ID article in the Journal of Theoretical Biology

The Journal of Theoretical Biology appears to have published an article on intelligent-design creationism. Specifically, Steinar Thorvaldsen of the Department of Education, University of Tromsø, Norway; and Ola Hössjer of the Department of Mathematics, Stockholm University, Sweden, recently published a paper, Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems, which attempts to apply fine-tuning arguments to biology. I read the paper comparatively cursorily and did not fully understand it, not because it is above my pay grade, but because it is in a different department. It appears, though, to be applying arguments that reiterate William Dembski’s specified complexity and Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity, and repurposing them as a fine-tuning argument for biology.

And sure enough, within days, three biologists from Georgia Tech, Joseph Lachance, Corinne N. Simonti, and Joshua S. Weitz, submitted a rebuttal, Large sample spaces do not imply biological systems are ‘fine-tuned’, which has apparently already been accepted for the December 7 issue of the journal. Both the original article and the rebuttal are open access.

The editors of the journal, Denise Kirschner, Mark Chaplain, and Akira Sasaki, jointly penned a Disclaimer, also for the December 7 issue. Unlike the original article and the letter to the editor, the disclaimer is, oddly, behind a paywall, even though the original article now displays a prominent link to that disclaimer. At any rate, the disclaimer is only one paragraph and was posted in Peaceful Science:

The Journal of Theoretical Biology and its co-Chief Editors do not endorse in any way the ideology of nor reasoning behind the concept of intelligent design. Since the publication of the paper it has now become evident that the authors are connected to a creationist group (although their addresses are given on the paper as departments in bona fide universities). We were unaware of this fact while the paper was being reviewed. Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors. We have removed these from the online version of this paper. We believe that intelligent design is not in any way a suitable topic for the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

It appears that the article has slipped past the editors, and they are trying to do damage control. I cannot fault the editors: the authors had legitimate university affiliations, and they have no obligation to state all the organizations they belong to, unless they perceive a conflict of interest. I doubt that the editor-in-chief of any journal reads all the articles in their entirety. I wonder, however, about the reviewing process and specifically about the reviewers: how were they chosen, and were they all suggested by the authors of the paper? Even more, I wonder whether the authors deliberately withheld the key word intelligent design until the paper was in print and outside the purview of the editors.

Thanks to Joshua Swamidass for alerting us to the original article and the disclaimer at Peaceful Science, and also for commenting on and improving this article.