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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Passion of the ID Advocate

John Baez from UCal-Riverside, in addition to his many contributions to the field of mathematical physics, has given to us the enormously useful Crackpot Index. His index, which awards varying point values based upon the attributes of the claims being made, gives a fairly reliable indication of whether what is being offered is a genuinely useful new idea in science and what is simply crank science.

14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.

The ID crowd LOVES to invent new phrases - irreducible complexity, complex specified information, etc.. They are notoriously ill-defined, and the definitions seem to shift like the sands of the desert over time. The most recent is "ontogenetic depth", which is, as PZ Myers points out in an earlier post, extraordinarily vague.

19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".

As one review of an ID book said:
Thomas Woodward reveals in Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design that we stand at the threshold of another revolutionary paradigm shift.
And here is Woodward himself, reviewing Behe's book:
This three-way test (dubbed "the Explanatory Filter") became the centerpiece of the conference as Behe and his colleagues reviewed new evidence that points to design. Some observers say that the design movement may be embarking upon the first stage of a transitional process in science, which philosophers call a "paradigm shift."

22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

On the back of William Dembski's book Intelligent Design is the following blurb from ID-sympathetic philosopher Rob Koons:
"William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time."
And never mind that Dembski has not published a single paper on information theory in the scientific literature, or that his views seem to be shared by virtually no one in the field of information theory. Hyperbole is its own reward.

25. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary".

Dembski, quoted in the Dallas Observer:
"My commitment is to see intelligent design flourish as a scientific research program. To do that, I need a new generation of scholars willing to consider this, because the older generation is largely hidebound."
26. 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy".

I'd say this is close enough, Dembski in reference to my friend and colleague Rob Pennock:
Pennock, who casts himself as the defender of scientific correctness....
Or how about this one, from Ohio's pro-ID school board member James Turner:
Unfortunately, the reaction to this suggestion from some in the science community has been to scream "heresy." Certain self-appointed guardians of "elite" science fear that any departure from the road of strict naturalistic orthodoxy will inevitably lead us back to a time when the Christian creation story defined origins science in many states. This fear is, of course, irrational in today's world, but it nevertheless drives unnecessarily extreme positions about the content of Ohio's science standards.
31. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

How many examples would you like for this one? How about Jonathan Wells:
Another interesting aspect of the press conference was a statement by Ken Miller, featured on the evening news, to the effect that ID advocates are trying to present their views to the public "without the approval of science." Afterwards, in private, Steve Meyer kept repeating Miller's pompous declaration with a heavy German accent, sounding for all the world like Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's propaganda chief.
How about references to communists? Here's Wells again:
But I see the situation as analogous to the last years of Soviet communism. A small, powerful elite controls all the official information outlets while the evidence against the official position swells quietly, like a wave building offshore. Someday soon, to the surprise of many people in academia and the media, the wave will break. I predict that the Darwinist establishment will come apart at the seams, just as the Soviet Empire did in 1990.
How about Dembski:
Dembski, whose recent book, "The Design Inference," presents in great detail how the Intelligent Design argument satisfies logic and probability, likes to compare the movement's influence on science to the freedom and democracy movements and their effect on Eastern Europe. Criticism of Darwinism now threatens the hegemony of Darwinism, he says, just as the move toward freedom upset the Soviet empire.
Can't leave out Phillip Johnson, from Darwin on Trial:
Darwinian evolution with its blind watchmaker thesis makes me think of a great battleship on the ocean of reality. Its sides are heavily armored with philosophical barriers to criticism, and its decks are stacked with big rhetorical guns ready to intimidate any would-be attackers. In appearance, it is as impregnable as the Soviet Union seemed to be only a few years ago.
John Calvert of IDNet goes for the rare double axel of evil:
The precise same thing is happening in our country with regard to the issue of what causes life and its diversity. That is essentially a historical question. If the history is driven by a Naturalistic agenda that censors one of the two competing hypotheses we will be engaging in the same sort of propaganda that characterized Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.
All of this brings us to:

32. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

For this, we can turn to Dembski and I think we can award 80 points for this one, since he hits the conspiracy to prevent his work from getting published AND calling his oppressors commies:
In the current intellectual climate it is impossible to get a paper published in the peer-reviewed biological literature that explicitly affirms intelligent design or explicitly denies Darwinian and other forms of naturalistic evolution. Doubting Darwinian orthodoxy is comparable to opposing the party line of a Stalinist regime. What would you do if you were in Stalin's Russia and wanted to argue that Lysenko was wrong? You might point to paradoxes and tensions in Lysenko's theory of genetics, but you could not say that Lysenko was fundamentally wrong or offer an alternative that clearly contradicted Lysenko. That's the situation we're in.
33. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.

Phillip Johnson, in his last column in Touchstone magazine:
I have turned to the Galileo episode not to compete with historians in assessing the blame for the tragedy, but because the elements of that conflict are present again in the hot argument between the Intelligent Design movement in biology and Darwinism. Today the scientific profession has firmly grasped the authority once possessed by the Catholic Church and contested by Galileo, the power to judge which claims have the status of knowledge and which do not. Like the Church of Galileo’s day, the Church of Science can tolerate almost any concept if it remains no more than a hypothesis or metaphor, provisionally adopted as an aid to understanding and not advocated as literally true.
34. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)

All one has to do to see this kind of fantasizing is go to the latest issue of World magazine, which contains leading ID advocates engaging in "fanciful" discussion of the inevitable triumph of ID in 2025, overthrowing all of mainstream science and it's "materialistic orthodoxy" and, of course, returning the world into the hands of the One True God. I could post a couple dozen quotes from it, but read it for yourself. It's all one long fantasy about the ascendance of ID and how they beat back the heathen hordes of Darwinian stormtroopers, to mix a few metaphors.

35. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

Since the first moment when ID made its first big public splash, at the Naturalism, Theism and the Scientific Enterprise conference in 1997, scientists and philosophers have been challenging Dembski, Behe and their colleagues to provide testable hypotheses that flow from the ID model. None has been forthcoming. They have written voluminously against the ability of evolution to explain this or that feature or phenomenon, e.g. Behe's Darwin's Black Box. They have tried to convince everyone that evolution is built upon a foundation of lies, e.g. Wells' Icons of Evolution (though I think that book said far more about Wells' honesty than those he intended to criticize). They have written lots of anachronistic probabilistic arguments, e.g. Dembske's The Design Inference. What they have not done, in any setting, is offer up a testable hypothesis that flows from their premise, propose a means of testing it in the real world, and do the actual science. Time and again, we have been told that it's "on the way". Dembski seems to forever be promising that it will be in his next book. Alas, like Estragon and Vladimir in Beckett's play, we are perpetually waiting for an arrival that never comes.

The reality is that every crackpot idea in the history of science has been defended on this very same basis. Every crank believes passionately that they are Don Quixote tilting at the windmills of orthodoxy, oppressed by the High Priesthood of Science, so jealous to protect their domain against revolutionary ideas. For every instance where someone has been initially ridiculed and then vindicated, Alfred Wegener for example, there are a thousand who thrashed and wailed against the alleged censorship of their ideas and then faded into history because, in the end, their ideas simply didn't help us understand the world any better. ID advocates seem to strike the martyr pose as a reflex reaction, as a leg responds automatically to the strike of the doctor's rubber hammer. But in so doing, they show the essential emptiness of their enterprise. Crying censorship may be good public relations, in that it elicits sympathy from those who want so desperately for ID to be true. But it's lousy science, and it only damages credibility with the educated and the rational.

Ed Brayton | 12:12 AM | | | Permalink

Monday, March 29, 2004

My Favorite Things: Humorous Author

I posted on who I thought was the funniest comedian a few days ago, now it's time for who I think is the funniest writer of our day. The award goes to Joe Queenan. Queenan is a freelance writer who has written in dozens and dozens of magazines as diverse as Spy and Forbes. He has also authored several books, including Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, My Goodness: A Cynic's Short-Lived Search for Sainthood, and the funniest of them all: Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon. This last book is simply one of the funniest books ever written. I'm going to post some excerpts from the first chapter of this book and hope to avoid any copyright problems. If any lawyers are reading, just think "fair use".

Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon is basically Joe Queenan's trip through the worst of American popular culture. He goes on a journey to experience the worst music, the worst books, the worst restaurants, the worst movies, and anything else he can think of. Needless to say, most of those horrible things are wildly popular in the US. In this respect, this book resembles, at least in tone, Paul Fussell's BAD, another terrific book. Queenan's journey begins, predictably and horribly enough, with the musical Cats:
Cats was very, very, very bad. Cats was a lot worse than I'd expected. I'd seen Phantom years ago, and knew all I needed to know about Starlight Express and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, so I was not a complete stranger to the fiendishly vapid world of Andrew Lloyd Webber. But nothing I'd ever read or heard about the show could have prepared me for the epic suckiness of Cats. Put it this way: Phantom sucked. But Cats really sucked.

One of the things that fascinated me about Cats was the way I'd managed to keep it from penetrating my consciousness for the previous fourteen years. Yes, I'd been walking past the Winter Garden Theatre at 50th and Broadway since 1982 without once even dreaming of venturing inside; and yes, I'd heard the song "Memory"; and yes, I'd heard about all the Tonys Cats had won; and yes, I'd seen all those garish subway posters; and yes, I'd been jostled by those armies of tourists streaming out of the theater at rush hour as I myself tried to hustle through midtown. But all those years that Cats had been playing, I'd somehow avoided even finding out what the show was about. Wandering past the Winter Garden all those years was like wandering past those dimly lit S&M bars in Greenwich Village: I really didn't need to know the details.

