Canada’s Mark Steyn, in conversation with Hugh Hewitt, here:
HEWITT: I’ve got to begin this Thursday as I do when we are lucky with columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. … Mark, the biggest news of the day comes out of Geneva in Italy, where the CERN scientists have announced they’ve discovered a particle that is faster than the speed of light. I suppose this will be useful in measuring market drops, but it also says it would, “undermine Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, which says the speed of light is a cosmic constant, and nothing in the universe can travel faster.” Very unnerving, Mark, when you start the day knowing that Einstein was wrong?
MS: Yeah, I thought, what’s the line, the science was settled.
MS: The science was settled. It’s odd the way science is never settled, really, in that sense. And it’s interesting, I mean, I find that fascinating, because obviously, there’s a scientific consensus on all kinds of things, and then some non-consensual scientist comes along and blows the thing out of the water.
Which is what sets science apart from many worthy enterprises:
… when a scientist, of all people, stands up at one of these climate change conferences and says the science is settled, and calls people who disagree with him deniers, that man is not a scientist. That man is a member of a religious cult. He’s worshipping at the temple of Al Gore or whatever, and that’s fine if he wants to do that. But when a man stands up and says the science is settled, he is everything but a scientist.
One way of seeing this: It’s one thing for a religion to proclaim, say, that having more than one wife is wrong. And to say that the subject is not up for further discussion. All that really means is that if you want to be a believer in good standing, you do not have more than one wife. And if most people in a given society agree with the religion on that point, you probably won’t be able to do so legally.
It’s another thing for a scientist to come along and say that his opinion, on reading a set of data is “settled science.” It does essentially make science a religion. It’s the difference between evolutionary biology and Darwinism.
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21 Replies to “On settled science, and the need for scientists to unsettle it”
as to this comment:
It seems that there is still a common perception among people that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, which though, barring the current neutrino ‘anomaly’, rigidly true for mass-energy is not true. For now it is rigidly shown, in quantum mechanics, that information can travel ‘instantly’ in this universe completely disregarding and limit for speed (c) that is imposed on mass-energy. Indeed, as I’ve stated before, quantum mechanics has looked at Einstein’s equations of General, and Special, Relativity, turned up its nose and muttered, sans LaPlace, “I’ve no need for that hypothesis!”
As well it should be noted that though Quantum information is now shown to travel faster than the speed of light in teleportation experiments, it is still impossible for us to ‘decode’ the information that was quantum teleported until the ‘decoding key’ is communicated using ‘ordinary’ speed of light means.
The fallacy is that you think anomalous findings turn conventional science around on its head. Even if we find that the particle really is moving faster than light, special relativity will still be a solid framework under which we can work, however imprecise. Similarly, Newton’s theory of gravity still works, even if Einstein’s theory of general relativity has has shown it to be wrong. As new theories supersede old ones, science becomes more accurate. It doesn’t do a total 180.
Which is why I need to point out whenever this blog posts articles on alternative mechanisms or unexpected insights into evolutionary theory. Such contrarian research, when and if it becomes accepted among scientists, serve to hone the strength and accuracy of the theory.
Thud, perhaps you would be correct if the anomalies of evidence found against neo-Darwinism were only on the periphery edges of neo-Darwinism, such as the examples of what you listed were, but this is not the case, the ‘anomalous’ evidence against neo-Darwinism runs throughout the entirety of the neo-Darwinian framework. For instance here are a few examples:
Those are not mere peripheral anomalies for the neo-Darwinian hypothesis Thud, and indeed, if we dig deeper, we find that reality itself severely contradicts the materialistic basis of neo-Darwinism;
And that is just a broad look at the overall predictions of the materialistic/atheistic theory of neo-Darwinism, if we dig deeper, anomalous evidence against neo-Darwinism is practically the overriding rule for what modern science is finding: ,,,for a far more detailed list of failed predictions of neo-Darwinism see Dr. Hunter’s site here:
I found this following paper particularly interesting for broadly outlining how evolution misses the mark for a true science and is, in reality, a pseudo-science:
Though the scientific evidence against neo-Darwinian evolution is certainly overwhelming, amazingly anyone who dares question the sufficiency of neo-Darwinism to explain all life on earth in the public school classroom, or in academia, is persecuted, as this following movie and book clearly points out:
The analogy to religion isn’t accurate here. In religion, particular precepts must be held, otherwise it’s a violation of the religious creed. “Settled science” is merely an assertion of the consensus view. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be questioned, but that since the weight of evidence on the “settled” side is overwhelming, the evidence used to try to overturn it must be very strong indeed. Which is why the CERN researchers are being very, very cautious about this and asking others to find their mistakes and replicate what they’ve done. This is good science.
Regarding climate change, there’s another confusion here between what the science says and what actions we take based on it. Policy actions taken on scientific evidence are always difficult, because science is fundamentally provisional. At what point do you take a particular point as demonstrated and then spend lots of money and effort acting on it? That’s what “settled science” claims are about. Not that we should stop investigating them, but that the evidence is so strong, we need to act on it.
Prof. FX Gumby:
It would be nice if “science” always operated in the ideal way that you present, whereby even the consensus is regarded as potentially vulnerable to correction, serious modification, and overthrow. And I agree with you that sometimes it does operate in this way, as seems to be the case in the cautious statements issued by the CERN researchers and the cool-headed statements of various scientists who have so far appeared in the media to discuss the findings.
But unfortunately scientists do not always behave in this way. In fact, regarding both AGW and Darwinism, we find the reaction to critics is not the one you have outlined. The scientists in favor of these things *don’t* say: “I have strong reasons for thinking the consensus is correct, but of course science is always provisional, and since you are my peer, I will listen respectfully to the evidence and arguments you are offering that the current paradigm is seriously flawed, and if I find it persuasive, I am willing to abandon the current paradigm.” Instead, they react to criticism with the kind of rage that we do not associate with the cerebral man of science, but with the pious and indignant Inquisitor.
Critics of Darwinism and AGW, no matter how politely and cautiously they voice their criticisms, are insulted, denounced, declared incompetent (despite graduating with Ph.D.s from the very schools which largely defend the consensus), accused of base motivations, of plotting theocracies, of being corrupted by money from oil companies, etc. Establishment scientists write e-mails behind the scenes inquiring surreptitiously about the private religious views of scientists with whom they disagree, muse privately in e-mails how they might somehow disempower legitimate peer-reviewed journals which publish articles which disagree with them, or they try to figure out how to massage data to support the consensus view. This is not the reasonable, impartial science that you rather naively represent as the current reality. Scientists are no different from politicians or any other human beings; they are motivated by vanity, careerism, and the inability to admit that they may have held an incorrect view for the largest part of their professional lives, not to mention just plain stodginess.
If the Darwinists and AGW people behaved as the physicists are now behaving, I would have no objection to them. But they don’t. They behave like oligarchs who are hiring mercenaries lest the unthinkable should happen, and their regime should come to an end; or like religious organizations when a serious young theologian comes along and shows that the tradition has serious cracks in it. That is why they have lost the respect of the public. The public ideal of the scientist is of the dispassionate seeker after truth, who never under any circumstances uses political means to convince people of the truth, but always rests the whole case on evidence and argument. The Darwinians and AGW people have failed to live up to this ideal, and they have paid the price in public reaction. I don’t feel a bit sorry for them, or their theories. They have created their own problem. Either their theories are weak, that they require such political means to sustain them; or their theories are sound, but the AGW and Darwinist people are bringing those theories into disrepute by behaving like incredibly arrogant, pompous, defensive, petulant, paranoid jerks. Take your pick.
The scenario you paint above is simply untrue. When faced with legitimate scientific questions about climate or evolutionary science, scientists do in fact respond to the evidence. The responses may be salty, but this shouldn’t be mistaken for a failure to address the evidence.
When critics are “insulted, denounced, declared incompetent” that happens when the criticisms levelled are not based on science, but are rather based on hot air motivated by politics, religion or the culture wars. In the main, and speaking of researchers as a group. Of course, not all scientists are paragons of professionalism, and many individuals do act like arrogant jerks. I can’t and don’t want to defend every individual scientist.
