It’s Called Peer Review, Folks, and We Have It for a Reason

I am frequently asked by journalists to comment on unpublished studies that make one odd claim or another. When I was younger and more patient, I used to dig up the press release about the study and try to determine from the limited bit of information available whether there was any basis at all to the study’s conclusions. But I am older and less patient now with colleagues who blast unreviewed findings into the media. The most recent example was the press released “finding” that oreos are as addictive as cocaine, about which I cut to the chase with journalists:

The cornerstone of scientific quality is peer-review,” Humphreys said in an email to HuffPost. “This study hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It has not even been presented at a conference. All I know is that they put a press release making a series of claims based on a study, the details of which they have not shared with their colleagues. On principle, that makes me doubt their conclusions.

The Oreos press release, which was based on an undergraduate research project at Connecticut College, is part of a broader trend of sensationalized non-peer reviewed scientific claims. I decry this trend and assess the damage today at Stanford Medical School’s SCOPE Blog.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.