Now my blissful ignorance had been shattered. So without any further ado, let me share the wealth. For the benefit of the two or three other people in this society who don't know what Cats is about, here's the answer: It's about a bunch of cats. The cats jump around in a postnuclear junkyard for some two and a half hours, bumping and grinding to that curiously Mesozoic pop music for which Andrew Lloyd Webber is famous--the kind of full-tilt truckin' that sounds like the theme from "The Mod Squad." There's an Elvis impersonator cat, and a cat that looks like Cyndi Lauper, and a cat that looks like Phyllis Diller. All the other cast members look like Jon Bon Jovi with two weeks of facial growth.

Sure, Cats is allegedly based upon the works of T. S. Eliot, but from what I could tell, the show had about as much to do with the author of "The Waste Land" as those old Steve Reeves movies had to do with Euripides. Cats is what Grease would look like if all the cast members dressed up like KISS. To give you an idea of how bad Cats is, think of a musical where you're actually glad to hear "Memory" reprised a third time because all the other songs are so awful. Think of a musical where the songs are so bad that "Memory" starts to sound like "Ol' Man River" by comparison. That's how bad Cats is.
Ah, but this is just the jumping off point for his journey. There are larger fish to fry:
I came home from Cats feeling totally dejected. In the back of my mind, I'd expected the show to fall into that vast category occupied by everything from bingo to Benny Hill. You know: so bad, it's good. But Cats was just plain bad. Really bad. About as bad as bad could get. Revisiting the horror in my mind later that evening, I consoled myself with the assurance that surely this would be the lowest point of my adventure, that nothing I subsequently experienced could possibly be in even the same league as Cats.

Then I cued up the Michael Bolton record.

So much for that theory.

For years, I'd been vaguely aware of Michael Bolton's existence, just as I'd been vaguely aware that there was an ebola virus plague in Africa. Horrible tragedies, yes, but they had nothing to do with me. All that changed when I purchased a copy of The Classics. When you work up the gumption to put a record like The Classics on your CD player, it's not much different from deliberately inoculating yourself with rabies. With his heart-on-my-sleeve appeals to every emotion no decent human being should even dream of possessing, Michael Bolton is the only person in history who has figured out a way to make "Yesterday" sound worse than the original. He's Mandy Patinkin squared. His sacrilegious version of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me" is a premeditated act of cultural ghoulism, a crime of musical genocide tantamount to a Jerry Vale rerecording of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" And having to sit there, and listen while this Kmart Joe Cocker mutilates "You Send Me" is like sitting through a performance of King Lear with Don Knotts in the title role. Which leads to the inevitable question: If it's a crime to deface the Statue of Liberty or to spraypaint swastikas on Mount Rushmore or to burn the American flag, why isn't it a crime for Michael Bolton to butcher Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"?
From horrible music to horrible movies:
In the days and weeks that followed, I gradually realized that mainstream American culture was infinitely more idiotic than I had ever suspected. Take movies. Over the years, I'd come to believe that a special ring of hell had been reserved for Lome Michaels for promoting the careers of Joe Piscopo, James Belushi, and others of their ilk. But nothing those dimwits had done on film had even vaguely prepared me for the prepaleolithic world of Adam Sandler and Chris Farley. The whole time I was watching Billy Madison and Tommy Boy I kept saying to myself, "I know that these people are alumni of `Saturday Night Live,' so I know that if I sit here long enough, they will eventually do or say something that will make me laugh. Heck, they're pros."

Oh, foolish, foolish man! Hours and hours later, I was still in my chair, comatose, watching these Gen-X Ostrogoths ruin my day, my week, my civilization. Here's Sandler setting a bag of poop on fire. Here's Farley getting covered in cow shit. And here's Bo Derek, co-starring. What a sad commentary on our society that we have produced movies so bad that you feel sorry Bo Derek has to be in them. Which just goes to show: No matter how famous you are when you're young, if you don't play your cards right, you're eventually going to end up in a movie with Adam Sandler.

Was all this a surprise to me? Yes, I can truly say that the scale of horrendousness proudly displayed in these motion pictures was awe-inspiring. Sure, I'd known that these movies were out there, but not until I'd actually sat all the way through a couple of them did I have any idea how satanically cretinous they were. Until I saw Billy Madison and Tommy Boy, I'd always thought that the three scariest words in the English language were "Starring Dan Aykroyd." Now I knew better. Being introduced to Joe Piscopo and Dan Aykroyd and only later learning of the existence of Adam Sandler and Chris Farley is like going to school and learning about the Black Plague, only to find out many years later that there's something called the Blacker Plague.

And I don't even want to talk about Pauly Shore.
The whole experience leads Queenan to coin a new concept and a new phrase:
Gradually, my passion for peerlessly disorienting experiences caused me to experience a strange new emotion. Technically speaking, there is no English phrase or idiom to describe the feeling to which I refer, so here I will take the liberty of coining the term scheissenbedauern. This word, which literally means "shit regret," describes the disappointment one feels when exposed to something that is not nearly as bad as one had hoped it would be. A perfect example is Neil Diamond's recent album, Tennessee Moon.

"Hollywood don't do what it once could do," Neil sings on the title track, so he packs up his "dusty bags," grabs "an old guitar," and hits "that Blue Highway," rambling back to that "old Tennessee Moon" where he once "fell in love to an old Hank Williams song." Yes, when Neil hears that "lonesome whistle moan," he says, "So long, Big City," because he's "longing for those country roads," and knows it's time to "take a swing down south" to "see if that "girl Annie still remembers me."

Let us ignore for a moment the implausible elements in this song, most importantly the fact that Neil Diamond hails from Flatbush. Let us also ignore the fact that The Country Record has been a cliche since Dylan recorded Nashville Skyline, that the record contains the obligatory phoned-in Waylon Jennings duet, and that Neil Diamond, a man who makes Burl Ives sound like Joey Ramone, does not come across in an entirely convincing fashion on the John Lee Hooker-type track where he sings "I'm gonna be rockin' tonight." This is a line that reminds me of the time Senator Al D'Amato got dressed up as "a narc" and went up to Harlem to register a "bust." Man, did some shit go down that day!

Despite this abundant evidence of dire lameness, Tennessee Moon did not even approach Michael Bolton's The Classics for sheer acreage of horseshit per square foot if only because Neil Diamond at his worst still sounds better than Michael Bolton at his best. The reason? At least Neil wrote the atrocious songs that he was slaughtering.

Yet, much to my consternation, I found this terribly disappointing. At a certain level, I had now begun to hope that everything I encountered would suck in a megasucky way, and was honestly disappointed when some proved merely cruddy. Like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, I wanted to gaze directly into the abyss, to stare at the horror. But as the days passed, as I ventured deeper and deeper into the heartland of hootiness, I grew crestfallen at the failure of certain monstrously popular cultural figures to achieve the bathetic levels I craved. Dean Koontz's Intensity was sadistic, depraved, and revolting, but the book could not hold a candle to The Horse Whisperer's Mephistophelian inaneness. Slam Dunk Ernest, a direct-to-video film about a lovable moron, was predictably idiotic, but because it had one good joke (Ernest, the unlikely basketball hero, changes his name to Ernest Abdul Mustafa), it could not rival the horrors of Billy Madison and Tommy Boy.
An interesting concept, this shit regret, but he had to apply it to one of the most popular singers in America:
Garth Brooks--Glen Campbell under an assumed name--was a perfect example of the scheissenbedauern phenomenon. Every Garth Brooks song I encountered was a redneck anthem about truckers, drivin' rain, country fairs, burning bridges, that damn old rodeo, ashes on the water. In the typical Brooks song, "Mama's in the graveyard, Papa's in the pen," there's a fire burning bright, "this old highway is like a woman sometimes," and some old cowboy's "heading back from somewhere he never should have been."

Garth is always sayin' a little prayer tonight, payin' his dues, shipping his saddle to Dad. But Jehoshaphat, he wouldn't trade a single day, because love is like a highway, it's one big party, and let's face it: He drew a bull no man could ride. So all that's left to do is whisper a prayer in the fury of the storm and hope you don't miss The Dance.

It goes without saying that folks call Garth a maverick, heck, there "must be rebel blood running through (his) veins." But sometimes you've just got to go against the grain, "buck the system," even though "the deck is stacked against you." In short, Brooks's music was the musical equivalent of a Pat Buchanan stump speech, market-researched baloney where the lyrics were so generic you started to suspect he was using Microsoft's Drugstore Cowboy for Windows 95 (not available in a Macintosh format) to write them.

But even though songs like "We Shall Be Free" blatantly ripped off Sly & the Family Stone--fulfilling the dictum that black music is always ten years ahead of the curve, and country and western twenty years behind it--and even though Brooks recycled more riffs than Ray Davies, and even though Brooks was so bland he made Gordon Lightfoot sound like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, these records didn't actually make you puke. This was about the highest tribute I could pay to most contemporary country-and-western music.

