John West’s attempt at “swift-boating” sinks

| 128 Comments

It seems that Discovery Institute’s John West’s breeches got all tied up in a knot following last week’s New York Times article by Kenneth Chang exposing the signatories DI’s list of “scientists” harboring doubts about “Darwinism” as largely unqualified to express any well-grounded scientific judgment on evolutionary theory, and mostly religiously motivated. Alas, in his hatchet piece on Chang’s reporting, which stoops to insinuating journalistic malpractice before retreating into some mellifluous statement of appreciation of Chang’s openness, West ends up confirming the NYT’s piece key factual points.

What did Chang say in his piece? Quite simply, based on interviews with 20 of the signatories as well as some research on the others: - that, based on his sample, the majority of the list signatories appeared to be evangelical Christians; - that while a “few” are “nationally prominent scientists”, many have “more modest positions”; - that the vast majority of signatories are non-biologists, and that of the biologists “few conduct research that would directly address the question of what shaped the history of life”; - that of the signers “who are evangelical Christians, most defend their doubts on scientific grounds but also say that evolution runs against their religious beliefs” and that “several said that their doubts began when they increased their involvement with Christian churches.”

Chang also dutifully reported some DI spokesmen’s objections, for instance that religious beliefs of the signers should not be considered relevant, and specifically interviewed one of the 2 signatories who the DI itself identified as not holding “conservative religious beliefs”.

Based on his affiliate Rob Crowther’s interview with Chang, West claims that this is not an accurate summary of the actual data Chang uncovered, and asks us to be the judge of Chang’s reporting honesty. Well, let’s.

West primarily complains that Chang misrepresents the religious motivations of the signatories: “…by his [Chang’s] own admission, 75% or more of the scientists he interviewed did not say” that “their doubts [about Darwin] began when they increased their involvement with Christian churches”. But of course, Chang only stated that “several” of the signatories did so, a characterization that quite accurately reflects the remainder of the sample, a substantial fraction of 25% of respondents.

What is impressive here, of course, is that a whole 25% of purported “scientists” on the list actually openly admitted that their religious beliefs strongly influenced, in fact radically changed, their conclusions about scientific matters (to the point in some cases of rejecting not only evolution, but also modern geology and cosmology!). That’s simply stunning, and already suggests that the signatories are far from a representative sample of normal scientific attitudes and accepted practice.

Then West says that “when grilled” by Crowther, Chang

… also backpedaled on the article’s insinuations that scientists critical of Darwin should be dismissed because of their religious beliefs

but Chang never said that in his article either, not even implicitly. In fact, he quoted West’s own unequivocal statement opposing the relevance of religious belief in judging the signatories’ scientific opinions, especially when not doing the same for evolutionary biologists. Nowhere does Chang himself state, or quotes anyone stating, the contrary.

The issue of course is not that religious beliefs (or lack thereof) must be considered in themselves ground to dismiss anyone’s specific scientific opinions, the merit and content of which in any case are not even addressed in Chang’s piece. However, they certainly are a relevant sociological factor in discussing a political movement like the one opposing the teaching of mainstream evolutionary science in schools, of which the DI’s list is certainly a major P.R. tool. If the DI wants to continue advancing a political-social agenda using political-social tools, rather than focusing on science using the tools of scientific research and publication, they cannot then complain that their efforts are evaluated on a political-social level. There must be a reason why people, mostly with little or no training in evolutionary biology, feel compelled to affix their name to a public petition claiming the expertise to scientifically reject it.

West also claims that Chang “conceded to Crowther that “fundamentally their [the signatories’] doubts [about Darwinism] are scientifically based””. Leaving aside whether the vast majority of the signatories, who probably have never read through an advanced evolutionary biology textbook, let alone follow the professional literature on the topic, can be effectively trusted to self-assess their doubts about the theory as scientific in nature, this is also a plain misrepresentation: Chang could have hardly “conceded” this to Crowther, since he already says quite clearly in his original article that “of the signers who are evangelical Christians, most defend their doubts on scientific grounds”.

That’s it. West cannot and does not argue against Chang’s findings: that the overwhelming majority of the signatories - with the only known exceptions being 2 (two out of five hundred!) individuals – are evangelical and conservative Christians, that the vast majority are professionally unqualified to judge evolutionary biology on scientific merits, and that by their own admission, in a significant fractions of cases their objections followed directly and were influenced by their religious beliefs. All the factual conclusions of Chang’s piece are therefore correct and stand unchallenged.

