Re: [asa] Sternberg quote

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Wed Mar 28 2007 - 12:28:54 EDT

I'm negatively impressed with the quality of Meyer's arguments in the
paper, but I'm also negatively impressed with the quality of some
things that make it through peer review in other places, including
major journals. Is Sternberg overstating the degree of approval the
re-examined process received? Are his opponents overstating the
degree of deviation from the normal process? Probably yes to both.
For example, few molecular biologists and only some evolutionary
biologists actually know much about the Cambrian radiation, one of
Meyer's main mishandled topics. Thus, the claim that the reviewers
were all competent evolutionary and molecular biologists doesn't prove
that they would have spotted the flaws, just as most papers invoking a
molecular clock would be different if they had been reviewed by
someone knowledgeable about paleontology or statistics.

I had one paper published despite a rather unhelpful review (by
someone whose system I was suggesting needed some changes). Editors
do have some capacity to spot such reviewer bias, though of course
having an editor with a particular agenda could be an issue.

I recently reviewed a paper by someone with unconventional views. I
noted that this was an issue affecting review that the editor should
take into consideration for evaluating my review and tried to suggest
some important points to develop that were novel.

It's true that peer review tends to favor the status quo over novelty.
 However, this is often a good thing-there are plenty of crank ideas
out there. Some process is needed to sort out what has credibility or

The invocation of work of Newton, etc. as non-peer reviewed is silly.
True, there was not much peer review back then, although
well-established review procedures are in place at least by the early
1800's. However, there are plenty of other publications
contemporaneous with Newton et al. that are rightly dismissed as
baloney (whether reflecting mistaken premises prevalent in their day
or just individual notions). The works that are now regarded as great
works of science from the time before extensive peer review are
regarded as great because they have held up well under subsequent

Also, novel ideas have made it into the scientific mainstream through
peer review. Enough evidence eventually wins out over tradition.
Complaining that your ideas are being rejected due to the hidebound
establishment or claming that they are sure to succeed because other
novel ideas have succeeded raises the question of why you aren't
gathering more convincing data instead of campaigning.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Wed Mar 28 12:29:19 2007

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