Re: Peer review and ID

From: <>
Date: Thu Oct 20 2005 - 12:57:37 EDT

 Ted makes a good point that at the introduction of a new theory (or paradigm [Kuhn], or research programme [Lakatos], or tradition [McIntyre]) there is almost always a certain amount of "metaphysics" involved with the "science". Popper clearly realized this (at least in his later work), although he still clung to his idea of testability as the distinction between science and metaphysics. Lakatos also knew it, which is why his (as well as Popper's) distinctions only work in hindsight. Because a "progressive research programme" can always turn out to be "regressive" in the long run, Lakatos once even made the absurd suggestion that if a researchers "programme" goes into regressive mode, then NSF should demand their research money back.
But this overlap between metaphysics and science is being exploited in much the same way that the "persecution" of Galileo has been used, i.e., Dr. X is being persecuted, therefore his theory (however bizarre) must be correct, just like Galileo. Behe seems to be suggesting something like this (consciously or not) in his comparison of ID with the Big Bang.
Ultimately, it is only in hindsight that we can accurately judge science from metaphysics, and "good science" from "bad science" [that's a bit of an overstatement, but you get my drift, I hope]. Remember, astrology and hermeticism were both significant contributors to what we now call science. Historian of science Margaret Osler, for example, has repeatedly emphasized how aspects of what we now call science were once considered religion and vice versa.
I was too young to know at the time, but I'm guessing that the Big Bang was not taught in high school (or even college) physics classes until some positive support was found (contra Popper). ID seems to want to be admitted (indeed mandated) to the classroom without producing any positive results and further saying to not bother looking because you won't (in fact, can't) find it. I have a problem with that.
BTW, did anyone see "The West Wing" on TV last Sunday(?) night? It had the presidential candidates getting caught up in questions about ID. The amazing thing was that it was handled in a far more sophisticated manner than one would expect for a TV drama. I'm betting that one of the writers went to a Christian college. Maybe Messiah, Ted?
Then again, the ID propaganda machine is already winning the culture wars if something resembling their oft-changing (evolving!) "theory" has made it to network television!
Karl V. Evans
-----Original Message-----
From: Ted Davis <>
Sent: Thu, 20 Oct 2005 08:10:22 -0400
Subject: Re: Peer review and ID

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 12:58:50 2005

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