Michael Nielsen has an excellent post today: Three myths about scientific peer review. The myths are:
- Scientists have always used peer review: it seems it became widespread only during the second half of the XXth century.
- Peer review is reliable. In fact, we know litte about the reliability of the current peer review system. How do you know how many innovations were suppressed by peer review? Any experienced scientist knows that work rejected by a peer-reviewed journal can be of high importance and high quality.
- Peer review is the way we determine what’s right and wrong in science. Of course, that is very wrong. I routinely rely on work which appeared on arxiv, whether it has been peer reviewed or not. I also routinely ignore or dismiss peer-reviewed papers—often because I determine the paper to be wrong.
If you read the reactions to Michael’s post, you find Peter Turney‘s response:
I’m sympathetic to much of what you’re saying, but, on the other hand, I know that peer review has immensely improved many of my own papers.
My take: I entirely agree with Peter Turney. Many of my papers benefited tremendously from peer reviewed. I could not imagine doing my work without getting feedback from my peers! However, peer review is an honor-based system. It is meant to help the authors get a sense for the value of their work, and help them improve. You can cheat the system. And people do it routinely to get promotions and jobs.