letter from the editors
by Sy Garte, Editor-in-Chief, and Ciara Reyes, Managing Editor
In the fall of 2017, well before I (Sy) had any idea that I would soon replace Emily Ruppel Herrington as Editor-in-Chief of God and Nature, my wife and I met Emily and her sister for lunch in Washington, DC. Emily mentioned that she had chosen the topic for the Summer 2018 issue to be Judgment and Peer Review.
For six years, I was Division Director of the Center for Scientific Review at the NIH, where I helped to make and revise review policies and procedures, appointed scientists to review panels, attended hundreds of study section meetings, and dealt with many crises. It was a challenging and often uplifting position. And it taught me a great deal about peer review. I immediately decided I would submit an essay for this issue.
But as fate would have it, Emily decided to go in a new direction, and now, in the summer of 2018, I find myself no longer a contributor of essays (as Editor). So, instead, I will introduce the topic with a bit of Scripture.
Peer review, whether it is of grant proposals or manuscripts, is all about judgment of the work of others. How does peer review fit in with biblical instructions about judgment? Should humans act as judges of others, or is that only allowed for God? On first reading, it appears that Scripture answers yes to both alternatives. Here are two of the many admonitions against judging others:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.” Luke 6:37
“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?” Romans 14:10
But there are a similar number of encouragements to exercise judgment, for example:
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” Luke 12:57
“Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts” Zechariah 8:16
So are we supposed to judge or not? I think there is no actual contradiction in these verses. The anti-judging verses apply to judgment of people, while the encouragements to use judgment apply to what people do: their works and actions. A summary could be “Do not judge your brother or sister, but do judge what they do and say.”
As it turns out, this is consistent with the dilemma of making judgments about scientific grant proposals and with long-standing review policy at the NIH. While there is a minor aspect of NIH grant review that relates to the individual applicant, even that judgment relates to what the individual has done before – it is not about the individual as a person.
I have never heard a grant reviewer say: “The idea is good, the methods are fine, the applicant has a great track record, but I know him and he is a miserable mean person, so I am giving a low score.” In fact, such comments are strictly and explicitly forbidden. There is a strongly enforced policy that no ad-hominem comments are allowed to be expressed, either in writing or verbally, at any point during the peer-review process. If that rule is violated (which happens, though rarely), the application is removed from consideration, since the chances for it receiving a fair review are compromised, and it is reviewed elsewhere by a different panel.
I have no space here to say more about some of the intriguing details of what lies behind the curtain of grant review at the NIH, but I would be happy to answer questions put in the form of a Letter to the Editor submitted through the journal submission page.
About this Issue
The focus topic of Judgment and Peer Review features four wonderful essays by experts in the area. We start with an insightful summary of the complex nuances of peer review by Gareth Jones. Kevin Arnold from the John Templeton Foundation presents a thorough and enlightening description of the peer-review process at the leading private Foundation in the funding of work on the nexus of science and faith. James Peterson, Editor-in-Chief of ASA’s peer-reviewed and highly acclaimed academic journal, Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith (PSCF), gives us a tour into the workings of the peer-review process for the journal. Scott Smith presents a fascinating philosophical tour de force of how the presupposition of nominalism affects our scientific judgment related to theory formation.
Several essays on Chance and Design were submitted after the Spring issue was closed – this is clearly a popular theme! So, for this issue, we have a second focus topic: Chance and Design, Redux. Lucas Mix treats us to a lyrical discussion of the poetry of probability in God’s creation. Michael Mobley examines how God is in control of random as well as deterministic processes in our world; Daniel Gordon shows how chance and design are not really opposites but work together in God’s plan; and David Siegrist explains the multiverse and its significance in physics and belief.
The issue also includes an interview with Marianne Johnson, two poems, a piece by our columnist Mike Clifford, and an inspiring photoessay by theologian and acclaimed writer, Thomas Jay Oord.
About the next Issue
We are pleased to announce that we have already received many great contributions for essays, poems and artwork for the Fall issue of God and Nature, including essays on the Focus Topic: Education and Outreach. We do not want to discourage further submissions on this topic, since it is apparently one of great interest to our readers. But if you are planning to submit something on this (or other) topics for the Fall issue, please do not delay, since we anticipate running out of room in the near future. As we did for this issue, we can always add additional material in a future issue.
The Editors would like to thank Aniko Albert for help and suggestions in putting this issue together.
Sy Garte Ph.D. Biochemistry has been a Professor of Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He was also Associate Director at the Center for Scientific Review at the NIH.
Sy is the author of four books, over 200 scientific publications, and articles in PSCF, God and Nature and The BioLogos Forum.
Sy is Vice President of the Washington DC Chapter of the ASA. His blog is www.thebookofworks.com.
Ciara Reyes is a scientist, singer-songwriter and freelance writer, who joined the God & Nature staff in June 2017 as Managing Editor. She has a Ph.D. in Cellular & Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan.