share this


May 9, 2017

Not. My. Peers. (Part One)

peer (noun)

"  ... a person who is equal to another in abilities ... "

As the author of a paper submitted to a journal I expected that anyone asked by editors to evaluate it would at least be my intellectual equal. Unfortunately, experience with two biology journals convinced me that, judged solely by their written comments, the evaluators of my submission were not my peers. They were my intellectual inferiors.

The journals were Trends in Evolution and Ecology (TREE) and the Journal of Theoretical Biology (JTB). The experience with TREE occurred in 2014; JTB's in 2016-2017.

The papers submitted to each journal were basically identical. The version sent to JTB can be read at this link. The only substantive difference between the two versions is the final sentence in the text which was in the JTB submission but not the earlier TREE version.

TREE's editor forwarded to me two complete evaluations while a co-editor-in-chief of JTB sent an extract of a single reviewer's comments.

As is clear, the submitted manuscript is essentially an argument in support of the theory previously published in two Letters in JTB in the 1980s and expanded in my 1992 Nature-reviewed book; in other words, it contains no new proposals.

Although nothing new was proposed, two of the reviewers decided not to review the submitted paper but to reject completely the idea published thirty-plus years ago in the JTB Letters, both of which were personally reviewed by the founding editor of that journal, James F. Danielli FRS (1911-1984) and another member of its Editorial Board. 

In emphatically rejecting the published theory the TREE reviewer claimed there is no need for an additional evolutionary mechanism (i.e., one that had not been available to colonial forms) to explain the origin and evolution of the Bilaterians.  His entire argument can be summed up as follows: contrary to what Graham implies, jellyfish are really complex, their diversity is truly wondrous and since Graham is satisfied with the conventional explanation for jellyfish evolution no additional mechanism is required to explain Bilaterian evolution. That reviewer's comment can be read at this link. 

According to the co-editor-in-chief's extract, the JTB evaluator, (whose comments are in two pages here and here) takes a  position similar to the TREE person: there is no need for a mechanism exclusive to Bilaterians. Although this reviewer has a profound reading comprehension problem (by writing "The chain is NOT unbroken") I thank him for relieving me of the need to draw that particular inference. I comment further on this reviewer in Part Two.

Both those reviewers imply that the JTB editors were wrong to publish my Letters because ... well, they were taught (and remain convinced) that evolutionary mechanisms that produced plants and other cell colonies were entirely capable of producing every single Bilaterian specimen that ever existed.

The reviewer for TREE who actually commented on the submitted paper and not on the published Letters claimed I was employing a form of "group selection." (His comments can be read at this link.) Anyone reading my manuscript will not find in it anything remotely similar to--or even remotely analogous to--group selection. Perhaps that reviewer never encountered anything similar to my--entirely legitimate--use of the analytical device of focusing exclusively on the actual ancestral specimens over ~550 million years of Bilaterian evolution. My intellectual equals--my peers--would not confuse that device with group selection and would, moreover, possess the intellectual suppleness needed to understand arguments based on that reality-based device.

My Theory Anticipated At Least Two Scientific Discoveries

One way of measuring the power and the legitimacy of a scientific theory is to consider whether or not it was confirmed by research undertaken subsequent to its composition. 

Beginning in the early months of 1978 I wrote and widely circulated to biologists (and submitted to more than one biology journal) drafts of papers in which I postulated, after realizing that the fact of complex animal evolution demanded their existence, functioning cancer triggers--oncogenes--in all  somatic cells of all complex animals. Such genes were not discovered until the early 1980s, earning Varmus and Bishop a Nobel in 1985.

In my 1992 book Cancer Selection, after explaining (on page 103) why I was convinced that sleep has played an essential anti-cancer role, I wrote on page 143: "Future discoveries of increased immune activity ... during sleep would support my theory." A search at Google Scholar for "sleep + 'immune system'" yields a number of  papers  (all post-1992) linking the two.

(My idea that senescence in complex animals is an anti-cancer program, which was published on page 83 of Cancer Selection, has not, as far as I know, received notice in the literature, but in 2006 the New York Times quoted an American scientist expressing the identical conclusion.)

Is an individual who has not published an original theory in evolution, let alone a theory that anticipated subsequent research findings, the "peer" of someone who has done both?

An Observation

We should all be grateful that these evaluators (and the editors who tacitly agree with them)--who complacently accept the notion that the cell-by-cell construction of  the most complex, precisely-constructed objects known to exist in the universe was faultlessly accomplished in many trillions of  actual ancestral animals without a powerful quality-assuring feedback mechanism functioning between the populations of somatic cells in developing animals and the controlling gene pools--are employed in Biology. Imagine if such careless thinkers had the power to make decisions with more serious potential consequences, such as overseeing manufacturing systems for Boeing or Airbus.

Link to Part Two.

Comments and question are welcomed here.

At this site you will find links to additional material including my original Letters to the Journal of Theoretical Biology and the 1992 Nature review of my book.

Copyright © 2017 by James Graham

This site is archived at Way Back Machine.