If There’s a War, Please Direct Me to the Battlefield

by stevefuller on March 27, 2006

Perhaps authors should not be judged by the quality of insight expressed in their epigraphs. But were one so inclined, one would have to conclude that Chris Mooney is profoundly naïve about how science works. Indeed, he displays a level of naivete about the sociology of science unbecoming in any other field of journalistic inquiry. (He may need my course on the ‘Epistemology of Journalism’!) Readers of The Republican War on Science are initially regaled with an epigraph from Steven Pinker, the first sentence of which reads:

The success of science depends on an apparatus of democratic adjudication – anonymous peer review, open debate, the fact that a graduate student can criticize a tenured professor.

The pages that follow clearly indicate that Mooney believes not merely that this is a normative ideal toward which science as a whole aspires or to which pieces of scientific research might be, in principle, held accountable. Were either the case, I would be on side with him. Unfortunately Mooney also seems to believe that science is normally conducted this way. Journalists, if anyone, should be scrupulous about distinguishing what people do from what they say they do. The ethnographic methods so beloved in the more qualitative reaches of social science are historically indebted to just such first-hand coverage of previously neglected features of the life circumstances of workers and immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, Mooney’s trust in the peer review system is based purely on high-minded hearsay. So let me report briefly as an ‘insider’ to the process.

The only place a graduate student is likely to criticize a tenured professor – and live to fight another day—is an elite university, especially when the professor speaks outside his expertise (as Pinker often does). Moreover, this phenomenon bears no relation to the workings to the peer review process used to decide grants and publications. Contrary to the democratic image that talk of ‘peerage’ connotes, relatively few members of any science are regularly involved in the process. For the most part, there are no conspiracies here. It is simply a pain to spend time evaluating someone else’s work when you could be doing your own work. Peer reviewing is a mark of ‘good citizenship’, a euphemism for sacrificing a bit of yourself for the collective enterprise to which you would contribute. There are rarely any formal incentives to participate in the process. Of course, if you work in the same field, the burden is eased – but then ethical issues arise: Will you stymie your peer’s publication so that you can be on record as having said something similar earlier? In any case, funding agencies and academic editors tend to gravitate to a relatively small set of referees who exhibit both reliability and soundness of judgement. While this process may resemble capitalism’s ‘invisible hand’, it is hard to see how it would conform to any reasonable understanding of ‘democracy’. It is surprising Mooney trusts Pinker as a source for the virtues of the peer review process, since Pinker’s last four books, all best-sellers, have been with commercial publishers.

Science journalists are more like philosophers of science than either probably care to admit. Both are involved in public relations work for science without pretending to be scientists themselves. Of course, journalists and philosophers differ in deadline pressures, but they are similar in structuring their narratives around events, ideally ones where a discovery precipitates a decision with momentous consequences for an entire line of inquiry. Who exactly makes the ‘discovery’ is an interesting question, since it need not always be the scientists themselves. It could be the journalist or philosopher, who realizes that a specific moment marks a turning point in a heretofore open-ended situation. Much depends on how the event is framed: What exactly is ‘news’ here? For example, what was newsworthy about the mapping of the human genome – that it was done at all or that it was the outcome of a race between a publicly and a privately motivated team, or perhaps that both teams ‘won’ on their own terms?

That many – perhaps most—would regard the bare fact that the human genome was mapped as news indicates just how little the general public previously knew about how much scientists know about our genetic makeup. From a strictly scientific standpoint, mapping the human genome was little more than an industrial application. The only problems concerned the efficiency of the mapping. That a public and a private team competed to map the genome speaks to the anticipated consequences for the biomedical sciences and biotechnology: There is potentially huge consumer value in the mapping, but who will pay for what to be done? Perhaps that is a more newsworthy item. But one might equally argue that the segmentation of the scientific reward system, whereby one team gets its intellectual property rights and the other its Nobel Prize, points to the deepest issue of all, one that threatens any unity of purpose that scientific inquiry might be thought to have.

The question of intellectual integrity in both the journalistic and philosophical cases pertains to just how independent is your representation of science: Are you doing something other than writing glorified press releases for thinly veiled clients? It must be possible to be pro-science without simply capitulating to the consensus of significant scientific opinion. With this in mind, I am struck by Chris Mooney’s professed journalistic method:

Let me explain my principles for reporting on science. In my opinion, far too many journalists deem themselves qualified to make scientific pronouncements in controversial areas, and frequently in support of fringe positions. In contrast, I believe that journalists, when approaching scientific controversies, should use their judgment to evaluate the credibility of different sides and to discern where scientists think the weight of evidence lies, without presuming to critically evaluate the science on their own (p. vii).

The rhetoric of this statement is a marvel to behold. Mooney begins by distancing himself from colleagues who think they can pronounce on scientific debates. So, it would seem, Mooney defers to scientists. However, his own stated policy is ‘to evaluate the credibility of different sides’, which sounds a lot like constructing an independent standpoint from which to pronounce on scientific debates. Mooney may be caught here in a contradiction of purpose, but I might applaud the latter purpose as befitting a journalist who aspired to be the Walter Lippmann of the science field. Unfortunately, in the same sentence, Mooney dashes this hope by cashing out his idea of ‘evaluation’ in terms of simply reporting the considered opinion of scientists.

Now, even this would not be so bad if Mooney had an independent way of gauging scientific opinion. But alas, he does not. Most of The Republican War of Science is about self-identified armies of scientists and policymakers. This is very much of a piece with the elite nature of political struggles in modern complex democracies. Nevertheless, these elites are a fraction of all the people whose cooperation is necessary for any policy to take effect. Mooney’s oversight, which admittedly is characteristic of most contemporary science journalism, would never happen in political journalism. Imagine a journalist covering an election who reported the opinions of candidates and party operatives, and then turned only to think-tanks for assessments of the merits of the party platforms: No public opinion polls to establish the breadth and depth of voter sympathies. No probing interviews about which campaign issues really matter to voters. The natural conclusion to reach is that such a journalist has allowed herself to be drawn into the vortices of the spin doctors, whose combined judgements may or may not bear some resemblance to the election outcome.

For example, Mooney takes the judgement of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) as the gold standard of scientific authority. Yet, it is nothing but a think-tank that Abraham Lincoln created to provide advice during the Civil War, which has been increasingly called upon by various branches of the federal government to research and advise on science-based policy issues. It is a self-selecting and self-perpetuating body of advisors that is not accountable to the rank-and-file of the scientific community, let alone the electorate at large. To be sure, NAS members are typically very accomplished scientists. But it is not clear that the quality of a scientist’s judgement is improved as her achievements are rewarded. On the contrary, both the rewarding community and the rewarded scientist may come to adopt a superstitious attitude toward everything the scientist thinks. The rewarders confer a halo effect on the rewarded, a compliment the rewarded return by mounting scientific hobby horses that threaten to distort science’s overall research agenda.

A notable case in recent memory is the ill-fated Superconducting Supercollider, a Congressionally funded project to build the world’s largest particle accelerator in Texas. It is conspicuous by its absence from The Republican War on Science, though its heyday occurred during a Republican presidency, that of the first George Bush. The NAS was strongly behind it, fronted by distinguished physicists like Steven Weinberg and George Smoot. The latter’s work on cosmic background radiation (a key to understanding the aftermath of the Big Bang) was indebted to a satellite launched by NASA, another of the NAS’s ongoing interests. This is clearly science done mainly by and for its elite practitioners who then gesture to its larger ‘cultural value’ to justify its support. Scientific elites, especially in physics, have adopted this bread-and-circuses approach to rebrand the grounds on which they were given carte blanche in the Cold War era. As should now be clear in retrospect, the ‘Cold’ of the Cold War referred to the intellect, rather than the body, as the terms with which the Americans engaged in conflict with the Soviets: Larger particle accelerators demonstrated the nation’s capacity to harness energy to deliver larger weapon payloads; longer space voyages demonstrated the nation’s capacity to, if not outright colonize, survey extraterrestrial domains. In the postwar thaw, these deferred preparations for war against a foreign foe were redeployed for a more direct national conquest of the structure of reality itself. For scientists like Weinberg and Smoot, that was the whole point of the exercise all along.

There is no doubt that the Supercollider would have – and NASA has – produced good science. Indeed, good science can be produced about infinitely many things but budgets are limited and hence priorities needed. A science journalist should be sufficiently alive to this point to report consistently the likely beneficiaries and opportunity costs of alternative science funding streams. Much too often, Mooney writes as if the entire scientific community would benefit from one funding stream, while only pseudoscientists and their political mouthpieces would benefit from another. Then those falling into the latter category are formally identified and, where possible, the patronage trail is charted. Were Mooney more sensitive to the institutionalisation of science policy, he would have recognized the asymmetry of his practice. More specifically, he would have realized that two federal science policy bodies he holds in high esteem—the NAS and the erstwhile research arm of the US Congress, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) – operated under quite different principles, which came to the fore in the debates that eventuated in the termination of the Supercollider.

The OTA, staffed by social scientists, tended to frame analyses of the science policy environment in terms of a comprehensive statistical representation of the range of constituencies relevant to the policy issue: that is, including not only elite but also more ordinary scientists. On that basis, the OTA suggested that if the research interests of all practicing physicists are counted equally, then the Supercollider should not rank in the top tier of science funding priorities because relatively few physicists would actually benefit from it. I say ‘suggested’ because, whereas the NAS typically offers pointed advice as might be expected of a special interest group, the OTA typically laid out various courses of action with their anticipated consequences. My guess is that Mooney fails to mention this chapter in the OTA’s short but glorious history because it helped to trigger the ongoing Science Wars, which – at least in Steven Weinberg’s mind – was led by science’s ‘cultural adversaries’, some of whom staffed the OTA, whose findings contributed to the Congressional momentum to pull the plug on the overspending Supercollider. Although Mooney is right that both the NAS and OTA have often found themselves on the losing side in the war for influence in Washington science policy over the past quarter-century, their modus operandi are radically different. According to the NAS, science is run as an oligarchy of elite practitioners who dictate to the rest; according to the OTA, it is run as a democracy of everyone employed in scientific research.

I have no doubt that Republican politicians have tried to commandeer the scientific agenda for their own ends – indeed, ends which, generally speaking, I oppose just as much as Mooney does. Nevertheless, there are two countervailing considerations. First, like it or not, politicians and not scientists are the chosen representatives of the people. And, at least in the US, the ballot box more reliably removes suboptimal politicians than peer review identifies suboptimal science. Second, even the most competent scientists have rarely agreed on policy direction. While I bemoan this fact just as much as Mooney would (if he knew it), to believe otherwise is simply wishful thinking born of nostalgia for Cold War science policy.

