AIDS denial and creationism–common thread of bad statistics

| 126 Comments

Regular readers are very familiar with my refrain that many science deniers use the same tactics: bad arguments, quote-mining, appeals to authority, castigation of originators of respective theories, etc. etc. Another common thread is the complete bastardization of statistical analysis. Mark Chu-Carroll elaborates on Peter Duesberg’s misuse of statistics here, while mathematician John Allen Paulos destroys creationist/ID analysis here. I’ll highlight some of the best parts at Aetiology.

126 Comments

This is just to point out that, although Mark Chu-Carroll’s and Tara’s elucidation of probabilistic fallacies by creationists and by HIV denialists are OK, both fail to mention earlier treatments of probabilities wherein all these fallacies of creationists’ quasi-probabilistic reasoning were revealed in detail. It is available online here and here (1999), as well as in my book Unintelligent Design (2003).

Correction: the references to online posts in my previous comment 126050 are to be amended: here and here.

Peter Duesberg promotes the ‘chemical AIDS hypothesis’which he believes explains all aspects of AIDS in the USA, Europe and Africa. In short, Duesberg is a proponent of the notion that anti-retroviral drugs actually cause, through toxicity, a condition which is generally defined as AIDS. He maintains that the HI virus is merely a bystander.

Despite the fact that Duesberg and his colleagues, David Rasnick and Robert Giraldo, complain that their views are supressed and sidelined by the mainstream scientific community, they carry inordinate political influence in South Africa, where they are members of the Presidential Aids Advisory Panel, a body heavily weighted in favour of denialists.

This panel is intended to “assist the government in its informed response to the HIV/AIDS catastrophe” in South Africa.

The result has been a president who does not believe that there is a link between the HI virus and AIDS, and a minister of health that recommends garlic, beetroot, lemons, olive oil and other ‘traditional medicines’ as a better alternative to anti-retroviral drug therapy.

According to the Actuarial Society of South Africa, there are approximately 7 million HIV+ individuals in South Africa, with about 600 to 800 deaths per day directly caused by AIDS related infections. As yet the government’s response to this pandemic has been pitifully slow.

Besides being guilty of poor science, Duesberg and his fellow travellers carry a moral responsibility for the catastrophe engulfing millions of South Africans.

“Leaving aside the issue of independent events, which is too extensive to discuss here, I note that there are always a fantastically huge number of evolutionary paths that might be taken by an organism (or a process) over time. I also note that there is only one that actually will be taken.”

Actually there seems to be evidence that there aren’t always a fantastically large number of paths that might be taken by an organism. http://news.com.com/Is+evolution+pr[…]tag=nefd.top

The AIDs statistics seems to have been abused by Duesberg, but I don’t think the Creationist probability is completely invalid.

In comment 126111 the person hiding behind Wing|esS moniker wrote:

I don’t think the Creationist probability is completely invalid.

Is this because of your intuition? Why should your intuition has more weight than a proper use of mathematical statistics? It has shown beyond doubt that what you call “Creationist probability” is meaningless piffle.

I don’t think the Creationist probability is completely invalid.

Alas, no one cares what you think. We only care what you have evidence for.

And creationists have none.

Lets not start another one of those threads, we just got done with one of them.

Let me try to be nice for a change…

Wing|ess wrote:

I don’t think the Creationist probability is completely invalid

Clearly, the consensus opinion in this group sees to be that “creationist probability” is mathematically suspect. And, in fairness, I would point out that many of the readers of this group are unusually mathematically literate ( see the thread “Genetic Algorithms for Uncommonly Dense Software Engineers”, where a highly technical argument about statistical math rages).

Since you are apparently about to lay the foundations of an exciting new branch of math, you have an attentive audience here. Please explain just exactly what you feel all the critics of CP are getting wrong. Please be as specific as possible, so we may discuss the point like adults.

There. That was civilized. Wasn’t that nice?

“Since you are apparently about to lay the foundations of an exciting new branch of math, you have an attentive audience here. Please explain just exactly what you feel all the critics of CP are getting wrong. Please be as specific as possible, so we may discuss the point like adults.”

I didn’t say it is valid, but I instead said that they aren’t completely wrong - it does seem impossible, just not as impossible as some of the math they use suggests. The question I find myself asking is:

If it can be proven that there are limited molecular pathways for evolution today - that is, that very few responses are available to the same envionmental duress - what are the environmental conditions required for evolution? And if there only exists limited paths for evolution to take, how do we account for the variety of species observed in the fossil record that are now extinct?

