The WEAK case against double-blind peer review – highlighting why we need it!! #science @NatureNews

NATURE this week feature a correspondence from Thomas E. DeCoursey reasoning against double-blind peer review. In my humble opinion his reasoning is flawed…. not unlike the current peer-review structure. To air out my laundry, I support a completely open or double-blind system for manuscript peer review. All of the peer review models have some flaws, but these two seem infinitely better than the current system where authors are blinded to reviewers but not vice-versa.

DeCoursey makes the somewhat legitimate point that it may be possible for reviewers to ascertain who the authors of a manuscript are based on citations. However, there would always be some element of doubt for the reviewer about who the authors are, and there are many cases where this circumstance would not occur.

Then DeCoursey reasons that reviewers need to know who the authors are in order to judge them on their past work…. or something…. wha???

To function in our increasingly competitive research culture, in which misconduct is on the rise, researchers need to be aware of which labs can be trusted and which have a record of irreproducibility. If a highly regarded lab and one with a questionable reputation each submit reports of similar investigations, a good reviewer would be extra vigilant in assessing the less-reliable lab’s study, even though the same evaluation standards would be upheld for both.

Yes, misconduct is on the rise, but this point seems wrong to me on every level. Reviewer’s should be vigilant of misconduct and scientific quality on every paper, regardless of what lab the paper comes from. Plenty of ‘good’ labs have had to retract papers for many reasons, and labs with a history of misconduct have reformed and redeemed themselves with quality papers. In fact, less vigilant reviewers may be to blame when flawed papers from highly regarded labs make it through the review process with glaring mistakes. Any reviewer that is more or less vigilant reviewing a manuscript based on the author’s names is not an impartial reviewer. PARTIALITY is bad when reviewing papers and grants…  Ethics 101 – Conflict of Interest. For the same reason, most journals won’t allow scientists to review a manuscript from within the same institution.

There is a reason double-blind experimental design is the gold standard for experiments and human clinical trials. Just like a reviewer might think he knows who the authors are, a doctor might think he knows whether a patient is receiving placebo, but neither can ever really be sure. Why wouldn’t we want the same type of controls for peer review?

Double-blind peer review removes this crucial quality-control option, opening the way for mediocre and bad labs to clutter the literature with sub-standard science.

#FacePalm…

Maybe I’m jaded, but good reviewers should be screening out sub-standard science regardless of whether they know what lab a manuscript is from or not. This closing statement makes it sound like DeCoursey thinks only the best labs, with the biggest names, and the highest impact factor publications should be publishing… which I hope is not the case (maybe I read into it too much). If it is the case, then that only argues stronger for a double-blind peer review system.

And in closing, a double-blind peer review system would help avoid racist, sexist, or other embarrassing situations like this one, where a reviewer commented that the two female author’s should add a male author in order to strengthen the manuscript. Double-blind peer review erases sexism, racism, nationalism, institutionalism (?), and other discrimination from the peer review process, which is definitely huge plus!

#Science and Health Communication Internships at National Cancer Institute! #scicomm @NIH

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Two more great opportunities for scientists/researchers interested in gaining experience in science and health communication!! Check out the site here for more info and the application!

The HCIP gives highly qualified graduate students and recent graduate degree recipients the opportunity to participate in vital health and science communications projects in one of the many offices that make up the NCI.  Interns will select an area of emphasis: Health Communications or Science Writing.  Six-month and one-year internship terms are available.

Info below on the two distinct internships!!

Successful Health Communications applicants have some science background as well as experience and/or education in any of the following areas:  public health, epidemiology, public relations, health education, communications, science writing, statistics, social marketing, or journalism.

Successful Science Writing applicants have a science background with the ability to translate complex scientific concepts into material suitable for a lay audience.

Does #science news and science writing need a classification system with warning labels? Dean Burnett thinks so.

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Dean Burnett has written a hilarious and timely article about science news and science writing for his blog Brain Flapping. Burnett puts forth a new classification system for science writing and science news, which also pokes fun at all-too-common issues with science writing.

… science and science news/reporting/writing is the work of humans, and humans are rarely 100% logical. So, to step into the world of science is to step into years/decades/centuries of disputes, controversies, unfamiliar habits, power-plays, strange politics and countless other things that manifest in science articles and could befuddle the unwary reader. What can we do about this?

Burnett suggests a film-like classification system with warnings about what a particular article includes, and then defines his idea of potential classifications. Burnett’s classifications include axe grinding, soapbox, provocative title, condescending, niche concern, and many more. My favorite, just because it is so common in popular reporting of science, is ‘wild extrapolation.’ Explanation:

Most scientific experiments are actually quite specific, eg what one specific protein does in one specific type of bacterium. But in the modern media, it’s vitally important that a news story or piece get as much attention as possible, and this is often achieved by highlighting the consequences that could affect the potential reader. That’s how a study into mouse diets during pregnancy suddenly becomes an alarmist piece about human mothers potentially harming their babies. Or a small study showing a minor increase in carcinogen activity in-vitro becomes “THING CAUSES CANCER!”

Definitely check out his classification post, it is a terrific read. Burnett includes the below disclaimer in his post, which CauseScience would also like to include in this post. We are certainly guilty of many of these and should implement this type of classification system.

[Disclaimer: this isn’t intended as a jibe at other science writers, nearly all of the things discussed below are applicable to posts from this blog many times over, and almost certainly will be again in future]