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Why bother with peer review?

October 4, 2011

Not all major papers are published in journals, particularly nowadays given websites like ArXiv so why should anyone bother? After all it is not unheard of work for which was published and mainstream to turn out to be wrong, right?

Peer review is by no means perfect but it serves an important purpose. It provides a fresh set of eyes to a problem, as its all too easy to miss mistakes when you constantly work on something. It forces researchers to organise their results in a way which is concise and conveys the essence of their work in as convenient a way as possible. Most importantly it prevents the community being deluged with poor quality work riddled with errors. Yes, some get through but the majority do not. A journal will send a submitted paper to someone who is very familiar with the subject matter so that errors are more likely to be spotted. Subtle errors may not be noticed by others or people new to a field of research and the requirement a paper passes the scrutiny of an expert means that people new to that field can be more confident in the work, as they have not yet developed the knowledge and experience to review it properly. It takes the expert some time to read and evaluate a paper but it saves the research community time overall as it prevents any errors leaving into the literature.

ArXiv does not peer review but it has basic standards, someone without an association to a reputable research institution must get someone to vouch for them. ViXra was started up by people who got banned from ArXiv and they allow anything to be put on there. As this post illustrates, the material on viXra is much lower quality and generally either incoherent or riddled with mistakes an undergraduate should not be making, let alone someone claiming to have killed special relativity.

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