Sunday, February 06, 2005

More on Sternberg: DI Heal thyself

The Island of Balta was quoted on the "Media Complaints Division" webpage of the Discovery Institutes Center for the renewal of Science and Culture:
In "Shooting the Messenger Indeed," and the resulting followup, Balta argues that the treatment of Rick Sternberg as described by David Klinghoffer in the WSJ article is much ado about nothing. If anything, Balta argues, it is Sternberg who violated the canons of science rather than those who attacked him.

The DI moves quickly to defend the Meyer paper. The first issue is quickly resolved "was the paper in line with the journal's guidelines"?

Balta quotes from the Journal's statement

The paper by Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," in vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239 of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, was published at the discretion of the former editor, Richard v. Sternberg. Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history. For the same reason, the journal will not publish a rebuttal to the thesis of the paper, the superiority of intelligent design (ID) over evolution as an explanation of the emergence of Cambrian body-plan diversity. The Council endorses a resolution on ID published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (, which observes that there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity. Accordingly, the Meyer paper does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings.

The DI strangely interprets this statement

Rather than identifying why the topic didn’t fit in the journal or wasn’t worthy on scientific grounds for publication, the Council simply asserted that there is no "credible scientific evidence" to support ID as an explanation for organic diversity, and then defers to an ex cathedra statement from the AAAS that ID is unscientific by definition. In Alice in Wonderland you have the verdict first and the trial later, but science deserves better.

First of all the Council was clear why the paper should have been rejected, irregardless of the issue whether or not the paper is of poor quality.

because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year histor

Indeed, poor quality is determined after the publication, too bad that the reviewers did not catch the many short comings before the paper revealed the scientific vacuity of ID. Namely by showing that ID is mostly based on incomplete review of literature, combined with a lack of any positive hypothesis how ID explains the data. In other words, the real scandal is not just the poor quality of the paper, but the fact that ID is unable to present any scientifically relevant hypothesis.

The second argument is a clear 'strawman'

Shouldn't we be skeptical of Sternberg's claims based upon his association with known creationists?


Then a real funny one

The Klinghoffer article marks a new stage in the debate over the respectability of ID. In the past the complaint was that ID hadn’t made it into peer-reviewed publications. While this criticism has problems of its own, there is no question that the publication of Meyer’s article was a bitter pill for ID critics to swallow. Instead of saying, “Okay, score one for ID. But it’s still 84,702 to 1,” the defenders of neo-Darwinian orthodoxy raised a series of bogus objections to avoid even the appearance of a debate.

What did PT say in their introduction to their critique of the paper?

We congratulate ID on finally getting an article in a peer-reviewed biology journal, a mere fifteen years after the publication of the 1989 ID textbook Of Pandas and People, a textbook aimed at inserting ID into public schools. It is gratifying to see the ID movement finally attempt to make their case to the only scientifically relevant group, professional biologists. This is therefore the beginning (not the end) of the review process for ID. Perhaps one day the scientific community will be convinced that ID is worthwhile. Only through this route — convincing the scientific community, a route already taken by plate tectonics, endosymbiosis, and other revolutionary scientific ideas — can ID earn a legitimate place in textbooks.

So who is raising bogus objections here I wonder?....

In his post, Balta relies upon the Panda’s Thumb blog for the conclusion that Meyer is mistaken in his analysis, and for that reason his work should not have been published. But perusing the followup comments on the Panda's Thumb website, it is obvious that this is not a case of pathetically poor scholarship. It is a case of outrage that the dike separating good science from bad science has been breached. The principle that a scientist can disagree with the prevailing view without fear of reprisal apparently does not apply to neo-Darwinism.

Indeed, the contributors at PT have done an excellent job at exposing the many flaws and shortcomings in Meyer's paper. The DI may object to PT having an 'open comment policy', not found on the DI blogsite, where users can present their personal opinion. It's not that Meyer is not allowed to disagree with the prevailing view, it's the observation that he does such a poor job at it which is the focus of Panda's Thumb.

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