First, the politicians are accountable to specific constituencies in a way scientists, especially elite ones, never are. Politicians are ultimately in the business of promoting the public interest, and everything – including science – is a means to that end. Whether she decides to listen to the NAS or scientists aligned with industry lobbyists, a politician’s fate is sealed in the ballot box of the next election. If a great many politicians who spurn the NAS win re-election, then the problem would seem lie with the disgruntled scientists rather than the politicians: Perhaps voters are happy to take risks that scientists find unacceptable. Indeed, perhaps voters are happy to remain ignorant about the exact risks because of goods that can be plausibly delivered in the short term. Suppose either or both of these speculations is correct. Does this demonstrate the irrationality of the American public? Mooney himself prefers to point to the ignorance and duplicity of politicians, as if the citizenry, ‘properly’ informed, would reach conclusions that coincide with those of the NAS. (A philosopher of science, Phillip Kitcher, has indulged this fantasy as the idea of ‘well-ordered science’.) Either Mooney is being incredibly polite here or he simply hasn’t thought through the implications of his argument. Why doesn’t he argue that a body like the NAS should function as a second Supreme Court, with the right of judicial review over federal legislation? After all, if US policymaking is really drowning in so much bad science, then wouldn’t it make sense to suspend some democratic control over the research (and teaching) agenda? In Mooney’s depiction, the pervasiveness of the problem certainly rivals that which brought a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security into existence!

My own heretical view of this situation is that even if US policymakers are influenced by a degraded form of science policy, it may matter much less than Mooney thinks because the checks and balances of the political system ensures that the potentially worst effects of such policy – just like the potentially best effects of excellent science policy – are attenuated in its many stages of implementation and administration. And if this is not enough, there is always the ballot box as the site of revenge on politicians who too closely aligned themselves with a failed science policy. A historical reality check is useful here. Like so many others who fret over the current state of science, Mooney compares the Republican politicisation of science with Lysenkoism, the doomed Soviet agricultural policy based on a version of Neo-Lamarckian genetics that comported with the ideology of dialectical materialism but not with the facts of heredity. And like so many others before him, Mooney makes the mistake of concluding that the main problem with Lysenkoism was that it tailored science to fit a preconceived political agenda rather than allow science to speak truth to power. However, this conclusion only makes sense with 20/20 hindsight, since Lysenko and his Stalinist admirers were involved in at least as much self-deception as deception. Nevertheless, what could have been noted even at the outset – and had been noted by consistent opponents like Michael Polanyi – was that the Soviet science system did not permit the fair testing of Lysenkoist knowledge claims.

It is disingenuous to think that science policies will not have elective affinities with the interests of the dominant political party. Mooney admits as much in his close association of what he regards as good science with the interests of Democrats and moderate Republicans currently out of favour in Washington. The real question is whether a science policy, regardless of its political origins, is subjected to sufficient scrutiny on the path to mass realization. While it would be nice to require every policy to satisfy state-of-the-art tests before it is unleashed on the public, something comparable may be simulated by having the policy pass through many different sets of eyes (of, say, bureaucrats), each attuned to different interests and hence motivated to troubleshoot for different problems. And if real problems pass unnoticed, then there is always the ballot box – hopefully enhanced by the spadework of investigative science journalists!

In short, the lesson of Lysenkoism is not to beware the politicisation of science, but to beware the authoritarian politicisation of science. The democratic politicisation of science—of precisely the sort encouraged by the federalist construction of the US Constitution – is fine. To be sure, I don’t mean to counsel a panglossian complacency toward the general state-of-affairs Mooney describes. But as it stands, it seems to me that the best course of action for those interested in improving the quality of science in policymaking is simply to try harder within the existing channels – in particular, to cultivate constituencies explicitly and not to rely on some mythical self-certifying sense of the moral or epistemic high ground. Sometimes I feel that the US scientific establishment and the Democratic Party are united in death’s embrace in their failure to grasp this elementary lesson in practical politics.

This raises the second countervailing consideration: Science, depending on how you look at it, is a many-splendored thing or a house divided against itself. It is not by accident that the NAS was formed during the Civil War. Warfare, in both its preparation and execution, has provided the only reliable pretext for consolidating national scientific resources, where scientists have arguably spoken in one voice. Otherwise, scientists have been loath to form representative bodies that go beyond narrow disciplinary interests, and these typically more at a national than an international level. Considering that scientific fields of inquiry have universalist aspirations, this sociological fact is striking – as well as having been an endless source of disappointment for J.D. Bernal and other Marxists who hoped that scientists could be organized worldwide to lead a proletarian revolution in the twentieth century.

Indeed, Mooney’s jeremiad against the influence of scientists in the pockets of industry might best be read as evidence that scientific competence is itself no guarantee of political allegiance. This is less because scientists compromise the integrity of their expertise than their expertise is genuinely open to multiple applications and extrapolations, which may contradict each other. Whatever ‘value-freedom’ science enjoys lies precisely here. It arises as a by-product of the controlled settings in which scientific expertise is typically honed and tested. These always differ sufficiently from policy settings to allow for substantial disagreements. I would go so far as to suggest that much of what passes for ‘data massaging’, whereby empirical results are revised to justify a preferred policy option, may be explained this way. The primary sin in this case is one of omission – namely, of alternative trajectories that may be plotted from the same data, which in turn forecloses the opportunity for serious criticism of the preferred policy. The controversy over Bjørn Lomborg’s The Sceptical Environmentalist (not mentioned by Mooney) provides an object lesson in this point.

Mooney does not take seriously that scientists whose research promotes the interests of the tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical or biotech industries may be at least as technically competent and true to themselves as members of the NAS or left-leaning academic scientists in cognate fields. Where these two groups differ is over what they take to be the ends of science: What is knowledge for – and given those ends, how might they best be advanced? What Mooney often decries as ‘misuse’ and ‘abuse’ of science amounts to his registering opposition to the value system in which many politicians and scientists embed scientific expertise. For example, a quick-and-dirty way to sum up the difference between scientists aligned with industrial and environmental interests is that the former are driven by solving and the latter by preventing problems. The former cling to what is increasingly called the proactionary principle, the latter to the more familiar precautionary principle.

Industry scientists function against the backdrop of an endless growth economy in which the maxim, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, is a source of inspiration not desperation: Any new product is bound to generate new problems, but those are merely opportunities for the exercise of human ingenuity – not to mention the generation of more corporate profits. That certain people are hurt by such reckless innovation must be weighed against others who would have been hurt without it, as well as the likely costs incurred by the available policy alternatives. In contrast, environmental scientists presuppose a steady-state economy, where the ultimate concern is that our actions reflect a level of restraint compatible with maintaining a ‘balance’ in nature. This vision tends to privilege our current understanding of the future, including future harms, even though in the long term our understanding is itself likely to change, as we learn more. Thus, there is a risk when going down the precautionary route that the only ‘steady-state’ being promoted is that of our knowledge, not of reality itself, as we prevent ourselves from taking risks that might serve to expand our capacity for action. Of course, environmentalists rightly ask who have licensed industrial scientists to risk other people’s lives in this fashion, which after all guarantees only profits for their paymasters and not progress for all. However, these very same critics typically would also curtail experimentation on animals for similarly risky purposes. The result looks like a fear-based policy of epistemic ossification that rivals the sort of ‘faith-based’ science policy that Mooney decries in creationists and intelligent design theorists.

I don’t intend to resolve this conflict in scientific world-views here. Both lay legitimate claim to advancing both science and the public interest. To be sure, the priorities of each are different, especially with respect to intertemporal issues: i.e. the relation of the short-term and the long-term. Neither world-view is especially prone to malice or incompetence, but there are clear reasons why certain constituencies might prefer one rather than the other. Moreover, the end of the Cold War has made the need for choice more evident. In my inaugural lecture as Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at Durham University in 1995, I argued that the status of science in society is shifting from that of seculariser to that of secularised: the ultimate moment of sociological reflexivity. I developed this argument in a series of works, starting with Science (Open University Press and University of Minnesota Press, 1997), The Governance of Science (Open University Press, 2000) and most recently, The Philosophy of Science and Technology Studies (Routledge, 2006). The basic idea is that without a state-backed unity of purpose for science, instantiated in a centralized peer-reviewed system of research funding, science is bound to gravitate in many different directions, according to the strength of competing constituencies. This is the pattern exhibited by Christianity, once the secular rulers of Europe no longer required the approval of the Roman Catholic Church. Many rival Christian churches emerged in this religious free zone, each directly appealing to people’s interests, forgoing abstract arguments that in the past only served to exercise authority over those people. In such a market environment, the religious concomitant of secularisation has been evangelism.

An analogous ‘science evangelism’ is readily seen today in the eclipse of state-based physics-oriented research funding by client-driven biomedical research. Whereas the citizenry used to dispose of their taxes to fund science as insurance against the vague but real sense of nuclear annihilation, nowadays they conceive of science as a high-tech service customized to their wants and needs. Perhaps politicians and the general public seem so much less informed about science than ever because decisions about science are being placed more squarely in their hands. This is similar to what happened once the Bible was translated into the vulgar European languages, and believers were empowered to interpret the text for themselves. In the past, one could simply trust a state-licensed, professionally sanctioned peer review system to apply good science in a good way to good ends. People may have been just as ignorant, if not more so, but it didn’t matter because they never had to take the funding decisions themselves. Like a nostalgic Catholic who in the wake of the Protestant Reformation thinks Christendom can be healed by returning to the papal fold, Mooney would have us to return to the science-authoritarian days of the Cold War, which was actually an aberration in the political history of science.

Of course, in matters of education, the scientific establishment has never had such an authoritative hold. By the standards of democracies in the developed world, the US is remarkable in lacking a national education ministry capable of enforcing uniform curricula for primary and secondary schools. Curricular guidelines are left to the states, and exactly how they are met – by what textbooks and teaching methods – is typically entrusted to local school districts. All of this is by Constitutional design, reflecting the nation’s origins in religious dissenters who had been disenfranchised in their native Britain. This has given the US a historic reputation for pedagogical innovation and experimentation – instances of which have been both emulated and discarded, depending on their results. However, this tendency has increasingly run up against the Constitution’s First Amendment, which prevents the monopolization of public life, especially public school classrooms, by a single faith. Notwithstanding the logical leap required to move from a prevention of religious monopoly to a prevention of religious expression altogether, this has been the general course taken by the US legal system toward the inclusion of religious considerations in the science curriculum over the past eighty years, since the notorious Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ over the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

Like most liberal commentators who have studied the rise of scientific creationism and intelligent design theory, Mooney can only see the hand of the religious right at work. Yet, there is more to this organized intellectual opposition to the Neo-Darwinian paradigm in biology. Let me concede at the outset some basic facts: Yes, a line of descent can be drawn from high school science textbooks espousing Biblical literalism to ones now espousing intelligent design. Yes, there is probably a strong desire, perhaps even a conspiracy, by fundamentalists to convert the US to a proper Christian polity, one that is epitomized by the notorious ‘Wedge Document’ (more about which below) circulating at the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think-tank that has become the spiritual home of anti-Darwinism. But just how seriously should these facts be taken? After all, every theory is born in an intellectual state of ‘original sin’, as it actively promoted by special interests long before it is generally accepted as valid. It is therefore essential to monitor the theory’s development – especially to see whether its mode of inquiry becomes dissociated from its origins. So, while intelligent design theory may appeal to those who believe in divine creation, its knowledge claims, and their evaluation, are couched in terms of laboratory experiments and probability theory that do not make any theistic references. Of course, this does not make the theory true but (so I believe) it does make it scientific.

