Sunday, March 29, 2015

The flaws of peer review

Jeff Harrison

                Efficiency of assorted agents in preventing bacterial growth on media.
                In our world of helicopter moms and Lysol® and sanitizing hand wipes for everyone it is little surprise that there are an overabundance of materials available for the killing of infections.  The first question is, how effective they are.  The ethical question of the long term effect of killing off infections without having to utilize our own immune systems and the resulting evolution of so-called “super-bugs” is a subject for another time, and another writer.  The purpose of this experiment was simply to look at a series of common sanitizing solutions and how well they were able to defeat the somewhat common and innocuous infection provided.
                The bacterium provided was Escherichia coli, personally I could have provided them with some samples of Streptococcal pyogenes, however by the time this paper is submitted those will hopefully be unavailable.  The measure of efficacy was based on the zone of inhibition about a piece of media soaked in the solution to be tested upon an agar media upon which the E. coli bacterium was introduced.
                The solutions that were being tested for efficacy were two examples each of 10% soap solutions, household cleaners, and common disinfectants.  The samples were set and allowed to grow for 24 hours and then chilled to prevent either further growth or death of the bacterium upon the media until zones of inhibition could be measured.
                I have no predictions for how well the cleaners will work, partially because, as in the traditional parlance of my generation, I have no horse in this race.  Rather I am going to spend this introduction discussing the flaws of peer review, which need to be addressed within the education system but fail to be addressed.  In my humble opinion, part of the reason that the flaws of the peer review process fail to be addressed is that the same “publish or perish” attitude that has created the peer review fiasco exists in the schools that create the next generation of peers.                 
There are thousands of great peer reviewed articles in the world that are accessible for free, which contain new and valid information that brings more positive growth in the world of science.  There is also a lot of garbage.  And it has been established that you can get papers detailing “experiments that are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless” published with approximately a 50% success rate (Bohannon, J. 2013).
Even more disturbing, although not surprising, is the advent of predatory journals.  There are plenty of online journals some of which even advertise “to assess publications within 72h and digitally publish them upon acceptance and the receipt of the fee” (Bartholomew, R. 2014).
Now I am sure that at this point you are grumbling about the curmudgeonly old guy that ended up in you lab session and having to deal with his destruction of the ‘scientific process as I have been taught’, however, the world around us created this curmudgeon.  If it were not having to deal with the peers of this world that produce garbage.  The further peers that quote garbage, and the final peers that disseminate garbage rebranded as science; this curmudgeon would not exist.
The amount of time that I have spent trying to point out the obvious and blatant flaws in articles such as “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe” (Harrit N. et. al. 2009).  Another article which is “peer reviewed” and as a result obviously valid science and is only mentioned as an extreme example of why the insistence on the use of peer reviewed articles is inherently flawed.
For the level of the introduction that is required for this report Wikipedia (which by definition is peer-reviewed) would suffice.  It would also give information in a clearer, easier to disseminate, and more useful manner that anything that google scholar will dig up.
I am sure that you will have dozens of peer reviewed articles quoted during the lab introductions that you are given on Tuesday.  I am sure that if you went and read those articles you would be the first person at the university to actually do so.  I am not sure if this is the behavior and conditioning that you are trying to reinforce in the next group of students that UMD produces.
Bartholomew, R. Science for sale: the rise of predatory journals. 2014. The Royal Society of Medicine 107(10) 364-385.
Bohannon, J. Who’s Afraid of Peer Review? 2013. Science Vol. 342.
Harrit, N. et. al. Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe. 2009. The Open Chemical Physics Journal. 2009, 2, 7-31.

Edited for grammar and perish/die (3/29/2015)

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