June 16, 2014

UNSETTLED SCIENCE: Two big recent scientific results are looking shaky—and it is open peer review on the internet that has been doing the shaking.

Scientists make much of the fact that their work is scrutinised anonymously by some of their peers before it is published. This “peer review” is supposed to spot mistakes and thus keep the whole process honest. The peers in question, though, are necessarily few in number, are busy with their own work, are expected to act unpaid—and are often the rivals of those whose work they are scrutinising. And so, by a mixture of deliberation and technological pressure, the system is starting to change. The internet means anyone can appoint himself a peer and criticise work that has entered the public domain. And two recent incidents have shown how valuable this can be.

Unless it’s climate science. Then you’re a filthy climate-denier.