Re: Peer review and ID

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Oct 20 2005 - 08:10:22 EDT

This whole question of peer review and ID is so tricky, since it involves
scientists (and others) trying to publish in the usual places ideas that are
so unusual--more than this, ideas that put off many reviewers for *various*
reasons. Some of those reasons might by "ordinary" reasons, such as failure
to demonstrate a conclusion or misinterpretation of evidence or misreading
of a key article in the literature (this happens quite a bit in my own
non-scientific field, but I gather it also happens in the sciences a fair
amont of time). But some of those reasons can also be "extraordinary," in
cases when reviewers simply cannot grant philosophical premises that authors
clearly state or imply and in some cases (esp involving ID) when reviewers
utterly reject larger implications of someone's work. Fred Hoyle's famous
rejection of what he derisively labelled the "big bang" theory is a case in
point--but not exactly in point, since his comments weren't made directly in
peer review. Of course they were peer review in spirit--having rejected the
"big bang" expressly for its philosophical and theological implications (as
Hoyle saw it), he proposed something equally outrageous, a theory in which a
standard law of physics (conservation of matter) was violated regularly--but
undectably, of course, since the creation of hydrogen atoms took place at
such a slow rate. Metaphysics of one sort was rejected in favor of
metaphysics of another sort. One could say the same thing about some forms
of contemporary cosmological "theorizing," which still have as their goal
the rejection of apparent implications of "big bang" cosmology.

To apply this more specifically to ID, recall the enormous noise over the
publication of a single, peer-reviewed article by Steven Meyer. Like the
pope after he saw what Galileo had actually written in the Dialogue, the
guardians of scientific orthodoxy threw part of their rage at the
censors--that is, at the editor and unidentified reviewers--as well as at
the author.

I recall receiving a forwarded email several years ago, shortly after
Cambridge published Dembski's book, "The Design Inference." I did not
recognize the name of the person who had written it, but it was from a
scientist who had sent it to a list somewhere, and it complained bitterly
about how Cambridge editors "had let one past the goal."

The controversy over ID is multi-faceted, as controversies involving science
typically are. Questions about the innate value/legitimacy of ID ideas are
themselves legitimate, but so are questions about access to scientific
journals and who controls it. This is of the greatest possible importance
in Harrisburg right now, b/c Judge Overton's decision in the Arkansas trial
years ago relied heavily on a sociological definition of science: science is
what scientists do, so if it isn't getting published in scientific journals
it can't be science. I mainly agree with that approach myself, but when the
fundamental issue itself relates so closely to a different concept of what
scientists do, things can get circular in a hurry.

The following fact could be pushed too far, but it could also be (wrongly)
overlooked entirely: Helmholtz could not get his ideas about conservation of
energy published in the usual places. (There are so many other examples of
this, of course, but none I can think of on something so absolutely
fundamental and wide reaching a theory.) ID isn't the first law of
thermodynamics, but the question still remains: where/how can scientists
themselves publish controversial new ideas (or resurrect previously rejected
ideas, such as a particle view of light after a century of wave theories),
if the usual places are closed to those ideas? This problem afflicts all
academic disciplines.

Received on Thu Oct 20 08:12:44 2005

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