Home » News » Denyse O’Leary in Salvo Magazine: If Peer Review Is Working, Why All the Retractions?

Denyse O’Leary in Salvo Magazine: If Peer Review Is Working, Why All the Retractions?

Our own Denyse O’Leary has published an article in Salvo magazine entitled: “If Peer Review Is Working, Why All the Retractions?” She writes,

British author and retired psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple recently flagged an article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, in which researchers announced that they had calculated that an average of 92 ­minutes per week of exercise reduced subjects’ “all-cause rate of mortality” by 14 percent. They also claimed that “every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise beyond the minimum of 15 minutes per day further reduced all-cause mortality by 4 percent.”

Later, The Lancet received a letter pointing out that, if the researchers’ findings were correct, a man who exercised for six hours every day would reduce his mortality rate to zero, thus becoming immortal. Dalrymple comments, “In my opinion, life would not actually go on forever; it would merely seem as if it did, in the sense of being boring and pointless.”1

But how did this blooper get past peer review in the first place?

Peer review—colleagues’ prior approval of journal papers—is, say science popularizers, the “gold standard” of science.2 Actually, today it is more like a troubled currency, of fluctuating and generally diminishing value.

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11 Responses to Denyse O’Leary in Salvo Magazine: If Peer Review Is Working, Why All the Retractions?

  1. Sure peer review is not perfect but is there a better method? Peer review isn’t the only scrutiny new papers receive otherwise there wouldn’t be any retractions.

  2. Nobody that I know of thinks peer-review is perfect. It never was. But it’s better than anything else we have.

  3. I read through the suggestions for changing the system but I don’t think any of them would work any better and some I think would be worse.

    I think the current system whereby an knowledgable editor picks through the pile of submissions to try and find significant or interesting results and then passes those papers on to other scientists working in those fields to look for mistakes or flaws works about as well as anything. After publication the rest of the world can scrutinise and rake over the work and others can try and reproduce it and sometimes that is the real test. It’s like a tiered sieving system. Each pass weeds out some of the dross and garbage. Some of the alternatives would not work as well bringing the cream to the top.

    I do think one reform needs to be implemented: more negative results, especially in drugs trials, should be published. There’s no such thing as negative information and knowing what doesn’t work is valuable too.

  4. 92 minutes per week is 13 minutes per day. To get 6 hours per day, you’d have to add 23 15-minute intervals.

    If you decrease 0.86 by 0.04 23 times, you get 0.33, not zero.

  5. If you decrease 0.86 by 0.04 23 times, you get 0.33, not zero.

    The above wording is ambiguous. Stated more clearly: if you reduce 0.86 by 4% 23 times, you get 0.33, not zero.

  6. By the way, is there a “grace period” window of time within which an author can edit his post to correct errors?

  7. The period before the author fills in the captcha and hit’s Post Comment. =P

    Other than that, no.

  8. OT:

    Genetic Entropy and The Mystery Of the Genome – Dr. John Sanford – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwCu4rh7kUk

  9. Thanks for sharing BA77. Sanford’s talks are always a good watch.

  10. The thing in origin subjects is not about peer review from their own gang but rather it should come from outsiders.
    Evolutionary biology has never been peer reviewed by anyone not already a believer in evolutionary biology.
    further its claim to being a scientific study has never been peer reviewed by actual/other scientists.
    I say evolutionary biology does not use the scientific method.
    it relies on lines of reasoning and fossils/geology to make its case.
    Organized creationism does not take on evolutionary biology’s claims to be science.
    They just say its bad/wrong science.
    It’s worse then that.

    Some do question deeper motives as saying it acts like a religion but still there should not be great error in subjects claiming to be the result of a high standard or error avoidance namely science.

  11. I certainly agree — there should be more accountability in peer review.

    For example, I know of a pair of authors who took a very strange approach to comparing the performance of searches averaged over a set of potential targets. According to their approach, every search performs worse than every other search. The reviewers were apparently okay with this absurdity, and the paper was published. The authors have since rewritten this section of their paper, but still haven’t acknowledged this glaring error. Perhaps not a big deal, but one of the authors has made a lot of hay over the fact that this and a few other papers are peer-reviewed.

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