Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Close Enough Is Better Than Nothing

By Peter Bowditch

Peer review may not be perfect but it’s better than the alternative of being able to say, claim and publish anything at all.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Pseudoscientists don’t like being told that they would have more credibility if their work was published in peer-reviewed journals. Often they will attack the peer review process itself and try to pretend that because it is not perfect it is not useful (the “Nirvana Fallacy”). Of course it is not perfect, because it is an invention and construction of humans, but it is still better than the alternative of being able to say, claim and publish anything at all.

You can be a bit more confident when you read something in a peer-reviewed journal because you know that more than one person has read the paper before publication. Errors can still get through, and sometimes the flaw in the research is missed by the reviewers. I saw a case of this a few years back.

When I was studying perception we had a guest lecturer who told us about his latest research. His paper had passed all the checks and reviews and was about to be published in a prestigious journal. He had shown that the sense of smell diminishes with age, and that older people could not smell as well as young people could. The experimental method had been to expose people of various ages to the smell of broccoli and ask them to identify it. Older people were much less able to identify the smell, so he claimed that this showed that they could not smell as well.

Any questions? I was the first, and I said...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.