Short on factual support for his claims, therefore, what West is left with is just a transparent, clumsy attempt at sniping at Chang’s credibility and honesty (no wonder: the DI has enlisted the services of the same PR firm who introduced swift-boating during the last presidential elections). He uses a lot of insinuations and posturing about Chang being “clearly uncomfortable”, evasive and defensive while being “pressed” and “grilled” by Crowther (how would West know this for a fact, unless he was present at the interview and could read Chang’s mind, I wouldn’t know), while it is clearly West himself here who is trying to evade the issues, and defend the DI against the exposure of one of its principal PR tools as a sham.

Ultimately, all West can muster is a vague complaint that the piece gives the impression that the list’s signatories are overwhelming closed-minded “Biblical literalists” (never mind that Chang explicitly writes that only “some say they read the Bible literally”). But even if this were true (and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case to my reading of Chang’s piece), that would hardly be a more significant misrepresentation than the DI’s own propaganda about the list, which is publicized as representing the existing scientific opposition to evolutionary theory, when in fact it is overwhelmingly composed, as highlighted by Chang’s investigation, of people who either are not practicing scientists, or are not qualified to assess the theory scientifically (more than I am qualified to assess the merits of, say, quantum chemistry), and/or are clearly religiously biased against it.

However, the fundamental and much more dishonest misrepresentation, which unfortunately was not noticed in Chang’s piece, is inherent in the original statement on the DI’s petition. The petition tries to fool unaware readers into believing that skepticism about “claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” amounts to a legitimate scientific objection to evolutionary theory. This is false: evolutionary theory makes no such claim for the sufficiency of “random mutation and natural selection”, and in fact incorporates and actively studies additional evolutionary mechanisms.

Truth is, if the “scientific dissent” statement were not just a crude propaganda tool for the crypto-Creationism promoted by the Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design advocates, I have no doubt that the vast majority of practicing biological scientists (tens of thousands, not just a handful) would have no qualms whatsoever adding their own name to it. But then again, I am quite sure that the overwhelming majority of the statement’s current signatories, ignorant as they seem to be of the claims of evolutionary biology, don’t even know that what they signed is a fair representation of modern evolutionary theory that could have been easily signed by Darwin himself.

128 Comments

Perhaps West would be so kind as to explain to us why none of these much-vaunted scientists of his have been able to come up with a scientific theory of ID that can be tested using the scientific method … ?

It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that ID is just religious apologetics, would it?

Not only that, but 500 ID supporting scientists (well some of them claim that they never bought into ID like Berlinski, but how is the Discovery Institute hawking the bogus list?) and according to the two Discovery Institute fellow’s testimony in Dover, there hasn’t been a single paper supporting ID published in the scientific literature. These guys are obviously top flight scientists really up to date on the topic. They must be up to date on the controversy, even if they don’t seem to know what it is, and aren’t interested enough to do anything about it, but sign a list.:-)

How does one see the full “membership” in the Discovery Institute? Also, are they required to make public their donor list? I have heard a rumor that one of the candidates for Presiding Bishop of TN is associated, and I am trying to check it out. The list of “fellows” doesn’t include this individual, and Google turns up very little.

West’s complaints aside, don’t you imagine that around the offices of the Discovery Institute, there’s increasingly the feeling that the jig is up? I bet it’s a pretty grim workplace these days.

“West’s complaints aside, don’t you imagine that around the offices of the Discovery Institute, there’s increasingly the feeling that the jig is up? I bet it’s a pretty grim workplace these days.”

I hope you are right, that would be the attitude amongst a group of rational people, but I have the feeling you give them too much credit on the critical thinking score.

Possibly. They’re 100 years behind on evolution, they might be a few years away from understanding how Dover treated them like Jean Claude van Damme treats the bad guy in the last 5 minutes of the movie.

See, now this is the perfect place for a “Holy war”. I’ll start, OK? Supid Fu****g Christians.

West’s complaints aside, don’t you imagine that around the offices of the Discovery Institute, there’s increasingly the feeling that the jig is up? I bet it’s a pretty grim workplace these days.

I can see no reason to believe that the folks who work for the DI have ability to accurately discern the status of their efforts. They don’t seem to have done well discerning the status of evolution within biology or the scientific legitimacy of IDC. It seems quite possible that they are generally clueless.

… according to the two Discovery Institute fellow’s testimony in Dover, there hasn’t been a single paper supporting ID published in the scientific literature

If it’s in the official 139 page decision by Judge Jones, I guess it will be easy enough to find it. Otherwise, could we get the exact quotes on this?

Oops, ha ha. That last name was about some weird spam the last time I signed on. Excuse me.

