It’s all about Science Envy

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Fellows of the Discovery Institute seem to be over represented in fringe groups, Paul Nelson is a Young Earth Creationist, the Godfather of Intelligent Design Phillip Johnson and DI fellow Jonathan C. Wells have signed on to AIDS denial and Guillermo Gonzalez has signed on to a climate change denialist list.

Topically, given the debate about science communication that has been happening in the wake of of “Unscientific America”, in a recent article William Dembski dives into the whole Global Warming Denialism thing [1].

Ironically, at that same time in the 1970s, scientists were concerned not that the earth was warming but that it was cooling. The scare back then was global cooling!

Unfortunately for Dr. Dembski, this is a complete myth. There was no global cooling scare in the 70’s. While this is an indication of the level of fact checking involved in the article, more important is the subtext in this article, which makes more clear than ever the real concern of the Intelligent Design movement.

And this is the naked, unadulterated envy (and fear) of the power of scientists.

Holdren nevertheless represents the powerful new caste of scientists who have appointed themselves the guardians of humanity and the priests of a new social order. …. Their strategy is always the same: Scientists have discovered a problem that, as their models and data (often falsely) demonstrate, is on the verge of getting out of control; now, if only we do exactly as they say, we’ll avoid catastrophe.

Stand in awe at the power of us scientists, we only have to use big words, show lots of data, click our fingers and politicians will um, er, well .…. ignore us actually (see also here). Until real disaster actually does strike.

Take air pollution: Scientists had been pointing out the issues with air pollution for years, but nothing really started getting underway until the killer smogs hit London. With acid rain, it was only after large swaths of forests began dying and lakes became sterile did anybody actually take action on scientists warnings. Collapsing fisheries? Scientists keep on warning about the consequences of overfishing but people tend to take notice only after a fishery has collapsed, and then don’t even put in decent fishing controls. Ozone hole? Despite well researched chemistry no one really listened until the ozone hole appeared over the Antarctic, then they scurried moved sluggishly, until finally we have bans on most ozone destroying CFC’s.

The true pattern is that scientists find an important issue, back it up with careful research, and have to fight persistently to get governments, businesses and the general public to take notice. Global warming is a case in point.

Now the scientific priesthood is telling us that the earth faces catastrophe if we don’t mend our carbon-emitting ways and do everything we can to prevent global warming (“cap and trade” is only the beginning). …. In any case, the pattern is always the same: Find a problem, catastrophize it and make scientists the saviors.

According to George Marshal (New Scientist, 25 July 2009, page 24), it has taken 44 years of research that cost around $3 billion dollars per year, plus symposia conferences, journal articles, popular articles, documentaries and innumerable internet postings to ahh, convince politicians to come together and procrastinate. And still 40% of the UK population and over 50% of the US populations do not accept that human greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate WWMAKD [2].

Yeah, scientists, feel our power, tremble at our might (that was sarcasm, by the way).

Even this weak, pathetic shadow of power that we do have provokes Dr. Dembski.

But isn’t science our best, most reliable form of knowledge, and shouldn’t we therefore defer to scientists?

Scientists are as fallible as the rest of us, as are their scientific theories. Indeed, the history of science is filled with failed scientific theories that once were confidently asserted and now have been radically modified or even abandoned

Yeah, naughty, naughty scientists; actually paying attention to evidence and modifying our theories in the light of actual data.

When John Snow closed down the Broad Street Pump the Germ theory of Disease was only just being devised. It would be significantly changed and revised multiple times before being properly formulated by Koch, and would keep on being revised multiple times since then (viruses and prions being new additions to the fold). Despite the deficiencies of the germ theory at the time, Snows actions lead to sewage and clean water works that would save millions from disease, Lister’s work would revolutionise surgery, and Koch would revolutionise medicine.

Should we have not put in sewerage works or ignored antiseptics until the germ theory of disease was in its modern form?

Science is not perfect by any means, but if you want practical solutions to practical problems it is the only way to go.

