Evolution in the News - February 2006
by Do-While Jones

Science Gone Hwong

Yes, we know Hwang’s name is spelled with an “a”, but we could not resist the pun.

Although it was mentioned comparatively briefly in the popular press, the Hwang cloning scandal was covered extensively in the scientific literature. The details are complicated, but the story is a simple tale of lust for prestige and money. Hwang believed that a particular method of cloning human cells would eventually be successful, even though it had never been done before. Therefore, he faked some data and claimed to have done it. He expected someone else would “duplicate” his “work” and, when they were successful, it would be viewed as confirmation of his “pioneering research.” He would get credit for being the first one to do it.

Hwang is just the tip of the iceberg.

Doctor admits Lancet study is fiction

Faked data keeps spotlight on peer review.

A Norwegian researcher dreamed up the lives and lifestyles of some 900 people — and used them in a study on cancer. Then, last October, Jon Sudbø had his results published in The Lancet.

The revelation comes hard on the heels of the Woo Suk Hwang scandal, in which several important advances in human cloning reported by the South Korean researcher turned out to be faked.

The blatant nature of Sudbø's fiction emphasizes questions already being asked about the effectiveness of peer review, even in top journals, and about who should be responsible for catching fraud (see page 243). 1

As much as we would love to join others and “pile-on” the editors and peer reviewers for their failure, we realize that isn’t fair. How could they possibly have known the data was fraudulent? They weren’t in the laboratory. They didn’t see what was done (or, in this case, not done). All they had to go on was a paper that was consistent with their prejudices. Naturally, they thought it was true.

Peer review merely reinforces orthodoxy. That is, if the conclusions of the research confirm what the peers already believe, then the peers approve it. Otherwise, it is rejected. If the peers believe in evolution, then research critical of evolution has very little chance of being published.

Peer Rejections

In the past we have discussed in detail how scientific journals have refused to publish original work by creationists, but later published essentially the same work by evolutionists. Here is a quick review.

The theory of plate tectonics was originally proposed by a creationist, but was rejected by the major scientific journals of the day. The only journal that would publish it was an obscure French journal. Later, when proposed by evolutionist Wegner (without the observation that movement of continental plates demonstrates the power of God), it was published (despite the lack of any plausible natural force capable of moving so much mass).

Guy Berthault’s paper on lamination of particles in a fluid flow was rejected by major scientific journals (because it explains how sedimentary rock is formed rapidly rather than over millions of years), so it had to be published in creationist technical journals. Twelve years later it was published by an evolutionist, without credit to Berthault, and without mentioning the obvious conclusion.

Mary Schweitzer isn’t a creationist, but she had to publish her discovery of unfossilized dinosaur bones in Earth magazine, rather than the respected scientific journals, because of the obvious impact to the theory of evolution. She was able to publish her research in respected scientific journals a decade later by saying that the bones really were millions of years old, despite not being mineralized, and that they were very similar to bird bone. The need for proof that dinosaurs evolved into birds was enough to sway the peers in favor of publication, despite the age problem.

Of course, the example that is probably freshest in your mind, involves the firing of the editor who dared to print a peer-reviewed article favorable to Intelligent Design in a journal associated with the Smithsonian Institution.

Peer prejudice is not limited to creationists. Graduate students don’t get much more respect. That’s why Nobel laureate Harold C. Urey had to blackmail Science into publishing a paper by his graduate student, Stanley Miller, about the origin of life.

Trust the Old Media?

The Hwang scandal is so devastating to the scientific elite because it exposes the Good Old Boy Network that controls information flow. In many ways it is like the Dan Rather scandal. 2 The scientific journals, the major newspapers, and television networks once enjoyed an unchallenged monopoly on the dissemination of information. They controlled the news by censoring stories they didn’t want heard. Then the Internet came along, and it allowed anyone to say anything to a world-wide audience. The Internet is the epitome of free speech.

Of course, some of the things published on the Internet are nonsense. The scientific journals, newspapers, and broadcast journalists argue that one should only believe what appears in the Old Media because scientific journals, newspapers, and TV news broadcasts go through rigorous fact-checking. The Hwang and Rather scandals refute that argument. Statements beginning, “Scientists say …” can’t just be accepted at face value. Men in white lab coats can be wrong, and men in white lab coats sometimes lie. You, personally, need to critically judge everything you hear, regardless of the source.

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1 Marris, Nature, Vol. 439, 19 January 2006, “Doctor admits Lancet study is fiction”, page 248, https://www.nature.com/articles/439248b (Ev)
2 http://archive.mrc.org/campaign/04/rather.asp