The unexpected promotion of Phil Skell

| 27 Comments | 3 TrackBacks

On A Scientific Dissent on Darwinism we find a Discovery Institute press release which includes Philip S. Skell who is described as an Emeritus Prof. Of Chemistry. Strangely enough, in a more recent press release from the Discovery Institute we read

Dr. Phil Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences** and a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Pennsylvania State University, has just sent an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education encouraging them to revise the state’s science standards to allow students to learn the scientific evidence both for and against biological and chemical evolution.

What happened? Chemistry or biochemistry… Intelligent design or evolution…

On the ASA discussion list, people are quickly to point out that

Stephen Matheson Wrote:

Sneaky, sneaky. The Discovery Institute identifies Skell as a “professor emeritus of biochemistry.” Nope; he identifies his research interests as “organic chemistry mechanisms, organometallic chemistry, and heterogeneous catalysis,” and his title at Penn State is “Holder Emeritus of the Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry.” He may well know what an Alu repeat is, but he’s not a biochemist.

Naturally this won’t matter to the Discovery Institute, which would surely never be caught dead making a bogus appeal to authority.

Link

On the NAS website Philip Skell describes his research interests as

My research interests are organic chemistry mechanisms, organometallic chemistry, and heterogeneous catalysis.

A quick search of the NAS website returns the following list of biochemistry members. I count 163 members, Phil Skell is not among them. I also count 41 members in evolutionary biology and 84 in genetics and 87 under Cellular and Developmental Biology

The position of the National Academies of Science on science and creationism include

These kinds of actions by members of the school board are classic approaches to introduce Intelligent Design theory into the biology curriculum. Intelligent Design is a recent permutation of “creation science” that is being touted as an alternative to the modern theory of evolution. It is argued that molecular biology has now revealed that cells are formed from such a complex network of proteins and protein-generating processes that they could not have evolved without the intervention of a special outside intelligence. Proponents of Intelligent Design claim that their approach does not involve religious tenets and therefore does not violate the separation of church and state principle on which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a number of cases involving attempts to teach some form of “creation science” in public school science classes. School board members and the public are bombarded with arguments that including more than one approach to origins of life in science curricula promotes fairness, academic freedom, and intellectual opennes

Link

So here we have the personal opinion of a professor in chemistry, famous for his work on carbenes, commenting on evolution and at the same time his title evolved into professor of biochemistry. If we insist on arguing from authority, may I propose that we thus compare Skell’s opinion with the opinion of the NAS and its members?

A search on Pubmed returns zero hits for Skell and Google Scholar returned 22 links. None seem relevant to biochemistry. One link refers to a response by Skell to an article by Eugenie Scott Not (just) in Kansas Anymore

He describes

Over A half century ago, during WW II, I was personally associated with an antibiotics research group, engaged in the full range of activities, from finding organisms which inhibited bacterial growth to the isolation and proof of structure of the antibiotics they produced

Is that the full extent of Skell’s involvement in biochemistry?

On Stranger Fruit John Lynch describes the situation

I don’t care what he has to say about biological evolution. I’m sure he wouldn’t care about what I have to say about carbenes. And that’s how it should be. Only in the fevered mind of the DI are all scientists equally conversant with biology. Only to the DI does it matter that Skell is a NAS member. NAS members have been wrong before within their field (all scientists have been!), why should we listen when they talk outside their field?

More information can be found Here including the following quote from Skell

Philip Skell Wrote:

“the main purpose” of anyone teaching evolutionary biology in our schools is the “indoctrination of students to a worldview of materialism and atheism”

See James Morrow’s response to Skell

James Morrow Wrote:

As for the periodic table of the elements – the sooner we expunge it the better. While ostensibly useful to chemists like Skell, the periodic table is a manifestly atheistic schema, implying that every atom boasts a natural internal cohesion requiring no divine glue

ID, always hurting for being scientifically vacuous, has now chosen the predictable and fallacious appeal to authority. In their efforts to sell Philip Skell’s letter they seem to have abandoned reality.

Propaganda at its finest.

