Adam Marcus at Retraction Watch has taken notice of the editorial disclaimer slapped on a pro-intelligent design research article in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. He makes a helpful observation. Editors at science journals, when they want to distance themselves from what they have published, commonly resort to “technicalities” — “finding a technicality instead of engaging with the real issues — when they publish something embarrassing.” That perfectly describes the editors’ complaint about putting “intelligent design” in the keywords.
As Evolution News observes, of course ID belongs in the keywords. It’s an article about intelligent design, for goodness sake, about the fine-tuning in biology. And it uses that language (“design” and “intelligent design”) explicitly. To help Internet search engines find your work, why in the world would you NOT put ID in the keywords?
Authors Even Put It in Italics
I want to emphasize something else that’s obvious. The authors of the article, Steinar Thorvaldsen and Ola Hössjer, are being turned into the fall guys here. They produced an article that, given the restrained way of writing that’s characteristic of scientific journals, couldn’t be clearer in its objective but favorable treatment of what it also calls, in the final words of the final sentence, “Design Science.” Right, they even put it in italics for you, so you can’t miss the point.
Now the three co-Chief Editors — Denise Kirschner, Mark Chaplain, and Akira Sasaki — insinuate that they were somehow misled, by the addition of the keyword, by the fact that the authors are pro-ID, which they could have figured out from reading the paper. The paper cites numerous ID proponents, ideas, and, again, uses the phrase “intelligent design” explicitly. The editors now say, “We believe that intelligent design is not in any way a suitable topic for the Journal of Theoretical Biology.”
Well, there are only two possibilities. (a) The editors believed ID was unsuitable for discussion at the time of accepting the paper. In that case, they are guilty of notable incompetence in allowing through an article openly arguing for intelligent design. Or, (b) They believed that ID is suitable for discussion in a prominent science journal, and that’s why they considered and accepted the paper (while subjecting to the normal peer-review, which goes without saying).
Editors Can’t Be That Inept
I’m not just giving the benefit of the doubt when I say I don’t believe that possibility (a) is credible. Surely you can’t rise to sufficient prominence in your scientific field while being so inept that the three of you, Dr. Kirschner, Dr. Chaplain, and Dr. Sasaki, could read a paper, approve it, and not realize what it was about. Or that the three of you could jointly publish a paper none of you had read. Sorry. No way.
That leaves us with possibility (b). The co-Chief Editors jointly understood that ID was under discussion in their journal, and they thought that was suitable. So what happened, then? I’m no mind reader, but the only explanation I can think of is that when word of the paper got out and Darwinists ganged up on them, the editors backed down. I can understand that. That’s what a lot of people would do when the bullies and censors come after you. They had their reputations, their careers and livelihoods, at stake. They folded. It’s only human.
What’s reprehensible is turning the authors into the fall guys: blaming the whole thing on them, though they did nothing wrong. On the contrary, they wrote an article interesting and rigorous enough that, as John West points out, whatever anti-ID prejudices the editors had were overcome.
Talk about a disturbing look inside the sausage factory. The disclaimer may not have been the editors’ own choice. Perhaps they were compelled by the publisher, Elsevier. It doesn’t matter. As Retraction Watch notes, hanging a disclaimer or retraction on technicalities is standard operating procedure for science journals. I can’t speak to such cases in general, but in this case — one of blaming the innocent when what you are really seeking to do is save your own skin — it is wrong, it is corrupt, and it is cowardly.
Whatever the strength of the article’s argument for intelligent design — and readers should judge that for themselves — the episode says as much about the corruption of professional science, how fear and dishonesty reign there. It’s how the “consensus” is maintained. For those who are always lecturing us about “Follow the science” and “Believe the scientists,” this episode should be an eye opener.