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The Nature of peer review

Known creationists blacklisted at major journals

Published: 17 February 2013 (GMT+10)
Wikipedia.org The Nature of peer review

Today’s feedback features a single correspondence in a longer exchange on the article Argon diffusion data support RATE’s 6,000-year helium age of the earth between the author Dr Russ Humphreys and Graham D. from Australia. The first two exchanges are featured in the comments section of that article. However we felt that this part of the exchange warranted special attention. After Graham D. recommended that he submit his research to the well-known journal Nature, Dr Humphreys recounts an episode where he did just that, and his articles were rejected, though Nature published something on the exact same topic from different authors after Dr Humphreys submission had been rejected, though it only validated his original submission. This shows the clear bias at major peer-reviewed journals against known creationists.

Graham D. from Australia writes:

Hi Russ, thanks again for your response.

My understanding of geology is surely sub par and as such I can not come to a conclusion on this article.

I am however, familiar with certain dating methods. Regardless of that, simply because any one single experiment might yield a result that may suggest the earth may be younger than often thought, does not mean it is true. It still has to be able to explain why other dating methods have ALL converged on an age of millions, and sometimes billions of years. Not just for terrestrial rocks, but for moon rocks also.
You should submit your paper to Nature. I am not saying that this article is true or false, I am saying don’t tell us your idea, most people reading it are unqualified to home-in on its faults and merits. They also, like other creationists, have a confirmation bias, in which I believe you are playing on to gain support for your idea.


Dear Graham:

I appreciate the more irenic tone of your third comment, so I’m taking the opportunity to reply to you directly. I understand the difficulty for a non-expert in understanding whether a technical paper is correct or not. You have no way of knowing whether an author might be concealing flaws. One thing which might help you for my argon and helium diffusion papers is to read the published comments from an expert critic of them, Gary Loechelt, along with my replies.

One round of that discussion is here: Critics of helium evidence for a young world now seem silent?. The second round was on pp. 45–49 of the August 2012 issue of Journal of Creation. Unfortunately you will still have to use your judgment as to whether Loechelt or Humphreys is correct. However (maybe this is due to having had some geoscience courses along the way, or maybe the arrogance a physics education instills), I don’t think geology is all that hard, once you get past the jargon.

Yes, it would be much easier if a journal you trust were to publish my articles. But maybe my experiences with the journal you mention, Nature, will help convince you that your trust is misplaced. I’ve sent three communications to that journal. The first was a simple letter to the editor in the late 1980’s. I was giving an openly creationist response to an article on creationism that Nature had published. I signed it with my Ph.D. and address at Sandia National Laboratories. The chief editor of Nature then was John Maddox, and I was surprised to receive a reply directly from him in London, rather than some assistant editor, or (as would be usual) no reply at all. He said he was not going to publish my letter, and something he wrote made me understand that the reason was because of the creationist content. I don’t have the letter now, so I don’t know what it was.

It wasn’t common then, as it is now, for editors to Google authors of submitted manuscripts. However, (I hope I’m not being paranoid) later events convince me that he included my name on a list of authors to be avoided, and that the list was available to at least the assistant editors.

My next submission was a brief “Scientific Correspondence” letter commenting on the correlation of sunspots and solar neutrinos. It had no obvious creationist implications and was only mildly controversial, merely questioning the standard solar model. A Nature assistant editor in New York sent a friendly reply, questioning one step of my reasoning. I thought he had a good point, so I let it drop.

My third submission in May 1992 was also to the scientific correspondence section. It offered an alternative explanation for the recently-reported “bumps” in the cosmic microwave background radiation. I made use of an obscure 1970 paper, giving the name “Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect” to the phenomenon it reported. I had never seen that name in the literature before; certainly it was rare at that time. A Nature editor named Maxine Clarke in London replied to me in early July.

The correspondence went on (making an inch-thick pile). It developed that Dr. Clarke had sent a copy of my article to an expert and was getting informal reviews from him by telephone, then relaying them to me. The objections weren’t very good, and I kept on finding good answers for them. Finally, she called a halt, suggesting that I write a full-fledged article about it instead of a “scientific correspondence” brief article. That would have been okay, except that I thought the brief article was much more suited to the small amount of material I was providing. I was just saying, “Hey, fellows, here’s an old article that might provide an alternative explanation (than the standard big-bang one).” That’s hardly enough for a big article.

But that’s not the end of the story. In September 1993, an article appeared in Nature titled An image of the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect. It reported much of the same things I had reported in my letter, and used the same phrase I had given to the phenomenon, “Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect”. You’ll notice that the phrase was uncommon enough that the authors explained it in the first sentence of their abstract. All but one of the authors were from the U.K. Maybe I’m being paranoid again, but I suspect that one of the authors was the expert Maxine Clarke had sent my paper. But at any rate, their paper validates the content of my paper. So why didn’t Nature publish mine? Hypothesis: because my paper was from a known creationist. After 1993, the astrophysics literature was filled with papers using the phrase “Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect”. I feel somewhat flattered!

