Peer review [ was: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....]

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Oct 16 2009 - 01:35:30 EDT

Mr. Blinne:

The appeal to peer review is a red herring. Peer review works very well when the issues are straightforward and technical, but it is easily corrupted when the issues involve metaphysical prejudices, political implications, cultural evaluations, etc. The majority, and sometimes not even the majority but simply a powerful minority clique within a field, can bully the minority into submission by refusing to publish their work, endorse their research grants, give them Ph.D.s or letters of recommendation, etc. It happens all the time, in *all* academic fields -- I have seen it first-hand in my own field -- and evolutionary biology is no exception. Anthropogenic global warming is another case where the majority has simply shouted down the minority. The arguments against highly qualified scientific critics of AGW are frequently not respectful, orderly, scientific and scholarly, but angry, contemptuous, polemical, and filled with motive-mongering.
What exactly are the Darwinists arguing when they allege that Behe's books are not peer-reviewed? That Behe's arguments must therefore be wrong? That is a logical *non sequitur* which would flunk one out of Philosophy 100. Or are they arguing, not that Behe's arguments must necessarily be wrong, but that, on inspection, they turn out to be wrong? If the latter is the case, then the thing to do is show why they are wrong; the question whether they were peer-reviewed is irrelevant.

Peer review used to work well, back when all academics were raised in a Christian and Classical moral and cultural ethos, and when lying or manipulating the evidence, or even deliberately framing one's opponent's position in the weakest possible way, rather than the strongest (cf. Flew's rebuke of Dawkins on this point), would have made any scientist or academic blush with shame. In those days, it was possible for a peer reviewer to entirely disagree with the *conclusions* of another scholar or scientist, but to acknowledge that the scholarship or science was competent and that the argument was a legitimate one, and deserving of publication. But increasingly nowadays, both scientists and scholars are no longer held by the moral and professional standards of 1905 Oxford or 1875 Yale; they have become ever more politicized with time, and seek power and control over the conclusions that are arrived at within their subject areas. They are no longer content to point out flaws in method, errors of fact, failure to consider new evidence, etc. If someone disagrees with the consensus of the mighty or the consensus of the majority, for many reviewers, that is an act of impudence which, regardless of how well an article or book is executed, warrants rejecting publication.

This was obviously the case in the Sternberg/Meyer affair, as anyone who knows the facts of the case (as opposed to relying on Panda's Thumb or the NCSE as source material) knows. Despite all the lies and accusations to the contrary, Meyer's article was peer-reviewed by scholars who were not members of the Discovery Institute; they approved the article, with suggestions for changes; Meyer made changes in response to suggestions; and the article was published, by an editor with two Ph.D.s in biology who had nothing to gain professionally (and in fact much to lose professionally) from its publication. As a contributing editor to a scholarly journal myself, I can affirm that there is nothing abnormal in the process that Sternberg has testified to. Despite the smokescreen of allegations about irregularities in the process, what was "illegitimate", in the eyes of Darwinian orthodoxy, was that a peer-reviewed article favourable to ID had been published. That was what enraged them. Now they could no longer claim that ID had no peer-reviewed articles. And it ticked them off.

In the case of ID, since the whole issue between ID and Darwinian theory goes beyond questions of competence in the biological facts, but concerns a meta-question (whether evolutionary biology does not in fact beg important questions of the nature of science, the nature of causation, the nature of nature, etc.), even the majority opinion of the specialists is not sufficient to warrant a violent shutting-down on the ideas. It is precisely when a fundamentally new approach is offered that specialists, many of whom have committed their egos and careers to a particular model, tighten up and become unreasonable, defensive, and sometimes vindictive. It is the specialists, more often than the generalists, who are eager to strangle the young challenger while he is still in the crib. The opinion of the specialists is most suspect precisely in the case of something like ID, which threatens to produce a paradigm shift in evolutionary biology. Anyone who has read and understood Thomas Kuhn should be able to draw this inference.

