Jan 24 2008
The man who brought us the creation museum in Kentucky, the leader of the Answers in Genesis propaganda ministry, young-earth creationists Ken Ham has started a new peer-reviewed journal, the Answers Research Journal (ARJ). This development, to any scientifically literate thinking person, is a travesty. But let me explain exactly why and what, if anything, can be done about it.
It is critical for science as an institution to be dedicated first and foremost to the principles and methodologies of science. Science is about discovering the nature of reality – what is, what happened in the past, and how stuff works. Scientific conclusions must be based upon evidence and adhere to the demands of logic. This requires that conclusion flow from evidence, that beliefs and claims are slaves to logic and evidence and can be altered as needed to accommodate new or better evidence.
It is simply not possible for legitimate science to reverse this process – to begin with a conclusion and subvert facts and logic to this belief. Institutions dedicated to a belief are not, by definition, scientific.
It has become increasingly common, in our society, however, for those who have an ideological adherence to specific ideas, or who simply prefer their own idiosyncratic beliefs to the consensus of opinion of the scientific community, to manufacture the trappings of legitimate science for themselves to inhabit. Unable to surmount the necessary hurdles of quality control within the halls of real science, they simply build their own halls and falsely label them as science. They create institutes, start their own journals, make up their own degrees, build museums, create their own funding organs (or, even worse, bamboozle the government into creating one for them, like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine), and pressure universities into giving them departments.
They justify these end-runs around science by crying persecution. They claim their ideas are not being given a fair shake by biased, bigoted, small-minded, or even paid-off scientists, so they have no choice but to make their own sandbox to play in.
Creationists/ID proponents have chosen this strategy and unfortunately have the funding to accomplish it. The Discovery Institute (which has yet to actually discover anything, as far as I can tell) was created not to do science but to promote a sectarian ideology. The creation museum in Kentucky was create to promote a religious belief and to attack science. And ID proponents have been whining as loud as they can about the constant persecution they must suffer at the hands of atheistic scientists. They even made a movie out of their kvetching, Expelled, staring Ben Stein, due out next month.
Creating an ideologically dedicated peer-reviewed journal is an especially insidious attack on science. The scientific literature is in many ways a transparent record of the collective scientific progress of our species. It is far from perfect, it has many recognized problems, but it is the official record and serves our species best when quality is kept as high as possible. Anything that poisons the literature causes confusion and retards scientific progress. The purpose of peer-review is to create a quality control valve – allowing into the body of recognized literature only those papers that have met some minimal criteria for quality and legitimacy. It is by no means a guarantee, but it is a recognized seal of approval.
The problem with peer-review, of course, is that it is only as good as the peers doing the reviewing. So anyone with the resources can create their own journal and have it peer-reviewed by people who have the same ideological agenda as them. This is like the proverbial foxes guarding the hen house. Having young-earth creationists peer-review articles by other young-earth creationists is, of course, worthless. It serves only to give a false imprimatur of scientific legitimacy to a religious anti-scientific ideology.
What should we do about it? Mostly nothing. Ridicule and scorn are appropriate, and I hope I have contributed my fair share. It also helps to educate journalists and the public about why such a thing is anti-scientific and bad. But generally I think we should ignore the journal and hope it withers for lack of sunlight. I predict they won’t get many submissions of actual scientific research. Mainly it will be propaganda opinion pieces or reviews.
One use the journal may serve is to call creationists on their bogus claims that they cannot publish all their high quality research because of bias against them. Well, now you have your own journal, so bring it on. Show us all that high quality research you would be publishing were it not for those evil “Darwinists.” So we should keep one eye on this project, it may serve as a tool for exposing creationists for what they are.
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