After Nature refused to publish my article in July, 1992, I sent a laymanized version, Bumps in the Big Bang, to the Institute for Creation Research. They published it in November 1992 as one of their Impact articles.

This experience of mine is not uncommon among the scientists in the creation movement. All of us have published articles unrelated to creation in secular journals. Some of us have published articles that have data with creation implications, but not explicitly pointing out those implications. A good example is Robert Gentry, whose 1982 report [Geophysical Research Letters 9(10):1129–1130] of high helium retentions in zircons was the basis for my RATE helium diffusion project. But none of us, despite frequent tries, have been able to publish papers with explicitly creationist conclusions.

So if you’re trusting Nature, or any journal committed to evolution and billions of years, to publish papers clearly pointing to a recent creation, your trust is being violated.

Hoping you’ll search out the truth,

Russ Humphreys

Readers’ comments

R. D.
"They also, like other creationists, have a confirmation bias". Dear oh dear, is Graham D. really under this horrendously misguided impression that there is such thing as an "unbiased" human? As has been pointed-out numerous times in many CMI articles, the question isn't "who's biased and who isn't?", it's "which bias is the person concerned biased with?"

The immediate reaction of practically anyone who is not a Biblical creationist (never mind those who are avowed antitheists - of whom there are plenty within the academic establishment, let's remember) upon reading this would be "we know the Earth is 4.5bn years old, so this piece must be wrong... what grounds can we find to claim mistakes?" not "hmm, this is interesting, maybe we're wildly incorrect about the age of the Earth".

No-one can possibly be expected to view this sort of paper neutrally. There is no neutral position. You either believe the Biblical account of the planet's age or you don't. Yes, by nature (pun not intended), those who already do will be pleased to discover further evidence in favour; but those who do not will NEVER accept any challenge to their accepted-age as legitimate. Both sides have already made-up their minds. And I for one make no apology for ruling-out a priori the proposition that any human knows better than God.
Erik W.
Expose'! Reading about things like this is very satisfying. Not in that we're marginalized, but in that the few creationist scientists out there are so threatening to secularists that they actually make the decision TO marginalize them! No one's afraid of error because the way to deal with error is to correct it. If they're afraid of us, it's because they don't have a good explanation to make our conclusions go away. Shutting them out of consideration is easier on their conscience.

Go Russ! Your 'creation of planetary magnetic fields' paper on the CRSQ site was a watershed moment in both my own creationist cosmogony but also in discovering that creationists have been "out-science-ing" secularists for decades before I was born. Thanks for carrying the mantle; I hope to do my best to carry it after you. (I'm just 23 and soon getting a Biology baccalaureate degree).

Jim M.
Peer review in high/secondary school is generally referred to as 'peer pressure' and is considered undesirable. In scientific circles is seems to have become equated to truth. However, in both cases it is simply a mechanism for ensuring conformity and imposing group-think and easily morphs from simple control to bullying as seen in Expelled, The Slaughter of the Dissidents and the e-mails released in Climategate.
Russ Humphreys
I agree with you, Jim, that peer review is often abused as a way to enforce "scientific correctness". But we creationists still need peer review, because it's what separates real science from flakiness. Thanks to creationist peer-reviewed science publications, such as the Journal of Creation, the Creation Research Society Quarterly, the Proceedings of the International Conference on Creationism, the Answers Research Journal, and others, we are seeing lots of high-quality creation science research these days. Personally, I think much of that research is better than much of what I see in Nature and other secular science publications.
Chuck J.
Just this morning in conversation with a new casual aquaintance of mine, he said something that referred to the "facts" of evolution. I responded that there is no scientific proof of evolution of species. He replied with surprise questioning what I had said, and I repeated myself. He said that he did not believe that, and I responded with your recent article on Vitamin B12. He looked at me in what I can only describe as shock and said that he cannot talk to me about that and went to reading the Sunday paper as if the verbal exchange had not even happened. I, stupidly, said that the earth was only abouot 6,000 years old. He looked at me as if I were an alien and repeated that he would not even talk to me about the subject. From the little that I know of him, he is intelligent and usually open minded about a whole host of things, and I'm puzzled with his reaction...but not discouraged.
Brian W.
Good response to Mr. Graham, however I disagree with his contention "I am however, familiar with certain dating methods. Regardless of that, simply because any one single experiment might yield a result that may suggest the earth may be younger than often thought, does not mean it is true. It still has to be able to explain why other dating methods have ALL converged on an age of millions, and sometimes billions of years."
According to the Karl Popper empirical falsification method, that is exactly what scientists should be looking for. Say you have a theory that says; "All swans are white" you as a scientist should not be looking for white swans but black ones, if you find a black one your theory is wrong. So once you find a dating method that disproves the old earth theory, that old earth theory is wrong. There are over a hundred scientific observances that limit the age of the earth, just read the articles here. I am appalled at the lack of scientific method in our society from almost every aspect in our lives, including our health.
R. M.
Dear CMI -

