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Question about peer review

  1. Aug 18, 2007 #1
    Is the scientific world, being based on peer review, in need of an overhaul for being based on a logical fallacy that "popular equals correct"?

    I'm only asking because someone is telling me not to trust the majority of scientists on a specific issue, namely second hand smoking. I don't really know, but putting faith in a majority opinion was, I thought, reasonable.

    I concede that the majority is not always right. After reading over some reports on the issue, I am inclined to agree with the majority more because of consensus rather than my own interpretation. I do not believe that I am qualified to scrutinize the studies, and so putting faith in the majority is what I thought I was supposed to do.

    I guess he could be correct, but I'd appreciate some second opinions.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2007 #2


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    Is this person that's telling you they're wrong able to furnish you with equally sound studies that back what he is saying up?

    Sure studies can prove wrong and the majority of popular opinion can be proven wrong. But I wouldn't just take someone's word for it.

    In the case of second hand smoke, you don't find too many studies disputing it. If there were a lot of studies calling it into question, then there might be reason to take a closer look. That doesn't appear to be the case.
  4. Aug 18, 2007 #3
    According to the Wikipedia, peer review does not represent a case of "majority rules":

  5. Aug 18, 2007 #4
    Oh yeah, he's referred to other studies to back up his arguments. And then there is a counter, and it goes 'round 'n 'round.

    But I'm more interested in knowing what I'm supposed to do in the broader sense. Am I wrong in some way for putting my trust in a majority consensus?
  6. Aug 18, 2007 #5


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    Second hand smoke, second hand perfume, second hand vegetarian breath --- all offensive, and all can be demonstrated to raise heart rate, blood pressure, and reduce oxygen levels in "the victims." Holding my breath to get past the perfume counters in department stores is an elective response on my part, not a physiological response to the perfume.

    Second hand biological pathogens --- plague, leprosy, malaria, tetanus and a few other such nasties are non-communicable; TB, colds, flu, hemmorhagic fevers, typhoid, are very communicable --- plenty of studies, good statistics, double-blinded methods, and public health risk factors that aren't reported in tenths of cases per million exposures.

    There's "consensus," and, there's "consensus" on any topic --- the "consensus" among UFO freaks on whatever is not as dependable as the consensus among computer freaks that Moore's law has to break down one of these days.

    Review and approval of an article does NOT imply agreement --- it implies that the reviewer found no errors in method(s), logic, or conclusions; 'fraid it also does NOT imply serious effort on the part of the reviewer --- prior to WW II it did, but not in the age of publish or perish.
  7. Aug 18, 2007 #6
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