Peer Review Fails to Catch a Liar
Another Scientist Caught Lying…
And How It Illustrates the Shortcomings of Peer Review
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
On December 21, nanotechnology researcher Charles Lieber was found guilty of lying about both his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Program and his large income from China. Lieber was the Harvard University Chemistry Department Chair, 2012 Wolf Prize recipient in Chemistry, and was considered a potential Nobel Prize winner. As a result of the court case, Leiber’s Nobel aspirations were found to be part of what led him to conceal his close China links. The court decision concludes “a stunning downfall for one of the country’s top chemists.” It also is another black mark on science. Specifically, a federal jury found Lieber guilty on all six felony charges, including two counts of lying:
Federal prosecutors said Lieber, 62, chased money and Nobel hopes past the limits of the law by concealing his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Program in misleading statements to investigators and falsely-reported tax returns. Jurors deliberated for just shy of three hours before coming to a verdict Tuesday evening. Lieber showed little reaction as the decision was read in court.… The closely-watched Lieber case was brought as part of a crackdown on academic espionage at American universities…. Lieber lied about his ties to the program in interviews with the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, which funded his research with millions of dollars in grant money…. [and] failed to report foreign bank accounts and income from the TTP to the Internal Revenue Service.
Fortunately, this finding was made before Lieber might have been awarded a Nobel prize, avoiding another embarrassment. The most coveted award in science has a long history of embarrassing decisions made by peer reviews by leading scientists, the method used to select nominees for the award. Two other egregious examples include the following:
In 1926, Dr. Hermann Joseph Muller discovered that X-rays can increase the mutation rate in living organisms, particularly in egg and sperm cells, by as much as 100 times. Because the major source of genetic variation is mutations, he reasoned he could drastically speed-up evolution by artificially creating new mutations by X-rays. His experiments involved placing fruit flies in petri dishes, turning on his X-Ray tube to irradiate the flies, then mating those that survived, and lastly, attempting to measure and evaluate the number of mutations in the offspring. The excitement this discovery produced in the scientific community was so great that the Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Muller in 1946 “for the discovery of the production of mutations by means of X-ray irradiation.” In his acceptance lecture Muller wrote:
Not only is this accumulation of many rare, mainly tiny changes the chief means of artificial animal and plant improvement, but it is, even more, the way in which natural evolution has occurred, under the guidance of natural selection. Thus the Darwinian theory becomes implemented, and freed from the accretions of directed variation and of Lamarckism that once encumbered it. [Emphasis added.]
All Muller got, however, were sick fruit flies or dead fruit flies. The results had nothing to do with evolution or natural selection. And ever since, no experiment has produced an improved fruit fly by increasing the mutation rate.
Another example is the 1949 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine given to Egas Moniz “for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses”—a treatment that was then considered “one of the most important discoveries ever made in psychiatric therapy.” More commonly known as frontal lobotomy, the leucotomy procedure was a destructive brain surgery based on the evolutionary belief that, as the brain evolved in our direct ancestors, the newer sections, including the frontal cortex, evolved on top of the older brain parts. These “lower order” parts of the brain had “neurobiological traces of our evolutionary past.” (See my articles about frontal lobotomy from 22 Jan 2019 and 5 Nov 2021.)
Frontal lobotomies were an attempt to surgically separate the frontal lobes, especially the very front parts, from the underlying (‘less evolved’) portions of the brain. Lobotomy is now one of the most embarrassing parts of medical history. When we look back, we wonder how and why it was ever widely accepted by scientists and physicians. The Nobel Prize for this atrocity is one more evidence that, in its heyday, lobotomy was “not an aberrant event but very much in the mainstream in psychiatry.” It was uncritically and enthusiastically supported and performed in leading university hospitals in countries around the world. It caused thousands of victims to become zombies and, for this reason, the term ‘lobotomize’ today refers to deprivation of sensitivity, intelligence, or judgment.
Problems with Peer Review
Charles Lieber will likely not be awarded the Nobel because the exposure of his crimes occurred before he could be formally nominated, but except for this reason he likely would have received the award. Although only two examples were cited above of Nobel prizes awarded to irresponsible ideas and unethical people, many more examples could be mentioned of persons awarded the prize whose ideas were afterward exposed as erroneous. Physicist Frank Tipler wrote in 2003 that to understand the problems with the process of peer review “we first need to understand what the ‘peer review’ process is and how it works. That is, we need to understand how the process operates in theory, how it operates in practice, what it is intended to accomplish, and what it actually does accomplish.”
As Tipler showed, the belief that peer review is the gold standard of validity originated only about a half century ago:
The notion that a scientific idea cannot be considered intellectually respectable until it has first appeared in a “peer” reviewed journal did not become widespread until after World War II. Copernicus’s heliocentric system, Galileo’s mechanics, Newton’s grand synthesis—these ideas never appeared first in journal articles. They appeared first in books, reviewed prior to publication only by the authors or by the authors’ friends. Even Darwin never submitted his idea of evolution driven by natural selection to a journal to be judged by “impartial” referees. Darwinism indeed first appeared in a journal, but one under the control of Darwin’s friends. And Darwin’s article was completely ignored. Instead, Darwin made his ideas known to his peers and to the world at large through a popular book: On the Origin of Species.
Tipler added the important fact that
prior to the Second World War the refereeing process, even where it existed, had very little effect on the publication of novel ideas, at least in the field of physics. But in the last several decades, many outstanding scientists have complained that their best ideas— the very ideas that brought them fame—were rejected by the refereed journals. Thus, prior to the Second World War, the refereeing process worked primarily to eliminate crackpot papers.
