Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Peer review reviewed; found wanting

Prestigious British medical journal The Lancet could stall no longer, finally withdrawing an "'utterly false' MMR [measles, mumps and rubella vaccine] paper":

The Lancet today finally retracted the paper that sparked a crisis in MMR vaccination across the UK, following the General Medical Council's decision that its lead author, Andrew Wakefield, had been dishonest.

The medical journal's editor, Richard Horton, told the Guardian today that he realised as soon as he read the GMC findings that the paper, published in February 1998, had to be retracted. "It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false," he said. "I feel I was deceived."

Horton belatedly acknowledging that the peer review process, which vetted and approved the MMR study, is flawed:

The Lancet had done what it could to establish that the research was valid, by having it peer-reviewed. But there is a limit, he said, to what peer-review can ascertain.

Peer review is the best system we have got for checking accuracy and acceptability of work, but unless we went into the lab or examined every case record, we can't ever finally rule out some element of misconduct. The entire system depends upon trust. Most of the time we think it works well, but there will be a few instances – and when they happen they are huge instances – where the whole thing falls apart.

This is complete bulls**t, of course, Horton almost ten years ago acknowledging the peer review problem:

Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. 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.

Yep, that pretty much describes the current state of "science".

Via Tim Blair




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