There is no rigid format for Editorial Review reports, because flexibility has to be allowed to discuss particular aspects of each submission, no two being exactly the same. Nevertheless, a report should generally attempt to address key questions and some others (where appropriate), as indicated below.
The Society’s Remit
The first key question to be answered is, “Does the submission lie within the remit of the Society?” There is undoubtedly a range of views amongst SIS members as a whole as to what the remit of the Society ought to be, but Editorial Team members are expected to set aside personal beliefs and passions and uphold the remit of the SIS as specified in the Constitution and as practised throughout the Society’s history.
As stated in the Constitution, “The object of this Society is to advance the education of the public, and, through the combined use of historical and contemporary evidence of all kinds, to promote a multi-disciplinary approach to, and specialised research into, scientific and scholarly problems inherent in the uniformitarian theories in astronomy and Earth history, and thus to promote active consideration by scientists, scholar and students of alternatives to those theories.” In the furtherance of this Object, the Society has regularly published articles which present, discuss or critically assess new information and ideas about topics relating to revisions of chronology and/or the influence of large-scale natural catastrophes on the course of life on Earth, particularly, but not only, in historical times. These have included, for example, aspects of archaeology, ancient history, biblical studies, mythology, scientific dating methods, geology, palaeontology, evolution, physics, astronomy, data from space probes, cosmology and the role of electromagnetism in the Universe. It should be realised that, although the SIS has consistently sought to promote active consideration of alternatives to orthodoxy, it has retained a fundamentally neutral stance on all matters of detail, and has never given official support to any particular alternative theory. Its primary role is to facilitate the search for truth, whatever that may turn out to be.
Assessment of the Quality of Submitted Material
The second key question is, “Is the submission of suitable quality to justify publication?” Again, members of the Editorial Team are expected to disregard their own personal views on the topic of a submission and to consider its suitability for publication in a purely objective manner, assessing it on the basis of generally-accepted standards of scholarship, i.e. the degree to which its conclusions are supported by logical arguments based on verifiable up-to-date evidence. The Constitution requires us to “publish a journal to the highest possible academic standards”, which may be considered aspirational rather than something we are likely to achieve, but it nevertheless gives a clear indication of what we should be aiming for.
Of course, when we were publishing Workshop as well as Review, that aspiration would only have applied to the latter. Hence, since the merger of our two journals, Review contains not only finished articles but also preliminary sketches of theories still in the process of being developed, as well as other articles of a similar nature. These cannot be expected to be of the highest academic standard, but they still need to achieve a threshold standard of scholarship (i.e. that which applied to Workshop) to merit publication. The reviewer may be unconvinced by the conclusions but, provided they have been reached by a process which satisfies the minimum academic requirements, the article should be recommended for publication. Conversely, however much the reviewer may like the conclusions, from a personal point of view, the article should not be recommended for publication if the minimum academic requirements have not been satisfied. In general, no deep knowledge of the subject will be required to assess whether the academic process has been carried out up to or beyond the minimum standard. In rare cases where specialist subject input is considered necessary, the Editorial Co-ordinator will try to ensure that it is provided.
Amongst the questions which ought to be taken into consideration when considering an article are the following:
- Is it well-presented and written (i.e. explanatory introduction, clear presentation of arguments, leading to clear conclusions)?
That will normally be a requirement for publication.
- Is it well-referenced (without undue reliance on secondary sources, outdated sources or website sources)?
In the past, this criterion would often have played a significant part in distinguishing between “Review-standard” and “Workshop-standard” articles but, in general, all articles would have needed (and still need) to be sufficiently well-referenced to justify publication.
- Do the cited sources provide the information or the views claimed of them?
Members of the Editorial Team and volunteers and will not in general have the time or the means to check on the contents of all the sources cited. Nevertheless, since the purpose of the review process is to come to the correct decision, it should be understood that a report written by a reviewer who has checked the sources and found them to have been misused by the author of the submitted article will carry greater weight than one written by a reviewer who simply assumed that what the author said about the contents of the cited sources was correct.
- Does the article present original thinking?
We do not expect the author of every article to be presenting a new theory, for we also publish articles which support, discuss or challenge the theories of others. Nevertheless, in every case we would be expecting the author to be referring to new evidence or making points which have not been made before, not simply re-cycling material published previously.
- Is it overly speculative?
The SIS encourages speculation, when it involves a valid re-interpretation of evidence, but not when it arises out of an ignorance or misunderstanding of the evidence. That is not to say that the evidence cannot be challenged, but it needs to be challenged in an objective, informed fashion, not simply assumed to be incorrect.
- Does the author rely too heavily on orthodox assumptions, or on the assumptions of an alternative model?
Assumptions are assumptions, regardless of whether they are used to support orthodox or unorthodox arguments, and should not be taken to be established facts.
- Are the ideas in the article supported by ideas from other disciplines?
Because of its name and its constitution, it is obvious that the SIS seeks to encourage interdisciplinary studies, and welcomes articles (provided they are of suitable academic quality) which take an interdisciplinary approach to the subject under consideration, or refer to relevant studies in other fields carried out by others. However, such an approach will not be appropriate in every case, so its absence will not, in itself, provide grounds for rejecting a particular submission.
- Are there statements in the article which are factually inaccurate?
It is true that there can sometimes be grey areas of uncertainty about whether something is an interpretation or a fact, but this question does not refer to such situations, only to ones involving clearly-established facts (such as the fact that, in our current calendar, there are 7 days in a week). The SIS, as a reputable organisation and an educational charity, will not knowingly publish any statement that is factually incorrect, so it is the duty of members of the Editorial Team to draw attention to anything of that nature found in a submission. That will not necessarily mean that the submission as a whole must be rejected. A similar consideration applies to the next two questions.
- If the paper is critical of the work of others, is its tone denigrating?
It is legitimate for an author to challenge the conclusions of others, provided proper justification is provided, and that it is the work which is criticised, not the character of the individuals who carried it out. The SIS will not publish personal abuse, or speculations regarding the motives of those whose views differ from those of the author.
- Is the author too categorical in his/her statements?
It is understandable that many authors will be enthusiastic about the quality of the work they have submitted but, even if that enthusiasm is justified, the SIS can only publish an article if the writer maintains an appropriate sense of proportion. The best that can ever be said about a theory (even one which has become generally accepted) is that it provides a better fit to currently-available evidence than any alternative theory. Attention should be drawn to unrealistic expressions, such as claims of proof for a proposed theory. Similarly, attention should be drawn to unrealistic comments about another author’s work, such as saying that X has shown something to be correct, whereas, in most cases, X will have done no more than show that it might be correct.
The above relates to articles, but we also publish letters and book reviews. More freedom of expression is allowed with these, but they must still be consistent with the general principles which have been outlined. For example, arguments should be clear and logical, statements should be factually correct and the focus should be on issues, not personalities.
Letters should normally be brief, and usually (although not necessarily) form responses to something which has recently been published in Review. In the case of submitted letters which introduce new topics, consideration should be given as to whether it would be more appropriate to publish them as short articles. Book Reviews should focus on the book, and its relevance to the likely interests of SIS members. A review should not be used primarily as a platform for the reviewer to present his or her own ideas, but nor should it be just a bland summary of the book, without any personal opinions being expressed by the reviewer. We are looking for an appropriate balance.