Peer review: does it guarantee quality?
The corporate industrial wind lobby and the Ontario government have somehow picked up the idea that if a work is not “peer-reviewed” it’s not worth considering. They hurl this as an epithet when they want to discredit someone, as they did the U.S. pediatrician and author of The Wind Turbine Syndrome, Dr. Nina Pierpont.
Most of us understand the peer review process and know that it implies an impartial review of a manuscript prior to publication. On the other hand, the peer review process is not always strictly defined. As one nurse who follows this blog put it, “You get a bunch of your buddies together and ask them to read your paper.”
An article appeared a few years ago in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in which author Richard Smith called peer review a “flawed process.” (At http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420798/) Smith found several weaknesses in the process including inconsistency in the review proces and the effects of bias. The intention of peer review is to ensure quality, he wrote, but a study of the process found little evidence of that. A good editor with a solid vision of what the goals of the journal are could do as well, he ventures, but it would be a “bold journal that stepped aside from the sacred path of peer review.”
One of the studies being used by the corporate wind industry in Ontario (its authors are now traversing the province and acting as “experts” for individual wind power developers at their open houses) is purported to be published in a “peer reviewed” journal. In fact it may be, but one of our associates inquired as to the publishing process for this particularl journal and learned that authors PAY to be published in it, and part of the publication service is a peer review. So, we have no idea what value that is.
We will conclude with epidemiologist Carl V. Phillips who wrote in a (peer-reviewed) article Properly Interpreting the Evidence About the Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents, that tagging an article as non-peer-reviewed was a means to discredit content. “The other common method for trying to claim that adverse event reports are not informative … is to note that they are not ‘peer reviewed.’ It seems likely,” he wrote, “that most people repeating this claim do not even understand what peer review does; if this is not the case then they are pretending not to understand. At its best, peer review by health science journals provides a cursory review to make sure that a study follows some basic guidelines, and occasionally (very rarely) corrects an important error. Reviewers rarely comment on the quality of analysis methods, let alone the data being analyzed, because they are not even provided with the statistical programs or data.”
“It s easy,” Phillips concludes, “to get an absolutely terrible study published, so long as the authors jump through particular hoops, stick to simple methods, and do not reach a conclusion that is controversial.”
Unfortunately, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario also turns up its nose at studies that are not peer reviewed, in spite of the fact that the one study it relies upon for its policy on industrial wind power generation and the potebtial for health effects, was neither published in a journal nor peer reviewed (the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s report). Having people who work for you, or for your employer, does not constitute peer review.
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This post was not peer-reviewed.