Peer Reviewed Research

ISCID is the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. Over at Stranger Fruit, Jerry Don Bauer (no stranger to the ISCID boards) makes a number of statements regarding peer-review and ID:

There is a ton of peer reviewed lituraure [sic] out there-Both ARN and ISCID put out quarterly journals in this area, along with many others. You could have gotten by with that statement 2 or 3 years back, but not today. …

[ID] literature [is] being peer reviewed is it not? In fact, the very purpose for ISCID is peer review. Look at all the peer reviewed books out on the subject. Look at the papers on other sites

In what follows, I want to briefly examine these claims.

Now, let’s start with the “papers on other sites.” It’s the “Bibliography of Supplementary Resources For Ohio Science Instruction” which the Center for Science and Culture produced as representing “important lines of evidence and puzzles that any theory of evolution must confront, and that science teachers and students should be allowed to discuss when studying evolution … The publications represent dissenting viewpoints that challenge one or another aspect of neo-Darwinism (the prevailing theory of evolution taught in biology textbooks), discuss problems that evolutionary theory faces, or suggest important new lines of evidence that biology must consider when explaining origins.” The majority of the authors are respected scientists - none of that literature comes from ID supporters, Discovery fellows and their fellow travellers. Note what JDB is claiming - this is ID literature that is peer-reviewed. It is not. Literature that “challenge one or another aspect of neo-Darwinism (the prevailing theory of evolution taught in biology textbooks), discuss problems that evolutionary theory faces, or suggest important new lines of evidence that biology must consider” is not de facto support for ID - to think such is to commit a logical fallacy.

This list has been analyzed by the National Center for Science Education which sent a questionnaire to at least one of the authors of every publication listed in the Bibliography, asking them whether they considered their work to provide scientific evidence for “intelligent design.” None of the 26 respondents (representing 34 of the 44 publications in the Bibliography) did; many were indignant at the suggestion.

So, as yet, we see no evidence of peer-reviewed papers expliciting testing or providing positive evidence for intelligent design. The ARN journal (Origins and Design) is largely defunct and has been discussed here. Let’s look at Progress in Complexity, Information and Design - the journal of ISCID, paying attention to its review procedures.

Articles accepted to the journal must first be submitted to the ISCID archive. To be accepted into the archive, articles need to meet basic scholarly standards and be relevant to the study of complex systems. Once on the archive, articles passed on by at least one ISCID fellow will be accepted for publication.

As Dembski notes, “this review process emphasizes creativity and exploration over criticism and censorship” and was developed in reponse to Tipler’s article “Refereed Journals: Do They Insure Quality or Enforce Orthodoxy?” (link). As part of an extended tirade againt peer-review of research and funding proposals, Tipler proposes a second tier of publishing which “will consist of publishing a paper in the journal automatically if the paper is submitted with letters from several leading experts in the field saying ‘this paper should be published.’ … A genius could interact directly with another genius.” So there we have the PCID quality control - a single “genius” member of the editorial board vouches for the paper and it’s in. As someone who has both published and refereed papers, I don’t like that one bit and perhaps this explains why no one of note has published in PCID.

Given this, let’s look at who has actually published in PCID. (I have omitted the October 2003 issue devoted to philosophy of mind because as a purely philosophical issue it has little relevence to the application of design to biological evolution).

ISCID Fellows Robert C. Koons - Professor of philosophy at University of Texas, Austin

Bill Dembski (x4) - Associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University

Michael J. Behe - Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University

Paul Nelson - With the Discovery Institute

Jonathan Wells - With the Discovery Institute

Forrest M. Mims - Self-employed atmospheric scientist

Christopher M. Langan - President of the Mega Foundation which provides “aid, support and camaraderie to the ‘severely gifted’ in order to help these creative individuals realize their dreams.”

Karl D. Stephan (x2) - Associate Professor, Department of Technology, Texas State University

Neil Broom - Associate professor, Department of chemical and materials engineering, University of Auckland


John R. Bracht (x2) - Graduate student, Department of Biology, University of California, San Diego.

