Problems with Peers

August 15, 2010 by
Filed under: News, Opinion 

The public has a perception that peer reviewed medical journals are held in the highest regard in terms of scientific accuracy. So often we hear the question, “Did the study come from a reputable peer reviewed journal?” on the assumption that something reviewed and authorized as ‘true and correct’ by the peers of the writer, must have a bigger, better stamp of authority.

Medical History through the ages, has much to teach us about how the view of peers can be utterly wrong, to the cost of both mothers and children. Oliver Wendell Holmes is only one example.  To those who study medical literature, problems with peer review is nothing new.

Much to Inside Vaccine’s amusement, the sanctity of peer review received another truth-review, when the Scientist http://www.the-scientist.com/article…7601 published an article expressing more of their concerns about the ways in which peer review processes, work against “science” being the primary focus of science publications.

While considered by the public, to be gold standard medical practice, scientists openly discuss the peer review process as a broken system, plagued with the medical equivalent of nepotistic turf protection.

While the Scientist’s article is interesting, other scientists spell out the problems in more precise detail: http://www.ipscell.com/?s=i-hate-your-paper-dr-no-and-the-editors-that-are-ruining-peer-review showing that obstruction can come in the form of editors who turn a blind eye to unreasonable reviews from competitors, or friends of competitors. Reviewers themselves can make suggestions which are either ludicrous, make no sense, or show that they don’t understand the topic (and therefore consider the study worthless). Then there are the reviewers who suggest the researcher obtains better laboratory materials from them, and promptly refuses to supply on request, or doesn’t reply when asked. The list of ways in which peer review can be undermined, is legion, and very entertaining. Particularly the one about the reviewers who approve papers no matter the errors, because they know the person they just reviewed will probably review their work the next time around.

It would be really funny, …  if it wasn’t so serious, and detrimental to science as a whole. It’s also time that the general public realized that “science” isn’t necessarily what they assume it to be, and that what is portrayed as credible is sometimes imagined, rather than being a principle in fact.

That peer review infuriates many researchers, isn’t new. This septic piece of  “truth spoken in jest”, has been on the internet for over a decade now: http://web.mit.edu/ariely/www/MIT/Sample.shtml. You can only wonder just how often the author experienced the wrath of his peers.

If we are talking about fatal flaws in evaluating science involving medical topics about which there is very little debate on fundamental dogma, but plenty of turf protection egged on by competition for limited research funding, what might the situation be, where a study might challenge a dogma, or present a major risk to a specific industry?

There may not be many old fogies around who recall the screams of dismay after studies showing that routine episiotomies were utterly unnecessary. The problem wasn’t the science. The problem was the realization that a guaranteed, easy, mindless income from every single mother in labor, was sliding out of justification, and reach.  And there are still some today, who still trot out the mantra that a clean scalpel cut heals so much easier than a graze or a mended tear. Similar howls of discontent came when other studies found routine tonsillectomies were also unjustified.

Recently, Inside Vaccines discussed what happened when an Indian doctor questioned the need for the Hib vaccine, in an Indian medical journal. He stated that India had high natural immunity to Hib, and raised a concern that the WHO had concealed serious side effects from the new vaccine which was being suggested for India. Not long after, another Indian commentator, took a side-swipe at him in the British Medical Journal, and called him anti-vaccine. Is this the standard label to anyone who so much as starts a sentence with the word, “But….”?

Consider for a moment, if you will, something “out of this world”.

Take yourself to an imagined Mars where  a really good scientific study on completely vaccinated children compared with never vaccinated children, showed significant differences between the two groups,  …  such that the researchers suggested that the routine vaccination Mars schedule should be modified, maybe reduced, or even,  – heaven forbid – that to vaccinate should be a voluntary choice made only by Mars parents!

Imagine then, Earth’s  CDC’s reception of a suggestion sent from Marslings, that perhaps Earthlings should look and see whether or not vaccines recommended on Earth, had previously unstudied “issues”.

If there are already seemingly insurmountable hurdles when it comes to accepted medicine, what sort of explosion would arise if someone questioned  fundamental vaccination assumptions? After all pharmaceutical companies collect a minimum of two thousand dollars pocket money from birth to age 18, for every American child, without that child even being sick. Each year, that “wellness” cost grows substantially, as more and more vaccines are fitted into the needle cushion schedule.

In the current climate where research funding usually comes from the makers of the product either directly, or sideways from government organizations, who in their right mind, would risk their medical careers for such a study?  Who would fund it?  ….  Yet isn’t such a study scientifically logical? Wouldn’t you think it would be prudent?

Given that medical journals also have sources of funding they need to keep happily lubricated, would any of them consider publishing findings which might suggest that vaccines had previously unstudied down sides? If so, just WHO would they pick for peer reviewers?  Those who need to be lubricated?  Who might they be? The study authors’ competitors?

Even more interesting, if the unthinkable happened, and such an article was finally printed in a journal, how long would it be before the unfortunate authors were pilloried, tarred, feathered, hung, drawn and quartered, and sent to Mars?

Comments

One Comment on Problems with Peers

  1. Erwin Alber on Wed, 18th Aug 2010 1:57 am
  2. Thank you so much for this eye-opening and entertaining article!

    As someone involved in the vaccination issue for some 20 years, I found the side-swipe at vaccination particularly appropriate and amusing. Vaccination is after all – at least in my opinion – a barbarous medical superstition which since its inception by Edward Jenner in 1796 – over 200 years ago – has grown , much like some kind of parasitic growth, into today’s multi-billion industry.

    I consider the sculpture of the creature with its head buried in the sand – presumably representing the medical establishment, – very appropriate. May I suggest a second such figure, with its head up the bottom of its alimentary tract, to represent vaccination?

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