Science v Intelligent Design: Public Retraction v Dembski

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flunked.jpgOn UcD Dembski addresses the news that the author of a 52 year old paper has retracted the paper. Dembski makes some claims which are either erroneous or full of irony. So let’s start.

Dembski Wrote:

Below is a fascinating report in the NYTimes about a long-retired professor who found that his work was being cited by “creationists” and THEREFORE decided to retract it.

But in fact the researcher retracted passages of the paper because he had uncovered errors in his paper, errors which were being quote-mined by Creationists.

So not only did the researcher not retract the paper, he asked to retract two passages that contained errors in the claims and which were abused by creationists.

Homer Jacobson Wrote:

In January 1955, American Scientist published my article, “Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life” (Vol. 43, No. 1). I ask you to honor my request to retract two brief passages, as follows:

The NY Times article explains

Things grew worse when he reread his paper, he said, because he discovered errors. One related to what he called a “conjecture” about whether amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein and a crucial component of living things, could form naturally.

and

Another assertion in the paper, about what would have had to occur simultaneously for living matter to arise, is just plain wrong, he said, adding, “It was a dumb mistake, but nobody ever caught me on it.”

As Homer Jacobson explains

Retraction this untimely is not normally undertaken, but in this case I request it because of continued irresponsible contemporary use by creationists who have quoted my not merely out-of-context, but incorrect, statements, to support their dubious viewpoint. I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements, allowing bad science to have come into the purview of those who use it for anti-science ends.

Will Dembski ever retract (or admit to) known errors in his research publically? We are still waiting the retraction by Marks and Dembski of their paper which claimed to disprove Schneider’s work on EV.

If history is a reliable predictor, Dembski will unlikely retract these errors in a public forum. But there is more:

Dembski Wrote:

But by having its author not merely dsavow its superseded conclusions, but formally “retract” the paper, the effect is to wipe it out of history.

Has Dembski forgotten how he explained how he ‘uses critics effectively’?

Dembski Wrote:

Critics and enemies are useful. The point is to use them effectively. In our case, this is remarkably easy to do. The reason is that our critics are so assured of themselves and of the rightness of their cause. As a result, they rush into print their latest pronouncements against intelligent design when more careful thought, or perhaps even silence, is called for. The Internet, especially now with its blogs (web logs), provides our critics with numerous opportunities for intemperate, indiscreet, and ill-conceived attacks on intelligent design. These can be turned to advantage, and I’ve done so on numerous occasions. I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but one thing I sometimes do is post on the web a chapter or section from a forthcoming book, let the critics descend, and then revise it so that what appears in book form preempts the critics’ objections. An additional advantage with this approach is that I can cite the website on which the objections appear, which typically gives me the last word in the exchange. And even if the critics choose to revise the objections on their website, books are far more permanent and influential than webpages.

Seems like rewriting history.

The NY Times article ends with the following observation

It is not unusual for scientists to publish papers and, if they discover evidence that challenges them, to announce they were wrong. The idea that all scientific knowledge is provisional, able to be challenged and overturned, is one thing that separates matters of science from matters of faith.

So Dr. Jacobson’s retraction is in “the noblest tradition of science,” Rosalind Reid, editor of American Scientist, wrote in its November-December issue, which has Dr. Jacobson’s letter.

His letter shows, Ms. Reid wrote, “the distinction between a scientist who cannot let error stand, no matter the embarrassment of public correction,” and people who “cling to dogma.”

Let’s see if we can build a list of items that ID proponents have yet to retract in public and which are still quoted on the internet?

Examples of ID Dogma

1. Marks and Dembski’s “Unacknowledged Information Costs in Evolutionary Computing” paper addressing Schneider’s Ev 2. Dembski’s claim that “Regularity and chance processes cannot create complex information”

Feel free to add to this list, there must be dozens of good examples. In a few weeks or so, I will combine the suggestions.

48 Comments

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Let’s see if we can build a list of items that ID proponents have yet to retract in public and which are still quoted on the internet?

That seems like more work than is necessary. Can’t you just post a link to the talkorigins Index to Creationist Claims and have done with it? The ID hucksters have repeated (and never retracted, natch) at least a very large minority of those claims, and possibly even a majority of them! (Frankly, I can’t be bothered to count.)

Or were you intending just to list the retractions of demonstrable errors committed in legitimate peer-reviewed publications advocating ID? Even if you stretch what constitutes “legitimate” and “peer-reviewed” as wildly as the Discovery Institute PR machine does, that still doesn’t add up to all that many books and papers. Since each and every one of those publications has had multiple factual, mathematical, and/or reasoning errors pointed repeatedly out by actual working scientists (probably on this very website!) - none of which have been retracted to my knowledge - I submit the whole list for inclusion under the “Examples of ID Dogma” heading.

“On UcD Dembski addresses the news [Times article] that the author of a 52 year old paper has retracted the paper. Dembski makes some claims which are either erroneous or full of irony.” […]

“But in fact the researcher retracted passages of the paper because he had uncovered errors in his paper, errors which were being quote-mined by Creationists.”

Yes, ‘(2) passages retracted’ rather than the whole paper.

But now, lets examine the NYT article. In Cornelia Dean’s piece entitled, “[19]55 Origin of Life Paper Retracted”, in a personal interview in which she reveals Dr. Jacobson’s motives for the retraction(s), Dean quotes him extensively with comments like “I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements.”, “Ouch!”, and “It was hideous.” But what of the snafu?

