Bad Science? Peer-Reviewed Study Promoting Fracking Was Not Peer Reviewed (UPDATE)


If you have been following the fracking controversy clusterfuck at all, you will know this: hydraulic fracturing, still under consideration by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has gotten a lot of flack for reportedly polluting water, as well as posing other potential health risks.

So when a peer-reviewed, university-backed study comes out promoting fracking — and suggests that it’s getting safer — it’s huge news.

And that’s just what seemed to happen when The University at Buffalo released a peer-reviewed report recently. The study, conducted by the school’s Shale Resources and Society Institute, claimed that “environmental events are declining” and that “proposed regulations in New York could mitigate future problems.”

The rub?

That peer-reviewed study was not peer-reviewed, meaning its trustworthiness has been called into question. The editors issued a mea culpa of sorts yesterday, saying: “An earlier version of this story described the report as ‘peer-reviewed.’ This description may have given readers an incorrect impression. The story has been edited to more accurately describe the process by which the report’s authors gathered comments before finalizing their report.”

The Voice reached out to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science magazine, to get a better understanding of the peer review process, and why it’s important in research. A spokeswoman pointed us here, to a nifty rundown of the AAAS’ guidelines on peer review.

Basically, peer review comes down to a lengthy, complicated process requiring that qualified scholars scrutinize claims very thoroughly, so that bogus or biased arguments don’t get published in scientific journals.

A Council of Science Editors paper also points out that the peer review process addresses ethical concerns — as part of review, a paper’s authors might have to ID any conflict of interest that could color the study’s findings.

In other words, the peer review label lends credibility to scientific papers — so it’s not hard to see why people get so upset when something gets called “peer reviewed” but isn’t.

We reached out to the University via e-mail and telephone to see what’s up. We wanted to know: How did the study get promoted as “peer reviewed” in the first place? Is there any type of oversight to prevent these kind of editorial slip-ups? We’ll update if we hear back.

The University told us that it’s releasing a statement on the issue tomorrow. We’ll let you know when we get a copy of it.

(H/T City & State)