I am spending some time with family who are visiting from out of town. Sorry for being AWOL. But I managed to read a very good article by the ever excellent Dean Baker: Horrors! Unpublished Study Used to Raise Health Questions About Fracking. In it, he discusses a very important unpublished study by doctoral candidate Elaine K. Hill at Cornell University. She finds a shockingly high correlation between fracking and low birth weight babies. You should read the article.
Baker is mostly interested in Andrew Revkin at the New York Times who complains that Hill is unethical to circulate her unpublished research. I think that Revkin’s intentions are good, but he doesn’t understand how research works. Just on the most basic level, journal publication is so slow that for years it has acted as nothing more than a historical marker. All the real research dissemination is done at conferences and through the circulation of unpublished work. And even if time weren’t an issue, most research needs more than two reviewers. The new process allows many peers to comment and correct a paper before it is finalized in a form only later scientists are likely to read.
I commented on the article as it relates to my work in global warming. It mostly came out of my frustration with a friend who sent me a paper he had written about Christian ethics. In it, he discussed global warming. (He was a graduate student with me, but left the program before getting a degree.) But all of his science was based upon polemical pseudoscience by Arthur B. Robinson—all from papers in a supposedly peer reviewed journal. It calls into question the whole idea of “peer review.” Exactly who are these peers? Some people, like my friend, will okay bad science because they want to make a political point. And if enemies only review each other’s papers, nothing will ever be published. (Imagine Newton reviewing Leibniz!)
Here is my comment: