Friday, July 22, 2011

Bethell the Buffoon Rides Again

I previously wrote about Tom Bethell, the blathering buffoon and faux journalist who never met an anti-evolutionary argument that was too stupid for him to parrot.

Now he's back again in the New Oxford Review. It's not surprising at all that the forum he chose is a self-described "orthodox Catholic magazine". What other magazine would publish this drivel? (Well, maybe National Review.) It takes a lot of chutzpah to call evolution "dogma" and then later publish in a rag that boasts its "unswerving loyalty to her Pope and Magisterium".

Bethell doesn't give any indication that he interviewed anyone except ID hacks for his screed. That's journalism? No. A real journalist interviews people who don't agree with his preconceptions. And the text shows it. How many misrepresentations, selective quotations, and misunderstandings can you find? No creationist chestnut is too stupid to repeat. He even drags out the corpse of the Colin Patterson quote! (It was debunked long ago.)

But the single funniest line is the claim that "Doug Axe and his assistants at the Biologic Institute may end up surpassing the Darwinists in pure research". Not bloody likely, especially if Axe continues to publish in an ID vanity journal where he is the Managing Editor.

Naturally, ID's other faux journalist, Denyse O'Leary is fully on board with Bethell. The funniest thing about O'Leary is that she calls herself the "UD News team", and suffers from recurring fantasies that her blog is going to replace the New York Times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

All the Ricochet Videos

Someone asked me for the links to all the Ricochet videos featuring Claire Berlinski attending the "secret" Italian conference on political correctness, the unappreciated genius of her father, David Berlinski, and other extremely important scientific topics. That's not so easy, because the Ricochet site is really hard to navigate. But here they are, to the best of my ability to produce them.

Great Expectations Under the Tuscan Sun, June 11

This Morning's Panel: Political Correctness, June 13

Mike Denton and the Coming Post-Mechanistic Era in Biology, June 14

Why Are Young American Scientists Too Afraid to Appear in This Video?, June 14

Why Haven't Our Great Expectations of the Sciences Been Met?, June 14

Your Questions Answered, or at Least Asked, June 15

Great Expectations: Two Memories,
June 16

Free Markets, A Lunar Eclipse, the Engines of Innovation, and Intelligent Design, June 16

From Popper to Gödel: Your Questions Answered, June 16

The most interesting new discovery for me was this: "The point of the conference was to ask: What if we've been looking at these problems in too limited a way? What if in fact, the so-called materialist hypothesis has already achieved most of what it can achieve? What if the most interesting ideas in science are precisely the ones no one wants to talk about, because they might lead to spooky metaphysical conclusions?

One presentation suggested a path from a new program for inquiry in biology toward interesting results in biotechnology. The ultra-secretive people--I may now reveal--were investors, mainly in the high-tech industry, who are at the end of their tether with orthodoxy about the ideas they are and aren't allowed to think about. They're asking themselves, "If we look at these problems in a different way, might we invent something new, something from which we can make a lot of money?" Yes, you read that right: a lot of money. Capitalism, engine of human progress, strikes again."

Of course, this is utter bilge. On the one hand, there's absolutely no reason to think that believing in imaginary sky fairies is going to help you build better hardware or software. On the other, there's no one in high-tech industries who says "you're not allowed to talk about this idea" because it brings in "spooky metaphysical conclusions". That's just some bizarre wacko fantasy.

There's only one man I know who combines these kinds of bizarre obsessions and is interested in investing: George Gilder. How much do you want to bet that Gilder was behind this foolishness?

Monday, July 11, 2011

See me at Polaris 2011 in Toronto - July 16

I'll be speaking at the Canadian science fiction & fantasy convention Polaris in Toronto on Saturday, July 16, and you're invited to attend.

