I have a pretty strict “no ‘Blogging during business hours” rule, but this is ‘Blogging about the business. A colleague has just sent me this story about an “intelligent design” paper being published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. [You might need to register for free to read it.] I haven’t got the time to comment now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you lot have.
09Sep04 — 19
Fortunately, on this occasion the self correcting mechanisms of the scientific community seem to have worked. See here.
This is one of the many reasons why I love ‘Blogging: a pertinent, informative, and informed follow-up within 30min of my posting. And I’ve never even met you before, Chris.
Good to have you aboard and thank you.
Such an ugly noise, the sound of minds banging shut. But then again, there’s never any group more entrenched than a scientific ‘community’ faced with what it thinks is (and here I choose the word carefully) heresy. ‘Spirit of enquiry’, do me a favour!
Peer review is about checking people’s methods, not their conclusions (except insofar as they are supported by their results). Pons and Fleischmann’s cold fusion studies, for example, were slammed because they chose to publish their results by press release rather than in the literature. Ten years later science remains open enough to continue to discuss the possibility that they had observed something real. And the closed scientific minds of Cambridge University still employ this guy [note the fourth of his areas of study listed at the top of the page].
The implication in the story cited above is that the editor of a journal, gainfully employed by the scientific community despite being a known “heretic” as you put it, had “helped” this paper past the usual peer-review process. There’s a difference between shutting the door on people you disagree with and shutting the door on people who cheat.
I see, so the only way for a piece of scientific ‘heresy’ (yes, I know the word is pejorative, but you come up with another) is by ‘cheating’ or being ‘helped’. And that sort of thing is frowned upon by PG, our Mr. Valiant in search of Scientific Truth. The following quotes come from the original story and from the one linked by Chris:
“It’s too bad the Proceedings published it,” said Scott, [executive director at the National Center for Science Education—er, yes, “education”!] “The article doesn’t fit the type of content of the journal. The bottom line is that this article is substandard science.”
But apparently the reviewers thought differently. “The reviewers did not necessarily agree with Dr. Meyer’s [the paper’s author] arguments but all found the paper meritorious, warranting publication”, said the editor who published the paper with which he had some scientific sympathy, and he went on,” “The reaction to the paper by some [anti-creationist] extremists suggests that the thought police are alive and well in the scientific community.”
Then up pops the grand panjandrum of the society that published this particular review, and intones the following piece of prize pomposity, “It was published without the prior knowledge of the Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, or the associate editors. We have met and determined that all of us would have deemed this paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings.” So there!
Anyone smell humbug?
I posted something relevant at my place concerning ‘peer review’ if you want to take a look.
Shit. That comes across as self-seeking publicity whoring. Meant to add that I’d be interested in what you think of the linked to material.
mind you…you could link to me as well you know 😉
At least Will doesn’t pretend to have an open, enquiring mind: “…some so-called ‘intelligent design’, anti-evolutionary, religious crap.” So that’s that then!
There is a difference between having an open mind, and having a mind that you let any old codswallop fall into.
Indeed, Eric, provided you allow the time, and make the effort, to differentiate between “codswallop” and a scientific hypothesis; or, as Will appears to have done, ‘to open your mouth and let your belly rumble’.
David, ID is an example of what Richard Feynman called Cargo Cult Science. But scientists have, nevertheless, done it the courtesy of careful criticism. At length. When they might have been doing something else. This article, for example, addresses the paper under debate and demonstrates that the author, inter alia, misuses key concepts within the theory of Intelligent Design itself, is unfamiliar with much of the literature in the area he addresses, and fails to consider a series of alternative explanations for the phenomena he (wrongly) supposes himself to observe.
Codswallop. Stop digging, David.
David: do you know what self-aware humour is. I thought at one point you did.
If you had looked at my place a bit more often you would perhaps have noticed I am known for veering from the serious to the *ahem* not so serious. Further, here is an article from me that is perhaps relevant to your criticism.
See if you can spot which description applies to yourself.
sorry about posting the link to myself Poot. But thought it would take up less space.
Chris, when as a layman, I attempt to follow scientific disputes, I am not always (or even often) able to follow the minutiae of the technicalities. But what I have developed is a nose for style. Whenever I see a scientific criticism loaded with innuendo, insult and imprecation, I smell a rat, to paraphrase the late, great David Stove, a sharp rat with a gold tooth! After all, such a re-action is, well, so un-scientific!
The howls and shrieks that emanate from the neo-Darwinists are both vulgar and funny in equal measure, and only serve to convince me that their critics are on to something. So much so, that I started to study the work of this “band of brothers” who had the temerity to say bollocks to the Bishop, er, Bishop Dawkins, that is!