Did Ms Dean know it was just (2) paragraphs? How about her editors?

Besides doing a one on one interview, she must have been given a copy of the retraction letter, since she quotes from it directly in the article. But did she, the interviewer and reporter, actually read the letter? In Jacobson’s letter to American Scientist, he opens with “I ask you to honor my request to retract two brief passages … “ [emphasis mine]

Clearly, the columnist for the Times got it wrong, and put the error in print for all to see. Since when is it the job of someone doing a brief and timely comment on an article to research all of the reported details before commenting on it? Dembski simply trusted the Times for having reported it correctly.

Regarding technical, factual, or conceptual errors in essays or hypotheses, and even canards (if they actually are, in fact) like, “Regularity and chance processes cannot create complex information”, it really depends on what you mean by ‘chance’ and ‘complex’. Sounds like an interesting debate. Later for those … ;-]

I love this statement from Dumbski;

“The proper action in such a case is not to “retract” a paper — which is an effort to erase it from the record — but to acknowledge it to have been in error, as revealed by later work. Such an acknowledgement is not a power unique to the author — anyone can declare an older theory superseded by a later one.” [emphasis added]

So when was the last time that an ID proponent acknowledged an error in their ‘scientific’ endeavours?

Since when is it the job of someone doing a brief and timely comment on an article to research all of the reported details before commenting on it?

It isn’t, unless the person “doing a brief and timely comment” wants to avoid making a fool of himself. Dembski is clearly unconcerned with that, so your point is well taken.

Please note that in “doing a brief and timely comment” on Dembski’s comment, PvM managed to do all the very hard work it took to dig up and provide a link to Jacobsen’s actual letter to the American Scientist editors, instead of basing his commentary on a poorly-researched newspaper article about the letter. Shame on PvM for using primary sources instead of believing the uninformed spin of a newspaper reporter looking to draw readership.

Regarding technical, factual, or conceptual errors in essays or hypotheses, and even canards (if they actually are, in fact) like, “Regularity and chance processes cannot create complex information”, it really depends on what you mean by ‘chance’ and ‘complex’.

Especially if the person using terms like “chance” and “complex” fails to ever define those terms in any useful way, yet behaves as if their arguments have already been found to be irrefutable.

There is much to say about this one. Let me see if I can get it to be comprehensible:

1. Much as I like PvM’s approach of reviewing UD, a site I would not willingly visit, I think it would be prudent to observe and attack Dembski’s open showing of not getting scientific process or standards.

Dembski, who AFAIK claims to do “research” on “design methods”, is commenting on research in an area he claims said methods apply to. It is incumbent on him to get the criticism correct. (Note that I obviously and simply can’t agree with Lee Bowman. The retraction letter is a must read for Dembski.)

2. Dembski do make a lot of erranous claims or implications.

Dembski cuts the newspaper text so he can erroneously claim that the retraction was motivated by creationist use.

Dembski also implies that it was retracted because creationists had shown it to be wrong. “Instead, we have a situation in which — if we take the scientist (Homer Jacobson) at face value — later work by other people implies that the earlier work was wrong for some other reason.”

Dembski does not cite the retraction letter so he can claim that the whole paper is retracted.

Dembski claims that a retraction means that the research is wiped out of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. The paper and its retraction are both published separately and is available for everyone.

Further in this specific case the paper is not yet available in web form. Ideally a retraction can be connected to the original paper, easy enough on the web, but doubtful if it will be done here.

3. As Dembski erroneously relates research results and procedures publicly it is now he that should “retract” his statements. He should also issue an immediate public apology to Jacobson for deliberately misconstruing Jacobson’s former and current research.

4. Dembski’s use of his critics is well known and doesn’t constitute either rewriting history or any wrongdoing. One could simply see it as a substitute for the omission of consultation and review that IDC people do before publishing their works.

(He is also wrong on the citation to critics former objections. Who cares about old objections? Unless of course Dembski’s “preempts” are fallacious, in which case new critic will appear.)

5. Mark’s and Dembski’s ev paper has never been published and so can’t be retracted. It can and should be notified as incorrect in current form and possibly taken down from the web. And AFAIK at least the later has happened. I think we won’t se the former. :-P

“in which case new critic will appear” - in which case new criticism will appear. Seems Dembski isn’t the only one who cuts things too short. :-)

Ben, Dr. Dembski was commenting on the practice of retraction in general, with regard to a scientific papers. He stated:

“The proper action in such a case is not to “retract” a paper - which is an effort to erase it from the record - but to acknowledge it to have been in error, as revealed by later work.”

He then elaborated, making a few other observations concerning that practice.

The details of this particular retraction were secondary to the points he was making, that retractions were not particularly appropriate for scientific papers. Since he made no specific comments on what, in particular, Dr. Jacobson was retracting, research and/or discussion of the specifics of the retraction were not germane to his comments.

I would venture to say, however, that many papers have been retracted in the past, some for personal or political reasons. With the Internet and its archiving properties, that’s getting harder to do. In this case, even though Dr. Jacobson was able to make those philosophical changes, he called more attention to them than if he had just let ‘em slide.

