Monday, October 04, 2010

Why I Laugh at Creationists - That's Not a Journal

I've been hanging out at JT Eberhard's blog (the guy running Skepticon) lately thanks to my friend Steve dropping a link there on facebook.

I first started reading it from this post of his responding to a rather vacuous creationist named Bakersdozen2. BD2 tossed out the usual list of Creationist fallacies, among them the bifurcated fallacy of "Big Bang is wrong, thus Goddidit."

Fallacy aside, the premise of the Big Bang being wrong is one that needs some serious evidence. I've addressed the Big Bang before and demonstrated that there's several independent lines of evidence that converge to support it. So how does BD2 support that the Big Bang is wrong?

Initially he linked to an article in an Indian Newspaper citing an article in the Journal of Cosmology. The main point of the article was that we haven't detected gravitational waves, thus the Big Bang is wrong.... as if the linchpin of the entire Big Bang Theory is gravitational waves....

I went ahead and looked for the original article and eventually found it... on viXra.org. If you're not familiar with viXra, it's an alternative to arXiv.org, which is a preprint server for several types of scientific publications. viXra decided it didn't like the "censorship" practiced by those ebil scientific journals and all those hoity toity types at arXiv (where you have to be vetted by someone in the field before you can upload, so a minimal peer review process), so they started their own club.

I bet readers are already groaning anticipating what viXra really is: A home for crackpots. And you'd be right.

But that's guilt by association. Perhaps, just perhaps, this article is legit. No idea why it wouldn't have been put on arXiv first, but it apparently made it in a real, peer reviewed journal.... right?

No.

The "Journal of Cosmology" is a sham.

First, check out it's "peer review" process:
Authors should submit the names, affiliations, and email addresses of 5 scientists qualified to review their paper
Yeah... that's right. You can pick your own reviewers. It says not to pick "friends", but that doesn't mean you can't pick someone that's not already sympathetic to your position and not going to give it a real shake. That's not peer review. That's cronyism.

While I've been informed that this is standard practice for some journals, a legitimate journal should at least review the reviewers picked and make sure they the proper qualifications and the job is done. How does this journal do?

Let's take a look at some of the articles. Here's one that the author of the paper BD2 likes to cite. It's about the "Myth of the Big Bang". Here's a quote that sums up the article:
Although most cosmologists will deny it, their Big Bang interpretations of data require it: a geo-centric universe with Earth as the center and measure of all things--exactly as demanded by the Judeo-Christian religion.
Wha? The Big Bang is Creationism is disguise?! Then why do so many Creationists have a problem with it?

Oddly enough, in this case, the Creationists actually understand the theory better than the author. The author claims
Therefore, data marshaled in support of the Big Bang place Earth at the center of the universe, with claims of age, distance, expansion, acceleration all relative to where the Earth is now
Uh... no. We use the Earth as a reference frame, but one of the centermost understandings of all of cosmology is that we do so because it's convenient. Not because it's the way things really are.

How did that slip by peer review? I guess the author recommended some elementary school students to review it. Behe would be proud.

So where does this guy come from and how does he know so much about Cosmology?

Well, he's from the Brain Research Lab. Oooh.... Research Lab. Sounds legit. Or not. They don't actually do research. They just produce stuff for the people that do.

But what about the original article BD2 referenced?

It's rubbish too. And it's not hard to see why. It's essentially the same game Creationists play - If you can poke enough holes in something, it will collapse, so make people think it's full of holes. The author cites numerous studies that attack various points of the Big Bang. Every single one falls flat. They're either things that the author simply doesn't understand (superstructure in the universe), or things that have never been justified (non-Doppler shift interpretations of redshift). His sources are crap too. Aside from the horrid nonsense I already pointed out he likes, he's also citing E.J. Lerner, a plasma cosmology lunatic. But even if they were supported, it provides no converging explanation for anything. Good theories tie many things together. This author thinks he's onto something when everything points in a different direction. Bad science. Bad journal.

Some of the other articles don't look too bad (although I've only glanced through a few of them). There's some written by some legitimate scientists actually working in their own fields including the person that started the "journal". In fact, he has quite a few, which is interesting. That's not a conflict of interest at all....

Overall, pretending this "Journal of Cosmology" is a credible source, is a bunch of nonsense. It's horribly and obviously flawed. But then again, so are Creationists.

UPDATE: Nancy, over at Universe Today, has also taken note of how another article fails to meet critical standards from experts in the field. This time on sponsoring missions to Mars. While one could argue that disagreements will always exist in cutting edge fields, the glaring inadequacies of these articles have shown that these aren't just disagreements over uncertain issues. These articles contain fundamental errors at the basic level. I mean, really? Selling property on Mars to fund missions in violation of international treaty? How did that one sneak by?

In general, it seems like most of the worst articles come from a guy named Rhawn Joseph, who this journal apparently loves and gives a free pass. He's a quack. PZ smacked him down last year. He, or one of his sycophants left a comment on my Big Bang post linking to some video about how the Big Bang never happened. I was going to do a full debunking of it and even downloaded it, but the sheer density of stupidity just hurt too much. I had 4 pages of notes and wasn't even 10 minutes in before scrapping it.

13 comments:

Wayne said...