It’s a known fact that species go extinct faster than new species are created today, - no matter how the word species is defined - and natural selection seems more adept at eliminating new species than producing them, as the evolution of dogs seems to show. Perhaps earth was more hospitable in the past, preventing the mechanism of natural selection from eliminating new species. However if the mechanism of natural slection is absent - how then does new information arise except via random mutation? Creationists use probability to illustrate the impossiblity of obtaining specified information via randomness alone.

To proven Creationsts’ probabilty wrong - you have to prove that information is not specified. The more pathways for evolution, the better. I’ve not seen enough proof of this yet - in fact I’ve seen evidence that there are only limited pathways for evolution to take - thus I say that Creationists aren’t completely wrong.

To prove that Creationists aren’t using correct probability calculations to support their arguments, all we have to do is demonstrate that their calculations and arguments simply don’t apply to the real world in any workable way. This has been done ad nauseam. It’s effectively saying that flipping a coin is a good model for predicting the climate over a ten year period.

Eric G.: Let’s hope that South Africa can shake HIV Denialism more quickly and completely than the USSR’s disposal of Lysenkoism.

Actually there seems to be evidence that there aren’t always a fantastically large number of paths that might be taken by an organism.

You left off “over time” from the statement you quoted. The article you cited doesn’t contradict that, especially when it says ““The duplicate study suggests that the pathways of molecular adaptation are reproducible and not highly variable under identical conditions

If it can be proven that there are limited molecular pathways for evolution today - that is, that very few responses are available to the same envionmental duress - what are the environmental conditions required for evolution? And if there only exists limited paths for evolution to take, how do we account for the variety of species observed in the fossil record that are now extinct?

Environmental conditions are constantly changing. In particular, the other organisms in the environment change; thus, there are constantly new challenges and opportunities. That there are limited pathways under identical conditions is oh so very irrelevant.

Popper Wrote:

Wing|ess: If it can be proven that there are limited molecular pathways for evolution today - that is, that very few responses are available to the same envionmental duress - what are the environmental conditions required for evolution? And if there only exists limited paths for evolution to take, how do we account for the variety of species observed in the fossil record that are now extinct?

Environmental conditions are constantly changing. In particular, the other organisms in the environment change; thus, there are constantly new challenges and opportunities. That there are limited pathways under identical conditions is oh so very irrelevant.

Wing|ess suggests same environmental duress and your translation as ‘identifical’ seems to avoid a very relevant question. Why do organisms/species find similar solutions under similar environmental conditions. Convergent evolution does require some explanations.

Convergent evolution examples indicate that there may be some ‘limited pathways’ under ‘near identical conditions’. As Ruse argues, the existence of various constraints on evolution can help explain why under ‘similar’ circumstances, different species have found (very) similar solutions.

ID seems to have jumped onto the convergent evolution bandwagon. However, while there may be constraints which help explain convergent evolution, the existence of some convergent evolution examples do not mean that all evolution is convergent. As Popper points out, there is plenty of variability in environmental conditions.

Wing|ess suggests same environmental duress and your translation as ‘identifical’ seems to avoid a very relevant question.

If you would READ the article he cited, which I QUOTED in #126298, it uses the word “identical”.

SHEESH

If you would READ the article he cited, which I QUOTED in #126298, it uses the word “identical”.

And the relevance is what?

Sigh. I won’t play your game here either.

Wing|esS Wrote:

Actually there seems to be evidence that there aren’t always a fantastically large number of paths that might be taken by an organism. http://news.com.com/Is+evolution+predictable/210

The AIDs statistics seems to have been abused by Duesberg, but I don’t think the Creationist probability is completely invalid.

Duhwha? The creationist probability complaint is based on there being a fantastically large number of possible paths. Therefore isn’t it amazing that this one path actually occurred, that can’t be by chance, et cetera.

If in some cases there are only a few possible paths (and I notice that in this study “a few” means “700 or so”), then the creationist doesn’t even have a bad probability argument left.

Popper's Ghost Wrote:

Sigh. I won’t play your game here either.

Man, refusing to play games? You must be the life of the party. Oh wait…

Wing|ess Wrote:

I didn’t say it is valid, but I instead said that they aren’t completely wrong - it does seem impossible, just not as impossible as some of the math they use suggests.

