Stranger Fruit

On The Lesser-Spotted ID Paper

In April 2005, I posted a piece (reproduced below the cut) that discussed Evolutionary Monographs as the putative outlet for Paul Nelson’s 1998 Ph.D. thesis, a thesis that argues against common descent. In comments over at the Panda’s Thumb, Nelson noted that:

Bill Dembski and I have been working on a shorter article, with some of the monograph’s main points, which we plan to submit to the best peer-reviewed biology journal we can find. (Comment of May 2nd 2005)

We’re still waiting, and considering Dembski’s proclivity for posting papers online to get comments from detractors, this is all sounding like Nelson’s idea of “ontogenetic depth“.

The original post from April 30th 2005 follows:

For some years now, we have been hearing about Paul Nelson?s forthcoming monograph On Common Descent, which one assumes will stem from his now nearly seven year old PhD in philosophy Common Descent, Generative Entrenchment, and the Epistemology in Evolutionary Inference. As the DI/CSC website notes, ?[h]is forthcoming monograph, On Common Descent, critically evaulates the theory of common descent, and is being edited for the series Evolutionary Monographs.? The Wedge document notes:

William Dembski and Paul Nelson, two CRSC Fellows, will very soon have books published by major secular university publishers, Cambridge University Press and The University of Chicago Press, respectively. ? Nelson?s book, On Common Descent, is the seventeenth book in the prestigious University of Chicago ?Evolutionary Monographs? series and the first to critique neo-Darwinism.

Ignoring that the book has been in press for nearly seven years now (surely a record!), these references had been puzzling me for some while. Though trained as an evolutionary biologist, I had never read ?the prestigious University of Chicago ?Evolutionary Monographs? series? and had never seen it referred to in research papers. Indeed, I had – wrongly – assumed that the Evolutionary Monographs series had something to do with the University of Chicago Press. Checking the UCP website revealed no such series. So, off to the library I went.

Evolutionary Monographs was formed in 1979 by the paleontologist Leigh Van Valen. with an initial mission statement as follows:

Evolutionary Monographs is a new monograph series for all the evolutionary half of biology, sponsored by the Society for the Study of Evolution. The series is designed for monographs and other papers that are two long for unsubsidized publication in ordinary journals. (J. Morph 164: 311)

All good. It leads one to wonder what types of ?monographs? are intended. In the fifteen years between 1979 and 1994, fifteen monographs appeared, usually in the 60 to 80 page range. Virtually all of these are taxonomic or descriptive works what – for various reasons – usually are eschewed by mainstream journals. This is not to argue that the works below are not valuable or professional, far from it, but that Evolutionary Monographs is a specialized outlet for certain types of publication, chiefly in taxonomy or morphology. Indeed, the published monographs are very similar to papers that would appear in a journal such as Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Are we sensing a pattern here?

  1. The comparative osteology and phylogeny of the Beryciformes (Pisces: Telostei) / Steven J. Zehren. (1979, 389 pp)
  2. Fossil history of the rodent genus Sigmodon / Robert A. Martin. (1979, 36pp.)
  3. Swain Quarry of the Fort Union Formation, middle Paleocene (Torrejonian), Carbon County, Wyoming, geologic setting and mammalian fauna / J. Keith Rigby Jr. (1980, 179pp)
  4. Biology of Ithycerus noveboracensis (Forster) (Coleoptera) and weevil phylogeny / Michael Sanborne. (1981, 80pp)
  5. The new world species of Cynanchum L. subgenus Mellichampia (A. Gray ex S. Wats.) Woods. (Asclepiadaceae) / Eric Sundell. (1981, 63pp.)
  6. Miocene-Pleistocene planktic foraminifers from D.S.D.P. sites 208 and 77 : and phylogeny and classification of Cenozoic species / Barry G. Fordham. (1986, 200 pp.)
  7. On competition / C.T. de Wit. (1986, 82pp)*
  8. A revision of the genus Prionocera (Diptera, Tipulidae) / Fenja Brodo. (1987, 93 pp)
  9. Revision of the Nearctic Dicrotendipes Kieffer, 1913 (Diptera, Chironomidae) / J.H. Epler. (1987, 109pp)
  10. Paleocene dinosaurs or Cretaceous ungulates in South America / Leigh M. Van Valen. (1988, 79pp)
  11. Revision of the weevil genus Tyloderma Say (Col., Curculionidae) in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies / Guillermo J. Wibmer. (1989, 111pp)
  12. A comparative study of the developmental osteology of Syngnathus scovelli and Hippocampus zosterae (Pisces, Syngnathidae) and its phylogenetic implications / Marie Y. Azzarello. (1990, 90pp)
  13. Global extinctions, recoveries and evolutionary consequences / John C. Briggs. (1990, 47pp)
  14. La fauna local de Punta Peligro, Paleoceno Inferior, de la Provincia del Chubut, Patagonia, Argentina / J.F. Bonaparte, L.M. Van Valen and A. Kramartz. (1993, 61pp)
  15. The origin of the plesiadapid primates and the nature of Purgatorius / Leigh M. Van Valen. (1994, 79pp.)

