If the Nowak et al. paper is so bad, why was it published? That’s obvious, and is an object lesson in the sociology of science. If Joe Schmo et al. from Buggerall State University had submitted such a misguided paper to Nature, it would have been rejected within an hour (yes, Nature sometimes does that with online submissions!). The only reason this paper was published is because it has two big-name authors, Nowak and Wilson, hailing from Mother Harvard. That, and the fact that such a contrarian paper, flying in the face of accepted evolutionary theory, was bound to cause controversy. Well, Nature got its controversy but lost its intellectual integrity, becoming something of a scientific National Enquirer. Oh, and boo to the Templeton Foundation, who funded the whole Nowak et al. mess and highlighted the paper on their website.
The lesson: if you’re a famous biologist you can get away with publishing dreck. So much for our objective search for truth—a search that’s not supposed to depend on authors’ fame and authority. I feel sorry for co-author Corina Tarita, a young scientist with splendid qualifications, for this paper will always cast a shadow over her career.
PS: If you are like me, here is Wiki defining National Enquirer: an American supermarket tabloid!