Monday, July 07, 2008

Conservapedia: Schlafly touts "peer review" experience, refuses to cite evidence

When one of the Richard Lenski arguments Andy Schlafly brought up to try to state that the Lenski E. coli experiment was flawed, Schlafly stated that the peer-review process was way too short. On the news page, this was posted, "Richard Lenski's defenders finally admit that the data underlying his claims (which Lenski still has not disclosed) are not too voluminous. Also, his defenders all but concede that no meaningful peer review of Lenski's paper occurred in the mere 14 days that his paper was supposedly being reviewed prior to publication." This led to some discussion on the talk page, including several people who asked about the statements:

Andy, you make two claims that require some qualifications. I would appreciate your response on these matters:

1. You call a 14-day review "absurdly quick". Let me tell you that is not the case. These days, author submit papers online, and are downloaded by the reviewers immediately. There is not snail mail involved. So the 14-day period is normal. Second, you yourself mention "The average length of peer review for PNAS, based on a sample, is over 120 days"; that is an average, meaning some papers are reviewed faster and some slower. Your claim that 14-day is too fast is like saying that, because the median income in the USA is 40,000, an income of 400,000 is absurdly high, hence likely a lie.

2. You also say "I've peer-reviewed many papers myself". I am surprised to hear that, given that all I found in your biography was "editor of the Harvard Law Review". Editor and academic involved in peer review are not the same thing. I'd be curious to see what venue you reviewed papers for: year, issue. Could you give us a list, or could you point to a section in your notarized CV, where you list your activities as a reviewer, not editor ? --EileenT

This first posting went without response.

Seeing that a different argument came forward, a couple of posters reiterated EileenT's second point that went unanswered:

EileenT asked a couple of questions a little further up the page. They appear to have been missed as a result of the conversation becoming side-tracked somewhat. I would also be interested in the answers. In particular I would be interested in knowing for whom/which journal Aschlafly was undertaking the peer review role. --DenningMR 23:19, 29 June 2008 (EDT)

I would too. To add something else I would like to know the specifics of your peer reviewing Mr. Schlafly. How long did it take on average? How long did the fastest paper you peer reviewed take? Please respond. Rellik 14:41, 30 June 2008 (EDT)

Hours later, when other discussions came up, including about the misleading characterization Schlafly had for "Lenski's defenders" and what they "conceded":

You appear to have overlooked the questions posted above by EileenT, Rellik and me. --DenningMR

This brought about the angry defense of Schlafly by others:

If I were ASchlafly I would ignore your flamewar-baiting questions too. Asking things about Mr. Schlafly's peer reviewing and about irrelevant details like "How long did the fastest paper you peer reviewed take?" is not productive. It's not Mr. Schafly that's under scrutiny here - it's Lenski. --Humble 22:12, 30 June 2008 (EDT)
Humble is indeed right. Aschlafly is not obligated to respond to trolling. HenryS 22:21, 30 June 2008 (EDT)

The conversation continued, this time with Schlafly responding!

