Brussels, 11 Aug 2003
Scientists, journalists and the public have until 26 September to tell the UK's Royal Society how peer review of scientific results can be improved.
The feedback is invited as part of an inquiry by the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences, into the ways in which research results are made public. The inquiry has been prompted by a number of controversies surrounding how and when scientists communicate their research results to the public, and whether scientists should check each other's work before it is published.
'The results of scientific research can have quite profound effects on public opinion and policy, so it is important that scientists practise the highest standards of professionalism and integrity when communicating their results,' said Sir Patrick Bateson, chair of the inquiry's working group and Vice-President of the Royal Society.
Currently, scientists rely almost exclusively on peer review, whereby other experts check the quality of results, analysis and interpretation before they are made public. This acts as a safeguard against the communication of poorly conducted research.
'But it is evident that peer review is not perfect,' added Sir Patrick. Some papers have been published in leading journals following approval by referees, but then have later shown to be based on false or poorly interpreted results. '[R]esearchers can [also] still attract publicity for highly questionable results even when they offer no evidence that their research has been checked, as we saw earlier this year with claims about the birth of human clones,' said Sir Patrick.
The working group, which includes people from the field of consumer affairs, journalism, scientific publishing and academic and industrial science, will also examine criticisms of the peer review method, namely that it is too secretive. 'It has also been suggested that it provides a way in which the establishment can prevent unorthodox ideas, methods and views, regardless of their merit, from being made public. We want to see if any evidence supports such a claim,' said Sir Patrick. To access the call for evidence, please visit: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/framer.asp?pag e=/news/comm.htm