Steady BWE ,,, breath deeply and say OMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

clueless they are oh wambawamba, not unwitting they are 2 hrmmmm.

I sense this is the weakest point of the evil empire, One advantage a PR firm has over the hoi poloi… the great unwashed, is its free ride into the very nerve centers of the MATRIX. Like a free riding virus with skeleton keys and a built in ability to walk right through the media owners political firewall untouched directly to the clones that inhabit the terminals connected to the (mind) presses. er.…you know email a press realize that can just be reprinted…saves work (remember Michael Balter ..twit)

A deeply penetrating search for the dirty truth behind these scamsters (“swift boating the swift boaters”) and a single well targeted thinking journalist into the core of their lies may well have an “explosive” force big enough to blow their butts off for the time being.

Comment #83666

Posted by Can you stop this penis enlargement thing? on March 4, 2006 11:23 AM (e)

It should have an off switch somewhere.

The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID. (17:42-43 (Padian); 11:32-33 (Forrest)). On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.” (22:22-23 (Behe)). Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. (21:61-62 (complex molecular systems), 23:4-5 (immune system), and 22:124-25 (blood-clotting cascade) (Behe)). In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe’s argument that certain complex molecular structures are “irreducibly complex.”17 (21:62, 22:124-25 (Behe)). In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing. (28:114-15 (Fuller); 18:22-23, 105-06 (Behe)).

_____________

17 The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues.” (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used. (22:41-45 (Behe); P-756).

Jesus, thanks steve s. Darn thing’s about 19 inches now. Hope it goes back to normal.

She’s only 5’2”. She’s scared.

Back on track, folks, please. Thanks

I am still hoping someone can answer my question (Comment 83661) Thanks!

KL: Discovery Institute staff and fellows are listed on their web site, but as you say, simple members are not. I am not sure whether the list is confidential or, since they are a non-profit, it is public. Why don’t you call them?

[yawn] The DI is composed fully 100% of people who knowingly and willingly lie to advance what they intellectually know is (currently, and one must think from their failure to pursue ANY real research, obviously) an entirely unscientific, religiously/politically motivated position. The seek political power, and feed on ignorance, indifference and fear. They are bad people, and they have bad aims which they enjoy promoting with bad methods.

Steve S said:

West’s complaints aside, don’t you imagine that around the offices of the Discovery Institute, there’s increasingly the feeling that the jig is up? I bet it’s a pretty grim workplace these days.

According to West they knew the jig was up back in 1999. West made the claim in some newspaper article before the Dover court case started, where he claimed that the Discovery Institute had a “change of direction” back in 1999. This was only about a year after the Discovery Institute put out the Wedge Document as a “fund raising” document. It was also the Year that Meyer put out the first feelers about “teaching the controversy” that I’ve found on the Discovery Institute site. The Meyer article dated 1999 about the legality of teaching the controversy.

So the ID scam artists knew that ID was stillborn years before Ohio and Dover when they had to admit it to the rubes and had to try and feed them the replacement scam. Ohio slurped up the replacement scam from the same guys that had scammed them with ID, but Dover didn’t. The Dover rubes threw the replacement scam back in the Discovery Institute’s face and demanded to go with the original ID scam. They had to go it alone with the Dover court fiasco as a result. The Discovery Institute used to claim that ID was their business, but they dropped ID for a reason, they just forgot to tell their supporters that the scam was up in a way that their supporters could understand. Heck, they still haven’t done that. All they’ve done is obfuscate and try to make it look like someone elses fault.

Ron Okimoto

To Andrea: Thanks! I’ll give it a go.

John West doth protest too much. And there is probably a simple reason why. In his mind, he’s got to be thinking to himself: When was the last time a religiously motivated criticism of a scientific theory turn out to hold any water? Could John Q. Public even name one?

Good job, to Ken Chang for exposing DI’s list.

I am sure people might be interested in the following:

Anti-evolutionists point to the Discovery Institute, a leading think tank on debunking Darwin’s theory. The institute promotes a list of scientists across the country, including several from Oklahoma colleges and universities, who have signed a pledge skeptical of Darwin’s claims. When contacted by Oklahoma Gazette, many of the Oklahoma scientists said they do not necessarily disagree with the statement but don’t recall giving permission to have their name on a list.

This is from the March 1 issue of the Oklahoma Gazette in an article called “Holy War”. Unfortunately only part of the article is online.