Suppose we took the pulse of Darwinism in 1909, fifty years after the publication of Origin of the Species but still a quarter-century before Mendelian genetics was generally accepted as providing the mechanism for an otherwise elusive process of natural selection. We would say that the theory’s main backers were located outside the universities – even outside the emerging lab-based biological sciences. To be sure, the backers were not trivial players in the knowledge politics of the day. They included popular free market intellectuals like Herbert Spencer, as well as many ‘captains of industry’ whose self-understanding motivated their support of the fledgling fields of the social sciences, where ‘Social Darwinism’ provided a powerful explanatory and legitimatory resource for the march of capitalism.

It is common for Darwinists to airbrush away this bit of their history, which draws attention to the fact that while biologists struggled to identify the causal mechanism responsible for the striking pattern of common descent and differential evolution that Darwin recorded in nature, congenial ideological currents – including eugenics and scientific racism—kept the theory in the public eye. Thus, it is striking that the Darwin exhibition currently at the American Museum of Natural History in New York gives the misleading impression that any association between Darwin’s theory and Thomas Malthus’ anti-welfarist tract, Essay on Population is purely coincidental. Yet, Darwin himself acknowledged – and Darwin’s admirers assumed—the profundity of Malthus’ insight into the normal character of mass extinction, given the inevitability of resource scarcity. Contrary to the accounts usually given of Darwin’s reception, what was provocative about Origin of the Species was not the prospect that a theory of plant and animal species could also explain humans, but the exact opposite: that a theory so obviously grounded in the explanatory framework of laissez faire capitalism could be generalized across all of nature. Thus, Darwin’s toughest critics came from the physical and biological sciences, not the social sciences.

The ascent of Darwinism makes one wonder when the theory passed from being a well-evidenced ideology (say, like Marxism) to a properly testable science. Would it have passed the criteria used nowadays to disqualify creationism and intelligent design theory in, say, 1925, the time of the Scopes Trial? Probably not, since Darwinists still couldn’t quite square their claims with cutting-edge genetics. However, it was equally clear that Darwinism enjoyed enormous support among self-styled progressive elements in American society who found locally controlled school boards to be among the last bastions of intellectual backwardness. In this respect, the American Civil Liberties Union’s intervention in State of Tennessee v. John T. Scopes, which turned it into a showcase trial, employed a more successful version of the strategy now being carried out by the Discovery Institute and other organizational vehicles for realizing the ‘Wedge Document’. Just as the ACLU helped to drive a wedge between the teaching of science and theology, the Discovery Institute would now drive a wedge between the teaching of science and anti-theology, or ‘methodological naturalism’ as it is euphemistically called.

You would be right to suspect that I treat the two ‘wedges’ as morally equivalent: Both should be allowed to flourish under the aegis of American democracy. As Darwinism slowly, fitfully but finally made its way into high school and college classrooms, the theory was developed in new directions, integrated with new bodies of knowledge, virtually – but of course never quite – distancing itself from its capitalist and racist roots, especially in cognate fields like socio-biology and evolutionary psychology. I imagine a comparable fate awaits intelligent design theory over the coming decades. This prognosis requires some justification since I would be the first to admit that proponents of intelligent design theory have not always placed themselves in the best possible light. At the same time, the near-hysterical response of the Neo-Darwinist forces is itself quite revealing. Mooney reduces the entire issue to a witch hunt about whether intelligent design theory is ‘really’ creationism in disguise, which for him is tantamount to showing it’s non-science, if not outright anti-science. Already at this point, Mooney is guilty of two errors, one for which he cannot be held entirely responsible: He follows the baleful tendency in contemporary US legal thinking that treats ‘science’ and ‘religion’ as mutually exclusive, rather than orthogonal, categories. However, the second error goes to Mooney’s journalistic acumen: Instead of constructing an independent standpoint from which to evaluate scientific merits of Neo-Darwinism and intelligent design theory, Mooney’s repeated practice is to ask Neo-Darwinists their opinion of work by intelligent design theorists (but not vice versa). The results should surprise no one. Such opinion may indeed be expert but it is unlikely to be unprejudiced.

By the end of this witch hunt, clearly exasperated by his quarry, Mooney exclaims that Darwin’s theory of evolution is ‘one of the most robust theories in the history of science’ (p. 183). I paused to wonder exactly what he might mean and how he might know it. It’s certainly true that Darwinism has had a persistent following for nearly 150 years, regardless of its evidential support. Moreover, Darwinism is philosophically ‘robust’ insofar as it has caused philosophers to alter their definitions of science to accommodate a research programme that clearly does not fit the mould of Newtonian mechanics. It’s also true that most practicing biologists profess a belief in Darwinism, though the impact of that belief on day-to-day empirical research is harder to establish. For example, Science magazine declared 2005 the Year of Evolution, but what they meant by ‘evolution’ relates rather loosely to what Darwin himself talked about. The magazine cited three developments: the sequencing of the chimpanzee genome, the mapping of the genetic variability of human diseases, and the emergence of a new species of bird. Only the last conforms to Darwin’s own methods. Whereas he regarded natural selection as a process that occurred spontaneously in the wild and operated mainly on groups of organisms, today’s breakthroughs in evolution occur mainly in the laboratory, often at the genomic or sub-genomic level, and are the product of explicit experimental interventions. That these two quite different senses of ‘natural selection’ – sometimes distinguished as ‘macroevolution’ and ‘microevolution’ – are seen by palaeontologists and geneticists alike as subsumed under the same ‘Neo-Darwinian synthesis’ is regarded by many historians as the most singular rhetorical achievement in science.

A good way to appreciate the intellectual challenge posed by intelligent design theory – regardless of what one makes of its origins – is to consider the rhetorical character of Neo-Darwinism. No doubt the word ‘rhetorical’ will seem too provocative for some readers, but it is meant quite literally. Although Darwinism starts in, say, 1860, and modern genetics is underway by, say, 1900, it is only in the period 1930-40 that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is forged, providing the covering theory for modern biological research. The main feat, achieved most clearly by Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origins of Species in 1937, was to persuade natural historians in Darwin’s research tradition and laboratory geneticists in Mendel’s research tradition of a strong analogy between their methodologically rather different pursuits. In time, macroevolution and microevolution came to be understood as ‘evolution’ in exactly the same sense. A comparable development for some aspiring covering theory of the social sciences would be to convince, say, historical anthropologists and experimental economists that the ‘markets’ unearthed in the ancient world and constructed in the laboratory are to be explained by the same mechanisms, which the latter research environment reveals in their pure form. Among the obstacles to such a synthesis being forged in the social sciences include the perceived incommensurability between ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ research methods. One consequence of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis was to break down these Aristotelian hang-ups, which had also existed in biology, permitting both methods to migrate across the micro-macro divide with fruitful research results.

Thus, by no means do I wish to dismiss the Neo-Darwinian synthesis out of hand. Its construction has much to teach the social sciences, progress in which has been retarded by the sort of ‘metaphysical’ suspicions that Neo-Darwinism gladly suspends. Nevertheless, there remain fault lines in the synthesis, which occasionally surface, especially in the popular science literature, where the underlying assumptions and projected implications of empirical knowledge claims are discussed more openly than is normally permitted in the consensus-driven world of peer review. Mooney could have uncovered these fault lines had he asked two kinds of biologist, a field scientist and a lab scientist, what the theory of ‘evolution by natural selection’ is supposed to be about. The lab scientist would probably say that it’s a model of potentially universal scope, with the actual history of life on earth as merely one – and perhaps not even the most important – confirmation of the theory. She would probably not lose too much sleep, were she to learn that natural selection proves insufficient to the task of explaining the entire history of life on earth because the model still applies in all sorts of smaller and maybe even larger domains (e.g. Lee Smolin’s theory of cosmological selection). In contrast, the field scientist would turn the tables and say quite plainly that the theory of natural selection is exactly about the actual history of life on earth, and that the fate of the theory rests precisely on the extent to which it explains the patterns that Darwin and subsequent natural historians have found. Everything else is merely a metaphorical extension of the original theory.

This is quite a serious difference of opinion in how one defines a theory’s referent. Perhaps, then, Neo-Darwinism is so ‘robust’ because it is so strategically vague – or should I say, ‘adaptive’! Nevertheless, the fault lines are periodically revealed. The late Stephen Jay Gould, whose expertise was closest to Darwin’s own (not least in his ignorance and disdain of lab-based science), fits my ‘field scientist’ to a tee. Not surprisingly, then, as the evidence from extant and extinct creatures suggested the insufficiency of natural selection as an overarching explanation for the actual history of life on earth, he became pan-Darwinism’s fiercest critic. Many Neo-Darwinists have not only decried Gould’s perceived defection from the fold but have more harshly criticized intelligent design theorists for trying to get some mileage from Gould’s apostasy. But this is to suggest that the Neo-Darwinists have proprietary rights over the entire history of biology. Yet, Neo-Darwinism’s own pivotal mechanism – what is now called ‘Mendelian genetics’ – was contributed by people who held the counter-Darwinian assumption that every member of a species, regardless of species history, is programmed with a reproductive propensity. That assumption is a legacy of special creationism, a research tradition in natural history that connects the devout Christians, Linnaeus, Cuvier and Mendel. To be sure, many of its elements have been subsumed by the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. But why can’t intelligent design theorists reclaim this subsumed tradition as their own to develop the biological sciences in a different direction? In that case, Gould is rightly invoked as an ally – if only in a backhanded way—because he stuck to Darwin’s original formulation of evolutionary theory and found it empirically wanting, whereas Neo-Darwinists have shifted the goalpost to make it seem as though the theory’s validity does not rest mainly on evidence from the field.