On the other hand, it didn't make me do anything. Somebody once said that when you turn on the radio, Genesis is what comes out. That's exactly the way I felt about Garth Brooks.

So, all right, he chomped, but he didn't chomp royal. He chomped in the same off-the-shelf way most millionaires in hyperthyroid cowboy hats chomped. But he didn't bite the big one. And for some reason, this bothered me. When I went slumming like this, I wanted to cruise the bad slums. I wanted to hit Watts, the South Bronx, North Philly. From the cultural slumming point of view, Garth Brooks was little more than a slightly rundown neighborhood in Yonkers.
The rest of the book has each chapter devoted to a different aspect of popular culture, and there are some surprises along the way. He wades through the musical morass by going to see Barry Manilow (he liked him) and John Tesh (he accused him of "defiling the temple" of Carnegie Hall). He ultimately decides that Billy Joel is the single most loathsome singer-songwriter in history, which I disagree with entirely, but it's still hilarious to hear him rip Joel to shreds. On the subject of movies, he decides that Cannonball Run II is the single worst movie ever made, but he considers this a compliment. And he's right, that was truly an audaciously bad movie that was fun to watch because they KNEW how bad it was when they were making it.

Needless to say, Queenan's journey into the pop culture abyss ends, like so many singing careers, in Branson, Missouri. I highly recommend this book, and virtually everything else that Queenan writes. He's everything P.J. O'Rourke wishes he could be.

Ed Brayton | 12:12 AM | | | Permalink

Interesting Debate on the Pledge Case

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has an interesting debate on the subject of the pledge of allegiance and the case before the Supreme Court right now. The participants are Douglas Laycock and Jay Sekulow, names familiar to anyone who follows constitutional law and religious liberty cases. Laycock, from the University of Texas Law School, is perhaps the most respected academic voice on religious freedom matters in the nation. He is no firebreathing anti-religious liberal, having been the primary author of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed in 1993 (and later overturned by the Supreme Court). Sekulow is the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, Pat Robertson's answer to the ACLU, and has argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court on religious liberty and the establishment clause.

One of the striking things about Sekulow, in my view, is how different he is when he's speaking in that type of forum than when he's appearing on the 700 Club or the many other Christian TV and radio shows he appears on. When speaking in a legal context, he is bright, engaging and reasonable, even when I think he's wrong. When he's appearing before conservative Christian audiences, he engages in the simplistic and overheated rhetoric of demagogues with little regard for the truth. The most blatant example I can think of is a good decade ago, watching him go on the 700 Club after the Lamb's Chapel decision. He had argued the Lamb's Chapel case before the Supreme Court and was justifiably happy that the decision came down 9-0 in his favor (as was I, it was an easy case and the decision was a correct one). But he tried to portray the decision as a victory over the ACLU, which was utter nonsense. The ACLU had in fact been on his side in the case and filed an amicus brief on behalf of Lamb's Chapel. But that didn't fit into the product they were selling to the flock, which was in essence, "We're standing up to the ACLU Goliath and we're winning, send us money so we can keep winning", so reality was conveniently reversed to fit the marketing campaign.

Anyway, in this forum he's pretty reasonable, I think. And he said something that is a bit of a surprise to me and I'd like to find out if this is true or not. He said:
Let's talk about the more recent history, and that is, what happened in 1954? Now, of course, the issue upon which certiorari is granted – and I am frequently reminded of that both when I'm watching arguments and when I argue them myself – is not the congressional action here, which is interesting. The United States asked for review of the 1954 congressional act amending the Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court denied review there. They granted the school district's policy for review, which is a policy that said the school day will start with a patriotic expression. The Pledge of Allegiance would meet that patriotic expression.
If this is true, it changes the calculus for this case a bit. If the 1954 Congressional action which put the words "under God" into the pledge was under review, as I thought it was, then a simple application of the Lemon test would seem to throw it out, with little argument on the other side. Congress made absolutely clear that their intent was to advance religious faith in schoolchildren, which is a clear violation of the Lemon test prong that a law must have a clear secular purpose. But if what is up for review is the school board's policy rather than the Congressional action on those words, the basis for argument is considerably different. I guess I'm going to need to go look at the oral argument and see on what basis it was actually argued. In the meantime, enjoy the debate linked above.

Ed Brayton | 12:11 AM | | | Permalink

Saturday, March 27, 2004

March Madness, Baby!

This is my favorite time of the year. The beginning of springtime, with the temperatures going up and the birds chirping and the longer days, coincides with the one sporting event I really go crazy for - the NCAA basketball tournament. I'm a huge college basketball fan, one of those people who knows the names of the top players in the current high school sophomore class and who is recruiting them.

My favorite team is the Duke Blue Devils, which I know is cliche` (they're like the New York Yankees of college basketball), but I'm anything but a bandwagon fan. I became a Duke fan in my early high school days when I saw the legendary Al Maguire do a report on the Cameron Crazies, Duke's fanatically devoted student fans who have a long history of disrupting opposing teams who play Duke at home. I began following them at the time, before they really started winning, just because I thought that was exactly what college sports should be about.

But even more than being a Duke fan, I'm a college basketball fan in general. Duke is in the elite 8 right now, down to the last 8 teams in the hunt for a national championship. Tomorrow they play for a shot at the 10th final four since Coach K got there 23 years ago. But even if they lose, I'll be glued to the final four next weekend. You just can't top this event. It's the best thing in sports.

Of course, there are a few of those dreaded North Carolina Tar Heel fans in the blogosphere, like Kyle Still. But Kyle is a very bright guy who has recently finished his thesis on the 9th amendment and the right to privacy, so I overlook that one stunning failure of his character and promote his site anyway. :)

Ed Brayton | 12:08 AM | | | Permalink

Friday, March 26, 2004

My Favorite Things: Comedian

As a former stand up comic, I get asked a lot who my favorite comedians are. I tend to like dark, edgy humor more than anything else, and if it's got a real identifiable view of the world attached to it, so much the better. I think the best comic working today is Doug Stanhope. Whether you agree with his views or not, he has them, and he's not afraid to give them to you in the most pointed way imaginable.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, there was a huge comedy boom. Every network and cable channel seemingly had their own stand up show - Evening at the Improv, Comedy on the Road, the Half Hour Comedy Hour, Caroline's Comedy Hour, Comic Strip Live, the Sunday Comics, Stand Up Spotlight, and more. Every guy who owned a seedy bar or a bowling alley was opening a comedy club in the back. But about 10 years ago, the boom ended and they all went back to karaoke or midget tossing. The bad thing about the comedy boom was that, because all the shows were on networks or basic cable, the range of comedy that you heard was very narrow. Even while the ranks of comedians were exploding, the art was becoming more and more homogenized and middle of the road. The clubs gave them freedom, but most comics were so intent on getting on TV either for a comedy special or a sitcom (or both) that they played it safe. So comedians who work outside of that box always catch my attention.

Doug Stanhope definitely works outside the box. This is the guy who, 3 months after 9/11, was going on stage and opening with.
"Pardon me for not wearing my NYPD hat here today in honor of the fallen heroes, but you know I wasn't walking around 2 years ago with a plunger hanging out of my ass to honor that same force."
Ouch. That's brutal. But it's also funny and, undoubtedly, offensive to some. He combines an absolutely fearless "I'll say whatever I want to say" attitude with a highly perceptive eye for detail and social psychology. For instance, on his webpage, he recalls the hecklers who got thrown out of his show in Youngstown, Ohio:
I remember middle-age business guy with his two associates, he was a stereotype movie heckler whose entire life can be read in a glance from across the room. This isn't your first Holiday Inn by any means, is it, my friend? Your position has allowed you to travel the entire midwest circuit all in a newish Ford Taurus provided by the company. Perhaps a cellular provider or an Orkin distributor. You take off your wedding ring when you hit town, more to impress the guys you work with than for any real hope of landing some action.

I can almost see you lean into your cohorts and say with a wink "Watch this!" before bleating out an inane cliche to the comic on stage and then another wink to your friends as they wish they had stayed in the room. You were a high-yeild asshole in your fraternity days but you traded that in for a life of wrinkle-free khakis and spread sheets. But now and again you can show you've still got it by being a smart-alec at a karaoke night in a Fort Wayne Marriott or by demanding that they take a little something off the bill since the restaurant was out of rice pudding.

You too will have to be walked out in a shuffle, the doormen now more like sanitarium orderlies than bouncers. You will show your Holiday Inn Priorities Club Card in protest and be dumbstruck that it does you no good.

Don't feel badly. I envy you. I wish it were me being walked out ahead of schedule. In this drop-ceiling convention room, stacking chairs and folding banquet tables on a stage where so many Shriners have auctioned fruit cakes for burn victims. I wish it was me they were taking out.

They say this is a mob town but I can't imagine what is here that the mob would want any peice of. Like seeing gang insignia in a men's room and wondering what self-respecting street outfit would claim a IHOP shitter as it's "turf".

Whoever said "You can't go home again" surely came from someplace great. But I come from a place like Youngstown and always seem to wind up back in those places despite my best intentions.
Yes, he's rude. Yes, he's crude. Yes, he's bitter. But damn, is he funny.

