Elsevier, the publisher of Applied Mathematics Letters, which retracted a paper questioning the second law of thermodynamics earlier this year, will issue an apology and pay $10,000 in legal fees.
According to John West at the Discovery Institute’s blog, which broke the story:
Dr. Rodin and his journal now have to issue a public statement providing “their sincere and heartfelt apologies to Dr. Sewell… and welcom[ing] Dr. Sewell’s submission of future articles for possible publication.” More important than the apology, the journal has to set the record straight by reiterating that “Dr. Sewell’s article was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication” and by making clear that his article was not withdrawn because of “any errors or technical problems found by the reviewers or editors.”
The move is unusual enough, but what makes it even more remarkable is that it followed some legal saber-rattling by the study’s author, Granville Sewell. Sewell was represented by attorney Pete Lopiscopo, of California. Lopiscopo has, according to his bio, represented plaintiffs in several cases championed by conservatives, including the
California challenge to the 2010 Health Care Bill, the Mount Soledad Cross case in San Diego, the Texas and Kentucky Ten Commandments cases, and the Pledge of Allegiance case.
We contacted Elsevier, who wouldn’t confirm or deny that there had been a settlement, but said that an explanation would be released soon. The study will not be reinstated.
We also tried West and Lopiscopo for details of the settlement, which West’s post appears to be quoting, and will update with anything we hear back.
As we noted in March, the second law of thermodynamics states, in a nutshell, that entropy — sometimes shorthanded as “disorder” — always increases. Intelligent Design proponents — which include the Discovery Institute as well as Sewell — argue that it “makes it impossible for evolution to improve living organisms,” Panda’s Thumb blogger Joe Felsenstein noted:
The obvious reply is that the biosphere is not an isolated, closed system, that to come near having one, we must also include the sun which undergoes a huge increase of entropy as it radiates energy, that more than compensates for the much smaller decrease of entropy involved in the evolution of life.
The withdrawal of Sewell’s paper happened quickly, following an exchange between Panda’s Thumb contributor David vun Kannon and Applied Mathematics Letters editor Ervin Rodin. The paper is still marked as retracted, with the original notice.
We should point out that Applied Mathematics Letters also retracted a paper in March claiming that science and spirituality both came from space. And Rodin, the journal’s editor, is also editor of Mathematical and Computer Modelling, which retracted a paper earlier this year too. Rodin has given us a stock (non-)response whenever we ask for comment:
Thank you for your message. We receive many comments and much information, which are designated confidential for the Editor-In-Chief only. Furthermore, we provide information only to the authors involved, or to the relevant reviewers.
We appreciate your understanding in this matter.
The settlement seems a highly unusual situation to us. Can anyone substantiate other cases?
Update, 1:40 p.m. Eastern, 6/8/11: Sewell has posted an item about the paper on Uncommon Descent.
Please see an update with the text of the apology.
Hat tip: Martin Hafner