Monday, June 08, 2015

Uncommon Descent Coward and Hypocrite Timaeus Attacks Larry Moran

Wow, a whole thread at the creationist blog Uncommon Descent devoted to attacking Larry Moran!

The cowardly "Timaeus", an academic who is not brave enough to use his real name, takes issue with Larry Moran's blog because "I couldn’t find a single article on evolutionary theory [by Larry] in a peer-reviewed journal on the subject for over 10 years into the past. For someone who has so many opinions on evolution, and voices them so loudly in non-professionally-controlled environments such as blog sites, you are surprisingly absent from the professional discussions. Perhaps you can explain the inverse relationship between your popular involvement in debates over evolution and your visibility in the technical books and articles on the subject of evolution."

Timaeus goes on to say "Larry Moran is a nobody in evolutionary theory, a biochemistry teacher at Toronto with an interest in evolutionary theory who is convinced he knows more about it than almost everyone else on the planet, but with no track record to corroborate that opinion."

"That’s the problem with the internet age. Through web sites and blogs, it gives people the ability to be prominent, and many readers assume that prominence equals importance."

It's true that Larry seems to have done most of his research work in the 1980's and 1990's. Without much work, I found articles by Larry in famous journals like Molecular and Cellular Biology, Journal of Cell Biology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US), and Developmental Biology. Since then, he's been involved with Principles of Biochemistry, a major textbook. As anyone who's worked on a textbook like this knows, it's an incredible time sink. Larry deserves our appreciation and thanks for devoting himself so selflessly to biological education.

Science is often a young person's game. Many scientists do their best work in their 20's and 30's. Later on they often go into administration, or write textbooks. Larry is not much different from many scientists in this regard.

Timaeus seems to think you have to do research in evolutionary theory in order to discuss it. That's sort of like saying that you have to do research in analysis in order to discuss freshman calculus. Pretty much any mathematician can differentiate and integrate; it's a basic tool of many fields. Similarly, evolution underlies much of modern biology. Most biologists will have had advanced training in the theory of evolution. Creationists and ID advocates typically have misunderstandings at a very basic level, and that's what Larry is correcting.

Timaeus claims "It seems to be merely his [Larry's] own private judgment that he knows more about evolutionary mechanisms than anyone else, that he thinks more clearly than anyone else, etc.". Later he says "But Moran apparently takes himself quite seriously as an evolutionary theorist". And later, "why does this guy think he is so important a figure in modern evolutionary theory". Who says Larry knows more about evolutionary mechanisms than anyone else? Where did he ever say he was "an evolutionary theorist"? Where did Larry ever say he is "so important a figure"? Timaeus seems to have just made that all up.

Timaeus seems to not understand what a blog is. He says "[Larry] could not write in that style in an academic journal of evolutionary theory. Any article written in that style would be rejected. So would any book, if written for a serious academic scientific publisher." But a blog is not an academic journal or a book; it's often just an outlet for things that interest the blogger. Timaeus seems not to understand that.

Furthermore, Timaeus doesn't apply the same standards to Uncommon Descent. Does Timaeus think the ravings of Barry Arrington, Denyse O'Leary, and William Dembski on that blog could be published in an academic journal? Does Timaeus remember the fart noises that Dembski so delighted in? Or the time Barry Arrington cited a fake quote that he attributed to Margaret Sanger? Did Timaeus offer a word of objection to these (which are just two of dozens and dozens of similar examples)?

Timaeus huffs that "[Science] does not belong in the arena of culture war and popular rhetoric. It belongs in the arena of sober professional discussion." Actually, popular science has existed for a very long time. Famous scientists like Einstein and Watson and Sagan all wrote popular books. As for "culture war", surely it is the creationists and ID advocates who have spent most of their time in culture war and popular rhetoric, and hardly any time at all in research. For evidence, all you have to do is look at Bio-complexity, the flagship ID journal. Here it is June, and they don't even have a single article posted yet for 2015. Last year they published a total of 4.

Timaeus sneers, "But it is interesting that often the people who are the most dismissive of the views of others are those with the least scientific accomplishment themselves — or those who at one time had accomplishments themselves, but as they have become older have tended to “coast” and involve themselves more in popular book-writing, blogging, flashy stage debates, etc. (e.g., Dawkins, Coyne, Ken Miller)."

