Saturday, August 1, 2015

Kirk doesn't like Peer Review

Kirk Durston wrote his first 'faith in science article' and he takes aim at 'Peer Review'.  Does he do a good job, well sort of.  He's not saying much of anything new.  Peer Reviewed journals, well real ones anyway, need to be very careful because when they mess up, they can look pretty bad.  Nothing really new here!  Have there been problems, certainly!  Will there be problems in the future?  More than likely.  But what does Kirk offer instead of peer review?  Nothing!  He just doesn't like it.

Actually that makes a certain amount of sense, I mean the Discovery Institute, whose blog he is posting on, has numerous reasons for not liking peer review.  Imagine you have come up with a way to package and market your religion under the guise of science.  Remember, that's where Intelligent Design started, a repackaging of Creation Science.  But you have your own package and you try and market it and real science gets in the way.  One, of many, of the arguments is that your 'work' hasn't been properly peer reviewed.  I've used this quote before, and it is still applicable.  Dr. Chancey, Chair of the Religious Studies Department at SMU said:

"Many religious groups-Christian and other-do not regard evolutionary theory as a threat. For many people of faith, science and religion go hand in hand. When scholars criticize ID, they are not attacking religion. They are only asking ID proponents to be transparent in their agenda, accurate about their representations of scholarship, and willing to play by the same rules of peer review and quality control that legitimate scholars and scientists around the world follow every day."
I added the underline to make my point.  ID 'theorists' would be welcome to submit their work for peer review if they are willing to play by the same rules.  The question is why aren't they?  I look at things pretty simple, either they cannot play by the same rules, or they will not play by the same rules.  For example anyone remember the Sternberg Peer Review Controversy?  There was a clear example of trying to bypass the process in order to get a paper published.  If you get bored one day look it up in Stephen C. Meyer's 'Signature in the Cell' and see how Meyer re-wrote history in his rationalizing the controversy.  Wikipedia seems to have a much more objective read on what happened.  Funny where Sternberg ended up working.  According to the DI website:
 "Dr. Sternberg is presently a research scientist at the Biologic Institute, supported by a research fellowship from the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute."
So he works at Meyer's place, and Meyer was the author of the paper Sternberg violated procedure to publish.  You know if a HS football coach gets caught helping a particularly talented player get into college and then shortly thereafter gets a job coaching at the same college, the NCAA takes a very long and hard view, frequently to the detriment of the coaches involved.  But I guess that's not an issue at the DI.

So the DI doesn't like the current peer review process.  No surprise there.  They don't seem to like the legal system or even the Vatican.  Remember the legal system is where they lost a landmark case (Dover et al.) and the Pope didn't invite them to the Vatican to discuss Religion and Evolution.  So what does the DI do when there is something they don't like?  I am not surprised to find the DI attacking peer review.  After all, how successful have they been at having their papers published in legitimate peer review journals?  Actually to be more honest, I am not aware of them submitting much to peer review journals, they just keep claiming some sort of discrimination.  Of course there isn't any proof of it, other than their whines.  

Grab a name and hit PubMed and see how often a paper by someone like Meyer, Dembski, or Marks is cited.  You might not be surprised at the answer.  I wasn't able to find any, can you?  There was one Dembski W listed, but it wasn't wild Bill.  Meyer we've discussed numerous times.  Marks is Robert J. Marks, the current editor and chief of Bio-Complexity.  he is also an old friend of Dembski and involved in the Baylor Evolutionary Informatics Lab controversy with him.  He was also one of the alleged victims of intelligent design persecution so hilariously discussed in the Ben Stein abortion 'Expelled'.  On last note on Marks, he is an Electrical Engineer, which makes his just a qualified to head a journal supposedly about biology as Meyer (philosopher of science)  is to write books on it or Dembski (mathematician/historian) to develop theories about it.

Well their first effort seems to be to try and co-opt it.  Since peer reviewed journals don't take them seriously, invent their own!  Their current attempt at co-opting peer review is the in-house online journal called 'Bio-Complexity'.  There they claim to have peer-reviewed articles.

The National. Center for Science Education had a lot to say about Bio-Complexity shortly after it was announced.  Here is my favorite comment:
"Unable to convince the scientific establishment of the merits of their views, creationists have long been engaged in the project of constructing a counterestablishment, which mimics — or perhaps the mot juste is “apes” — not only peer-reviewed journals but also professional societies, textbook publishers, media organizations, natural history museums, and graduate programs at accredited universities."
 Real science peer review is not the same thing as having a few people who already agree with you read your papers and pat you on the head.  Real scientific peer review is more adversarial than that.  It's not people who agree with you, but other experts in the same field.  That's one of the reasons Sternberg got into hot water, he was unqualified to be a reviewer for Meyer's paper for several reasons first he was the journal's outgoing editor so reviewing the paper himself was more an ethical conflict of interest.  His support of ID was well known, as was his relationship with the author so he should have disqualified himself.  Secondly the paper dealt more with Paleontology than his expertise in Taxonomy and Systemics, so he was certainly not a peer based on the subject.  Finally the organization had many much more qualified reviewers, yet Sternberg failed to have one of them review the paper.  So setting himself up as a reviewer violated policy.  So in order to claim their 'work' can be peer reviewed in the future, they create their own journal.  Actually they've done this before (Origins & Design from ACN and Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design  from Dembski) and it hasn't worked yet.

In fact on the subject of peer review, Dembski's PCID had it's own little controversy about the subject.  More than likely one of the things that helped in it's demise.
"PCID's peer review process where ISCID Fellows are reviewers is in contrast to the process described as proper peer review by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where "reviewers are experts in the relevant scientific fields who have no conflict of interest with or especially close personal relationships to the authors or requestors" and refers to ISCID specifically. (from Wikipedia)"
No one actually buys into their stuff being peer-reviewed, except maybe Access Research Network (ARN) or the Institute for Creation Research (ICR).  But then would that surprise anyone?

So if co-opting doesn't work, go on the attack!  That's what I see Kirk's post as, an attack on peer review.  If you are unable or unwilling to play by the rules, you try and discredit it to weaken science in general.  Will it work?  Doubtful.  Yes, peer review has issues, but the Discovery Institute isn't the group that's going to fix them.  In fact has the DI fixed anything?

Kirk's, and the DI's attacks on peer review sort of remind me of the kid who takes his football home because the other kids don't want to play with them.  Only in this case, they are trying to take away a football that doesn't belong to them, the Peer Review Process.

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