Jenner on Meyer’s Paper

In the course of his lengthy discussion of the report on the Sternberg affair, mentioned in the previous post, Ed Brayton links to this discussion of the ID paper that started all the controversy in the first place. The discussion is by Ronald Jenner, of the Section on Evolution and Ecology at the University of Califronia at Davis. Jenner has many enlightening things to say about the merits, or lack thereof, of the paper in question. But there is one place where he gets it sadly wrong. First, we have this:

Let’s take a deep breath, sit back in our chair, and calmly take the measure of the situation. Let me say upfront that I’m not an expert on the topic. Ever since the Jehovah’s witnesses, whom, much to my mum’s chagrin, I invited inside my parental home for coffee, failed to convince me of their creation story, I have not read any ID literature or creationist pamphlets. The reading I did for this column is intended as a one-off exception to this rule.

If you have some experience with the literature on evolution vs. creationism, you probably have a sinking feeling in your stomach right now. One suspects that Jenner is admitting his lack of expertise with a certain touch of pride. Such admissions usually come just before an admonition by the writer for everyone not to overreact to the situation, and that is the case here.

It is frustrating. Those of us who spend a lot of time reading and responding to creationist literature are well familiar with their incessant lies and distortions, their slanders of practicing scientists, and their reliance on embarrassingly weak arguments. This familiarity often leads to a touch of anger in our replies. Then here comes someone like Jenner, who proudly admits his lack of familiarity with the subject, to tell us we are overreacting.

Nonsense. It is he who is underreacting.

And that leads us to the big blunder. Jenner writes:

Meyer’s perspective is distinctly rare in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, which is just as well. But, really, why all the fuss in the media, on the Internet, and in the halls of academia? Should PBSW feel that its reputation is soiled beyond redemption? Should people scream “outrage!” and drop their subscriptions to the journal in a knee-jerk reflex? Could the incident really even be called a “tactical victory” of ID, as Science puts it? I think that the only harm done to science is that PBSW published a paper that is evidently slipshod science, due to a flagrant failure of the reviewing process. However unfortunate that may be, it is nothing new, and it happens to the best. As a result, the only trophy that proponents of ID can really boast about at home is that ID is promoted in a paper that should never have passed the reviewing process, as was belatedly realized by the council of PBSW. In fact, that Meyer promotes ID in his article is, I think, largely beside the point.

Wow. That’s really naive.

ID can only boast that it is promoted in a paper that should never have passed the reviewing process? If Jenner could be troubled to follow this issue a bit, instead of bragging about his lack of expertise, he would know the ID folks have been claiming considerably more than that. The claim they make is that a pro-ID paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Period. Then they use this to claim that evolutionists are lying when they deny the existence of such papers in the literature. The fact that the paper was very bad and published as the result of a dubious peer-review process never gets mentioned. Non-scientists hear “published” and “peer-reviewed” and draw the obvious, and erroneous, conclusions.

Jenner can make this argument because he seems to view the ID folks as scientists with basically the same goals as he, but who happen to have an offbeat and likely incorrect view of evolution. He seems not to consider the possibility that they would behave dishonestly in promoting the virtues of this paper. He should pay attention to outfits like The Discovery Institute, who discuss the paper like this:

On August 4th, 2004 an extensive review essay by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, Director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture appeared in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (volume 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239). The Proceedings is a peer-reviewed biology journal published at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Sounds a lot better than Jenner’s presentation.

It’s true, of course, that substandard papers routinely make it through peer-review (and, alas, that strong papers sometimes don’t). Most of the time this is no big deal, since substandard papers quickly disappear from view. That is not the case with ID papers. Meyer’s paper exists for the sole purpose of providing talking points for people with religious and political axes to grind. The fact that the paper is bunk and published under questionable circumstances gets lost in that context.


  1. #1 RPM
    December 19, 2006

    Jenner writes about Sternberg’s baraminology:

    Sternberg adopts an intellectual position from which he contemplates the world in a general ahistorical, systems-oriented, and non-evolutionary way

    One could say that Jenner approaches creationism in a context independent manner, much like the way Sternberg approaches the diversity of life.

  2. #2 mark
    December 20, 2006

    So Casey Luskin, responding in an opinion piece printed in the York (Pa.) Dispatch, defended the Disco Institute’s smear campaign against Judge Jones, saying the media and the ACLU misrepresent and misunderstand the Institute. He referred to, as evidence, Scott Minnich’s testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover that 7 to 10 peer-reviewed articles supporting intelligent design have been published, including the bastard article Sternberg snuck into the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Isn’t that a convincing piece of evidence?

  3. #3 Joe
    December 23, 2006

    I don’t recall if I already pointed this out, inre peer-review. At Amazon “The Professor” reviewed Scott and Branch’s new book “Not in Our Classrooms.” “The Professor” claims to have published several papers in the field of cell biology, none of them mentioning ID. However, (s)he says the work was all predicated on the notion of ID; therefore his/her publications are peer-reviewed work on ID!?

    I didn’t know whether to s..t or go blind. When I pointed it out to Glenn Branch, he said they’ve been promoting that notion for a while.