Skip to comments.Row at US journal widens - Three papers caught up in journal probe of (peer) review process.
Posted on 10/11/2009 9:15:33 PM PDT by neverdem
A dispute between the editorial board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and an academy member has put the fate of three studies in question. In the wake of rows over a controversial paper published by the journal online in August but not in print two additional papers linked to the same academy member are now in limbo.
Last month, PNAS editor-in-chief Randy Schekman wrote to academy member Lynn Margulis, a cell biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, asking for "a satisfactory explanation for [her] apparent selective communication of reviews" for a paper she ushered through the peer-review process. Schekman made the demand after a report in Scientific American cited Margulis as saying that she obtained "6 or 7" reviews before netting "2 or 3" favourable ones that recommended publication.
The paper in question, by Donald Williamson, a retired zoologist at the University of Liverpool, UK, claims that the transition of caterpillars into butterflies can be explained by ancient butterflies inadvertently mating with velvet worms1 . This controversial idea is supported by Margulis, who is a strong proponent of the hypothesis that new species form by symbiotic mergers between unrelated organisms. She denies any wrongdoing and stands by the work.
But Williamson's claims met with scepticism from many scientists after the paper was published online. "If you know the literature on insect metamorphosis and insect development, you would know right away that this is absolutely ridiculous," says Fred Nijhout, an insect developmental biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
In last month's letter to Margulis, Schekman says that Williamson's study would not be printed, and that another paper, co-authored by Margulis and already accepted for publication, would not move forward until his concerns were addressed. That paper, led by Øystein Brorson of the Vestfold Hospital in Tønsberg, Norway, and co-authored by Margulis, describes a novel antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, which is caused by primitive, spiral-shaped bacteria called spirochaetes one of Margulis's areas of expertise.
Brorson says that he submitted page-proof corrections on 31 August and that the paper was slated for publication on 7 September. The new treatment, he claims, is 800 times more effective than doxycycline, the existing drug of choice against the disease. "It is very important to get this paper published," he wrote in an e-mail to Nature.
“Of course I'm not withdrawing any of these papers at all.”
University of Massachusetts
Now another paper put forward by Margulis is also being challenged, Nature has learnt. The paper, by John Hall, a computational biologist based in New York City who is an adjunct professor in the same department as Margulis, argues that genes from spirochaetes contributed to the genomes of advanced organisms, further supporting the theory of trans-species mergers.
The paper was accepted by three anonymous reviewers, but was questioned by a member of the academy's board who found fault with Hall's method of comparing gene sequences. In a letter on 4 September, Schekman urged Margulis to withdraw Hall's paper.
"Of course I'm not withdrawing any of these papers at all," Margulis says.
Schekman declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the review process. "We are working with Dr Margulis and our conversations are ongoing," says PNAS spokesman Jonathan Lifland. "We don't want to respond to any questions or complaints she has through the media."
Like Williamson's paper, Hall's study was 'communicated' to PNAS by Margulis through a system called 'Track I' that allows academy members to bring papers written by non-members to the journal's attention and then choose the reviewers. Last month, the journal announced that it would eliminate this option with effect from July 2010 a decision not driven by Margulis's submissions, says Lifland. "It was bad timing."
Meanwhile, Margulis has replied to Schekman's complaints. In a 5 October letter, obtained by Nature, Margulis details the eight people she asked to review Williamson's manuscript. Three scientists submitted formal reviews and three researchers declined to evaluate the paper two because they were unavailable, one because he felt the topic was outside his expertise. Two amateur-naturalists also offered their comments, although Margulis didn't originally include these critiques because she felt they would be disqualified from the PNAS review process owing to the reviewers' lack of formal credentials.
Margulis says she regrets the omissions, but stands by her decision to ask non-academics to share their views. "My modus operandi is to ask competent people, whether or not they have a PhD," she says.
Hall is preparing his own response to Schekman regarding the board member's critiques, which he says are misguided. "I don't think this guy has done his homework," Hall says. "I'm still very hopeful that [the paper] will be published." The journal's editorial board evaluates all PNAS submissions before final acceptance, regardless of the submission route.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," says Martin McMenamin, a palaeontologistgeologist at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, who reviewed Williamson's paper and recommended publication. "But I'm willing to lower that bar," he says, because evolutionary biologists are an "entrenched group" who can be reluctant to "consider alternate ideas".
"We will win one way or another because this is science," Margulis wrote in an e-mail. "I followed all the rules and submitted more reviews than I needed, and if they definitively reject these papers I will make it very clear to the reading public (because they make it clear in their anonymous letters) that, as usual, they don't like my ideas."
