Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Peer Review Stifles Science

Dr. Donald W. Miller, Jr., who teaches cardiac surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine argues that the peer review process is stifling scientific research in his essay "The Trouble With Government Grants". Miller says that those in charge of approving government grants "abuse the trust and power of government, which does not know science, to advance their own careers and, in some cases, protect their investments in companies that profit from the reigning paradigm."

He states "When the [federal government] peer review grant system was established in 1946 people assumed that scientific progress occurs in an evolutionary incremental and cumulative fashion." Both the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation continue to use this process. This process discourages funding of those who disagree with the ideas held by those who approve grants such as global warming, according to Miller.

Miller favors switching to the approach used by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which was established after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1958.

. "Eighty project managers, who each handles $10-50 million, are given free reign to foster advanced technologies and systems that create "revolutionary" advantages for the U.S. military. Managers, not subject to peer review or top-down management, provide grants to investigators who they think can challenge existing approaches to fighting wars."

Bell Labs was using a similar approach to research at the time.

It shouldn't be surprising that those in the field of biology would believe that scientific theories developed gradually, because biology made the same assumption about the development of biological life. Those familiar with the history of physics theories realize that science sometimes precedes abruptly with revolutionary changes in ideas. In the 19th century physicists believed that atoms were the smallest particles of matter and couldn't be further subdivided. In 1897 J.J. Thomson forced complete replacement of that theory be demonstrating that atoms were actually composed of smaller charged particles. He proved the existence of electrons and correctly theorized that atoms also had protons and neutrons. During the next 20 years physicists like Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr produced more revolutionary theories

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