Peer Review as Censorship of Nobel-Quality Work
This observation is especially pertinent in the case of articles critical of evolution, no matter how well-documented, as I have documented in detail in my 566-page book on censorship of Darwin doubters. Tipler was very concerned about censorship, commenting that:
Today, the refereeing process works primarily to enforce orthodoxy. … ‘peer’ review is not peer review: the referee is quite often not as intellectually able as the author whose work he judges. We have pygmies standing in judgment on giants. An example is in memoirs or biographies of physicists who made great breakthroughs one is struck by how often one reads that ‘the referees rejected for publication the paper that later won me the Nobel Prize.’”
Rosalyn Yalow described how her Nobel-prize-winning paper was received by the journals as follows: “In 1955 we submitted the paper to Science…. The paper was held there for eight months before it was reviewed. It was finally rejected. We submitted it to the Journal of Clinical Investigations, which also rejected it.”
Another case is that of John Bardeen, the only scientist to be awarded two Nobel Prizes in physics. He had difficulty publishing his theory of low-temperature solid-state physics, for which he later was awarded the Nobel, because it went against the science establishment. Fortunately, one of Bardeen’s friends was David Lazarus, editor in chief of the American Physical Society. Lazarus concluded from his careful investigation of the case that “the referee was totally out of line. I couldn’t believe it. … John really did have a hard time with … [his] last few papers and it was not his fault at all. They were important papers, they did get published, but they gave him a harder time than he should have had.”
Tipler cited several other cases of Nobel Laureates and successful scientists whose papers were rejected, including Tipler’s own case. He writes about his attempt to obtain a grant which was evaluated by peer review as follows:
I called Rich Isaacson, the head of the Gravitation Division of the NSF, and told him about my situation. Rich called me a few weeks later, and told me that the referee reports for my proposal were “all over the map”—some reviewers said I was the most original relativity physicist since Einstein, and others said I was an incompetent crackpot. Rich said that in such a circumstance, he could act as he saw fit. He saw fit to fund my proposal. I had grant support! I also had tenure; the physics department reversed its negative vote.
Peer Review as a Bludgeon Against ID
Articles against intelligent design attempt to claim this belief is wrong because their work is most often rejected by peer review. One example is Wikipedia’s mocking the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, which is described as “a creationism advocacy organization” that failed as a science because its journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, was “set up by intelligent design proponents to publish articles promoting intelligent design without a peer review process with sufficient impartiality and rigor.”
This claim was voiced solely because the editors were mostly ID supporters and thus reviewers would likely be ID supporters as well. If ID opponents were used as reviewers, no doubt the majority would recommend against publication regardless of the quality of the paper. The whole point of the new journal was to be able to publish articles in support of ID because of the close to zero probability of publishing them in secular journals no matter how well-researched. The problem was, at least in physics, indicated by a
recent poll of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, published in Scientific American, indicated that more than ninety percent are atheists. These men and women have built their entire worldview on atheism. They would be exceedingly reluctant to admit that any result of science could be valid if it even suggested that God could exist.
Tipler wrote about the enormous hostility against the ID worldview that was revealed to him when he
arranged for Bill Dembski to come to Tulane to debate a Darwinian on the Tulane faculty. (This faculty member was appropriately named Steve Darwin!) Bill presented only the evidence against Darwinism in the debate, while Steve’s response unfortunately had quite a few ad hominem remarks. Steve has continued to be friendly to me personally. But ever since the Dembski/Darwin debate, another evolutionist on the Tulane faculty—who shall remain nameless!—glares at me every time he sees me. Before the debate he and I were friends. Now he considers me a monster of moral depravity.
It is unlikely now that Charles Lieber will be awarded a Nobel Prize, but if he had won, and the problems brought out by the investigation noted above would have been revealed after he was given the award, another major embarrassment would have hit the Nobel committee. Science is not a perfect process, and scientists are flawed people as we all are. Unfortunately, many in the public have an unrealistic view of science and peer review. They have been led to believe that science has proven evolution and disproven both Intelligent Design and creationism. In their long war against God, atheists in Big Science wield the prestige of science as one of their main tactics to keep Darwinism shielded from debate and to marginalize Darwin skeptics.
 Cho, I.B., Harvard professor Charles Lieber found guilty of lying about China ties, The Harvard Crimson, 22 December 2021.
. Cho, 2021.
 Thone, Frank. 1928. New Discovery Speeds Up Evolution: Science Prize Winner Makes Discovery Believed by Many to Have Immense Practical and Scientific Significance. Scientific American 138(3):235, March 1928.
 Muller, Hermann J. “The Production of Mutations”, Nobel Lecture—December 12, 1946. Reprinted in Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine, 1942-1962. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Publishing Company, pp. 154-172, p. 162, 1946.
 Valenstein, Elliot, Progress in Brain Research 85:539–554, Chapter 27: “The Prefrontal Area and Psychosurgery,” p. 539, 1991.
 Johnson, Jenell, 2016. American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, p. 110, 2016.
 Valenstein, E., Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery. New York, NY: Basic Books, pp. xi, 4, 1986.
 Tipler, F. Refereed Journals: Do They Insure Quality or Enforce Orthodoxy? https://johndfenton.com/Documents/Tipler03-PeerReview.pdf, 2003.
 Tipler, 2003, p. 1.
 Tipler, 2003, p. 1.
 Bergman, J., Censoring the Darwin Skeptics: How Belief in Evolution is Enforced by Eliminating Dissidents. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press, 566 pages, 2018.
 Shropshire, W. (editor), The Joys of Research. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 109, 1981.
 Daitch, Vicki and L. Hoddeson. True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen. The Only Winner of Two Nobel Prizes in Physics. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, p. 300, 2002.
 Tipler, 2003, p. 2.
 Tipler, 2003, p. 8.
 Tipler, 2003, p. 9.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.