Peer Review, Scientific Consensus, And So Forth

  • Date: 16/02/13
  • Robert Higgs, The Independent Institute

Reference to “peer-reviewed research” and to an alleged “scientific consensus” are regarded as veritable knock-out blows by many commentators. Yet many of those who make such references appear to me to be more or less ignorant of how science as a form of knowledge-seeking and scientists as individual professionals operate, especially nowadays, when national governments―most notably the U.S. government―play such an overwhelming role in financing scientific research and hence in determining which scientists rise to the top and which fall by the wayside. [...]

Personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion, and a great deal of plain incompetence and irresponsibility are no strangers to the scientific world; indeed, that world is rife with these all-too-human attributes. In no event can peer review ensure that research is correct in its procedures or its conclusions. The history of every science is a chronicle of one mistake after another. In some sciences these mistakes are largely weeded out in the course of time; in others they persist for extended periods; and in some sciences, such as economics, actual scientific retrogression may continue for generations under the misguided (but self-serving) belief that it is really progress.

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