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On the Origin of the Controversy Over Biological Information: New Perspectives

In the spring of 2011, the “Biological Information: New Perspectives” symposium was held at Cornell University. (It wasn’t sponsored by Cornell, though it did take place on the campus.) As I noted in my last article, scientists from a variety of perspectives, including ID-critics, representing many different scientific fields, were invited and attended the conference, presenting original research and arguments that challenged the ability of neo-Darwinian theory to explain the origin of new information. So how did many of the papers presented at the conference come to be included in the eponymous proceedings, now published by World Scientific? Why did Springer first agree to publish the proceedings, and then later illegally cancel the book’s publication contract? What role was played by intolerant censors in the Darwin Lobby? There have been lots of false speculations from ID-critics on the Internet. Let’s now talk about what really happened, with a rough chronology of the relevant events.

Fall of 2009: Springer Invites William Dembski to Submit a Book Proposal
In the fall of 2009, William Dembski was contacted by an editor at Springer inviting him to submit a book proposal. By all accounts, this Springer editor knew who Dembski was, knew of his affiliations with the ID movement, was aware of his work, and thought his work might fit well in a forthcoming series at Springer. To offer a couple snippets from the e-mail Dembski received, the editor said Dembski was “welcome” to submit a proposal for a book in their series, the Intelligent Systems Reference Library. Dembski replied, suggesting he had an idea for a monograph on the conservation of information, a topic he’d published peer-reviewed papers on right around that time. In October 2009, the editor answered: “I will welcome your monograph” because it would be an “[e]xcellent fit in our series.” So the interaction with Springer didn’t start because Dembski reached out to them, but rather because Dembski was invited by an editor at Springer to submit a proposal.

December 2010: “Biological Information: New Perspectives Conference” Organizers Submit Book Proposal to Springer
Now at the time he was originally contacted by Springer (fall, 2009), Dembski was not even aware of the “Biological Information: New Perspectives” symposium. I’m not even sure if anyone had conceived of the conference at that point, which was almost two years before the conference would ultimately occur. But over the course of the following year, Dembski got in touch with the organizers of the conference, and they discussed their interest in ultimately publishing the papers that would be presented at the conference in book form.

By December 2010, six or seven months before the conference would take place, the organizers had a pool of speakers lined up, and had determined many talks and abstracts. On December 7, 2010, the organizers of the conference (hereafter called the “editors” or “authors”) put together a book proposal based on the abstracts. They transmitted the document to Springer, proposing to publish the proceedings of the “Biological Information: New Perspectives” conference. Here’s what Dembski’s e-mail said:

Dear [Snip],

It’s been over a year since we’ve been in touch. I hope this finds you well.

Back in September of last year you invited me to propose a volume to your ISRL series (see below). This spring (31 May to 3 June 2011) some of my colleagues are holding a symposium at Cornell University on new directions in biological information: “Biological Information — New Perspectives.” John Sanford, a biologist at Cornell, is hosting the event.

We have an interesting line-up to speakers and talks and would like to publish a proceedings volume. It seems that your ISRL might be the perfect venue. Please have a look at the attached prospectus (in identical Word and pdf versions) and let us know your interest.

If you think such a volume requires a larger or more diverse pool of speakers, we can accommodate you. Springer is our first choice and you are the first publisher we are approaching. Because the event is fast approaching, however, we will need to hear from you soon.

Best wishes,

Bill Dembski

In a moment I’ll quote from the book proposal (what Dembski called a “prospectus”) that Dembski attached to his email, but it’s important to note that the book proposal he sent made it expressly clear that the book would include contributions that challenged neo-Darwinism, some of which explicitly supported intelligent design, and included contributions from leading advocates of “intelligent design.” Thus, Dembski and the other editors made no attempt to hide the nature of the book, or the connections of some of its contributors to ID. I say this not because it would have been reasonable to expect any sort of subterfuge, but because there have been numerous baseless, false, and speculation-fueled conspiracy theories promulgated by ID-critics that somehow the editors of the volume tried to mislead Springer. It’s important to show that this charge is false. We’ll explore it in detail shortly.