Ed Brayton | 12:07 AM | | | Permalink

Thursday, March 25, 2004


I have been so unbelievably swamped with everything going on at The Panda's Thumb, the new group science blog, that I haven't posted anything here. I'm not letting this blog go by the wayside, I promise. Things have absolutely exploded with the new blog though. We got mentioned by a couple big blogs yesterday and were absolutely overrun with visits. At 5:15, Wes Elsberry sent an e-mail out saying, "Hey, we're at 700 hits on our second day. This is incredible." Well within 2 hours, we had tripled that and it hasn't stopped since. On our third day of operation, we're at nearly 7000 hits and climbing. Yesterday it was the 15th most referred to blog in the world, according to Blogdex. The response has been absolutely mindblowing.

I want to say thanks to the brilliant cast of contributors we put together in such a short time, and to the bloggers who have relentlessly referred readers to us over the last couple days. I expect things to settle down a bit and I'll get back to regularly posting here in the next day or two. In the meantime, go over to The Panda's Thumb, order a Burgess Shale Ale or a Protostome Pilsner, and enjoy the conversation.

Ed Brayton | 12:06 AM | | | Permalink

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A New Group Blog is Born

Announcing the formation of a new group blog, The Panda's Thumb. Like a father with a new baby, I'm excited about this project and I'm telling everyone about it.

The Panda's Thumb is a group blog that will focus primarily on explaining the theory of evolution, critiquing the claims of the anti-evolution lobby, and defending the integrity of science education in America and around the world. The list of contributing authors is long and distinguished, representing a variety of scientific disciplines as well as a variety of academic and business backgrounds. The list includes recognized scholars in biochemistry, genetics, marine biology, immunology, molecular biology and more, as well as one businessman who uses evolutionary algorythms to model the world's financial markets. It's an extraordinary pool of knowledge and brilliance, and I expect to add a few more people to the author's roll in the next couple of weeks.

My thanks goes out to the many brilliant men and women who have volunteered their time and their energies not only to this project, but to the larger project of defending the integrity of science education.

The Panda's Thumb is a brand new project. I've spent most of today tweaking the templates and setting up the page. But keep your eye on that page over the next few weeks and I promise that you will learn a great deal about this very important issue. It is my goal to make The Panda's Thumb the most read science blog in the world, and to do for science what the Volokh Conspiracy does for law, which is bring together some of the finest minds in the field to share their expertise on an area where the public is often confused and misled.

Ed Brayton | 12:05 AM | | | Permalink

Monday, March 22, 2004

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were last night and I got to watch the immortal Bob Seger get inducted. I generally have little use for Kid Rock, who gave the induction speech for Seger, but he was actually funny. and dead on accurate when he said that Seger had paid more dues than the entire current Top 40 artists combined. I watched the ceremony with my brother, with whom I share, along with our father, a single favorite rock and roll album of all time - Bob Seger Live Bullet.

When I was a kid growing up, that album was on in our house every single day, and I'm not exaggerating. I know every single scratch, every beat, every scream from the crowd. Live Bullet is the definitive live rock album, better even than Frampton Comes Alive. The other live albums that were on all the time in our house were George Benson's Weekend in LA (we were a very diverse musical household) and REO Speedwagon's You Get What You Play For. Anyone who came of age in the 1980s probably doesn't know that REO Speedwagon, before they started making hits out of squishy, milktoast puss-rock, could rip the freaking roof off an arena. But as far as Bob Seger is concerned, I can't possibly overstate what a huge part of my childhood his music was.

It was gratifying to see Seger finally get the recognition he deserves. Even without the 50 million albums he's sold in a 40 year career, the immortal road song Turn The Page alone would justify a spot in the hall. Kid Rock put the perfect exclamation point on his induction speech when, stealing Seger's message about Detroit music fans to the Cobo Hall audience during Live Bullet, he said, "I was reading Rolling Stone where they said that Bob Seger deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I thought to myself shit, I've known that for 10 years." Perfect.

And in a related note, last night's induction ceremony also showed that after 25 years of making music, Prince can still burn up a stage with the best of them. The man may be weird as the day is long, but he is James Brown and Jimi Hendrix rolled into one. Which brings me to the observation that I think pop culture is primed for a funk revival. Earth, Wind and Fire recently tore it up on the Grammy awards, along with the legendary George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Prince showed last night that he's still got the ideal mix of funk and rock. I think it's time for funk to make a comeback. Phoenix horns, are you listening? I wanna hear big bass lines and see guys twirling their trumpets again.

Ed Brayton | 12:04 AM | | | Permalink

Plant People are People Too

When we talk about evolution, we almost always talk about animals or microbes, with only a rare mention of plants. The reality, though, is that evolution is a powerful theory in explaining the natural history of flora as well as fauna. The study of plants is called botany. Last summer, the Botanical Society of America released a statement about the importance and validity of evolution that is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand this issue. One of the great things about this statement is that it emphasizes the usefulness of evolutionary theory, the fact that plant biologists use the theory not only to explain the origin of floral variety, but to solve a variety of problems in the field. It says:
The fairness argument implies that creationism is a scientifically valid alternative to evolution, and that is not true. Science is not about fairness, and all explanations are not equal. Some scientific explanations are highly speculative with little in the way of supporting evidence, and they will stand or fall based upon rigorous testing. The history of science is littered with discarded explanations, e.g., inheritance of acquired characters, but these weren’t discarded because of public opinion or general popularity; each one earned that distinction by being scientifically falsified. Scientists may jump on a “band wagon” for some new explanation, particularly if it has tremendous explanatory power, something that makes sense out of previously unexplained phenomena. But for an explanation to become a mainstream component of a theory, it must be tested and found useful in doing science.

To make progress, to learn more about botanical organisms, hypotheses, the subcomponents of theories, are tested by attempting to falsify logically derived predictions. This is why scientists use and teach evolution; evolution offers testable explanations of observed biological phenomena. Evolution continues to be of paramount usefulness, and so, based on simple pragmatism, scientists use this theory to improve our understanding of the biology of organisms. Over and over again, evolutionary theory has generated predictions that have proven to be true. Any hypothesis that doesn’t prove true is discarded in favor of a new one, and so the component hypotheses of evolutionary theory change as knowledge and understanding grow. Phylogenetic hypotheses, patterns of ancestral relatedness, based on one set of data, for example, base sequences in DNA, are generated, and when the results make logical sense out of formerly disparate observations, confidence in the truth of the hypothesis increases. The theory of evolution so permeates botany that frequently it is not mentioned explicitly, but the overwhelming majority of published studies are based upon evolutionary hypotheses, each of which constitutes a test of an hypothesis. Evolution has been very successful as a scientific explanation because it has been useful in advancing our understanding of organisms and applying that knowledge to the solution of many human problems, e.g., host-pathogen interactions, origin of crop plants, herbicide resistance, disease susceptibility of crops, and invasive plants.
This is a very important thing to keep in mind, both the premise that explanations in science must be testable and falsifiable, and the conclusion that evolutionary theory is successful because it is used every day to solve problems. They go on to give a very good example, and to point out the disparity between the usefulness of evolution and the allegedly competing theories of creationism and ID:
For example, plant biologists have long been interested in the origins of crop plants. Wheat is an ancient crop of the Middle East. Three species exist both as wild and domesticated wheats, einkorn, emmer, and breadwheat. Archeological studies have demonstrated that einkorn is the most ancient and breadwheat appeared most recently. To plant biologists this suggested that somehow einkorn gave rise to emmer, and emmer gave rise to breadwheat (an hypothesis). Further evidence was obtained from chromosome numbers that showed einkorn with 14, emmer with 28, and breadwheat with 42. Further, the chromosomes in einkorn consisted of two sets of 7 chromosomes, designated AA. Emmer had 14 chromosomes similar in shape and size, but 14 more, so they were designated AABB. Breadwheat had chromosomes similar to emmer, but 14 more, so they were designated AABBCC. To plant biologists familiar with mechanisms of speciation, these data, the chromosome numbers and sets, suggested that the emmer and breadwheat species arose via hybridization and polyploidy (an hypothesis). The Middle Eastern flora was studied to find native grasses with a chromosome number of 14, and several goatgrasses were discovered that could be the predicted parents, the sources of the BB and CC chromosomes. To test these hypotheses, plant biologists crossed einkorn and emmer wheats with goatgrasses, which produced sterile hybrids. These were treated to produce a spontaneous doubling of the chromosome number, and as predicted, the correct crosses artificially produced both the emmer and breadwheat species. No one saw the evolution of these wheat species, but logical predictions about what happened were tested by recreating likely circumstances. Grasses are wind-pollinated, so cross-pollination between wild and cultivated grasses happens all the time. Frosts and other natural events are known to cause a doubling of chromosomes. And the hypothesized sequence of speciation matches their observed appearance in the archeological record. Farmers would notice and keep new wheats, and the chromosome doubling and hybrid vigor made both emmer and breadwheat larger, more vigorous wheats. Lastly, a genetic change in breadwheat from the wild goatgrass chromosomes allowed for the chaff to be removed from the grain without heating, so glutin was not denatured, and a sourdough (yeast infected) culture of the sticky breadwheat flour would inflate (rise) from the trapped carbon dioxide.

