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Peer-Review, Intelligent Design, and John Derbyshire’s New Bumper Sticker (Part III)

Previously I wrote about problems with John Derbyshire’s TalkOrigins webpage, which I discussed here (Part I) and here (Part II).

Where’s the Citation?
The TalkOrigins webpate asserts that The Design Inference doesn’t count because it was reviewed by “philosophers, not biologists.” Even if correct, why should that matter? The book was reviewed by the relevant experts in the field which relates to theoretical design-detection, the subject of the book. Moreover, where is the citation on the TalkOrigins page so we can verify their claim? And why should one assume that The Design Inference, published as a part of “Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory” and containing many technical mathematical arguments, was not reviewed by mathematicians?

Obfuscating the Facts of Stephen Meyer’s Paper
Finally, the TalkOrigins webpage asserts that some papers, like that of Stephen Meyer, “subverted the peer-review process for the sole purpose of getting an ‘intelligent design’ article in a respectable journal that would never have accepted it otherwise.” This is a complete misrepresentation. Meyer’s article did undergo peer-review, as described by the editor who oversaw publication of Meyer’s paper:

I sent the paper out for review to four experts. Three reviewers responded and were willing to review the paper; all are experts in relevant aspects of evolutionary and molecular biology and hold full-time faculty positions in major research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, another at a major North American public university, a third on a well-known overseas research faculty. There was substantial feedback from reviewers to the author, resulting in significant changes to the paper. The reviewers did not necessarily agree with Dr. Meyer’s arguments or his conclusion but all found the paper meritorious and concluded that it warranted publication. The reviewers felt that the issues raised by Meyer were worthy of scientific debate.

(Details of publication process)

There is no question that Meyer’s paper was peer-reviewed, and any claims otherwise distort the issue.

The TalkOrigins webpage also leaves off details of the Meyer incident which reveal why pro-ID articles are difficult to get published in mainsteram journals: after the editor published Meyer’s paper, a government investigator found the editor was harassed and discriminated against by his superiors at the Smithsonian as retribution. As Mark Hartwig wrote, this incident “[n]ot only has … given ID proponents a publication in a peer-reviewed biology journal, it has also handed a smoking gun to those ID proponents who argue that the peer-review process is unfairly stacked against them.”

The Talk Origins Bumper Sticker:
The Talk Origins Bumper Sticker:
The Talk Origins Bumper Sticker:

John Derbyshire cites to TalkOrigins as an authority, but the page in fact has many problems. This is not to mention that the page engages in name-calling, labeling journals which publish pro-ID papers “crackpottery,” and calling their editors “Darwin denier[s],” and attacks ID papers as “poor quality.” In recognition of this, I again present the TalkOrigins bumper sticker, a parody that people can point to when being harassed by those on the internet who use the all-too-common MO of “cite TalkOrigins, then call your opponent names.”

But the danger of the TalkOrigins page runs much deeper. It seeks to instill a mindset where concepts must enjoy high levels of support in the scientific community, and the oft-criticized peer-reviewed literature, before being trusted. This mindset threatens to inhibit the progress of science.

In conclusion, this point was made emphatically by Stephen Jay Gould and other scientists to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, pleaing that courts should not disbar scientific evidence from the courtroom simply because it hasn’t won a “popularity” contest:

Judgments based on scientific evidence, whether made in a laboratory or a courtroom, are undermined by a categorical refusal even to consider research or views that contradict someone’s notion of the prevailing “consensus” of scientific opinion. . . . Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once deemed eccentric or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth. . . . The quality of a scientific approach or opinion depends on the strength of its factual premises and on the depth and consistency of its reasoning, not on its appearance in a particular journal or on its popularity among other scientists.

(Brief Amici Curiae of Stephen Jay Gould (and other scientists) in support of petitioners, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) (No. 92-102).)

Would Dr. Gould approve of the mindset promoted by the TalkOrigins webpage or would he rightly recognize it as dangerous to science?

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



__imageJohn Derbyshire