In short, intelligent design theorists should treat what evolutionists regard as a broadening of their theory, which corresponds to the ascendancy of lab-based research, as involving a thinning of the theory’s content. I was struck by this point as an expert witness for the defence in the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the first test case for the inclusion of intelligent design theory in public schools. One expert witness called by the plaintiffs, whom Mooney also quotes as a source, was Robert Pennock, my contemporary in the doctoral programme at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Pennock enthused under oath about an ‘artificial life’ computer programme that he and some colleagues at Michigan State University had recently written up for Nature magazine. To the unprejudiced observer, the programme simply looks like a strategy for generating computer viruses without the user’s intervention, albeit within parameters that approximate the combinatorial tendencies of DNA. Yet, Pennock claimed that this programme ‘instantiated’ evolution by natural selection. The metaphysically freighted ‘instantiated’, much favoured by artificial life researchers, renovates the old theological idea (originally used to justify God’s Trinitarian nature) that essentially the same idea can be materialised in radically different ways. Too bad, under cross examination, Pennock wasn’t asked whether he thought his programme added to Neo-Darwinism’s success at explaining the history of life on earth – or merely substituted for it. So much for falsifiability!

Evolutionists have been allowed to hedge their bets in this fashion because, prior to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, there had been no ‘robust’ theory of the biological sciences as a whole. Biology was a scientific free zone, which is easily documented by noting the non-university locations of many of its historic practitioners. Under the circumstances, it is easy – but no less unfortunate – that a journalist like Mooney should come to make a simple equation between Neo-Darwinism and biological science as such. This leads him to suspect that intelligent design theory, which he treats alternatively as pseudoscience and antiscience, is conspiring to replace Neo-Darwinism wholesale – perhaps with some sort of Biblical fundamentalism. This really does the theory a serious injustice. At most, intelligent design theorists are guilty of opportunism, exploiting substantial differences of opinion already present in the Neo-Darwinian ranks, which the parties themselves think should be discussed in peer-reviewed publications rather than in the media, courtrooms and classrooms. Thus, intelligent design theorists typically accept exactly the sort of microevolution evidence for which led Science to declare 2005 the Year of Evolution. But that’s because ‘evolution by natural selection’ in these cases has been intelligently designed, namely, by the human researchers responsible for setting up the relevant experimental conditions. But what would allow natural selection to work so decisively in nature, without the presence of humans? That was the question that really interested Darwin – and Gould. It drove the analogy between ‘natural selection’ and ‘artificial selection’, which of course refers to the human breeding of animals. At this point, intelligent design theory dissents from the Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy and refuses to accept macroevolution as the final word.

Moreover, there is a positive programme behind intelligent design theory, though its proponents have not been as vocal about it as they might. The programme requires some imaginative thinking about ‘anti-naturalism’. We need to pick up on the idea of ‘instantiation’ mentioned above. A scientifically tractable way of thinking about ‘supernaturalism’ is in terms of the same form, end or idea being realized in radically different material containers. However, some of these containers may be better suited than others for what they contain. Converting this general point into a programme of theoretical and practical problems renders ‘intelligent design’ scientific. (Herbert Simon’s classic The Sciences of the Artificial can be thus read as a secular tract on intelligent design as a metatheory for all science.) Now, if we further suppose that humans have been created in the image and likeness of God – or less provocatively, that reality is in some deep way human-like – then it becomes easy to think about life itself from a design standpoint. Our technologies are then lesser versions of the divine technology responsible for all the world’s creatures. By the same token, we can treat these creatures as prototypes for technologies we might develop to enhance human dominion over nature. Perhaps the most obvious of numerous historical examples is the study of birds for aviation technology. (More Unitarian Christians, like Joseph Priestley and perhaps even Isaac Newton, might say we converge with God at that point, but I offer no opinion on the matter). In short, the biological sciences would become an advanced form of engineering, corresponding roughly to fields currently known as ‘biomimetics’ and ‘bionics’, which draw very heavily and fruitfully from contemporary biology but without any theoretical commitment to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis.

There is potentially quite a lot of money to be had by thinking of biology in this fashion, which I think helps explain why the Discovery Institute – founded as it was by technoscience sophisticates like George Gilder and Bruce Chapman – has supported intelligent design theory. To put the point bluntly, they want to corner the market on ‘playing God’ by both supporting the requisite technological innovations and laying down the moral ground rules for their use. Here Mooney overlooked that Gilder’s 1989 bestseller Microcosm was one of the first books to herald the advent of nanotechnology (as ‘quantum economics’). Had Mooney attended more to the continuities that have taken these young Rockefeller Republicans of late 1960s to their current support of intelligent design theory, he might have also seen the general reluctance of the Discovery Institute to be too closely aligned with genuine Biblical fundamentalists, as became clear was behind the support for intelligent design theory in the Dover school board in the Kitzmiller case. Indeed, it should not have been too much for Mooney to imagine that the Discovery Institute, whatever its intentions, is unlikely to succeed at spearheading some monolithic right-wing conspiracy, given that the fundamentalists who would be the foot soldiers simply want to read their biology off the Bible and not have to grapple with the scientifically informed speculations of William Dembski or Michael Behe.

The Discovery Institute is of course only one of many think-tanks trying to jump start the future of science for political advantage. Indeed, on matters relating to cutting-edge nano-, bio- and info- technology research, one might wish to turn to the judgement of such entities before that of the NAS. Of course, this is not because the NAS does not uphold good science, but simply because such an elite institution is unlikely to have its ear sufficiently close to the ground really to know what is and is not feasible in the foreseeable future, which is essential for framing any general political guidelines for research support. (That the NAS does not move very fast is symptomatic. Generally speaking, the peer review system has served to stagger publication, so as to allow a critical mass of researchers to become ‘pre-acquainted’ with impending research findings. But as time-to-publication shrinks in even the peer-reviewed sectors of the internet, the advantage accrued to those ‘in the know’ shrinks.) Imagine, if you can: What may turn out to be the best work is not being done by the ‘best people’ at the ‘best places’! Let me make clear that I do not wish to celebrate the diffuse and largely unmonitored – and certainly unregulated – nature of emergent technoscientific trends. But we are unlikely to win Mooney’s ‘Republican war on science’ if we cling to a nostalgic view of the authoritativeness of the self-selecting college of scientific cardinals represented by, say, the NAS.

The genius of MIT’s Vice-President Vannevar Bush’s The Endless Frontier lay in persuading postwar policymakers that the surest route to produce science in the public interest is to let scientists decide the research agenda for themselves. Not surprisingly, he made the argument turn on national security, based on the distinguished academic scientists amassed at Los Alamos who built the atomic bomb. However, an alternative framework for federal science policy had been floated even before America’s entry in World War II by West Virginia Senator Harley Kilgore. He imagined a ‘National Science Foundation’ as an extension of FDR’s New Deal. Kilgore proposed a science board in which two scientific representatives would serve alongside a representative each of labour, agriculture, industry and consumer groups.

Like most astute observers at the time, Kilgore realized that innovative scientific research in the US was being conducted off campus, as academics saddled with heavy discipline-based teaching loads were lured to informally structured interdisciplinary research parks like Bell Laboratories. He believed, I think rightly, that scientists – like other high-skilled workers – would naturally gravitate to the best labour conditions, which could eventuate in the evacuation of scientists from the public sector. Not only would it be difficult to monitor or regulate their activity, it would prove difficult to reap the benefits implied by the Constitutionally enshrined idea of science as a ‘public good’. Using the Great Depression that ended the post-World War I economic boom as his benchmark, Kilgore believed that without state intervention, science would simply exacerbate class differences in American society. So, one of his many science funding schemes involved treating science education as a form of national service, whereby the government would finance the training of academically suitable students on the condition that they would spend some years developing one of America’s economic backwaters.

Kilgore’s relevance here is that he quite explicitly wanted to politicise science – indeed, to mount an offensive against scientists’ spontaneous free market politics. Moreover, Mooney would have probably found Kilgore’s politics attractive. I certainly do. Yet, Kilgore was in no doubt that good science could be done under both private and public regimes. However, by the time the vote on the establishment of the National Science Foundation reached the floor of Congress in 1950, Kilgore’s proposal had come to be seen through Cold War lenses as ‘politicising science’ in a sense by then associated with Hitler and Stalin. Bush’s victorious alternative had the federal government create a protected internal market for scientific research and later (with the launching of Sputnik) education. This has proved very costly and, not surprisingly, with the end of the Cold War, the federal government has gradually allowed science to revert to the pre-war free market state that Kilgore decried. If Mooney is genuinely interested in promoting good science in the public interest, then he needs to articulate a robust conception of the ‘public interest’. The New Deal was the last time that occurred in the US outside a context of military preparedness. The legacy of that formulation is what remains of the American welfare state.

Steve Fuller

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{ 126 comments }

1

dsquared 03.27.06 at 3:28 pm

I think this is an incredibly interesting piece and I agree with a fair bit of it. Just two points:

First, on “Industry science”:

Mooney does not take seriously that scientists whose research promotes the interests of the tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical or biotech industries may be at least as technically competent and true to themselves as members of the NAS or left-leaning academic scientists in cognate fields

But is this really a failing? Surely there comes some point at which the claims of industry scientists (particularly the dead-enders of the tobacco/cancer link) to be “technically competent and true to themselves” should no longer be given the benefit of the doubt? I think CM’s usual point of view in the cases he describes is that he is dealing with people who have long since passed this point. Is there anything in any reasonable philosophy of science which implies that we have to be polite to people like Steven Milloy?

and on creation science, how does this idealised vision of what intelligent design could become in the hands of enlightened practitioners, fit in with the grubby reality of the context in which it operates. If we’re looking at the public school system in rural Kansas, then it seems to me like we’re looking at a social system of inquiry which looks much more like Lysenko’s Russia than Los Alamos. In general, surely it should count very heavily indeed against the intelligent design movement that their energies in pushing their case are so heavily skewed towards getting their ideas into the elementary schools, rather than the universities?

2

John Quiggin 03.27.06 at 3:29 pm

I agree that science doesn’t live up to the idealised democratic image presented by short epigraphs like the one Chris has used. But then, neither does democracy. “Of the people, by the people, for the people” is a good quote, but not an accurate description of the US system of government now or when Lincoln coined the phrase. Critics of democracy have made this point many times, using much the same arguments as you’re using here against science. The obvious rebuttal in both cases is Churchill’s – the worst system possible, except for all the others.

Accurate or not, Lincoln was right about democracy, as well as being right about science when he founded the NAS.

3

Steve Fuller 03.27.06 at 3:30 pm

Response to dsquared:

It seems to me the main problem with Steven Milloy is exactly the problem he has with opponents: Both are claiming that there is some clear distinction between (what he calls) ‘sound science’ and politics — and that the other side is always violating it. In a perfect world, both sides would simply admit upfront they’re using science to political advantage, capitalising on the large ‘so what follows?’ factor in most science vis-à-vis policy issues. People could then decide, in a spirit of caveat emptor, what to make of it all. Admittedly, this ‘perfect world’ would require some kind of record-keeping, which in the past I’ve likened to Ralph Nader’s Consumer Reports, so the public could access the track record of these pundits on a variety of relevant topics.

