Politicians and political appointees often justify public policy initiatives on the grounds of “peer-reviewed” science. What they need to understand, however, is that that peer review is not a guarantor of accuracy, but is more a cursory examination where reviewers consider whether an article is plausible, the research methods sound, etc. It is not due diligence, it is not a confirmatory experiment, it cannot detect results that are the result of random error, and, as we have seen in a shocking report, it cannot protect against intentional fraud.
A recent investigation published in the British Medical Journal has confirmed that a landmark 1998 study published in The Lancet linking the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine to autism was a case of intentional fraud. And it’s a fraud with tragic consequences. After the publication of the study, vaccination rates in Britain plummeted, down by 80 percent by 2004, sending measles infections soaring.
With policy debates ahead involving energy and environmental policy, all of which are supposedly justified by publications in the peer-reviewed literature, it’s important for policy makers to understand that, as professor John P. A. Ioannidis points out in PLoS Medicine, most published research findings are false, peer review notwithstanding.