Re: [asa] Sternberg quote

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed Mar 28 2007 - 10:12:07 EDT

I continue to think that there was a lot of politics here, and that
Sternberg did not act inappropriately. Like the church censors who signed
off on Galileo's dialogue and then were sacked after it hit the fan,
Sternberg was castigated after using a review process that -- unless and
until we know precisely who the referees were -- we must assume was similar
to the review process for other publications. No other editors had to be
involved. Journal editors have quite a bit of discretion, as they should,
and I'd be very surprised if Meyer's article is the only one that was ever
sent to three reviewers who turned out to be sympathetic to publishing it.

Let me share something about an article of my own, the "whale story" that
is on the ASA webpage. I had no idea where to send it for consideration
once I'd written it, so I sent it to a friend who edited a well known
journal in my field, to solicit advice. I did not expect my friend to want
it for that particular journal -- it wasn't written in a style appropriate
for that journal, and dealt with a type of content that would have been
extraordinary for that journal to publish. I simply wanted suggestions
about where I should send it.

A few months later, after not hearing anything, my friend called me at home
one evening to ask whether it was OK with me to have it considered for the
journal edited by my friend. I was more than a little surprised, but of
course I agreed. The normal procedure was to employ 3 blind reviewers.
Given what I said above about the nature of this essay, however, the editor
(as I was told subsequently) sent it to 12 blind reviewers, whose opinions
varied very widely. I have since learned who two of them were, b/c they
have identified themselves to me at professional conferences. One of them,
arguably the most distinguished person in his particular field, strongly
recommended publication in that journal. Two other reviewers thought it
ought be published in the New Yorker, but not in the journal in question.
Still others, including a couple who are probably evangelical scholars
(ironically), did not recommend publication at all. Overall it was a mixed
bag, and the editor reluctantly declined to publish that article. I wanted
it to come out soon -- we were rapidly approaching 100th anniversary of the
Bartley tale and I wanted it to appear in 1991 -- and I thought PSCF would
accept the article without significant changes, so I sent it there.

I am delighted that it was published with virtually no changes; I still
regard it as the best essay I have ever written, and my friend still wishes
it had been published in the other journal. Did my friend make the right
call? There was enough support from selected reviewers, perhaps even from
the whole group of them, to support publication in that journal, but I
suspect a lot of heat would have been generated given the highly unusual
nature of the topic and style of the article. I certainly don't second
guess my friend, not at all.

This true experience, and other war stories involving me or friends of
mine, convince me that the editorial process is far from an exact science,
and that editors do sometimes shape the process in certain ways, when they
believe they have an unusual submission that some well qualified reviewers
really like, but others really don't. Unless/until we know more about who
the reviewers were and exactly what they said, I just don't think it's fair
to go after Sternberg for publishing a provocative review essay about a
related topic. The politics of science works both ways on this issue, it
isn't simply IDs using political rhetoric to shape their side of the issue.


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Received on Wed Mar 28 10:12:46 2007

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