Peer Reviews, Pseudoscience, and Denialism

Peer Reviews, Pseudoscience, and Denialism January 14, 2020

My Facebook connections are diverse enough that I see a range of viewpoints, which is a good thing that I am determined to maintain. It also means that I see a lot that disturbs and disheartens me. One recent example involved a denialist piece misrepresenting peer review and defending anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, and other such stances.

Among the things I wrote in comments there:

The entire academic endeavor involves some minimal peer review of the sort the web page you shared focuses on, and then much more extensive and rigorous interactions and critical evaluation after publication. Academics are required to try to innovate as part of our jobs. We publish by breaking new ground and/or showing where others attempting to do so are wrong. If a consensus emerges from that process it is the best approximation of the truth we can hope for at the moment.

One example (of a problem with the article my Facebook acquaintance shared) is the discussion of genetic modification, as though we had not been modifying the genes of crops and animals for millennia through selective breeding, and as though this process as well as that of more direct gene manipulation didn’t produce results that range everywhere along the spectrum from toxic to extremely beneficial.

I also saw an amazing movie directly related to this topic as well as to what is going on with elections recently and presently. It is called Brexit: The Uncivil War, and it stars Benedict Cumberbatch. It is a BBC production, and it has received ridiculously little attention and publicity in the United States, despite there being clear evidence that the approach to data mining, social media usage, and advertising that was in many respects given a trial run in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU has also been applied in the United States to our most recent election, and will continue to be.

Other things related to this topic:

When Faithfulness Means Checking Your Sources

The Death of Truth: “Both Sides” Don’t Deserve Our Consideration

Ignorance of basic science isn’t a virtue

Could a Rating System Help Weigh Claims Made in Popular Science Books?

Marketplace or Oligarchy of Ideas?

Fragile Triumph: The Enlightenment’s Ongoing Travail

Randal Rauser on the evolution of a young-earth creationist

From NCSE:

Why trust science in a post-truth age?

Partisan divide over climate change persists

Teacher-friendly guide to climate change

The state of US climate change education

Trouble in Idaho

Flooded with evidence

The Imminent Frame:

science

science

science

Is There a Crisis of Truth?

Does science describe experience or truth?

William Davies reviews “Irrationality” by Justin E. H. Smith

Why the world is not how we see it

In Science20:

Sci-Comm

The fake news source is you

How a social media lie avoids condemnation

Greenpeace vs. science

Conspiracy believers are not crackpots about everything

Science facts that are no longer true

Has Science Journalism Helped Unmask a “Replication Crisis” in Biomedicine?

American Universities Abroad

The Incarnation in a Post-Truth World

Drilling and Spilling Oil

Also related to peer review:

Use Peer-Review to Become a Stronger Writer

Colleges are doing too little to combat misinformation

Monkey Jesus and the spirit of the age

And finally, a call for papers on the symbiosis between the humanities and the sciences.


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  • David Garshaw

    I pulled out an old book from my dad’s bookshelf: “Those Incredible Christians” and its prologue “The Passover Plot” by Hugh J. Schonfield. I’ve tried to find some peer review of his work, as I’m unfamiliar with him.

    Are you familiar with his work and its quality?

    How can we effectively find good peer review information on theologians?

  • Anjasha Freed

    It would be pretty naive of the general public to think that peer reviewing and citation is not sometimes motivated by ambition, cronyism and tit-for-tat.

    I read a now-banned-on-Amazon book that discussed how Franz Boas surrounded himself with student disciples who became the leaders of anthropology departments all over America. They were a closed shop ideologically and scholars with legitimate heterodox opinions did not fare well in their journals, getting hired, moving up in their university departments, in peer review or citations.

    Boas and his followers were wrong about many things, but it took years to break their intellectual stranglehold over the field.

    There is nothing wrong with skeptics, and the majority of scholarship is not always right about things.