Jeffrey Shallit has responded to my new column over at his blog, Recursivity.
Shallit’s reply is interesting. He starts out on the wrong foot right away, in his subtitle:
“Thomas Cudworth asks why prominent evolutionary scientists did not attend the Evolution 2011 conference in Norman, Oklahoma this summer.”
Actually, I didn’t. In fact, I pointed out at the beginning of my article several prominent “evolutionary scientists” who were at the conference. What I asked was why almost no prominent culture-war biologists read or contributed to papers at the Evolution 2011 conference. Apparently it escaped Shallit’s notice that the whole point of my article was to question the connection between being a loud culture-war crusader for neo-Darwinism and actually being competent in the field of evolutionary biology.
The bulk of Shallit’s response is an explanation, allegedly for my benefit, about how academia works and why academics can’t attend every conference going. Well, I agree with him that academics can’t attend every conference going (as I clearly conceded in my original article, which he appears to have read hurriedly).
One of the obvious constraints, I acknowledged, is budgetary. But such restraints clearly do not apply to all the people on the list. For example, Ken Miller appears to have funding to fly all over the nation, many times a year, to give pep talks about evolution and to debate ID proponents. If he has funding for that, he can surely get funding to fly once a year to the premier conference of evolutionary biology to deliver a scientific paper on evolutionary mechanisms. And what about the people at Biologos? They have a large amount of money flowing in from the Templeton Fund to run their operation. Can’t they use some of that money to send just one of their scientists annually to read a technical paper at a major evolutionary conference? And Dawkins must be a millionaire by now from his books, so conference expenses are not an obstacle – if he really has any desire to contribute to the science of evolutionary biology. And Eugenie Scott could almost certainly get the NCSE to fund her travel expenses for the worthy purpose of reading a scientific paper on evolutionary mechanisms at a major conference.
In any case, the question I raised was not why any one individual would not attend any one conference, but why, taken collectively, the loud defenders of Darwin were almost completely absent from “the premier annual international conference of evolutionary biologists on the planet.” One would think that since these people, taken as a group, probably write a million words a year on the internet straightening the world out on evolutionary theory, they could manage one or two short papers or displays of their research at such a conference. Don’t they know enough about evolutionary theory to make a substantive contribution to the discussion of evolutionary mechanisms? And if they don’t, why do they set themselves up as representatives of evolutionary theory?
I add that I did not put all the emphasis on attending one particular conference. I posed a secondary question. I asked for evidence that any of the named people (other than Coyne and three others whose expertise in evolutionary biology I did not question) had read at conferences, or published in journals, any papers in the field of evolutionary biology over the past ten years. I would accept such performance, in lieu of attendance at the 2011 conference, as evidence of competence in evolutionary biology. But I notice that Shallit has nothing to say on this question.
Shallit attempts to deflect the force of my question by asking a question of his own, i.e., whether most ID proponents are competent to speak about evolutionary biology. Well, if Shallit doubts that, he can write his own column about their performance at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. That’s not the question on the table. The question is why a certain people – many of whom I named for Shallit’s convenience – who are committed to persuading the world that evolution is irrefutably true, and that Darwinian mechanisms are the major engine of evolution, appear to contribute so little to the actual field of evolutionary biology themselves. It appears that Shallit is not interested in answering or even reflecting upon this question.
There are of course parallels to this question elsewhere. The blogosphere is full of people championing the arguments for anthropogenic global warming. Some of these people have no advanced science qualifications at all; many of them have Ph.D.s or other degrees in some science, but not in anything close to climatology. The overwhelming number of them have never read a paper at a climatology conference or published an article in a peer-reviewed climatology journal. Yet they all ferociously defend the climate-change models put forward by “consensus science”. It would be a reasonable question to ask these people: How do you know that “the science of climate change is settled” when you have not contributed even one paragraph of data or theory to that science yourself? Why should we accept your judgment on the subject?
And this is the question on the table: if it is true (and I am willing to believe it is not true, if evidence is provided) that most of the people I named in my article never participate in conferences on evolutionary biology, or publish articles on evolutionary biology, because they are not trained in evolutionary biology, and are not current with the theoretical and empirical developments in evolutionary biology, what business do they have setting themselves up as the guardians of evolutionary theory?