|Science book delayed when someone notices it's written by creationists|
|Friday, 09 March 2012 10:24|
Once again, Evil Scientists have thwarted a plan by those vile Creationists to take over the world
Creation Science and its more moderate offspring, Intelligent Design (ID), have never been taken seriously by scientists. This is because most of the actual science is poor, and in ID, at least, is never about the designer. Because of this, ID's supporters have difficulty publishing in the scientific literature, so they have to resort to other methods of getting their message out, like starting their own journal. Their latest ruse is to hold a conference and publish a book of conference proceedings.
This all unravelled last week when someone noticed. A long time ID watcher known online as "sparc" saw that the German publishers, Springer-Verlag, announced a book edited with the title Biological Information: New Perspectives. The editors of the book were well known names: Robert Marks II, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Bruce Gordon, and John Sanford. Despite clearly being an ID book (more on that below), it was being published in the "Intelligent Systems Reference Library" series in Engineering and Applied Science, i.e., not in biology. The more cynical (sensu Sir Humphrey) suspected this was an attempt to get the book through the Springer review process by sending it to an editor less likely to understand the context of the book and its proposal. The senior editor (Marks) is a computer scientist, who apparently is well respected in his field, and it may be that his reputation helped steer the book proposal through the publisher.
After some digging around by ID watchers, the following story has emerged. The book is a collection of papers presented at a meeting held on the campus of Cornell University, in the School of Hotel Administration(!). About 120 people were invited, including roughly 27 speakers. Presumably this was arranged by John Sanford, who is a "courtesy professor" at Cornell (meaning, he was a professor, but retired in 1998, evidently to spend more time with his gene gun).
But what is the book about? This is how the book's blurb described it:
The clear themes sound pretty much like biology to me, only loosely linked to intelligent systems. It also differs somewhat from how the meeting was described by its organiser, John Sandford (starting at 30:08 here, transcribed by me):
So "Darwin was wrong" somehow is transmuted into "conventional chemical and evolutionary mechanisms seem insufficient to fully explain the labyrinth of information that is life" (this is Science Communication [tm] at its finest). An analysis of the titles of the talks at the meeting definitely identified co-authors for 10 of the chapters in the book, and provide good guesses for the identities for 10 more authors. Almost all are either YECs, young earth creationists (Sanford is a YEC), or part of the ID crowd, associated with the Discovery Institute in Seattle. The titles suggest the usual creationist nonsense, claiming that evolution can't create the complexity we see (but remaining almost uniformly silent on how this complexity arose).
As the contents of the volume are the typical ID/creationist subjects, how did this book get accepted by Springer-Verlag? Presumably the proposal to have the book published didn't mention ID (nor creationism), but what did it say? Presumably, it would have been more detailed than the book's blurb, and would probably have listed the proposed chapters and authors. I think this would have been spotted rather quickly by biologists, so sending the proposal to an engineering/computer science editor makes sense. But who were the reviewers? Marks II & co. would have provided some suggestions (presumably their friends), but did Springer ask anyone else? And did they query the book's suitability for their Intelligent Systems section?
A couple of days after the book was noticed, the announcement on Springer's webpages disappeared. The editors decided that "additional peer review would be necessary", according to their executive vice president of corporate communications, which sounds like there was a collective "oh bugger" when Springer realised their mistake, so they've bought themselves some time to sort out the mess. Of course, this may not mean that they won't publish the book anyway: they may decide that the extra sales to creationists is worth the hit to their credibility (especially if they reduce the price from the $179 it was originally listed for). This would also avoid the inevitable accusations of suppression of creationist viewpoints, recriminations that don't impress proper scientists. Perhaps Springer may try to have the best of both worlds by publishing it in their Design section, alongside titles like Functional Aesthetics, Emergency Design, and Max von Moos' Surrealistic Depiction of War [Das surrealistische Kriegsbild bei Max von Moos].
This is just the latest chapter in the normal fun-and-games saga that is the ID circus. But, bizarrely, the ID crowd hasn't come out to play this time. Since the withdrawal of the book announcement, all that we've seen has been a couple quotes in an article online, and a post on the Discovery Institute's blog, which was quickly taken down. This is surprising, as the Disco Institute is usually quick to leap up and down complaining that they're being oppressed. So why has there barely been a peep out of them? Don't they care any more? Are they too busy doing more Sooper Top Seekrit Science? Or are they being oppressed by their lawyers?
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Bob O'Hara is a biostatisician who conducts research at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Germany. In his free time, he writes the blog, Deep Thoughts and Silliness at Nature Network and he tweets from his twitter account @BobOHara
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