Saturday, 3 April 2010

Peer Review

In the preceding post (below) I mentioned what I think is a key failing of evolutionary scenarios, such as that of the eye by Nilsson & Pelger - they completely ignore what we now know of the genetic and molecular mechanisms that are essential for forming biological tissues. And along with this they ignore the fact that the evolution of substantially new biological structures, such as eyes and feathers, would require new genes to arise.

And my point here is this: this knowledge has been well known for at least a generation; yet, not only did N&P (and authors of comparable scenarios for other organs) feel free to ignore this, but presumably the reviewers of their paper were happy to overlook this oversight too. And, we should note, it wasn’t published in some minor or obscure journal, but in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

Before I comment further on peer review, let me also mention another serious flaw in the authors’ rationale. Their aim was not only to show what they considered to be a plausible scenario for the evolution of an eye, but also to estimate how long it would take - to show that there was plenty of geological time for it to happen. But their method was seriously flawed: their calculations used an equation (in Falconer’s Introduction to Quantitative Genetics) formulated to estimate the time to effect change through domestic breeding.

First of all, this reinforces the point I made previously - that their model for the evolution of an eye is based on selection from an already existing gene pool - completely ignoring the fact that a new organ such as an eye will require very many new genes (which are prohibitively improbable to arise - a central theme of my book).

Second, their model assumes that only those organisms having a variation that confers at least a 1% improvement in vision will contribute to the next generation. This is the sort of thing a breeder can put into practice, but totally unrealistic to think that natural selection (which of course is what the evolution of the eye would have had to rely on) will operate this way - most of the mature individuals (even those with reduced visual acuity) in a population will have some offspring.

So these criticisms completely undermine their claim that their calculations are a ‘pessimistic’ estimate of the time for an eye to evolve. Quite the opposite!

This also gives some insight into peer review: Presumably the reviewers were so happy with the overall message of the paper that either (a) they didn’t examine it too closely, and/or (b) they were aware of its serious shortcomings but chose not to stand in the way of a paper which said what they want to hear. At very least It shows that ‘peer review’ is not the independent objective assessment it’s claimed to be.

And its not just the reviewers who are at fault. This paper is referred to widely to support the notion that eyes could have evolved readily. Have none of these bothered to take a careful look at what N&P actually proposed?


吳怡迪 said...
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PorshaCoghlan梁子珠 said...
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David Swift said...

Hi, I've rejected a few comments because they were unreadable - perhaps using an unsuitable character set? Please make sure your comments can be displayed correctly. Thanks