Thanks for your input Humble and HenryS. I must respectfully disagree, however. My post had nothing to do with "flamewar-baiting" (whatever that is) or with trolling. Aschlafly has challenged the peer review of Lenski's work and, as a part of that challenge, has cited his own experience in peer reviewing. It is not disrespectful or even surprising that several editors then ask for details of what that experience was. I am sorry that you have taken it the wrong way. The question remains on the table. --DenningMR
I answered on my talk page. In my experience an article having the extraordinary claims of Lenski's paper takes many weeks, if not months, of peer review to do a thorough job. I've been involved in quicker peer reviews for less significant claims, but that is hardly relevant.--Aschlafly 22:30, 30 June 2008 (EDT)
You didn't answer on your talk page. You said that Rellik had not provided a link so you didn't know what he was referencing. He, along with EileenT and myself were referring to this claim. We would all like to know what your peer reviewing experience is. We mean no disrespect, but you are using your peer reviewing experience (repeatedly) to butress your position that the review of Lenski's work was deficient. In that light it seems a reasonable request. --DenningMR 22:50, 30 June 2008 (EDT)
P.S. Upon rereading the above I see where there might be a misunderstanding. We were not asking whether your experience indicated to you that the peer review of Lenski's work was too quick. We were asking for details of what you had peer reviewed and for whom. --DenningMR 23:08, 30 June 2008 (EDT)
We can only be taken seriously if we can substantiate our claims and acknowledge our mistakes. In fact, commandment #1 reads "Everything you post must be true and verifiable". That is why I posted some clarifications myself, and asked Andy to provide more info on his reviewing activities, so we leave readers the impression we are serious. Andy's comment was, and I quote "Thanks for trying to talk down to us, "Henry8th", but I've peer-reviewed many papers myself. Suffice it to say that you, DanielB and DinsdaleP are awfully naive if you don't think bias played a role in the absurdly quick "peer review" of Lenski's paper.--Aschlafly 20:34, 28 June 2008 (EDT)". Andy, your cooperation is appreciated, and would help strengthen Conservapedia's credibility. EileenT 23:37, 30 June 2008 (EDT)
Folks, you're barking up the wrong tree. I refuted an attempt to talk down to us. I never asked anyone to believe me based on my experience and your obsession has taken on an inappropriate life of its own. I have participated in blind peer review and that implies not bragging about the specific name of the publication(s). Now run along and contribute something substantive.--Aschlafly 23:18, 1 July 2008 (EDT)

That's right, instead of taking Schlafly to task for his absurd statements and trying to say he's fully qualified for distinguishing bad peer reviews (but don't try to find out what his qualifications are!), people should be making substantial contributions to the site. Unlike, say, personal vendettas against biologists whose work you don't like?

But, instead of several people asking Schlafly to back up his claims, apparently a commandment at "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia" to post statements in the first place, he decides to take to name-calling and avoiding the question:

Aschlafly, I can understand your reluctance to brag about your experience. However, as I pointed out above, you have repeatedly used youe peer reviewing experience to support your claim that the peer review of Lenski's work was deficient because it was "absurdly quick". Surely this site owes it to those whom it criticises, to properly support such assertions. I do not see why you cannot name the publication, so long as you do not name the specific work that you reviewed. Certainly you could reveal the research area of the work reviewed (molecular biology, quantum physics, inorganic chemistry etc). And surely there could be no objection to revealing the number of peer reviews that you have undertaken (if it is in the hundreds, no doubt a rough estimate would suffice). As EileenT pointed out, this is a matter of strengthening Conservapedia's credibility. Please set aside your understandable reluctance to brag for the good of this project. --DenningMR 00:14, 2 July 2008 (EDT)
I made no claim based on personal experience or credential. Liberals argue that way, not conservatives. Lenski's peer review was absurdly quick based on a review of PNAS average peer review times, which anyone can do, and also common sense. I know you'll insist, as all liberals do, on last wordism here, but don't misrepresent my position and don't beat a dead horse.--Aschlafly 00:19, 2 July 2008 (EDT)

Well, isn't that strange? He made no claim based on personal experience or credential[s]? I could have sworn . . .

In fact, someone else caught this quickly:

Aschlafly, you are mistaken. You did make claims based on personal experience. They were as follows:

...I've peer-reviewed many papers myself. ...--Aschlafly 20:34, 28 June 2008 (EDT)
...In my experience an article having the extraordinary claims of Lenski's paper takes many weeks, if not months, of peer review to do a thorough job. I've been involved in quicker peer reviews for less significant claims, but that is hardly relevant.--Aschlafly 22:30, 30 June 2008 (EDT)
...I've served as a blind peer reviewer also over the years.--Aschlafly 18:56, 1 July 2008 (EDT)

I am not saying that you cannot make such claims, but, having made them and having criticised Lenski based on them, are you not duty bound, when asked, to reveal what your experience is? You are behaving as if I am trying to badger you or criticise you. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to protect the credibility of this project by ensuring that the basis for criticisms levelled at third parties is clear for all to see.

