Two previous entries on this blog by John Lynch have discussed the scientific output (or lack thereof) of two intelligent design superstars, Jonathan Wells and Michael Behe. Despite claims that both of these ID supporters are actively engaged in research, Lynch documents that they have published little or no scientific research in the last six years. Now let's look at the record of another one of ID's superstars, William Dembski.

The principal review journal in mathematics is Mathematical Reviews and its online version, called MathSciNet. Both are projects of the American Mathematical Society. The description of MathSciNet states that it is "a comprehensive database covering the world's mathematical literature since 1940." And it really is comprehensive: about 70,000 new reviews are added each year.

I searched MathSciNet for Dembski's publications. Exactly four are listed:
a paper called "Uniform probability" that was published in the *Journal of Theoretical Probability* in 1990; a survey article called "Randomness by design" that appeared in the philosophical journal *Noûs* in 1991; his 1998 Cambridge University Press book *The Design Inference*, and his 2002 book *No Free Lunch*. That's it.

Dembski's CV lists one other scientific publication (a 1990 article in the *Journal of Statistical Computation and Simulation* that was not reviewed by Mathematical Reviews). It also lists a preprint entitled "Random Predicate Logic I" that Dembski posted in 2002 (although it was apparently written in 1990).

To understand how sparse this output is, you need to know that the average research mathematician publishes something like 1-2 research papers *each year*. Mathematicians at small colleges typically publish less because they have more teaching duties, while those with postdoctoral positions or research positions typically publish more. Dembski received his Ph. D. in mathematics in 1988. By this time, a typical university mathematician would have published something like 15-30 papers in the peer-reviewed mathematical literature; Dembski has published two. (I do not count the paper in *Noûs* since that journal is a philosophy journal and the paper has no original mathematical research in it.)

Of course, the number of published papers is not the only measure of
scientific output. A good researcher could publish a small number of
papers with large impact. So it is worthwhile to see how often
Dembski's papers have been cited in the scientific literature. I used
the ISI Web of Science
(previously called Science Citation Index) to see how often Dembski's
work was cited. His 1991 *Noûs* article has been cited
five times (once by Beckwith in the *Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy* and four other citations, including one in *Paleobiology*,
but none in mathematics journals); his 1990 *Journal of Theoretical Probability* article has been cited twice (once again by Beckwith and once by L. Olsen in the *Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society*); his 1990 article in *Journal of Statistical Computation and Simulation* has been cited three times (once again by Beckwith, once by Sober, and once by Barbour -- none in mathematics journals). Since important papers often receive dozens or even hundreds of citations, this suggests that Dembski's work has not been very influential among practicing scientists or mathematicians.

Of course, Dembski has been very busy with other projects. His CV lists many articles and reviews in religious periodicals such as *First Things* and *Princeton Theological Review*. I do not criticize his activities in other areas; after all, he is a man of many interests. It is the inflation of his mathematical and scientific credentials that I find inappropriate.

For example, Dembski is frequently touted as an expert on information theory; his colleague Rob Koons has called him "the Isaac Newton of information theory". But how many research papers has Dembski published on information theory? According to MathSciNet, none. (By contrast, Aaron D. Wyner, an expert in information theory who died in 1997, has 64 entries in MathSciNet stretching over 40 years, for an average of 1.6 entries per year.)

Dembski himself states in this interview in Christianity Today that he "became something of an expert in the study of randomness". But how many original research papers has Dembski published on randomness? According to MathSciNet, none (or one, if you count the survey in the philosophy journal *Noûs*). By contrast, Avi Wigderson, a colleague of mine who really *is* an expert in randomness, has 103 entries in MathSciNet (of course, not all of those are specifically about randomness).

Dembski's supporters will no doubt argue that his books represent original research. But what do mathematicians have to say about his work? David Wolpert, one of the inventors of the "No Free Lunch" theorems that inspired the title of Dembski's 2002 book, wrote a rather uncomplimentary review for Mathematical Reviews, saying that his work "is written in jello". I have criticized Dembski's mathematics here and here and here, but Dembski has never found the time to reply.