Let's see: Denyse O'Leary writes endlessly about "Darwinism", which she dismisses as "publicly funded nonsense". What scientific accomplishments does she have?

Barry Arrington writes about information theory, but doesn't understand it at all. What scientific accomplishments does he have?

David Klinghoffer does the same. What scientific accomplishments does he have?

I don't see Timaeus offering any criticism at all of these folks. And this is the same Timaeus who says "You are so partisan it’s disgusting." Timaeus, you're a hypocrite.

(By the way, Timaeus, Dawkins is 74. Coyne is 65. Moran is about 67, I think. Maybe Timaeus will still be producing good research at those ages, but not everybody can. I'm 57 and I definitely feel like I'm slowing down. But calling it "coasting" is really offensive. A little charity is called for.)

The commenters on that post at Uncommon Descent aren't much better. Mapou (that is, Louis Savain), says "The shrill tone of people like Moran, Coyne and Dawkins is a sign of desperation. This culture did not exist 20 years ago." What? Has Savain never read any Duane Gish? The anti-evolutionists have been shrill for at least 90 years; I own a book by Louis T. More published in 1925 that sounds just like ID creationists today.

Timaeus says, "I’m not happy to listen to self-appointed referees laying down the law, week after week, in column after column, regarding who is ignorant, who is wrong, etc., in areas in which their own expertise has not been demonstrated." Then why does he read Larry's blog? No one's forcing Timaeus to listen.

Timaeus goes on to say, "I’m not against genuine academic discussions about evolution, policed by traditional academic rules; but the blogosphere has created a new, in-between kind of debate over evolution, led by scientists who are taking time off from their day jobs to become internet stars and gain internet followings, and who seem to think that their pronouncements on these academically unchecked sites have the same epistemological status as the conclusions of a well-executed research program. I really dislike this trend. It blurs the distinction between serious academic discussion and bar-room conversation in what is to me a dangerous way. Larry Moran, Jeffrey Shallit, P.Z. Myers, and others are guilty of this."

Oh, goody, I get criticized, too. Hey Timaeus, I've got news for you: I'm not an "internet star". My little blog hardly gets any readers at all; Uncommon Descent and Pharyngula both get many more hits than I do. I've never claimed anything like "[my] pronouncements on these academically unchecked sites have the same epistemological status as the conclusions of a well-executed research program"; you're just making that shit up. As for P. Z. Myers, one reason why people read him is that he's a damn good writer. Read his essay "Niobrara" for a sample. Hell, if I could write that well, I'd probably have more readers.

Timaeus says, "but there may be some less partisan people out there who just assumed that Larry was someone like Mayr or Ayala or Gould". Geez, you'd have to be a real moron to assume that Larry was on the same par as Mayr or Gould. Anybody who spent five minutes looking could see that his specialty is biochemistry and not evolution. Timaeus should give Larry's readers more credit; maybe they're not as stupid as Timaeus seems to think they are.

How something is being said is very important. Arrogance and abrasiveness, dismissiveness and name-calling, get in the way of genuine conversation. This is why Matzke, Shallit, Moran, Myers, Abbie Smith, etc. have made evolution/design conversations worse rather than better. Oh, great, I get another mention! Apparently I've made "evolution/design conversations worse rather than better". Timaeus makes no mention of the long article in Synthese I wrote with Elsberry in which we showed why Dembski's use of information theory is nonsense. But then, hardly any ID creationists have taken notice of that article or my other work on the subject. It took Dembski three years to admit a fundamental flaw in one of his calculations. What do you think, Timaeus? Is Dembski making the conversation worse or better? How about Dembski and the fart noises?

As for name-calling, just read Uncommon Descent. Evolutionists are routinely labeled as racist, as ignorant, as deluded, as "tax-funded" fools, and so forth. Clean up your own stable, first. It really reeks.

Timaeus says to a commenter, "If you are an evolutionary biologist, why can’t you tell us who you are and where you work? Not being an ID proponent, you can’t possibly lose your job, grants, career, etc. if your employer knows your real name (which is unfortunately the case for myself and several others here)."

Oh, right, the usual ID paranoia. I really, really doubt that Timaeus is in any danger by outing himself as an ID creationist. Sure, people will laugh at him the way we laugh at academics who engage in 9/11 conspiracy theories or global warming denial. But it seems very, very unlikely he would be in any danger of losing his job.

