When Peer Review Yields Unsound Science

As we report in our book Trust Us, We're Experts, 'peer review' is a process "in which panels of experts are convened to pass judgement on the work of other researchers. ... In theory, the process of peer review offers protection against scientific errors and bias. In reality, it has proven incapable of filtering out the influence of governmental and corporate funders, whose biases often affect research outcome." Lawrence K. Altman examined the issue in the aftermath of a recent meeting and "the news was grim. Researchers reported considerable evidence that many statistical and methodological errors were common in published papers and that authors often failed to discuss the limitations of their findings. Even the press releases that journals issue to steer journalists to report peer reviewed papers often exaggerate the perceived importance of findings and fail to highlight important caveats and conflicts of interest."