable) review of your own work under a pseudonym!
In response to fake peer review some publishers have actually ended
the practice of author-suggested reviewers. [xiv]
And now for
the Conceptual Penis…
Recently two scientists performed a brilliant Sokal-style hoax
on the journal
Cogent Social Sciences.
Under the pen names
"Jamie Lindsay" and "Peter Boyle," and writing for the fictitious
"Southeast Independent Social Research Group," Peter Boghossian
and James Lindsay wrote a deliberately absurd paper loosely
composed in the style of "post-structuralist discursive gender
theory" - what exactly that is they made no attempt to find out.
The authors tell us:
The paper was
ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises
shouldn't be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging
We assumed that if we
were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is
intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of
it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.
And they did...
After completing the
paper, and being unable to identify what it was actually about, it
was deemed a success and ready for submission, which went ahead in
It was published the next
month after some editorial feedback and additional tweaking.
To illustrate how
deliberately absurd the paper is, a quote is in order:
We conclude that
penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as
a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social
construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and
future generations… and is the conceptual driver behind much of
climate change. [xvi]
In plain English, they
(seemingly) argued here that a penis is not a male sexual organ but
a social construct; the "conceptual penis" is problematic for
"gender (and reproductive) identity," as well as being the
"conceptual" driver of climate change.
No, really. How this ever
got published is something to ponder.
The paper is filled with
meaningless jargon, arrant nonsense, and references to fake papers
As part of the hoax, none
of the sources that were cited were even read by the hoaxers. As
Boghossian and Lindsay point out, it never should have been
No one - not even
Boghossian and Lindsay - knows what it is actually saying.
Almost a third of the sources cited in the original version of the
paper point to fake sources, such as created by Postmodern
Generator, making mock of how absurdly easy it is to execute
this kind of hoax, especially, the authors add, in,
corrupted by postmodernism." [xvii]
Spectacular Success of Hoax Papers and Non-existent Authors
In April 2010, Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University
in Grenoble, France, used a computer program called
SCIgen to create 102 fake papers
under the pseudonym of Ike Antkare.
SCIgen was created in
2005 by researchers at MIT in Cambridge in order to demonstrate that
conferences would accept such nonsense… as well as to amuse
Labbé added the bogus
papers to the Google Scholar database, which boosted Ike
Antkare's h-index, a measure of published output, to 94 -
at the time, making Antkare the world's 21st most highly
cited scientist. [xviii]
So a non-existent scientist has achieved the
distinction of being one of the world's most highly cited authors -
while "authoring" papers consisting of utter gibberish.
certainly in order...
In February 2014 it was
Springer and the Institute of
Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE),
were removing over 120 such bogus papers from their subscription
services after Labbe identified them using his own software.
Going back at least as far as 1996 journalists and researchers have
been getting spoof papers published in conferences or journals to
deliberately expose weaknesses in academic quality controls.
"Physicist Alan Sokal
(of the famous
Sokal Affair) succeeded in the
journal Social Text in 1996," while Harvard science journalist
John Bohannon revealed in a 2013 issue of Science that he had
duped over 150 open-access journals into publishing "a
deliberately flawed study." [xix]
organized submission of the flawed study (technically, many
different but very similar variations of the study) to 304 open
access journals worldwide over a period of 10 months.
255 went through the
whole editing process to the point of either acceptance or
Any reviewer with
more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability
to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper's
Its experiments are
so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless. [xx]
The hoax paper was accepted by a whopping 157 of the journals
and rejected by only 98. Of the 106 journals that did conduct
peer review, 70% accepted the paper. [xxi]
To Gary Novak,
If peer review were
open and accountable, there might be a small chance of
correcting some of the corruptions through truth and criticism;
but the process is cloaked in the darkness of anonymity…
Due to the exploitive
and corrupt process, nearly everything in science has official
errors within it… a culture of protecting and exploiting the
errors creates an official reality which cannot be opposed.
Returning specifically to
the arena of medicine, a quote in
PLoS Medicine, states:
devolved into information laundering operations for the
pharmaceutical industry", wrote Richard Horton, editor of the
Lancet, in March 2004.
In the same year,
Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of
Medicine, lambasted the industry for becoming,
marketing machine" and co-opting "every institution that might
stand in its way"…
another former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine,
argues that the industry has deflected the moral compasses of many
physicians, and the editors of PLoS Medicine have declared
that they will not become,
"part of the cycle of
dependency… between journals and the pharmaceutical industry".
In the words of John
studies are wrong, and they are wrong because scientists are
interested in funding and careers rather than truth."
A New Way
Forward is Needed
Clearly the problem of corruption and conflicts of interest have
been increasingly on the radar or professional academics for some
time now, so much so that it has been the subject of an increasing
number of harshly critical articles and editorials.
Conveying the depth and
breadth of deception to the "uninitiated," however, presents a
And it isn't just
conflict of interest and corruption to blame for the failure of peer
review, there is human bias, shoddy review work, fake reviewers and
fraud, and varying other human interests to factor in.
At the very least we need to cease indoctrinating students into the
dogma that all good things have been peer reviewed, and the
converse: anything that has not been peer reviewed is clearly
blasphemous and crafted by the hands of sinners.
I can't help but cringe when I hear people ask if a study has been
"peer-reviewed" - the response it most often deserves is simply,
The case against
science is straightforward: much of the scientific
literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.
studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid
exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest,
together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends
of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards
Offline: What is medicine's 5 sigma?
The Lancet, 11 April 2015, thelancet.com
David Kaplan, How
to fix peer review,
Strategies for Dissenting Scientists,
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 12, No. 4, 1998, pp.
Gary Novak, Peer
Review is Broken,
Martin, op. cit.
"Genetically modified food: Consternation, confusion, and
crack-up," The Medical journal of Australia, 172 (4), 2000.
Too many experts
spoil the science,
Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption
David Kaplan, How
to fix peer review,
Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, PLoS
Medicine, August 2005
Faked peer reviews prompt 64 retractions,
Ed.D. (aka Peter Boyle, Ed.D.) and James Lindsay, Ph.D.
(aka, Jamie Lindsay, Ph.D.), The Conceptual Penis as a
Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies,
Richard Van Noorden,
Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers,
Hundreds of open
access journals accept fake science paper,
Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of