Another option would be to allow Milloy and his critics to publicly cross-examine each other on a policy-relevant topic. (Hours of C-SPAN could be filled this way!) My guess is that both sides would be quite good at troubleshooting each other’s weak points, which is probably what most needs to be revealed. A third option – one that I think someone like Mooney should embrace – is to legislate the outer limits of, pardon the expression, ‘sound science’. What sorts of data, gathered under what circumstances, are permissible as evidence for what sorts of policy considerations, etc. It would be a kind of Food and Drug Administration but pitched at a meta-level, with science itself as the product that is regulated before being set loose on unsuspecting politicians and members of the public.

On the teaching of intelligent design – or creationism, for that matter: A great virtue of US science policy, which has been partly by design, is that education and research are governed differently. That by itself already ensures that you won’t have Soviet-style authoritarianism, no matter what views prevail at any given time. However, it also ensures that there will be always a measure of conflict, since the research agenda is still much more centralized and harder to change than the education agenda. No matter how much one (dis)likes creationism, if it’s taught in one school district or state, voters can examine the consequences and decide to boot out the school board or politicians in the next election. (It happened in Dover.) This certainly motivates citizens to take an active interest in what’s taught, as opposed to the ‘cruise control’ that a national education ministry can encourage. As long as majoritarianism is offset by regular elections, I don’t see a problem with American style science wars.

Why start teaching ID at the high school level? I received a lot publicity – and flak – for saying in the Dover trial that ID required ‘affrimative action’, i.e. that it could not be expected to provide a credible alternative to Neo-Darwinism without government intervention. It’s clear that the few people pursuing ID openly in universities are treated as intellectual pariahs, and under those circumstances it’s hard to recruit the colleagues and students needed to convert an unconventional idea into a full-fledged research programme. One solution would be to teach biology as a much more contested field, attending to the role that ID- and even special creationist thinking has contributed to what even Neo-Darwinists regard as credible science, and that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis was forged under quite specific circumstances in the 20th century.

I believe that much of what Philip Johnson has said about Neo-Darwinism’s ideological hold over academic science is correct – and he’s also right that it can be understood better as a strategy in a larger culture war than something compelled strictly on the basis of empirical developments in biology (i.e. there is much more scope for taking the commonly understood history of biology in different directions than is currently being encouraged). Johnson makes it plain he doesn’t like this state-of-affairs, he recognizes it as a political problem, and he is trying to take political means to rectify it. Full marks to him for all this. Johnson’s opponents are not so forthcoming about their ends, hiding behind an apolitical pseudo-monolithic authority of ‘science’ that simply does not exist. Thus, we have a think-tank located in Oakland, California called the ‘National Centre for Science Education’. Nobody seems to complain about that bit of Newspeak, perhaps because a lot of top scientists and their philosophical mouthpieces like what they’re doing. Mooney simply buys this side the story, which is very unbecoming for a journalist.

4

Steve Fuller 03.27.06 at 3:31 pm

Response to John Quiggin

Sure, the analogy between scientific peer review and democracy is there. But you may be missing my point: I’m arguing that the history of peer review should follow the course taken by the history of democracy to realize its ideal of inclusiveness. I don’t see this happening in today’s ‘self-organizing’ peer review for the reasons I stated. Moreover, the underlying dynamic is different. We often tell the history of democracy as a struggle in which the masses eventually wrested power from the elites. Peer-review’s elitism is not similarly under siege because the ‘masses’ in the scientific community have little incentive or opportunity to participate in it, though they are usually at some point judged by it. In this respect, what passes for ‘self-organization’ in science is really a sign of political disorganization. Rank-and-file scientists need a Marx-like figure to instil some class consciousness so they act like proper stakeholders in the peer review process – in funding, publication, and career advancement.

5

Daniel Davies 03.27.06 at 3:32 pm

(I am the same person as “dsquared”, sorry).

re Milloy, I see what you mean, although the idea of a FDA equivalent for the sciences would surely attract its own brand of “sound metascience” hacks, I suspect.

I now think that my two points are inter-related; the majority of people doing ID research are treated as intellectual pariahs because they appear to believe in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis, and there is thus grounds for doubting their sincerity. If we did get an FDA equivalent, it would have a heck of a job on its hands defining the boundary between ID and creation science and I think that it would probably use something like Chris’s historical account as a starting point.

I agree that we do need an alternative to neo-Darwinianism, but is ID really the best candidate for subsidy? If I was in charge of “picking winners” at the government office of scientific subsidy I would chuck a couple of counters in the direction of Lewontin’s dialectical biology and see what they came up with. (I’d note that me and JQ are economists by training and thus perennially suspicious of attempts to pick winners. Although the success of neo-Darwinianism is political, and its monopoly is probably counterproductive, it does at least have the substantial advantage of owing its success to something like market forces, which I’d see as a more than decent Hayekian point in its favour.

6

Steve LaBonne 03.27.06 at 4:26 pm

As a scientist, albeit no longer in academia, with a background in genetics and developmental biology, I would simply like to say briefly that Daniel’s diatribe (forget Fuller- I am not interested in generating a further attack of logorrhea from him) on some bizarre strawman version of “neo-Darwinism” and its supposed “monopoly” appears to apply to some parallel universe with which I am quite unfamiliar. (Case in point- none of Lewontin’s actual professional contributions are in any way outside the range of the consensus of thinking in genetics and evolutionary biology.) Hyper-adaptationism (I’m guessing this is what worries Daniel, but I can only guess) is certainly a problem in some quarters (notably “evolutionary psychology” which I have no desire at all to defend) but is far from universal, and there are plenty of apt criticisms of it in the mainstream literature already (one of the more famous of which was coauthored by Lewontin himself)- it is not a disease whose cure requires some sort of conceptual revolution.

Go look at some of PZ Myers’s fairly recent posts on his interest in the plasticity of animal development if you want to see an example of the way actual thinking in biology is by no means constrained by some imaginary “neo-Darwinian” corset.

7

francis 03.27.06 at 4:28 pm

Although the success of neo-Darwinianism is political

I suspect PZ Myers would disagree. As the good judge wrote in the Dover case, there is no other affirmative theory of evolution.

ID has a negative theory — which itself is subject to revision but essentially states that certain features are too complex to be explained by neo-Darwinism. But ID has no affirmative theory except to invoke magic. And despite having every opportunity to explain how they would test for magic, ID proponents have failed to describe even a hypothetical testing protocol to prove or disprove their beliefs.

i think that most practicing biologists would argue that the success of their theory is based on its ongoing vitality.

8

Drm 03.27.06 at 4:40 pm

As a “rand-and-file” academic scientist (genetics, genomics) I am having a lot of difficulty comprehending why I have need of “a Marx-like figure to instil some class consciousness so they act like proper stakeholders in the peer review process – in funding, publication, and career advancement”. ID is not taken seriously by serious biologists, because it is not serious science period. This is a not an arbitrary political issue – this is fundamental to what the process of science actually means. No amount appending “neo-” and “post-” prefixes onto “ism”‘s is going to change that (or so we should hope). The final arbiter of science – like everything else – is history. Kuhn emphasized that point. If they care at all (I should be so lucky), the next generation won’t give a damn about my political affiliations. If they like my ideas – the lower my status while alive the better – if they dislike my ideas the opposite. Afterall, there is nothing like overturning an entrenched “ism” to building one’s carreer. Unfortunately, ID has offers no opportunities for up and coming generation of biologists in this respect. In any case, there is very little insentive to maintain the status quo of the previous generation.

9

Jim Harrison 03.27.06 at 6:47 pm

Science is practiced by human beings, and sociological and political analyses of its history and prospects are perfectly legitimate. But science is also thinking with the things, and the things are part of the conversation. The fundamental problem with ID is not the lack of venture capital or political influence but the ever more obvious refusal of the plants and animals to go along with the program, a program, by the way, which was itself orthodoxy before it became an audacious rebellion bolstered by intricate or at least extremely long arguments.

10

PZ Myers 03.27.06 at 7:01 pm

Yeah, there are growing extensions to neo-Darwinism (not alternatives, please–neo-Darwinism is a theory that describes a phenomenon, descent with modification, that is as solidly established as the idea that masses are attracted to one another, and only fools argue with the substance of it anymore), and what they are doing is enriching and further substantiating the core ideas.

Intelligent Design isn’t part of that growing body of work. It isn’t even in the conversation. To even use ID as an example immediately discredits the essayist.

11

francis 03.27.06 at 7:19 pm

After a closer reading of Fuller’s post, I’m wondering who is his intended audience. It seems unlikely that Mr. Fuller actually intends to persuade anybody by his writing, as shown by:

Chris Mooney is profoundly naïve about how science works. … He may need my course …

Insult and appeal to own authority. Great start.

However, Mooney’s trust in the peer review system is based purely on high-minded hearsay.

Hearsay? An out-of-court statement admitted for the truth of the matter asserted? or a fancy word designed to make the reader feel ignorant and Fuller superior to Mooney? I report; you decide.

Are you doing something other than writing glorified press releases for thinly veiled clients?

In SciAm, maybe. In The Republican War on Science, clearly not. But let’s be certain to conflate the two.

Mooney’s oversight, which admittedly is characteristic of most contemporary science journalism, would never happen in political journalism. Imagine a journalist covering an election who reported the opinions of candidates and party operatives, and then turned only to think-tanks for assessments of the merits of the party platforms.

Indeed, imagine. Sounds like Fox to me.

The result [of environmentalists' scientific policy] looks like a fear-based policy of epistemic ossification that rivals the sort of ‘faith-based’ science policy that Mooney decries in creationists and intelligent design theorists.

ok, now we’re reduced to name-calling.

Perhaps politicians and the general public seem so much less informed about science than ever because decisions about science are being placed more squarely in their hands. This is similar to what happened once the Bible was translated into the vulgar European languages, and believers were empowered to interpret the text for themselves.

Does Fuller actually believe this nonsense? Does he have even a shred of evidence to support the assertions in it or is he just waving his hands?

At the same time, the near-hysterical response of the Neo-Darwinist forces [to Intelligent Design] is itself quite revealing.

And the rest of the post really needs to be read in the light of Judge Jones’s ruling. To be brief, the judge was not impressed by the same arguments made by Fuller at trial.

12

RBH 03.27.06 at 8:10 pm

Fuller wrote

Why start teaching ID at the high school level? I received a lot publicity – and flak – for saying in the Dover trial that ID required ‘affrimative action’, i.e. that it could not be expected to provide a credible alternative to Neo-Darwinism without government intervention.

