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Desert Diary
Culture/Peer Review


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The mass media have made it difficult to separate the good information from bad. In the fight for headlines (and, of course, for advertising money), news sources tend to latch onto anything that sounds like it'll attract the attention of their audience. Unfortunately, any information as to the likelihood of validity usually is absent. Indeed, many news sources feel obligated to give an opposite viewpoint, supposedly in the name of "fairness". But all too often, they balance something of scientific worth with items of junk science as if the two were equally valid.

Scientists are now fighting back by emphasizing the importance of peer review in judging validity of claims. Peer review in science means that research is critically inspected by other scientists before publication. Weaknesses are exposed for correction, and baseless findings seldom see the light of day. A reporter who attempts to "balance" peer-reviewed findings with the latest fad of the day does no one, least of all his audience, a favor. Fact and fantasy presented as equally valid is distortion, not reporting.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.