3 TrackBacks

I dont care … from stranger fruit on May 23, 2005 9:46 AM

Over at IDTheFuture and at the DI, supporters of intelligent design (including one-time English professor, Jonathan Witt) are trumpeting an open-letter from Philip Skell to the Kansas State Board of Education. Prominent is that Skell is a National Acad... Read More

A fun game from Thoughts from Kansas on May 24, 2005 12:51 PM

We did this once before, but Billy Dembski got snookered, so we'll try it again. One of these is a bird, the other is one of the following: a bird a mammal a "bird-like mammal" A patented TfK/TEP pat on the back to anyone who correctly identif... Read More

The Edge of Evolution from Science After Sunclipse on May 4, 2007 11:02 AM

Yet more fallout from Time Magazine’s lamentable choice to have a fraud write their profile of Richard Dawkins: Michael Behe’s mealy-mouthed description of Dawkins offers an interesting tidbit of news: he’s got a new book in the pipe... Read More

27 Comments

“seem to have abandoned reality”

seem to?

nothing subjective about it.

How can you abandon something you’ve never held? ;-)

easy, you just shut your eyes and say what they tell you to say.

I’ve met several folks who did in fact, abandon reason for one excuse or another. often, this occurs as one gets afraid of death, not to put too fine a point on it. in other cases, it happens when presented with rewards for doing so (Dembski?), or punishment for not doing so (ask a South African educator).

Re “implying that every atom boasts a natural internal cohesion requiring no divine glue”

So, is he saying that gluons aren’t divine after all? What would quarks do without them?

Henry

Re “or punishment for not doing so (ask a South African educator).”

I’m not sure I’d call that one an abandonment of reason (or reality), if it’s a pretense forced by other people standing behind them holding large heavy things.

Henry

“I’m not sure I’d call that one an abandonment of reason (or reality), if it’s a pretense forced by other people standing behind them holding large heavy things.”

why do the people standing behind them hold large heavy things to begin with? because the people behind them hold large heavy things?

with enough threat and indoctrination, you can make folks believe anything if you are patient enough. ask the catholic church.

I wonder when Skelly and Mulder will find out if “the truth is out there…”

Is Skell able to give us a scientific theory of ID, and tell us how to test it using the scientific method?

Why not?

My advisor used to say

“Appointments to the National Academy should be written in disappearing ink.”

Skelly may be a reason why. There is a temptation for honored scientists to spout off on things they know nothing about - sometimes to great injury (e.g., Shockley and theories of racial determinism. Both his statistics and his genetics were horribly wrong, and in the end, the reputation of a brilliant scientist suffered enormously.).

I do see a trend here. Those IDC’ists, YEC’ers, etc., who have real scientific credentials, tend to be largely in synthetic fields, such as Engineering, Medical Practice, Chemistry and Applied Physics. There are many fewer representatives of what I would call discovery fields, e.g., Biology, Physics, Earth and Space Sciences, etc.

This is not to denigrate what the synthesizers do; however, there may be a mindset that gets extrapolated to fields outside their ken. I admit I overgeneralize, but it’s food for thought.

Sir_Toejam, Re “why do the people standing behind them hold large heavy things to begin with?”

My point was simply that if somebody pretends to agree with something unreasonable, in order to avoid bodily harm, that isn’t an error in reasoning on their part.

Henry

sorry, i wasn’t invalidating your point, merely indicating the end result of it.

cheers

Well, they kinda sound the same, don’t they? ‘specially if you’re kinda, y’know, ign’rent, or selectively deaf.

I noticed something over on the Discovery Institute website, and so I wandered around to see if it’s a pattern. Sure enough, they’re all selling books. The evidence FOR evolution seems to be free. The opinions AGAINST it seem to be at least $14.95 +S&H…

I think I’m on to something.

Always—always follow the money!

I do see a trend here. Those IDC’ists, YEC’ers, etc., who have real scientific credentials, tend to be largely in synthetic fields, such as Engineering, Medical Practice, Chemistry and Applied Physics. There are many fewer representatives of what I would call discovery fields, e.g., Biology, Physics, Earth and Space Sciences, etc.

This is not to denigrate what the synthesizers do; however, there may be a mindset that gets extrapolated to fields outside their ken. I admit I overgeneralize, but it’s food for thought.