No, ID cannot be expected to provide a credible alternative to “Neo-Darwinism” without having an actual theory — you know, those intellectual constructions, tested in intersubjectively replicable research in field and lab, that provide actual explanations. I’ve read a whole lot of Dembski and Behe and Johnson and Meyer and their Disco Institute brethren, and the most specific ID explanation of a phenomenon they’ve offered was from Michael Behe when he invoked a puff of smoke to explain the existence of the infamous bacterial flagellum. Aside the occasional appeal to unconstrained magic, ID consists solely of pointing at evolutionary theory and shouting Not that!!.

13

togolosh 03.27.06 at 8:19 pm

The problem with ID, at least so far, is that the claims made by its proponents are either untestable, or where they are testable, the theory fails. The particular case I’m most familiar with is Michael Behe’s assertion certain biological systems cannot have evolved because they are “intrinsically complex,” meaning that if any element is removed the system ceases to function. This presumes that evolution proceeds only by adding elements, so that the last step in evolving a flagellum, for example, can only take place if the organism has been lugging around a broken system in previous generations. This completely ignores the observed fact that evolution sometimes subtracts as well as adding elements. It also ignores the large literature which shows that intrinsically complex systems evolve all the time, by a process of jury-rigging and progressive refinement. It’s not a matter of the ID theory being as-yet unproven: it’s a matter of the theory having been disproven before it was even brought to public attention.

14

Lawrence Sober 03.27.06 at 8:26 pm

Fuller

I believe that … Philip Johnson [is] right that [Neo-Darwinism] can be understood better as a strategy in a larger culture war than something compelled strictly on the basis of empirical developments in biology

Hahahahaha!

A discredited “philosopher” approvingly citing a debunked HIV-denying lying lawyer bigot for his opinions on “empirical developments in biology.”

Here on planet earth we look at people like Steve Fuller and think: “pathetic sicko.”

Keep trying, Steve! You’ll hit the jackpot eventually.

For those interested in some classic examples of Fuller’s misrepresentations on this subject and his really foul habit of dissembling and shooting off his mouth about subjects of which he knows zilcho, please see the archived Internet postings here:

http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/783/

We’re still waiting for an apology for the lies, Steve!

15

BC 03.27.06 at 8:40 pm

Who does Mr. Fuller mean to persuade with more of his smug swaggering wordplay? Those that support him would support the Devil himself if he offered them victory in the War against their own humanity.

Like the rest of the educated ID crowd, he sees a steady income in this anti-science, abuse-of-philosophy gig and has removed any organs that might nag at his conscience by pumping an ethical antibody into his poisoned system.
Now that we have seen, in Dover (though he had sounded for over two years like a man who knew he had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage), that even Dr. Behe has entirely given up any notion of doing science in favor of earning a living, the insult, even to creationism, that is Fuller’s “I.D.” lacks any even occasionally honest spokesperson.

Fuller is a glib ass—-.

16

Lawrence Sober 03.27.06 at 8:42 pm

There is potentially quite a lot of money to be had by thinking of biology in this fashion

Yes, that’s undoubtedly why so many fundies, fundie lawyers and two-bit philosopher hacks like yourselves are drawn to it.

Like Sonny Bono, you can just sit there. And think. And write a book. And strategize about the next way to attack evolutionary biology in public schools and compel the Supremes to devise a new Establishment Clause test that is more favorable to creationist morons.

But Steve: if you think that scientists are going to make money by answering the question “What would God do?” when attempting to elucidate the mechanisms by which bacteria evade antibiotics, you’re deluded.

Of course, we knew that already.

17

Chris 03.27.06 at 9:35 pm

I wanted to offer a brief response to Fuller’s points about peer review in science. I can’t speak to how peer review works in biology, physics, or chemistry, because I’ve never participated in the peer review processes in those sciences. I can, however, speak to the peer review process in the field from which Pinker’s experience is drawn — a field that, it is clear, Fuller has absolutely no knowledge of. I have participated in the process there, and I can say that it is about as democratic as it could possibly be. The percentage of cognitive scientists who participate in the process as reviewers may be pretty low, but the percentage of regularly publishing cognitive scientists who participate in the process is extremely high. In fact, I don’t know of any regularly publishing cognitive scientist who doesn’t regularly participate in the process.

Perhaps this is not the way it works in other sciences, but in cognitive science, it’s quite rare that anyone working within a subfield, or a field related to a particular subfield, reads journal articles after they’ve been published. Why? Because months, perhaps even years (depending on how long the peer review process takes for a particular paper) before it is published, they’ve already read it. If they weren’t one of three or four reviewers (along with an editor; and it may be sent to new reviewers the second time around, if the reviewers from the first round are not available), then they heard about it a conference and requested the paper, were given the paper by the author for comments before it was submitted, or just came across it through the grapevine. Pretty much anyone with an interest in a paper can get in on the act, and just about everyone does. These exchanges can have a singificant influence not only one which papers get published, but on the content of any given paper.

While I’m still at the outset of my own career, I’ve had at least 30 different reviewers (most are anonymous, but it’s usually possible to guess who a reviewer is by what they say — especially how many of their own papers they say you should have cited), from a wide variety of theoretical backgrounds (cognitive science, perhaps more than any other discipline, is incredibly theoretically diverse, mostly because we haven’t yet figured out what the hell we’re doing). As a grad student, I published two review articles that offered scathing critiques of tenured-professors’ works (one book, one journal article), and my own graduate advisor’s first publication, in only his first year of grad school, was a review article criticizing recent research done by one of the founding fathers of cognitive science. I imagine he was a bit nervous upon submitting such a paper, but it was all but accepted after the first round of reviews. And it certainly didn’t hurt his career prospects.

It’s no wonder Pinker takes such an “idealistic” view of the peer review process, then. He’s lived a fairly idealistic version of it. Hell, he works in a field in which what might be called the cognitive science version of Intelligent Design Theory, Evolutionary Psychology, somehow manages to get published, despite the fact that the consensus among scientists in the field is that it is either bunk or has yet to produce any convincing empirical results. Evolutionary Psychologists have a damn hard time getting jobs because they’re not well trained in experimental methods, but they can still publish, and one (Pinker himself), has grown quite rich and famous because of it.

The grant-giving process is slightly less democratic, in that there is a significant amount of nepotism involved. Individuals serve on a committee for a prescribed period of time (3 years for NSF), and when they’re done, they can nominate another individual to replace them. Naturally, most end up nominating their former students or others who share similar theoretical perspectives. But I’ve yet to hear anyone complain that their grant application was granted for purely political or ideological reasons.

Anyway, maybe Fuller is right about biology, and perhaps other sciences, but he’s wrong to think that Pinker’s conception of the peer review process is naive or idealistic. It’s just the way it works in Pinker’s field. Not only is the review process democratic, but it’s quite inclusive as well. Ideas outside of the consensus, often well outside of it (even from different paradigms) are published regularly in major journals. If Fuller has suggestions for how it could be more democratic, I’d be happy to hear them, though I would suggest he actually aquaint himself with the process in cognitive science first. For now, I’m secure in my belief that the peer review process in my field is as democratic as it can be. I suppose it could be slightly more democratic if grad students could get in on the process, but as the saying goes, if grad students could review papers, nothing would ever get published.

I wonder how different cognitive science is. It’s review process was modeled after the processes used in other disciplines, after all. Especially those closest to it, which includes biology. I suppose Fuller has published, but he’s not a biologist, and I wonder how closely has he analyzed the peer review process in biology, or any other field?

18

Drm 03.27.06 at 10:08 pm

Chris, I can confirm that your points hold for other biology fields as well. I’ve not encountered the nepotism issue at NSF you describe. I have served on multiple panels and have never been asked to nominate a successor. In contrast to NIH study sections, NSF panels are not publicly disclosed. NSF and other agencies do have to work hard to maintain the integrity and quality of their peer review processes. Fuller is right that peer review is under pressure from competing time committments. However, if anything this has made it more democratic. The elites are deferring to junior colleagues and postdoc’s for journal reviews, etc.

That said there is room for improvement – i.e. there are many reviews published, but a dearth of published critical reviews that are actually critical of something. This has more to do with journal economics and the debilitating influence of citation indeces and impact factors on journal editors.

19

Bill Gardner 03.27.06 at 10:36 pm

Steve Fuller:

“And, at least in the US, the ballot box more reliably removes suboptimal politicians than peer review identifies suboptimal science.”

Some evidence for this, please?

20

Barry 03.27.06 at 10:58 pm

Not to mention that ‘suboptimal’, for a politician has what definition? Immoral? Or just less capable of retaining office?

21

Barry 03.27.06 at 10:59 pm

Steve’s post is titled: “If There’s a War, Please Direct Me to the Battlefield”. Considering that he’s a participant in that war, and was a participant in at least one specific ‘battle’ (Dover), his mocking request is quite dishonest.

22

ogmb 03.28.06 at 12:57 am

Can someone provide a shorter Steve Fuller please?

23

Susan Jordan 03.28.06 at 2:33 am

In the comments, darwinia wrote

intelligent design … its knowledge claims, and their evaluation, are couched in terms of laboratory experiments and probability theory that do not make any theistic references.

There are no lab experiments capable of proving or disproving the intervening “actions” of mysterious alien beings who use mysterious powers.

Likewise, the “arguments” made by creationists’ which rely on “probabilities” are merely garnish to dress up a dusty an inedible hamburger: the argument from incredulity.

It’s 2006. This is old news.

24

abb1 03.28.06 at 2:35 am

I think shorter Steve Fuller goes something like this: some science is political and dishonest – therefore all science is political and dishonest.

25

Kristjan Wager 03.28.06 at 3:12 am

I think it would be more correctly stated:

I claim som science is political and dishonest – therefore all science is political and dishonest.

26

Scott Martens 03.28.06 at 4:46 am

Chris points quite clearly to something that I think is ignored in science studies: Not only does science not work in the way that its practitioners claim, but on the rare occasion when it does work that way, it’s dysfunctional. It’s remarkable how often linguists (my field, and one heavily influenced by cognitive science methods) get so tied up in trying to pin down a scientific methodology for their field that they seem not to be able to do linguistics. I think my field might be better off without scientific pretentions.

But we are unlikely to win Mooney’s ‘Republican war on science’ if we cling to a nostalgic view of the authoritativeness of the self-selecting college of scientific cardinals represented by, say, the NAS.

This, I think, is exactly right.

Pretending that science is a dispassionate and neutral producer of facts is not going to get anyone anywhere. However, I think there is a claim to be made for science as an authoritative discourse that should trump legalistic claims like those made by ID to being science: Every time you boot up your computer, you acknowledge that ideological, authoritiarian, clique-ridden, undemocratic, openly non-Biblical science has a long history of producing real, tangible, unavoidable results. This is the only genuine defense to be made for it. Intelligent design is alien to that claim to authority unless it can show at least the potential to produce results.

