Publish or don't publish, but perish

TimeAug15BTime's cover package on evolution and intelligent design is a mostly even-handed summary, but it contains an easily preventable error: The claim that theorists of intelligent design have not published in peer-reviewed journals. That would be news to Stephen Meyer, who published "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories" in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington about a year ago. The journal ranks low in its "impact factor," says a news report by The Scientist:

The Biological Society of Washington has about 250 members. The journal has an impact factor of 0.284, according to Thomson Scientific, giving it a rank of 2678 out of 3110 scored journals in all science disciplines. Scott described the journal as a "tiny fairly descriptive journal read by people in museums and systematics."

Richard Sternberg, a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information who was an editor of the Proceedings at the time, told The Scientist via E-mail that the three peer reviewers of the paper "all hold faculty positions in biological disciplines at prominent universities and research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, one at a major US public university, and another at a major overseas research institute."

"The reviewers did not necessarily agree with Dr. Meyer's arguments but all found the paper meritorious, warranting publication," Sternberg said.

There is a circular logic in the Internet debate about Myer's paper, which says I.D. theorists cannot be taken seriously, because they never publish in peer-reviewed journals, but also condemns any efforts to be so published as deceptive or dishonest.

The Panda's Thumb provides a lengthy and detailed critique of Meyer's paper, but be warned: the hundreds of comments take many minutes to load, even on broadband.

The Discovery Institute lists these other peer-reviewed publications, none of which has attracted the same attention as Myer's has:

• "Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues," by Michael J. Behe and David W. Snoke, in Protein Science, The Protein Society [October] 2004

• "Homology in Biology: Problem for Naturalistic Science and Prospect for Intelligent Design," by Paul A. Nelson & Jonathan Wells, in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003)

• "Self-Organization and Irreducibly Complex Systems," by Michael J. Behe in Philosophy of Science 67 (March 2000), University of Chicago Press

• "Reinstating Design within Science," by William A. Dembski, in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003)

In the same issue of Time, David Van Biema has compiled four brief and excellent summaries of what thinkers on both sides of the evolution-design debate believe.

Stephen Pinker of Harvard University does an exquisite job of reinforcing the stereotype of an academic who can't help sneering at stupid believers:

Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.

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