Soon thereafter, Springer replied to Dembski stating that their conference has “an interesting line-up of speakers on the state-of-art.” That same day, three Springer decision-makers were part of an e-mail to Dembski which tentatively accepted the book proposal. That reply to Dembski stated:

It is a timely and interesting topic and would add value to our Series. I am in favour of accepting this as an Edited book. Please offer a suitable book contract to Dr Bill Dembski.

At this time, Springer had enough information to fully understand the nature of the book. One Springer editor wrote in this exchange, “This is a great topic and William [Dembski] is certainly one of the best people in this field!” This is an implicit statement that they knew the book would cover ID: after all, what is Dembski’s “field,” if not intelligent design? Another e-mail after Dembski had submitted the book proposal even shows a Springer editor inviting him to a friendly lunch “in a restaurant at the Autobahn.” It’s signed, “With the best wishes and happy holidays to you and your family.” Everyone seemed happy indeed.

In the subsequent weeks and months, Springer completed its review of the book proposal and fully accepted it, as seen from the fact that they offered a book contract to Dembski on January 11, 2011. That contract was then signed by both parties. (A revised contract with a few minor changes, dated March 23, 2011, was signed by the authors and Springer a few months later.)

Over the subsequent year, the conference took place, and the final papers were refined, reviewed, edited, and provided to Springer for publication in the book. All parties involved knew — or had absolutely every reason to know — exactly what the book was about, and there were no non-trivial complaints from any of the parties involved. On the contrary, all involved seemed perfectly pleased. Indeed, in November 2011, over 11 months after Dembski had transmitted the original book proposal, a Springer editor even discussed with Dembski the possibility of doing a second, similar volume on “evolutionary biology,” which the Springer editor called “just perfect” for the series.

February 2012: Darwin Lobby Mounts a Campaign to Scuttle the Book
General happiness between Springer and the book’s editors continued until the end of February 2012. At that time, the book was very close to final publication with Springer — so close that Springer posted a page about the book on its website where the volume could be ordered online (see here for a screenshot). Amazon had also begun selling the book (see the Amazon screenshot), and listed the publication date as March 31, 2012.

In an attempt to distance themselves from the book, Springer later claimed the page on its own website was “auto-generated,” but as will become clear soon, it’s hard to believe anything they are saying about the situation. It would be even harder to believe that Amazon “auto-generated” a sales page about Springer’s book. The exact details on this point are immaterial, because it seems that Springer was happy and eager to start selling copies of the Biological Information: New Perspectives proceedings as of late February, 2012.

Around this time, the ever-vigilant Darwin lobby apparently saw these pages and eventually passed notification along to Nick Matzke, a former staff member of the National Center for Science Education, and a core member of the team that got intelligent design banned in Dover science classrooms in the Kitzmiller trial.

At this point, Mr. Matzke had some choices to make. It’s no secret he disagrees with intelligent design — a viewpoint that he’s fully entitled to hold, and one that I would defend his academic freedom to hold and express in academic settings. Two of his main choices were roughly as follows:

  • (A) Do nothing, because it’s not his place to try to censor those he disagrees with, especially interfering when his opponents have a good-faith contract with a major book publisher, or
  • (B) Mount a public campaign to pressure, bully, and embarrass Springer into cancelling publication of the book.

Mr. Matzke went with option (B). Thus, on February 27, 2012, Matzke published a blog post at Panda’s Thumb titled “Springer gets suckered by creationist pseudoscience,” hoping to bully Springer into abandoning the book. He wrote:

The major publishers have enough problems at the moment (e.g. see the Elsevier boycott), it seems like the last thing they should be doing is frittering away their credibility even further by uncritically publishing creationist work and giving it a veneer of respectability. The mega-publishers are expensive, are making money off of largely government-funded work provided to them for free, and then the public doesn’t even have access to it. The only thing they have going for them is quality control and credibility — if they give that away to cranks, there is no reason at all to support them.

Matzke was essentially threatening Springer with economic extortion, insinuating that if the company didn’t cancel the book contract with the editors of Biological Information: New Perspectives, it might face a boycott. In the scientific community, where survival depends on money, and money doesn’t flow to those with a sullied reputation, those are fighting words.