I do. They should keep their mouths shut and their minds open. Worst of all are doctors, the most gullible group of people of intelligent people on the planet.

Denyse is not ‘impressed’. Her response

Denyse Wrote:

Thus, Skell’s work may well have application to biochemistry, but I regard the issue, as raised by the Thumbsmen, as trivial and characteristic of their obsessive need to trash anyone and everything that creates doubt about Darwinism or naturalism.

Interesting misdirect as my comments were to explore why the Discovery Institute chose to use the title professor of biochemistry rather than chemistry in a press release in which Skell questions Darwinism.

Denyse contacted Phil Skell who responded

Dear Denyse, Thanks for bringing me to date on this matter. I asked DI to make that correction, immediately on becoming aware of it. […] My reference to my antibiotic work should be coupled with my recognition, many years after I had left that work, that Evolution considerations had never entered the picture.

My recent understanding comes, not from my assessment of the utility of evo theory, but the assessment of the numerous leaders in modern experimental biology, who were accessible for conversation with me, who when asked in private whether they would have altered their research programs if they had been convinced Darwin’s History of the biocosm was wrong, all answered: “It would have made no difference!”, 100%. That should carry the weight.

Second, examination of the great biobreakthrough discoveries of the past century, given to me by those same leader-participants, failed to reveal a single one that had been guided heuristically by Darwin’s BioHistory. As with my antibiotics research, immersion in biohistory played no role—one can, perhaps, make the case that such immersion would have been an encumbrance, sidetracking those developments. This, too, is worthy of inclusion in the calculus.

My response:

Wow, that is the full extent of why Phil disagrees? Stop the presses.…..

Skell’s comments are even better than the ‘biochemistry’ confusion.

I learned undergrad Organic Chemistry from a YEC, but one circumspect enough to keep that crap out of OChem. I agree that pure ‘synthesizers’ tend to be different from ‘discovery’ scientists. Some of us chemists are hybrids (synthesiziers that go on to try and discover things that are fundamental, but usually using physics (in my case) or biology.

I’ve known a handful of YECs and OECs in chemistry, but when I pressed them, it was usually the case that they embraced the methodology of chemistry while rejecting its philosophical consequences. I had a hard time thinking of them as scientists after that. Fairly or not, I saw them as highly educated technicians.

The “numerous leaders of modern experimental biology” when “asked in private”?

Skell is full of it. That’s almost as ridiculous as Salvador Cordova’s dissembling.

http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archi[…].html#c31260

Always—-always follow the money!

true that, but the real money isn’t in “book sales”. that’s like saying the real money in oil is selling toy texaco trucks.

don’t let book sales distract you from where the real money is behind the issue.

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

Is Skell able to give us a scientific theory of ID, and tell us how to test it using the scientific method?

Probably not, but as a fellow chemist I wonder if he might be working on Intelligent Electron Theory.

It seems that Clarke’s First Law is applicable in Skell’s case, with only a small modification about one’s area of expertise.

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/en[…]ree_laws.htm

After a little more reading in the article I just cited, maybe this is even more relevant:

Isaac Asimov’s Corollary to Clarke’s First Law: When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists (ID) and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right. (parentheses mine)

–from one who spent the best hours of his misspent youth with nose buried in the works of Clarke and Asimov.

Re “I learned undergrad Organic Chemistry from a YEC, but one circumspect enough to keep that crap out of OChem.” Would YEC thinking distort organic chemistry all that much?

Henry

Probably not, because it hasn’t got all that much to do with evolution in such a course.

I’m really not surprised to see that there are few biological scientists among creationists.

Stop the presses! Rob Crowther has issued an announcement on Evolution News and Views admitting that the press release is in error and that Dr. Skell is a chemist, not a biochemist. He further apologizes (to Dr. Skell!) and expresses the expectation that Darwinists will seize upon his error in an attempt to distract from “the scientific issues that really matter.”

It would be nice if someone with admin privileges could edit the original post to update it with information about the official retraction, so as to minimize any undue “making hay” of the error. On the other hand, I don’t recall DI ever pledging not to try and make hay of any Darwinist errors they might think they’ve found, legitimate or otherwise…

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 22, 2005 2:40 PM.

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