Peer-reviewed journal apologizes for censoring pro-ID article

From Evolution News. (Excerpt below, with links removed)


In one of their favorite soundbytes, members of the Darwin lobby like to assert that intelligent design scientists do not publish peer-reviewed research. That claim is manifestly false. But the fact that intelligent design scholars do publish peer-reviewed articles is no thanks to Darwinists, many of whom do their best to ensure that peer-reviewed articles by intelligent design scientists never see the light of day.

Witness the brazen censorship earlier this year of an article by University of Texas, El Paso mathematics professor Granville Sewell, author of the book In the Beginning and Other Essays on Intelligent Design. Sewell’s article critical of Neo-Darwinism (“A Second Look at the Second Law”) was both peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the journal Applied Mathematics Letters. That is, the article was accepted for publication until a Darwinist blogger who describes himself as an “opinionated computer science geek” wrote the journal editor to denounce the article, and the editor decided to pull Sewell’s article in violation of his journal’s own professional standards.

The publisher of Applied Mathematics Letters (Elsevier, the international science publisher) has now agreed to issue a public statement apologizing to Dr. Sewell as well as to pay $10,000 in attorney’s fees.

“It’s hard to imagine a more blatant assault on intellectual freedom and the free exchange of ideas,” says attorney Pete Lepiscopo with the California firm of Lepiscopo and Morrow, which represented Sewell.

Lepiscopo points out that in retracting Sewell’s article, Applied Mathematics Letters “effectively accepted the unsubstantiated word and unsupported opinion of an inconsequential blogger, with little or unknown academic background beyond a self-professed public acknowledgment that he was a ‘computer science grad’ and whose only known writings are self-posted blogs about movies, comics, and fantasy computer games.” This blogger’s unsupported opinion “trumped the views of an author who is a well respected mathematician with a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Purdue University; a fully-tenured Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas–El Paso; an author of three books on numerical analysis and 40 articles published in respected journals; and a highly sought-after and frequent lecturer world-wide on mathematics and science.”

After Dr. Sewell’s article was pulled, Darwinian zealots crowed about their achievement and maliciously speculated that the article was withdrawn because it wasn’t really peer-reviewed or because it was somehow substandard. The journal, meanwhile, left Dr. Sewell to twist in the wind, seemingly endorsing the Darwinists’ smears. The journal editor Dr. Rodin wrote a groveling letter to the Darwinist blogger who complained to him in which he agreed that publishing Sewell’s article would involve “impropriety.” Rodin further apologized “for our erroneous judgement in even considering this paper for publication.”

Dr. Rodin and his journal now have to issue a public statement providing “their sincere and heartfelt apologies to Dr. Sewell… and welcom[ing] Dr. Sewell’s submission of future articles for possible publication.” More important than the apology, the journal has to set the record straight by reiterating that “Dr. Sewell’s article was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication” and by making clear that his article was not withdrawn because of “any errors or technical problems found by the reviewers or editors.”

Wow. I actually clicked on some of the links in the post at Evolution News and was carried off to the lands of naturalistic blogging. It’s amazing how confident they are in their little echo chambers, but I cannot fathom why this should be since they are unwilling to debate their views in public. To me, you can only know something if you are willing to hear the criticisms against it. If you censor all your opponents and hang around in little online chat rooms gloating to your choir about how smart you are and how right you are, why think that you really know anything about what you are talking about?

The only way to be sure about any issue is to listen to both sides in a debate, and let your opponents have a hearing. I would not feel confident in asserting anything if I only heard the arguments on one side of the question. Not only do the Darwinbots seem to be confident in asserting their views without hearing their opponents, they are actually arrogant and insulting about it. But before you can be trumpet your victory in a disagreement, doesn’t there have to be an actual debate first? Canceling the debate by censorship doesn’t mean that you won the debate.  It means you’re scared of debate.

Here’s what you do. Slap a defamation lawsuit on the blogger who complained for a million dollars and let them have their day in court to explain why they said what they said. Then we’ll find out which side has the blind faith and which side has the knowledge.

11 thoughts on “Peer-reviewed journal apologizes for censoring pro-ID article”

  1. WK,

    Would you believe that I stumbled across the Darwin blog just last week when I was googling information about the new Illustra film Metamorphosis? I engaged the blogger as “anonymous” in this thread:

    I also responded to him regarding the pulled paper in this thread:

    What a small world! And now here you are blogging about it too.

    Its very interesting to talk to these people. So cocky and sure that they are smarter than everyone else. They use terrible arguments for the most part and have a stereotype of Christians that is extremely unflattering.