Matzke was right that big science publishing companies (like Springer) face an uncertain future, with open-access journals challenging scientific publishers that still use traditional pay-per-view, for-profit, print-based business models. He knew how to hit Springer where it hurts — in the pocketbook — and apparently his post generated a lot of complaints to Springer from people who didn’t want the company to publish a book with articles sympathetic to ID. For example, one of Matzke’s Panda’s Thumb followers, statistician Bob O’Hara, reported that “I’ve been in contact with one of the editors at Springer, so they’re now certainly aware of the situation.” Within a day or two, Springer had removed its page for Biological Information: New Perspectives from its website (see the screenshot). (Incidentally, Springer has forgotten to remove at least one page about the book, which still remains up as of August 19, 2013, the day this article was published — here’s a screenshot for after Springer takes it down. You can even still download a flyer about Springer’s now abandoned version of Biological Information: New Perspectives!)

March 1, 2012: Springer Makes False Claims about the Book in an Inside Higher Education Article
The week after Matzke’s initial Panda’s Thumb post, on March 1, 2012, a piece appeared in Inside Higher Education reporting on the controversy. It stated:

Evolutionary biologists were horrified by the news that a scholarly press was going to publish a work in favor of intelligent design. But a spokesman for the publishing house confirmed to Inside Higher Ed Wednesday that the book’s publication is on hold as it is subjected to further peer review.

The article then printed two false claims from a VP at Springer:

Eric Merkel-Sobotta, executive vice president of corporate communications at Springer in Germany, said in an e-mail, that the initial proposal for the book was peer-reviewed by two independent reviewers. “However, once the complete manuscript had been submitted, the series editors became aware that additional peer review would be necessary,” Merkel-Sobotta said. “This is currently underway, and the automatically generated pre-announcement for the book on Springer has been removed until the peer-reviewers have made their final decision.”

He said Springer was unaware [of] the role the editors of the book play in the intelligent design movement, and the publishing house does not “endorse intelligent design as a legitimate area of scientific research. Springer stands behind evolutionary theory as a fundamental component of modern science.”

Now as far as I know, Merkel-Sobotta had no involvement in the discussions between the editors and Springer which led to Springer accepting the book for publication. So I have no idea what degree of personal knowledge he had about what actually happened at Springer regarding the book. In any case, his twofold false claims are as follows: (a) that Springer had decided to do another round of extensive peer-review prior to Matzke’s attempt to manufacture a scandal, and (b) that Springer was unaware that the book had connections to intelligent design.

We have powerful evidence that claim (a) is false, because the book was available for purchase both on Springer’s website and Amazon at the time Matzke posted his call-to-censorship, and I’m sorry but that doesn’t just happen by accident. Thus Springer must have already given the book the full go-ahead for publication by that time. Indeed, Springer confirmed to Dembski on February 20, 2012 — a week before Matzke posted his attempt to scare Springer into scuttling the book — that Springer was anticipating publication of the book very soon:

Dear Corresponding Editor,

We are in the process of publishing the Biological Information: New Perspectives, book. We enter into your source files in order to insert running heads, a reference line, final page numbers, and to correct any formatting or capitalization discrepancies.

To make sure that no errors have been inadvertently introduced, we would ask you to take a careful look at your final PDFs, which has been uploaded in the FTP server.

No sign of impending problems with the publication there. In that correspondence, Springer even wrote to Dembski: “Please note that we will only correct errors that have been introduced during the publication process. We cannot update your paper at this stage or correct any errors made by you in the original sent to us. This would delay the publication process.”

In other words, Springer wanted any inadvertent typographical errors corrected as soon as possible because they didn’t want to “delay the publication process.” It sure sounds to me like, as of February 20, 2012, Springer was intending to publish the book shortly, it was far beyond the peer-review stage, and they were already encouraging booksellers (including their own website) to sell the book. In other words, at the time of Matzke’s Panda’s Thumb post, all the known hard factual evidence indicates that Springer had every intention of publishing the book, and there had been no mention of any plans for “additional peer review.”

