Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ken Ham believes that knowledge that is certain but incorrect is preferable to knowledge that is tentative and amendable in light of new information

At Dispatches from the Culture Wars a few days ago, Ed Brayton posted a criticism of an article that appeared in the Wing Nut Daily (WND) regarding a research article by Gavin J. Prideaux &al. that was cited in The Australian newspaper. The WND provided about four sentences describing the the information cited by the newspaper and called upon “expert in the field” (their term) and internationally-known Creationist loony Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, to analyze the research.

The original article, published in the January 2007 issue of the journal Geology, described research intended to address the question of how Australia’s large mammals responded to climatic fluctuations during the Pleistocene prior to the arrival of humans. Fossil evidence over about 500 thousand years calibrated by multiple methods of dating was examined. The local paleoclimatic record was based on an analysis published in 1998. Given the resilience of the fauna and the climatic conditions in place when the megafauna extinction occurred about 45,000 years ago, Prideaux and his coauthors concluded that climate change was not a primary factor. The authors suggest, but do not insist, that human impact was the important factor.

Ham dismissed the research in much the same way as Michael Behe who, when confronted with a stack of books and papers of published research on the evolution of immune system during cross-examination in the Intelligent-Design trial Kitzmiller v. Dover, said “not good enough.” Ham’s criticism did not actually address any of the issues discussed in the original article; it is apparent that he did not read that article, and he almost certainly did not read any of the supporting materials, including data and descriptions of methods used, that are available online from the Geological Society of America (publisher of Geology). It is also obvious that Ham did not bother to read any of the references cited in the article which provided evidence for the validity of the methods used. The discussion in The Australian was brief but accurate; it provided no details on methodology, as is to be expected in a newspaper report of a research article published in the scientific literature. It’s not clear if Ham even read the newspaper account—his criticism was so vague and dismissive.

I cannot recall any instances of Ken Ham contributing letters or articles to Geology, GSA Bulletin (the Geological Society of America’s other major journal), or any other reputable geological journal that critiqued methods and conclusions of geological publications; nor can I name any article written by Ham appearing in any such journal that might have contributed an analysis consistent with Ham’s views. That is hardly surprising, given that Ken Ham, far from being the expert he claims to be, takes his lessons in geology from the Bible, “starting from the first verse beginning: ‘In the beginning, God...’”—as noted by the Wing Nut Daily.

(As an aside, speaking of the WND, I notice they referred to the journal Geology as the magazine Geology—likely a conscious attempt to deprecate peer-reviewed scientific literature.)

Such behavior is typical of Creationists and we have long come to expect such disingenuous prattle from these truth-challenged individuals. To be fair, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish those who are bald-assed liars determined to deceive the scientifically illiterate from those who are sincere but thoroughly self-deceived. These people might not be stupid, but they are enormously ignorant of how information about the universe around us can be gathered, analyzed, and interpreted. Pig-headedly, Ham claims “such reports [as that of Prideaux &al.] never add substantively to the sum of knowledge,” according to the WND. What, never? Then how can we possibly learn? Oh, that’s right, Ham tells us:

The Bible—the “history book of the universe”—provides a reliable, eye-witness account of the beginning of all things, and can be trusted to tell the truth in all areas it touches. Therefore, we are able to use it to help us make sense of this present world.”

But the keystone quote is remarkable for its condemnation of evolutionists for engaging

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

They are reinterpreting their ideas as they look at the evidence. The result is that there’s no real knowledge there.

Evidence? Wing nuts don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Letter to the Editor, York Dispatch

I don't bother responding to individual letters to the editors, but I do respond to lengthier opinion pieces, especially when they are misleading, disingenuous, or dishonest. And especially if they are written by people running around with their pants in flames. Thus, I had to submit the following in response to Casey Luskin's opinion piece that appeared in the York Dispatch, complaining that the media misunderstood the Discombobulatory Institute's recent smear campaign against Federal judge John E. Jones III, accusing him of doing what judges normally do (the DI called it "plagiarism").