The actual work was done by many plant biologists over many years, little by little, gathering data and testing ideas, until these evolutionary events were understood as generally described above. The hypothesized speciation events were actually recreated, an accomplishment that allows plant biologists to breed new varieties of emmer and bread wheats. Using this speciation mechanism, plant biologists hybridized wheat and rye, producing a new, vigorous, high protein cereal grain, Triticale.

What would the creationist paradigm have done? No telling. Perhaps nothing, because observing three wheat species specially created to feed humans would not have generated any questions that needed answering. No predictions are made, so there is no reason or direction for seeking further knowledge. This demonstrates the scientific uselessness of creationism. While creationism explains everything, it offers no understanding beyond, “that’s the way it was created.” No testable predictions can be derived from the creationist explanation. Creationism has not made a single contribution to agriculture, medicine, conservation, forestry, pathology, or any other applied area of biology. Creationism has yielded no classifications, no biogeographies, no underlying mechanisms, no unifying concepts with which to study organisms or life.
Thanks to Paul Myers for the heads up on this one.

Ed Brayton | 12:03 AM | | | Permalink

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Watching C-SPAN

Is there anything scarier than watching C-Span when they have live call-in shows? There are apparently a lot of insane people sitting in their apartments with C-Span on speed dial, just praying for an opportunity to spew their personal pet peeves at the world for 30 seconds. There appears to be some sort of time warp between the people in the studio and the people on the phone. They've got a columnist on this morning talking about railway safety, but Ernie from West Virginia, who has been trying to get through since Thursday, doesn't care. He has something to say in response to Mildred from Oregon, who called in last week to talk about orgies at the UN building (during a discussion of diversity on college campuses, I'm sure), and nothing is going to stop him from saying it.

This morning they had on David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, and they were talking about the war in Iraq. Some good ol' boy from who knows where, who had probably been on hold since 1986, called in to rant about Mel Gibson's movie and "Jew-controlled Hollywood". I wish I was making this up. I wish this was a Saturday Night Live parody. But it's not. This is America, where these people are eligible to vote. Frightening.

Ed Brayton | 12:03 AM | | | Permalink

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Two New Blogs to Read

The first is Stranger Fruit, a blog by John Lynch, a professor at Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. Looks like it will be a very valuable resource for information about evolution.

The second is the Evolution Blog. This blog is actually older than mine, but I just found it. It's written by Jason Rosenhouse, a professor of mathematics at James Madison University. So he's immediately one of my favorites both because of his defense of evolution and for teaching at a university named for my favorite founding father. His articles have appeared frequently in Skeptic and Free Inquiry, and he has written extensively on evolution and ID, including one article entitled "How Anti-evolutionists Abuse Mathematics". Definitely worth checking out.

Ed Brayton | 12:02 AM | | | Permalink

Friday, March 19, 2004

Leiter Gets the Jomo Challenge

Well this was predictable. Say something in defense of evolution and one thing you can count on is Batman The Lone Ranger The Cisco Kid Inspector Cluseau Joseph Mastrapaolo and his faithful assistant Tonto Cato Poncho Robin Karl Priest showing up to issue the "Life Science Challenge". Brian Leiter is the latest.

The Life Science Challenge is basically a $10,000 bet on whether you can prove in a court of law that creationism is religion and evolution is science. Never mind that this challenge has actually been answered in court twice, McLean v Arkansas and Edwards v Aguillard, and the ruling came down in our favor both times. We wouldn't want something like reality to interrupt their perfectly good idiotic screed, would we?

I've already shredded the JoMo challenge here, here, here, and here. JoMo and Priest are sort of the court jesters of creationism and they're taken about that seriously. Congratulations Brian, you've now been added to their dreaded "Debate Dodgers List". You're in good company though. We're thinking about having a JoMo Debate Dodgers Convention in Dayton, Tennessee.

Ed Brayton | 11:59 AM | | | Permalink

Scalia Refuses to Recuse

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has issued a memorandum in which he answers the request that he recuse himself from an upcoming case involving claims of executive privelege for Vice President Dick Cheney as it regards meetings he held in formulating the administration's energy policy, because he went on a duck hunting trip with Cheney. Not surprisingly, Scalia has denied the request and will not recuse himself from the case. My take? I tend to agree with him. He is right to point out that recusal is different on the Supreme Court than it is on a court of appeals. If a judge on a court of appeals recuses himself, another judge from the court takes his place; that doesn't happen on the Supreme Court because all judges preside over all cases. Hence, a recusal means only 8 judges hear a case and that increases the chance of leaving the legal question unresolved. As he points out, the court traditionally has held that even in cases where a relative of one of the justices was a partner in a firm with business before the court, justices need not recuse themselves. Certainly the "appearance of impropriety" is higher in those cases than in this case.

I have no doubt that Scalia will rule in favor of Cheney in this case, but I would say that whether he had gone duck hunting with Cheney or not. It is consistent with his previously held positions that he would grant a good deal of leeway to the executive branch in such matters. If he votes in Cheney's favor it will be because of his legal position on such questions, not because he and Cheney are friends. It's time to let this tempest in a teapot blow over.

Ed Brayton | 12:01 AM | | | Permalink

Another Great Blog to Read

Via Brian Leiter, the wonderful Strange Doctrines blog by Tadlow Windsor II (read the "about me" link for an explanation). Evolution, constitutional law, culture war stuff - it's like reading me! He also provided Brian with this quote from Bertrand Russell that is absolutely perfect:
"A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand."

Ed Brayton | 12:00 AM | | | Permalink

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Moron of the Day Award

Goes to Rhea County, Tennessee:
Rhea County commissioners unanimously voted to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee's criminal code so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature.

"We need to keep them out of here," said Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the motion.

County Attorney Gary Fritts also was asked by Fugate to find the best way to enact a local law banning homosexuals from living in Rhea County.
And irony of ironies, these same people celebrate the trial that made a laughingstock of them:
Rhea County, about 30 miles north of Chattanooga, is among the most conservative in Tennessee. It holds an annual festival commemorating the 1925 trial that convicted John T. Scopes on charges of teaching evolution...
Brilliant. Perhaps they should pass a law preventing sub-literate bigots from living in that county. Or at the very least, prevent them from being elected to public office, for crying out loud.

Ed Brayton | 11:58 AM | | | Permalink

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A New Blog Arrives

Please welcome Reed Cartwright's De Rerum Natura to the blogosphere. Reed is currently finishing his PhD in genetics at the University of Georgia and is involved with the Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education. A few weeks ago I cited his analysis of the proposed Georgia science standards, which have thankfully been changed.

You may recall that Georgia Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox, in one of the most flagrant displays of idiocy I've seen from a public official in a long time, called a press conference to announce that they were leaving the word "evolution" out of the new proposed science standards but leaving the concept there under a different name. Her reason for this was that the word 'evolution' causes too much controversy. Right. And naturally, the best way to avoid controversy is to call a freaking press conference to announce that you're avoiding controversy. As it turns out, she was lying through her teeth. It wasn't just the word that was taken out of the new standards, it was virtually the entire concept of biological evolution. Thanks in large part to Reed's analysis of the proposed standards, the people of Georgia found out that Cox had in fact gutted the AAAS standards on biology of most of its substantive content. The president of the AAAS protested this, teacher's groups and parents in Georgia stood up to her, and Cox rather quickly restored the full AAAS standards. One can only think that her political career took a severe blow, and one can only think this is a good thing.

Having Reed in the blog world means competition for good posts. I notice that he beat me to a post on the Discovery Institute's misleading press release about a letter from the Department of Education concerning the Santorum amendment. It's pretty typical misrepresentation of reality from the DI. I may still have more to add to that story in the next few days. Anyway, please welcome Reed and go read his blog as often as possible. It's good to have another voice for quality science education.

Ed Brayton | 11:57 AM | | | Permalink

Brief Follow-up on the Leiter/VanDyke Situation

After reading this, I just have to ask....where's my hate mail?

By the way, the Discovery Institute copied Hunter Baker's article on their website today with no mention of the replies that were made to it. They also listed Hunter Baker as a "freelance writer in Texas". Not as the grad assistant of the person whose book was reviewed in the article under dispute, just a freelance writer. And remember folks, the Discovery Institute says that believing in ID is the key to good ethics. Another irony meter bites the dust.

Ed Brayton | 11:54 AM | | | Permalink

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Does ID=Creationism?

One of the main arguments that Lawrence VanDyke makes, both in his Harvard Law Review book note and in the ongoing exchange over Brian Leiter's criticism of that note, is that ID is not creationist. His evidence for this is that the two largest Young Earth Creationist (YEC) organizations have said they don't consider ID to be creationism because they won't take a position on the age of the earth or a literal biblical interpretation. But then those organizations don't think Old Earth Creationists like Hugh Ross, who completely rejects evolution, to be creationist either. This strikes me as a very weak argument. Remember that these are the same people who would argue that anyone who isn't a YEC is not a "real Christian" either. Their perspective on who belongs and who doesn't is a trifle narrow.

At some point soon I will be posting a much longer and more detailed message comparing ID and creationism, but for now I want to just throw this one quote out there. It comes from none other than William Dembski. Dembski has been giving a series of lectures at Fellowship Baptist Church in Waco, Texas the past few Sundays, all of which have been taped. In a Q & A session after one of those lectures just a couple weeks ago, this is what Dembski had to say:
"I think at a fundamental level, in terms of what drives me in this is that I think God's glory is being robbed by these naturalistic approaches to biological evolution, creation, the origin of the world, the origin of biological complexity and diversity. When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed."
He continued,
"And so there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for what he's done -- and he's not getting it."