My talk is at 1 PM and is entitled "Misinformation Theory: How Creationists Abuse Mathematics" and is described here. It's part of the skeptical track sponsored by the Centre For Inquiry and its Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. Three others, including Larry Moran of Sandwalk, will also speak.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Explain Academia to Thomas Cudworth

Over at Uncommon Descent, Thomas Cudworth asks why prominent evolutionary scientists did not attend the Evolution 2011 conference in Norman, Oklahoma this summer.

Actually, to say "asks" is far too generous. He's doesn't seem at all interested in the answer; he's clearly intent on denigrating evolution's defenders by implying their absence indicates something is rotten with their scientific credentials.

This is just a Swift Boat-style attack: if the record of your own side is completely deficient, attack the other side's. Sadly for Mr. Cudworth, it is the scientific credentials of prominent ID proponents that are not exactly stellar. For example, in this post I examined the citation record of William Dembski, and in this one, I examined the scientific output of David Berlinski. Mr. Cudworth might equally want to ask, why has William Dembski not presented his work at an AMS meeting? Why does his work receive so few citations?

Nevertheless, since he seems so completely unfamiliar with how academia works, I will try to answer Mr. Cudworth's question as if it were genuine.

First, scientists are typically funded by a variety of funding agencies, which help to pay the cost of you and your students to attend a conference. Once you add up airfare, conference registration fees (often $300-$600 or more), transportation to and from the airport and to and from the conference site, and hotel, attending a conference can easily cost $2000 -- more if the conference is on another continent. Eventually, it becomes more important for your students to go to conferences than for you to go - you don't really need to advance your career very much, and it's better that your students get some visibility. So, given limited financial resources, you might choose to send them instead.

Second, conferences take up time, and many of us teach 9 months of the year or more, meaning that it is not so easy to simply pick up and shuffle off to a conference while teaching. Scientists who engage in field work (like some paleontologists) might spend most of their free time in the field collecting, or in the lab, preparing and analyzing specimens.

The bottom line is that, for reasons of time and funding, the typical academic scientist might attend only one or two conferences a year. Of course, there are jet-setters that attend 5 or 10 or 20 conferences a year, and some people (for example, those at small teaching colleges who get little funding) might attend no conferences at all.

Now, given that many of us have to choose the one or two conferences in a year we want to go to, we have to choose carefully. Do we really want to attend a huge conference like Evolution 2011, with a thousand or more attendees, covering a wide area that might have only a small intersection with our competence? Or should we attend a small workshop with 30 or 40 participants that is tightly focussed on our current interests? In my field, I might want to attend (just to name a few) STOC, FOCS, STACS, ICALP, DLT, DCFS, MFCS, LATA, SIAMDM, SODA, CIAA, WORDS, and CanaDAM. Clearly this is impractical. I have to choose.

So why would someone like Kevin Padian choose to go to Evolution 2011 instead of another conference in his area, vertebrate paleontology? Answer: there's no obvious reason he would. I have no idea what meetings Padian goes to, but I'm sure he has the same kinds of constraints I do.

And, as you get older, you slow down. When I was younger, attending a conference was more fun. Now that jet lag impacts my sleeping, and my health isn't always perfect, attending a conference can sometimes be a chore. I don't know for sure how old Paul R. Gross is, but I think he was born in 1928, which would make him about 82. Heck, at age 82, I sure hope I'll still be alive and attending conferences, but I don't know for sure. In any event, I'm happy to put Prof. Gross's scientific record up against Behe, Jonathan Wells, and other ID advocates. Richard Dawkins, at age 70, is no spring chicken either.

My thesis adviser once told me that he only attends conferences where he is presenting a paper. That might be yet another reason why someone might not attend a conference: he or she has submitted his papers to conferences more tightly focussed on his area of interest. Robert Pennock seems to be more of a philosopher and cognitive scientist; he might choose to attend conferences like the "Midwest Cognitive Science Meeting" instead.

The bottom line is that it is extraordinarily foolish to attempt to infer something about someone's scientific competence by their non-attendance at a single professional conference; only someone unfamiliar with academic science would attempt to do so.