This horse isn't dead yet. The best and easiest way to kill it would be to answer the question. --DenningMR

To which a response was:

Your posts are becoming disruptive. See your talk page. Bugler

That's right, asking someone to back up his wild claims of serious experience related to what he's saying someone else failed at is "becoming disruptive". Unlike, say, the person who's devoting quite a bit of time to libeling a biologist's integrity and professionalism?

It's not disruptive for people on a site that states as commandment 1: "Everything you post must be true and verifiable." Is it that much to ask someone making claims of his own experience in saying someone else's work is flawed, that such experience should be verifiable and true? Guess not.

I expressly stated in the quotes above that the peer reviews done by me are "hardly relevant," so obviously I'm not going to continue to encourage the senseless comments about it. Put your spare time to better use: explain why Lenski won't make public the taxpayer-funded data that underlie his public claims. Liberal attempts at last wordism that divert attention from the main issue are disfavored.--Aschlafly

I guess it's true what they say about wild animals backed into corners. They will lash out, name-call, divert attention and . . .

But how would Conservapedia deal with someone who wants a straight answer that conforms to commandment one? BAN THEM!

You are encouraging these "senseless comments" by not giving a straight answer. Oh yes last wordism your effort to stifle debate by both painting the dissenting contributor as a juvenile debater and as a liberal. You know nothing about me so I encourage you to keep your last wordism to yourself. Back on topic though. To end this you have two options either block me and everyone else who is asking about your peer reviewing experience, or give an honest answer. I would prefer if you went with the easier route. Rellik 16:16, 2 July 2008 (EDT)
I have blocked 'killer': this hysterical rant was the last straw. Bugler

Look at that hysteria "Rellik" put out. He should have been banned years ago for flying off the handle. Good think Andy Schlafly keeps a calm head, isn't it?

yes, thank you for turning the volume down on the hysteria. Now it's easier for simple requests for information to be answered - like the specifics of aschlafly's peer review participation. This is straight-forward information that should take next to no time to provide and will put the braying liberals in their place. Given the energy spent doing exactly that, this seems like a great ROI opportunity! Aziraphale 18:00, 2 July 2008 (EDT)
Ugh... another wise guy. You people just won't give up huh? You didn't even bother reading what was already said - Aschlafly explained that "I have participated in blind peer review and that implies not bragging about the specific name of the publication(s)." --Humble

Blind peer review is the reason Schlafly does not have to defend his "experience"? Blind peer review simply means that the reviewers are not known to the author. If Schlafly has only participated in BPRs, and he has never wished to have his name associated with any of his works, one could consider this acceptable if this were simply his job description.

However, since Schlafly is taking his experience and using it to point out flaws of an esteemed biologist, hiding behind it makes it more suspicious. No one is asking him to brag about publications, but give some insight into his so-called experience. Naming a journal that has been around for decades isn't the same as naming a specific issue of said journal. Stating his experience lies in, say, nanotechnology studies of medical procedures in military operations, without naming anything else, will still give him some leeway that he has experience without identifying the actual articles which he reviewed.

Therein lies the problem of Schlafly stepping forward. He would need to give some information about what he peer-reviewed relevant to this study. To do so, Schlafly would also have to identify what expertise he has in such a field to become a reviewer of a paper. Reviewers aren't pulled from the street; they are experts in the field of study.

Since Schlafly's Conservapedia page lists his credentials as teacher, adjunct law professor and homeschooling subjects such as economics and history, I don't see how Schlafly can defend his statement that he has knowledge first-hand of peer-reviewing biological papers. Perhaps his peer-review experience is in an unrelated field, and thus his boasting is, once-again, misleading?

Given that several people have caught Schlafly on this, and Conservapedia's regulars defend him or ban a person for persisting to get more information on his boasts, it's clear that, like so many of Schlafly's other claims against Lenski, he's full of shit.


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