Correct me if I am wrong - but the original article made no mention of a partial retraction, but rather a retraction of the paper period (see *** marks):

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/25/s[…]wanted=print

In January 1955, Homer Jacobson, a chemistry professor at Brooklyn College, published a paper called “Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life” in American Scientist, the journal of Sigma Xi, the scientific honor society.

In it, Dr. Jacobson speculated on the chemical qualities of earth in Hadean time, billions of years ago when the planet was beginning to cool down to the point where, as Dr. Jacobson put it, “one could imagine a few hardy compounds could survive.”

Nobody paid much attention to the paper at the time, he said in a telephone interview from his home in Tarrytown, N.Y. But today it is winning Dr. Jacobson acclaim that he does not want — from creationists who cite it as proof that life could not have emerged on earth without divine intervention.

***So after 52 years, he has retracted it.

***The retraction came about when, on a whim, Dr. Jacobson ran a search for his name on Google. At age 84 and after 20 years of retirement, “I wanted to see, what have I done in all these many years?” he said. “It was vanity. What can I tell you?”

He found many entries relating to his work on compounds called polymers; on information theory, a branch of mathematics involving statistics and probability; and other subjects. But others were for creationist sites that have taken up his 1955 paper as scientific support for their views.

Darwinismrefuted.com, for example, says Dr. Jacobson’s paper “undermines the scenario that life could have come about by accident.” Another creationist site, Evolution-facts.org, says his findings mean that “within a few minutes, all the various parts of the living organism had to make themselves out of sloshing water,” an impossible feat without a supernatural hand.

“Ouch,” Dr. Jacobson said. “It was hideous.”

That is not because he objects to religion, he said. Though he was raised in a secular household, he said, “Religion is O.K. as long as you don’t fly in the face of facts.” After all, he said, no one can disprove the existence of God. But Dr. Jacobson said he was dismayed to think that people might use his work in what he called “malignant” denunciations of Darwin.

Things grew worse when he reread his paper, he said, because he discovered errors. One related to what he called a “conjecture” about whether amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein and a crucial component of living things, could form naturally.

“Under the circumstances I mention, just a bunch of chemicals sitting together, no,” he said. “Because it takes energy to go from the things that make glycine to glycine, glycine being the simplest amino acid.”

There were potential sources of energy, he said. So to say that nothing much would happen in its absence “is totally beside the point.” “And that is a point I did not make,” he added.

Another assertion in the paper, about what would have had to occur simultaneously for living matter to arise, is just plain wrong, he said, adding, “It was a dumb mistake, but nobody ever caught me on it.”

Vance Ferrell, who said he put together the material posted on Evolution-facts.org, said if the paper had been retracted he would remove the reference to it. Mr. Ferrell said he had no way of knowing what motivated Dr. Jacobson, but said that if scientists “look like they are pro-creationist they can get into trouble.”

“There is an embarrassment,” Mr. Ferrell said.

Dr. Jacobson conceded that was the case. He wrote in his retraction letter, “I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements.”

It is not unusual for scientists to publish papers and, if they discover evidence that challenges them, to announce they were wrong. The idea that all scientific knowledge is provisional, able to be challenged and overturned, is one thing that separates matters of science from matters of faith.

***So Dr. Jacobson’s retraction is in “the noblest tradition of science,” Rosalind Reid, editor of American Scientist, wrote in its November-December issue, which has Dr. Jacobson’s letter.

His letter shows, Ms. Reid wrote, “the distinction between a scientist who cannot let error stand, no matter the embarrassment of public correction,” and people who “cling to dogma.”

Note that this is the New York Times article. If there was only a partial retraction, this article made the grave mistake of not being more specific, and anyone relying on this reporting can be at least partially excused for making a mistake about this point.

Since when are retracteced papers erased from the record? Does Dembski have any idea how retractions work? You can still see retracted papers (online) in journals such as Science and PNAS, but they are flagged as being retracted and have links to the retraction. They are not erased from the record.

(Unlike some ID websites we know where certain articles that have obvious erros mysteriously disappear)

bjm:

I love this statement from Dumbski;

“The proper action in such a case is not to “retract” a paper — which is an effort to erase it from the record — but to acknowledge it to have been in error, as revealed by later work. Such an acknowledgement is not a power unique to the author — anyone can declare an older theory superseded by a later one.” [emphasis added]

So when was the last time that an ID proponent acknowledged an error in their ‘scientific’ endeavours?

Dembski Wrote:

Below is a fascinating report in the NYTimes about a long-retired professor who found that his work was being cited by “creationists” and THEREFORE decided to retract it.

What’s he getting all happy with the THEREFORE for? Pretending like he REALLY means it or something? Lol.

The lesson learned is that relying on secondary sources to report on issues of science can easily lead to errors. This is why going back to the primary sources should be an encouraged principle.

Let me ask you a question, PvM, why did you fail to acknowledge the mistake made by the New York Times reporter concerning the degree of retraction in your header?

You have created the impression that only Dembski’s mistake is to be highlighted, rather than the error made by his source.

I decided to post something on my own blog on this subject. This incident wonderfully illustrates that young-earth creationism is not science and/or dishonest (and in my blog entry I go even further than that). Clearly they did NO RESEARCH over the past 50 years to check the actual science, even though they were quoting the paper. Could anything be clearer evidence than this that ‘creation science’ isn’t science?

