Upcoming ID meeting at Cold Spring Harbor


Many readers of this blog will be familiar with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. CSHL is the Long Island educational and research institution that hosts some of the most important professional meetings in several biological disciplines. It has for decades been the “home campus” of phage, bacterial and yeast genetics, as well as of computational neuroscience, developmental biology and various branches of genomics, bioinformatics and systems biology.

As a frequent attendee of meetings and symposia at CSHL, I am on their regular mailing list. I recently got an announcement of a meeting to be inaugurated this December that should be of great interest to followers of Intelligent Design. The meeting, “Engineering Principles in Biological Systems” ought to be exactly the kind of forum at which “Intelligent Design” researchers present their conclusions.

The meeting announcement reads, in part:

There are two key ideas behind this meeting: that theoretical engineering principles that have been developed in the context of human engineered systems are useful in understanding biological function, and that these principles apply across scales, from the cellular to the organism level. In keeping with these ideas, we hope to attract researchers in fields ranging from bacterial systems biology to neural systems, with shared interest in engineering principles. Sessions will be broken up according to broad areas of engineering, and there will also be a session on evolution.

The conference is intended to foster cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas and expertise between engineers, mathematicians and biologists interested in the analysis of diverse biological systems through the application of engineering principles. While a number of speakers have been invited, please note that the majority of oral presentations will be drawn from openly submitted abstracts.

Topics of symposia include:

  • Engineering Principles: From Bacterial & Biochemical Systems to Neural Systems
  • Dynamics, Feedback & Control I
  • Dynamics, Feedback & Control II
  • Game Theory & Learning
  • Evolution & Synthetic Biology
  • Signaling & Communications

Now, as Jason Rosenhouse has discussed in his post on The State of ID Research, the ID movement has been quick to appropriate for itself the results of other people’s work. We might imagine that, rather than subject his thinking to critical review, Dembski will instead simply post an abstract or two from this meeting to his website, and claim credit for ID from work which he does not himself understand. I suspect that the mere fact that this CSH meeting invokes the analogy of engineering in its discussion of living systems will be proclaimed as another triumph for ID-think.

On the other hand, if the ID movement is sincerely interested in the themes of this meeting, they really ought to be sending one of their researchers (a grad student or post-doc, at least) to engage with other researchers in the field – their own field, if you believe what Dembski says. There would be some risk to sending a representative from the DI to such a meeting. It could end up being rather uncomfortable for the participant (I haven’t seen much evidence that there is any biologist associated with the DI that could hold up their end of a conversation at a meeting like this).

But this meeting presents a test of the sincerity of the ID movement’s claims to be concerned with any element of actual science. Is there anyone who can represent ID at this scientific meeting? Will there be any attempt from the DI to engage in scientific discussion with the people who best understand biological systems? Or will Dembski, Behe et al. continue to be satisfied with presenting their results to church youth groups and bible colleges?

The meeting runs December 3 - 6, 2006. The abstract deadline is September 15, 2006, so there’s still enough time to get an abstract together (though only if you’ve already been doing some research). I’ll be checking the CSHL site to see if any ID proponents are planning to present anything.