From what I can tell, claim (a) is extremely misleading, a transparently false attempt to distance Springer from the book, and appease Springer’s critics after the fact.

Claim (b) — that Springer was “unaware [of] the role the editors of the book play in the intelligent design movement” — is even more shamefully and demonstrably false. We know this because the book proposal sent to Springer by William Dembski on behalf of the editors made it absolutely clear that some conference attendees had connections to intelligent design, supported intelligent design, and would be critiquing neo-Darwinian evolution and arguing for intelligent design in their papers.

The opening pages of the book proposal that Dembski sent to Springer in December 2010 stated that the symposium at Cornell would “explore new perspectives regarding the nature and origin of biological information” because “our traditional ideas about biological information are collapsing under the weight of new evidence.”

Twenty-two pages of presentation abstracts and author biographies then followed, fleshing out in great detail the proposed content of the book, allowing Springer to evaluate and consider that content. This content made explicitly clear the intelligent design connections of the contributors, and the fact that their book would both challenge neo-Darwinian theory and advocate intelligent design. Here are some select quotes from the paper abstracts (emphases added):

  • “The standard explanation for the origin of biological information is that it arises exclusively through the mutation/selection process. However, there are many theoretical problems with this classic view.”
  • “[B]eneficial mutations that are unambiguous (not deleterious at any level), and useful (subject to natural selection), must be extremely rare.”
  • [C]urrent models of evolutionary genetics yield implausible explanations of macroevolution in the available time.”
  • “[T]here are very fundamental problems with the standing theory of how biological information arises.”
  • “I present a side by side comparison of design principles observed in the cell and in computer architecture. … This model predicts that design principles that have been shown to work well in computation will also exist within the cell.”
  • “[A] growing number of biologists have argued that the unexpected genetic diversity of life revealed by genome sequencing, and widespread phylogenetic anomalies among microbial taxa, have brought about ‘the death of Darwin’s tree.’
  • “[T]his poses a challenge to … Neo-Darwinian theory.”
  • “[T]he optimization of the SCT [Standard Codon Table] has its origin in external intelligence rather than in the adaptive selection of earlier codes.”

The abstracts of the talks, represented in the book proposal, also contained brief biographies of the authors/presenters, which said things like (emphases added):

  • “He is also the author of several books, including Charles Hodge’s Critique of Darwinism, Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and he is the co-author (with William Dembski) of The Design of Life.”
  • He “is a philosopher of biology who has been involved in the intelligent design debate internationally for over two decades.”
  • “He is currently a Fellow of the Discovery Institute
  • “[H]e is now a Senior Research Fellow at the Discovery Institute
  • “His studies on molecular machines and nucleic acids have resulted in over 25 technical papers, book chapters and submitted patents, which have been cited nearly 1000 times and have provided further evidence for design in nature.”
  • “He is currently also a Senior Fellow with the Center for Science and Culture, Discovery Institute, Seattle, WA. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships. He has published articles in mathematics, philosophy, and theology journals and is the author/editor of more than a dozen books. In The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998)…”
  • “In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and two books, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, which argue that living system at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design.”

Bear in mind that each of these quotes comes from the book proposal that William Dembski sent to Springer.

Anyone who read the book proposal with any care could not have missed the fact that many of the contributors would be challenging Darwinian evolution and supporting intelligent design, and that some were even leading supporters of “intelligent design.” Some of the authors had affiliations with Discovery Institute, which they made no attempt to hide. Unless the people at Springer were totally negligent in reading any of the book proposal and other materials provided by the editors, Springer’s claim that it was unaware of the intelligent design connections of the book is nothing less than an outright falsehood.

Conspiracy Theories Multiply on Evolution Blogs
Fed by their own aggression, and Springer’s false claims in the Inside Higher Education article, Nick Matzke and many others in the Internet Darwin brigade began to spin all kinds of wildly false conspiracy theories about the circumstances surrounding the conference, the book, and Springer’s involvement. Many speculated that Springer was “deceived,” supposedly, by the evil “creationists,” who somehow hid the book’s true content from Springer. For example, Bob O’Hara, the Internet Darwin activist who had contacted Springer to complain about the book, speculated as follows on his science blog with the UK’s Guardian:

As the contents of the volume are the typical ID/creationist subjects, how did this book get accepted by Springer-Verlag? Presumably the proposal to have the book published didn’t mention ID (nor creationism), but what did it say?

