From the desk of the DI Media Complaints Division


Robert Crowther from the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division seems to be quite content to reference an ID friendly blogsite by Denyse O’Leary

If misreporting were a concern to Robert, he would certainly have pointed out the various problems with Denyse’s arguments. But like ‘teach the controversy’, it seems that correcting errors in reporting is mostly one sided.

Based on Denyse’s blog comments, I asked Denyse the following questions

Denyse, as a journalist/reporter/science writer [1] have you checked your ‘facts’?

1. Is Sternberg an employee of the Smithsonian? You write “Smithsonian persecutes one of their own”. As far as I can tell Sternberg is employed by the NIH and the research associate position is not one of employment w/ the Smithsonian.

2. Is Sternberg neutral on the concept of intelligent design? You write “The amazing part is that the man is not even a supporter of intelligent design”.

But Sternberg is a fellow of ISCID (…) and he spoke at a “conference titled “Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Future of Biology” at the Palmenia Centre for Continuing Education of University of Helsinki, where they will explain why a “growing number [sic] of scientists challenge the evolutionary view and claim that biology is better understood as a product of intelligent design.”” (see…)

The website announced

Helsinki University of Technology Main building, Mellin-auditorium, Otaniemi 22.10. 14:15-19:15

Nothing in modern scientific discussion raises controversy and emotions like the question of design in biology. This is understandable since the ruling paradigm of natural history is Darwinian evolution: random genetic changes guided by natural selection have created all the biological complexity. A small but growing number of scientists challenge the neo-Darwinian view (doc) and claim that biology is better understood as a product of intelligent design. Evolutionary biologist Dr Richard Sternberg and philosopher of science Dr Paul Nelson explain the reasons in this lecture series.

Employment claim

Denyse’s response:

Denyse Wrote:

He was one of their own until the Meyer episode, so far as I can tell.

Do the research, even his own webpage describes that he is employed by the NIH and a search of the Smithsonian shows that research associatesare NOT employed by the Smithsonian:

The title of Research Associate is used to denote an individual’s formal scholarly affiliation with the Institution. However, Research Associates are not employees of the Smithsonian.

About the neutrality claim

Denyse Wrote:

He says he isn’t. That puts him in no man’s land. A dangerous place to be. I gather he is a structuralist. in biology.

He said that he is no ‘creationist’ or at least no young earth creationist. He hardly seems to be a disinterested party here (when it comes to ID).

Denyse Wrote:

None of this indicates that Sternberg espouses the view; only that he offers to explain the reasons. Ruse does the same in his books.

Right… That’s all to it. Just a disinterested bystander who happens to travel to Helsinki with Paul Nelson to explain what ID is all about. Come on Denyse… I suggest that you do at least some research before you make Sternberg out to be the disinterested party.

From Tom Schneider

Sternberg was to give a talk at a pseudo-scientific meeting, Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Future of Biology on 2004 Nov 23 (cancelled as of September 21). The abstract stated: “The talk will emphasize that genes themselves are irreducibly complex structures, and pitfalls in common neoDarwinian models of gene evolution.” The Ev paper demonstrates that Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity” is untenable. Sternberg’s position is untenable.

The lecture series

14.15 How Do We Detect Intelligent Causes? Paul Nelson 15.15 A 21st Century View of Genomes, Richard Sternberg 16.15 Break 16.45 Can Intelligent Design Illuminate Homology? Paul Nelson 17.45 Fluid Genomes: Information-Generating or Information- Shuffling? Richard Sternberg 18.45 Discussion

According to the NCSE

According to the article, Meyer “said he had chosen the journal because Mr. Sternberg attended a conference where Mr. Meyer gave an oral presentation advancing the same arguments. The two discussed the possibility of publishing the work.” Although the conference is not named in the article, it is likely that it was the Research and Progress in Intelligent Design Conference, held at Biola University in October 2002, at which Meyer spoke on “The Cambrian information explosion: Evidence of intelligent design” and Sternberg spoke on “Causal entailments in convergently developed, irreducibly complex organ systems.” Only advocates of “intelligent design” spoke at the RAPID conference, and at least one critic of “intelligent design” was expressly forbidden to attend.


Research and progress in intelligent design.

Is Denyse certain that Sternberg does not believe in intelligent design? Has Sternberg made such a statement?


PvM Wrote:

Finally you are reporting an allegation by Sternberg as if it were the truth. All we have is Sternberg’s version as filed with the OSC. We so far know only one side of the story… Are you sure that you are not jumping to conclusions here before we know all the details?