But that’s not what you’re saying. What you’re saying is that large numbers (the majority?) of scientists are united in this sort of behaviour.
In one breath, you claim climate and evolutionary scientists accuse their critics of conspiracy (“plotting theocracies”). Illegitimate accusations, of course! In the next, you conjure images of whispered cabals, cloak and dagger email exchanges, and cooked data. Where is your evidence of a grand conspiracy of climate and evolutionary researchers to suppress the truth? Is it all the one conspiracy or are there two separate ones?
You conclude with two options:
I prefer the third option that scientists sometimes get a little shirty when they are accused baselessly of being corrupt conspirators, and then having to repeatedly refute groundless, sciency sounding arguments that have been refuted many times before. The fact that false arguments against climate change and evolutionary theory keep getting recycled over and over is evidence itself of either the bad faith or the ignorance of the critics that use them.
Prof. FX Gumby you state:
Prof. FX Gumby you also state:
Perhaps you can help me here and point me to the exact refutation of ID that shows novel functional genes and/or proteins ACTUALLY being generated by neo-Darwinian processes, instead of just pointing to sequence comparisons that assume the very fact that is being questioned into its conclusions???
Actually there are several papers on the generation of novel proteins that have no analogues in living things, but which function in living things.
They are made from randomly generated libraries of sequences and selected.
they are most definitely not made by by design, which would require knowing how to predict folds from sequences.
This is a key problem with design — having a way to predict a protein from a an arbitrary coding sequence. Douglas Axe has written on this and asserts there are no shortcuts.
Petrushka, you stated:
I noticed that you (purposely?) left out ‘by neo-Darwinian processes’ in your claim for the generation of novel proteins. Why was this??? Thus, not to belabor the point, can you please show me exactly where in HIV, malaria, antibiotic resistant bacteria, Lenski’s Long Term Evolution Experiment, or any other experiments/research where ‘nature in taking taking its own neo-Darwinian course’, in processes that are without any question of bias operating under ‘purely’ neo-Darwinian processes, where this generation of a novel protein and/or gene has been observed??? If, as I entirely expect you to be doing in your ‘uncited’ claim, you are merely referring to where experimenters stepped in to ‘help’ non-functional sequences along, then you are entirely defeating the purpose of seeing if purely neo-Darwinian processes can accomplish this ‘pathetic detail’, as you call it, for establishing legitimacy.,,, It is simply absurd, almost to the point of delusional psychosis, to claim neo-Darwinian evolution is conclusively shown to be true, to be able to generate novel proteins and/or genes, when intelligent agents must ‘step in’.
Petrushka perhaps you can show Dr. Behe exactly which lab, in the last four decades, has produced a novel functional protein by ‘purely’ neo-Darwinian means::
Dr. Behe states in The Edge of Evolution on page 135:
That order of difficulty is put at 10^20 replications of the malarial parasite by Dr. Behe. This number comes from direct empirical observation.
And the empirical evidence finding extreme limitations to neo-Darwinian ‘creativity’, has only gotten far worse since Dr. Behe wrote his book:
Moreover, there is a null hypothesis in place:
How do you think sequence libraries are assembled if not by selection?
I’m just curious whether you think there is some shortcut to designing sequences.
