Monday, February 27, 2006


Clueless in Seattle

Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education was kind enough to tip me off to some further information on the New York Times article, "Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition" by Kenneth Chang, about the Discovery Institute’s less-than-kosher list of "scientists" who supposedly express "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism." Apart from the questionable nature of the list that I’ve already addressed, the Discovery Institute tried to deflect the criticism by expressing shock, shock I say, that anyone might inquire into the beliefs of the signers:

John G. West, a senior fellow at Discovery, said it was ‘stunning hypocrisy’ to ask signers about their religion ‘while treating the religious beliefs of the proponents of Darwin as irrelevant.

It turns out that Mr. Chang didn’t ask, they told:

I did this article because I was interested in understanding the reasoning of the people who signed the petition. Thus, the first question I always asked was not, "Are you an evangelical Christian?" but "Why did you sign the petition?"

The question that drew the most interesting responses was, "What led you to start doubting evolution?" In several cases, the answers were not scientific -- that is, not something they had witnessed in an experiment or read in a scientific journal -- but religious, that the doubts had started following a conversion to Christianity or from discussions at church.
Now there’s a surprise: evangelical Christians freely talking about their faith. It sort of makes you wonder why the professional ID advocates want to disguise their faith as science.

The other fun stuff in the follow up with Mr. Chang is that he brings us up to date with another list started by R. Joe Brandon, an archaeologist. I had been aware of Dr. Brandon’s list but had lost track of it. Mr. Chang reports:

"After I looked at the D.I. signatories," Dr. Brandon said in an e-mail, "I was surprised to see that while a number of the people had advanced degrees, there seemed to be a paucity of any with the educational background that would give them grounds for scientifically evaluating evolution/intelligent Design. I did a rough count and was surprised to see it was around 80 signatories or so who actually had titles which indicated a background in biology or a related evolutionary field. So when I started my petition my original goal was to get 400 signatories from scientists with backgrounds in evolutionary sciences in four hours. I was about 75 signatories shy at the four hour mark, so to save face I decided four days was a legitimate benchmark to shoot for."

The pace of signatures quickened -- at one point it reached one every 3.5 seconds -- and by the end of four days, Dr. Brandon had 7,733 signatures, of which 4,300 hold doctorates. To make sure that the responses weren't spoofs, Dr. Brandon enlisted the help of Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History to check that the numerical computer addresses in the e-mails (the I.P. addresses) matched the institutions that the individuals claimed to be from.

Dr. Brandon offers this "rough" breakdown of his list:

3,385 with biology in their title
850 with anthropology/archaeology
680 evolutionary & ecology
394 field of genetics
270 geology and
related fields
234 physics/astronomy/space sciences
111 chemists
110 psychology
75 computer sciences
50 engineers

That would be 68 percent working in biology-related fields (the first four in the list).
Quite a difference from the list that took five years to collect five hundred signatures, most of which are not from biologists. The only "controversy" associated with the Discovery Institute’s list is whether ID advocates can get any lamer.

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