In claiming to find and then resolve problems that threaten to overwhelm humanity, they have invaded the political scene, commanding vast research moneys and attempting to force on the wider population government-sanctioned programs for social control.

Scientists, fear us, we will take your children and feed them the best available knowledge.

Of course science invades the political scene, if we want to reduce childhood deaths, prevent the spread of hepatitis C (let alone AIDS), respond to the spread of H1N1 (the flu formerly known as swine flu), slow the rise of antibacterial resistance by limiting antibiotic use in animal husbandry, make informed decisions on genetically modified foods, do anything which requires an evidence base, it will of course require science by its very nature (and involve politics because these things all involve governments at various levels).

An example is the response to HIV in Australia. The advent of HIV/AIDS in Australia resulted in an academic-grass roots collaboration which amongst other things brought about the execrable “Death goes bowling” ad (but this played a huge role in raising AIDS awareness), testing of blood donations to prevent HIV contamination of blood stocks, the “If it’s not on it’s not on” campaign, where giant condoms were plastered across buses and trams, needle exchange programs and safe needle disposal containers in public toilets.

This is exactly the sort of thing where science invades the political sphere, where we want it to invade the political sphere, and I have no doubt the Australian approach would have given Dr. Dembski a conniption fit. Certainly our approach was vigorously opposed by conservative politicians in the US. What are the results of this horrible, materialist, evidence based approach? Australia has a AIDS incidence of 0.9 per 100,000 population, over 10 times lower than that in the United States (12.8 per 100,000). And the last time I looked, Australia wasn’t markedly more decadent that the US. How dare we scientists save lives without corrupting youth!

Seriously, what does Dembski think we should do when forming policies, consult sheep entrails? The whole article reeks of fear and envy of scientists.

And the “vast research moneys”? The US military budget for 2006 was $527 billion, the NIH was around $30 billion and the National Science Foundation was around $6 billion in 2006, of which only $4 billion goes for research (2006 data as it was the only comparable data I could find at short notice). That may sound a lot, but the US had roughly 1.2 million researchers in 2006, so that money has to be spread over a lot of programs, from computing to polar science. The average NSF grant size is $140,000 which covers research costs, salaries, on costs etc.

We pay our soccer players more. Heck, to put this in perspective, Melbourne just spent $240,000 on a new logo. Vast research moneys? Ha!

Now some large collaborative projects will be funded to well over a million dollars (Large Hadron Collider or Human Genome project anyone?). But again, in terms of global warming, this goes for things like researchers salaries to actually do work, satellite data costs, sending out boats and so on to collect data, sample collection, preparation and analysis and computer time for data reduction. While this may be more money than Dembski will ever see as a philosopher, this is because scientists actually do stuff. Somebody actually has to go and drill ice cores then count the ice layers and extract gases and measure their CO2 content.

Insofar as they are trying to influence the public square, they need to explain themselves in plain English and they need to allow fair discussion and open dissent. Plenty of qualified scientists dispute that humans are significantly contributing to global warming or that extreme counter-measures are necessary. But the scientific priesthood quashes all such dissent, marginalizing and even persecuting those who don’t toe the party line.

Ohhh, Scientists use big words! Scary! Dembski also trots out the “lots of scientists dissentmyth and the “big science quashes debate” myth. Bj�rn Lomborg has such a hard time getting heard, I should be so persecuted. Here in Australia, any Global Warming Denier gets a free ride in the national newspaper The Australian, no matter how loony, but real climate scientists are ignored. How’s that for power?

In reality, scientists would be chuffed if we had a thousandth of the power that Dembski ascribes to us. Any gains we make in any area of public policy, from global warming, to safe limits for pollutants, to effective public health practices, is a hard slog which first involves lots of hard data, and then convincing people at various levels in Government and Industry that things are serious. Long hard slogs, always starting with the evidence. And, in most cases, both government and Industry and other stakeholders are sympathetic.

Scientists are not our masters. They are our servants, and they need a lesson in humility. It is up to us – We the People – to hold their feet to the fire.

Another power fantasy from Dembski.

