Creationist Peer Review

A note from the editors — play the ball, not the man

CEN Technical Journal (now CMI’s Journal of Creation) 13 (1) 1999 – source.

The problem with peer review as practised by creationists, is that the peer reviewers are creationists.

This is a cheap shot, I know, but I don’t mean it like that – not entirely, anyway. A more subtle point is that there aren’t a lot of so-called creation scientists, and they are spread out over widely disparate fields. Even if we take them all to be reputable and honest, who among them is qualified to properly review the work of the rest?

Consider Nathaniel Jeanson’s December 2013 Answers Research Journal article on mitochondrial genetics. Jeanson got his PhD for adult stem cell work, but his work for the ICR has been related to the genetics that supposedly underlie baraminology. My own post on the paper lists only a fraction of the litany of errors – both editorial and scientific – that should really have been picked up prior to publication. Jeanson lists the following acknowledgements:

Special thanks to Daryl Robbins for Python scripting and database creation. Additional thanks to Paul Nelson and Steve Hopper for stimulating and helpful discussions. Thanks to Jeff Tomkins, Brian Thomas, Frank Sherwin, Robert Carter, Matthew Cserháti, and several other reviewers for helpful comments and criticisms.

Peer review failed this paper, but how?

In the July 2014 edition of the ICR’s newsletter Acts & Facts Jason Lisle has an article titled “The Biblical Basis for Peer Review.” It contains lots of Proverbs references that we wont get into, but it also includes the following description of how the process is supposed to go:

To that end, a scientist will write a paper explaining his or her experiment, observations, reasoning, and conclusions, and will then submit that paper for publication in a technical science journal. The journal content editor forwards the paper to several experts—usually people with Ph.D.s in relevant fields—and asks for their assessment. The reviewers examine the article carefully, looking for factual errors, unsupported claims, logical fallacies, and scientific clarity, and give feedback to the journal editor. The editor then passes along any suggested changes to the author, who adjusts his or her paper accordingly.

Ignoring the credentialism, the “relevant fields” part is important here. With each person seemingly heading off in their own direction there aren’t going to be a lot of their peers in fields relevant enough to really catch every error. When Lisle himself writes about his anisotropic synchrony convention, how many of his fellow creationists can follow along?

Russell Humphreys replies

Russell Humphreys responds to Hugh Ross’ “scorn,” 1999.

Of course, as a counterpoint it seems that in the late 1990’s there were plenty of people prepared to pick apart D. Russell Humphreys’ Starlight and Time, a book which tried to solve the same problem as Lisle’s ASC. As you can see from the excerpts I’ve given, which I ran into the other day down a rabbit hole somewhere, this got quite heated. You can also see that Humphreys, at least, is quite well described by the following paragraph from Lisle’s article:

Unfortunately, we live in an age where many people do not want to be held accountable to anyone or anything. They want to live autonomously as a god unto themselves, do not want to be corrected, and will make excuses for why they don’t need to be corrected. It’s an ironic truth that those who are the most resistant to peer review are those who most desperately need it. People who humbly embrace correction are quick to correct their mistakes and therefore need far less correction in the future (Proverbs 9:9). The stubborn are slow to be corrected, and their errors continue (Proverbs 29:1).

Some creationists are more receptive to correction than others, but there is no shortage of those that fall afoul of those verses.

Peer review has it’s flaws, Lisle acknowledges, but he contends that it is still useful – because it’s “biblical”:

As one example, a naysayer might point out that peer-review is not perfect and at times fails to result in an accurate paper, “so why bother with it?” Since human beings are prone to error, any process involving them will occasionally fail. Peer-review is no exception, particularly with journal editors who scoff at Scripture. Likewise, our court system sometimes fails to give the correct verdict. But should we do away with courts? The system isn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect, but the system is good because it is biblical.

You will note the dig at secular journals “who scoff at Scripture,” which Lisle asserts are more prone to error than creationists. But that can’t deflect from the Jeanson paper, which is hardly the only example of its kind. Take a look at those acknowledgements again: of those names that you recognise, how many of them are work in what you would call a “relevant field”? This is my pet theory: even if young-Earth creationism really was on to something, and the underlying principles were sound, they would still be prone to spouting nonsense – and they wouldn’t even know, because who else can check?

