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

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Fri Oct 16 2009 - 14:24:03 EDT

On Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 6:35 AM, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:
> Mr. Blinne:

> 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 are not peer-reviewed?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.

I think there is an additional point to be made here concerning
peer-review. Just as it is true that Behe's books are not
peer-reviewed (and one can debate on whether that means they are wrong
or not), but the argument cuts both ways; because Richard Dawkins's
major popular science books (Selfish Gene, Extended Phenotype, The
Blind Watchmaker etc) are not peer-reviewed either.

I've seen it stated (I think on this list?) that Dawkins's last
peer-reviewed academic paper was published in the early 1970's.

Dawkins is widely perceived as a brilliant scientist, but I think his
reputation is built largely on his popular science writing. One might
reasonably ask the question are they of scientific merit themselves?
It seems the answer from many of his colleagues is not resoundingly
affirmative. When I was doing my part-time PhD in computer science, I
held an industrial fellowship at an Oxford college. One of the
"perks" of the Fellowship was to get to dine at college once or twice
a term. At one of these dinners, I was sitting next to a Professor of
Evolutionary Biology. Out of curiosity I asked him what he thought of
Dawkins. He was extremely dismissive of him stating that he hadn't
done anything worthwhile academically for 25 years, but had "just
mucked about with computers".

At the time I wondered if the man was jealous of Dawkins's success (he
certainly has made a lot of money out of his books). However,
recently I found a very negative commentary on "The Extended
Phenotype" which Dawkins regards as the best thing he eve wrote. This
blogger (whose scientific credentials I don't really know) thinks

It would appear that Dawkins's "gene-centred" view of biology, that
started with "The Selfish Gene" is highly questionable - some might
say pseudo-scientific.

In my own field I came across something like this only the other day.
I developed a software product that performs signal analysis on
Electrocardiograms for measuring something called the QT interval in
the cardiac cycle (associated with the time taken for ventricular
repolarisation). This is of interest in assessing the cardiac safety
of drugs. However, there is also an important condition known as Long
QT Syndrome (LQTS) which is a genetic defect. It can lead to sudden
cardiac death among young people. The cardiologist we collaborate
with had done some work on the genetics of LQTS. It appears that
there are at least nine, and perhaps as many as fourteen genes, and
over a hundred different mutations that are implicated in LQTS. It
seems natural to argue (would I be right?) that most positive traits
are probably also connected with multiple genes.

I also found that the idea of the Gene as the Unit of Selection (the
subtitle of "The Extended Phenotype") apparently had been questioned
as early as 1970 (well before Dawkins's books were published) by a
paper by Franklin and Lewontin "Is the Gene the Unit of Selection"
which can be found here:

I don't have the necessary expertise to take in the whole of this
paper, but the conclusions seem the to draw the negative conclusion.

They write:

(4) Higher-order interaction among loci in multilocus
systems increase in importance as the number of loci increases-(5) For a fixed
map length and a fixed amount of inbreeding depression per unit map length, the
equilibrium correlation among genes along the chromosome is independent of

the number of genes or their individual effects.-
This last point makes it possible
to frame a theory of population genetics which does not contain individual loci
explicitly, but deals only with whole chromosomes, their recombination
and the effect of homozygosity of segments of various length. Such a theory
is more consonant with the observations possible in population genetics than a
theory framed in terms of gene frequencies.

So in conclusion, I am left wondering if many of the ideas presented
in Richard Dawkins's much-admired books would pass muster under peer

Perhaps folks who are more knowledgeable in this area of study can
comment on this?


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Received on Fri Oct 16 14:24:18 2009

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