Of course the book isn’t about creationism, but as we have already seen, his presumptions were false. Similarly, Wesley Elsberry put out a call to action on his website, asking his cohorts to start digging up dirt on conference participants, because, in his conspiratorial view:

Anything that can provide a record of the intentional subterfuge and misleading material provided to Springer is being expunged even now.

Though eager to paint the “creationists” as evil, Elsberry’s team didn’t end up finding anything that showed wrongdoing, however imagined. But Elsberry’s call to persecution led to all kinds of silly errands, such as digging up and quoting from Professor Robert Marks’s wife’s 2011 Christmas letter about their family’s trip to Cornell University for the conference, which led one commenter who calls himself “Doc Bill” to say:

Wow, almost makes them seem human. Almost.

And that’s what they want you to think.

Don’t miss that seemingly passing comment, as it gives an insightful peek into the mindset of the people on the persecuting end of these situations: They are so intolerant of ID that they habitually dehumanize ID proponents, and have difficulty believing ID proponents are normal people who have families and send Christmas cards. And when ID proponents give every indication of being “human,” appearances cannot be what they seem, for that too must confirm the thesis of a grand ID-based conspiracy. Any appearances of humanity are a cover to hide nefarious intentions. ID proponents must be so evil that any optics to the contrary are simply “what they want you to think.”

This dehumanization of ID proponents by critics is hard to believe. But of course, the vitriol against the Cornell volume’s editors went much deeper. To give a few examples, critics were so angry about the book that:

But there were no lies — at least none by those involved with the Cornell conference. Instead there were numerous unjust and harsh personal attacks against the editors and contributors to the volume by Internet Darwin lobbyists, false claims made by Springer, and an organized effort to prevent Biological Information: New Perspectives from being published.

March-December, 2012: Springer Stonewalls, Breaks Its Word, and Sets Up the Book for Failure
Needless to say, the book’s editors were aware of these developments on the Internet and were concerned that the publication of their book was now in jeopardy. After seeing the wacky conspiracy theories on the Darwin blogs, the stated intentions by activists to scuttle the book, and Springer’s comments in the March 1, 2012 Inside Higher Ed article, William Dembski e-mailed his contact at Springer, asking what was happening on their end:

Dear [Snip],

I just found this [the Inside Higher Ed article] online. Please let me know what Springer’s thinking is about the volume. It was ready to go to the printers, and now criticisms by people who don’t know the contents of the book are being invoked to scuttle it (do they know that Stuart Kauffman and self-organizational theorists have also contributed to it?).

My colleagues are getting restless and I need to tell them something.

Best wishes,

Bill Dembski

The Springer editor replied back by parroting the same false statements that Springer had been “unaware of the connections of the book with the intelligent design movement,” and that “additional peer review would be necessary.” These directives and talking points were probably coming from editors and supervisors much higher up in the Springer hierarchy who wanted to distance Springer from the book. At this stage, Dembski and the other co-authors realized they needed to get legal representation, so they did. (Note: I was not their legal representation.)

On March 7, 2012, the editors’ lawyer sent Springer a letter demanding that the publisher honor the book’s publication contract, and asking for assurances on this point. Springer’s lawyer replied that Springer intended to conduct a “detailed examination” of the book, and promised that “[a]s soon as the outcome of the peer review is known, I will inform you.” Springer’s attorney further claimed, “The Agreement sets no specific publication date for the work, so that the precise date of publication is determined by Springer.”

The editors of the book now realized two things:

  • First, they (the book editors) knew they had satisfied all of the terms of the publication contract with Springer, but now Springer was undertaking an 11th-hour “peer review” — which Springer had already had months to conduct, a review that was not authorized by the contract — likely for the sole purpose of intentionally scuttling the book.
  • Second, Springer had the apparent power to delay the outcome of the “review” and publication of the book as long as they wanted, and the editors feared Springer would stonewall for many months.