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.[…]science.html

Let me ask you a question, PvM, why did you fail to acknowledge the mistake made by the New York Times reporter concerning the degree of retraction in your header?

You have created the impression that only Dembski’s mistake is to be highlighted, rather than the error made by his source.

My posting serves various purposes. First of all it shows the sloppiness of ID ‘researchers’ by relying on indirect sources for their claims, secondly, if you are going to attack someone for retracting a whole paper and suggest that it was solely because of the fact that creationists were abusing it then I expect a certain level of fact checking.

But perhaps I hold to high a standard here but I do not necessarily believe everything I hear reported in the news.

Secondly, my posting was intended to focus on erasing from history papers and my question what happened to Dembski and Marks’ paper which was removed without any public response, from their site although another paper still was referencing it. Since various ID proponents seem to have taken the findings in this paper, which were shown to be erroneous, as evidence that Schneider’s work is flawed, a retraction or correction seems logical.

In my research to understanding the full story, I came across Jacobson’s original letter which was and still is freely available at the American Scientist website.

I remembered correctly, the ‘retracted’ papers is still referenced in both publications which are ‘in review’

In “Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success”

[23] R.J. Marks II et al. “Unacknowledged Information Costs in Evolutionary Computing: A Case Study on the Evolution of Nucleotide B(in review). Available online at www.BobMarks.org.

In “Active Information in Evolutionary Search,”

[17] R.J. Marks II et al. “Unacknowledged Information Costs in Evolutionary Computing: A Case Study on the Evolution of Nucleotide Binding Sites” (in review). Available online at www.BobMarks.org.

In fact the paper is still available from Marks website at Baylor

Dembski’s own website also does not mention the ‘retraction’

Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success. [posted 5jun07] Paper currently under review on the mathematical foundations of intelligent design coauthored with Robert J. Marks II. This paper develops a general method for critiquing inflated claims about the power of evolutionary computing.

Active Information in Evolutionary Search. [posted 5jun07] Paper currently under review on the mathematical foundations of intelligent design coauthored with Robert J. Marks II. This paper critiques Olle Häggström’s 2007 article in Biology and Philosophy titled “Intelligent Design and the NFL Theorems.”

Unacknowledged Information Costs in Evolutionary Computing: A Case Study on the Evolution of Nucleotide Binding Sites. [posted 5jun07] Paper currently under review on the mathematical foundations of intelligent design coauthored with Robert J. Marks II. This paper critiques Thomas Schneider’s 2000 article in Nucleic Acids Research titled “Evolution of Biological Information.”

On UcD there are still postings touting the ‘retracted paper’

Interestingly, investigating the validity of evolutionary simulations is one of the things Marks and Dembski have been doing with their evolutionary informatics research. In the case of an evolutionary program called ev, they demonstrated that all but 8.8 bits of information out of a total of 131 were smuggled into the program, and then it was squandered with an evolutionary algorithm. It turns out that random queries outperform the evolutionary algorithm by over 10,000%. I believe Dembski and Marks have plans to conduct a similar analysis of Avida.

Source

And finally, Did Dembski not remove three postings as explained in his ‘apology’ to Baylor?

Maybe Dembski could set up a site to deposit the retractions and corrections of the ID crowd?

www.IDistheinerrantproofofgod/wedonthavetoberightwiththefollowerswehave.com

Dembski writes as if he doesn’t understand what retractions do. As HDX points out, scientists issuing retractions are not doing so to make their mistakes disappear. In fact, they are CALLING ATTENTION to their mistakes, to warn other researchers not to use their findings as the basis of further research.

Obviously, researchers don’t do this frivolously. It’s embarrassing and, if it happens more a few times, damages their reputation for reliable work. Scientists retract papers not so much for their own good as for the good of science as an institution. Homer Jacobson’s partial retraction follows exactly this pattern.

Either Dembski doesn’t understand how retractions work– or his remarks are intended for an audience that doesn’t really understand science. Probably the latter. He says;

“I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but one thing I sometimes do is post on the web a chapter or section from a forthcoming book, let the critics descend, and then revise it so that what appears in book form preempts the critics’ objections.”

That gives the impression no one else has ever thought of getting outside criticism before final publication. Has the man never heard of peer review? (Well, from the way IDers avoid it, possibly not!) But what Dembski is describing is kind of a two-bit peer review, where he doesn’t actually have to satisfy his reviewers complaints before he publishes. I can only conclude that Dembski’s objective in this post is to create the impression of ‘scienciness’ for an audience that doesn’t understand how science works.

apollo230:

Let me ask you a question, PvM, why did you fail to acknowledge the mistake made by the New York Times reporter concerning the degree of retraction in your header?

You have created the impression that only Dembski’s mistake is to be highlighted, rather than the error made by his source.

Another “layman’s” opinion:

Isn’t it common knowledge that newspaper reports cannot be trusted? Has Dembski not been in this game long enough to know that he should check his sources?

While the quality of Dembski’s work may be debatable, he, as far as I can tell, actually is an educated and degreed scientist. But even I, uneducated, are doing my best to check the sources before I am willing to place 2 cents on what I read in a newspaper.

Dembski in this case obviously is doing his best to score points without checking the source, just relying on a newspaper report. Most unscientific, in my opinion. But I am afraid that for Dembski’s intended audience, the aftermath will go mostly unnoticed and we are left with another 1 - 0 for ID.

Lee Bowman:

The details of this particular retraction were secondary to the points he was making, that retractions were not particularly appropriate for scientific papers. Since he made no specific comments on what, in particular, Dr. Jacobson was retracting, research and/or discussion of the specifics of the retraction were not germane to his comments.

That doesn’t follow IMO as Dembski smeared a specific researchers work (by blatantly misconstruing given information none the less) and should take the consequences.

PvM:

In fact the paper is still available from Marks website at Baylor

Thanks, I missed that as well as the continuing references, I was solely checking the EIL site.

Then I have to retract :-) my objection.

And in the circumstances of my comment regards Dembski’s sourcing my legs are somewhat pulled. Which still doesn’t make Dembski’s doings correct of course.

Lee Bowman is a familiar name among skeptics. He is on the Uncommon Descent staff, presumably send here for damage control.

Let me then analyze his latest offering in a critical light.

I have already dealt with and rejected the substance of his comment as regard this thread.

Dr. Dembski was commenting on the practice of retraction in general,

No, he wasn’t. The post has a very specific topic as reflected in its heading:

Retracting a 52-year old scientific paper — Scientists getting into the business of historical revisionism

Dembski is in other words claiming that this is the first example of “historical revisionism”. And the whole post is about this “revisionism” and specifically discussing Jacobson’s paper in this light.

It is not originated in order to discuss the practice of retraction in science. In fact, the comment shows that Demsbki knows nothing about the area. (Seeing Dembski’s previous antics, no scientist is surprised in this regard.)

I would venture to say, however, that many papers have been retracted in the past, some for personal or political reasons.

I would venture to say, however, that this is pulled from Bowman’s ass.

With the Internet and its archiving properties, that’s getting harder to do.

And here Bowman shows that he is as unused to retractions as Dembski. Retraction are not made to cover up mistakes but to notify other scientists of them. And Internet will make this practice easier.

even though Dr. Jacobson was able to make those philosophical changes,

And here Bowman shows that he is ignores the retraction letter as much as Dembski. Jacobsen identified scientific errors, and his letter identifies exactly which errors and which research is supporting his retraction.

he called more attention to them than if he had just let ‘em slide.

Seems Jacobson achieved what he wanted, with amply help from the creationists, at Uncommon Descent in particular.

But we are still waiting for Dembski to issue a public apology for his smearing.

bjm:

Please do not use childish insults like “Dumbski”. This is a forum for scientific discussion and cheap insults have no place here. Do you think that a person undecided on the issues will be impressed by this? No matter how frustrating Dembski and his ilk are, you score an own-goal every time you succumb to immaturity this way.

Ah, but you see, the crew here at PT are thinking like scientists, not lawyers or PR flacks for whom admitting a mistake is anathema.

See, if you’re basing your work on infallible Scripture, then it becomes impossible to admit that your source is in error. Hence the unfamiliarity of the UD crowd with acknowledging mistakes.

As hoary said, Dembski doesn’t seem to understand what “retraction” really is. Perhaps he’s confusing what he does on his blog with what real scientists do in the real world.

In the real world, scientists do not seek to “erase” their errors from “the historical record.” They merely warn others that there are errors, or withdraw erroneous work from publication in reputable journals. Thus they admit that there are errors, and announce that they are not standing behind them.

In the real world, scientists do not seek to “erase” their errors from “the historical record.” They merely warn others that there are errors, or withdraw erroneous work from publication in reputable journals. Thus they admit that there are errors, and announce that they are not standing behind them.

Maybe Dembski was confusing how science works with how he ‘uses his critics’?

Let’s not forget about the memory hole over at UD. Talk about rewriting (disappearing) history. Dembski is a buffoon who wouldn’t know irony if it bit him on his ass.

Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

[bowman] “Dr. Dembski was commenting on the practice of retraction in general … “

[Larsson] “No, he wasn’t. The post has a very specific topic as reflected in its heading:”

[UcD heading] “Retracting a 52-year old scientific paper - Scientists getting into the business of historical revisionism”

There’s a little humor in the heading, but an astute observation as well. Historical Revisionism is the reexamination of historical facts, with the intent of rewriting them when new facts of the past are uncovered. In science, you don’t rewrite the past but add the new data to the present purview, leaving the past record as the prevailing thought at that time.

Why then rewrite a past essay? Good question. So whether deleting sections, or retracting the paper in toto, it does, abstractly, fall under the heading of ‘revisionism’. But like I said, at least in my opinion, it’s a humorous take on it, since it’s obviously not the norm in science.

[Larsson] “Dembski is in other words claiming that this is the first example of “historical revisionism”.”

He didn’t say or imply that, at least seriously.

[Larsson] And the whole post is about this “revisionism” and specifically discussing Jacobson’s paper in this light. It is not originated in order to discuss the practice of retraction in science. “ […]

He merely ‘mentioned’ Jacobson’s paper, then went on and gave an example of where you would merely add to a theory (Darwin’s theory of how genetic information is transferred using “gemmules” generated by each organ, and sent to the genitals), rather than retract it.

[bowman] “I would venture to say, however, that many papers have been retracted in the past, some for personal or political reasons.”

I wasn’t inferring that that was a common practice with scientific papers, but it does happen on occasion in other areas.

