Lack of Citations: The YEC Peer-Review System Goes Awry Again

When I read a research article I expect that article to include an introduction that prepares me to understand how the research I am about to read about fits with previous results.  If the work doesn’t agree with prior research I expect some discussion about why the authors believe the work of others is in error or needs to be modified. I also expect that credit is given to those that have made the same or similar discoveries or observations.

What I expect is often missing from the alternative journals in the young-earth creationists (YECs) scientific subculture. These self-acclaimed peer-reviewed journals are peer-reviewed in name but in practice often don’t measure up to the standards of typical peer-review.*  I’ve written about similar problems before (YECs need to go to science conferences, When Peer-review lets you down) but I thought I would share a quick example from a YEC journal article that I read yesterday.

Example 1:  I’ve been researching YEC speciation models and was recently working my way through a series of articles by Peer Terborg (pseudonym for Peter Borger) in the Journal of Creation from 2009. This journal is published by Creation Ministries International which formerly was part of Answers in Genesis.   These articles entitled “The Design of Life” promote a speciation mechanism that Borger calls Variation-Inducing Genetic Elements (VIGEs).  I had just read Todd Wood’s article from 2002 in the journal Origins entitled “The AGEing process: Rapid Post-Flood Intrabaramic Diversification Caused by Altruistic Genetic Elements (AGEs).”  As I read Borger’s article I thought this is just what Todd Wood proposed in 2002 and yet inexplicably he never references Todd Wood.

Example 2:  From the same series, in Part IV Borger applies his VIGES hypothesis for species formation to the question of the human chromosome #2 fusion event.  Most YECs deny that any such fusion ever happened and so I expected the usual arguments but he ends with this interesting conclusion:

“Understanding the molecular properties of human chromosome 2 is no longer problematic if we simply accept that humans, like the great apes, were originally created with 48 chromosomes. Two of them fused to form chromosome 2 when mankind went through a severe bottleneck. And, as argued above, the fusion was mediated by VIGEs.”

Berger, a YEC, concludes from the evidence he sees that human chromosome 2 is most undoubtedly the result of the fusion of two chromosomes and uses his VIGEs idea to explain how this fusion could have taken place in recent human interesting. This is an interesting and honestly a far simpler explanation for all the observations that geneticists have made of chromosome 2 than any of the other YEC attempts to deny there was every any fusion of chromosomes in human history.

But I knew that there were more recent articles in the YEC literature about human chromosome 2 and so I wondered how they dealt with Borger’s assessment.   The answer: They deal with his work by never acknowledging it even exists.

Jeffrey Tomkins and Jerry Bergman published an article on human chromosome 2 in 2011 just two years after Borger’s article appeared in the same journal.  They strongly deny that Chromosome #2 is the result of a fusion event and never make any mention of any YEC literature that suggest otherwise. Tomkins then published an article in Answers in Genesis’ journal Answers Research Journal entitled:  Alleged Human Chromosome 2 “Fusion Site” Encodes an Active DNA Binding Domain Inside a Complex and Highly Expressed Gene—Negating Fusion.  Again, no mention of Borger’s opposing assessment.  Lastly, Tomkins published an article in a non-peer-reviewed magazine (Acts and Facts) for the Institute of Creation Research entitled: New Research Debunks Human Chromosome Fusion.  Not surprisingly now, no mention of Borger here either.

Why so many citation problems?

This is a big deal.  Proper credit for ideas is not being provided in the first example and acknowledgment of legitimate alternative interpretations are not provided in the second.  Journal editors and the peer-review process absolutely should have prevented both of these mistakes. Both of these devalue the work of other scientists and deprive the journal audience from being given the whole picture.

Why and how does this happen?  Maybe the authors were unaware of their own YEC literature.  I am not a YEC and yet I often feel like I am far more aware of the YEC literature than most YEC authors.  But it seems unlikely in this case that the authors were unaware of the other literature. The YEC literature is not that voluminous that any of these authors should not have known about the other work.  It feels far more like intentional avoidance or ignorance. At times they appear to intentionally refuse to cite other YEC authors. More than likely, it’s a combination of causes along with a general desire to present a unified voice to an audience that just wants a simple answer.  But this isn’t they way that science proceeds.

Let me provide one piece of circumstantial evidence for my claims above as it relates to Example 2.  I am fairly certain that Tomkins is familiar with Borger’s work rather than being ignorant of the YEC literature. He wrote a short piece for ICR in 2012 just before his AiG “peer-reviewed” publication. In that piece he talks about YEC speciation models and makes the following statement:

“Another question surrounding genetic variability is the type of genomic DNA sequence features underlying its function. A variety of creation scientists, including Jean Lightner, Todd Wood, Peter Borger, and others, have presented data and models involving the genetic diversification of created kinds via transposable elements and other types of non-protein-coding DNA. These sequences appear to offer the most opportunities for models of genetic diversity and the diversification of created kinds.”

He must have read the very paper I did and so he should have been familiar with Borger’s explanation for chromosome #2.  I can only conclude that he has chosen to ignore and not present this alternative view to the audience of his manuscript.

But this is where peer-review should come in to prevent such oversights and slights.  Surely the editor of the Journal of Creation should have realized when he read Tomkins manuscript that he has published an article by Borger that contained an alternative explanation. He should have sent the manuscript to Borger as a reviewer who could have provided many helpful comments. The editor should have sought out experts in the field and they should have been aware of the YEC literature even if the editor of the journal was not.  Those reviewers should have suggested and even demanded that Tomkins address Borger’s interpretation even if it was to simply acknowledge that it exists or say that he didn’t accept it.