I wasn’t aware there were degrees of impossibility.

If it can be proven that there are limited molecular pathways for evolution today - that is, that very few responses are available to the same envionmental duress - what are the environmental conditions required for evolution?

The requirement is that there are environmental conditions to play a selective role, plus an imperfect replicator. In fact, with random genetic drift even the environmental conditions don’t need to play a large selective part for there to be widescale changes in a population over time.

And if there only exists limited paths for evolution to take, how do we account for the variety of species observed in the fossil record that are now extinct?

I don’t see how that’s a problem. New paths for evolution to take are opened and closed constantly and for differing groups of organisms so that their descendents over time can show a remarkable variety of form and function despite coming from an initially limited stock. There are also huge varieties of organisms from which to draw a stock, and very very long periods of time for generations to cycle through, each generation being slightly different from the last.

If it can be proven that there are limited molecular pathways for evolution today - that is, that very few responses are available to the same environmental duress - what are the environmental conditions required for evolution?

That’s a pretty big “if”, and it’s probably really easy to take the importance out of context.

If several groups of organisms react to the same change the same way it doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s any particular “design” involved, just the efficiency of one similar solution.

The organism that solves the problem with the least energy usually wins. It’s not unreasonable that for some subset of problems there exists a good minimal-energy solution, and more than one organism stumbles across it.

The experiments in question illustrate very basic genetic changes, but even out here in the macro world It’s abundantly clear that nature tends to favor certain good solutions to the common problems that many organisms face.

The classic example is the eye. Once held up as the pinnacle of specified design, it’s now apparent that it’s such a useful appendage it’s evolved not once, not twice, but more like 17 times.

Why? Because sight confers a significant survival advantage, therefore many different organisms have been prodded to evolve sight organs of some description. Still, you can see that fruit flies and squid, reached a common solution via different paths.

If one organism takes the obvious road to solution X, there’s no reason you wouldn’t expect a second organism to do the same. No design is required.

Besides, the second half of your comment …

If … what are the environmental conditions required for evolution?

…means nothing. Asking what the environment had to be to allow life-form X to evolve is backwards.

True, if the environment had been different, then X wouldn’t exist — but that assumes that there’s something special about X. Change the environment and X disappears, but now you get life-form Y. From Y’s point of view, the environment is “correct” and a perfect fit, and that’s all that matters.

Sigh. I won’t play your game here either.

Sorry for asking to support your claims. Won’t happen agin.

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Stevaroni Wrote:

If several groups of organisms react to the same change the same way it doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s any particular “design” involved, just the efficiency of one similar solution.

Nor does the efficiency of one similar solution necessarily imply that there is no particular design involved. I think that the concept of convergent evolution requires some answers such as how does evolutionary theory explain this?

What if a ‘particular design’ follows from the constraints posed by for instance development or physics? Could that be a reason why different species may reach similar solutions given similar circumstances?

Ruse has some interesting thoughts on this, check out “Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?”. One may ask what role does teleology (still) play in evolution and why this role need not be supportive of ID?

PvM may want to examine the unconcious affect his epistemology has on reason .…for its final cause, that is the irriducible effect of regression to first cause.

One may ask what role does teleology circular arguement (still) play in evolution and why this role need not be supportive of ID?

The great thing about tautology is.…. it never ends, snarks are wonderful creatures…or so I’m told.

Wing|esS said:

“what are the environmental conditions required for evolution?”

Am I reading this right - In other words - “Evolution is wrong until abiogenesis can be explained”? (sigh)

“To proven Creationsts’ probabilty wrong - you have to prove that information is not specified.”

No, creationists have to prove to us that information IS specified. By what. When. Where. How.

However, once again, I fear this is getting off the topic of AIDS denialism. Please don’t tell me you’re an AIDS denier too?

Sorry for asking to support your claims. Won’t happen agin.

You didn’t ask me to support a claim, liar, you asked me what the relevance was of my comment that I had quoted a word rather than “translated” a phrase or “avoided” something. The relevance was of course to answer your ridiculous charges.

I think that the concept of convergent evolution requires some answers such as how does evolutionary theory explain this?

The ToE has no problem with convergent evolution; in fact, it predicts it. The same peak can be reached from different starting points. For instance, Darwin’s logical proposal for the development of the eye was not specific to any one organism; there’s no reason why it shouldn’t arise more than once. The same is true of, say, penises.