[bowman]”even though Dr. Jacobson was able to make those philosophical changes, … “

[First retract] “Directions for the reproduction of plans, for energy and the extraction of parts from the current environment, for the growth sequence, and for the effector mechanisms translating instructions into growth-all had to be simultaneously present at that moment [of life’s birth].

The bolded part is the ‘philosophical’ part, since to some, it might imply a ‘creative event’.

[Larsson] “And here Bowman shows that he ignores the retraction letter as much as Dembski. Jacobsen identified scientific errors, and his letter identifies exactly which errors and which research is supporting his retraction.”

In the second retraction, he wrote:

“Molecules of increased complexity have been found, however, when necessary components are available, with the aid of ambient energy from natural or experimental systems, e.g. electrical discharges, substantial temperature gradients or contiguous compounds or elements whose chemical reactions produce free energy. All of these could have existed under early Earth conditions, and thus this passage is completely inapplicable.”

Rather than backed by research, his elaboration is hypothetical as well. He says, in effect, that a ‘complex molecule’ (and there are many), could form from the constituents he named. The question of course is how.

Both of the retractions are hypothetical (or conjectural) statements rather than ‘errors’. It’s more accurate to say that he wanted to remove a conclusion that just might have creationist overtones, even if he didn’t mean it that way.

The “Active Information” paper on the EIL site uses an analysis that is premised upon a misapprehension of Dawkins’ “weasel” program. I’ve written Robert Marks twice to demonstrate that I had pointed out the error to his co-author at least twice over the past seven years. I have heard nothing in response.

Further, a brief examination of the basic claim made, that “weasel” owes its far-better-than-chance performance to use of “partitioned search”, can be seen as not only not supported by Dawkins’ description, as I showed earlier, but also not supported on the basis of comparing the performance of “partitioned search” to plain old evolutionary computation without “partitioned search”. The two are within an order of magnitude of each other on the scale of efficiency compared to blind search.

Dr. Marks doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in discussing the issue. If the essay does get published in its present form, I think I can guarantee a lively response letter or article detailing the long, long history of one of Dembski’s most cherished misconceptions.

Dr. Marks doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in discussing the issue.

I gave him up for dead months ago.

Dembski simply trusted the Times for having reported it correctly.

That’s a transparent lie:

a long-retired professor who found that his work was being cited by “creationists” and THEREFORE decided to retract it.

Dembski made a false claim about Dr. Jacobson’s motive for withdrawal, a claim contradicted by the NYT article.

Rather than backed by research, his elaboration is hypothetical as well. He says, in effect, that a ‘complex molecule’ (and there are many), could form from the constituents he named. The question of course is how.

No, the question is, could it have formed – Dr. Jacobson had previously said it “would be utterly improbable”. The question of how is a red herring in this context.

He didn’t say or imply that, at least seriously.

Ah, yes, the “street theater” evasion.

The problem is that it is difficult to say with any certainty when “street theater” might not be applicable.

Bill Dembski doesn’t understand retraction, but Lee Bowman doesn’t seem to understand science at all.

Sociology of Science 101– Science is a cumulative enterprise. The basic purpose of publishing a scientific paper is to allow other scientists to build upon it. If the paper is wrong or misleading, other scientists need to be warned before they waste their time trying to build on a shaky foundation. That’s the purpose of retractions.

Lee Bowman writes as if a scientific paper were equivalent to an op ed piece, that people might find interesting or even persuasive, but wouldn’t really do anything about. He doesn’t seem to understand what a genuine scientific paper does.

This is what is so frustrating about ID. To people who don’t understand science at all, it looks like science. But it’s like one of those old school buses that desperately poor people sometimes camp in. At first glance, the bus looks like a vehicle. But there are no tires on the wheels. There’s no engine block under the hood. There’s nothing that can make it move down the highway.

That’s precisely what ID is like. It looks like science at first glance. But it never progresses. It just sits there getting rustier and dustier as the years roll on.

Lee Bowman seems to have problems with reading comprehension AND logic…

Why then rewrite a past essay? Good question.

He didn’t “rewrite” the essay; the original is still available. He merely stated that certain passages in that essay were erroneous.

So whether deleting sections, or retracting the paper in toto, it does, abstractly, fall under the heading of ‘revisionism’.

“Abstractly,” in your own subjective picture of things, maybe. In the real world, no. “Revisionism” is a very loaded word, generally understood to mean far more than admitting a few errors in one essay whose basic thesis is not disputed. This partial retraction is no more “revisionist” than a correction published in a newspaper.

But like I said, at least in my opinion, it’s a humorous take on it…

Now you sound like an Ann Coulter fan: pretending something is just a joke, after it’s been proven to be a lie.

…since it’s obviously not the norm in science.

Again, you’re wrong: scientists admit errors whenever they’re discovered. It’s a central part of the game. Ever hear of “peer review?”

“Now you sound like an Ann Coulter fan: pretending something is just a joke …”

Actually, I think I sounded a little like Ann there. ;-]

…since it’s obviously not the norm in science.

“Again, you’re wrong: scientists admit errors whenever they’re discovered … “

Right, but I was referring to deletions and retractions not being a normal practice.

Scientists do inform other scientists of errors in published work, even their own. If one reads the primary literature, one will see this happen from time to time. There is a difference between frequent and normal. The admission of error in one’s own work, even though infrequent, is normal scientific practice.