The same is true for Borger’s lack of acknowledgement that Todd Wood had published the same ideas several years before. Why didn’t the editors send the manuscript to Todd Wood and if they did I can’t imagine that Wood would not point out the oversight.

I think a bigger problem for YEC journals is that peer-review requires there to be peers for review.  The YEC community is very small. Many times the author of the manuscript is the only person that knows anything about the subject at hand and so the editor and reviewers chosen are not in a position to critically examine the science of the manuscript.  This is made worse by inter-organization biases such that even if there is another reviewer that might be able to provide a critical evaluation that manuscript does not end up in their hands.  Or if it does, those comments are simply ignored.

I have heard many stories first hand of reviewers who have made comments on YEC manuscripts only to have been outright ignored by the editors or authors and so it is hard to say who is at fault here but the peer-review system appears to be barely functional and is really just slapped onto these journal in-name only.
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*Secular scientific journals are not immune from peer-review problem. There are many predatory journals these days that are all about making money and have a very weak peer-review system in place. Peer-review can be manipulated and biased just like any system. But it works more often that not and it helps to prevent what could be even more egregious cases of bias and poor research.
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This article was not edited or peer-reviewed as others on this blog often are. As a result all errors are solely those of the author who invites correction.  I would also like to acknowledge that some of the general ideas expressed in this article comes from a discussion that I had in a Facebook community.

Cover image credit: What exactly is peer review? Flickr/AJ CannCC BY-SA

Comments

  1. It never ceases to amaze me when YECs talk about “young earth theory” or “same evidence, different interpretations.” They have, unfortunately, been deceived by (generally) well-meaning “authority” figures into not understanding how real research is done, and so think that their ideas have at least as much merit as scientific ones. Sadly, even when shown articles like this one, they are so bent on maintaining their view of “The Truth™” that they refuse to consider the possibility that YEC leaders are being less-than-honest with them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This kind of critique only makes sense when you are dealing with a genuine attempt to explore reality. If, as here, the only goal is to spin distracting fantasies, then prior work, and most especially prior work that suggests different conclusions, is a confusing distraction that is best ignored.

    I wonder if the YEC literature is similarly neglectful when it comes to discussing theology

    Liked by 2 people

  3. siluriantrilobite says:

    Answers in Genesis has an in house publication that mimics a scientific journal named Answers Research Journal, but that publication requires author’s conclusions to match AIG’s statement of faith. The following quote from the publication’s instructions to authors illustrates this point:

    “The editor-in-chief will not be afraid to reject a paper if it does not properly satisfy the above criteria or it conflicts with the best interests of AiG as judged by its biblical stand and goals outlined in its statement of faith.”
    (Page 9) http://legacy-cdn-assets.answersingenesis.org/assets/pdf/arj/instructions-to-authors.pdf

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  4. Reading the YEChie’s attempts at genetic science is a lot like listening to an old-fashioned snake oil salesman pitching something like ‘General Balderdash’s Miracle Restorative Fluids’. Or, the like. Both are brewed with deception, but maybe just a little wish to do right, yet lacking the honesty or discipline to accomplish anything but fraud.
    Sadly, we have ‘scribes and pharisees’ today, just as back in Christ’s time.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Charles Deetz ;) says:

    I’m sure part of the problem is information blindness due to cognitive dissonance. They don’t even know that they are ignoring other related facts/research/theories.

    Like

    • Not so long ago I had a frustrating conversation on this topic with a church friend. He is a nice guy, and intelligent guy, and a reasonable guy–but, not a scientist.
      When I tried to explain the problems with a program put out by a particularly obnoxious YEChie, my friend just smiled, and replied: “But you scientists are just guessing, aren’t you?”
      I was so dumbfounded, I don’t know if I came up with anything better than: “NO!”
      We live in very technical times, but times in which most people only use the benefits of scientific work–they do not participate in the process.
      I am still trying to formulate a decent layman’s level reply to the notion that we, the community of science, are ‘just guessing’. Most people have never used spectrometers, visited cyclotrons, dug at the KT Boundary, or even used a binocular microscope. They don’t know or care that a common microchip today may have over 100 thousand-million transistors, each perfectly connected and aligned. They don’t know, they literally do not know the work and discipline that goes into even a basic hypothesis! They have no frame of reference.
      So, to them, we are just competing noise, but without the warm, friendly side.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Many people receive little science education (at least in the U.S.) so to many people a theory is little more than idle speculation. The YEC promoters take advantage of this. A YECer can spin speculation after speculation and they will say that their ideas are just as valid as a scientific theory that is based on many observations, or lab work, mathematical proofs, most likely years of work, lots of peer review, etc. I think it is an insult and really, dishonest, when someone dismisses all of this real work as just “guessing” and then they present their own speculations as being authoritative.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You seemed shocked creationists don’t act like honest, conscientious scholars. It’s hard to believe how generous you are to them.

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  7. I often describe creationism as “cargo cult science”, and I think that explains situations like these. Creationist “scientists” don’t need to read and cite all the relevant literature, because they’re not doing real science. The citations they do have are in large part for show, because while they are mimicking the appearance of scientific research, nothing is actually being discovered or added to our scientific knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

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