Now, I am reasonably convinced that Darwin’s theory explains much of evolution, but by no means all of it. As a Popperian, that fills me with joy, because *no* scientific explanation ever explains *everything*, and it worried me that the Darwinian disciples, in their fanatical fervour, were turning his theory into an un-falsifiable religion. (Delicious irony!) Now that it has been shown to have some fairly hefty holes in it, I find many of its propositions much easier to accept—and if that’s a paradox, then that’s life!
I know Popperians, and David Duff, you ain’t no Popperian.
Eric, Polonius would have approved of your brevity, but I don’t think he would have had much of a giggle at your wit. This is supposed to be a conversation, so a little amplification of your cryptic assertion might, I put it no higher, be of interest.
David, I do smell humbug and, indeed, a rat. In science, you play by the rules or you don’t play at all.
Of course the editor intones about “the thought police”; he’s a creationist.
Of course the society’s head sounds pompous; they usually do. It looks like his society has made a mess and he has to wriggle out of it.
The quote that sums it up is this one:
“According to the PBSW’s instructions for contributors, ‘Manuscripts are reviewed by a board of Associate Editors and appropriate referees.’ It seems, therefore, that Meyer’s paper was not published in accordance with the journal’s established review procedure.”
Usually journal editors are employed to filter work submitted to their journal according to that publication’s formally stated remit. An article on yeast cell division, for example, would be inappropriate for the Journal of Computational Physics. Whatever you think of the science, this article was unsuited to a publication concerned with taxonomy. Because this journal’s editor agreed with the author’s ideology, however, he deemed this inappropriate paper suitable for publication.
If a scientific paper qualifies for consideration by a journal, then its editor (and this is critical) usually chooses the referees. Whaddaya know? In this case, the reviewers agreed that the paper was worthy of publication.
As a further check, this journal, it seems, has a panel of associate editors who, in theory, should also examine submissions before their publication. It looks like they didn’t on this occasion, and, probably (to the head of the society’s justifiable embarrassment) at other times too.
The editor’s comments imply that a paper he decided was suitable for the journal was reviewed by a bunch of people chosen by him.
The society head’s comments further imply that the paper made it into print because members of its board hadn’t actually looked at it, as they were supposed to—not that he would admit that openly.
The entire process sounds a bit like your friend Tony deciding, for example, that banning hunting with dogs would be an appropriate use of the law, choosing a set of representatives to sit in the Lords, and then encouraging them to wave the relevant legislation through without any proper critical reading of the content of the bill. For observers to suggest that such a process is unconstitutional hardly amounts to persecution of the anti-hunting lobby.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the paper was submitted to such a sleepy journal with such a sympathetic proprietor. I don’t think it’s an accident that the associate editors either didn’t see or didn’t pay attention to the submission before it went into print.
If you are doing real science that overturns conventional wisdom you don’t need friends in high places to get people to notice you. Peer review, for all its faults, still permits (and even fosters) revolutions in scientific thought (and I’m not a Kuhnian or a Popperian, by the way). Scientific peer review is just better than most alternatives so far devised at discarding ideologically-driven rubbish.
“In science, you play by the rules or you don’t play at all. […] Manuscripts are reviewed by a board of Associate Editors and appropriate referees.” Ah yes, the Vatican used to have rules like that, as that upstart Galileo found out; and more recently, of course, the dear old Central Committee of the Soviet CP had much the same system. Nice to know that old habits do indeed die hard!
But, as PG points out, “If a scientific paper qualifies for consideration by a journal, then its editor (and this is critical) usually chooses the referees. Whaddaya know? In this case, the reviewers agreed that the paper was worthy of publication.” What I also know, because I read it as did PG—but he forgot to add it in his quote—is, that they didn’t agree to its author’s conclusions.
In other words, they, the reviewers, did their job. The *process* of peer review, so beloved of PG *and myself*, took place! (Band plays, huge cheers, tankards of ale—or perhaps, schooners of dry sherry in Cambridge—and general merriment all round!) So why are we fighting? If it was *in spite of*, rather than because of, the panjandrums of the ‘scientific community’, then that just adds to the gaiety of nations, and confirms me in my long-held suspicion that there is more crust at the top of academe than a bottle of 50-year-old Taylors!
“But, as PG points out, “If a scientific paper qualifies for consideration by a journal, then its editor (and this is critical) usually chooses the referees. Whaddaya know? In this case, the reviewers agreed that the paper was worthy of publication.” What I also know, because I read it as did PG—but he forgot to add it in his quote—is, that they didn’t agree to its author’s conclusions.”
That’s because, in the very first line of my very first comment, I wrote:
“Peer review is about checking people’s methods, not their conclusions”
Though I wonder why I bothered.
Will, I forgot to thank you for your contribution, not by any means publicity whoring; I read that entry on your ‘Blog yesterday evening with interest. Thanks.