The relevant news item is here: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/03/01/book-intelligent-design-proponents-upsets-scientists
Why, oh why, have the self-appointed epistemic vigilantes at the National Centre for Science Education (NCSE) decided to subvert the already fragile academic norm of peer review by declaring that one of the top three European publishers of scientific journals and books has mistakenly allowed intelligent design (ID) sympathisers to publish a book in their information science series? That two positive peer reports in the original book proposal was insufficient to discover the allegedly heinous nature of its content must mean, of course, that more peer reviewing is needed – not that perhaps the content is not as heinous as the scent of ID might have suggested.
No, this is not a lame joke: It is Public Darwinism in full throttle. The fact that no one at the NCSE seems to have read the book in question appears to be immaterial to the overriding fact that many, if not most, of the contributors are sympathetic to ID. To be sure, ID enthusiasts are endlessly berated about their (again alleged) failure to publish in mainstream peer reviewed publications. Springer Verlag does not come any more mainstream – yet that then generates its own problems.
Of course, Springer plans to have the final manuscript peer reviewed, which is only to be expected. Yet, there is now the further expectation that the manuscript will be rejected, given the discovery of its ID-friendly editors. Interestingly, a blurb for Biological Information: New Perspectives has been ‘automatically generated’ for Amazon, which says something about when peer review normally makes a difference to Springer — and they are not alone in presuming that a passed proposal means a publishable manuscript.
Whatever else the NCSE has succeeded in doing by delaying – if not completely derailing – publication of Biological Information, it has drawn attention to the ease with which the integrity of peer review can be compromised, if it produces unwanted outcomes. After all, its name notwithstanding, the NCSE’s institutional standing is no different from its arch-nemesis and mecca for ID, Seattle’s Discovery Institute: Both are special interest groups promoting a certain ideological spin on the development of science.
It will be interesting to see the final peer review report on Biological Information. Even after a favourable report, most manuscripts need a bit of work before final publication. But because the publisher is typically already committed to publication, authors/editors will be allowed discretion in which criticisms they take seriously upon revision. Hopefully the same standard is applied in this case. Among the areas of discretion allowed to authors/editors is the conceptual framework in which they organise the book’s contents. One can easily imagine intelligent design as a framing device here in the way that Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene hypothesis might frame a more Darwinist text. Both frameworks stray beyond the data, but in so doing provide a motivation and direction for the research recounted in each book’s pages.
In any case, we may hope that Spinger’s final peer report will be somehow made publicly available.