James A. Barham - Graduate student, History & Philosophy of Science, Notre Dame

Dermott J. Mullan (x2) - Professor of Astrophysics at University of Delaware

Philip R. Page - Technical Staff Member, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Jolanta Koszteyn - Institute of Oceanology, Polish Academy of Science

Piotr Lenartowicz - Professor, School of Philosophy and Education, Cracow

Arie S. Issar - Emeritus professor, J. Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Granville Sewell - Associate Professor of Mathematics, University of Texas El-Paso

Phillip L. Engle - Data modeller with Mellon Bank

Jakob Wolf - Professor, Department of Systematic Theology, University of Copenhagen

Quinn Tyler Jackson - “author and researcher”

Iain G.D. Strachan - Computer science, AEA Technology, Harwell, U.K.

Frank J. Tipler - Professor, Department of Mathmatics, Tulane University.

David Owen - Graduate student, Software engineering, West Virginia University

John A. Davison - Department of Biology, University of Vermont

Darel R. Finley - unable to find any information; perhaps attached to MD Anderson Cancer Center in some capacity, but not as clinical or scientific faculty.

Richard A. Johns - unable to find any information

Joshua A. Smart - unable to find any information

That’s a total of 27 authors accounting for 31 papers. Twelve of these papers (38.7%) were written by members of the PCID editorial board - this seems just a little incestuous to me. Still, let’s assume that the board are being “fair and balanced” (as we have no idea of the acceptance rate of papers and the source of papers that are rejected, we can only assume this). It is noticable that the authors above are largely minor scientists at best and graduate students or unknowns at worst - Tipler may be the exception, but his paper offered no science. Organismal biologists are notably in the minority. Indeed, equally as noticable is that the papers published offer no new biological data or experiments. Frankly, even if the peer-reviewing process is stringent, no attempt is being made to provide and test explicit design hypotheses within the biological realm.

So in summary, what do we have? Firstly, neither Wells, Behe, Dembski nor Nelson appear to be currently publishing original research in mainstream scientific journals. Secondly, the research cited by ID supporters is not produced by ID supporters, and these authors do not see their research as supportive of the Discovery Institute’s anti-evolutionary program. Lastly, PCID’s review system is unorthodox and has not yielded any substantive advances in scientific inquiry being largely philosophical discussions, anti-establishment rhetorical diatribes or rehersals of jaded arguments from probability.

Here are my friendly suggestions if ISCID members and design advocates want to be taken seriously.

  • Dembski’s stand that he has “gotten kind of blase about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print … And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well. I get a royalty. And the material gets read more.” (The Chronicle of Higher Education Dec. 21, 2001), positively hurts any hope that ID has in becoming accepted among the larger scientific community. Publish papers.
  • Publish in peer-reviewed journals in philosophy, statistics, mathematics and complexity theory. Journals such as Complexity would, I’m sure, be interested in what they have to say (indeed that very journal has published a review by Bracht of Stu Kauffman’s Investigations). Therein they can workout their theories of design and its detection to their heart’s content. If the paper gets rejected - resubmit. If it gets rejected again, feel free to post it unrefereed online and make bitter comments about what Tipler calls the “pygmies standing in judgement on giants.” Dembski has failed to publish qua mathematician and has proceeded directly to self-publishing. That is a mistake.
  • If ID has something to say about biological evolution, do biological research - not literature surveys, statistical simulations, thought experiments, etc. Generate biological hypotheses that come from the design perspective. Make sure these hypotheses can differentiate between evolutionary and design predictions. Test them using observation or experiment. Rinse. Repeat. Despite what Phil Johnson and others say, radical ideas do get published in mainstream journals. (Tipler implicitly admits this in his paper, as all his Nobel winners did get their papers published in mainstream journals eventually, just not their first-choice journals.)

Only then will the “pygmies” take the “giants” seriously.