Peer review is a step in a right direction but it hardly deserves the “sacred cow” status it presently enjoys. Not many people seem interested in just who these “peers” are or the nature of their biases, conflicts of interest, and hidden agendas.
Even with associated full disclosure of conflicts of interest “peers” remain comparable professionals and colleagues. There exists a great danger in only selecting “peers” for the purpose of unbiased review and reporting because they may all think the same. One of the best examples, in modern history, of the failure of peer review, was the United States Navy’s investigation of itself following the 1989 turret explosion aboard the battleship U.S.S. Iowa. This embarrassing example of an exercise in self-interest by the United States Navy could have been easily avoided by allowing (or including) independent investigators to have looked into the matter from the start.
As with most endeavors which have created trust there soon follows attempts to abuse the process. The “peer review” frenzy has now reached the stage where some professional organizations have created professional journals solely to initiate in-house “peer review” as a means of propagating shoddy ideas and “fuzzy” science regarding patient therapies.
In medical studies and publications the peer review process would also be a great deal more meaningful and legitimate if, in addition to peer review, independent referees also had the opportunity of providing analysis and commentary. This would represent a real boon to knowledge and legitimacy as well as to quality control. It would also aide in the avoidance of incorrect conclusions being drawn from data which is not infrequently “skewed” because of poor reporting and weak scientific methods.