Sometimes I worry about the state of science today. The majority of students are woefully ignorant about even the most basic scientific concepts. More worrisome, however, ideology drives much of science. Evolution (in the ‘goo to you’ sense) is taught as fact, even though it is, at best, an unconfirmed hypothesis. In an attempt to promulgate this myth, many scientific journals refuse to publish anything that challenges the dogma of evolution.
And if any journal dares to publish a heretical paper, heads must role. For example, when Stephen Meyer sent a paper entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” to the small journal called Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, the editor (Dr. Richard Sternberg), sent it out for peer review. It passed peer review, and it was published. Then, a firestorm occurred. As the Washington Post says
Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution — which has helped fund and run the journal — lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper.
Why did the firestorm occur? Because the paper discussed intelligent design in a positive manner. It doesn’t matter that the paper passed peer review. It doesn’t matter that the reviewers who didn’t even agree with intelligent designed called it meritorious and worthy of publication. The fact that it dared to question the dogma of the day was enough. Sternberg faced retaliation, defamation, and harassment because he allowed heresy to creep into the biological literature.
This is very worrisome, because science is built on debate and disagreement. Without an open debate on what the data mean, scientific progress is slowed. This debate, of course, needs to take place in the scientific literature, so that scientists can keep abreast of not only the data, but the leading interpretations of those data. In most fields, this happens regularly. In the field of biology, however, debate is usually squashed so that the reigning dogma of the day is not challenged.
However, there is hope. There are some peer-reviewed journals that publish scientific heresy. The CRS Quarterly is one such example. The online journal Answers Research Journal is another. However, this is not the ideal situation. Unfortunately, there is little genuine debate in the scientific literature related to biology, since the journals that are approved by the high priests of science expouse only the accepted scientific dogma, and the alternate journals expouse only scientific heresy. The ideal journal would present all views that are backed by the data.
BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal. It aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life…To achieve its aim, BIO-Complexity is founded on the principle of critical exchange that makes science work. Specifically, the journal enlists editors and reviewers with scientific expertise in relevant fields who hold a wide range of views on the merit of ID, but who agree on the importance of science for resolving controversies of this kind.
If the journal lives up to this goal (and that’s a big IF), it will be at the forefront of biology. So far, the two initial papers are pretty much pro-ID. One is a report on original research following several populations of bacteria that had a doubly-mutated gene for the production of tryptophan, one of the 20 amino acids found in living organisms. They were hoping to see one of the populations evolve in a way that would “fix” the two mutations. They called this a “constructive” approach that would use “recruitment” of a nonfunctional gene to produce a functional gene that would be able to produce tryptophan. However, that never happened. Instead, the bacteria continued to acquire mutations that reduced the expression of the mutated gene, thereby increasing their metabolic efficiency. The authors called this a “reductive” approach to the problem. As they note:
If reductive, cost-cutting mutations are more abundant than mutations that convert or improve function, recruitment may be unlikely even in cases where a short adaptive path to a new function exists.
The results are clearly not what one would hope if one were promoting evolution, and I recognize one of the authors, Ralph Seelke. He was mentioned in the documentary Expelled because an evolutionary biologist at Stanford invited him to spend his sabbatical time doing some collaborative research, until the biologist found out he was pro-ID. The biologist then rescinded his invitation. Nevertheless, Seelke was able to spend his sabbatical at Stanford, working for a microbiologist who was more interested in science than in dogma.
The other article is a review article by a strong ID proponent, Douglas D. Axe. It discusses the difficulties protein folding presents to any evolutionary scenario.
So I would put both of these articles in the “pro-ID” camp. Hopefully, some “anti-ID” articles will be published so that some real science can happen. I guess we will just have to wait and see.