Saturday, August 20, 2005

Intelligent Design


The Washington Post recently ran an article entitled, "Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article", with regard to what really should be a tempest in a teapot:
As editor of the hitherto obscure Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Sternberg decided to publish a paper making the case for "intelligent design," a controversial theory that holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand - subtle or not - of an intelligent creator.

Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution - which has helped fund and run the journal - lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper.
Well, the article doesn't bear out the "closet Bible thumper" end of the story, although with Sternberg's résumé, activities, and the subject and content of the article at issue, I can see why some might infer a religious motivation for his editorial decision. But, within the context of evolution, I cannot find anything in the article which would redeem Steinberg as a scientist.
Three years [after his appointment as editor], Sternberg agreed to consider a paper by Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge University-educated philosopher of science who argues that evolutionary theory cannot account for the vast profusion of multicellular species and forms in what is known as the Cambrian "explosion," which occurred about 530 million years ago.

Scientists still puzzle at this great proliferation of life. But Meyer's paper went several long steps further, arguing that an intelligent agent -- God, according to many who espouse intelligent design -- was the best explanation for the rapid appearance of higher life-forms.

Sternberg harbored his own doubts about Darwinian theory. He also acknowledged that this journal had not published such papers in the past and that he wanted to stir the scientific pot.
Assuming that "stirring the pot" is a sufficient basis to publish a paper on a non-scientific theory in a scientific journal, that still doesn't explain the decision to publish an article that seeks to advance such a theory. Nor does it explain why no counterpoint was presented, or for that matter an editorial disclaimer that the purpose of the publication was to "stir the pot" as opposed to trying to legitimize junk science.
He mailed Meyer's article to three scientists for a peer review. It has been suggested that Sternberg fabricated the peer review or sought unqualified scientists, a claim McVay dismissed.

"They were critical of the paper and gave 50 things to consider," Sternberg said. "But they said that people are talking about this and we should air the views."
Sternberg may wish to ask that his reviewers reveal themselves, so as to rebut the accusations of selectivity and fabrication. But even giving him the benefit of the doubt, I find it hard to believe that if such a list of "50 things to consider" were presented in relation to an article that advanced evolution, with the supposed conclusion being "but you might want to publish it anyway, so people can talk about it", the paper wouldn't be published. "People are talking about this and we should air the views?" There are still people who talk about the "fake moon landing." Being controvercial, or being the subject of discussion, does not transform something into science. And when a scientific journal gives a platform to only one side - particularly the "junk science" side - the editor deserves to be held accountable.
An e-mail stated, falsely, that Sternberg had "training as an orthodox priest." Another labeled him a "Young Earth Creationist," meaning a person who believes God created the world in the past 10,000 years.
An email to whom? From whom? Lots of nonsense gets included in emails - if these are the best examples of mistreatment that can be culled from the "near instantaneous and furious" response to Sternberg's decision to publish junk science, he got off easy.
This latter accusation is a reference to Sternberg's service on the board of the Baraminology Study Group, a "young Earth" group. Sternberg insists he does not believe in creationism. "I was rather strong in my criticism of them," he said. "But I agreed to work as a friendly but critical outsider."
Apparently with an emphasis on "friendly".
A former professor of Sternberg's says the researcher has an intellectual penchant for going against the system. Sternberg does not deny it.

"I loathe careerism and the herd mentality," he said. "I really think that objective truth can be discovered and that popular opinion and consensus thinking does more to obscure than to reveal."
And there he is, contradicting his prior herd mentality assertion that you should ignore hard science because "people are talking about" a junk science alternative.

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