Wesley R. Elsberry said:

Scientists do inform other scientists of errors in published work, even their own. If one reads the primary literature, one will see this happen from time to time. There is a difference between frequent and normal. The admission of error in one’s own work, even though infrequent, is normal scientific practice.

I might add that there are two reasons that admission of error is infrequent, and both relate to the honesty inherent in the real scientific process. First, true peer review by critical colleagues limits the errors that make it into print. That is, of course, one of the major purposes of peer review. Second, if an error does make it into print, that error will be caught and discussed in subsequent papers by other colleagues not involved in the original peer reviews. Thus it often will not be necessary to point out one’s own errors, as others are quite willing to do it!

And I say that as a peer reviewer, as a writer of some papers that did discuss (on occasion quite vehemently) other’s errors, and as a writer of some (VERY FEW :-) of course) errors.

This is something you see very little of in creationist/ID writing, of course.

I don’t really get why the Disco Institute took this issue on. Are they betting their target audience is too stupid to understand how retractions work? This is not an issue that goes over the ordinary reader’s head, and anyone who checks out the facts is going to find out that Dembski and Bowman are disingenuous at best. So, this is– what? Street theater? That ought to fly at the next school board meeting; “Madam Chairman, in the interests of teaching the controversy, I propose our science classes give equal time to science and – street theater!” Would that be impressive or what?

hoary puccoon:

I don’t really get why the Disco Institute took this issue on. Are they betting their target audience is too stupid to understand how retractions work? This is not an issue that goes over the ordinary reader’s head, and anyone who checks out the facts is going to find out that Dembski and Bowman are disingenuous at best.

No, their “target audience” are those who want to believe, will not check the facts, will not believe any contrary facts we spoon feed to them, and will take them at their word without thinking about it. Stupidity per se has nothing to do with it.

No, their “target audience” are those who want to believe, will not check the facts, will not believe any contrary facts we spoon feed to them, and will take them at their word without thinking about it. Stupidity per se has nothing to do with it.

Yet typically, just about anybody would call those actions by the true believers “stupid”, including the true believers when they project their faults onto their opponents (not that we collectively lack those failings, but at a rather reduced rate by comparison). That’s why we often do call them “stupid”, despite the fact that it is something of a misnomer.

It is a conventional use of the term, and it avoids the wordy and unwieldy descriptions of their behavior which are more fitting and which designate an even more intractable anti-intellectualism than the ignorance which also is often called “stupidity”. For, it is not just ignorance, either, it is a kind of vaunted ignorance upheld for the sake of group loyalty and due to a lack of a relatively sophisticated understanding that would be necessary to deal competently with the complexities (the complexities are vastly and deliberately expanded by the anti-evolutionists) of the arguments being discussed.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Dr. Marks doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in discussing the issue.

I gave him up for dead months ago.

In my naive optimism, I imagine that Dr. Marks has figured out that ID is bogus, and is laying low in hopes that the world will eventually forget that he ever got involved in such nonsense.

In my naive optimism, I imagine that Dr. Marks has figured out that ID is bogus, and is laying low in hopes that the world will eventually forget that he ever got involved in such nonsense.

Yes, ID can be a career killer, although for different reasons than proposed by Expelled. It can be disastrous for the quality and quantity of scientific output. Just look at what happened to Gonzalez.

Lee Bowman:

Why then rewrite a past essay?

What rewrite?

Jacobson has published a scientific article and now adds a retraction of two brief passages which he wants to point out clearly as erroneous.

I was tempted to stop there as it shows the lack of sincerity behind your reply. But of course my in depth analysis asked for an in depth reply, so I owe it to us to see this one through:

So whether deleting sections, or retracting the paper in toto, it does, abstractly, fall under the heading of ‘revisionism’.

Revisionism is in general the attempt to rewrite history by concealing part of the past record and exchange it with new material.

Science wants to keep its past record, as a basis for ensuring it makes progress. In no reasonable manner can this be understood as “revisionism”.

But like I said, at least in my opinion, it’s a humorous take on it, since it’s obviously not the norm in science.

Ah, the Scott Adam’s/Dembski’ humor defense: “Damn, I said something foolish without thinking it through. But now I can pretend it was a deliberate joke.” All denialists are made from the same mold, aren’t they?

Sorry, but this can be dismissed here and later in your comment. Dembski smeared Jacobson past and current research, whether he intended to (as implied by the text) or not. He still owes a public apology.

He merely ‘mentioned’ Jacobson’s paper,

It is obvious that he ‘mentioned’ Darwin’s theory, to smear it as much as he could by context. But “revisionism” is obviously the topic of the post.

I wasn’t inferring that that was a common practice with scientific papers, but it does happen on occasion in other areas.

More ass-pulling of unsubstantiated ‘facts’ and now your own attempt to smear as much as you can by context. References, from science of course, please!

[First retract] “Directions for the reproduction of plans, for energy and the extraction of parts from the current environment, for the growth sequence, and for the effector mechanisms translating instructions into growth-all had to be simultaneously present at that moment [of life’s birth].”

Oh, give up the pub-jacking when we have access to the original! The first retract was:

For the first passage, use of the requirement of simultaneity was a conjecture, unsupported by any proof. Separate developments of partial structures might well have occurred in an environment of randomly reacting molecules, eventually to join into one or more self-reproducing structures.

He points to a possible natural mechanism that invalidates his earlier conjecture of a requirement for a natural full co-occurrence, say by randomly reacting molecules, by noting that separate occurrences of partial structures is possible.

