By Naomi Schaefer Riley | October 12, 2014 | 12:00am | www.nypost.com
How reliable is academic research? Not very, it seems, after noting that the Journal of Vibration and Control, a reputable academic publication, had to retract 60 different papers over the summer.
The editors concluded that Chen-Yuan Chen, a researcher in Taiwan, had created a “peer-review and citation ring.”
OK, it’s not exactly a “Sopranos” plot. But it’s pretty shady for the world of higher education. Chen went to great lengths to make up fake email addresses and even assume the names of other scientists to write approvingly of his own research.
In a sense, though, he was just exploiting the deep flaws of the peer review system. The academy has become a kind of club where friends give friends flattering assessments of research, which essentially guarantees promotions and tenure.
Here’s how the former editor of the British Medical Journal explained peer review:
“The editor looks at the title of the paper and sends it to two friends whom the editor thinks know something about the subject. If both advise publication the editor sends it to the printers. If both advise against publication the editor rejects the paper. If the reviewers disagree the editor sends it to a third reviewer and does whatever he or she advises. This … is little better than tossing a coin.”
But it’s not just the clubbiness of academia that is to blame. There is such ideological uniformity in the ivory tower that no one ever questions the important assumptions behind anyone else’s research.
A forthcoming article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, published by Cambridge University Press, describes this problem in detail.
The article, whose lead author is New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, finds that academic psychology has lost nearly all of its political diversity in the last 50 years and that the validity of the discipline has been “undermined” as a result.