Archive for December 2010
(comment originally posted at “The Predatory Gastropod“)
Here’s how to easily-fix peer review. Distribute via the web everything that the authors want to publish, alongside the reviewers’ comments. Clearly mark what has been approved by the reviewers (eg print on paper only what the Editors indicate as worthwhile…but that’s what’s happening anyway, as articles approved by reviewers may still be discarded by Editors).
It’s caveat emptor and all that.
I would keep out of “scientific” distribution only the most egregious nonsense, such as papers arguing about the Moon being made of green cheese. Everything else has to have the opportunity to see the light of the day in a commented manner, and if people start publishing flawed result after flawed result, well, their reputation will crash faster than a PhD graduate’s making fraudulent claims in peer-reviewed articles.
Likewise for reviewers’ reputation. This will also stop the nonsense of reputable scientists wasting time by trying to stab each other in the back in order to prevent “competitors” from being able to claim to have been peer-reviewed.
I do hope we are at a threshold similar to when the “one” Church discovered it didn’t have the “monopoly of the Truth”. Despite what some people thought at the time, having a plurality of Christian denominations hasn’t meant the demise of Christianity, to the contrary, it has helped improve the lot. Likewise, publishing scientific papers that aren’t fully peer-approved won’t mean the demise of Science, it will likely help make findings and theories stronger.
Far-fetched as it might seem (and be!), we might be literally surrounded by information about the Earth’s, Sun’s, Galaxy’s past. By looking in the right direction with the right instruments, we could even be able to see how things were at different times, even billions of years ago.
By looking where? This idea is based on a little-known characteristics of black holes, namely the large amount of incoming light that is back-scattered, i.e. sent back more or less in the direction it came from. This phenomenon is visible as a halo around the black hole (see picture to the left).
Think then: by looking at a black hole 20 million light years away, we will be getting some light first emitted by our galaxy 40 million years ago, as the photons will have had to travel to the black hole and back. Correcting for the optical properties of the region around the black hole that we see as a halo, we would even be able to get a picture of our galactic surroundings.
Analogously for black holes nearer to us, eg 20,000 light years away, the halo will literally contain pictures of our neighborhood as of 40,000 years ago.
All of the above is unlikely to be easy, still any information in the back-scattered photons will be extremely valuable.