Timaeus sneers, "It is perhaps a certain provincialism derived from your experience (or more likely hearsay knowledge) of certain American research universities or university departments, where there are professors hired solely to do research, which causes you to make this error. You imagine that Toronto is something like that. But in most countries outside of the USA (and even in the USA at many if not most universities) the job teaching/research is a package deal. You don’t switch from one function to the other; you do both."

Actually, Timaeus is wrong. Generally speaking (but not always) professors are expected to do teaching and scholarly work, not necessarily just research. Writing and updating a major biochemistry textbook certainly falls under the kind of scholarly work professors are expected to do.

Finally, to answer one more of Timaeus' questions, why don't most famous evolutionary biologists get involved in attacking ID? For the same reason most famous mathematicians don't get involved in attacking Cantor crackpots, or famous computer scientists don't get involved with those who think Turing's proof of unsolvability is wrong: they have better things to do. They are happy to leave these quixotic quests to those few of us who are fascinated by cranks and pathological thought.


Diogenes said...

Nice takedown Jeff, but as a matter of style, italics or blockquote for your opponents would improve readability.

Beau Stoddard said...

It's funny everyone defends Larry except Larry. His followers gather around the Sandwalk circle and tell spooky stories about banning, never addressing the issue, until finally the marshmallows are depleted.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

What issue didn't I address, Beau?

skongstad said...

Some years ago when I was active on the usenet group I met an old high school friend on the train. He was just finishing hist Cand.Scient in biology. I started talking about the Science v. Creationism debates, and he just got blank. I started explaining more and suddenly it dawned on me. He knew nothing of the creationism undergrowth, and thought I was somehow trying to argue creationism.

I changed tactics and tried to explain, but my guess is that he went away from that encounter thinking I was some kind of science denier ;)

My point is, I guess most working scientists have no inkling as to how big a deal the debate is in some parts of the interwebs. If they hear ID creationists claims they just dismiss them on grounds, not knowing or caring about the political goal of those arguments, which is the primary goal.

nmanning said...

"Timaeus seems to think you have to do research in evolutionary theory in order to discuss it."


I wonder if this 'timaeus' was able to see the rich irony and hypocrisy in this declaration. Apparently not. Or more likely, ID cultists just don't care.

nmanning said...

"Timaeus seems to think you have to do research in evolutionary theory in order to discuss it."


I wonder if this 'timaeus' was able to see the rich irony and hypocrisy in this declaration. Apparently not. Or more likely,

Unknown said...

You forgot to mention Gordon (KairosFocus) Mullings and Joe G, two of the shining stars at UD.

Diogenes said...

Beau: His followers gather around the Sandwalk circle and tell spooky stories about banning, never addressing the issue

Ah, bullshit, the Sandinistas addressed the argument. We point out Timaeus invoked an Appeal to Authority Fallacy, which is invalid in general. And for irony bonus points, we point out that *no* ID proponent is an authority by the standard Timaeus uses to dismiss Moran-- therefore, if the Appeal to Authority argument were not invalid, it would dismiss **all ID arguments about evolutionary theory as being the mere opinions of non-experts.**

Even Behe, the only DI fellow who ever published a paper relevant to evolutionary theory, published Behe and Snoke in 2004, more than 10 years ago, so Behe is not an "authority" by the standard Timaeus used to dismiss Moran. Behe is the best ID has got, and we can dismiss his arguments as the mere opinions of a non expert, per Timaeus' logic.

So bullshit Beau, we addressed Timaeus' argument. It was just so dumb, it was easy to ridicule.

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

What Diogenes says, plus this: "exposing" someone who's got nothing to hide is no big feat. If Timaeus is such a big fan of exposures, why doesn't he expose himself? Now that would be fun to watch.

MNb said...

"Timaeus seems to think you have to do research in evolutionary theory in order to discuss it."
Then I suppose I'd rather stop teaching math and physics. After all it's more than 25 years ago I did my last research - and the research I did wasn't exactly original, even though I enjoyed it very much.

"I’m not happy to listen to self-appointed referees"
like the ones at Uncommon Descent and Discotute?

"Timaeus should give Larry's readers more credit; maybe they're not as stupid as Timaeus seems to think they are."
May I correct this? "Maybe they're not as stupid as Timaeus himself is."

"Apparently I've made "evolution/design conversations worse rather than better"."
Ah, JS, when an IDiot or creacrapper writes this you should take it as a compliment.