Despite the vast overrating of scientists power by Dembski, scientists can influence policy, because we have evidence. And this is what Dembski envies and fears.

[1] Yes, global warming is real, and largely due to human actions, deal with it. Good backgrounds at and Bave New Climate Major issues comprehensively covered at[…]_sceptic.php See also New Scientists Climate Change a Guide for the Perplexed and Climate Change myths. See also this disturing report on global sea ice levels.

[2] WWMAKD What would Mooney and Kirshenbaum do. Chris and Sheril claim we scientists need to get out and communicate more. However, despite innumerable public talks, freely available websites, IPCC downloadable reports, debates, documentaries, newspaper and magazine articles it’s hard to see what scientists could do to make the science of climate change simpler and easier to understand. For example, tomorrow Professor Barry Brook, the Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide, will debate Climate Change Denier Ian Pilmer. Barry has has published two books and regularly writes opinion pieces and popular articles for the media as well as talking to a variety of community groups (I’ve heard him talk, he’s great!). Yet ignorance on the topic abounds. What more can he do? Suggestions Chris and Sheril please.

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I hate to link and run, but I just read this post by Ian Musgrave at the Panda’s Thumb blog and found it eminently worthwhile to pass along. It’s about what he calls “Science Envy” by the pretend scientists at the Discovery Inst... Read More


perhaps DrDrDrDr Dembski’s greatest power fantasy is in the fantasy that anyone pays attention to his yammering and willful misunderstandings. Anyone, that is, outside of a handful of deluded young earth postmodernist science deniers and the peanut gallery of critics who have watched him slide from flake to crank. gettim Wild Bill! WATERLOOOOOOOOO

It’s good to have rigorous studies, of course, but I’m old enough to remember the ’70s (though not too old to remember them:-)), and I remember clearly that there was no such scare. You’d think the Disco Institute would remember the disco era.

Nicely written, Ian! Dembski and his Disco minions need to get a good smackdown with the Cricket Bat of Reality at regular intervals. It’s sad that they get so much press.

Hold our feet to the fire? What’s he going to do, make us do research?

Someone needs to remind Demski that the message doesn’t change just because you beat on the messenger. If he doesn’t like the way nature responds to CO2 emissions, he needs to take it up with the management.

While this may be more money than Dembski will ever see as a philosopher, this is because scientists actually do stuff.

Oh snap!

Anyone else ever notice that the only people who ever seem to have a problem with the scientific method are those that don’t like its conclusions? All of the critics of science just coincidentally happen to be creationists or global warming deniers or parapsychologists or germ theory denialists or… You get the picture.

Of course, Dembski’s claims aren’t meant to be taken at face value. They have no need for, like, objective merit or historical accuracy or anything of the sort. Instead, these claims are intended to demonize and mock scientists EVEN IF it’s necessary to manufacture Truth to do so.

And that, in turn, is necessary because (1) science has earned a great deal of public respect for being consistently right and producing kewl technology and cleaning off our feet after we step in it over and over; and (2) science says Dembski’s creationists fantasies are false.

So Dembski is trying to have it both ways: he wants the respect and admiration science has earned, but NOT those specific results that show how wrong his superstitions are. So out of one side of his mouth he has to tear down science as scary, fallible, and authoritarian. Out of the other side, he has to claim his superstitions are scientific.

And by golly, it works! People are, it turns out, able to sincerely believe mutually exclusive things contrary to all evidence. Dembski understands this.

Dembski Wrote:

Scientists are not our masters. They are our servants, and they need a lesson in humility. It is up to us – We the People – to hold their feet to the fire.

Translation: “These witches need to be burned at the stake!”

One can also point to the mistreatment of science during the battle to direct public attention to the hazards of smoking.

These scare tactics seem to be generated by the new angst among the Far-out Right here in the U.S. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachman, and a host of others (including Sarah Palin?), seem to be whipping up terror about an administration attempting to confront reality with reality-based solutions rather than myth and ideology.

