Manufacturing controversy

Darwin Devolves cover

If you read the same blogs I do, you’re no doubt aware that Nathan Lents, Joshua Swamidass, and Richard Lenski published a not-very-flattering review of Michael Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves, in Science. As you would expect, various members of the Discovery Institute, including Dr. Behe himself, have responded to the review. I haven’t read Darwin Devolves yet, so I there’s a lot on both sides of the argument that I won’t try to evaluate.

What I am going to talk about is the attempts, mostly by David Klinghoffer, to imply that there is something underhanded about the review itself. Klinghoffer takes issue not just with the content of the review, but with its authorship and timing:

Three? Why Not One?

Why was it [the Lents et al. review] written and published in this way? It’s odd to review a book that hasn’t been publicly released yet.

By “odd,” he must mean “entirely routine” (we’ve already seen that Klinghoffer defines words however he likes) Publishers want reviews to come out before the book in the hopes that they will increase sales, so they typically provide pre-release copies to prospective reviewers. Klinghoffer should check out one of my favorite blogs, Evolution News & Science Today, where Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig mentions the four pre-publication reviews of Darwin Devolves on Amazon.

For a review of a book that’s presumably of trifling importance, why is one author not enough? Lenski is a star in the science world, whose work Behe addresses in his book. Swamidass and Lents are not well known, unless you’ve followed our interactions with them at Evolution News. I’m curious how this partnership, which sounds like an attempt at a firing squad, came about.

Again with the persecution complex! By “an attempt at a firing squad,” I think Klinghoffer means “a negative review.” I’m not sure why the violent imagery is necessary. As far as “one author not enough,” I think the word he’s looking for here is “coauthor.” The vast majority of scientific papers have more than one author, which is why we say “et al.” (“and others”) all the time. Admittedly, this is less common for book reviews, but it’s certainly not rare. Klinghoffer should check out this cool new magazine called Science, where he’d find other coauthored book reviews, like this one, this one, and this one.

In a separate post, Klinghoffer says,

This is the book to read if you’re ready to think for yourself about the origins of complex life…Some are ready, others not. My recent spat with National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson reminded me that many people are not psychologically prepared to consider the evidence about biological origins.

By “not psychologically prepared to consider the evidence,” I think he means “not convinced by lousy arguments for intelligent design.”

Okay, I’ve been fairly snarky here, but consider my provocation. Klinghoffer has implied that the overwhelming rejection that intelligent design has received among biologists is because of a lack of “guts,” that there is something nefarious about coauthoring a book review, that reasoned criticism is akin to violence (“firing squad”), that the standard practice of publishers distributing pre-release review copies is somehow suspect in this case, and that evolutionary biologists are psychologically deficient and unable to think for ourselves.

I can respect that Mr. Klinghoffer has substantive disagreements with the Lents et al. review, or at least agrees with Dr. Behe’s. These attempts to suggest that there is something sketchy about the review, though, are pitiful.


  1. Jazzlet says

    I think the assertion that reviewing a book before it comes out is “odd” demonstrates so much ignorance of the way publishing works as to suggest Klinghoffer does not usually read books, not a great look for someone commenting on a book review or the book itself.


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