What if a ‘particular design’ follows from the constraints posed by for instance development or physics?

The constraints are part of the fitness function, so certainly the locations of the peaks “follows from” them.

Could that be a reason why different species may reach similar solutions given similar circumstances?

Hill climbing from different starting points will get to the same peak if it’s reachable.

Ruse has some interesting thoughts on this, check out “Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?”.

Allen MacNeill, who covered Ruse among others in his seminar, wrote in the course description:

The current debate over “intelligent design theory” is only the latest phase in the perennial debate over the question of design in nature. Beginning with Aristotle’s “final cause,” this idea was the dominant explanation for biological adaptation in nature until the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Darwin’s work united the biological sciences with the other natural sciences by providing a non-teleological explanation for the origin of adaptation. However, Darwin’s theory has been repeatedly challenged by theories invoking design in nature.

Back to PvM:

One may ask what role does teleology (still) play in evolution and why this role need not be supportive of ID?

Teleology in evolution is a misleading metaphor best dispensed with. Instead of talking about, say, the purpose of a bird’s wing, we should talk about the capabilities a bird’s wing provides; this lets us understand its adaptive value, how it lends to fitness. As for why something need not be supportive of something else, that would be the default position in the absence of any reason to think it is supportive. And it’s up to the IDists to give an argument that something is supportive of ID. But, if you want to be a proxy for IDists and you have such an argument, you should give it.

It’s off topic for AIDS/HIV, and I swore to myself that I would enjoy the arguments on PT without getting personally involved, BUT… there are an incredible number of errors in Wingless’ paragraph:

“It’s a known fact that species go extinct faster than new species are created today, - no matter how the word species is defined - and natural selection seems more adept at eliminating new species than producing them, as the evolution of dogs seems to show. Perhaps earth was more hospitable in the past, preventing the mechanism of natural selection from eliminating new species. However if the mechanism of natural selection is absent - how then does new information arise except via random mutation? Creationists use probability to illustrate the impossibility of obtaining specified information via randomness alone.”

1) Extinction is an event, speciation is a process. Thus, the two are difficult to compare in terms of frequency. I think it’s safe to conjecture, however, that even in this time of an explosion in extinctions, there are many more populations in the process of speciation than there are species going extinct. Though, of course, not all those populations will evolve into species.

2) Natural selection is as much involved in speciation as extinction.

3) How does the incredible diversification in domestic dogs support your thesis?

4) The mechanism of natural selection is not absent, nor has it been absent since life arose.

5) Random mutation isn’t the only way new information is gained in living things, but it is a very important way.

Information is transferred from the environment via modification plus selection. The genome encodes information from the sequence of environments of the organism’s predecessors. Just consider your own body and how much it reflects the circumstances of your vast chain of ancestors. It’s a bit sad that creationists want to deny this legacy.

I wrote:

If several groups of organisms react to the same change the same way it doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s any particular “design” involved, just the efficiency of one similar solution.

PvM replied:

Nor does the efficiency of one similar solution necessarily imply that there is no particular design involved.

Yes, that’s true. We have established that there are two options 1) it could have happened all by itself because the laws of nature work that way or 2) it could have been the work of an unspecified, but likely supernatural, designer who for unspecified reasons created life through unspecified methods.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable that option 1, being the dramatically simpler answer, is taken as the default way that things work until proven otherwise. It’s especially reasonable given that no evidence of option 2, the unnecessary designer, has ever been found, despite literally millenea of searching.

Absence of evidence is not, of course, proof of absence - but after all the trillions of man-hours spent looking in vain for some tiny scrap of tangible evidence of the hand of God, this one is starting to look pretty well settled.

The rules of science are simple. The challenger has the obligation to prove he’s better than the existing theory. If the facts are on your side, all this takes is one solid piece of evidence. So far ID has nothing.

Information is transferred from the environment via modification plus selection.

That’s an interesting way to look at it.

Imagine a population of offspring of two parents. Each of them is likely just slightly different from each other. Some of them will be slightly better suited to the environment and therefore survive to pass along their genes.

Those genes contain information (in the colloquial sense, not the Shannon sense) about which adaptations work in the environment. The answer they specify is better suited to the environment because it’s been sorted by the environment, much the same way that flowing rivers sort gravel from sand.

That’s where the “extra information” comes from, apparently in violation of the much tortured “laws of entropy”. You might be onto a good argument here.

