Weeding Out Bad Ideas

Scholarly research rests upon a system of checks and balances. Each field has its own association. Mechanical engineers are separate from historians of ancient India. At least once a year, each group sponsors a competition to find the best ideas in their field.

To ensure winners based on merit, these associations accept submissions from anyone in their field without regard to name or rank. At the heart of these competitions is a “double-blind” review process.

People who submitted ideas and those who judge their submissions are known by numbers, not their names. That way scholars who submit papers don’t know who the judges are. And judges don’t know them either. As a result, judges can’t favor their friends or punish their enemies.

But that is just the first step in a long process. Anyone whose paper is chosen must present his or her ideas at a public and open meeting. In that context, scholars will receive comments and criticism designed to improve their ideas.

After that, scholars face another blind-review process when they submit their ideas for publication. Here, too, anonymous reviewers will judge if the ideas are fit for publication in academic journals or books.

The research process is not perfect. No human system is. But it consistently weeds out bad ideas and advance good ones. For 100s of years, it has produced improvements in daily life. Electricity, crime control, early childhood education. All of these fields exist, thanks to scholarship-for-hire, available to the highest bidders.