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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.

Regards.

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