Dembski appears to be so immature that he can’t hide his science envy. Science apparently didn’t love him back and so his jilted ego wants to kill the thing he can’t have. What other way can he make a living after having made such a complete fool of himself? The irony is that he attempted to portray himself as a scientific scholar when pushing his pseudo-science.

But he and his DI cohorts have help from power mongers and wannabe dictators who thrive on public ignorance and confusion. They continue to grab the microphone and pretend to direct policy even after the drubbing they got in the last Presidential election.

Whenever the reality of the natural world bites down hard, these megalomaniacs scream louder in order to capitalize on fear and uncertainty. It’s the way it has always been; they just have a better communication system in place to spread their venom.

Ian, do you ever get tired of mopping the floor with Dembski? It looks so easy!


eric said:

Hold our feet to the fire? What’s he going to do, make us do research?

Of course! Everybody knows how much scientists hate doing research! Government has to practically clobber them over the head with cash to make them get up off the couch in the morning.

Also, what’s all this “We the People” stuff? Scientists aren’t citizens? Scientists are elected to their posts? Whah?

A recent/related study of Chimps & SIV/AIDS:[…]22142828.htm

There’s also a similar virus, DIV (Discovery Institute Virus) that affects its adherents with a similar malady - AIDS (Adult Intelligence Deficiency Syndrome).

Advocates for Intelligent Design Syndrome.

It attacks your brain cells, leaving you open to opportunist infections of stupid.

Scientists are so powerful that the SSC was canceled!

Scientists are so powerful that the “Leave No Child Behind” act has requirements for reading and arithmetic but not for science!

Scientists are so powerful that NASA always takes money from space science to cover the ISS cost overruns!

Scientists are so powerful that 38% of the adult US population use alternative medicine!

With power like that, who needs weakness?

I’m always interested in the HIV denial business. One of the names on the denial list is Michael Lange, M. D., of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center at Columbia University.

That’s a pretty impressive credential, so I started googling. I found this and this:

The most striking thing is that these references go back to 1987 and 1991. In fact it seems difficult to find any serious doubt about HIV more recent than 1994. But the names of people who were skeptical about HIV in the early 90s, or who experimented with now discarded treatments, linger on in the lists of HIV deniers.

“Ironically, at that same time in the 1970s, scientists were concerned not that the earth was warming but that it was cooling. The scare back then was global cooling!”

People often point out that this is a myth. But I less often hear them point out that even if it were true, it wouldn’t support the denialists’ point. Hypotheses are revised and discarded all the time in any honest investigation, including scientific ones (as Ian points out above in a different context).

“Chris and Sheril claim we scientists need to get out and communicate more. However … it’s hard to see what scientists could do to make the science of climate change simpler and easier to understand.”

Bingo. This obtuse unwillingness to see the real problems drives me crazy about Kirshenbaum and Mooney these days, despite the fact that I’ve often liked plenty of the things they’ve had to say. As far as I can tell, science in other industrialized modern countries mostly doesn’t have these science denial problems, or not nearly to the same extent. Do scientists there do something radically different in terms of public outreach? I doubt it. The unique political and religious culture of the United States has always seemed to me the most parsimonious explanation, and there’s little scientists by themselves can do to change that. Our media, our educators and our political leaders have much more to answer for in this regard. To say nothing of our preachers and rabbis and imams (and astrologers and quack medicine retailers… but I repeat myself!)

Dembski wrote:

Scientists are not our masters. They are our servants, and they need a lesson in humility. It is up to us – We the People – to hold their feet to the fire.

Clearly Dembski does not consider himself nor his colleagues scientists, so when the DI spouts off they have scientists, Dembski has just stated to the contrary that they have no scientists.

Dembski wrote

Scientists are not our masters. They are our servants, and they need a lesson in humility. It is up to us – We the People – to hold their feet to the fire.

This from the man who had (though he’s never published in the peer reviewed literature of information theory) a book jacket blurb, reproduced on his own forking web site, from philosopher and ID fellow-traveler Robert Koons:

William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time.