Dembski may be a fine theologian; I don't have the expertise to judge. But it is clear that hyped accolades such as "the Isaac Newton of information theory" have yet to be earned. In terms of mathematical output, Dembski is far below the median. ID advocacy appears to be an excellent way to derail a promising scientific or mathematical career.

Interesting article, thanks. Just one note - you wrote:

I would perhaps suggest that ID advocacy is an excellent way to salvage

a career, when one’s scientific or mathematical career is failing. If writing peer-review quality original articles is proving to be too tough, well, there’s always money and attention in the “Darwin was wrong” industry…Although we all knew how insignificant Dembski’s mathematical output is, Jeff’s detailed search provides a documented support for such an assertion. Also, whatever tiny mathematical work Dembski may have done, it is worth noticing that it all was done at the beginning of his career. It looks like he tried doing some math, but it turned out to be hard, so he chose to turn to easier pursuits. Claiming to be an expert in randomness is just another example of Dembski’s amusing predilection to admire himself. Does anybody know how good his barbecue in Riesel, TX, is? If as good as his math, who would want to pay for it?

Let’s not forget that Newton spent the last several decades of his life as a full-time alchemist. Maybe that’s what Koons means.

Dembski’s audience doesn’t care how good of a mathematician he is. He is in the front lines and if you materialists can’t see the bigger picture well, that just means Dembski has surpassed you!

Katrina says “Dembski’s audience doesn’t care.…”. Thanks for making that clear. Dembski’s audience (includes you?) and many of us on the side of science seem to think alike. Dembski’s no mathematician? Dembski has a hard time accepting that he isn’t doing anything mathematical or scientific (regardless of the PhDs he’s earned). Now maybe his audience shd help him understand that?

Syntax Error:not well-formed (invalid token) at line 3, column 151, byte 403 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.Katarina wrote:

“Dembski’s audience doesn’t care how good of a mathematician he is. He is in the front lines and if you materialists can’t see the bigger picture well, that just means Dembski has surpassed you!”

Hmm…If we’re matrialists, does that make you and your ilk spiritualists?

Just curious.…

Drieux

I’m almost certain that Katarina was being wry… anyway, I think I can start calling myself a respected research mathmatician now. I’m just 2 papers away from Dembski…

What do you mean “we all know”? Are you invoking the royal “we” here Perakh? This post is just more of your pompous bloviating. You are in no position to comment on Dembski’s mathematical contributions or ability because you are not even remotely a mathematician. By way of contrast, I am in probability and statistics, and I know that you do not graduate with a doctorate from the University of Chicago under the supervision of Patrick Billingsley without being a capable mathematician.

Actually, he devoted far more energy to theology.

I’m glad to see we have a new visitor who is knowledgeable in math and statistics who seems favorably inclined toward Dembski. Maybe he can explain this higher plane of thought to us mere biology types who find the whole ID enterprise so unconvincing.

Introducing a comment with “someone insignificant wrote”, however, does not bode well in terms of attitude.

You should see what O’Brien posted on EvoMath 0.

O’Brien: You are in no position to comment on Dembski’s mathematical contributions or ability because you are not even remotely a mathematician.

Since Dembski’s

mathematical contributionsor lack thereof are even obvious to the non-mathematicians your comment sounds a little silly.But if you want mathematicians comment on Dembski then for instance you would appreciate Wolpert’s comments about http://www.talkreason.org/articles/jello.cfm]Dembski:

William Dembski’s treatment of the No Free Lunch theorems is written in jello?Cheers

I have read Dr. Wolpert’s review and have communicated with him directly; he is not a vehement critic, and he certainly did not question Dembski’s qualifications or ability. Also, I dispute that a non-mathematician is qualified to evaluate mathematical prowess.