I think that your readers are entitled to some more detailed information before they reach a conclusion as to the substance of your complaints against the journal Nature. They should know about some of the criteria for acceptance, particularly that a paper should “report original scientific research (the main results and conclusions must not have been published or submitted elsewhere). The paper in question says in its Abstract that it is “a new analysis of old (1986) argon retention data.” This is not in keeping with the editorial policy of the journal, as cited above.
Furthermore, your readership should bear in mind that Nature receives some 200 papers per week, of which it accepts about 8% (actually 9.3% over the past 15 years or so). Since 92% of the submissions (even some very good ones) are rejected, creationists are on shaky ground when they claim that they are singled out for special rejection. It just could be that the science is wanting, or does not fit the published criteria for acceptance.
Nature’s criteria for submission and acceptance are clearly spelled out in the “Information for Authors” section of their website, which is accessible to all who would inquire. Dr. Humphreys was prudent not to submit his paper to Nature.
Russ Humphreys
Actually, I agree about my argon article, since it is, as I said, simply a re-interpretation of old data and thus more suitable for other types of scientific journal. It's the RATE research that journals like Nature should have published. But before you suffer oxygen starvation up there on your pedestal, Mr. M., remember that Nature's then-chief editor John Maddox rashly wrote me that he wasn't going to publish my letter just because it supported creation science. --- Russ
David D P.
A wonderfully constructive response to a very sad situation. However, the article is an excellent example of why it is always so necessary to apply discernment in such and similar circumstances.
Evan B.
That's a very sad thing. Not entirely unexpected though; Expelled and other documentaries highlight what is really going on. No-one is judged on scientific merit, instead on their personal beliefs. It could be called racism, but it doesn't qualify for it (Racism
Noun:The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as...
Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.)
But still, a sad yet not completely unexpected reminder of the world we live in.
Hans G.
Don't worry Russ.....at first everybody has to take care about his own salvation which also includes creation.
After this we preach to the 'gentiles' which includes creation. If they refuse constantly to pay attention and it would become forceful for them just let them go, now they have to deal with the creator.
Richard L.
Dear Graham, Re. the assumption of "other dating methods have ALL converged on an age of" X (your emphasis).

(My Grade 5 and 6 teachers likewise stated this "convergence" in authoritative and confident tones of voice. Because I could not immediately see speculation in that statement, I bought into that hollow deception, holding to that false obligation until I read "the Genesis Flood".)

Perhaps the best counter-example involves the Allende meteorite, the one used to provide the now-orthodox 4.5-4.6 billion year old age of the earth. John D. Morris, in his "The Young Earth" (1st edition, 1994), on pages 60-61, referencing the technical literature, gives us a detailed look at the huge and actual NON-convergence in the actual findings for that meteorite.

The further testing that is referenced occurred in 1976 and 1980. Six radiometric-decay age-dating methods were used. "Inclusions" and surrounding rock "matrix" were also tested in that meteorite. The results ranged from a low of .70 billion years to a high of 16.49 billion years. (More than a 23 to 1 spread!) The more the testing, the more the ANTI-convergence. Clearly, confounding variables are in play.

Reality check: Imagine a concrete building being built. A given pour is tested for strength of concrete--and a similar spread of results is found. Would construction be allowed to continue? Clearly not--not until reliable testing and results are established that can confirm a reliable (and sufficiently good) number.

It has now been over 35 years since the 1976 study from which most of these data come. How widely reported have been those results? Not at all! That lack of transparency helps perpetuate the myth of radiometric-decay data convergence.
Russ Humphreys
Dear Richard:

I'm glad you picked up on Graham's "convergence" remark and replied to it. When I originally sent my reply above privately to Graham, I was hoping for further conversation with him in which I could discuss that point with him. But he chose not to reply. I was going to explain to him that such convergence of radioisotope dates as exists (as you point out, there is a lot of non-discussed non-convergence) is nicely explained by the episodes of accelerated nuclear decay for which the RATE project (see the article Graham was commenting on: Argon diffusion data support RATE’s 6,000-year helium age of the earth) found numerous lines of evidence.

Best regards in Christ,

Russ Humphreys
Sam H.
Wow that is quite disgusting that a professional STOLE Dr Humphreys idea.
Errol B.
Russ you are a recalcitrant, a rebel & a trouble maker. You are also one of the most humble uncompromising, logical & daring scientists I know. You have stuck your neck out several times by making some specific, bold & biblical based predictions re: planetary magnetic fields, helium diffusion etc, only to be proven correct after later observations.
Your work may not be noticed by the seculars now but I suspect like many of the scientific greats of history, future generations will remember you a pioneer, while your critics will be seen in much the same light as those who opposed Galileo. I suspect the secular scientific community will start to get on board soon as the ‘intellectual’ band wagon changes tracks. Perhaps only the super stubborn but vocal ones that can’t see past naturalism, will be left behind. Nevertheless you have many supporters now, thank you.
Jack C.
As usual, secular science breaks their own rules when it comes to matters concerning creationism. That's why it's a joyous opportunity to read material published on the CMI website and others like it.

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