New York Times reporter Kenneth Chang made a big deal out of the fact that many signers of the DI letter are non-biologists and/or at least partly motivated by religion. Well, what about the motivations and scientific qualifications of the following groups that have signed pro-Darwinism letters –

(1) 10,000+ Christian clergy members

(2) Kansas State University faculty members http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]ansas_s.html

(3) The “700 Club” and “Project Steve” of the National Center for Science Education

(4) Nobel laureates

In particular, the following excerpt from the letter signed by the Christian clergy members shows blatant religious motivation for urging that Darwinism not be challenged –

“We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.” – from http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/[…]boration.htm

This is not merely a statement asserting that Darwinism is not incompatible with religion.

How about your motivation? Why are you so motivated to suck?

Hmmm… andy h. would have a good point, except for that little detail that “pro-Darwinists” have never conditioned the validity of evolutionary science on the number of clergy or non-biologists who have signed some petition. Fortunately for us, the evidence itself speaks loudly enough for evolution.

On the other hand, the IDiots have done exactly the opposite. The very health of the ID movement hinges on rounding up those pseudo-scientific critics of evolution. That they can only get less than a thousand signatories to date is not very impressive. I believe at its zenith, Philip Johnson’s other brain-child – the HIV-denial movement – had comparable numbers in a similar petition.

Once again context matters. Petitions can only counter petitions. In this case, our petitions put a lie to the claim that there is some “growing” controversy to evolutionary science. All other benefits we may derive from our petitions are largely incidental.

Chang does give the impression, at least to me, that the vast majority of these signers are evangelicals, the vast majority of whom don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. The fact that West was only able to come up with 2 (of 500) who were NOT obviously motivated by religious faith hits home pretty hard. And one of those two is an obvious crank.

Also pretty telling is that the DI can’t counter with any science at all. The best they can do is produce a meager list, itself misrepresented (as compared with the statement that was signed). I sincerely hope journalists will take note. How much better these articles will become once journalists learn to say “Don’t give me a list of evangelicals in unrelated fields. Give me a list of scientists publishing ID research in peer reviewed journals.” The responses to such a demand would be fascinating all by themselves.

The responses to such a demand would be fascinating all by themselves.

we’ve already seen the response:

“the liberal media”

“activist judges”

etc.

The 10,000+ clergy aren’t saying that religion is the reason that the truth of evolution should accepted. They know full well why it is being rejected (by the usual suspects), and are just stating that the reasoning behind the denial is bad religion, as well as being bad science. Sorry that the distinction escapes you.

It’s a workday and (unlike Larry) I’m busy, so self-restraint will have to wait for a more auspicious moment:

Shut up, Larry. Thanks so much.

Do they teach much of string theory in high school in the USA?

of course! It’s actually taught at the elementary school level. By the time students get to high school, it’s expected that they are well versed in string theory already.

what else would they have to talk about if they weren’t?

evolution?

phht.

Actually, I was helping my wife design a buoyancy lab for 6-8th graders just last night and she kept getting frustrated with me for not understanding string theory. It went something like this: “You went to school so long ago your education is almost worthless. If you cant even use string theory to help explain the cup sinking when you add the water weight in sand then what can you do?”

Comment #85248 posted by BWE on March 9, 2006 11:30 AM Actually, I was helping my wife design a buoyancy lab for 6-8th graders just last night and she kept getting frustrated with me for not understanding string theory. It went something like this: “You went to school so long ago your education is almost worthless. If you cant even use string theory to help explain the cup sinking when you add the water weight in sand then what can you do?”

I thought buoyancy forces were governed by Archimedes’ principle – the buoyancy force is equal to the weight of the liquid displaced.

Andy H

You need an irony meter.

Oh and…

Shut up, Larry.

Larry is from Missouri he doesn’t ‘do irony’ that would take imagination, he thinks intelligence is the act of creation, and does not realize that imagination is required for er…well whatever he can’t imagine real or otherwise.

Andy,

You must have gone to school a long time ago too. That’s exactly what I said to her. It turns out that nowadays, teachers are using landscape theory coupled with non-euclidean geometry to get far more accurate results. The old Archimedes principle worked pretty good but it was an approximation it turns out. When you get to Very Large Massive (VLM) bodies, the principle breaks down and a new kind of math had to be discovered to solve the problem. The scientists turned to string theory and found exactly what they were looking for. It has become so commonplace now that they begin using string theory in 5th grade geometry and by 7th grade, calculating buoyancy using string theory isn’t too difficult. It’s actually easier than displacement because you don’t need a scale or a beaker to test it. It’s like god that way: perfect and infallible.

string .…isn’t that a musician ?

Anyway I see the problem here Archimedes was an engineer …not a physicist.

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This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on March 4, 2006 8:30 AM.

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