The last published monographs date from over ten years ago. They are typed manuscripts, nowhere near the quality of printed volumes either from academic presses or from journal publishers. Indeed, the information for authors notes that ?[a]ll accepted monographs will be retyped by the author, instructions for this being given with notification of acceptance. Such retyping constitutes page proofs.? As such, Evolutionary Monographs very much resembles Van Valen?s other self-published product, Evolutionary Theory (which I had heard of!).

While it is clear that the production values of the series are perhaps ?second tier,? the series does have an editorial board who suggest referees for submissions. In 1994, the board contained some well known names; Gould, Hull, Lewontin, Nevo, Ostrom, Provine, Schopf, Simberloff, Wake, and Wiley.

Regarding theses, the instructions for authors note that ?theses are welcomed but must be revised into publishable form. This should be done by the author before submission; otherwise the manuscript will be returned to the author without review.? I have Nelson?s 241 page thesis of August 1998 in front of me. The Wedge document has been dated to the same year. Thus, Nelson completing his PhD and his submission of a modified manuscript must have been separated by very little time. Assuming referees approved – and the Wedge document and other mentions indicate that the manuscript is in press – Nelson appears to be taking an inordinate amount of time to submit his final version to Leigh Van Valen.

Bill Dembski noted in 2000:

I challenge anyone to read Paul Nelson?s ?On Common Descent?, which critiques Darwin?s idea of common descent from the vantage of developmental biology, and show why it alone among all the volumes in the University of Chicago?s Evolutionary Monographs Series does not belong there

Five years later, we?re still waiting. Evolutionary Monographs is not really the ?prestigious? outlet that ID supporters would like one to believe; it is largely a venue for taxonomic work, and in that sense On Common Descent does not really belong there. Given that Nelson?s manuscript must have passed muster with referees chosen by the editorial board, one is left asking how come a PhD thesis that was good enough for the University of Chicago?s Department of Philosophy, has not been submitted to a more prestigeous publisher?

* This is a reprint of a 1960 work.


  1. #1 Whatever
    August 6, 2006

    I’m sure Rivista di Biologia would publish it…

  2. #2 Friend Fruit
    August 6, 2006

    Perhaps the ID folks could form their own publishing house to handle this sort of thing. It might start as a subdivision of Regnery Press, and of course they would give it a name that connoted quality and authority, such as, “Actual Quality Science That Is In No Way A Front For Religion, Praise The Lord, Press“.

  3. #3 John Wilkins
    August 6, 2006

    Note that Susan Abrams, the editor of Chicago’s evolution and philosophy books, died in 2003. Since then Chicago has lacked an editor with her skill, and a number of series have fallen by the wayside since.

  4. #4 John Lynch
    August 6, 2006

    Susan will be missed (and has been), but UCP has nothing to do with Evolutionary Monorgraphs – it’s a self-published thing done by Leigh VanValen. So Susan’s death offers no excuse.

  5. #5 Doc Bill
    August 6, 2006

    DC Comics could use a new series.

  6. #6 sparc
    August 7, 2006

    self-publishing seems to be en vougue in ID circles. Recently, Dembski announced a new german book on ID:
    (Markus Rammersdorfer (2006): Nur eine Illusion. Tectum Verlag, Marburg; ISBN 3-8288-9117-9)

    Tectum is a publisher where one can publish PhD-thesis or some other text on ones own costs. Tectum will organize an ISBN and post the publication at and other online book sellers’ web pages. If more then 300 books are sold the author will get some money back. Thus, it’s a safe bet for Tectum even if no book is sold at all.

    Editorial work is available at extra costs but limited to proof reading for spelling mistakes etc. However, there is no scientific review by the publisher and the author remains solely responsible for the text.

    I have purchased the book and started reading it. However, I have stopped somewhere in the middle since there is nothing new in it: Behe, Dembski etc. with some emphasis on Scherer’s basic types and the work of other german speaking ID proponents (Junker, Loennig) whom Rammerstorfer actually thanks for help.

  7. #7 keiths
    August 7, 2006

    I corresponded with Paul in February. He was leery of promising a publication date, but he did say that “the monograph should be out this summer”.

  8. #8 Yamila
    September 12, 2006

    do you have a copy of
    La fauna local de Punta Peligro, Paleoceno Inferior, de la Provincia del Chubut, Patagonia, Argentina / J.F. Bonaparte, L.M. Van Valen and A. Kramartz. (1993, 61pp)

    Or do you know where i can get it, or there is a pdf copy of it?
    I would really like to have a look at it, I used to have a hard copy of it, but have left it behind in Buenos Aires and now need to know something from that publication.


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