Denyse Wrote:

No, but it is a pretty good bet.

Based on what evidence Denyse? Why do you believe this to be a good bet? What details or facts do you have that support your viewpoint beyond Sternberg’s claims? Are we to assume that the ‘other side’ must be guilty?

Her ‘rebuttals’ of the National Geographic’s article do not fare much better, but that’s for a later time. As is my review of her book which is quite painful to read due to its many misconceptions.

The big question is: Will the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division ask her to correct her misreportings? Don’t hold your breath.

[1] Denyse O’Leary is an award-winning Canadian science writer/journalist living in Toronto (from her website)


Denyse did not much better in her earlier reporting

another objection

Fortunately, Sternberg, who risks being fired, has had the good sense to reply to his critics.

Sternberg does not risk to be fired since his term as editor already expired. From the website to which Denyse actually links we read

Following my resignation in October 2003, a new managing editor for the Proceedings was selected in May of 2004, and the transition from my editorship to the new editor has taken place over the past few months. By the time that the controversy emerged I was finishing up my last editorial responsibilities. Thus, my stepping down had nothing to do with the publication of the Meyer paper.


Denyse has posted a webblog on the controversy surrounding the 2004 Meyer paper[…]04/9.21.html

I appreciate Denyse’s comments on this interesting issue, and I have documented what I believe to be various problems with her claims:

1. Denyse accuses Eugenie Scott of having suggested that the directors of the publication claimed that the article was substandard science:

Interestingly, contrary to Eugenie Scott’s claim, the journal’s directors did not claim that Meyer’s article was “substandard science,” but that it was “inappropriate” for the journal.

but Scott never made such a claim. What she did say was

“It’s too bad the Proceedings published it,” Scott said. “The article doesn’t fit the type of content of the journal. The bottom line is that this article is substandard science.”

No suggestion that Scott was talking about what the directors of the journal had to say about this.

2. Additionally Denyse, without much supporting evidence accuses Pandas Thumb

But things got worse. Meyer’s article attracted the attention of the Panda’s Thumb blog. If you want to see the possible demise of science, go to the Panda’s Thumb blog, a site dedicated to protecting Darwinism that has abused ID-friendly scholars in such unscholarly terms that viewing the Thumb can feel like watching thousands of years of civilization rushing down the drain

However no examples of such abuse (beyond showing the lack of scientific merrit) has been documented by Denyse although in an email she received she was given the opportunity to do so. Instead she countered

I would be glad to know that the site has improved, but I am most certainly not going to search through it for evidence that it hasn’t improved.

Seems to me that Denyse has jumped to a conclusion without the supporting evidence. Denyse may also want to distinguish between the PandasThumb and the comments posted by readers of the blog. I would be interested to see Denyse support her claims about the PT (and NCSE). I invite the readers of this forum to look at the Pandas Thumb website and make up their own minds. While PT is undeniably critical of ID I have found its articles to be mostly quite fair although hard hitting (disclaimer: I have contributed several articles on PT and thus am not an unbiased observer)

There are various other problems with Denyse’s article but I find these two the most troubling.

That Denyse is attempting to portray this issue as intellectual freedom misses the point. The NCSE nor PT have been asking (as far as I know) the journal to retract the paper, on the contrary, the paper shows as an excellent example of an ID relevant publication with the many flaws and omissions. There has been some speculation as to the reasons why a paper of this caliber made it through peer review. A valid question imho given the quality of the paper. Instead of intimidation, PT decided to document what its authors believed to be major shortcomings in Meyer’s ‘review’ article.

The board of the journal in question looked at the paper and concluded that its content was not in accordance with the stated goals of the journal.


The claims that there is intimidation or even pressure to suppress ID research seems ill supported in my opinion and distract from the real issues. Why does Denyse instead not focus on what PT IS arguing namely that the paper has some fundamental flaws and omissions? The Discovery Institute originally stated that Meyer would address the critique although that promise was quickly removed.

Pandas Thumb


Among the articles we find such quotes as

The crew at the Panda’s Thumb blog has already posted a preliminary critique of the paper, under the title “Meyer’s Hopeless Monster”. The critique identifies a large number of errors, confusions, and omissions in the paper, concluding: “There is nothing wrong with challenging conventional wisdom – continuing challenge is a core feature of science. But challengers should at least be aware of, read, cite, and specifically rebut the actual data that supports conventional wisdom, not merely construct a rhetorical edifice out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down strawmen, and tendentious interpretations. Unless and until the ‘intelligent design’ movement does this, they are not seriously in the game. They’re not even playing the same sport.”

