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Intelligent Design and Peer Review

Peer review is a standard process by which proposed papers for scientific journals, presentations at scientific meetings, or requests for research funding are evaluated in terms of their scientific appropriateness and possible contribution to the advancement of science. The reviewers are experts in the relevant scientific fields who have no conflict of interest with or especially close personal relationships to the authors or requestors.

One of the criticisms that the so-called "intelligent design movement" (ID) has had to face is that papers supporting an ID position have not appeared in peer reviewed scientific journals. In fact, the one online "journal" of the virtual association [ISCID] created by ID advocates is critical of standard scientific peer review, charging that it impedes the introduction of novel ideas. This is why, in the light of broad scientific criticism of the ID position, advocates have consistently published outside the normal scientific literature.

However, in June 2004, a paper by Stephen Meyer advocating ID was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (i.e., DC). The Society was founded in 1880. Its journal, The Proceedings, describes itself as "a quarterly publication consisting of articles focusing on systematic biology, taxonomy, biogeography, and phylogenetic studies." The Society has a membership of approximately 250.

A scientific critique of the paper concludes that the paper is "a rhetorical edifice [constructed] out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down strawmen, and tendentious interpretations."

In addition, the governing Council of the Biological Society of Washington issued a statement which declared:

"The paper by Stephen C. Meyer in the Proceedings ("The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239) represents a significant departure from the nearly purely taxonomic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 124-year history. It was published without the prior knowledge of the Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, or the associate editors. We have met and determined that all of us would have deemed this paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings.

We endorse the spirit of a resolution on Intelligent Design set forth by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and that topic will not be addressed in future issues of the Proceedings. We are reviewing editorial policies to ensure that the goals of the Society, as reflected in its journal, are clearly understood by all. Through a web presence and contemplated improvements in the journal, the Society hopes not only to continue but to increase its service to the world community of taxonomic biologists."

Stephen Meyer, the author of the paper, is Director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (DI/CSC), the primary institutional advocate of ID. He earned a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. He is also University Professor of the Conceptual Foundations of Science at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a theologically conservative Christian institution.

The editor for the issue of the Proceedings in which the Meyer article appears was Richard Sternberg, Research Associate in the Department of Systematic Biology (Invertebrate Zoology) of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. He is also a Fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID), which promotes intelligent design, and serves on the Editorial Board of the Baraminology Study Group, a creation science group. Given these associations, Dr. Sternberg would appear to be, at very least, an advocate for "intelligent design" and critical of standard peer review processes as they bear on the scientific assessment of the "intelligent design" hypothesis.

The external reviewers of the paper are unknown.

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