I reject the Darwinian assumption that larvae and their adults evolved from a single common ancestor. Rather I posit that, in animals that metamorphose, the basic types of larvae originated as adults of different lineages, i.e., larvae were transferred when, through hybridization, their genomes were acquired by distantly related animals. Caterpillars, the name for eruciforms with thoracic and abdominal legs, are larvae of lepidopterans, hymenopterans, and mecopterans (scorpionflies). Grubs and maggots, including the larvae of beetles, bees, and flies, evolved from caterpillars by loss of legs. Caterpillar larval organs are dismantled and reconstructed in the pupal phase. Such indirect developmental patterns (metamorphoses) did not originate solely by accumulation of random mutations followed by natural selection; rather they are fully consistent with my concept of evolution by hybridogenesis. Members of the phylum Onychophora (velvet worms) are proposed as the evolutionary source of caterpillars and their grub or maggot descendants. I present a molecular biological research proposal to test my thesis. By my hypothesis 2 recognizable sets of genes are detectable in the genomes of all insects with caterpillar grub- or maggot-like larvae: (i) onychophoran genes that code for proteins determining larval morphology/physiology and (ii) sequentially expressed insect genes that code for adult proteins. The genomes of insects and other animals that, by contrast, entirely lack larvae comprise recognizable sets of genes from single animal common ancestors.
I don’t understand this but maybe GodGunsGuts will.
FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.
Interesting quote from the end of the article:
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” says Martin McMenamin, a palaeontologistgeologist at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, who reviewed Williamson’s paper and recommended publication. “But I’m willing to lower that bar,” he says, because evolutionary biologists are an “entrenched group” who can be reluctant to “consider alternate ideas”.
I wonder if she subscribes to the Erich von Däniken thesis that humans were created by space aliens having sex with apes.
aaah yes, a fine example of the honesty and integrity of the religion of evolutionism...
well..actually it is
This is the top method liberals use to control the dissemination of information. They credential each other in a self-reenforcing incestuous cesspool of disinformation.
You find it throughout the education establishment, government, libraries, books, and other media.
Award committees, dominated by radicals, ignore countervailing evidence and champion their absurdist ideas as expressed by their own kind. Those views then become the prevailing ones because they are award winners. Think Pulitzers, NYT Reviews, Library Review, etc.
It is especially insidious in teaching colleges and then schools. In the sex ed arena you find credentialed "sex educators" ignoring evidence that their protocols simply don't work empirically, clinging to the theory because it is supported by other "experts". Said experts being their own professors, credentialers and selves. Reviewers then reference the same pool of "experts" in dismissing proofs against the agenda because "experts" all agree.
This is why a free people need a free Internet; to preserve the democratization of information. Sure you get a lot of junk, but independent, non-credentialed mavens will sort it out for us. The truth comes out, eventually.
Thanks neverdem.The paper in question, by Donald Williamson, a retired zoologist at the University of Liverpool, UK, claims that the transition of caterpillars into butterflies can be explained by ancient butterflies inadvertently mating with velvet worms1 . This controversial idea is supported by Margulis, who is a strong proponent of the hypothesis that new species form by symbiotic mergers between unrelated organisms. She denies any wrongdoing and stands by the work.To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
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Perhaps the most famous quote from Henry Kissinger: “Academic politics are the most petty form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” He had the wrong of course — the stakes in politics are always the same, power. :’)
This paper could be part of a broader back-burner struggle regarding the origin of corn (zea mays).
Martin is an astute fellow.
Heh. I suppose there’s some naivete in the fact I spent the better part of my adult life thinking, no, assuming scientists were above the fray. Ever since at least early university years I had heard the scientific method was sacrosanct and that no higher goal could or should be achieved or at least strived for. It’s just a hunch of mine but I suspect gummint meddling in academia/science/research probably had more to do with the demise of the scientific method and the politicizing of the scientific community than anything else I can think of. Our tax dollars at work...
IMHO, the big stink is because his hybridogenesis hypothesis is outside the usual and accepted hypotheses of genetic changes leading to at least new subspecies, if not species.
Such indirect developmental patterns (metamorphoses) did not originate solely by accumulation of random mutations followed by natural selection.
Accepted mechanisms of random mutations are acquired single nucleotide polymorphisms(SNPs) of the nucleic acid base pairs in the DNA of chromosomes and copy number variation of entire genes in higher organisms. There are other mechanisms of random mutations including horizontal gene transfer, recombination, fusion, fission, and spread of mobile elements, but I'm only a chemist and physician by training, not an evolutionary geneticist. IIRC, these genetic accidents happen during either meiosis or mitosis in germ cells. Any corrections are always appreciated.
This hybridogenesis argument appears novel, but it has been an accepted hypothesis, possibly known by a different name, at least for critters in the animal kingdom with mitochondria which have unique DNA inherited only from their mothers.
Lysenko would probably approve of this article, from what I read in the abstract.
I don’t suppose it would hurt to check his assumptions, and do necessary genetic comparisons, though. Should sort this thing out fairly quickly, I would think.
“If her research was BS, she’s being called out on it by fellow scientists.”
I don’t think her research is the central issue here.
She showed herself dishonest enough to abuse and debase the peer review process to get her viewpoint published.
Peer review is the last, tiny shred of integrity the “scientific community” has left. If that goes, they’re nothing but a pack of howler monkeys screeching and flinging feces.