Prof. FX Gumby:
If you have to ask for the evidence for the claims I made, you clearly haven’t followed the debates over global warming and evolution on the internet over the past 5 to 10 years. The intent to deliberately massage the data to “hide the decline,” and the musing about how some climate journals (edited by fully certified scientists, and publishing articles by fully certified scientists) might be denied legitimacy, are documented facts found in the Climategate emails. As for my allusions to the case of Richard Sternberg, in which the NCSE took a leading behind-the-scenes role in a witch-hunt to damage Sternberg and to discredit Meyer’s article (which embarrassed them, since now ID *did* have a peer-reviewed journal article), my allegations are all verified by the Santorum Report, if Congressional investigation results mean anything to you. We also have a confession in the Gonzalez case from at least one of the voting scientists that Gonzalez’s belief about design was a factor in denying him tenure, and we have proof of poisoning of the well in his tenure case, in the campus lobbying activity of Avalos and others, some of which we know took place behind closed doors. We have documented cases of well-trained scientists who were let go of their teaching jobs for either discussing ID or criticizing Darwinian mechanisms. Thousands of young ID-sympathetic biology and biochemistry students must zip their lips before their supervisors, and hide their identities on the internet behind pseudonyms, for fear of having their careers destroyed. Any graduating biologist or biochemist in the USA who openly defended intelligent design, even if he had degrees from Harvard, Stanford and MIT studying with top people, and already had some impressive technical publications, would be denied a tenure-track job in life-sciences departments at all American universities. If you are unaware of all of these things, you are not competent to comment publically on these matters, and if you are a scientist who works in a modern university in either a climatology or life-science context, you know these things are all true, and if you deny them you are dishonest.
As for climate change, there now something like a thousand scientists who have questioned various aspects of AGW. I very much doubt that you have read a single article or argument by any of those dissenting scientists, and I very much doubt that you have the competence in climatology to make the bold and undefended claim you make above, i.e., that all arguments against AGW come from poor science and have been refuted.
As for evolutionary biology, I very much doubt that you have read the latest writings of James Shapiro, a leading molecular biologist from Chicago who has strongly criticized the Modern Synthesis, and I very much doubt that you have read the writings of some of the Altenberg people, and of Margulis, who have also criticized the standard evolutionary view. Your idea that opposition to Darwinian theory all comes from crank science is clearly uninformed, which is not surprising as your field is not evolutionary biology. In fact, it is not clear to me that you have expertise in any scientific field at all. If you do, and if you have tenure, there is no reason at all why you should hide your identity here, as you do. In fact, even if you don’t have tenure, there is no reason to hide your identity, as you will be praised by scientific colleagues for attacking ID and defending the status quo on global warming and Darwinism. It is only dissidents, whose careers can be destroyed for their insubordination, that need to conceal themselves. So why don’t you identify yourself, naming your scientific degrees and publications, and indicating what institution of higher education or research you work at? Then perhaps we can better judge whether your statements about the science of global warming and evolutionary biology are well-informed, or, like those of so many others who post on the web, bluff and bluster.
Yes. You forgot this bit:
I have followed the debates on climate change and evolution over the internet. That’s why I know the University of East Anglia and all the researchers involved were cleared of any fraud, deception or conspiracy by six separate investigations. With direct reference to your quote, the House of Commons Science and technology committee found:
With respect to Sternberg, the Santorum report was inherently biased, as those who instigated it had connections with the Discovery Institute. The report was never published in the Congressional Record, and thus cannot be described as a congressional investigation as you claim.
With respect to Gonzalez, Avalos’s anti-ID petition was circulated two years before Gonzalez’s tenure rejection and did not mention Gonzalez. Members of the tenure review panel have stated, and it’s the University’s position, that his tenure denial was based on lower levels of publications and successful research funding than would be expected for a tenured professor.
I’d be happy to discuss any other specific cases you may have. However, I’m unaware that thousands of young pro-ID researchers and students are being persecuted for their beliefs. In fact I’m unaware that there are thousands of young pro-ID researchers and students in biology and biochemistry at all.
You also claim that I’m saying: “that all arguments against AGW come from poor science and have been refuted.” You’ve misunderstood my position. I did not say that because I’m in fact not a climatologist and don’t know. What I am saying is that researchers take seriously and respond scientifically to scientific criticisms of climate change. Emotional or irrational responses in the main come as a result of political or culturally motivated and scientifically poor arguments.
Finally, you question my credentials and ability to engage in this discussion. If you and others such as KairosFocus believe that they can make valid contributions under a pseudonym, I’m not sure why you’d deny the same to me? For the record, I am a practicing biologist, but outside the realm of academia for a few years now. I’m not really a Professor at all, but since my pseudo-surname is Gumby, I didn’t think anyone would take the Prof bit seriously. Unless their brains hurt.