Talk about self awareness! Dembski wouldn’t know humility if it bit him on the ass.

RBH said:

Dembski wouldn’t know humility if it bit him on the ass.

Dembski wouldn’t know science if it stung on the head and laid eggs in his scalp.


While Koons may not have meant it this way, I think we should take his comment to mean that Demski’s ID contributions to information science rival Newton’s alchemical contributions to nuclear physics.

Ah, yes, the Isaac Newton of Information Theory. His current work in the field is of the same vigor and usefulness as Newton’s current work in the field.

Polycrackpottery is a well known and common phenomenon.

If someone believes in one kooky lunatic fringe theory, they are likely to believe in other ones as well.

Polykookery has a name, Buffington’s syndrome or some such. {I don’t remember offhand}.

This leads to the usual scenarios. Darwinists fly to their meetings with the Illuminati in the Reptiloid alien UFOs with their Bigfoot minions to plot the next swine flu outbreak to kill 80% of the earth’s population to make room for the Elves and Fairies.

Just goes to show you, creationism is a lunatic fringe theory. Most of them believe all sorts of other weird things. The earth is filled with invisible angels and demons (Dembski believes this), UFOs exist and are piloted by demons from hell (a common fundie belief), and children are abducted and killed in satanic rituals (none have ever been documented despite decades of police and FBI efforts).

The AIDS denial kick is pretty lame.

Two or three million people/year die of HIV/AIDS.

I’ve seen a few AIDS cases, one a year ago. Couple. The girl was a 26 year old from SE Asia. Was because she is now dead of AIDS at age 26, immune system was just gone. The guy showed up in the ER with opportunistic infections that were not serious but were reoccurring. He resisted testing, but eventually went on HAART and will live out a normal life.

Many many people in a lot of capacities have seen HIV/AIDS first hand. You have to have some sort of dysfunctional mind to deny what is readily observable.

I dealt with HIV/AIDS denialists a while ago. There really aren’t that many, even for kooks it is a small number. They fell into classes.

1. Some were right wing, fundie xians who really didn’t believe HIV didn’t exist. They wanted gay people to get it and die because HIV is god’s punishment for being gay. Never mind that the vast majority of cases worldwide are heterosexual. These fundies are disgusting wannabe killers.

2. Some were people infected with HIV. They didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS because they didn’t want to die. Some of them do eventually die.…of AIDS. So much for that theory.

3. Oddly enough about half are just weird psychotics babbling on the internet. They aren’t infected or murderous fundie xians, just crazy people who have found some delusion to fill up their waking hours.

None of them are worth paying any attention to. They don’t just quote mine, they take quotes and improve them. “HIV causes AIDS” becomes HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” in some obscure paper from the 1980s. If people are just going to lie a lot, it isn’t worth paying attention to them. And it is all but impossible to turn a crackpot. If it was, they wouldn’t be crackpots.

raven said: Just goes to show you, creationism is a lunatic fringe theory. Most of them believe all sorts of other weird things.

I took a different lesson. I think one of our old Supreme Court jusices once said that combining religion and politics corrupts politics and demeans religion, and I think this is a good example. Creationists initially support the Republican party as a means to push some limited, religious policy issue, like biblical education. But to get the Republicans to pay attention to their pet issue, they have to support other issues having nothing to do with their religious goal. Pretty soon you have creationists telling you how God wants a balanced budget or how Jesus hates national health care, and the corruption is complete. What started out as a sincere religious group using political mechanisms to to push some religious ideal, is now a group that lets its religion be used as a tool of political organizations.

It should also be noted that, in the presence of its’ director, John West, the Dishonesty Institute also includes Holocaust deniers.

This leads to the usual scenarios. Darwinists fly to their meetings with the Illuminati in the Reptiloid alien UFOs with their Bigfoot minions to plot the next swine flu outbreak to kill 80% of the earth’s population to make room for the Elves and Fairies.


I never get invited to these parties!

Why don’t the Reptiloids like me?

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This page contains a single entry by Ian Musgrave published on July 27, 2009 8:41 AM.

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