But let's not fool ourselves. Cudworth is not interested in the answer. He just wants to score rhetorical points. When he says, "In most scientific areas, non-experts don’t pretend to stand in for experts" and asks, "how many of the self-appointed defenders of Darwinian evolution have demonstrated competence, proved by research and publication, in the field of evolutionary biology?", he might just want consider the competence of his own side. Why are lawyers Phillip Johnson and Casey Luskin, and philosophers Stephen Meyer and David Berlinski, and journalists David Warren, Tom Bethell, and David Klinghoffer, and mathematician William Dembski, such loud and ignorant voices against evolution, when they are not biologists? Indeed, my impression is that the vast majority of creationists and ID supporters are not biologists. Certainly this is true for people like Denyse O'Leary, Angus Menuge, Robert Coons, Henry Morris, Walter Bradley, Richard Milton, just to name a few.

Mr. Cudworth, there's a giant mote in your own eye.

Addendum: Cudworth responds by digging himself into an even deeper hole.

Amazing: it's not just that these guys are ignorant and arrogant - they're proudly so.

More Silliness from Claire Berlinski

I spent a little more time digging into the treasure trove of dreck that is Claire Berlinski's video oeuvre.

Ms. Berlinski, it seems, was present at a by-invitation only conference in Italy entitled "Great Expectations". It's hard to find anything about this conference online because, you see, it was "secret". But it's not hard to figure out the agenda. After all, the people present seem to have been

- Paul Nelson, creationist and remarkably unproductive philosopher for whom Paul Nelson Day was named. Watch Nelson squirm, evade, and do everything possible except answer the question of how old he thinks the earth is!

- Robert Marks, intelligent design proponent and writer of some remarkably silly papers about evolutionary algorithms

- David Berlinski, father of Ms. Berlinski, author of some remarkably bad popular books about mathematics, and contributor to such eminent scientific journals as Commentary. You can see Berlinski in all his superciliousness here. (Yet more superciliousness: David Berlinski on Gödel; David Berlinski on Popper.)

Berlinski claims we should be more open intellectually and some ideas are off limits to discussion. As usual, he's wrong. We just laugh at his ideas, and those of Nelson, because they are so incoherent. Even his daughter doesn't seem to buy it!

- Moshe Averick, creationist rabbi and sucker who apparently fell hook, line, and sinker for the scam that is "specified complexity", despite it having been debunked long ago

- Stephen Meyer, creationist, philosopher, and author of a a bad book containing misunderstandings of information theory. You can see his
videos here: Part 1A, Part 1B, Part 2, Part 2B, Part 3, and Part 4. It's funny to hear Meyer claiming that he "works on the origin of life". I wonder what experiments he has done and what labs he does them in. You can also hear Meyer extolling his creationist journal, Bio-Complexity, which has thus far published a grand total of 4 articles and one "critical review" -- every single one of which has at least one author listed on the editorial team page. It's a creationist circle jerk!

Meyer is allowed to repeat his bogus claim that "Whenever we find information, and we trace it back to its source ... we always come to an intelligence, to a mind, not a material process." Ms. Berlinski doesn't question him at all on this, despite the fact that it is evidently false.

- Richard von Sternberg, professional creationist martyr and co-author with Meyer of a drecky article filled with misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

- Michael Denton, author of a wildly wrong book, filled with misunderstandings about basic biology. Video here.

- perhaps Jonathan Wells. I can't be absolutely sure, but Meyer in this interview refers to cancer, and Wells is well-known for his wacky ID cancer theory. Of course, "journalist" Berlinski doesn't ask many hard questions. In the one hard question she does ask, about what are the best arguments against ID, Meyer can't even bring himself to mention the name of the person responsible.

You can watch Ms. Berlinski's "interviews" with Marks and Averick here (at a site where you have to pay them money to leave comments). You'd think with some of Marks' work on the record as being deficient, a journalist would have some hard questions to ask. But no, a giggling Ms. Berlinski lets Marks maunder on, making bogus claims like "All biological models of evolution which have been implemented in computer code only work because the information has been front-loaded into the program and the evolutionary process in itself creates no information" without asking any tough questions at all. (Marks, by the way, seems to think that Shannon coined the word "bit", when it fact it was Tukey.)