If you wanted to hide a decline in temperature you wouldn’t do it by ‘adding in the real temps’ – you would add in fake temps wouldn’t you!
If you wanted to manipulate the data this way then you wouldn’t publish a paper in Nature explaining the ‘trick’ so that everyone could see!
If you look at the Nature paper they refer to it explains how they are dealing with the decline in accuracy of a particular set of proxy data from tree rings in the 20th century – They know that this particular data set has a problem because they have real temperature records to compare it to.
It is all there in publicly available research, including attempts to understand why these particular trees have stopped working as a reliable proxy record. Not exactly the kind of thing people would do if they were engaging in a global conspiracy.
Prof FX Gumby:
Thank you for your polite reply to my somewhat heated remarks. As you can probably guess, I bear no personal animus against you, but descended upon you as representative of some arguments that have grated upon me for a number of months or years. I will try to control myself, but be forewarned that I will continue to argue fairly bluntly and vigorously.
I’m aware that the Climategate scientists were cleared of formal ethics violations. But the hacked emails reveal an *attitude* that is highly partisan, contemptuous of intellectual opposition, and generally completely out of line with ideal portrait of the humble, open-minded scientist that the propagandists for science like to promote to the public (in order to win prestige, and grants, and jobs, for scientists). Because of this attitude, I do not trust such people to be intellectually fair, and I would not trust them not to let their prior opinions regarding AGW influence things like hiring and tenure decisions. I would not trust them, for example, to make sure that balance was maintained in a climatology department by hiring at least one — very competent in terms of publications, citation index, etc. — AGW dissenter. I believe they would stack the department with new hires who agreed with them about AGW. And I would not trust them to fairly review journal submissions, given the very clear wish that one of them expressed (with no disapproval coming from the addressee) that certain journals (which publish anti-AGW articles) should be, if not suppressed, at least somehow discredited.
As someone who, like yourself, has some experience in the realm of academia (I hold a Ph.D. myself and have seen much of the dirty underbelly of the hiring process, and have witnessed the shockingly calculated, careerist attitudes of many Ph.D.s and Ph.D. hopefuls), I have seen this attitude not only in climate science but all over the modern university. Modern academics are nothing like what they ought to be; they are not pure theorists who care only for the best argument, wherever it leads; their general intellectual and moral character is greatly debased compared to what it was in the days before big money and big research grants and social influence corrupted the academic process. Of course there are always exceptions; there are still some fine and virtuous academics. But they increasingly have little power over how departments, faculties, journals and disciplines are run.
I am sure that most scientists are honest enough to police obvious cheating: faked data and plagiarism and so on. But that is not the kind of intellectual dishonesty that is being discussed here. The kind of intellectual dishonesty that is being discussed here is a partisanship that subtly shapes lines of argument, that subtly influences what kinds of evidence count and don’t count, that consciously or unconsciously influences hiring decisions, the success or failure of research grant applications, the behavior of members on a graduate student’s supervisory committee, etc. It influences things like the very definition of “science,” often in a way that prejudges the question of design before it can even be asked. It shows in the way that some scientists treat their peers with contempt in public discussion, and in the way that some scientists seem absolutely unwilling to grant even the tiniest point to a position they deem wrong, and reflexively say black when the other person says white. Thus, for example, when we compare Lynn Margulis (a renowned evolutionary biologist) with Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott, we see that all three of them think that ID is wrong-headed, but Margulis concedes that ID is right in its critique of Darwinian mechanisms, whereas for Miller and Scott (and Matzke and Moran and Myers etc.) all ID proponents are IDiots and everything they say must be reflexively shown to be not only incorrect but indicative of scientific incompetence or dishonesty or both. It cannot be allowed that ID is even *partly* right in its critique of Darwinian mechanisms. It must be shown that it is entirely wrong. This is not the objective, detached, dispassionate, scientific attitude. This is the attitude of the partisan, the person with a social or political agenda (in the NCSE’s case, the control of the schools).