To the Editor,

In an opinion published December 19th in the Dispatch, Casey Luskin, spokesman for the Discovery Institute (an intelligent design creationism propaganda house), complained the media misrepresent and misunderstand the Institute's recent smear campaign against Judge John E. Jones III, who decided against proponents of teaching intelligent design in Kitzmiller v. Dover one year ago.

The Discovery Institute's charge of plagiarism has been refuted in detail (see, for example, and among many). What Judge Jones did is recognized as common and accepted judicial practice; Luskin attempted to show this practice meets with disapproval by citing cases that differed significantly from Kitzmiller v. Dover.

But what Luskin did not say is equally as significant as what he did say. In his opinion piece, Luskin cited testimony of Discovery Institute Fellow Scott Minnich as evidence that peer-reviewed articles supporting intelligent design have appeared in the scientific literature, pointing to a particular article. But he failed to mention that that article appeared in an esoteric journal that covers the field of taxonomy (classification), not evolution or the causes of biodiversity. Luskin also neglected to mention that the article was shepherded covertly through the review process (or lack thereof) by an avowed Creationist editor. And tellingly, Luskin decided not to mention that once the rest of the editorial board discovered the paper had been published, they retracted it.

Luskin engaged in common practices of the Discovery Institute--he commits factual errors and selectively quotes sources out of context, and relies on most readers not being sufficiently informed to realize what he is doing or motivated enough to check sources. Fortunately, I noticed in several reports of the Discovery Institute's press release that the reporters sought out other, real, expert opinion. It appears that the media do indeed understand the Discovery Institute's tactics.

UPDATE: My letter was printed 29 December 2006, here. The URLs linking to refutations were edited out (probably because I misread the LTE requirements and exceeded 300 words).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hallucinator claims others are misrepresenting reality

Alleged attorney Casey Luskin, spokesman for the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, once again displays his utter disregard for accuracy, this time in an opinion piece in the York Dispatch (see also two previous posts here). He makes the ridiculous claim that the York Dispatch and other news media, as well as the ACLU, not only misrepresent his Institute, but they misunderstand it as well. Seems nobody takes seriously the Disco Institute's rant against Federal Judge John E. Jones III, who one year ago decided in favor of the plaintiffs (and against Intelligent Design) in Kitzmiller v. Dover. To celebrate the anniversary, the Discovery Institute is attempting to smear Judge Jones, claiming he simply copied all of the ACLU's statements in his judgment. The media, after being sent the Disco Institute's ravings, determined they were exaggerated and that the plaintiff's preliminary findings of fact, or more correctly, portions of them, are commonly incorporated into that part of the Judge's opinion dealing with findings of fact; if the judge determines that those facts are correct, they are often incorporated as presented. The numerous failings of the Disco Institute's whining are discussed very well by Timothy Sandefur at The Panda's Thumb.

Tut, tut, poor boy--the media have caught on to the Discovery Institute's tricks and understand the blatherskite you guys have been trying to spread all these years. They realize that you guys have not been telling, you know, the truth, all that time. They have learned that you obfuscate, quote mine, and now you invest enormous energy, not in scientific research, but in character assassination. The media no longer simply take your word on some issue--they check with some real experts to get the real story.

It's too late, bub; others have reviewed your charges and found them baseless. You've taken up the strategy seen in politics in recent years: First, tell a lie. Second, spread the lie around. Third, keep repeating the lie. Then tell another, and another. You say, as an example, that seven to ten peer-reviewed papers supporting intelligent design have been published, citing Scott Minnich's testimony, highlighting an article published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Did you forget to mention that that particular article was published in an esoteric journal that usually covers matters of taxonomy, not evolution? And did you forget that the article was shepherded through in a covert manner by a creationist editor who did not consult with his fellows about publishing an article that was so unusual for the journal? And did it slip your mind that, when the rest of the editorial board found out about it, they retracted the paper? Apparently, Judge Jones did consider those facts in his determination that Intelligent Design is Creationism, not science.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Discovery Institute rant: Ho-hum

