Also see: Peer Review or Vetting?
This article recommends a methodology intended to provide authors of articles on frontier subjects a means of producing reliable source articles while fostering a culture of cooperation which will lead to continuous improvement.
In established subject areas as found in mainstream science, articles intended to be a reliable source such as a research report, are generally written by people holding an academic degree in the subject of the article. There are “peers” who hold similar or same degrees and who have similar experience in the subject. There is also an established culture of collaboration and community support in established subject areas, which assures the availability of peer reviewers.
Academic degrees in frontier subjects from accredited colleges and universities often do not exist. If a person studying the frontier subject does have an advanced academic degree, it will likely be in a different field. Thus, the people studying frontier subjects generally lack formal training in the subject. Also, the culture may not have an established expectation of peer support and collaboration. Because of this dynamic, articles on the subject are usually not vetted by peers, and cannot be seen as a reliable source.
Credibility of an article is directly proportional to the quality of scholarship and thoroughness applied by the author, but perceived credibility begins with the author’s credentials, followed by the reputation of the publication. The publication’s reputation in scientific and scholarly subject areas depends partly on whether they use a process of peer review to screen articles.
Credibility of the Author
The author’s credentials such as academic training, past publications and positions in the frontier community establish the reader’s expectations as to the credibility of the author.
The author should maintain an up-to-date biography stating his or her credentials. Care should be taken not to use terms that might be seen as an effort to over inflate the importance of the credentials. For instance, using the term “research” to describe participation in a group hauntings investigation may be misleading. At the same time, an audio engineer for a radio station is not the same as an electronics engineer specializing in signal processing. It should be noted whether or not academic credentials were received from an accredited or unaccredited institution.
Credentials are a very important area of concern for all members of a frontier subject. A person may have little more than a high school education and may not have been widely published, but he or she may be recognized worldwide as an expert in the subject because of a lifetime of diligent study. In effect, this is the experience found with naturalists who have studied subjects in their natural environment. His or her report may be the most accurate and informative available anywhere in the world. If the person lacks writing ability, it is up to the community to lend a hand to help edit the material for public access.
People working in frontier subjects have the opportunity to “break the mold” demanded by academia when it comes to credibility and that would begin with a candid disclosure of credentials. If the person holds a doctorate in an unrelated field such as dentistry, using the title of ”doctor” when writing on a metaphysical subject would be misleading. The public is conditioned to think in mainstream terms and if “Dr.” is used, people will assume the doctorate is in the subject area of the article and also that it is from an accredited institution. If that is not the case, then the article and by association the frontier subject, is discredited.
At the same time, the reader is apt to ignore a more scholarly report from a veteran in the field because there is not a “Dr.” before the author’s name. One of the first changes our community must do is educate the general public so that people know to look at experience and methodology before title.
Credibility of Non-Peer Reviewed Publications
The first duty of publications specializing in frontier subjects is to help establish an informed community, and their second duty is to inform the general public. A publication may include personal stories intended to show readers the possibilities. Such stories are generally only reviewed for reasonableness and their inclusion is based on the editor’s sense of legitimacy of the person telling the story. Technical articles are generally selected based on reasonableness, technically (scientifically) correct assumptions and usefulness to the community. Such articles are usually not often peer reviewed in the normal sense, but they are most often vetted by the publisher based on extensive experience in the field.
Peer Review Publications
Peer reviewed journals should require that at lest two people who are trained in the subject of the article provide constructive feedback to the author. The object is to assure that the article meets minimum standards of objectivity, application of the scientific method, correct statistical analysis and reasonableness of conclusions. The reviewers often do not know who the author is (first blind) and the author often does not know who the reviewers are (second blind). “Peer review” is also referred to as “refereed.” Journals seeking to follow the lead of the parapsychological organizations by adhering to the scientific methodologies, tend to segregate the academic from the practitioner. For instance, the Editorial Board for the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) consists entirely of doctorates.
Peer Review in Frontier Subjects
Peer review as practiced in mainstream science is meant as a technique for assuring quality articles, but it is seldom applied in a way that fulfills the needs of frontier subjects. One major problem is the assumption that a person with a degree is more credible in the subject area than one without. There is a functional partition separating academics from practitioners. Since knowledge of frontier subjects generally rests with the practitioners and “naturalist-style” researchers, journals often fail to publish articles representative of the state of the art of understanding and practices.
At the same time, the discipline of academic practice is essential to the evolution of frontier subjects into mainstream thought. It is essential that academically trained researchers work on frontier subjects, but if it is not accomplished as a collaborative effort with practitioners who have practical experience and have trained themselves to “properly” study the subject, then the benefit is too often lost. However, in current academic culture it would seem intolerable and unthinkable to have a practitioner peer review the work of a doctorate.
Defining Peer Review for Frontier Subjects
The definition of “peer review” must be expanded for frontier subjects, and should indicate that the article has been reviewed by people with real intellectual and practical knowledge of the subject. Such a person may or may not be aware of the best scientific methods and practices. If they are not, it opens a productive path of collaboration, because an academically trained peer could supplement a peer with practical knowledge in the field. Peer review might be divided between practical peers, and academic peers.
One possible application of this principle is to have two levels of reliability in articles:
Vetted: reviewed for adherence to the writer’s guide and good science); and,
Peer reviewed: Reviewed by both academic peers and practical peers.
Because it is unlikely that academic organizations will adopt a practical peer or vetted approach to document review, the most realistic solution appears to be the use of a vetting rather than peer review. See Peer Review or Vetting?
Recommended Article Review
Credibility of an article, and by association, that of the author and publication, would be enhanced if it is shown that subject-matter experts (“practical peers”) were part of the review process. Following are suggestions to apply this concept:
Named Reviewers: The objective of “blind” reviews is to assure unbiased consideration of the article, but a result is that qualifications to review the subject are not known to the reader. This fosters suspicion, and in some cases, uninformed reviewers effectively support what is seen by the frontier community as a debunking article even though the publishers may have intended it to be a constructive and informative piece.
If peer review is claimed, then it is important that the reader knows how the article was evaluated. If the reviewers have been selected because of their qualifications to judge beyond simple adherence to the writer’s guide, then they should be credited in the article. A person who is known to the public will protect his or her reputation by providing a professional review. In effect, visibility of the reviewer will likely produce a more unbiased review even as it informs the reader as to how the article was seen by others.
Reviewer Biography: The reviewer’s biography should be available on the publishing organization’s website and easily accessible by the public based on the person’s real name. The biography should show that the person’s expertise is relevant to the subjects reviewed.
Reviewers Knowledgeable in the Subject: A reviewer’s expertise must be relevant to the subject matter. For example, if the biography of one reviewer for an article on cold fusion holds a doctorate in psychology, and the second reviewer is seen to have no academic degree but has worked in related physical and chemistry fields for ten years, the reader should look to the second person to authenticate the article. If the reader is an academic, then one must trust that discernment was included in his curriculum.
Availability of Reviews: Most readers will not ask to read reviews; however, they can be as informative as the original article and publishers should consider making them available at least on request if not associated with the reviewer’s biography. A copy of the researcher’s raw data should be available on request as standard practice. So too, should the reviews.
Kinds of Review: If the article is not reviewed by a practical peer, then the article should not be considered peer reviewed or refereed. If it is considered peer reviewed, then the whether or not the article has been vetted should be indicated.