The old Latin tag , lingering still from my childhood scrummage with the classical tongues , and from which I emerged without glory , was “ Quis custodiet ipsos custodes ? “ Who guards the guards? It comes to mind as Scholarly Kitchen debates trust in science and scientists , and recalls the long debates in the UK during my lifetime about trust and self – regulation . Nobody will trust doctors to discipline themselves , we argued , so away with the British Medical Association’s self – regulatory role and bring on the General Medical Council ,. Professional , detached regulation without conflicts of interest . This , the politicians proclaimed , was the foundation of trust . And the argument has raged through out professional life ever since . Can we “ trust ‘ the Law Society to discipline lawyers or the Catholic Church to punish miscreant priests ? Can we expect politicians to follow the Ministerial Code without regulators and investigators ? ( Plainly not!) Can we trust scientists not to falsify the evidence , report misleading information , spread disinformation about those who disagree with them ?  After all ( and after reading some of the post vaccine stories this may come as a shock ) Scientists are human beings . They seek fame , fortune , preferment much as other professions do , and they have their own statistical headcount of charlatans to root out . 

Yet it seems that we should not be afraid of any trust deficit issues in science . What i take from the Scholarly Kitchen panellists is the feeling that it is peer review that is our protection and as long as we maintain it in its current form , public trust in science can be assured . And I am left wondering , mentally rehearsing the forty or more years of argument I have heard already on this topic . I recall the reviews , from Cochrane’s and from others , revealing bias and favouritism , cronyism and the existence of domain theories that could not be contradicted if career advancement was to be secured . Scientists are human too . And peer review is much better than it was , especially where it is now more evidence-based , using AI-inspired investigation to create the battery of tests employed by , for example , UNSILO in the Cactus Communications systems support for peer review used by Springer-Nature and others . Yet , even now , is it not worth asking Who Guards these Guards ? . Why are retractions so hard to secure ? And to communicate ? What independent review takes place ? Where does a researcher go for appeal ? Is arbitration available ? And how would the public ever discover if a retraction had ever been made ? 

If many of the answers to these questions turn back on the publisher as the arbiter of all things trustworthy then I have to say that having been one for many years , and knowing , trusting and loving many others , I still do not see this as the sort of absolute trust guarantee that the general public might like . If we want people to say “ It must be right – the publisher would not have published it if it wasn’t !” Then we must also recognise the operational limitations at work here . First of all , the publisher is not an independent arbitrator , but remains very bound up in the whole process of scholarly communications . This signifies classic conflicts of interest . He will surely want to publish True and Trustworthy Science , but he must also have an eye  to his commercial realities – and these are as present in not-for-profit operators as fully commercial ones . No one is more attentive to the importance for journal branding in encouraging submissions . Great names and institutions help establish reputations , publishing work which confirms earlier results as correct rarely does . Branding and reputation affects levels of APCs . Peer review is a cost , and a cost arbiter of profitability, and cost control remains vital to survival . Can you be an effective Guard if you survive by publishing at a volume not dictated by quality and at a cost not dictated by quality control ?

In very many ways the major science publishers of the world do a brilliant job in publishing so much material of such great quality . Many years ago I thought that publishers would be better off if they gave up peer review . Yet even now  must be doubts as to whether pre-publication is the right point – surely pre-funding and post – publication have equal claims ? And continuous or periodical re-review post publication , to account for changes wrought by subsequent science to the importance of one particular finding , has its logic as well . If pre-registration of research aims and scope is , as many Open Science adherents demand , separated in time and publication from evidence , results and findings , to obviate the problem of aims subtlety migrating to fit the evidence gathered , then this would have a salutary effect , but publishers should be wary – such a system would involve both parts being published separately and in different places , though throughly virtually linked as far as rage user was concerned . Finally , if publishers do see their work as an important element of trust in science , they would be well advised to set up an international council to register and list retractions , and to act as an arbitration point in disputes over  trust issues . It might also decide what the minimum standards for peer review might be . Is a PLOS ONE type examination of methodology and adherence to scientific principles acceptable as a baseline ? 

I might well offer myself as a Judge on such a tribunal . In my years as a law publisher I learnt that Judges can never be wrong in the UK . The wording used then when the Court of Appeal reversed a judgement of the High Court was the wonderfully mild “ It seems My Lord Justice has mistook himself . “ And which judge judges the judges, may I ask  ?

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A small Cotswold farm is the setting for a classic struggle of wills. Robert Worlock, eccentric and demanding, resolutely maintains the old ways, determined above all to make his son into a farmer fit to take over the family acres. His son, David, is equally determined not to be bullied into something he neither wants nor likes. His childhood becomes a battleground: can he find a way to make his father love him without denying his right to determine his own life?

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