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Global Warming and Peer Review: The Fix Is In

What does a “peer-review ring” reveal about scientific “consensus”?


“Peer review” is an important aspect of the scientific method. Any scientific claim should face basic scrutiny from other experts in the field in order to weed out clearly invalid or unscientific arguments.

But peer review is also open to some obvious abuses. An entrenched scientific establishment can use peer review to close ranks against a radical new idea, regardless of its scientific merit. By the same token, an establishment can conspire to grease the wheels for fellow members of the clique, ensuring that they get their articles published in prestigious journals while others don’t.

That’s precisely what one scientific journal has been caught doing.

The Journal of Vibration and Control—not as titillating as it sounds; it’s an engineering journal devoted to how to control dangerous vibrations in machines and structures—just retracted 60 published papers because “a ‘peer review and citation ring’ was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.”

The motive here is ordinary corruption. Employment and prestige in academia is usually based on the number of papers a professor has published in peer-reviewed journals. It’s a very rough gauge of whether a scientist is doing important research, and it’s the kind of criterion that appeals to administrators who don’t want to stick their noses out by using their own judgment. But it is obviously open to manipulation. In this case, a scientist in Taiwan led a ring that created fake online reviewers to lend their approval to each others’ articles and pump up their career prospects.

But if this is what happens when the motive is individual corruption, imagine how much greater the incentive is when there is also a wider ideological motive. Imagine what happens when a group of academics are promoting a scientific theory that not only advances their individual careers in the universities, but which is also a source of billions of dollars in government funding, a key claim for an entire ideological world view, an entrenched dogma for one side of the national political debate, and a quasi-religious item of faith whose advocates believe they are literally saving the world?

You get precisely what we’ve seen on the issue of global warming, where we’ve also seen extensive evidence in the “Climategate” e-mails of a peer-review ring that sought to exclude scientific papers by global warming skeptics, secure preferential reviews for global warming alarmists, and, when necessary, to “redefine what the peer-reviewed literature is” in order to exclude skeptics.

So bear that in mind when you hear smug claims about how a 97% consensus means that no dissenting opinions should even be given a hearing. What that really means is: the fix is in.

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