The Washington Post just ran an opinion piece on “Why we shouldn’t take peer review as the ‘gold standard.’” The NAS agrees that flawed peer review is a large problem--it's a major contributor to the irreproducibility crisis of modern science. The opinion piece, unfortunately, made its point by a misguided attack on Dr. Willie Soon. NAS President Peter Wood sent this letter to The Washington Post to defend Soon, and point out where the problems of peer review truly lie.
Regarding the August 1 Outlook piece “Why we shouldn’t take peer review as the ‘gold standard’”: Thacker and Tennant recycle a 2015 hit-piece by environmental activists against Dr. Willie Soon. They are trying to demonstrate that peer review has problems, but their missile goes off target. They smear Soon for accepting research funding from fossil fuel interests, but the source of funding has nothing to do with the quality of science except in the minds of conspiracy theorists.
Peer review suffers from major defects. Articles that are rife with problems sail through because of cheer-leading by like-minded peer reviewers. The essence of the problem is groupthink. In some fields up to half of published articles are irreproducible, i.e. scientifically worthless. That's not true of Dr. Soon's work, which has withstood relentless review by partisan scientists who wish they could discredit its substance, but are left taking potshots at his sources of funding. Any notable dissenter—any Willie Soon—is more likely to be the victim of a flawed peer review system than its beneficiary.
Peter Wood, President
National Association of Scholars