Is Peer-Review the Be All and End All of Science?

Robert L. Crowther, II

Science writer Denyse O’Leary has just published a four-part series about peer-review on her Post-Darwinist website. It is a thorough overview of what peer-review is and what some of the problems are with the current system. She has some interesting ideas on how this may be resolved in the future, but it is her identification of one major problem that is of most interest to the ID/evolution debate.

O’Leary notes that:

Generally, the two most common complaints are that peer review fails to safeguard quality, which was its original purpose and that it punishes new ideas, regardless of merit. …
Findings that support a consensus are too easily accepted – that is the inevitable flip side to squelching new ideas.

Indeed, this is one of the problems that many design scientists have run up against in trying to get their papers published. Michael Behe has written about some of the problems he’s faced in getting published in peer-review journals:

The take-home lesson I have learned is that, while some science journal editors are individually tolerant and will entertain thoughts of publishing challenges to current views, when a group (such as the editorial board) gets together, orthodoxy prevails.

Here are direct quotes from letters responding to submissions by Behe written by editors of major scientific journals:

I’m torn by your request to submit a (thoughtful) response to critics of your non-evolutionary theory for the origin of complexity. On the one hand I am painfully aware of the close-mindedness of the scientific community to non-orthodoxy, and I think it is counterproductive. But on the other hand we have fixed page limits for each month’s issue, and there are many more good submissions than we can accept. So, your unorthodox theory would have to displace something that would be extending the current paradigm.

Another journal editor writes:

As you no doubt know, our journal has supported and demonstrated a strong evolutionary position from the very beginning, and believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable. Hence a position such as yours, which opposes this view on other than scientific grounds, cannot be appropriate for our pages.

Of course Behe supports his work on completely scientific grounds, but the editorial board had already decided that someone whose views didn’t completely match theirs would not be allowed to be heard. Behe defended his work as science in a letter responding to one journal that opted not to publish him:

The manuscript did not argue for intelligent design, nor did it say that complex systems would never be explained within Darwinian theory. Rather, it just made the simple, obvious, and unarguable point that gene duplication by itself is an incomplete explanation. Apparently, however, my skepticism about Darwinism overshadowed all other points. Everything I wrote beyond the first sentence was pretty much ignored or dismissed without engagement. I should also point out that, on the one hand, my paper discussed published experiments on specific genes in the clotting cascade of mice, the published misinterpretation of those experiments, and why that shows we need more information than sequence similarity to explain the origin of the cascade and other systems.

O’Leary hits the nail on the head in recognizing the main problem with the current peer-review system.

The overwhelming flaw in the traditional peer review system is that it listed so heavily toward consensus that it showed little tolerance for genuinely new findings and interpretations. The print and postage-based technologies of the mid-twentieth century greatly increased the significance of this flaw because only a few parties could afford to operate publishing systems. A small like-minded cabal can easily get control of such a system and run it into the ground, without significant challenge. By contrast, Internet-based technologies permit widespread low-cost access. The Internet may help to restore a more open and creative conversation – though it certainly won’t sound pretty at first.

To sum up, science journals that are wedded to Darwinian evolution refuse to publish authors who explicitly advocate intelligent design. Then Darwinists attack intelligent design as unscientific because it isn’t published in peer-reviewed journals. As Borat might say, “very nice.”
For years the Darwinian lobbyists at the National Center for Science Education (NSCE) have falsely complained that scientists who support the theory of intelligent design don’t publish peer-reviewed articles, never mind that we have listed a number of pro-ID peer-reviewed papers on the Discovery Institute website. And there are hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that challenge one aspect or another of Darwinian evolution in the scientific literature.
When an article has appeared in a biology journal that the NCSE couldn’t spin out of existence, they immediately clamored that the article shouldn’t have been published, despite the fact that it was approved by peer-review.
The article in question was, of course, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” written by CSC Director Dr. Stephen Meyer, and it appeared in the biology journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The Proceedings is a peer-reviewed biology journal published at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Meyer’s article explicitly argued that the theory of intelligent design explains the origin of the genetic information in early animal forms better than current materialistic theories of evolution.
“It’s too bad the Proceedings published it,” lamented anthropologist Eugenie Scott, executive director of the NCSE. “… This article is substandard science.”
In an interview with The Scientist, the editor of The Proceedings, Richard Sternberg, confirmed that Meyer’s article went through the standard peer-review process, and the three peer reviewers of the paper “all hold faculty positions in biological disciplines at prominent universities and research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, one at a major U.S. public university, and another at a major overseas research institute.”
At the time, Meyer commented, “Darwinists have argued that intelligent design isn’t science because it hasn’t been published in peer-reviewed journals. But now that an increasing number of scientists are making their case for design in scientific publications, Darwinists are ready to disown peer-review–temporarily, I’m sure.”
As O’Leary’s report on the state of peer-review asserts and the responses from journal editors make obvious, Darwinists seem to embrace peer-review only when it confirms their pre-determined conclusions. Their goal isn’t peer-review, it’s censorship. They want to squelch any dissent from the Darwinian paradigm.

Robert Crowther

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.