ID has put a challenge out on the table: "Darwinists, show us how the set of causes that you adduce can build radically new, complex machinery, and radically new body plans. Give us the details. Specify the genes that would have to change, indicate which nucleotide bases would have to be added or deleted or substituted for, and in the case of substitution specify the substituted base. Also specify causes (alpha particles, gamma rays, chemical agents, etc.) which are known to be capable of producing the specific nucleotide changes you have postulate. Calculate the probability of each proposed genetic change, and specify the mechanism (if you suppose that any such mechanism exists) which can explain how the co-ordination between mutations could be maintained, when by your own admission more than one mutation would be required to effect most phenotypical changes. Or, if there is no such mechanism, if it is merely chance that two mutations happen to co-ordinated to a useful end, calculate the probability either that the two mutations will occur simultaneously by chance, or that one mutation can hang around "unused", without itself being mutated away, before the other necessary mutations come along to complement it and effect the proposed phenotypical change. Specify how many favourable mutations (roughly) would be necessary to transform creature A into creature B. And given that favourable mutations are relatively rare, specify how any mutations in total, including unfavourable mutations, would need to occur to yield your proposed number of favourable mutations. Verify from the fossil record that there is enough time for that many mutations. Explain how the intermediate stages of the process would yield viable forms, with reference to the selection factors operative during each intervening time period, and explain how you determined those selection factors in the absence of a complete catalogue of the competitors and the prey of the creature in question."

So far, neither Darwinian evolution, nor any other form of evolution based on essentially stochastic processes (which means in practice all forms of evolution which are taught in evolutionary biology departments) can come anywhere near to meeting this challenge. Peer review, under such circumstances, does far more harm than good. When the emperor has no clothes, and is asked to review an article which states bluntly that he has no clothes, obviously the emperor is going to recommend that it not be published. In some cases the emperor will attempt to punish anyone who goes against his recommendations and dares to publish it. And he will certainly make sure, as far as it is within his power, that anyone who agrees with the published article will not be admitted to a graduate program, will not receive a Ph.D., will not receive post-doctoral funding, will not be hired to teach biology, will not be given tenure if hired, will not receive any research grants if given tenure, and will be marginalized and humiliated within the department and the discipline. That is the way modern academia works, and the frequency of such behaviour is greatly increased when there are world-view issues at stake. We must never forget that 90% of the specialists in evolutionary biology self-identify as atheists or agnostics, and, remembering that most agnosticism these days is in practice simply non-assertive atheism, it is clear that most evolutionary biologists, for religious reasons, are committed from the outset to the rejection of design arguments, because they see them as the basis for a possible inference of the existence of God.

If all scientists and scholars were like our Ted Davis, I would have complete faith in the peer-review process, because a man like Ted would never abuse his position as a reviewer to kill ideas he didn't like, merely because he didn't like them. But so many scientists and scholars nowadays are not like that, that the peer-review process itself needs to be reviewed. This is especially true of Darwinian biologists. So many slanted, exaggerated, misleading, inaccurate, motive-mongering and untrue statements about ID have been made by Ph.D.s in biology and related subjects -- by Eugenie Scott and P. Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins and Ken Miller and Jerry Coyne -- that the peer-reviewers themselves must be judged, in many cases, to lack the necessary objectivity to conduct a credible peer review. An editor of a biology journal who sends an ID-favourable article to any of the above-named people for review is acting irresponsibly and even unethically, because he can be certain what the verdict will be in advance of reading the review, and this indicates lack of editorial neutrality.

Neo-Darwinians, and other foes of teleological reasoning in biology, would be best advised to stop belly-aching about the alleged lack of peer-review of ID books and articles, and to concentrate on providing the detailed evolutionary mechanisms which they have failed to provide for the last 150 years. My challenge to anyone on this list to provide such detailed mechanisms, in the case of even one organ or system or body plan, remains unanswered. If the biologists and biochemists here and elsewhere, however well "peer reviewed" they are, cannot answer the challenge, why should I, or anyone, believe that Darwinian evolution has the powers attributed to it?

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Rich Blinne
  To: Schwarzwald ; Randy Isaac
  Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:38 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

  On Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 6:23 PM, Schwarzwald <> wrote:

    So what do you think, Rich? Is the AAI - and Dawkins - harming science and science education here?

  Yes it is and it was the good Presbyterian Doctor that was defending peer-reviewed science. Once you subscribe to the model that truth is whatever advances your ideology you get all sorts of silliness like this. Christians have a higher standard, however. Much of what I have said about ID could easily apply to the New Atheists. For example, how many peer-reviewed articles has Dawkins published? (From what I can tell none in the 21st Century or even after the 80s.) What research program does he have other than a bunch of speculations in popular literature? The reason why I don't raise these is the context is we are presumably Christians here. Are we to act as bad as the Atheists? Is that our new moral standard?

  Rich Blinne
  Member ASA

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Received on Fri Oct 16 01:37:05 2009

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