Researchers need to be confident enough to lift the veil on the debate that is at the heart of scientific progress, says Rebecca Lawrence
Barely a month into a global outbreak of monkeypox and science is already battling misinformation. As the Covid pandemic showed, being more connected than ever globally – through extensive travel and rapid exchange of digitised information – presents unprecedented challenges to scientists in both fighting disease and promoting scientific truth.
We have written recently about the real damage been done to the academic record, public trust and safety being done by dodgy theories and crackpot treatments that appear in questionable publishers. As discussed in this Times Higher Education piece, one way to tackle this problem would be to lift the veil on peer review. This will be a challenging change but it could stop the spread of misinformation before it starts. We have included eight related items.
This may seem counterintuitive. The counter argument runs that a “black box” approach to peer review enhances public trust in science by masking the contention that is always part of real-life science, thereby projecting a sense of certainty. I disagree. There are numerous cases where the closed system of review has led to serious errors and the promotion of bad science, which undermined public confidence and led to significant public detriment. The MMR controversy and various subsequently retracted Covid-19 studies are just two examples. And, worse, such failures can fuel the fire of misinformation and conspiracy theorising.