On April 23, 2012, the editors’ attorney then wrote back to Springer, stating:

[A]s you can see by the Authors’ lengthy CVs and publication records (see Attachment A of my March 7th letter), they are not afraid of having their work peer-reviewed and subjected to “detail examination.” However, they also expect their contractual rights to be honored. Nowhere does the Agreement vest Springer the power or authority to make such a “detailed examination” or to impose an “additional round of peer reviewing” after the Agreement was executed, much less at the 11th hour of the publication process.

The editors’ attorney also explained that the book proposal and made it quite clear what the book was about, quoting many of the same excerpts I’ve quoted in this article. He concluded:

Since the formation of the Agreement, the Authors have complied with and satisfied all of their contractual duties under the Agreement, having already submitted the Book’s manuscript in full compliance with the Agreement’s form, content, and size requirements, thereby triggering Springer’s performance under the Agreement to publish the book. Consequently, and as a matter of law, when Springer signed the Agreement, it was fully aware of and clearly accepted the scholarly content of the Book and, therefore, is now duty bound to immediately publish the Book.


The terms of the Agreement do not give Springer carte blanche to do whatever it wants at this point of the contractual relationship. Springer is legally bound by the terms of the Agreement, has no rights under the Agreement to reject the book at this stage, and its intent to breach the Agreement seems to be motivated by a desire to censor scientific views with which it disagrees.

Of course, Springer is welcome to hold whatever views it wants on intelligent design and evolution. It is also welcome to publish books critiquing intelligent design and endorsing evolution, and we are aware of many examples where Springer has done so. Publishing one side of the scholarly debate is prima facie viewpoint based censorship. However, Springer is not welcome to breach the Agreement, and thus illegally censor the publication of a book discussing legitimate scientific research supporting intelligent design, simply because it does not like the viewpoints being expressed. This is particularly troubling as Springer is a publisher.

Springer’s attorneys did not reply to this letter until May 21, 2012. When they did so, they continued to misrepresent the contract, claiming that paragraph 2 in the contract gave Springer the right to undertake the 11th-hour peer review, and essentially back out of the contract at any stage prior to final publication. Here’s the relevant text from paragraph 2:

The manuscript meets the terms of this agreement only if it satisfies agreed stipulations as to form, content, and size. Editor, in cooperation with the Authors, is responsible for correctness of the manuscript, including content, language, and formal presentation.

Now you might notice that this language looks very different from Springer’s characterization of it. If you read this language carefully, you’ll see that once the book contract is signed, it requires the authors to provide a manuscript that “satisfies agreed stipulations as to form, content, and size.” And what are the “agreed stipulations”? That’s simple: They are the basic requirements of Springer’s publishing format (“form”), the book proposal that William Dembski transmitted to Springer, as well as a request to add some additional contributors in the self-organization section (“content”), and the length of the book (“size”).

In fact, the manuscript provided by the authors completely satisfied these terms of the contract.

Now the skeptic might wonder, “Doesn’t Springer have the right to review the book?,” and the answer to that question is of course “Yes.” Springer did review it. And Springer accepted it. And then Springer signed a legally binding contract. Which meant that provided that the authors performed as agreed, Springer was obligated to publish. And the authors did satisfy their requirements under the contract.

Thus, here’s how it was supposed to work under the contract that the book’s editors had with Springer:

  • First, the editors submit a detailed book proposal to Springer. Springer then has the right to review that book proposal, which they did (as Merkel-Sobotta acknowledged, “the initial proposal for the book was peer-reviewed by two independent reviewers”). Springer then has the right, based upon their detailed examination of the book proposal and response from the reviewers, to make a determination on whether it wants to offer the authors a book contract.
  • We already know that Springer should have been fully aware, from the book proposal it received, that the book would criticize neo-Darwinian evolution, and that some chapters would even argue for intelligent design and/or be written by leading figures in the ID movement. We also know that after reading the book proposal, Springer offered the authors a contract, which both parties signed.
  • At this stage, the ball was in the authors’ court. They must then provide a book manuscript whose form, content, and size conforms to the book proposal, and also Springer’s formatting requirements, and any other “agreed stipulations.” That’s exactly what paragraph 2 of the contract, quoted above, requires.
  • And guess what? That’s exactly what the authors provided.