To say that Santorum report was inherently biased (an allegation for which you offer not a shred of proof, but merely “guilt by association”), while ignoring the fact that Eugenie Scott and the NCSE, who led the witch-hunt against Sternberg and Meyer, were inherently biased, shows that you yourself are inherently biased, or at least, that you have been misled by propaganda coming from those who are inherently biased. And whether it was ever published in the congressional record is a mere technicality; it uncovered improprieties in the treatment of Sternberg, and there no doubt in the mind of any properly cynical person that those improprieties were means of punishment, to teach Sternberg the lesson that you don’t defy biological orthodoxy, or even indirectly aid or abet those (such as Meyer) who would defy it.
Your account of the Gonzalez case is distorted and biased. You either have not read enough about it, or you have read only sources (Panda’s Thumb, Pharyngula, Talk Origins, etc.) which reflexively attack anyone or anything associated with ID and therefore were hostile to Gonzalez from day one. Any observant student of the case knows that the well was poisoned long before Gonzalez came to trial, with all kinds of unofficial communication going on between the anti-Gonzalez forces both inside and outside the astronomy department. For those who are literate enough to read thoughtful books, this process is well-described in *The Apology of Socrates*. And the fact is that Gonzalez exceeded the minimum number of publications required for tenure in the university standards by a comfortable margin, and had an astoundingly high citation rate, exceeding that of his departmental peers. He was also regarded as a good teacher.
I’m not going to wage this argument all over again. Suffice it to say that if Gonzalez had written a popular book along the lines of “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan instead of along the lines of “Privileged Planet,” he would have tenure at Iowa State now. Nobody who is on the inside doubts this, though of course all official statements of the university and department will deny it. But I’ve been an academic long enough to know how dishonest and political such statements are, and not to trust them as far as I could throw their authors. If you honestly believe that Iowa State treated Gonzalez fairly, all that I can say is that I disagree and that I think you are naive about how academia works. It frequently works to enforce the prevailing paradigms and to get rid of people who, though excellent scholars and teachers, might get in the way of a particular individual’s or clique’s academic ambitions or a department’s or university’s institutional ambitions.
I personally know of dozens of ID proponents currently holding Ph.D.s or working towards them, who have made it a policy to say absolutely nothing about ID until after they have tenure. They know perfectly well that if Mike Behe had not had tenure when he first published on ID, his 35 peer-reviewed articles (which obviously were good enough to earn him tenure when personal prejudices were not involved) would not have saved him from the fate of Gonzalez. Obviously I cannot name these people, but I have met many of them and corresponded with many others. And I have reason to believe that for every one of them there are dozens more. You do not have to believe me, but I know these people exist. This is why they must use pseudonyms on the internet. They know they cannot trust the fairness of their future potential employers. All it takes is one or two virulently anti-ID people in a department to veto a hiring, and there are generally more than one or two.
Ask yourself honestly, Prof Gumby, if you were in academia again, and were voting whether or not to hire a young biologist who had produced a dozen excellent articles in good peer-reviewed journals on the molecular biology of proteins or on newly detected functions of non-coding portions of DNA, and were leaning toward hiring this person, and then you found out, from an e-mail from Eugenie Scott, that this person had given a talk favorable to ID a couple of years ago to a campus student group, or had recently written a cautiously favorable (not blindly uncritical) review of an ID book — would you not be tempted to change your position and vote for someone else? And do you not see why that would be wrong?
My point about your competence to judge regarding climate change is that your position is based entirely on hearsay. Thus, your judgment that all scientific criticisms of climate-change models have been adequately dealt with, and all the unrefuted charges are just emotional froth based on scientific ignorance, has no basis other than your acceptance of the authority of the majority of climatologists, with whom you happen to agree. That is fine, if you want to do that, but there is no reason why anyone should follow you on that. The majority of the experts have been egregiously wrong before: aether, steady state theory, phlogiston, four humors, etc. And sometimes prejudice and pride and stubbornness have contributed to their errors.
