So you think those Intelligent Design guys have been producing original scientific research? Think again. It turns out their list of supporting scientific papers can be counted on two hands. And it's all theory and review - there's not a single experimental publication on the list.
Proponents of Intelligent Design claim there are plenty of peer-reviewed and peer-edited publications in the professional scientific literature that support ID. It's easy to understand why they are sensitive to this issue - it’s difficult to argue that ID is real science if there is a deficiency of professional publications to back it up. The Discovery Institute’s response to this problem is, in part, to suggest the following:
“… In fact, scientists routinely publish their work in peer-reviewed scientific journals, in peer-reviewed scientific books, in scientific anthologies and conference proceedings (edited by their scientific peers), and in trade presses.” Their web site provides an annotated list of about 30 publications that support and develop ID. See the full list here.
On Closer Examination
The statement that scientists routinely publish in peer-reviewed journals, books, anthologies, and the trade press is a bit like saying that successful racecar drivers routinely win races, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and make TV ads. Both statements are true, but each list deceptively de-emphasizes the most important activity.
Publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals is at the heart of modern professional science. It is the major indicator of success in scientific research at all levels, from doctoral student to senior researcher. Publication in the professional journals is valued more than books and other venues for several good reasons. First, and most obviously, all sorts of trash gets published in books. Visit Amazon and you will find dozens of books about Bigfoot, alien abductions, the healing properties of magnets, the young earth, and pyramid power. The decision to publish a book is usually based on profit considerations. In contrast, the decision to publish a particular scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal is based on the judgment of professional scientists who ask whether the experimental methods, data analysis, and interpretation are sound; profit is not part of the equation. The system is not perfect (cold fusion comes to mind), but it sets standards that are unrelated to profit. Further, replication of experiments is an essential part of science. The peer-reviewed scientific literature provides a means for scientists to report in detail how particular experiments were executed and data were analyzed. The purpose of the almost excruciating detail presented in scientific articles is to allow other scientists to replicate the work. Scientific books and anthologies are broad overviews, and do not provide the kind of detail required for replication of experiments.
Scientific books have their place, of course, but their purpose is usually quite different from peer-reviewed papers. Books and anthologies are important primarily as textbooks, summaries, and syntheses of work that was first published in the peer-reviewed literature. It would be unusual for an important new theory to appear first in book form. This has probably not happened in the last century, but if the book contained great new ideas, like Darwin’s Origin, it could work.
So, what about the publications listed on the Discovery Institute web site? The list looks long at first, but it turns out there’s a lot of padding – there’s a long annotation after each publication, and several publications are listed more than once under different headings. When we remove all the padding, trade books, book chapters, anthologies, philosophy articles, and annotations, there remain EIGHT papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They are:
1) Stephen Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2004):213-239.
2) Jonathan Wells, “Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force?," Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum 98 (2005): 37-62.
3) Ø. A. Voie, "Biological function and the genetic code are interdependent," Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, 2006, Vol 28(4), 1000-1004.
4) M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004): 2651-2664.
5) W.-E. Lönnig & H. Saedler, “Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements,” Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410.
6) D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775.
7) M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342.
8) Granville Sewell, "A Mathematician’s View of Evolution," The Mathematical Intelligencer, Vol 22 (4) (2000).
The list is pretty amazing, but not for reasons that the Discovery Institute intended. It’s short, barely comparable to the two- or three-year output of one typical biologist at a major research university. For instance, my laboratory published 17 peer-reviewed scientific papers since 2000, plus a handful of other items such as book chapters and book reviews. Many of my colleagues in the Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior have comparable or even better levels of scientific productivity.
Another problem with the Discovery Institute list is that some of the ID publications are in journals that are extremely obscure to biologists. The International Journal of Fuzzy Systems is not about guinea pigs; it’s a Taiwanese math journal. The main web page of Mathematical Intelligencer describes the journal as about being about math, and also says “Humor is welcome, as are puzzles, poetry, fiction, and of course art.” (We wonder whether the ID article was submitted under “Humor” or “Fiction”.) In some cases it’s not clear how the Discovery Institute decided that the publication supports ID: the texts of numbers (4) and (5) don’t even contain the words “intelligent” or “design”.
The most amazing thing about the list is that THERE IS NOT A SINGLE REPORT OF AN ORIGINAL SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENT! Every paper on the list is either theoretical or a review of published results. Assuming that the Discovery Institute has scoured the scientific literature for supporting publications, only one conclusion is possible: as of June 2006, there is no publication in existence that (i) reports an original scientific experiment, and (ii) interprets the new experimental results as support for Intelligent Design, and (iii) appears in an established peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Prediction: This must be an enormous embarrassment to the Discovery Institute, with its large staff of scientists and multi-million dollar budget. It seems likely to me that their next step will be to start their own journal so that they can bypass real peer-review.