In my previous post I noted articles in the two York-area local newspapers that discussed the Discovery Institute's recent ravings about Federal Judge John E. Jones III having excerpted material from the plaintiff's submitted findings of fact in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Creationism trial that was decided one year ago. At the time I posted, the afternoon paper, the York Dispatch, had printed an editorial that was unsympathetic to the Disco Institute. Today, the morning paper, the York Daily Record, carried an editorial that was likewise not impressed. They found the 34-page whine "as surprising as news that auto accidents cause traffic jams":
"Dog bites man."
"Car crash causes traffic tie-up."
"Judge follows common legal practice in presenting opinion."

Another good line in the editorial:
It has long seemed that the institute is more about PR than science, playing on ignorance and bias in an effort to convince the masses that there's some serious scientific doubt about the soundness of evolutionary theory.
The really satisfying thing about these editorials is that they show the editors get it--they are not being fooled by the sciencey-sounding words of the ID proponents, they have sought second opinions from knowledgable sources, and they are not providing gratuitous, erroneous and disingenuous "other side" voices in a misguided effort to seek "balance." In this sense, Americans are getting educated.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sore losers seen for what they are: losers

A year after the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, proponents of Intelligent Design are still whining, this time in a press release from the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture that castigates Federal judge John E. Jones III. The judge's sin was to excerpt materials from the proposed findings of fact submitted by the plaintiffs in the case instead of writing up that section of his decision de novo. It's a common practice, as commented on by a number of attorneys quoted in the York Daily Record and the York Dispatch (here and here). The tone of the articles in these papers, especially the Dispatch editorial, are not sympathetic to the Discovery Institute.

The Disco Institute's crybaby behavior is the subject of much discussion at Dispatches from the Culture Wars (several posts), Panda's Thumb, Red
State Rabble
, and Stranger Fruit, among others. I like John Lynch's characterization of the DI doing "science by press release"--why try to convince scientists when it's so much easier to convince an uninformed public?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Did someone say "transitional form?"

Yes--I did, the other day. The anti-evolutionists argue that transitional forms are lacking in the fossil record, yet more and more are reported. This time it's a fossil whale, Aetiocetus weltoni, from around 24-28 million years ago that provides evidence "of the stepwise transition toward baleen feeding" that some toothed whales had undergone.

Source: Erik Stokstad in Science (10 November 2006, p. 921), reporting on the October meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

How did Noah fit all those dinosaurs on the Ark?

What's the problem? If Noah had dinosaurs like this Diplodocus, he could have stuffed them on the bookshelves, just like I have done. For crying out loud, you didn't think I was going to try to present some half-assed exposition of how some mythical hero rounded up and squeezed living, breathing, dinosaurs onto a big boat, did you? Get real--the last of the dinosaurs died more than 60 million years ago; some species died out more than 200 million years ago, long, long before Noah could even have been a twinkle in his pa's eye.

However, the Bible tells us that Noah must have brought dinosaurs aboard, because it specifically mentions two: a raven and a dove (in the Babylonian version of the story, it's a dove, a swallow, and a raven).

Nah, it's stretching things a bit too much to equate dinosaur descendants (birds) with the numerous dinosaur species that lived hundreds of millions of years before humans appeared. If I invite you to dinner and tell you to bring your family, I don't mean you should bring along all those ancestors who died before Nebuchadnezzar sat down on the throne.

There are, however, people who seriously argue how Noah might have accomplished such a task. "He took aboard little babies," or "He took eggs." I think I read Noah's article in the Journal of the East Eden Biological Society -- Determining Sex of Immature Albertosaurs with Minimal Mutilation of One's Hands. After all, Noah had to be sure he brought along the right number of the right sex of all species, lest he be smitten for disobedience.

Are the arguments of proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism any less silly?