As for me, let me make it clear that I am not taking a stand on AGW as such. I am criticizing the way that many pro-AGW scientists and their journalistic and political defenders (scientific hacks like Al Gore) have argued; I am criticizing their partisan spirit, their ad hominem arguments, their tendency to impute all arguments to being in the pay of oil companies, their refusal to listen to certain arguments, their dismissal of certain journals, their lack of respect for scientific peers who agree with them, etc. AGW may be real, and significant; but I do not trust the arguments, or rather, the people making the arguments, because of the unscholarly, unscientific, politicized way that they have conducted themselves. If they want me to believe that AGW is real, they must (a) drop all the “flak” from their writings, stop demonizing their opponents and imputing low motives to them; (b) stop using arguments from authority and consensus, and explain in layman’s language what the arguments are; (c) show some intellectual humility, i.e., a genuine willingness to accept criticism regarding both the accuracy of measurements and the theoretical modelling of very complex interactions which are not fully understood.
Regarding pseudonymity, I can think of no good excuse for it except to protect one’s job and therefore one’s livelihood. If you have a secure job, why can’t you speak in your own name? Many of us here are not in that position. We could lose all hopes of academic careers, and even the meager non-academic income we can now scrape up, if our sympathies for ID were known. You can bash ID with impunity; your employer is not going to fire you.
I am not saying you are a great offender in this regard. I have found you polite. But many of your anti-ID colleagues across the web, on sites ranging from Panda’s Thumb to Biologos to Wikipedia, have been very insulting and nasty to ID proponents, and have propagated lies and said things they would never say if their wives, friends, colleagues, bosses, etc. knew who they were. They have said very low things about Behe, Meyer, Dembski, etc. that they would never dare say if their identity as science professionals were known. They use anonymity in order to bully, belittle, mislead, smear reputations, and so on. It is also sometimes the case that anti-ID bloggers and internet commenters pretend to have Ph.D.s or jobs in biological professions, but do not; they wish to argue from alleged authority, and the pseudonym is used to prevent the detection of this fraud.
I agree with you in principle that one’s real name should not matter, and that only the argument should matter. But in practice anonymity is necessary for many people on the ID side, and is used dishonorably by many on the anti-ID side, so that they can conduct themselves in public in shameless and intellectually dishonest ways. Thus, while there may be cases (and yours may be one) where pseudonymity on the part of an anti-ID person is justified (for reasons which I cannot think of, but which may exist), for the most part I think that pseudonymity on the anti-ID side indicates cowardice or fakery.
Thanks for your reply. I’ve only just skimmed it and I won’t have time to responding until tomorrow maybe. Apologies for the delay.
I felt your long reply deserves a response, but unfortunately I’ll be away over the next while, and I don’t have the time at the moment to get into much detail. Anyway, with the way that OPs accumulate here like dried leaves, this thread is rapidly becoming humus.
A key difference between climate change and evolution is that the former is necessarily politicised, as the results strongly suggest that political action is required. I can’t / won’t defend politicians, journalists, internet personalities of all sides in the debate. Most of the discussions about the science will generate more heat than light. However, I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that the actual climatologists doing the underlying work are corrupt or their work is suffering from bias. On a personal level, they may be hostile and defensive (as the UEA email hacking affair showed), but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you (as the UEA email hacking affair showed).
With respect to ID, I think you’re most upset about a lack of respect for the ID position. It’s this lack of respect and failure to treat it as serious science that undermines the careers of pro-ID scientists. The solution is for ID to pull up its socks, do more work, and try to establish itself as a science before trying to insert itself into schools. The reputation of ID has been seriously damaged since Dover, and a lot of work (I don’t mean PR, as some in the DI appear to believe) will be required to repair it.
Finally, I think it’s legitimate at this stage to not hire or promote pro-ID staff depending on the position involved. If the job is for a lecturer in evolutionary biology, and the candidate does not understand or believe the evidence for common descent, for example, then he/she is clearly unfit for the position. On the other hand, a few years back there was a good old-fashioned creationist in my department. He was a researcher in plant physiology, he did good work, and so there was no issue from anyone else in the department.
Prof FX Gumby:
Thanks for your reply.
You misunderstand my position regarding ID. I am not suggesting that any department should hire an ID proponent on the basis of the ID proponent’s arguments for ID, if they think those arguments are weak. I am only suggesting that they do not *disqualify* an ID proponent for a position that does not involve teaching ID, merely because they happen to have outside knowledge that the person supports ID. Do you see the difference?
