In science we trust… up to a point

by Adam Rutherford at The Guardian

Photo: Dale O'Dell/Alamy

Photo: Dale O'Dell/Alamy

Science is emphatically not a belief system. It doesn’t require faith, and it works: civilisation is built on science working. But it’s a full-time job to keep on top of one subject, and impossible to stay up to date across a range of fields. We have to trust that the system works. But does it?

This is the process: scientists do the research – primarily paid for by you – which gets written up and peer-reviewed before publication as a paper in a journal. Getting published in a journal is not a mark of truth but that your research is credible enough to warrant entering the literature for ongoing scrutiny. Published papers are the benchmark of academic success, and the media’s main focus.

At least that’s the theory. In practice, scientific publishing is riddled with problems. At one end there are the glamour journals, Nature, Science and a couple of others. These put out the biggest, noisiest and most exciting scientific discoveries, and careers are made if you get your research in. Are they more right than lower-ranked journals? Probably not, but they are exposed to great scrutiny under the maxim that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Read the full article here.