Popper Wrote:

Information is transferred from the environment via modification plus selection. The genome encodes information from the sequence of environments of the organism’s predecessors. Just consider your own body and how much it reflects the circumstances of your vast chain of ancestors. It’s a bit sad that creationists want to deny this legacy.

Adami et al wrote a paper on this topic which showed how information is transferred from the environment to the the genome.

Christoph Adami (Caltech), Charles Ofria (MSU), Travis C. Collier (UCLA) Evolution of Biological Complexity Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci (USA) 97 (2000) 4463

In order to make a case for or against a trend in the evolution of complexity in biological evolution, complexity needs to be both rigorously defined and measurable. A recent information-theoretic (but intuitively evident) definition identifies genomic complexity with the amount of information a sequence stores about its environment. We investigate the evolution of genomic complexity in populations of digital organisms and monitor in detail the evolutionary transitions that increase complexity. We show that because natural selection forces genomes to behave as a natural “Maxwell Demon”, within a fixed environment genomic complexity is forced to increase.

It’s “Rev Dr” Flank to you, Popper.

You make my point.

Popper’s ghost — I am glad that you finally managed to laugh. I am still chuckling over the way you let your leg get pulled…

Glen:

Carroll defines causality and distinguishes it from cause-effect and purpose descriptions. “Of course scientists do talk about ”causality,” but this is a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions; it is a derived concept, not a fundamental one. If we know the state of a system at one time, and the laws governing its dynamics, we can calculate the state of the system at some later time.”

One particularly simple and general example of a causal system that fulfills the definition and has been motivated by experiments are lightcone causality for propagating signals, which follows from locality and lorentz invariance. This causality is oredicted or observed for all such systems whether fundamental, described by effective theories such as our quantum field theories, or other emergent ones.

But I think Ellis and Carroll agrees in that examples of use of causality isn’t always evident. Chaos somewhat defies describing “the state of the system at some later time” due to its exponential divergenies and so demand for infinite resolution of initial (boundary) conditions. And don’t get me started on black holes…

Nietzsche had chutzpah, I like that.

Jim: “I don’t think that washes either because some sort of concept of the subject is needed to define what you’re doing”

Yes, contingency is a problem, but already the methods are hard to describe and demarcate, and the subject is openended. So we use models that captures some parts of what we discuss, not all. Popper: Carroll doesn’t deny derived concepts, he explains why they are derived from laws of nature, and that we in principle can calculate the state of the system at some later time. Unfortunately it isn’t easy or guaranteed.

Agents are sometimes a good derived description, but the system you describe can be modelled differently too, statistically for example. The statistical model is probably both simpler and more accurate here.

Popper’s ghost — I am glad that you finally managed to laugh. I am still chuckling over the way you let your leg get pulled…

You’re not the first person caught in an egregious error who then claimed to have been pulling a leg.

Agents are sometimes a good derived description, but the system you describe can be modelled differently too

Of course it can; as I said there are different valid levels of description.

statistically for example. The statistical model is probably both simpler and more accurate here.

No, really, it isn’t simpler at all; that’s an absurd claim that seems to be based on an ideological commitment to naive reductionism.

Popper: ““Agents are sometimes a good derived description, but the system you describe can be modelled differently too”

Of course it can; as I said there are different valid levels of description.”

I was responding to your claim: “There is more than one valid level of description and explanation, and there are levels at which agents are indispensable.” I believe my model complicated your claim of indispensability.

““statistically for example. The statistical model is probably both simpler and more accurate here.”

No, really, it isn’t simpler at all;”

I don’t understand your reasoning here.

You said that your agent model needed “describing the situation in terms of agents with knowledge of traffic rules, the behavior of other drivers and a host of other factors”.

From your description of the problem I believe a statistical model needs to describe one distribution for reaction times of a driver at green light. (Different groups of drivers may complicate things, and so will the description of other drivers behaviour and its correlation to the driver we observe, but not more than your agent model.)

“that’s an absurd claim that seems to be based on an ideological commitment to naive reductionism.”

I don’t commit to any one philosophy. But I do subscribe to science, which seems to incorporate both reductionism (fundamental theories) and emergentism (effective theories). It doesn’t seem to me any single philosophy describes science and its methods at the current time.

Be that it may, we will not resolve the question of agents and purpose here. For one thing, I haven’t studied these questions at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on September 4, 2006 3:44 PM.

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