This is not peer-review

Whoa, they are coming thick and fast this week.

A screen shot from the film Super of God touching Frank's brain
 This is inspired by my previous post that talked a little about peer-review. Actually it is the other way around. I got side tracked before I got started but was reminded about my initial idea after seeing this post over at Pharyngula about a terrible piece of Intelligent Design (ID) masquerading as science published. My idea initially came from a the list of peer-reviewed article by Discovery Institute (DI) members proudly displayed on their website. I scanned the list and noticed the journal called BIO-complexity popping up often. The name immediately set alarm bells off. It sounds very ID like: they love complexity as if it were some massive hurdle for evolution to overcome.

I googled BIO-complexity and guess what? It is just as I suspected. The opening line of their purpose statement is classic: "BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal" (my emphasis). Unique indeed, peer-reviewed in the fairest sense, probably not. Although given that the journal has been around for two years and only has seven published articles could mean that they have such high standards very few manuscripts make it to publication. Again, probably not. Looking at the authors of the papers is no surprise, it is all the usual suspects, Gauger, Dempski, Axe et al. Moreover, in 2011 Axe was an author on two of the three articles in 2011 and two of the four in 2010. He is also the managing editor of the journal. A look at the editorial board shows that most of the authors are on the editorial board. Seems like bullshit to me. One the editors is the author of the paper criticised by PZ in the post linked above.

So is it appropriate for the DI to make claims about their members publishing in peer-reviewed journals if they are all just reviewing each others work? Well this is not unlike 'mainstream' science. In fact the word peer by definition means that is exactly what happens. But, the case of Lynn Margulis pulling a shifty to get Donald I. Williamson's paper published shows that there can be flaws in the peer-review process among mainstream journals. However, the science literature has a final line of defence in the form of commentary. If a published paper is found by another scientist in the field to be faulty, they can submit a comment to the journal arguing the case. This is exactly what happened with the above paper as with other famous cases like 'arsenic life'.

Not to worry though because according to BIO-Complexity they accept comments or Critiques as they call them. They also say that they "[all research articles] will followed by a brief published Critique when this becomes available." To date there have been no critiques published on any of their five research articles or critical reviews. In science, all comments are peer-reviewed as you would expect. Is it the same for BIO-Complextiy? Apparently not. Commentary is not peer-reviewed. Instead comments are published " at the sole discretion of the editor of the original article". So if I submit a comment challenging any of the papers published the editor is not likely to publish it because they look bad for publishing the original article. Basically because all the crap they publish is supportive of the underlying goals of the journal, all the authors who publish in the journal, and the most likely the ID community at large no comments will ever be published. How dishonest.

3 comments:

Paul said...

Personally, I enjoy the irony of them calling themselves the 'Discovery Institute'. Discovered much lately, guys?

BIO-Complexity is a thoroughly non-scientific publication, run by an incestuous bunch of phonies, as you show here. I debunked one of their 'peer-reviewed' papers last year here.

Jarrod said...

Ah yes. I didn't realise it was the same journal. Classic how the same bullshit pops up independently all over the shop.

Paul said...

Even a young earth creationist named Todd Wood weighed in to slate the journal's standards:

"As I quoted above, the journal is supposed to be about "testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life," which is a great goal. But this is the fifth paper published by BIO-Complexity, and it's the fifth paper that focuses on perceived inadequacies of evolution. So when are we going to test "the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life?"

Not only do they fail to meet standards of peer review, but they fail to meet their own stated aims!

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