What should they do about this? They could cry persecution, and that nobody gives them any money, but that won’t actually help. Alternatively they could re-evaluate their efforts, and rather than wandering off in different directions they could keep to the basics so they can check each others’ notes, in the hope of maybe producing something that could be mistaken for quality in a poor light (and make my job a bit harder to boot). It’s their decision.

Lisle concludes with this interesting paragraph:

Be cautious of “Lone Ranger” creationists—those people who proclaim unverified pet “theories” and who resist peer review. God alone is above criticism. Also be discerning of articles that are not peer reviewed, such as many that appear on the Internet. It’s not that such articles are necessarily wrong, but their reliability is in question. Of course, we should be discerning in all things. Content editors are also not infallible—even peer-reviewed articles are sometimes wrong, and editors sometimes will mistakenly reject a paper that has merit. Therefore, let us test all things against the infallible standard of God’s Word and ask God to give us all a teachable spirit.

This could be taken as a condemnation of the cottage industry of small creationist blogs and “apologetics ministries” that dot the internet, and not without good reason: they’re pretty terrible. But what should their readers refer to instead? It’s heavily implied throughout that the ICR’s own articles are peer reviewed, and as it happens we actually got to see part of the editorial process of a Creation Science Update back in January. You can make up your own opinion about whether or not that counts.

What do we make of all this? The ICR is in favour of peer review, and responding positively to criticism, but at the same time creationists don’t seem to be universally great at either of them. Peer review might be vaguely in keeping with some comments in the book of Proverbs, but that doesn’t mean that they way it is implemented is necessarily good. And then there’s my contention that there is something rotten in creation science that goes beyond the inherent wrongness of young-Earth creationism.

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9 thoughts on “Creationist Peer Review

  1. Well, this is Jason “1. If the Bible were not true, logic would not be meaningful. 2. Logic is meaningful. 3. Therefore, the Bible is true.” Lisle you’re quoting here…

    Primarily, though, I think you’ve mostly demonstrated that they’re not interested in review as anything beyond using “peer review” as a pair of magic words to get them out of things, much like someone might use the words “open mind”. It’s meaningless drivel at the end of it, but it conveys a superficial quality that can hoodwink people long enough to believe it. It’s patently obvious if you read any of the mission statements from the thankfully-few creationists ‘journals’ that exist.

  2. Creationists whether they practise in the sciences or not are at heart biblical inerrantists. They subscribe to a particular theology which is Platonic rather than biblical. If you believe their interetation and precisely follow their model of Jesus of Nazareth and their view of his preaching then when you die your disembodied soul will go to live for ever in a place called heaven. If you want to know what that will be like you have to interpret the Revelation to St John their way. Part of their theological process is to assign to words meanings that uphold this view. For example the creation is perfect in a Greek sense of being in a state of perfection that can only be marred but never grow. Thus the fall of man was a downward move in the same way that all the walls of a house on the North Pole face south. If they had taken a Hebrew sense of perfection they might have envisaged a creation that was working the way it was intended to and there would be plenty of scope for evolution. But they don’t and this why they are as opposed to any notions of theistic evolution as vehemently as they are to “secular” evolution.
    They do the same with modern words and concepts. Peer review is review by someone who has academic credetntials equivalent to mine AND shares my creationist world view. Anyone else is not my peer. Open minded means open to what I want you to think. My viewpoint says all other viewpoints are wrong. Therefore if you entertain any other view but mine you are rejecting my views and are therefore not open minded. Their idea of tolerance works the same way. Tolerate any viewpoint other than ours, which declares that all other views are wrong, and you are intolerant of our viewpoint or simply intolerant .
    All of their science is based on their theology which they claim to be based on the Bible, but the Bible actually does not support their theology, even though some of it can be twisted to appear to do so. So their science is unsupported either by the known facts of how the world works or from a theological viewpoint.
    (Since I pulled your leg about a typo a couple of posts back, I expect you to do the same. )

