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Questionable Peer Reviews

Today, we take a detour from the usual silliness in order to cover a more serious subject.

In the science world, at least with regard to science and government policies, peer review is an oft-touted measure of a report’s validity. If many researchers have reviewed and found no issues with a report, then it must be a solid report–one which, perhaps, the politicians need to act on in order to save the world, or whatever.

On a bit of a tangent whose relevancy will become clearer in a bit, in recent years, the FTC has been coming up with new regulations and such to deal with the online world, especially with regard to reviews and testimonials.

For example, if you are reviewing a product on your blog, you have to disclaim your relationship to that product. Did you buy it yourself? Was it given to you for free? If someone buys it through a link on your blog, do you get a commission?

Relationships between products and services and people providing reviews and testimonials have to be disclosed.

Apparently, this appears not to be the case in the world of government-funded and agenda-driven scientific research.

Consider this article: “Global Warming Link to Drowned Polar Bears Melts Under Searing Fed Probe

The report discussed in the article had been submitted for peer review.

However, one of those peer reviewers was the report writer’s own wife. This fact was seemingly not disclosed.

Consider someone trying to sell you a book. You look at reviews on the book. One review in particular is very positive on the book. Sounds like a good deal. Is it important to you to know whether the person writing the review is married to the person who wrote the book? Would that impact your view of the impartiality of that review?

A marketer could get in trouble for pulling a stunt like that and not disclosing that relationship.

Apparently, there may not be a comparable policy in place for “peer reviews” in some scientific research circles.

Another one of the peer reviewers on the report also received some kind of contract, which I am guessing was in some way related to the report, thus making that too a conflict of interest.

An argument could be made that this is just one report out of many. But, on just this one report, it appears that at least two reviewers had a conflict of interest and, thus, may not be completely impartial in their review of this report. With the seemingly lack of a policy in this regard, one is left to wonder how many other government-funded reports that are touted as having met critical peer review are likewise being reviewed by people who may have conflicts of interest that are never disclosed?

Marketers could get in trouble and face huge fines from the FTC for engaging in such practices. Shouldn’t scientific research, especially government-funded research whose results may result in public policy changes that could cost taxpayers and businesses millions of dollars, or more, be held to the same types of standards that marketers are?

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