A "Scientific Ombudsman" To Avoid a Scientific Schism

The Scientist” reports about University of Cambridge biologist Peter Lawrence‘s (and others’) complaint against Cell, “one of the most cited scientific journals” according to Wikipedia.

Improper citation, disregard for antecedent research, and shoddy experimentation – those are just a few of the allegations levied against a recent research paper […]

Lawrence wrote in a letter to Cell that the paper was “seriously flawed both scientifically and ethically […]” Lawrence’s letter was not published in Cell, but he sent it to The Scientist. […]

Editors at Cell did not respond to an email request for comment in this story. However, the journal’s senior scientific editor, Connie Lee, did respond to Lawrence’s letter [but] declined his request to publish a minireview, instead offered Lawrence the opportunity to post his comments on Cell’s website. […]

Lawrence, however, would like to see action taken to address the issue of scientific scoopsmanship on a broader level. “There should be some kind of scientific ombudsman that people could contact when they feel they’ve been wronged,” he said. “At the moment, there’s nothing.”

It is said that scientific peer-review is like Democracy: full of flaws, but there isn’t anything better (I do have indirect experience with asinine comments by ignorant reviewers taken as Truth by editors of scientific journals with a purpose). But Democracy has been evolving and dare I say improving itself with time, whilst peer-review is somehow considered too saintly to be touched.

This has the unfortunate consequence that there are now people explicitly asking for its “overhaul”.

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UPDATE NOV 26: The Scientist has today another article praising peer-review as it happens today, and a few comments critical of it.

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The risk there is for a major Scientific schism, with some sticking to their little ivory towers of mutual peer-review; and others deliberately abandoning any attempt to publish in peer-reviewed journals, consigning their work to the Internet masses.

Whole areas of research may descend into “scientific wars” full of mutually-incompatible claims about the world we all live in. That will leave everybody unfamiliar with the field at a complete loss on what is, and what is not known.

This may have already happened, in Climatology, leading to Intergovernmental Panels etc etc.

I’d rather prefer a scientific ombudsman, thank you very much.