Cautions on the Quality of Science

A recent article by John Bohannon in Science (Bohannon, 2013. “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”, Science 342:60-65) provides a cautionary tale on the quality of sources (i.e. journals) of scientific information.  John Bohannon submitted a bogus article (containing many flaws, both in the science and the logic, and was completely made up) to over 200 ‘open-access’ (meaning that the journal is available for free) journals.  These journals were supposed to be peer-reviewed: peer reviewing is a process by which other scientists read your work to ensure that your paper contains quality scientific information.  He found that over 100 journals accepted this bogus article for publication – this means that these journals thought that the science was sound (which is was not). 

This exercise was done to see where flaws exist in the publishing of scientific information in freely available publications.  It points out that while 98 journals rejected the paper, in many other journals the peer-review process failed (for many potential reasons).  But the take home message is that it is important to know where your information is coming from, and the quality of the source.  There is a reason why there are ‘big-named’ journals such as Science and Nature: it is because the top journals routinely publish high quality science and, when there has been an error (usually due to the mistake of an author), the paper is promptly removed from the scientific literature.

Especially when controversial findings are published, pay attention to what publication that information is in.  If the journal sounds or looks suspicious, check the science.  If it is not quality science, then be wary of the information contained within – it could be false.

Stay safe and stay informed,

Joe

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