Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Peer Review Is No Substitute for the Scientific Method

By Alan Carlin
Given the the apparent death of cap and trade legislation in the US Senate, the short-term outcome of the US debate on action that allegedly might reduce climate change may rest primarily on what the USEPA manages to actually do. So it is of some importance what criteria EPA claims to be using in determining the scientific merits of its endangerment finding. In US EPA’s view the UN IPCC reports and other assessments based on it are so satisfactory an assessement of current climate science that no independent EPA analysis was necessary, primarily because of the IPCC’s “rigorous” policy on peer review. EPA cites this review policy as the reason it accepts these reports rather than others, such as the NIPCC report. Recent reports show that as actually carried out the UN IPCC AR4 assessment was much less than rigorous in the application of its peer review guidelines, however. Lost in this exchange, however, is whether the yardsticks being used by the UN and the EPA are reasonable. Both organizations appear to assume that peer review is the important characteristic of valid science included in scientific assessment reports.

I maintain, on the contrary, that the important characteristic should be how well the hypotheses proposed by the UN IPCC corresponds with real world evidence. It is only this crucial correspondence that determines the scientific validity of a hypothesis, not how many or how distinguished the reviewers may be who agree with the relevant hypotheses. This should be evident since any widely held scientific view (such as that the Earth is flat some centuries ago) would have easily qualified as valid science using a peer review standard since the supporters could easily have gotten a large number of favorable reviews of their hypotheses. This is what has happened in the case of the AGW hypothesis. There are enough global warming supporters among climate scientists so that with a little careful selection favorable peer reviews can be obtained for any desired warmist hypothesis. Hence such views can pass the peer review standard whether a hypothesis really stands up to comparisons with real world data or not. Read more.

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