Wednesday, September 01, 2004

How Did This Happen?

The Washington Times has this interesting article about a recent anti-evolution paper that managed to get published in a real science journal. The paper in question is entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” and is available here.
The paper's author was Stephen Meyer. It was published in The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

Alan Gishlick, Nick Matzke, and Wesley Elsberry have authored an extensive critique of the paper over at The Panda's Thumb. Their conclusion:

The mistakes and omissions in Meyer’s work are many and varied, and often layered on top of each other. Not every aspect of Meyer’s work can be addressed in this initial review, so we have chosen several of Meyer’s major claims to assess. Among these, we will take up the Cambrian explosion and its relation to paleontology and systematics. We will examine Meyer’s negative arguments concerning evolutionary theories and the origin of biological “information” in the form of genes.

They also offer some important thoughts about how an article this slipshod managed to get past peer review:

The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (PBSW) is a respected, if somewhat obscure, biological journal specializing in papers of a systematic and taxonomic nature, such as the description of new species. A review of issues in evolutionary theory is decidedly not its typical fare, even disregarding the creationist nature of Meyer’s paper. The fact that the paper is both out of the journal’s typical sphere of publication, as well as dismal scientifically, raises the question of how it made it past peer review. The answer probably lies in the editor, Richard von Sternberg. Sternberg happens to be a creationist and ID fellow traveler who is on the editorial board of the Baraminology Study Group at Bryan College in Tennessee. (The BSG is a research group devoted to the determination of the created kinds of Genesis. We are NOT making this up!) Sternberg was also a signatory of the Discovery Institute’s “100 Scientists Who Doubt Darwinism” statement. [3] Given R. v. Sternberg’s creationist leanings, it seems plausible to surmise that the paper received some editorial shepherding through the peer review process. Given the abysmal quality of the science surrounding both information theory and the Cambrian explosion, it seems unlikely that it received review by experts in those fields. One wonders if the paper saw peer review at all.

The Times article is pretty good, which is surprising given the paper's generally rightward slant. They write:

The small journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published in its June issue a paper scientists say erroneously critiques the theory of evolution. The paper was authored by Stephen Meyer, project director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a proponent of “intelligent design” based in Seattle.

The Oakland, Calif.,-based National Center for Science Education, a staunch defender of the teaching of evolution in schools, said it “has already heard from a number of members of the Biological Society of Washington ... who are concerned about the reputation of the society and its journal after the publication of such a piece of substandard work in the apparent service of a non-scientific ideology.”


At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the unfortunate part is, no matter what happens now, nu-creationists will be able to say that they did too have some (ok 1 paper) of their creationism published in a "peer reviewed scientific journal".

And I'm just curious, how on earth did a Genesis-believing creationist like Richard von Sternberg become the editor of a scientific journal?

At 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, in his Aug. 31 entry, Professor Rosenhouse made a very astute, and relevant comment to this. He wrote:

"Rampant convergent evolution would be a problem if we found several lineages evolving major, complex morphological innovations in parallel."

This is, of course, precisely what we do find. The marsupial-placental convergence is a popular example. Over millions of years and in different corners of the earth the marsupial and placental lineages, supposedly evolving from a mouse-like species, produced a host of similar designs. Everything from sabre-toothed carnivores and wolves to flying squirrels and anteaters were produced independently. Nature is full of lesser-known examples. From salamanders to cacti we find striking similarities that must have arisen independently.

You can see my full reply at ISCID (4th post):;f=6;t=000540

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