Monday, May 04, 2009

Oops, Forgot About This One...

I forgot that Stephen Meyer published a paper in The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington called The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories, (volume 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239). That, as nearly as anyone knows, is the first and only paper published in a scientific journal that espoused the conclusion of intelligent design. The proceedings is published by the Smithsonian Institution and the publication of this paper set off a firestorm in the academic community, leading to one of the editors of the journal, Richard Sternberg, not being rehired. Sternberg's case was featured in Expelled! as a case of academic persecution.

Ordinarily, a paper is reviewed by a panel of experts who judge the paper either publishable or not. In this case, Sternberg reviewed the paper all by himself and decided to publish it. As NPR put it at the time:
At first he heard rumblings of discontent but thought it would blow over. Sternberg says his colleagues and supervisors at the Smithsonian were furious. He says -- and an independent report backs him up -- that colleagues accused him of fraud, saying they did not believe the Meyer article was really peer reviewed. It was.
Then things got really ugly:
But Sternberg says before closing the case, the special counsel, James McVay, called him with an update. "As he related to me, 'the Smithsonian Institution's reaction to your publishing the Meyer article was far worse than you imagined,'" Sternberg says.

McVay declined an interview. But in a letter to Sternberg, he wrote that officials at the Smithsonian worked with the National Center for Science Education -- a group that opposes intelligent design -- and outlined "a strategy to have you investigated and discredited." Retaliation came in many forms, the letter said. They took away his master key and access to research materials. They spread rumors that Sternberg was not really a scientist. He has two Ph.D.'s in biology -- from Binghamton University and Florida International University. In short, McVay found a hostile work environment based on religious and political discrimination.
While it is true that Sternberg was not a salaried employee, and it is true that his term of employment was up, the vitriol that was directed at him was clearly over the top. What was the fuss about? Why did it generate such reaction? Here is the conclusion from the article:
An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses suggests purposive or intelligent design as a causally adequate--and perhaps the most causally adequate--explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent. For this reason, recent scientific interest in the design hypothesis is unlikely to abate as biologists continue to wrestle with the problem of the origination of biological form and the higher taxa.
Well, that's pretty clear. The proverbial "design inference." The paper was reviewed by Alan Gishlick, Nick Matzke, and Wesley R. Elsberry, who's review was titled "Meyer's Hopeless Monster." It is not kind. The review is lengthy but worth a read of how some papers "slip by" the process. They conclude this way:
There is nothing wrong with challenging conventional wisdom – continuing challenge is a core feature of science. But challengers should at least be aware of, read, cite, and specifically rebut the actual data that supports conventional wisdom, not merely construct a rhetorical edifice out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down strawmen, and tendentious interpretations. Unless and until the “intelligent design” movement does this, they are not seriously in the game. They’re not even playing the same sport.
I realize that a good deal of the above is recap for the events that transpired in 2005 but, since I failed to mention it in the previous post, I present it as a case of ID and its conflict with mainstream science.

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