Ed Brayton | 11:54 AM | | | Permalink

2nd Response to Van Dyke

Lawrence VanDyke has posted a response to me on the Exparte blog, the blog of the Harvard Federalist Society. I will reply to that as well as a comment he made to my first post on this subject.

VanDyke's response begins with Adam White saying:
Lawrence VanDyke continues to defend himself against the vicious attacks of Professor Brian Leiter and others. He posts this reply to Ed Brayton regarding Leiter's attack.
For the record, I don't think my posts on this situation can fairly be portrayed as a vicious attack. Professor Leiter's reply, I suppose, might be called such. While I agree with him on the substantive issues, I think he would do better to restrain his rhetoric and be a bit more collegial. It only distracts from the substantive issues. I understand his frustration, believe me. You get tired of hearing the same tired nonsense over and over again, and I often have to reign in my sarcasm, occasionally failing to do so.

Having said that, however, I think the reaction from Hunter Baker and VanDyke, striking the martyr pose and accusing Leiter of threatening both VanDyke's career and academic freedom, is hysterically overblown. Academic freedom does not insulate one's published writings from criticism, no matter how sharply worded that criticism is. Still, I think even the informal charge of academic fraud is over the line. I think Mr. VanDyke is guilty of wishful thinking, of badly misreading (as opposed to intentionally misrepresenting) several sources, and of swallowing a lot of nonsense that would not stand up to scrutiny. I don't think he's guilty of academic fraud, which is a serious accusation that shouldn't be thrown around casually even in an informal context. Now, to the substance of the dispute....

VanDyke's response begins:
Mr. Brayton – most of your response argues that the links I provided in support of my claim regarding peer-reviewed articles don’t in fact support that claim. Whether you are right or wrong, you seem to acknowledge that what I was trying to support was a claim about peer-reviewed articles “in support of ID.” Otherwise why even argue the point – Meyers has already alleged that Axe is a “closet” ID supporter. But later on you seem to revert to arguing that I somehow was intentionally trying to misrepresent something with my ellipses. I wasn’t.
Frankly, I have a hard time believing that the ellipses was not intention. The ellipses only replaced 4 words, for crying out loud, so there was no reason to use them in the first place, multiple times, especially when those 4 words were absolutely crucial to the claim that Leiter made. In a reply of probably several thousand words, you felt the need to take out 4 words to save space and then just happened to give an answer that, in reality, only answered your modified version of his position, not the position he actually took? That does strain credulity a bit, but I suppose I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on that. But the reality remains that Leiter's claim remains true and your links did not answer that claim substantively.
The sources I to which I linked say that there are peer-reviewed articles “in support of ID,” not just peer-reviewed articles by ID proponents. You are grasping at straws if you are trying to show I was trying to misrepresent Leiter.
Actually, the sources you quote don't really say that at all. In both links, Dembski certainly implies that those articles support ID, at least in his introduction to them. He says that they show that "intelligent design research is in fact now part of the mainstream peer-reviewed scientific literature." But when he introduces the actual articles he is citing, he doesn't try to claim that they "support ID", because he knows that they don't. He has been caught at this game before, as I mentioned in my previous response. More than once, the DI has been caught presenting lists of references that, by implication, allegedly support ID only to have it pointed out that those citations do not, in fact, support ID. So then they backpeddle and say, "Okay, so they don't really support ID, but they do dissent from Darwinism." But then it gets pointed out that they really don't dissent from Darwinism, they merely pose non-adaptationist or non-selective mechanisms, all of which are also well within the purview of evolutionary theory. But none of that stops them from making the same claim all over again to a different audience. They consistently misrepresent the work of scientists and they consistently get caught at it. THAT, I would suggest, is academic fraud. And a careful reading of the links you gave would have shown that none of the sources that Dembski cites actually supports ID or challenges Leiter's position on that question.
However, regarding your claims that the articles themselves don’t support ID, I can’t argue that directly with you. I’m not a scientist. But I am quite confident that the scientists at Discovery Institute would argue (and have argued) vehemently that those articles do indeed support ID.
As I noted above, they actually don't argue vehemently that those articles do indeed support ID, they only imply it, because they know that they can't support that claim. That's why they often phrase it as "these references challenge Darwinism" (though in fact they don't). Nor do I think one has to be a scientist in order to analyze the meaning of articles. The man whose claims you cited, Bill Dembski, is not a scientist either, his degrees are in mathematics, philosophy and theology. Perhaps that explains why he so often gets it wrong when he implies that an article supports ID, but in his case I am far more inclined to blame it on dishonesty than ignorance. He has had the truth pointed out to him too many times, and he is not a stupid man by any means. But he is guilty either of being extremely sloppy or of being dishonest, and since his sloppiness always just happens to coincide with a misrepresentation that supports his position, I think dishonesty is the more reasonable, if less charitable, conclusion.

I am not a scientist either, merely an educated amateur, but I know that a paper that shows that you have to change 20% of the amino acids in an enzyme before function is impaired does not, by any sane criteria, show "extreme sensitivity to perturbation". That is an outright misrepresentation of the article, there are no two ways about it.
Which brings us back to the real issue. The issue isn’t really about the peer reviewed articles. I didn’t bring them up in my Note; Leiter did in his attack. You have already admitted they are a weak argument. The real questions still are: First, did I commit “scholarly fraud” as Leiter blatantly accused me of? Second, did Leiter have “factual errors” and “misleading innuendo” in his attack (since he accuses me of this, by his definition his post was “scholarly fraud” if he engaged in such in the very post he attacked me with)?
While I'm sure that is your real issue, it's not mine. I've already stated that I think that charge, even while he probably intended it in an informal manner rather than a formal one, was unnecessary and overly combative. I'll leave you and Leiter to handle the "I know you are but what am I" exchange, I'm addressing the substantive issues, the question of whether ID is a legitimate challenge to evolution and whether it has any place in a science classroom. That was the substance of Beckwith's book, the substance of your endorsement of it, and that is what interests me.

I'm also just intensely fascinated, as an observer, at the kneejerk reaction from ID advocates, immediately claiming persecution whenever anyone disputes them or disparages their work. As any historian of science will tell you, this is one of the hallmarks of crank science. Every obscure crank in the history of science has claimed to be the victim of a hidebound and dogmatic scientific establishment that fears his Truthtm and will stop at nothing to destroy him in order to preserve their favored position in academia and society. As I said before, this makes for good public relations but very poor science. If Dembski and his colleagues really have a scientific model that can withstand scrutiny, then let them put it out before the scientific community, open it up for peer review, suggest hypotheses that can be tested, and get on with the business of testing them. The fact that they have not done so speaks volumes, I think.
Finally, I’ve already admitted that I made a mistake in my first post here at Ex Parte by supporting my “more than two scientists” point using NCSE’s “Steve” site...
But in doing so, you misread it again. You said:
About the "Project Steve," I see what Mr. Brayton is saying. I assumed that because the site parodied supporters of "ID" as "Steve" that when it referred to "Steve" it was referring to ID supporters. I see now my misreading.
But that's just another way of misreading the article. It did not "parody supporters of ID as Steve". The Steves in question are some 400+ scientists named Steve (after Steve Gould) who do NOT support ID. So you didn't see your misreading, you merely substituted misreading #2 for misreading #1. At the very least, this is extraordinarily sloppy citing, especially for a Harvard law student. I suspect, and would hope, that such shoddy citing on a paper at that school would bring down the wrath of your professors and the very poor grade such work demands. And this has been fairly consistent. You cited Dembski's citation of allegedly peer-reviewed journal articles that support ID without bothering to read them and see if that citation was correct. You cited a list of 100 ID supporters without bothering to read the statement to which they agreed, which does not in any way question evolution or support ID. In short, you've kind of swallowed whole the rhetoric of the ID movement without taking the time to do any research on the subject, or even, it seems, to read over the text of the sources you yourself cited. And in doing so, you've opened yourself up to being accused of sloppiness and lack of rigor, at best, and dishonesty at worst. Either way, I think it's fair to expect more than this from a student at one of the finest academic institutions in the world and I certainly think it's fair to point out those shortcomings, especially in light of your desire to cast yourself as the victim of a monolithic orthodoxy.

Ed Brayton | 11:54 AM | | | Permalink

Scientists Respond to ID

Here is an excellent example of a scientist taking on the claims of an ID advocate and pretty much leveling them. The University of Rochester biologist Allen Orr takes on Dembski's No Free Lunch, a book that attempts two basic tasks - to apply the No Free Lunch theorems to biological evolution, and to shore up Behe's Irreducible Complexity (IC) idea. Orr points out that Dembski is misapplying the NFL theorems and that Behe's best examples of IC - the flagellum and the blood clotting cascade - have in fact been shown to be quite reducible, and that there are very plausible evolutionary pathways for the evolution of those systems. Orr's critique is, I think you will agree, a fairly devestating one.