  3. Sorry for jumping the gun with my comments on peer review last week, but I would have made largely the same observations. I agree that among the problems are the relatively small number of creationists, and the even smaller number with expertise in relevant fields. Another is that often YEC authors don’t even seem to make use of the most knowledgeable YECs on particular topics, let alone conventional workers. So in organizations like ICR and AIG, most articles are written and ‘”reviewed” by essentially the same small circle of YECs, with expected outcomes. For example, as I mentioned last week, in the same issue of Acts and Facts, John Morris wrote an article on Whale Evolution which was so shallow and misleading that I would be shocked if he had any paleontologist review it (even one of the few YEC paleontologists, like Kurt wise), let alone an expert on whale evolution such as Hans Thewissen. In short, it’s ironic that in the same publication in which ICR praises peer review, they demonstrate that they actually make little use of it, and have nothing close to the rigorous peer review process of legitimate scientific publications.

  4. When I said “small number of creationists” I meant to say _creationist scientists_. Although many polls show over 40% of Americans accept the basic tenets of YECism, they also show that less than 5% of all American scientists do, and among those working in the most relevant fields (geology, paleontology, genetics), it’s far less than 1%. In fact, among hundreds of professional paleontologists in America, as far as I know only one (Kurt Wise) is a YEC, and even he has admitted he holds to YECism mainly for religions reasons. Even old-earth creationist Greg Neyman calculates that among working earth and life scientists, only about 0.15 percent of are YECs, and if restricted to earth scientists only about 0.0007%.are, even tho a significant portion are Christians or other theists. That seems hard for YECs to explain if both the Bible and empirical evidence support YECism as they insist. Of course, as Neyman notes, one could reasonably conclude that 0% of scientists are YECs, since their commitment to preconceived ideas, not matter what the evidence shows, disqualifies them as real scientists. http://www.oldearth.org/faq.htm

  5. Creationist peer review is like the name scientific creationism – it’s a word applied to themselves to make them seem like something they’re not.

    You can dress monkeys in lab coats and have them move test tubes from one rack to another and say “look, monkeys are doing science!” but they’re not – they’re just monkeys putting on an act.

    Or, to put this in christian extremist terms that creationists would understand:

    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. MATT 23:27

    Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe,[a] that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. MATT 23:1

  6. Peer review is review by peers. That should be easily understood. Asserting that creationist peer review is not peer review is contradictory. Subjecting creationist peer review to evolutionary scientists is irrational. So is doing the opposite.

    • Gordon, you are missing some important points. In a legitimate scientific publication, the author who submits a paper has usually done his best to do a careful and thorough job or research and understanding other work in the field, and the publication uses other experts in the field to review the publication. In the case of most YEC articles, the author doesn’t meet the first criterion, and the “reviewers” are not experts in the field, or even close. For example, in the same ICR article touting peer review, there is (ironically) an article on whale evolution by John Morris (president of ICR). Apparently Morris has done no original research on whale evolution, or paleontology in general, and the article was clearly not reviewed by any experts in the field. That YECs have almost no experts in certain fields (like paleontology) is part of the problem, and the reason why they should use mainstream ones when this is the case. Another problem is that unlike real scientists, YECs force all data to match their preconceived dogmas. Sadly, they often do not even use the best workers in their own camp to review articles. For example, in this case Morris could have had the paper reviewed (or even written) by Kurt Wise, the only YEC paleontologist in American. Even tho he is not an expert on whale evolution, at least he knows more about fossils than Morris. But it’s highly unlikely Wise was a reviewer. Indeed, Morris’ article is so full of errors, oversimplifications and misleading statements that any peer review must have been for spelling and grammar, and assurance that it promoted YECism, rather than anything of scientific substance. Peter’s previous posts gave evidence that this is typical of ICR “peer review.” From what I’ve seen, it’s typical of YEC “peer review” in general.

  7. Lest someone claim that Morris has done some original paleontological research, i.e. the Paluxy tracks… 1. Morris later admitted that he had mainly compiled the work of others, and 2. What little original work he did was full of problems, and the main conclusions (that there were human prints alongside dinosaur tracks) admitted by him and most other creationists to be likely wrong. In actually the evidence was overwhelmingly against his claims. Yet even 30 years later, he is misrepresenting and oversimplifying the controversy (in his latest comments on the issue). I’ll soon be posting an article about that at my Paluxy website.

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