Paul Ehrlich Confirms Science’s Negative Expansion Team Effect & Peer Review

WM Briggs:

According to Ehrlich, and his peers, the world should have ended by now because of environmental catastrophe. Since he was wrong, so was science. And science likely was wrong because of peer review, which we might also call peer acquiescence or peer enforcement, just as Ehrlich implied. 

Thus Ehrlich, given Ehrlich’s admitted errors, he agrees with us, that peer review is one of the big reasons science goes bad. 

It is a more-or-less obvious argument that the morepeers there are, all of whom are publishing science papers, the more peer review there is. And therefore the greater force there is driving science towards the mean, which is to say average, beliefs. 

Ehrlich confirmed this not only by blaming his peers on his mistakes, but by acknowledging how those very same peers gave him almost every award there is. And that means low-level peers wanting to become high-level peers, which is not unreasonable, many would seek to emulate Ehrlich, as they indeed do. But that means emulators in turn make the same kind of mistakes Ehrlich did. And enforce it all with peer review.

What makes this is all more interesting is that right on top of Ehrlich’s comments came a Nature editorial—and peer-reviewed paper!—on the theme “‘Disruptive’ science has declined — and no one knows why.”

That “no one” is tribal. The writer meant no one he knew. For I venture to say that I know, and that regular readers know, why science is suffering. But we—you and I, dear readers—are not peers and so not in the counted class.

The article’s subhead is true: “The proportion of publications that send a field in a new direction has plummeted over the past half-century.”