Interesting how o’Brien seems to be moving the goalposts. First it was ‘Dembski’s mathematical contributions’ now it is mathematical prowess… When confronted with the quite strong comments about Dembski’s mathematical ‘prowess’ in NFL, Wolpert had to conclude that Dembski’s treatment of the NFL theorems was written in jello. Since Dembski’s claims are hardly that ‘mathematical’ although (som simple) mathematics is used to obfuscate the concepts, I disagree that it would take mathematicians to point out the errors in Dembski’s claims (and there are many may I add.)

Rather than disputing that non mathematicians are qualified to evaluate Dembski’s claims, why not address the arguments presented by these ‘non-mathematicians’?

Cheers

Before anyone’s cage gets rattled unnecessarily, I note that “Robert O’Brien” has only posted a lot of braggadocio and nothing of substance.

It’s quite possible that he’s another prankster who doesn’t particularly know or care anything about evolution or Dembski’s critique of it, but just likes to rattle cages.

I, for one, propose to ignore him unless and until he writes something with some actual content.

Nope. I do not think non-mathematicians are qualified to address

either.For the same reason a neuroscientist would be loath to waste time on a phrenologist.

In other words, lets just ignore the critics’ comments because it’s easier to consider them to be unqualified.

I see… Interesting strawman which does allow one to ignore valid criticism.

What, may I ask, is your educational background?

Mr O’Brien,

You said, “… You (Perakh) are in no position to comment on Dembski’s mathematical contributions or ability because you are not even remotely a mathematician. By way of contrast, I am in probability and statistics …” and, to Pim, “What, may I ask, is your educational background?”

I wonder if you might answer the same question? What, may I ask, is your educational background?

I have a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and I am currently a graduate student in probability and statistics (although I have most recently been at UCSB, this fall I will be continuing my graduate education at UF).

So you are in an excellent position to address the claims made by Dembski’s critics.

And yet…

O’ Brien writes:Ah, now I get it. Non-mathematicians cannot comment on mathematics but non-biologists can comment on biology. Glad you cleared that up.

This is just a way of repeating the epistemological clap-trap you have repeated in other threads: mathematics as the “queen” of the sciences, biology as the poor scullery maid (so to speak).

I’ve known a number of mathematicians over the years (both students whom I’ve taught and co-workers) - in a candid moment, many have said to me that they were attracted to mathematics precisely because they couldn’t handle the “messiness” of the real word (c.f. biology).

Care to explain to us your background in evolutionary biology?

Quite limited.

Forgive me for being a layman here. But how does the statement of “In terms of mathematical output, Dembski is far below the median.” Take someone with a math degree to comment on? Surely counting the number of papers he has writen on one hand does not take a degree in theoretical mathematics to do.

I dispute Shallit’s count means anything. Quality is more important than quantity, and I do not think anyone here (whom I’ve seen thus far) is qualified to comment on the quality of William Dembski’s work.

Yawn.

That only makes it worse for poor ‘ol Dembski. Fact is, the guy gets no love from mathematicians or biologists. But he gets lots of love from creationists and evangelically-minded philosophers who know nothing about either. Go figure.

Has anyone tried Bill’s barbeque yet?

Somebody seems to have a major reading comprehension problem.

I never said anything about Dembski’s mathematical

ability. My comment was about the quality of hisachievements. That’s why the article was entitled “Dembski’s mathematical achievements”, not “Dembski’s mathematical ability”.Again, a reading comprehension problem. Yes, I did count Dembski’s publications, but I

alsoexamined citation databases to see how often his work has been cited in mathematical and science journals. The answer is, hardly at all. A raw count of publications can be misleading, but citation counts are a better indicator of quality.Perhaps Mr. O’Brien would care to examine my critiques of Dembski’s mathematics and say why he thinks they are wrong.

No, he’d probably just care to keep attacking evolutionists like yourself; that’s all creationists are good for. Besides, we already have a brief explanation from Wolpert of how Dembski failed, R O’B would have to be pretty dumb to argue he succeeded.