Reading the comments at that page is a real hoot, too. We have one commenter who "grew up with Information Theory from its early days", yet makes the false claims that (1) "there is still vigorous debate about which algorithms produce a truly random number; (2) "Whether you can determine the stopping point of a Turing machine is unsettled"; (3) "Many of these problems are essentially involved with extending Godel's Theorem beyond the realm of integers"; (4) "you have to consider what in Computation Theory is termed np-complete or in Penrose's term, non-computable". He also adds, helpfully, "I hope this sheds some light". Indeed it does, but not the kind of light he thinks.

It's just so funny to hear the people in Berlinski's interviews talk about how "orthodoxy" is "stifling" discussion when at least three of the attendees are members of conservative religious denominations that claim for themselves the right to determine truth for everyone else. Project much?

One thread that runs through many of Berlinski's interviews can be summarized as follows: "Waah! We're not taken seriously!" I'm not at all impressed with this. If you want to be taken seriously, don't hold "secret" conferences and make dark implications about being suppressed. If you want to be taken seriously, do some serious science; don't post videos with fart noises making fun of court decisions you don't like. If you want to be taken seriously, respond to critics in a professional way; don't depend on igorant attack-dog lawyers as your surrogates. If you want to be taken seriously, don't use credential inflation on your supporters and denigrate the actual scientific achievements of your detractors. You want some respect? Then earn it.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

In Which I Explain Things to Claire Berlinski and Paul Nelson

Claire Berlinski, right-wing "journalist" and daughter of the nonentity David Berlinski, thinks something is strange because real scientists don't want to appear in her home video with creationist Paul Nelson.

Since you seem rather dense, I will try to explain it to you, Claire. It's because creationists and anti-evolutionists have a history of making phony and dishonest videos, and because real scientists have better things to do than to appear in your propaganda film. It's because your undergraduate degree in history and doctorate in international relations don't even remotely prepare you to understand the scientific issues you claim to be interested in. And having creationist philosopher Paul Nelson there probably didn't help things, either.

Claire, Claire... you'd do much better if, instead of trying to "expose" evolution, you actually read some evolutionary biology textbooks. Futuyma is a good start.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Shorter Robert George: I'm Only a Bigot Because Philosophy Demands It!

The shame of Princeton University, Robert P. George, is at it again.

What's really funny about George and other "natural law" advocates is they never, ever discover that "natural law" is in violation with beliefs they already hold. No, somehow, miraculously, "natural law" demands that their prejudices be true!

Of course, George can't say this out loud, so he's required to surround it with academic bafflegab like "sexual intercourse (the behavioral component of reproduction) consummates and actualizes marriage as a one-flesh union of sexually complementary spouses naturally ordered to the good of procreation". And he makes ridiculous, over-the-top claims like "New York has abolished marriage as a matter of civil law and replaced it with a counterfeit that New Yorkers’ children and grandchildren will be taught to accept and approve as if it were the real thing." And he makes bogus claims, as when he states, "It is to give up on the truth that children need both a father and mother, and benefit from the security of their love for each other." (For the truth, go here.) In my field, if you said stuff like this, with so little to back it up, and expected to be taken seriously, people would just laugh at you. But in philosophy, or politics, or constitutional interpretation, or whatever field George thinks he is master of, it's considered to be important work. Go figure.

The really sad thing about George's claims about gay marriage is that you can transform many of the claims, mutatis mutandis, to similar claims about interracial marriage. And George's bigotry against gays will seem as quaint and baseless in 20 years as proscriptions against interracial marriage do today.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

No Wonder Michael Egnor is So Confused about Biology

He thinks dolphins are fish and embryos and fetuses are babies.

How did he ever graduate from medical school?