Monday, April 2, 2012

Raising an eyebrow at a Springer series editor

Springer announced last month that it would publish Biological Information: New Perspectives, the proceedings of a more-or-less secret conference of creationists. The publisher retracted the announcement almost immediately, saying that it was automatically generated, and that the volume was undergoing additional review.

Biological Information was listed, oddly enough, in an engineering series, the "Intelligent Systems Reference Library." The creationist argument that life was engineered is not engineering, of course. The creationists themselves regard it as science.* Only one of the editors of the proceedings, Bob Marks, has worked in the field of intelligent systems. It was probably he who proposed the volume to Springer.

I happened upon a volume in the series, and had a look at its two editors and 43 titles, 35 of which are dated 2011 or 2012. Seeing that one of the series editors is Janusz Kacprzyk, I thought immediately of the Polish journal that announced a forthcoming article by Marks and Dembski (another of the proceedings editors), but suspended operations prior to publishing it. And Prof. Kacprzyk was indeed on the editorial board of the International Journal of Information Technology and Intelligent Computing.

Membership on an editorial board is more an honor than anything else, and it's doubtful that Prof. Kacprzyk was involved in the process of review and acceptance of the article. However, it's not unreasonable to ask what he knew about it. And I did, with no mention whatsoever of Springer:

I'm curious as to how much you knew about the article. Were you aware that many scientists and engineers objected to it as "intelligent design" creationism? Did you read the article?
Prof. Kacprzyk did not dignify my email with a response. So I'll dignify his non-response with a raised eyebrow. If he knew nothing about the article, then why not say so?

How, precisely, do the editors of a series on engineered intelligent systems receive a proposal for a volume on biological information, and conclude other than that it's outside the scope of the series? The parsimonious guess is that they're compensated on a per-volume basis, and care more about cranking out volumes than anything else. But inquiring minds want to know.

* I say that ID creationism falls into the category of speculative philosophy, "which makes claims that cannot be verified by everyday experience of the physical world or by a scientific method." And rather than advocate censorship of Biological Information, I call for Springer to classify it correctly.

The central theme of the volume is, I suspect, that biological information is the consequence of non-material intelligence operating on matter. This is a teleological view of physical reality. What's new about it is the tacit claim that something unobservable (intelligence) creates measurable stuff (information) out of nothing with evident purpose. It is hardly unfair to characterize this as speculative philosophy seeking to become science.

In the Library of Congress classification system, BD493-701 is associated with "teleology, space and time, structure of matter, plurality of worlds." Books in this range have a great deal to say about science, but are not themselves works of science. I believe that Biological Information belongs with them. Irrespective of how libraries classify it, I hope that Springer will go on record with a statement that the volume is meta-scientific.

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