There is a lot more to anti-science than the religious right, that’s certain. For example, my mother takes medications of dubious scientific merit to quell serious pain caused by a knee injury. They work – I’ve seen how much they reduce her pain – but none of them has more than ambiguous double-blind studies to support it.

Now, I know full well how much effect a placebo can have, and I don’t know if that’s all that’s happening to my mother. But, here is the question that I think motivates a lot of contempt for scientific claims to authority: Would it be better for my mother to follow the advice of “evidence-based medicine” and take prescription painkillers that are addictive and reduce her mental acuity?

Her choice to take something that works better for her necessarily supposes at least some rejection of scientific authority. So, why should my mother suffer for some scientist’s beliefs?

27

Ginger Yellow 03.28.06 at 4:52 am

Leaving aside his treatment of science, I’d be interested to hear Mr Fuller explain how elections are supposed to “offset” majoritarianism. And one doesn’t have to look far to find rather prominent counterexamples to his hypothesis that “at least in the US, the ballot box more reliably removes suboptimal politicians than peer review identifies suboptimal science”.

28

brendan 03.28.06 at 6:33 am

Steve Fuller is a sociologist of science and I am not, so I hope I’m not genuflecting too much to his ‘expertise’ by merely reminding everyone that, insofar as these things can be assessed, he is an ‘expert’ in this field (indeed, part of the ‘elite’ of sociologists of science) and I am not. Depending on your point of view, that might give my views more weight or less.

However, in his discussion of science he makes a number of points that are not in themselves remarkable nor, for that matter, particularly controversial. Whether he draws the correct inferences from these points is a whole other ballgame.

Fuller’s major point, so far as I can make out, is to remind everyone that ‘scientists’ are not ‘objective’ (in a metaphysical sense: i.e. epistemologically or ontologically) and that there are influences of power, gender, class, and so forth in terms of ‘who gets to speak’ and ‘to whom’ in modern science. This is all of course quite true. Moreover it is also true that the ‘traditional’ (and, now, very old fashioned) view of scientists as being disinterested automatons selflessly pursuing ‘truth’ is also false. All this is really, nowadays, beyond debate.

What conclusions we draw from this is a whole other ballgame. To begin with, insofar as these points are ‘facts’ they apply, ipso facto, to sociologists (and social scientists generally) as well as scientists in the ‘hard’ sciences. It is therefore also true that sociologists have biases, that there are elite sociologists, that politics and power impact on sociology as well (as the history of Project Camelot should show).

It is therefore slightly strange to see Professor Fuller rail against the ‘peer review’ process as though it was only physicists who used it. As Fuller should know it is (nowadays) physicists who tend to be the most aggressively AGAINST the peer review process, and who are most inclined nowadays to simply post their papers on the web, and (‘democratically’) let anyone who wants to, link or reference their paper.

Sociologists on the other hand, are still committed to peer review. Professor Fuller knows full well that all of his own published academic papers have been peer reviewed for sociological journals. Therefore: ‘ In any case, funding agencies and academic editors tend to gravitate to a relatively small set of referees who exhibit both reliability and soundness of judgement. While this process may resemble capitalism’s ‘invisible hand’, it is hard to see how it would conform to any reasonable understanding of ‘democracy’’….this would apply to sociological theory as well, presumably, including Professor Fuller’s own theories, yes?

Now Professor Fuller is one of the best known of the ‘sociologists of science’. Indeed, if he doesn’t mind me pointing out, he is part of the ‘elite’ in this field. I take it that this is reflected in his salary. To quote the Professor himself, however: ‘But it is not clear that the quality of a scientist’s judgement is improved as her achievements are rewarded.’ At the end of the day, within sociology there are struggles for power and influence, which in turn reflect broader struggles of gender, class and ethnicity. Which is merely to point out that to hear some people railing against ‘white male science’ you would think that sociology and cultural studies departments are hotbeds of multi-cultural tolerance. I work in the social sciences, and I can tell you know that the sociology and film and TV dept and cultural studies departments of my university are overwhelmingly staffed by middle aged, middle class white males, who tend to peer review the work of other middle aged, middle class white males.

In other words, Professor Fuller faces the problem commonly faced by relativists: if all he says is true (or ‘true’) it applies with equal force to his own position.

This can be brushed off (and has been) but one might take a moment to reflect that there is a sociology of science, but NOT a sociology of sociology. Professor Fuller (et al) are far less likely to study the socio-political biases of his own colleagues or for that matter, his own intellectual position.

The issue of ID is a whole other ball game, but I think it’s relevant here that whereas the whole thrust of Fuller’s article is that there is no such thing as a genuinely independent view of these issues (as everyone has a viewpoing and biases…something I would agree with, and which was the view of Karl Popper amongst others), he is quick to reverse this viewpoint for rhetorical reasons and argue that: ‘Instead of constructing an independent standpoint from which to evaluate scientific merits of Neo-Darwinism and intelligent design theory, Mooney’s repeated practice is to ask Neo-Darwinists their opinion of work by intelligent design theorists (but not vice versa). The results should surprise no one. Such opinion may indeed be expert but it is unlikely to be unprejudiced.’

As opposed to what, precisely? Certainly not Fuller’s own work, which is anything but unprejudiced, as he would be the first to proclaim in other contexts, were it in his interests to do so.

29

des von bladet 03.28.06 at 7:02 am

Brendan: You can get the same effect as Fuller documents by asking (selected) string-theoristes about loop quantum gravity. The point, which isn’t much of a point, is that the results of asking scientistes all of whom are stakeholders in Paradigm A about the merits of their hated rival, Paradigm B, are entirely predictable.

Fuller seems in this piece to be arguing that one could profitably involve scientistes from elsewhere in biology, for example, or even from science more generally. Surely there are botanistes, say, whose day-to-day work doesn’t depend crucially on the details of the neo-Darwiniste synthesis, who could have a shufty at the debate. I doubt it would work the way Fuller wants it to, but he could be rebutted by hard evidence of that, which I currently more than somewhat lack.

30

Barry 03.28.06 at 8:00 am

Brendan: “Steve Fuller is a sociologist of science and I am not, so I hope I’m not genuflecting too much to his ‘expertise’ by merely reminding everyone that, insofar as these things can be assessed, he is an ‘expert’ in this field (indeed, part of the ‘elite’ of sociologists of science) and I am not. Depending on your point of view, that might give my views more weight or less.”

Brendan, the whole idea of peer review is that the opinions of *one elite*, or a very few, are not dominant. An example from another field would be Dembski, a mathematician who doesn’t impress other mathematicians with his ID calculations.

The ‘normal’ course of science, as I understand it, is that such lone eagles or small minorities persuade others. In particular, they persuade younger scientists and grad students that a particular new viewpoint is a good reseach area, or at least something that they have to take into account if researching in related areas.

By this viewpoint ID rings warning bells, since it has lost that struggle, and seeks to promote its views in high schools. Steve Fuller has this strange idea of promoting ID as the currently dominant opposition to Darwinism – note, not as a valid scientific opposition, but as opposition for opposition’s sake.

31

Barry 03.28.06 at 8:03 am

BTW, Steve Fuller made a couple of posts on Michael Berube’s blog. IIRC, he had a couple of comments, and then two guest posts.

If you’re thinking that his post above is strange, and wondering what’s going on, just go to http://www.michaelberube.com/, and search for his posts. What you see above is perfectly congruent with what he wrote there.

This is what he says on an ongoing basis.

32

des von bladet 03.28.06 at 8:18 am

Or you could start at one of them, as provided above by Lawrence Sober, who is especially the same there, if you like that sort of thing: thehttp://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/783/

33

des von bladet 03.28.06 at 8:19 am

34

des von bladet 03.28.06 at 9:05 am

And then the second (non-guest post, but with lots of Fuller in the comments) is http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/789/

35

Dan K 03.28.06 at 9:49 am

Entertaining, this. By the way, the shorter Fuller is something like this: “Science is interest-driven. Most research in the US is driven by security interests (Cold war, etc). Science would benefit from have more interests represented.” Hard to disagree with that. You know, if the left intends to win this battle by resorting to vaguely positivistic ideals, I’ll prefer that we lose. That horse has sailed. Fuller is right: ID is science. Since he is a sociologist of science, he maintains a open mind about its prospects. Fortunately, the rest of us can rest assured that it is crap science that sucks so hard in so many ways it’s hard to breathe just thinking about it. You know, there is no war on science. Just partisans peddling poor science.

36

John 03.28.06 at 10:06 am

“Moreover, this phenomenon bears no relation to the workings to the peer review process used to decide grants and publications. …There are rarely any formal incentives to participate in the process.”

That’s odd, as I get $250/day plus expenses for serving on NIH grant review committees (study sections).

Also, Dr. Fuller, if you don’t understand the difference between mapping and sequencing the human genome, you haven’t done enough homework to comment coherently. Maps of the human genome have been around for decades, you see.

Finally, you’d think that one who views himself as an authority on the philosophy of science would use the word “theory” correctly. ID is merely a notion. It can’t even explain the existing data, so it can’t possibly have had many of its predictions tested and confirmed, the primary criterion for elevation of a hypothesis to a theory.

37

Steve LaBonne 03.28.06 at 10:09 am

I have to respectfully disagree that ID is science, even awful science. If you study its history you’ll soon realize that, like “creation science” before it, it’s nothing but a Trojan horse- an attempted legal strategy to smuggle fundamentalist Christianity into the public schools under the First Amendment radar. “Creation science” went down in flames in McLean vs. Arkansas, so they had to come up with a new dodge that looked less overtly Christian on its face. (After Fuller’s dishonest and moronic testimony in the resulting Kitzmiller vs. Dover debacle, he ought not to be invited back into polite company such as CT.)

38

Kristjan Wager 03.28.06 at 10:42 am

Fuller is right: ID is science.

That’s a bold claim. Please provide us with examples of ID research being done.

39

Barry 03.28.06 at 10:56 am

And the shorter Steve Fuller provided above might better be represented as ‘Science would be better off if more interests were represented, even if those interests’ goal was to destroy science”.

40

Bill Gardner 03.28.06 at 10:57 am

“Now, if we further suppose that humans have been created in the image and likeness of God – or less provocatively, that reality is in some deep way human-like – then it becomes easy to think about life itself from a design standpoint.”

Oh. Is that all it takes?

41

Ginger Yellow 03.28.06 at 11:13 am

Not to mention that ID, because it is a political rather than a scientific movement, expressly does not claim that “humans have been created in the image and likeness of God”. It may be the controlling assumption of its proponents, but it does not drive ID’s public pseudo-science, because to admit that would be to lose the first amendment battle. In fact, ID refuses to make any testable assumptions about the designer’s motives or processes that might direct research. That is one of the many reasons it is not in fact science.