NCSE has already heard from a number of members of the Biological Society of Washington (which has about 250 members in all), who are concerned about the reputation of the society and its journal after the publication of such a piece of substandard work in the apparent service of a non-scientific ideology.

Instead Denyse is observed stating

If you think I’ve said unkind things about them before, just watch me now.

I do not mind to hear unkind things but it would help if there were some justification for doing so.

That the Meyer paper is already being used by ID proponents to make support claims that it cannot live up to is evidenced by Denyse’s own blog where she states that

So Meyer reviews the possible explanations and proposes intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinism.

However other than ‘asserting’ that ID is an alternative to (neo-)Darwinism, Meyer’s argument is purely a negative one namely that he believes that neo-Darwinism fails to explain the data (something contradicted by actual research and evidence) and that thus ID is a reasonable or at least logical alternative. But Meyer fails to present ANY positive argument for design in his paper.

Interestingly enough Pennock seems to have predicted this in his chapter in “Debating Design” Dembski&Ruse (eds) 2004

I have not seen the chapter that Meyer is writing on the Cambrian explosion for the present volume, but I encourage readers to check whether he departs from the pattern and offers any specific positive account. If ID is to have even a shot at being a real scientific alternative, one should expect to see some precise testable (and eventually tested) hypotheses that answer the obvious questions: what was designed and what wasn’t; and when, where, how, and by whom was design information supposedly inserted. 7

See also[…]/000453.html

And that is the real issue imho.

Denyse writes

If you want to see the possible demise of science, go to the Panda’s Thumb blog, a site dedicated to protecting Darwinism that has abused ID-friendly scholars in such unscholarly terms

Is the term “ID-friendly” a “scholarly” term?

viewing the Thumb can feel like watching thousands of years of civilization rushing down the drain

She must be confusing this blog with the Fear Factor.

Denyse is always welcome to share her devastating defense of “ID theory” as science. Maybe she is the One Destined to Pull It All Together for the Prophet Johnson. C’mon Denyse, don’t be shy!

O'Leary Wrote:

I gather he is a structuralist. in biology.

Is “structuralist” the new, new euphamism for creationist? Prior to the Sternberg affair, I had never heard the term used to describe anyone’s position concerning evolution. As a matter of fact, I’ve never heard the term used at all. Structural biologists (who aren’t necessarily concerned with evolution) don’t normally refer to themselves as “structuralists”, and neither does anyone else as far as I know. Can anyone shed some light on this?

O'Leary Wrote:

No, but it is a pretty good bet.

Now that’s some high quality journalism right there. Don’t bother checking the facts, or reporting that the facts are unkown, just go with whatever you think is a good bet.

And these people wonder why we find them irritating.

Steve, actually “structuralism” is pretty old in biology, although it hasn’t always been called that. It goes back to Goethe and the “neo-platonists”, touching on d’Arcy Thompson, all the way to Brian Goodwin, who is probably the best known proponent today (see here, for instance). The way I see it, it is more of a philosophical perspective than a research program - at least I do not know of any evolutionary research conducted under a structuralist theoretical approach. But it’s out there.

Process Structuralism seems a different word for ‘kinds’

according to talkorigins

Process Structuralism (aka Formalism, aka Laws of growth tradition, also called Naturphilosophie, deriving from Goethe and Oken - the view that there are deep laws of change that determine some or all of the features of organisms): challenges 3 to 5 and 10. Examples: Goethe, Geoffroy, D’Arcy Thompson [10] , Goodwin, Salthe, Gould, Løvtrup [11]

Denyse.…demonstrating, yet again, that the ‘y’ in her name is vestigial.

Thanks for the explanation guys. Having read the first half of Goodwin’s article (it is not an easy read), I’m still not sure what structuralism actually is. Does it accept common ancestry or not? If its adherents believe that genetic programs cannot account for development, exactly what do they think accounts for development? Some sort of quasi-mystical internal desire to reach the universal “form”?

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Is “structuralist” the new, new euphemism for creationist?

(Note: I jotted this down before I saw the other replies, which reference the same article)

Actually “Process Structuralism” (which I recall Sternberg admitting to on his site) has been associated with Kauffman and even Gould, per this John Wilkins article, so I guess the best term for it is “non-Darwinian evolution.” From what I can tell, there’s nothing teleological about it, and, apart from the Sternberg-Meyer association, it has not been linked with any pseudoscientific “bait-and-switch” strategy to misrepresent evolution.

