Nikolaus Kriegeskorte has written a very thoughtful and intriguing article about the recent explosion of scientific publications retractions (Check it out at The Conversation). The article discusses the possibility that the current, but outdated, peer-review system may be to blame for the trend in retractions. The article highlights that despite the bad press for science, retractions highlight the positive and negative side of science.
Retractions reveal both science’s weakness and its strength. Science frequently goes wrong; that’s its weakness. Then science corrects itself; that’s its strength. And yet there’s a lesson in the rising rate of retractions.
Kriegeskorte points out that the current peer-review system allows ‘the world’ or ‘the public’ to see science (in the form of press releases etc) before the scientific community as a whole has a chance to judge the science. He suggests a better system.
Back when articles needed to be printed on physical paper, we needed to filter before publication to control the costs. Today the internet enables us to “publish then filter”, to use Clay Shirky’s useful phrase. This will revolutionise scientific publishing.
While implementation of a system like this with the current scientific model may be difficult, I can’t help but agree that the peer-review system is broken and needs updating. If for no other reason than to save the image of scientists and science as a whole. But I don’t doubt it would also result in better science.