I’ve ventured into online discussion forums regarding evolution, global warming, and stem cell research, and occasionally on autism & vaccinations and homeopathy nonsense. One thing that always stands out is that the vast majority of the loons on these topics rarely know that the peer review process exists, and if they do, they think it unimportant. Even some people claiming to hold PhDs. I find this disturbing, jaw-dropping even.
Apparently, Peer Review is one thing science teachers should teach more about, or so argues The Scientist.
Teachers have been giving feedback on what has caught the imagination of the students. The interviews with “real” scientists and editors describing their experience of the peer review system “raised a few eyebrows.” The students were shocked to discover that the process existed at all, and that scientists welcomed constructive criticism from their peers about how they could improve a paper. This challenged the notion of scientists always being “right.” That most reviewers give their time for free also hit a chord.
One teacher pointed out that in most textbooks, peer review is rarely mentioned. Instead students are encouraged to deliberate over news reports of controversies, meaning that when it comes to something like the food additives debate they are left trying to work out what status the different research claims have with no guidance other than their personal judgment on the newspaper the article has appeared in (“The New York Times says X, so it must be right…”).
Is the public understanding of science THAT bad? Yes, yes it is.