I found the link to Kauffman interesting, because he has spoken against ID. Nevertheless IDers continue to try to have it both ways with him. That is, he is at once a “fellow dissenter from ‘Darwinism’” and one whose own theory is as “sterile” as “Darwinism.”

I recall from Sternberg’s site that he whines that his “theory” is “ahistorical,” in an obvious attempt to hide under the big tent and avoid committing to an old earth. AIUI, the Darwinian theory is also “ahistorical”; it is the facts that it explains that are not. But what do you expect from pseudoscientists who deliberately confuse the fact with the theory because there is no other way to preserve the big tent.

In his discussion of his interaction with Denyse O’Leary about the Smithsonian affair,

PvM Wrote:

As is my review of her book which is quite painful to read due to its many misconceptions

I have been unable to find this review (of “By Design or by Chance?”). If it is available online, could someone please point me to it?


Her ‘rebuttals’ of the National Geographic’s article do not fare much better, but that’s for a later time. As is my review of her book which is quite painful to read due to its many misconceptions.

I was hoping to communicate the message that my review of her book will have to wait.

PvM Wrote:

I was hoping to communicate the message that my review of her book will have to wait.

Thanks for straightening me out. Your meaning was clear. I obviously had a “senior moment”.

Recent Dembski mutterings[…]y_Morris.htm

For instance, authors often referred to the probability of the chance formation of a particular protein, but failed to note that the relevant probability was that of any protein that performed the same function (this is a much more difficult probability to calculate, and one with which recent ID research has been having some success).

What is this “some success” that Dembski is referring to? What could “some success” possibly mean in this context?

Oy, there’s more from Big Bill Demsbki!

ID’s criterion for success is rather the following: whether its arguments are sound, whether its evidence for design is solid, whether its critique of materialistic accounts of evolution holds up, whether it is developing into a fruitful scientific research program, and whether it is convincing to people with no stake in the outcome of this debate. On all these points, ID is proving quite effective.

All lies. The last criterion, the irrelevant criterion, is no more true of ID than it is for evolution. Most of the ID rubes have a major stake in the outcome of the “debate”, just like Dembski does: a stamp of government approval on their fundamentalist beliefs.

To see this, ask yourself why the hard-core opponents of ID, who Morris claims are “unimpressed” with intelligent design, nonetheless spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to debunk it.

The answer is the last criterion and the major stake that ID proponents have in the outcome.

Entire books in mainstream academic presses have now been written to debunk intelligent design (Forrest and Gross’s Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, published by Oxford University Press, is just one example). The same cannot be said for creationism.

I have no idea if this is true or not but it is a strange way to brag about a bogus theory.

It’s been said that the worst humiliation is not to be taken seriously. Despite their dismissive rhetoric, critics of ID are taking it seriously, and not just as a cultural force.

But mostly, by far, they are taking it seriously as a cultural force.

Our scientific arguments are being challenged in the scientific literature.

And LAUGHED at by scientists and DEMOLISHED by scientists and DERIDED AND SPAT ON by scientists on the Internet and in newspaper editorials EVERY DAY, in spite of the fact that some scientists are embarassed by the sound of their peers gagging on your garbage, Bill.

Please please Bill just explain to me how invoking mysterious alien beings with stupefyingly aweseome powers to explain phenomenon that impresses you qualifies as science!!!! I want to hear the explanation straight from source and not diluted by one of your soft-minded script-reciting robots.

Critics may say that they are unimpressed, and, in their heart of hearts, they may feel that ID truly is nonsense.

No, in my brain, Bill. In my brain I know “ID theory” is nonsense. I’m waiting for an answer to my question above. Or perhaps you have re-defined “ID theory” … again.

But it is pernicious nonsense. And like a hydra, it seems to keep growing new heads faster than the critics can lop them off.

A hydra spouting nonsense. That’s about it right. Except all the heads just recite the same garbage over and over. Sort of pointless to have multiple regenerating heads in that case, but so are male nipples from a design perspective.

I hope one of the “staff members” here takes the time to respond to Dembski’s latest drivel.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 2, 2005 11:32 PM.

Sternberg vs. Smithsonian was the previous entry in this blog.

An historical example of Design Theory is the next entry in this blog.

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