29 November 2010


Ten days since I posted last!  I hope that everyone had a happy Thanksgiving full of family, friends, and good food, just like I did.

After a very busy week (week?  month!), I had some downtime today to catch up on my Google Reader articles.  I've recently added several science blogs to my subscriptions, catching up on current science trends and discoveries.  Several articles and an email lead me to thoughts about validation through peer review.  It's a time honored scientific mantra that research isn't valid until it can be reproduced and subjected to critical review.  The underlying assumption, of course, is that the reproduction and review are done by other people.

Under certain circumstances, that is absolutely necessary.  Specifically, if you want other people to believe your science, your methodology needs reproducibility and peer reviewing.  But what if you don't want to publish your science?  Nothing in the definition of science says that it must be shared.

Regardless, that's largely a philosophical argument, the kind best done around dinner time with good food and wine available.  The practical implications of peer-reviewing are a little jarring to an introvert like me... maybe they are to extraverts, too.  For instance, this article, which describes a trial being started with autistic children.  It's a bit long but not dense and it rightfully points out that there are a number of unscientific and unethical aspects to this trial.  But the article also says this:
 There is no evidence, other than a non-peer reviewed paper Montagnier self published in a journal he edits, that this is possible.  This paper makes most extraordinary claims that remain unreplicated – a basic requirement for research to be considered worth responding too, much less accepted.
 If the science is wrong, say so.  If the evidence does not substantiate the conclusion, call it out.  But don't condemn the work just because you didn't have a chance to give your opinion.

Even that example is a little esoteric.  So let's bring it to the quotidian, shall we?  Let's say that you want to host a group event.  You check with a couple key members of the group, who green-light things (I did my social due diligence! screams the introvert).  You send the invitation.  You get good responses back until... The One.  Who says s/he is upset that s/he can't attend... but really means to say (and does a good bit of implying) that the real problem is that s/he wasn't consulted and her/his opinion was critical to this event.  Who has implied that their opinion is more valuable than yours, as is their time.  Peer review!  The opinions of the peer group (in this case, the invitees) is more important than the originator (the host), regardless of whether or not the original idea was quality or not.

In case it's not obvious, I'm very over this mentality today.  It does, however, remind me of a great quote by one of my favorite historical figures:
“Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.” ~Alexander Hamilton
I guess some things never change.

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