Saturday, July 29, 2006

 

If At First . . .

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Casey Luskin, as I noted yesterday, is mewling again about the alleged "mistake" made by Judge Jones in saying there was no peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting Intelligent Design. As is the case with the Discovery Institute on a depressingly regular basis, this claim is a simple bait and switch with a touch of quote mining thrown in.

First of all, Luskin's argument is identical to one made by Keith Pennock (in a critique of Robert Pennock's take on the Kitzmiller decision), that I have dealt with already.

Essentially, both Pennock and Luskin are making the claim that, since the Judge made a "universal generalization," he is "refuted" if a single counterexample is produced. Or, as Luskin put it, "[t]he question of 'complete absence of peer-reviewed publications' is a simple black and white, binary question: either ID has published peer-reviewed publications, or it hasn't."

In support of this contention that Judge Jones made that simple flat-out claim, Luskin quotes five passages from the decision. Luskin chose to cite to the location of the passages by the page numbers in the Federal Supplement Second, a case law reporter. [1] For the ease of those who may not have access to a law library, I am including the page numbers from the original decision that can be found in a pdf file on the District Court site. As a number of Luskin's examples are only sentence fragments, I am also including the full sentence that they are pulled from, with Luskin's quoted bits in bold:

As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. [p. 64]

A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. [p. 87]

The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. [p. 87]

In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing. [Judge Jones cites to testimony by defense witnesses Steven Fuller and Michael Behe. Fuller's testimony on this point can be found here, on pp. 114-15 and Behe's can be found here on pp. 22-23 and 105-06.]

After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. [pp. 88-89]
Now, of course, both Luskin and Pennock are making their own black and white claim about Judge Jones and his decision. Their argument critically depends on whether Jones was saying that there were no peer-reviewed articles at all by ID advocates. Let's look at this in greater context. The following is found on pp. 87-89 (citations are omitted) and encompasses all of Luskin's snippets, except the one from page 64 which is simply a pointer to a discussion that is to come later in the decision:

A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. Expert testimony revealed that the peer review process is "exquisitely important" in the scientific process. It is a way for scientists to write up their empirical research and to share the work with fellow experts in the field, opening up the hypotheses to study, testing, and criticism. In fact, defense expert Professor Behe recognizes the importance of the peer review process and has written that science must "publish or perish." Peer review helps to ensure that research papers are scientifically accurately, meet the standards of the scientific method, and are relevant to other scientists in the field. Moreover, peer review involves scientists submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal in the field, journal editors soliciting critical reviews from other experts in the field and deciding whether the scientist has followed proper research procedures, employed up-to-date methods, considered and cited relevant literature and generally, whether the researcher has employed sound science.

The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID. On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: "There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred." Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe's argument that certain complex molecular structures are "irreducibly complex."[17] In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing.

After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. ...

[17] The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled "Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues." (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used. (Citations omitted)

So, when we actually look at the decision, we see that the Judge, in fact, discussed a peer-reviewed article by Behe and Snoke but found it did not support ID. Instead, the article tried (unconvincingly) to rule out one common genetic mechanism of evolution but not all such mechanisms.

So it is clear that Judge Jones was not saying there are no peer-reviewed articles that ID advocates allege favor ID, given that he discussed the Behe and Snoke article. Judge Jones was saying that there are no such articles that actively support ID, rather than merely attack some aspect or other of evolutionary theory. None, certainly, that ID proponents were willing to expose to withering cross-examination. [2] Luskin's snippets did not reveal that context and that is the quote mining aspect of his article.

So now we see that Luskin's and Pennock's simple black and white, binary statement that Jones was saying there were no peer-reviewed articles at all has been falsified and their claim that the whole of Judge Jones' decision can be ignored is, by their own argument, proven utterly wrong. Applying their own standards, then, if they can miss so simple a question, how can we trust them on more complicated issues?

Of course, since I neither assume nor hope that everyone who might read this is an idiot or so besotted with sectarian rooting interest as to abandoned any and all of that "critical analysis" the DI talks a lot about but does everything in its power to prevent, let's go a bit further into the real argument.

Given that Luskin can trot out only five articles after nearly two decades of ID "research," far less than the output of peer-reviewed papers in support of evolution in one week, their whole argument winds up, at most, as a literary criticism as to when "vanishingly small" can be said to be the same as "none."

But beyond that remains the issue of what it would take to actively support ID. The DI has been sensitive about accusations of argumentum ad ignorantium, as in this response by Jonathan Witt to an essay in the Wall Street Journal by Kevin Shapiro. As I pointed out then, Stephen Meyer’s article "Not by chance," which is regularly trotted out by the DI as an example of the positive evidence for a designer, has no such evidence at all.

In point of fact, Meyer's argument is classic ignorance layered over what Judge Jones rightly called a "contrived dualism":

1) "Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding intelligence played a role."

2) There is an "appearance of design."

3) This appearance is "unexplained by the mechanism -- natural selection -- that Darwin specifically proposed to replace the design hypothesis."
The only "positive evidence" the article advances can be summed up in this analogy from Meyer:

DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers.

Indeed, Luskin just recently defined ID itself in those very terms:

Luskin said the media often misidentifies intelligent design. He offered this definition: It's "a scientific theory that says some aspects of nature are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are identical to objects we commonly know were designed by human intelligence."

And yet none of the articles mentioned by Luskin or Pennock [3] provide any evidence, peer-reviewed or not, that this analogy, launched on nothing but a deep yearning for the universe to operate in ways ID advocates find comforting, is coherent on its own terms, much less that it holds in the case of biology. They know that mere arguments from ignorance and scant attacks on evolutionary theory are not good enough but that is all they have been able to sneak into the scientific literature. The analogy that they need to support is entirely lacking in scientific evidence. Thus, the bait and switch in Luskin's article is in the DI's attempt to substitute ignorance and carping for what they can't supply, evidence for a designer.

Until they can come up with that, we can all just go on correctly stating that there is no support for ID in the scientific literature . . . none, zip, nada, zero.
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[1] As an aside, Luskin cites to the Federal Supplement, a case law reporter that is rarely available outside a law library. After a pretty thorough search, it does not appear that a copy with the Supplement's pagination is available on the web. It has been frequently noted in connection with the Quote Mine Project that, if there are two possible citations to any work, the one cited by creationists is often, if not invariably, to the one more difficult to find. This may explain why Luskin cites to the Federal Reporter rather than to the page numbers contained in the original decision which anyone can obtain on the web here.

[2] Lest anyone repeat Pennock's mistake (which Luskin, as an attorney, would not, of course) mere mention of citations in a proposed Amicus Curia brief does not constitute evidence in Federal or any other court. Judge Jones properly limited himself to the evidence submitted in court.

[3] Concerning the actual nature of the books and papers the ID advocates point to, see "Claim CI001.4: Intelligent design in biology has been supported by several peer-reviewed journals and books" and, on a more mundane level, my prior post, "On Whistling and Graveyards II."
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