Teleology and peer review: A thought experiment

I maintain that it’s a realistic scenario. Not because I think scientists are sitting around all day poo-pooing the quality of life’s designs, but because there are isolated areas in which discussions of “bad design” make up a good chunk of the scientific literature. The optimality of the standard genetic code is one such area, where it used to be that “a comprehensive search of possible code structures suggests that far better alternatives are possible (Wong 1980; DiGiulio 1989, 1994; Goldman 1993)”, as Freeland et al. (2000) write, criticizing this view. In fact, had my thought experiment taken place in the 1990’s, the standard genetic code could very well have been “Structure X”.

However, I won’t belabor this point, as the point of a thought experiment isn’t to mimic reality one-to-one, but to explore the consequences of one’s thinking in an idealized situation. After all, how unrealistic is the trolley problem in supposing that so many people will be tied to railway tracks at the same time? :wink:

I ignored it because I saw it as tangential to my thought experiment. But I’m always interested in talking about the adaptationism vs. structuralism debate and the role played by developmental constraints, so don’t take my ignoring your earlier point as anything other than trying to keep the thread on topic.


Freeland S.J., Knight R.D., Landweber L.F., & Hurst L.D., 2000, “Early Fixation of an Optimal Genetic Code”, Molecular Biology and Evolution 17(4):511-518

The literature shows it be rare, but I think the more interesting problem with your scenario is that it makes questions of reviewer/editor bias fade into the background behind competing assertions about the relevance or importance of claims/assumptions of “bad design” (they’re negligible at best) and confounding implications that design theorists think that showing “bad” versus “good” design is even relevant to a design argument or hypothesis. (It’s not.) I would suggest that the discussion above shows that few people stayed on the topic, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Would/should editors (like me) attend to claims of supernatural guidance or “design” or similar nonsense? We can, after all, intervene early in the process to save an author from damaging their paper by polluting it with silliness, and such silliness can take various forms (outlandish claims of therapeutic potential are by far the most common glitches we think about in my sector of the profession). We can also overrule reviewers who seem biased or distracted by side issues. It would have been interesting to discuss this, especially since ID defenders, like most laypeople, seem to have almost no understanding of the process of peer review and publication. Oh well.


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