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Monday, April 21, 2008

Peer review: What if your peers would have to be other conspiracy theorists?

A couple of years ago, I wrote an underappreciated article on the growing scandal of peer review. Now, according to historian Max Holland, Harvard University's Bellknap Press seems to be getting in on the act of publishing peer reviewed conspiracy literature:
The scholarly sheen given The Road to Dallas is not wholly unprecedented, to be sure. A few other fallacious books about the assassination have received the academic stamp of approval.[3] Still, that begs the question: How did The Road to Dallas ever survive the gauntlet of peer-review at the august Harvard University Press, which is part of an industry that likes to think of itself as “a bulwark against the confusions of error and unsupported opinion, of ideology masquerading as fact, magic as science, and prejudice as theory.”[4]

Neither Kaiser nor HUP was willing to answer questions about the editorial vetting The Road to Dallas underwent. “Any such questions would have to be addressed to the Press,” Kaiser responded when asked, and HUP refused to disclose information about its editorial process in general, or as it pertained to Kaiser’s book specifically.[5] Indeed, insofar as HUP is concerned, the rotating membership on its Board of Syndics—or what other university presses call their editorial or publications committee, and readily make public—is top secret.
Holland engagingly quotes:
As Thomas Jones, a contributing editor at the London Review of Books observed in 2005, "The first rule when concocting a conspiracy theory is not to make any claims that can be proved not to be true . . . . A decent conspiracy theory is made up of hard facts; the invention lies in drawing the connections."

Regular readers of this space will know that I regard all conspiracy theory as presumptive evidence that the author is a crank. Most people simply cannot keep a secret whose disclosure would enhance their social importance. And most of what goes on in the world is a mystery only to those who do not pay close attention.

Hat tip Five Feet of Fury

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