  2. This is appalling, by any standard of academic integrity. If an article is peer-reviewed and accepted by the editor, it should not later be pulled for ideological reasons. Period. Critiquing findings/techniques/methodologies/assumpions – these are all valid mechanisms for criticizing a published scientific article. Simply refusing to publish it is not acceptable. I’m glad Elsevier made a full apology.

    An interesting side note is to consider what other controversial articles can still get published:
    Note that this peer-review article will indeed be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology despite the vociferous protests of other scientists over its methodology and conclusions.


    1. Actually, after skimming the paper, I think I take back my previous comment. The journal may have acted unprofessionally, and contrary to its stated policies. But this paper displays what -as far as I can tell- are some serious and very basic misunderstandings of entropy. Someone was definitely asleep at the wheel, either the referee or the editor or both. There may indeed be bias and unprofessionalism in the academic community towards unorthodox ideas; but I think this paper is simply wrong and should have been rejected on scientific grounds, not the vague “philosophical” grounds put forward by the journal. I wonder if they were just trying to save face?


        1. It’s up to you to decide. I’d leave it up; it could serve as a cautionary tale to us not to claim “bias” until we’ve examined the claims carefully. I agree that the journal acted unprofessionally, but I still think the article is fundamentally flawed. Here’s a short explanation as to why I think the paper is flawed:

          In the paper, Sewell says “Order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk through the door.” I agree. But what he fails to recognize is that order is walking through the door in the form of sunlight. Sunlight is work, not heat. It is ordered energy, not disordered energy. This is why Sewell relies on defining X-entropy and X-order associated with some substance X. For instance, he says:

          However, there is really nothing special about ‘‘thermal’’ entropy. Heat conduction is just diffusion of heat, and we can
          define an ‘‘X-entropy’’ (and an X-order=−X-entropy), to measure the randomness in the distribution of any other substance
          X that diffuses; … Eq. (5) … now says that
          the ‘‘carbon order’’ cannot increase in a closed system.”

          Here, he implicitly assumes that different types of “X-entropy” are not interconvertible, but that is not true.

          Here’s a simple counterexample, offered by Daniel Styer article, even using Sewell’s definitions. A cup of coffee, sitting in outer space, will slowly cool. Therefore it’s thermal entropy will spontaneously decrease violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics despite the fact that, according to Sewell, there is nothing “coming in or out of the door.” But Sewell is wrong! Radiation (like sunlight, radio waves, infrared radiation) is radiating from the coffee cup and exiting into space. This is a clear example that shows that radiation must be included when we calculate entropy and that entropy of various kinds (thermal entropy, radiation entropy, etc…) are interconvertible. So we cannot ignore the fact that sunlight is constantly striking the earth when we consider whether evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

          Does that makes sense?



        2. I’d rather you left it up, which is the blog analogy to AML publishing Dr Sewell’s paper, and then letting it be critiqued. It might be appropriate if you followed up yourself with an entry on how you feel about the Discovery Institute over their tub thumping in favor of a paper of such poor quality. Is this really an example of the “Darwin lobby” (simultaneously an all powerful force and a no-name blogger of no consequence) distrorting academic freedom, or an example of a few guys trying to save a journal from its own sloppy editorial practices? If the DI’s reaction cannot distinguish these two possibilities, perhaps they have made the same mistake previously, defending as scientific what is in fact substandard and unpublishable.


  3. Echo chamber? You must mean Uncommon Descent! I tried to discuss these ideas with Dr Sewell there previously. He should have taken the clue that his paper was really quite awful.


  4. No, I really think there is still a deep failure here. Sewell writes:
    “Of course the whole idea of compensation, whether by distant or nearby events, makes no sense logically: an extremely improbable event is not rendered less improbable simply by the occurrence of “compensating” events elsewhere”

    While this statement might seem intuitive, it is simply not true and Sewell recognizes it, because he later writes:

    “If an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable”

    So he recognizes that if something “crosses the boundary”, then an open system can become more improbable (i.e. more ordered). So our “common sense” view is not true if something highly ordered is flowing into the system; compensation is indeed possible even on Sewell’s account. His key assumption is in the next line:
    “But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.”

    But this is wrong. He is making the assumption that “radiation” is not higly ordered and therefore cannot explain the increase in order in the system (Earth). I offered a simple counterexample taken from Daniel Styer of a cup of hot coffee in outer space. If we think that radiation does not contain “order”, then how do we explain the fact that the hot coffee cools and eventually freezes, becoming extremely ordered? In fact, the coffee radiates infrared ratiation which “carries away” the disorder of the hot coffee into the vacuum of outer space where it is absorbed and generates a large amount of disorder. So the order of the whole universe (coffee cup + outer space) decreases even through the order of one part of it (the coffee cup) increases.

    As I said, the journal may have violated its standards in rescinding this article. But I think this article is deeply flawed and should not have been accepted in the first place.


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