Robert: Quality is more important than quantity, and I do not think anyone here (whom I’ve seen thus far) is qualified to comment on the quality of William Dembski’s work.

Perhaps not qualified by your ‘standards’ but certainly many have been able to document the lack of quality in Dembski’s arguments and achievements.

Robert, rather than addressing the claims and objections, seems to have chosen the much easier route of just ignoring it basd on his perception that these people are not qualified to raise objections…

Fascinating… i do not envy Robert’s self appointed task of defending Dembski. Even with Robert’s ‘qualifications’ it seems that Dembski may be beyond ‘rescue’ ;-)

Wayne: Forgive me for being a layman here. But how does the statement of “In terms of mathematical output, Dembski is far below the median.” Take someone with a math degree to comment on? Surely counting the number of papers he has writen on one hand does not take a degree in theoretical mathematics to do.

But to prove it mathematically does… :-)

What IS Robert’s position on Dembski and ID? Is it still the same as his stated position on the ex-mormons board?

answers

on Deism

My beliefs and the case against abiogenesis

For a mathematician (in training?)he surely seems to have a poor understanding of how to apply probabilities to abiogenesis and evolution though.

and the Debunking of Ross’s estimate

Just to show how mathematics can be quite separate from reality.

Actually, Dr. Shallit, if anyone has a reading comprehension problem it is you. That comment was addressed to Mark Perakh.

No, I read that part, too. Again I say, “So what.” The myopia and pedantry you display in evaluating William Dembski’s mathematical contributions is characteristic of people in your field.

So what? You’d think that someone who the aideeists call “the Issac Newton of Information Theory” would actually have been cited more than a handful of times. Dembski has a mediocre technical publication record and no noticible impact on mathematics.

That does qualify him to be the Isaac Newton of creationism, though, Reed.

BTW, I wonder what Dembski would say about Wolpert’s dismissal of his use of NFL? I think if I used a theorem to get a math result, and the theorem’s co-creator came along and said I was wrong, I hadn’t said anything concrete, I had failed to meet the requirements of the theorem, I would probably retract my result in embarrassment. I’ve got $50 says Dembski won’t. Any takers?

Lemme get this straight. Despite this intellectually-inbred hatefest you all have here, you are really the aggrieved party. Uh-huh. I suppose you’d also like to try to sell me the Piltdown skeleton you found in your attic.

Omigosh! Either he’s

nota hoax, or the gag’s been running for more than half a decade!Is Mr. O’Brien ever going to get around to actually addressing criticisms of Dembski’s work, or are we going to be treated to an endless stream of schoolyard boasts and content-free swaggering?

Gentlemen: Let’s not feed the troll.

O’Brien: No, I read that part, too. Again I say, “So what.” The myopia and pedantry you display in evaluating William Dembski’s mathematical contributions is characteristic of people in your field.

Irony alertFascinating to see how O’Brien seems to undermine his own arguments.

So far nothing substantial from Robert though.

Sigh

Wow, Steve, how did you train O’Brien to support your argument like that. Can you also teach him to roll over and fetch? O’Brien, please don’t point out the flaws in Shallit’s argument, we don’t want the imminent collapse of evolution to happen today :-O

Can we at least conclude that, from the near total lack of citations in mathematical journals as well as Wolpert’s dismissal of Dembski’s book, that the mathematical community as a whole does not find Dembski to be particularly influential?

He has to attack, he has no choice. He can’t support Dembski over Wolpert, he knows that would be asinine. He’s got nowhere to go on that. But he’s not going to drop his claim just because the evidence is against him.

$50 on Dembski? Anybody?

Robert O’Brien said in 1998:

So RNA can’t possibly assemble from preexisting amino acids, but whole supernatural beings can spontaneously form from nothing. Science marches on!

I’m not going to comment on this. I’ll just leave it here for the amusement of the others on this board who know anything about physics. (Like the other Steve S at NCSU (GO PACK!))

If you could pull your head out of the sands of oblivion for one moment, I would like to know the “claim” I made that you reference above.