Dembski then responded to this review with an essay that is stunning in its total lack of engagement of any of the actual arguments that Orr made. His numerous arguments against Dembski's misapplication of the NFL theorems aren't even mentioned, much less refuted. And on the subject of Behe's IC idea, he takes the position that all Orr has done is show how such systems COULD have been made, not that they WERE made that way. Orr's reply to this is absolutely on the mark:
Dembski’s response is to point out that I have merely shown that IC systems can conceivably be built by Darwinism (a point he does not deny), not that such systems were built by Darwinism or even that they were probably built by Darwinism. I am accused, in other words, of having low standards: “Orr, along with much of the Darwinian community, is satisfied with a very undemanding form of possibility, namely, conceivability.” The problem with this is simple. It was Behe who posed the problem in terms of conceivability versus inconceivability. Behe said that Darwinism could not possibly produce IC systems. Behe spoke of “unbridgeable chasms.” Behe asked, “What type of biological system could not be formed by ‘numerous, successive, slight modifications’?” and then answered, “A system that is irreducibly complex.” The discussion has, in other words, taken the following form:
BEHE: Darwinism can’t possibly produce IC systems.
ORR: Darwinism can produce IC systems. Here’s how . . .
DEMBSKI: Orr has merely shown that a Darwinian explanation is possible. What a risibly low standard!
As I keep saying, when you look at the actual work being done, you cannot escape the conclusion that there simply is no there there. To paraphrase Clara Peller, "Where's the science?"

Ed Brayton | 11:53 AM | | | Permalink

Monday, March 15, 2004

Response to Lawrence Van Dyke

Lawrence VanDyke has left a comment below, which I would like to bring up here to address in more detail. Lawrence wrote:
I left out the "in support of ID" because I assumed that much was obvious in context. You make it sound like I was trying to make Leiter say ID proponents haven't published any articles in peer reviewed journals at all. If I were trying to say that, my response to Leiter's statement would have been much simpler and I wouldn't have bothered to address Pharyngula's post. Nice try.
But the two links you provided don't address what Brian said. They do not provide a single example of an article published in a peer-reviewed journal. In the first link, Dembski is responding to a letter that my friend Genie Scott sent to the Texas Board of Education. In the process, he misrepresents what Genie said, but that is another story for another day. At any rate, there is not a single example in Dembski's response of an article published by an advocate of ID in a peer-reviewed journal in support of ID. He only cites two articles therein. The first is from two mathematicians who do not support ID, who wrote an article that also does not support ID, in a mathematics journal. But since it does cite a statistical concept that Dembski uses in one of his books, he lists it. The second is Denton, Marshall and Legge's article in Nature which is merely a reference to another article they published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology about "evolution by natural law". This in now way supports ID, and Dembski is careful not to claim that it does, he merely says that ID is broad enough that it might incorporate this. But in fact, that's not the case at all. The article in question does not posit any sort of controlling intelligence that designed any natural systems.

On the basis of these two articles, neither of which addresses Leiter's claim at all, Dembski claims that "intelligent design research is in fact now part of the mainstream peer-reviewed scientific literature." That's a rather large leap, isn't it?

He also cites his own book, The Design Inference, which he says was peer-reviewed in order to get in to the monograph series of which it was a part. But nothing in that book actually supports the claim that ID is a viable alternative to evolution. TDI merely lays down the groundwork of his statistical theory that he bases his later claims on. There's lots of mathematics in it, but virtually no science. Even if his "explanatory filter", in the abstract, passes through peer review in a statistics or philosophy context (and in fact there are very good reasons to reject that as well), it still wasn't applied to living systems in that book to support the contention that living systems, either in general or in particular, must have been designed by some intelligent force. At any rate, it does not engage Leiter's demand, which was for articles in peer-reviewed journals, presumably scientific journals.

The second link that you provided was also from Dembski, citing the same 2 articles discussed above, plus the Axe article that Paul Myers answered quite well. Not only does the Axe article not support ID, but Dembski clearly distorts the conclusion of the article. Here is Dembski's description of the article:
This work shows that certain enzymes are extremely sensitive to perturbation. Perturbation in this case does not simply diminish existing function or alter function, but removes all possibility of function.
But the article shows anything but "extreme sensitivity to perturbation". It shows that you have to change out 20% of the amino acids in a given enzyme before function is impaired. There is absolutely nothing in that article that provides any support whatsoever for ID and it is simply dishonest for Dembski to continue to claim that it does.

The only other article that Dembski cites on this page is Loennig and Saedler's article on transposable elements. Notice that Dembski doesn't say that this article supports ID. He says that it is "non-Darwinian", which is a term he often uses. What it really means is "non-selective", but non-selective mechanisms are not in any way a problem for evolutionary theory. It's this little shell game that Dembski and other ID advocates like to play. They label an idea as "non-Darwinian", which simply means "non-selective" or "non-adaptationist" and then imply that since ID is also "non-Darwinian", all "non-Darwinian" ideas are a part of ID. Clearly a very silly argument, don't you think?

This is nothing new for Dembski or the Discovery Institute. In 2002, they provided a list of 44 citations to the Ohio state school board that allegedly showed problems with evolution or support for ID. But when the authors of all of those 44 papers were contacted, every single one of them said that the Discovery Institute was distorting their work, that nothing they had written provided any reason to doubt evolution or to support ID. But even after being shown the statements from every single author whose work they cited saying otherwise, the DI's Stephen Meyer still wrote an op-ed piece a month later claiming that those citations "raise significant challenges to key tenets of Darwinian evolution" - never mind that the authors of those articles themselves said that the articles did no such thing.

Their ability to distort citations seems to be matched quite well by yours. You claimed that the NCSE "grudgingly admitted that 1% of scientists doubt evolution", but the link you provided to the NCSE said the exact opposite of what you claimed. But it's nice to know that you went to the trouble of qualifying the manner in which they admitted what they didn't admit.

As far as your claim to have addressed Paul Myers' criticism of the Axe paper, here is what you wrote in that regard:
Meyers’s exhibit number one to refute Axe’s peer-reviewed journal article - get this: Axe is a “closet” Intelligent Designer! Wow, that’s a shocker. We were all expecting the naturalistic evolutionists to write peer-reviewed articles supporting design theory! Not only is this ridiculous genetic fallacy, it isn’t very smart genetic fallacy. Meyer next does some hand-waving, pronounces the claim that the paper speaks “significant[ly]” to ID “ludicrous” (I guess we’re just supposed to trust him on this), and ignores the other three journal articles.
If you think this in any way refutes what Paul wrote, I can't imagine how you managed to get into law school. One would think, based on what you wrote, that Paul tried to "refute Axe's peer-reviewed journal article" by saying, "he's an ID supporter, so he must be wrong." But that isn't even close to the truth. First, Paul did not attempt to "refute Axe's peer-reviewed journal article." In fact, he specifically accepts the data that Axe provides, saying,
It's not a bad paper. It says something about the range of tolerance for change in proteins, and that even portions of the sequence remote from the active site contribute to the integrity of the enzyme; nothing surprising or unexpected, even to us evolutionists, but it is good to see the data documenting it.
Second, he did not use the fact that Axe is Dembski's friend and an ID supporter to argue in any way against the conclusions that Axe drew in his paper. What he did argue against was Dembski citing this paper as one that supports ID when it does nothing of the sort. He also points out, as I did above, that Dembski completely misrepresents the conclusions of the paper, pretending that it showed "extreme sensitivity to perturbation" when in point of fact it showed 20% resistence to perturbation. You did not address a single argument that Paul makes for why it is dishonest to cite the Axe paper as an example of a peer-reviewed article supporting ID. Yet you want to claim that your non-answer to Paul proves that your ellipses didn't make it appear that you answered the claim that Bryan made by changing the substance of that claim. Sorry, but I think I've shown pretty conclusively that this argument just doesn't fly, especially in light of your complete distortion of what the NCSE "grudgingly admitted".

Look, I frankly think that ID critics should stop bringing up the fact that no pro-ID article has ever been published in a peer-reviewed science journal. I think this claim, while true at this point, is fairly meaningless, and at some point they'll probably manage to get one through. There are, after all, hundreds and hundreds of obscure science journals and peer review is hardly a guarantee of scholarly rigor. What really matters is not whether they've ever managed to get a single article published or not, but whether they've managed to actually develop a testable, falsifiable model that explains the data well. And on that point, ID can only be described as an utter failure at this point. If you can name a single testable hypothesis that flows from the ID "theory", you'll be the first one to manage it. And until they have produced that, they simply are not doing science, they're just promising that sometime in the future they will be doing science.

Ed Brayton | 11:50 AM | | | Permalink

Brian Leiter vs National Review

One of the best blogs to read on both legal issues and evolution is that of Brian Leiter, director of the Law and Philosophy Program at the University of Texas Law School. He writes fairly extensively on evolution and the ongoing controversy of Intelligent Design. Recently, he took to task a young Harvard law student named Lawrence VanDyke, who had written a positive review of a pro-ID book in the Harvard Law Review. Leiter wrote a rather scathing review of VanDyke's book note on his blog. The book in question was Darwinism and Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design by Frances Beckwith, a fellow with the Discovery Institute, who argues that ID could be included in a public school science curriculum and still pass constitutional muster. That remains to be seen, of course, and I suspect that both Beckwith and Leiter would be involved fairly deeply in any court fight over that issue.