Gonzalez provides an example. He never taught ID in his classroom, not even for a second, and no one ever accused him of doing so. He did good research on extrasolar planets, research respected by scientists who completely despise ID. So why didn’t they want him around? Not because he was using his position to promote ID (he wasn’t); not because his science was bad (it wasn’t). It was because they had knowledge, from his popular book and other sources, that he favored ID. He was denied a job for holding views that did not affect the quality of his research or teaching. If he had been denied a job for being a Democrat, or being homosexual, or being a vegetarian, or being a Buddhist, or anything else irrelevant to the job, there would have been a huge outcry about the violation of his rights, and a major investigation would have been launched. You can’t get away with discrimination on other matters. But you can when it’s because of ID.
Do you imagine that if Gonzalez’s popular book had been about the marvelous power of “luck and large numbers,” and had argued that there is nothing remarkable about Earth’s position because there are lots of galaxies and it all can be explained by chance rather than design, that he would have been denied tenure?
Similarly, suppose an an untenured ID proponent does work in the field of protein folding. Suppose that this ID proponent’s dissertation was considered first-class work in the area of protein science, and that since graduating and taking up a tenure-track position, this ID proponent has published several articles in good journals that make no argument for ID but are just plain good protein science. Now, suppose the department finds out that this candidate supports ID, maybe now and then lectures to undergraduate student groups interested in the subject, or writes the odd blog post (on a private server, not the university system’s server). According to your argument, the department would be right to deny him tenure, on the grounds that he supports ID, even though ID does not figure into his research or teaching and he has kept his ID activities in the private sphere. I would argue that this is wrong from the point of view of basic civic rights (which require equal treatment by employers regarding non-job-related matters), and wrong to the students of the university, who will lose a good teacher and researcher merely because of faculty members’ prejudices.
Regarding your last paragraph: “If the job is for a lecturer in evolutionary biology, and the candidate does not understand or believe the evidence for common descent, then he/she is clearly unfit for the position.” Really? One has to not only *understand* but also *believe* a theory to be competent to teach it? So a theoretical physics professor not only has to *understand* but *believe* Stephen Hawking’s argument for “universes out of nothing,” or he is not qualified to teach a course on contemporary cosmological theory? I would guess that Paul Nelson could rattle off all the standard arguments for common descent, backed by dozens of scientific articles, as well as Jerry Coyne could. But why should he have to *believe* in it, in order to teach it? As long as he does not *misrepresent* the Darwinian arguments or the evidence for them, why should he not be free to point out the weaknesses in Darwinian theory in the university classroom? What you are requiring is not merely knowledge of evolutionary theory, but orthodoxy. That is not in the spirit of science, that is in the spirit of religion.
By your logic, Lynn Margulis should not be hired to teach evolutionary biology, since she rejects the main mechanism of biological innovation (random mutation) held by Darwinian orthodoxy. By your logic, James Shapiro and Stuart Newman, two cutting-edge evolutionary biologists, shouldn’t be allowed to teach the subject, either, because they challenge the orthodoxy. This is a recipe for the stranglehold of old ideas upon a discipline — exactly what happened in the late Middle Ages when a fossilized Aristotelianism imprisoned the minds of generations of students.
Finally, about your plant physiologist. You yourself concede that he did good work and that his creationism was not an issue. Yet if today he were applying for tenure, and it became known that he was an ID supporter, what are the chances that he would get tenure? The Gonzalez case provides the answer: close to zero. This is what I am complaining about. I am not asking life science departments to hire ID proponents just for the sake of hiring ID proponents. I am asking them not to discriminate against ID proponents when their science is otherwise good. Yet science departments do in fact discriminate in hiring and tenure decisions against someone who defends ID. The mere indication of support for ID, or even non-hostility toward ID, will sink one’s academic career. That is what is wrong. It is a betrayal of the spirit of open debate and open inquiry that is at the heart of the university, in the name of preserving an embattled orthodoxy.