That journal may very well be a sham, but some of your "evidence" is pretty weak. That is, unless you also consider "Annales Geophysicae" to be a sham journal. I have published in ANGEO, and their website states: "Authors are obliged to suggest 4-5 potential referees" and "it requires the author or a supporting institution to pay the costs of the review process, typesetting, web publication and long term archiving". I have also published in journals that did not accept LATEX, although most will these days. Suggesting reviewers, paying fees, and limitations on formats are pretty common among scientific journals, so putting those criticisms first really damages your argument here.

Tantalus Prime said...

I have to agree with Wayne. In my field (neuroscience) it is common practice to ask for recommended reviewers, and pay to publish is standard for a small but significant minority of journals.

Jon Voisey said...

Before posting this, I did a quick survey of astronomy journals. None suggested that there were any such fees, formats should be anything other than LATEX (which seems to be standard for the field), and allow one to choose their own reviewers. From what I'd been taught, astronomical journals all had staff that would find experts in the respective sub-field for review.

As such, these practices seem to stand in pretty stark contrast with the rest in the astronomical field.

Wayne said...

It's true that astronomers have their quirks, an affinity for LATEX being one of them, but it's a fairly outdated way of typesetting by modern standards and it's not surprising that a primarily online journal wouldn't want to deal with it. The point we are making is not whether or not these practices are customary for this particular field, but rather if it constitutes a "sham journal" because of it.
There's no shame in revising your opinion based on new evidence, we are telling you that these practices are not unreasonable for a respectable journal (go check for yourself). You are welcome of course to maintain your opinion in spite of new evidence, but it's a slippery slope from there to pseudoscientific thinking. Let me also emphasize that I'm not saying this journal is legit, I haven't investigated it myself, it may well be junk, but if so it will require digging deeper than the author guide to find it.

Nicole said...

I remember having to get paperwork for my institution to pay fees to get in ApJ. But suggesting your own reviewers is definitely odd in astronomy. Maybe that's because it is a small enough community still that editors can be expected to know where to send papers.

viXra.org is hilarious. Thank you for that.

Jon Voisey said...

Wayne: I agree that, in light of the points made, at the very least the format and payment aren't valid supporting evidence. Hence, I've removed them.

The recommending your own reviewers I still maintain is a valid point given that at least two articles contain such glaring errors that the only way they could have passed review is to have sympathetic reviewers. While the practice of recommending reviewers may work as a starting point, I'd expect them to be investigated by the editor of the journal and the paper itself to be reviewed by the editor as well. The comments I've highlighted from the papers show that their review process is severely flawed.

I've changed the wording of that section as well to reflect this. I agree that digging more than just the author guide is needed, which is why I looked over some of the articles that pertained to the main one.

I still maintain this journal has such low standards that it's effectively a sham, basing this off said standards. I think this argument still holds even without those portions removed thanks to your insight.

Wayne said...

Jon, Thanks for making the changes, I think it's actually a much stronger article now. I agree that the editor is still responsible for making sure the reviewers are qualified and the reviews are done properly. It's been my experience that while an editor will usually allow you a relatively sympathetic reviewer, that person will still point out factual errors, and a good editor will always seem to send your paper to at least one reviewer that will rip your paper to shreds. I have found, though, that even the harshest review always results in a better finished paper, so I grudgingly acknowledge that they are the most productive reviews to get.

Wayne said...

Jon, Thanks for making the changes, I think it's actually a much stronger article now. I agree that the editor is still responsible for making sure the reviewers are qualified and the reviews are done properly. It's been my experience that while an editor will usually allow you a relatively sympathetic reviewer, that person will still point out factual errors, and a good editor will always seem to send your paper to at least one reviewer that will rip your paper to shreds. I have found, though, that even the harshest review always results in a better finished paper, so I grudgingly acknowledge that they are the most productive reviews to get.

Tantalus Prime said...

I have to agree with Wayne. In my field (neuroscience) it is common practice to ask for recommended reviewers, and pay to publish is standard for a small but significant minority of journals.

s_elizabeth_b said...

Really great article :)

tony2212 said...

Thanks for educating us "masses" as you call it. I really don't know what we would do without you to set things straight. Oh noble one, show us the way!

tony2212 said...

Where is the debunking you claim to make? All I see is several paragraphs attacking people as "lunatic".

Jon Voisey said...

Perhaps you should check the title of this post. It's not looking at the article in specific. It's looking at the credibility of the journal. It has none because its peer review process is virtually non-existent as evidenced by elementary mistakes filling various articles.

Regardless, in reference to the original article in question, it was debunked. It only took one sentence: "The main point of the article was that we haven't detected gravitational waves, thus the Big Bang is wrong.... as if the linchpin of the entire Big Bang Theory is gravitational waves...."

In other words, the article doesn't actually have a logical foundation. End of story.

But let's, for the sake of argument, pretend that was somehow a valid point. I don't know if you've been paying attention to the news the past few weeks, but there was just a major announcement regarding gravitational waves causing an imprint in the polarization of the CMB. Guess it's even more wrong.


As scientists, we do have open minds. However, that open door policy is guarded by a standard of evidence. Such claims as those made by the article in question as well as the journal in general don't come anywhere close.