That court fight may be coming soon, as recent events in Ohio and Montana may either provide the test case that has been inevitably brewing for the last several years. Such a case is inevitable, of course. Attempts by creationists to gain equal time in public school science classrooms were pretty much wiped out in 1987 by the Edwards v Aguillard decision, which essentially made federal the district court decision in Mclean v Arkansas in 1981. But since then, they have regrouped and put that old wine into the new skin of "intelligent design theory", which is not a theory at all. They have been frantically busy lately pushing ID in states and local school boards for years now, hoping to get a bill passed and fight it out in court. They are hoping, of course, that since they've left out all the overt "Godtalk", this will now pass an establishment clause test.

If and when such a case takes place, it will likely be something of a repeat of the McLean case, which was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating court cases of the 20th century. Dozens of prominent scientists, philosophers and legal scholars, including Landon Gilkey, Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Ruse, Brent Dalrymple, George Marsden and Francisco Ayala, were asked to testify in that case and their collective testimony comprises one of the best introductions to the history and philosophy of science and the vacancy of creationist responses to it that one could hope for. A few friends of mine, including Wes Ellsberry, Don Frack and Troy Britain, have been collecting and digitizing the testimonial transcripts (which has been a long and difficult process, believe me), making them available to the world. I would wager that both Beckwith and Leiter would both be involved in the sequel to this trial when it happens, as advisers to the two sides and perhaps as witnesses or litigants as well. But I digress...

Leiter's response to Van Dyke's glowing review of Beckwith's book was strongly worded, to be sure. He began by saying,
The lavish praise is only possible because the book note is riddled with factual errors and misleading innuendo from start to finish. Law professors have long had doubts about the intellectual integrity of student-edited law reviews; incidents like this suggest, if anything, that our doubts have been understated.

The author of this incompetent book note...is one Lawrence VanDyke, a student editor of the Review. Mr. VanDyke may yet have a fine career as a lawyer, but I trust he has no intention of entering law teaching: scholarly fraud is, I fear, an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher. And let none of the many law professors who are readers of this site be mistaken: Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences.

Mr. VanDyke's book note reads like a press release from the Discovery [sic] Institute--the Seattle-based public relations arm of the creationist movement--and not like a scholarly review of a book.
Pretty harsh, I think we can all agree, but right on the money. After this introduction, Leiter goes on to take the book review claim by claim and pretty much take it apart. But now along comes Hunter Baker writing in the National Review Online and he's not at all happy with Leiter's criticism of the Harvard student's review:
VanDyke found Beckwith's arguments convincing and said so in his book note.

Such a sin could not go unpunished or unpublicized by those who hold to the inerrancy of the Darwinian scriptures. The Book of Scopes, 2:12-14 reads, "Thou shalt not admit that any explanation of origins outside the neo-Darwinian synthesis may have merit. Verily, thou must proclaim that any alternate explanation is of the same religious origin as witch burning and will be struck down by the Establishment Clause before ever being discussed in a public school."
He goes on to accuse Leiter of threatening the career of VanDyke, saying,
One doesn't need to work very hard to read between the lines. Leiter seems to be threatening VanDyke's career if he should dare to set foot in the academy. The tone of his post makes clear that he means this student editor of the Harvard Law Review harm. Leiter's statement is the equivalent of an academic temper tantrum and is likely to backfire. The attack by a high-powered academic on an intellectually open law student is not the stuff of which great reputations are made. Leiter's peers, some of whom may actually have believed all the hype about academic freedom, will probably wonder just how this sort of proposed blacklisting squares with long-cherished ideals.
He does at least admit that this is "reading between the lines", but it's a rather fanciful reading. Leiter has responded, quite reasonably:
The italicized portion is alluding not to consequences for Mr. VanDyke (what would "pedagogical" or "political" consequences be for him?)--I would have thought that obvious--but to the consequences for public school education and battles over science education by handing the ID scam artists a new weapon in their arsenal: a favorable review of one of their key texts in the Harvard Law Review. Already, as this site reports, this public relations victory is being exploited by the proponents of pseudo-science. Thousands of hours were spent by dozens of Texans like me this past summer and fall defeating the efforts of the ID scam artists to destroy science education in Texas; in a great victory, the Texas State Board of Education rebuffed Beckwith & co., sizing them up for the proponents of pseudo-science that they are. If the reader detects I'm a bit irritated with Mr. VanDyke, perhaps it is because I'd rather not spend significant portions of my time defending the integrity of science education for my children. Mr. VanDyke has made my job and the job of all those who want high standards in education a bit harder.

Mr. VanDyke has injected himself in to a serious political debate by misrepresenting in a prestigious, professional publication the state of the relevant science and empirical evidence. Mr. VanDyke must own his words and own the consequences of those words: he is a professional, publishing in a professional journal. Those consequences include the likelihood that the vast majority of educated readers, knowledgeable about the relevant science, will be astonished that the Harvard Law Review could publish such slipshod work and will likely take a dim view of Mr. VanDyke's scholarly competence. They are correct, in my view, to draw those conclusions.
He also responds to the charge that he is somehow impinging on VanDyke's academic freedom:
Academic freedom protects the right of Beckwith et al. to cast their lot with pseudo-science; it protects my right to call them on it. It also protects my right to express the view that pseudo-science and scholarly incompetence are, as I put it, "an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher." Although I'm amused by how much power NRO thinks I have, the fact is I have an impact on hiring at Texas, and that's about it, except to the extent I am asked to evaluate candidates in legal philosophy by other law schools.
But as the NRO article notes:
For his part, VanDyke is not backtracking. He defends the substance of his book note and charges that Leiter's attack represents "an effort to make sure all students recognize that if they step outside the bounds of Leiter's orthodoxy, their careers will be in serious jeopardy." He adds, "This is pretty amazing considering my book note actually talks about the 'hostility and censorship of the evolutionary establishment.' If anything, Mr. Leiter acts as if it his goal to prove me correct."
This is pretty standard stuff for ID proponents, who seem to strike the martyr pose - Help, help, I'm being repressed by the big bad Darwinian Orthodoxy! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! - as reflexively as a baby sucks a nipple. But there's something really important missing in this little Don Quixote story - substance. Leiter's original response to VanDyke's book review contained an almost line by line dismantling of the claims it contained. Not only does the NRO article fail to mention any of the substantive criticisms that Leiter offers, it doesn't even link to them on Leiter's blog. Not a single word in Baker's article disputes the substance of Leiter's review. Not a single word from either Beckwith or VanDyke quoted by Baker even attempts to discuss any of the substantive criticisms that he made. Were his criticisms wrong? If they are, none of the principles involved in this attempts to make a case for it, yet they reflexively jump immediately to the cry of repression from the Darwinian Establishment.

Another person, using just the name Greg, also reacted negatively to Leiter's post, but he at least attempted to argue with the substance of Leiter's criticisms. He did so quite badly, however, and Leiter pretty much shreds his arguments. Paul Myers joins in on the fun and points out that the citations that he gives for allegedly pro-ID articles in the scientific literature have been completely distorted by the ID crowd. As a side note, it was pretty amusing to read Greg claiming to have gone to the scientific literature and found material that supports ID and getting haughty with Leiter for his supposed laziness in not doing the same "in-depth research":
Actually, in looking for that citation, I found some more examples:

D.D. Axe, "Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors," Journal of Molecular Biology, 301 (2000): 585?595. This work shows that certain enzymes are extremely sensitive to perturbation. Perturbation in this case does not simply diminish existing function or alter function, but removes all possibility of function. This implies that neo-Darwinian theory has no purchase on these systems. Moreover, the probabilities implicit in such extreme-functional-sensitivity analyses are precisely those needed for a design inference. W.-E. Loennig & H. Saedler, "Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements," Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410. This article examines the role of transposons in the abrupt origin of new species and the possibility of an partly predetermined generation of biodiversity and new species. The authors' approach is non-Darwinian, and they cite favorably on the work of Michael Behe and William Dembski. D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, "Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis," International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775. M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall, "The Laws of Form Revisited," Nature, 410 (22 March 2001): 417; M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) "The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law," Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342.

No doubt this is simply the tip of the iceberg. If I, as a non-scientist, could find this in 15 minutes, imagine what Leiter could have done with an hour of fact-checking.
This might be something other than pathetic if the entire passage hadn't been copied word for word from Dembski's website.

Leiter is correct when he says that ID proponents are peddling nonsense. He is correct when he says that VanDyke's book note in the Harvard Law Review was based on ignorance of the subject matter and read more like a fawning press release from the Discovery Institute than like a serious book review. Leiter is correct that the Discovery Institute is little more than "the public relations arm of the creationist movement", repackaging the same old nonsense in fancy-sounding terminology, distorting the scientific literature to make it appear as supporting them, and failing to publish anything like a testable model that explains the evidence. Striking the martyr pose is good public relations because it distracts attention from the real issues. When you don't have any actual science to offer, you claim to be oppressed by the "establishment" that is afraid of your Truthtm. But the scientific world doesn't work that way. Scientists tend to be sticklers for substance over hand-waving. If you have a real model that explains the evidence, by all means offer it up and let's debate it. But since they don't have that, they are left with casting themselves in the role of the oppressed in the hope that no one will notice that they didn't actually address any of the substantive criticisms, that after all the frantic hand waving, there simply is no there there.

Ed Brayton | 11:47 AM | | | Permalink

Dispatches from the Culture Wars