If my posts lack substance as you say, it looks like I have stumbled upon the right place; that is the norm here.

Not even a clever retort. Of course I can understand that many of the contributions on this site may be above your comfort level, since most are actually applied science.

But so far you have yourself contributed little other than to hide behind what you seem to consider shortcomings of others.

Don’t listen to these Evilutionists Rob! I myself find your comments extremely trenchent. Obviously Dembski has these guys over a barrell and they don’t know what to do so they resort to Ab Homonymn attacks. Also I like how you pointed out that Steve “Don’t Write to Me Argentina” Story is just inbred. Pompus bloviaters like Dr. Wolpert need to get a clue. If they would only get their heads out of the sands of oblivion maybe they could make some real contribution(s) to sceince.

Welcome back, Timmy - you go, dude! I too am fed up to here with these evil ones suggesting that such a multi-talented individual as Dembski - a philosopher, a mathematician, and a theologian - isn’t qualified to expose the utter bankruptcy of evolution, whether or not he actually knows the first thing about it. Hell, he knows about lots of other stuff, including barbecue. And, and -

And, wait a minute here - wasn’t it O’Brien who was claiming that non mathematicians weren’t qualified to critique Dembski’s mathematics? Doesn’t that mean that mathematicians aren’t qualified to critique evolution, or science in general? Hetr Robert, thanks for clearing that up for me.

I will not be fooled by your reverse psychology Bob. Like Dr. O’Brien pointed out math is superior to biology and no biologists know anything about math. To answer your question, any time any math is involved non-mathmaticians are unfit to discuss it. In fact you should not even have asked me that question.

If you would just think for a minute you would understand the truth of O’Brien’s statements. He is a Paladin of Truth. David Wolpert does not understand Dr. Dembski’s arguments because he is not a mathematician. Wolpert got a Ph.D in physics, so he has no idea what he is talking about in either math or biology! So I don’t know how he dares making those foolish clams against Dr. Dembski.

Damn it Timmy, you saw right through me - but didn’t Dr. Wolpert formulize the National Football League rules that the Rev. Dr. Dembski subsequently morphed into jello - to Dr. Wolpert’s dismay - to prove his ID/DI hypotheses?

I’m not a mathematician, and I’ve never even played one on tv but I play Lotto South every week, so I know a lot about probability and numbers. Are your qualifications as good as mine? And isn’t there some guy named Rosenhouse, or something like that, who’s a mathematician, who dismantled Dembski’s math?

But you may be right - how dare a physicist challenge a mathematician who challenges evolutionary biology?Sounds like some major chutzpa to me.

Hello Timmy. It is nice to see that this place is not just populated by self-important, self-aggrandizing profs and clueless undergrads. It appears, though, that continued exposure to Don’t Write to Me, Creationist! has had a vitiating effect upon your intellect, as evidenced by your poor spelling.

Hey, wasn’t O’Brien the guy that wrote “How to win friends and influence people?” This guy sure is a smoothie, you can’t help but like him with comments like that. It almost makes you forget that he has so far offered

nothingin the way of evidence for ID.O’Brien: Hello Timmy. It is nice to see that this place is not just populated by self-important, self-aggrandizing profs and clueless undergrads.

And please don’t forget clueless mathematicians in training.

Oh, O’Brien, please tell me you aren’t an anti-evolutionist! Not with all the results in nonlinear dynamics that support the idea that order can come from a system which is completely probabilistically defined!

On another topic – that of the relation between math and science – I do have something of a reputation as an arrogant pure math student (first year grad, with my copy of Royden’s Real Analysis to prove it), so to preserve my rep, I am obliged to make an argument that math is indeed superior to science. Isn’t Hilbert’s sixth problem, “Can physics be axiomized?”, an attempt to reduce physics to a branch of mathematics? From there, it’s a short step to all of science, as physics is the mother science. Of course, this does not take into account the differing techniques in the different fields, but I’m sure that’s just a trifling technicality.

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