Btw the only reason you don't get more readers is that you don't write stuff like this often enough.

Steve said...

toucy feely ID critics.

Well, is Moran qualified to pass judgement on evolution critics. F&^k, even evolutionists cant decide what evolution is.

I know, its this gargantuan blob that assimilates every potential objection, ....slowly, slowly, slowing down under the excruciating weight of its own hedge bets.

Nah, evolution is not gonna die just yet. I will be ignored once the current generation fades away.

I feel sorry for evolution. Being ignored is worse than death.

But you cant blame the next generation for ignoring a blob that stands still. They will inevitable mistake it for this huge monolith and then scribble unintelligible blerbs and add fone numbers and what not.

A real legless legacy.

Lars said...

Diogenes, what did you mean about Behe and Snoke in 2004? You seem to imply he has no more recent papers relevant to evolutionary theory. What about Behe 2013... "Getting There First: An Evolutionary Rate Advantage for Adaptive Loss-of-Function Mutations" in Biological Information: New Perspectives (from his faculty web page)?

nmanning said...

Looking back over Tim's incoherent, self-defeating rant, I have to wonder if he is actually anti-ID, and wrote what he did knowing that the uninformed sycophantic horde at UD would swallow anything that attacks evolution regardless of the implications?

After all, that crowd (and the anti-evolution crowd in general) is nearly 100% uninterested in understanding what they attack (see steve's projective comment above), they just want to prop up their faith.

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

It isn't a peer-reviewed journal article but a chapter in an edited volume. One of the editors was Behe himself (beside Marks, Dembski, among others), and the list of authors includes all the Usual Suspects:!authors/cciz

The Singapore-based publishing company, World Scientific, is really a vanity press, not a serious academic business, despite its proud name. The very fact that a "milestone book" overthrowing the "Darwinian paradigm" is published in this way, tells you all about the value of the ID research programme.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I think it's a bit of an exaggeration to label World Scientific a "vanity press". For one thing, they don't demand payment by authors the way a real vanity press does. On the other hand, it is certainly true that World Scientific does not exercise very much quality control at all on their products. For example, World Scientific published this book, which no academic press extremely concerned about their reputation would have done.

Lars said...

OK, probably Diogenes meant papers in peer-reviewed journals, since that was in the quote from Timaeus. On the other hand, what about Behe's 2010 article in Quarterly Review of Biology 85?

Diogenes said...

Lars, I hope you're being sarcastic.

I repeat, Behe has no peer-reviewed papers *in the scientific literature* relevant to evolutionary theory in 12 years. "Biological Information: New Perspectives" doesn't count because it wasn't really peer-reviewed, it was a creationist book edited and reviewed only by creationists, NONE OF WHOM were experts or authorities in either information theory or evolutionary theory-- and I include Dembski and Marks in this, neither of whom are knowledgeable about information theory. You can peruse the ridiculing of Dembski and Marks' phony "information theory" penned by our own Jeff Shallit, an actual expert in information theory, at this blog. Marks has never been able to justify his idiotic claim that Mt. Rushmore has "more information" than Mt. Fuji, and Dembski's entire oeuvre is 100 miles of garbage.

"Biological Information: New Perspectives" can't be called peer-reviewed if none of the editors or reviewers are experts in the field. AND the editors are *guaranteed* to publish creationist articles and guaranteed to *reject* all articles critical of ID. If Behe had written anything critical of ID, no matter how accurate or well sourced, it would have been rejected; and if he had written anything supportive of ID, no matter how inaccurate or how much it misrepresents its sources, it was guaranteed to be published. Some peer review!

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

OK, let's say that their editorial standards often drop as low as those of true vanity presses. Kooks and charlatans publish their stuff there without any problems:

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

I didn't recall it at first, but Biological information: New perspectives is the famous ID conference proceedings that almost got published by Springer. Creationist legend has it that the publication was derailed because of a giant panda conspiracy. So World Scientific was their Plan B.

aljones909 said...

Timaeus said:

"the people who actually *do* evolutionary theory seem to take little notice of Larry Moran (or his blog site) at all.".

This will be in contrast to the massive impact of ID creationists on the people who actually *do* evolutionary theory. The self delusion is astonishing. Their whole research effort seems to consist of a few unemployable, evangelical PhD's (with maybe 2 exceptions) trawling real research to see what they can take out of context.