Lawrence Altman of the New York Times, has written a must-read explanation of why so much scientific fraud is slipping through previously sacrosanct medical journals; why, as he puts it, “If peer review were a drug, it would never be marketed.”
It works something like this:
Public dollars go to scientists, usually through universities, which demand that the scientists publish their work. To get published, the scientists offer articles to scientific journals without pay. The journal editors then ask a panel of outside experts not to prove or disprove the findings, but to see if there are any obvious statistical holes. The reviewers give thumbs up, and the article is published and then publicized as gold-standard evidence. Along the way, no one finds out how extensive the peer review really was, what friendships or jealousies exist between reviewer and author or which drug company paid which author or which reviewer.
The journals generally are owned by conglomerates whose revenue comes from advertisers whose products are being investigated. The authors are owned by the faculties that promote them based on their publications, and the editors, in turn, are owned by the authors without whose free work they would have nothing to publish.
If this were politics and not academe, at least three commissions and one grand jury would be empanelled.