And the reason that he become aware of his error is because the earlier pub-jack of his paper by creationists.

Similarly you quote-mine the second retract:

The second passage refers only to an attempt to calculate the probability that a single molecule of a particular amino acid could spontaneously form from its components. The calculation was irrelevant, as it was based on an endothermic change during an imaginary spontaneous conversion of a mixture of component atoms and molecules into glycine under adiabatic and standard conditions, with no external source of energy. Such changes cannot spontaneously take place.

Molecules of increased complexity have been found, however, when necessary components are available, with the aid of ambient energy from natural or experimental systems, e.g. electrical discharges, substantial temperature gradients or contiguous compounds or elements whose chemical reactions produce free energy. All of these could have existed under early Earth conditions, and thus this passage is completely inapplicable.

So first he points out that his calculation was irrelevant, as it was based on an elementary mistake in chemistry. Your reference will be a chemist textbook.

Then he adds the observation that we now have examples of so called chemical evolution under the observed chemical environment. The Miller-Urey experiment was conducted 1953, mere 2 years before Jacobson’s paper of 1955. I need to read it to see if he was yet familiar with Miller’s and Urey’s work, or if he simply ignored it.

But there is your reference that you claim is “hypothetical”. It is 54 years old, so it should be well known. Even most interested laymen has heard of this. And someone representing an institute claiming to work with biology and having an interest in abiogenesis research that often shadows its interest in evolution research should definitely know about it.

Your reply isn’t worth the electrons that display it for us. If this is DI’s idea of damage control, I feel even more sorry for them and the ones currently enamored by their delusions about science and how it works.

A regular institute would make an official statement on Dembski’s behavior. Preferably with an additional excuse for his smearing of others’ research. Instead you add insult to injury.

“What rewrite”? you ask. I had said:

“Historical Revisionism is the reexamination of historical facts, with the intent of rewriting them when new facts of the past are uncovered. In science, you don’t rewrite the past but add the new data to the present purview, leaving the past record as the prevailing thought at that time.

Why then rewrite a past essay? Good question. So whether deleting sections, or retracting the paper in toto, it does, abstractly, fall under the heading of ‘revisionism’.”

In answer to your question, no particular rewrite, since I was elaborating on the term ‘historical revisionism’ not what Jacobson did. If you had taken it in the proper context you would have seen that.

The rest of your comments are repetitious and largely semantical arguments, which tend to go on and on. By going on and on, we’re both wasting ‘electrons’, although possibly providing amusement for lurkers. I made my statements, you made yours, end of discussion.

Finally, your statement about damage control for DI has no merit. I don’t speak for them. What I gave were my opinions and mine alone, and I stand by them.

Lee Bowman:

If you had taken it in the proper context you would have seen that.

A reasonable conclusion from your side would have been that I in fact saw that and that is what I point out. But maybe that is asking to much.

The rest of your comments are repetitious and largely semantical arguments, which tend to go on and on.

If you don’t like long replies that you are unable to answer, I suggest that you cut down on the number of false claims you make.

I made my statements, you made yours, end of discussion.

No, Dembski is deliberately misconstruing Jacobson’s former and current research, which he owes a public apology for. You were sent here to do damage control, but you have failed to do so, mostly by failing to make any verifiable and correct claims that in any degree pertain to Dembski’s actions.

your statement about damage control for DI has no merit.

You haven’t denied being the Lee Bowman on the Uncommon Descent staff. The circumstances that one, and only one, staff member immediately shows up commenting about an Uncommon Descent post is circumstantial evidence of some merit.

The real reason to not assume so would be to use the common sense rule that a random commenters actions more often comes out of randomness, misunderstandings or lack of knowledge than malice. However, you are not a random commenter and IDC is well known for its actions and motives.

Torbjorn Larsson says to Lee Bowman, “If this is DI’s idea of damage control, I feel even more sorry for them and the ones currently enamored by their delusions about science and how it works.”

As far as I’m concerned, Torbjorn, this wasn’t just bad damage control. It makes me think that the Disco Institute’s real goal is not to introduce religion into American public schools, but– much worse– to attack the entire institution of science. Bowman’s lexicon of “scientific” terms includes one slander after another.

A scientific paper is merely ‘an essay.’ (Right. How many ‘essays’ have you read lately that included an experimental methods section and tables of experimental results?)

A retraction is a ‘rewrite’ or, even worse, ‘historical revisionism.’

I wondered earlier why the Disco Institute was even addressing this issue. I think I see now. Bowman has essentially denied everything about science that makes it unique– its ability to agree on definitions, to replicate results, and so on. He’s essentially saying, ‘science doesn’t have any special claims to knowledge.’ But, of course, science does– not because scientists are necessarily smarter than other people. Certainly not because they have PhDs– no it’s because scientists PLAY BY THE RULES. They use agreed-upon definitions, instead of vague terms. They double check their own results. And if they are shown to be wrong, they either back down and admit it, or get another job. And it’s that system that Dembski, Bowman and the Discovery Institute are attacking. They’re not really pro-religion. Heck, the Vatican is plenty pro-religion and it doesn’t have to trash evolutionary biologists. I think the real point of the DI isn’t to be pro-religion. I think it’s really anti-science.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 27, 2007 11:29 PM.

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