In other words, here’s where the contract legally stood at the time that Springer sent the manuscript out for “additional peer review” after the Darwin lobby started its censorship campaign in February-March 2012:

  • Since Springer had reviewed and accepted the book proposal,
  • And since the manuscript provided by the authors conformed exactly to the what the book proposal said the book would be, and the authors found additional contributors for the self-organization section (as Springer requested),
  • And since the manuscript unambiguously satisfied the any and all other “agreed stipulations,”
  • Therefore, the authors performed their end of the contract,
  • And therefore Springer was obligated to perform its obligations under the contract and publish the book.

But Springer didn’t want to publish the book because they feared reprisals from the Darwin lobby. By March 2012, Springer was determined to find a way to cancel the book contract.

Thus, this “additional peer review” wasn’t real peer review. It was a last-minute kangaroo-review, initiated in hopes of pacifying ID-critics with their angry threats, undertaken with a pre-determined outcome in mind: to scuttle the book. And under the contract between Springer and the authors, Springer had no legal right to conduct it.

On May 21, 2012, Springer made a promise to the authors:

The peer review process is envisaged to be completed in about two months from today’s date.

That means Springer promised to have the review process completed around July 21. That day came and went with no response from Springer.

Then another four and a half months passed with still no answer from Springer, just stonewalling.

Then, on December 3, 2012 — a full nine months after Dembski was told by his contact at the publisher that “additional peer review would be necessary” — Springer replied by notifying the authors’ lawyer that “we are sorry to have to inform your client that Springer will not be able to publish your clients submitted volume ‘Biological Information: New Perspectives’ within the series at Springer.”

Nobody on the authors’ end was the least bit surprised by this outcome. Months earlier, Springer had already breached the contract, and violated the law. This was exactly the outcome Springer wanted. And it was an illegal outcome, to say nothing of the fact that it offended the important values of intellectual freedom and freedom of scientific inquiry.

At this point, many might wonder why the authors didn’t sue. They almost did. But there was a major unjust barrier to a lawsuit: Springer-Verlag is based in Germany, and a boilerplate clause in the contract said that in the case of a dispute, “The courts of Berlin, Germany shall have the exclusive jurisdiction.” This meant that the authors, who are academics of limited financial means, found that it would have been financially unfeasible and extremely difficult to pursue a potentially long, costly, and drawn-out lawsuit in Germany. Justice isn’t cheap, or easily obtained, and unfortunately the authors simply couldn’t afford going to Germany to get it.

The authors then decided to simply seek other publishers. Ultimately they published the book with World Scientific Publishing. And that’s where we are today. This is a story of pernicious censorship. But it’s also a story in which the Darwin lobby’s attempt at censorship ultimately failed.

Who is to Blame for the Censorship?
The primary instigators in this situation are the folks in the Darwin lobby who threatened an economic boycott against Springer in order to bully the publisher into cancelling the book. Springer, however, is far from innocent. Springer willingly, and I believe even eagerly, capitulated to the demands of the Darwin lobby to cancel the book. The publisher illegally breached the book contract, made private promises to the authors which they broke, and publicly made false — and possibly even defamatory — statements about the authors’ dealings with Springer regarding the book. Would Springer have done all of this were it not for the threats of the Darwin lobby? It’s hard to say; we’ll probably never know for sure.

All this said, throughout this process it became clear that inside of Springer, there are good people who didn’t support censoring the book, and others who did. Unfortunately, the censors ultimately won out. But one can only hope that they would see the errors of their ways and realize that intellectual freedom and freedom of scientific inquiry are far more important than pacifying a small band of angry, intolerant, and even hate-filled people who make a lot of noise on the Internet — including threats and bullying — to get their way. And their way is censorship of anyone who promotes intelligent design, and challenges materialistic views of evolution. Thankfully, in this case, the censors ultimately failed.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, 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.



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