Image credit: BBC
When I wrote about climate skeptic James Delingpole's reported complaint about "intellectual rape" at the hands of the BBC, I was unable to view the video online. Now that very same video is making the rounds of the internet, and it is worthy of watching by anyone interested in how the public debate around climate change has gotten so distorted. In the controversy that preceded the screening of the BBC documentary Horizon: Science Under Attack, much was made of Delingpole's apparent inability (or refusal) to respond to Sir Paul Nurse's analogy of a cancer patient that refuses the medical consensus in favor of a quack cure.
Is Peer-to-Peer Review Science?
However compelling that moment is, it's the footage of Delingpole explaining to Nurse (the new president of the Royal Society) why the whole process of peer review has been damaged "perhaps irrevocably" that is most compelling. He argues that it is being replaced by a process he refers to as peer-to-peer review where evidence is examined by thousands of interested parties—both those with scientific expertise, and those with none—across the Globe.
"An Interpreter of Interpreters"
Delingpole then goes on to explain that it is "not his job" to read scientific literature because he doesn't have "the time or the expertise." He is, apparently, an interpreter of interpreters. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself—we at TreeHugger might very well be described in a similar fashion. But it is important to note the difference between that position, and that of scientist. As I noted before, blogging is not science. It's nice to see Delingpole acknowledging that fact.
I'm sure that some will call this an appeal to authority, or will complain about yet another medical analogy, but my personal response to this vision of the future of scientific inquiry is one of sheer terror. If I ever have to have brain surgery, I am going to want to be damn sure that the methods used have been informed by people who know and understand the myriad of complexities of that field. Same goes for the future of this planet.
Crowd sourcing and peer-to-peer learning is awesome. But it is not an alternative to peer reviewed science.