The ACLU-PA blog has an interesting post on a key point in the cross examination of Michael Behe in the Dover trial. Behe was asked whether his book, Darwin’s Black Box, had gone through a peer review process similar to the process used for articles submitted to scholarly journal:
It has been stated here before that Behe has not submitted his own work on intelligent design for peer review. At the same time, Behe agreed, when asked by plaintiff’s counsel Eric Rothschild if the “peer review for Darwin’s Black Box was analogous to peer review in the [scientific] literature.” It was, according to Behe, even more rigorous. There were more than twice standard the number of reviewers and “they read [the book] more carefully… because this was a controversial topic.”
One such reviewer, said Behe, was Dr. Michael Atchison, head of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school. “He was selected,” Behe said, “because he was the instructor of the editor’s wife.”
The plaintiff’s attorneys quickly brought the judge’s attention to this article by Dr. Atchison, one of the allegedly high number of reviewers who “read the book more carefully” than they would a normal book because it was a controversial topic. As it turns out, the process wasn’t quite as rigorous as Dr. Behe had claimed. In fact, it wasn’t rigorous at all:
While I was identifying myself as a Christian in Philadelphia, a Biochemist named Michael Behe at Lehigh University was writing a book on evolution. As a Biochemist, Behe found the evidence for Darwinian evolution to be very thin. In fact, when he looked at the cell from a biochemical perspective, he believed there was evidence of intelligent design. Behe sent his completed manuscript to The Free Press publishers for consideration. The editor was not certain that this manuscript was a good risk for publication. There were clearly theological issues at hand, and he was under the impression that these issues would be poorly received by the scientific community. If the tenets of Darwinian evolution were completely accepted by science, who would be interested in buying the book?
The editor shared his concerns with his wife. His wife was a student in my class. She advised her husband to give me a call. So, unaware of all this, I received a phone call from the publisher in New York. We spent approximately 10 minutes on the phone. After hearing a description of the work, I suggested that the editor should seriously consider publishing the manuscript. I told him that the origin of life issue was still up in the air. It sounded like this Behe fellow might have some good ideas, although I could not be certain since I had never seen the manuscript. We hung up and I never thought about it again. At least until two years later.
After some time Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box (The Free Press, 1996) was published. It became an instant best-seller and was widely acclaimed in the news media. It is currently in its 15th printing and over 40,000 copies have been sold. I heard about it, but could not remember if this was the same book that I received the call about from the publisher. Could it be? In November 1998, I finally met Michael Behe when he visited Penn for a Faculty Outreach talk. He told me that yes, indeed, it was his book that the publisher called me about. In fact, he said my comments were the deciding factor in convincing the publisher to go ahead with the book.
There you have it, folks, the ID version of rigorous peer review. The editor of the book wonders if anyone will buy it, and his wife knows a guy who might have an opinion. So he spends 10 minutes on the phone with the guy, gives him a brief overview of the book, and the guy says yeah, that sounds good to me? The key reviewer – the one whose comments were the deciding factor on whether the book got published – spent 10 minutes talking to the book’s editor, never even saw the book and was so ignorant of it that he didn’t even know that it was the same book after he saw it in published form. And this, Behe claimed under oath, constitutes peer review that is more rigorous than the process for a normal scholarly article in a refereed journal. I don’t think that answer was very intelligently designed.