Peer review in science: Dr Philip Campbell

Knowing what to believe can be a tricky business, especially if you are not a science specialist. Dr Philip Campbell is editor-in-chief of the science journal Nature.

With science stories, one of the phrases journalists hear frequently is that something has been ‘peer-reviewed’ in a science journal.

If a paper has been peer-reviewed, at least two or three other scientists have read through it and made a judgment. It shows that the works is credible, but it does not mean that it is tried, tested and proven, and therefore true.

It’s important to note the distinction between the two. Even if a paper has been peer-reviewed, Dr Philip Campbell warns that journalists should never “take it as gospel”.

That’s for two reasons:

Firstly, the work needs to be scrutinised or replicated in the laboratory by other scientists before people know it’s reasonably true. And, secondly, journals can make mistakes or have a different set of judgments from other specialists in the field.

In other words, even peer reviews can sometimes get it wrong.


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