42

abb1 03.28.06 at 11:40 am

Science is interest-driven. Most research in the US is driven by security interests…

It may be true in the US (or may not be), but there are still plenty of researchers in the world driven by nothing but old-fashion passion for knowledge. Trust me.

43

Steve LaBonne 03.28.06 at 11:49 am

In the biomedical sciences a lot of it is driven by money. The medical-industrial complex in the US is a fearsome beast.

Thing is, though, Mother Nature is a stubborn old biddy- she’s just not very impressed by wishful thinking. Speaking of security-driven research, how’re those missle-defense systems coming along? It’s important not to confuse interest-driven research (or “research”), which can be cooked up at will, with interest-driven results, which can’t (reality will catch up with you sooner or later.)

44

Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 12:36 pm

What follows is a belatedly posted Response to Post 5 (I guess this didn’t get in before we got on air. I’m only learning that the seminar has started!) I will try to respond to the more interesting posts. I won’t be protracting the ID stuff unless someone has a new angle on it. I see some people have referred to discussions on Berube’s blog and The Valve.

Here comes my response to Dan (post 5):

Let’s say for the sake of argument (and also because the argument has some plausibility), that defenders of ID are ‘insincere’ at least insofar as they hide the Biblical inspiration of their theories and their political aspirations (as expressed in the Wedge Document) to convert the US into a Christian polity. My response is: Since when is sincerity a relevant consideration in scientific judgements?

Do we need to know whether Darwinists – past or present – are racists before passing judgement on their science? Do we need to know whether Lewontin’s dialectical biology is nothing but Marxist – indeed, Lysenkoist – apologetics before passing judgement (as some have said)? And so on. I should hope not; otherwise, not much of biological science would be left standing. Ye shall judge them by their fruits, not their seeds. Of course, knowledge of the origins of these theories is useful for troubleshooting potential blindspots, biases and outright errors. But these flaws are often the flipside of whatever analytic acuity these theories have. In any case, no theory is owned by its founders or anointed successors.

Even the Bible has been a touchstone for science. It’s pretty hard to explain the relative autonomy of genetics from the rest of biology without the Biblical idea of special creation. (In fact, this was one of the attractions of the medieval scholastics to Aristotle’s conception of species.) And why would anyone think that nature could be re-engineered, unless humans are conceived as having God-like powers? And the line of catastrophist thinking from Cuvier to Gould is a secular riff on the Noachian flood, which got a new lease on life with the discovery of clear stratification in the fossil record. No, the Bible doesn’t provide chapter and verse of the science, but it would be pretty easy to trace the anchoring intuitions of modern biology back to Biblical sources.

And frankly, I’m surprised that ID textbooks aren’t written THAT way. Of course, I’m not espousing Biblical literalism. But if one is looking to use all the relevant and available means to get students interested in thinking scientifically, then including the Bible as a historical inspiration can be quite effective in a monotheistic cultural setting. In fact, if done properly (and again, it’s down to the textbooks and pedagogy used), it could even lead – as it did in the 18th and 19th centuries – to more critical readings of the Bible itself.

Given Neo-Darwinism’s dominance in biology, all opposition movements are likely to be capitalizing on many of the same perceived weaknesses of Neo-Darwinism, but taking them in different directions. ID’s advantage over dialectical biology is that there’s a relatively active constituency for it – and it also opens intellectual space for a much bolder re-think of Neo-Darwinism’s own foundations. Lewontin, and fellow-travellers like Gould, were always much clearer about where they stood on politics than on biology. In hindsight, their ultimate ambivalence toward Darwin made them rather ineffectual opponents to, first, socio-biology and, now, scientific creationism and ID.

45

Drm 03.28.06 at 12:41 pm

Forget this ID crap, can we get the Second law of thermodynamics on the ballot? Imagine what we could do if we overturned that sucker!

46

Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 12:53 pm

Response to Post 17:

The percentage of cognitive scientists who participate in the process as reviewers may be pretty low, but the percentage of regularly publishing cognitive scientists who participate in the process is extremely high. In fact, I don’t know of any regularly publishing cognitive scientist who doesn’t regularly participate in the process.

This looks harmless, even admirable, IF you assume that the difference between cognitive scientists who publish and don’t publish is self-selecting, and self-selection does not itself represent some deeper bias in the knowledge system (e.g. certain institutions not providing time to publish, so you never get into the peer-review system). In any case, what you’ve already indicated is that cognitive science is stratified between the publishers, all of whom may be co-equal, and non-publishers, such that the researchers are dictating to the teachers in the subject. You may think this is fine. I don’t. And in any case, no one ever formally agreed to it.

47

Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 1:04 pm

Response to Post 28

Leaving aside his treatment of science, I’d be interested to hear Mr Fuller explain how elections are supposed to “offset” majoritarianism. And one doesn’t have to look far to find rather prominent counterexamples to his hypothesis that “at least in the US, the ballot box more reliably removes suboptimal politicians than peer review identifies suboptimal science”.

My background assumption is that politicians, whether they’re doing good or ill, are checked on a regular basis through elections, whereas peer-reviewed publications, once they’re in, have to be actively purged from the scientific literature – typically by scientists in related areas who are motivated to find fault in their colleagues’ work. If we conducted politics this way, it would result in vigilantism, as it does in countries with weak democratic procedures.

In any case, no scientific theory begins life with a majority inside the establishment. Even Darwin’s own theory of evolution, which had a lot going for it from the start, was an academic outsider. However, before the 20th century – perhaps even the late 20th century – control over the resources to promote research programs (i.e. access to students, money, etc.) was not so concentrated.

48

Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 1:32 pm

Response to 29 (edited)

It is slightly strange to see Professor Fuller rail against the ‘peer review’ process as though it was only physicists who used it. As Fuller should know it is (nowadays) physicists who tend to be the most aggressively AGAINST the peer review process, and who are most inclined nowadays to simply post their papers on the web, and (‘democratically’) let anyone who wants to, link or reference their paper.

Point well-taken about the current state of play in physics.

Sociologists on the other hand, are still committed to peer review. Professor Fuller knows full well that all of his own published academic papers have been peer reviewed for sociological journals. Therefore: ’ In any case, funding agencies and academic editors tend to gravitate to a relatively small set of referees who exhibit both reliability and soundness of judgement. While this process may resemble capitalism’s ‘invisible hand’, it is hard to see how it would conform to any reasonable understanding of ‘democracy’’….this would apply to sociological theory as well, presumably, including Professor Fuller’s own theories, yes?

Yes, I participate in the process. My objection to peer-review is that it’s not sufficiently inclusive in its membership. I am not against the activity of reviewing the work of peers.

Now Professor Fuller is … part of the ‘elite’ in this field. …To quote the Professor himself, however: ‘But it is not clear that the quality of a scientist’s judgement is improved as her achievements are rewarded.’ At the end of the day, within sociology there are struggles for power and influence, which in turn reflect broader struggles of gender, class and ethnicity. … I work in the social sciences, and I can tell you know that the sociology and film and TV dept and cultural studies departments of my university are overwhelmingly staffed by middle aged, middle class white males, who tend to peer review the work of other middle aged, middle class white males. In other words, Professor Fuller faces the problem commonly faced by relativists: if all he says is true (or ‘true’) it applies with equal force to his own position.

I don’t disagree with any of this, except your claim that I’m a relativist. The fact that a sociological claim reflexively applies to oneself is only to be expected. I am happy to live by the principle that rewards do not improve judgement. It implies that when listening to ‘elites’, as to anyone else, Caveat Emptor! Mine is simply an argument against automatic deference to authority, even that of elite scientists. If I didn’t believe this principle, I wouldn’t be responding to you on this blog now – nor have subjected myself to the interesting and not-so-interesting criticisms that blogs generate.

This can be brushed off (and has been) but one might take a moment to reflect that there is a sociology of science, but NOT a sociology of sociology. Professor Fuller (et al) are far less likely to study the socio-political biases of his own colleagues or for that matter, his own intellectual position.

This is false. In fact, I published a large book a few years ago, Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times (University of Chicago Press, 2000), which attempts to do exactly what you say I don’t do. And yes, it generated a lot of heat from colleagues. I’m surprised you haven’t run across it.

The issue of ID is a whole other ball game, but I think it’s relevant here that whereas the whole thrust of Fuller’s article is that there is no such thing as a genuinely independent view of these issues (as everyone has a viewpoint and biases…something I would agree with, and which was the view of Karl Popper amongst others), he is quick to reverse this viewpoint for rhetorical reasons and argue that: ‘Instead of constructing an independent standpoint from which to evaluate scientific merits of Neo-Darwinism and intelligent design theory, Mooney’s repeated practice is to ask Neo-Darwinists.” As opposed to what, precisely? Certainly not Fuller’s own work, which is anything but unprejudiced, as he would be the first to proclaim in other contexts, were it in his interests to do so.

Actually, I believe independent standpoints are socially constructed, very much in the manner that constitutional democracies constructed an institutions to protect ‘the public interest’ that allow competing interests to flourish but with none gaining the upper hand at the expense of suppressing minorities. Blinding the peer review process in science is a comparable institution. My complaint about Mooney is that before passing judgment, he failed to represent both sides fairly. Had he done that, and still reached the conclusion he did, I would have been much happier with the book.

49

Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 1:58 pm

Response to Post 37

[Fuller says]: “Moreover, this phenomenon bears no relation to the workings to the peer review process used to decide grants and publications. …There are rarely any formal incentives to participate in the process.” [Respondent says]: That’s odd, as I get $250/day plus expenses for serving on NIH grant review committees (study sections).

It sounds like you’re talking about one level up from the normal level of peer review – i.e. deciding which among several already reviewed grants will be funded.

Also, Dr. Fuller, if you don’t understand the difference between mapping and sequencing the human genome, you haven’t done enough homework to comment coherently. Maps of the human genome have been around for decades, you see.

Thanks for that correction, though your conclusion doesn’t follow, unless you can show how my error relates to the rest of my argument. My guess, however, is that you’re really using this point for ad hominem purposes only (i.e. to discredit me).

Finally, you’d think that one who views himself as an authority on the philosophy of science would use the word “theory” correctly. ID is merely a notion. It can’t even explain the existing data, so it can’t possibly have had many of its predictions tested and confirmed, the primary criterion for elevation of a hypothesis to a theory.

I don’t think you’ve read enough philosophy of science or ID to say these so dogmatically, but I wouldn’t use that as grounds for disqualifying you from comment. In any case, you should always think when, by your own criteria, you would have let Darwinism into the classroom.

50

Lee A. Arnold 03.28.06 at 2:17 pm

Despite the arguments in string theory, it appears (to this outsider) that the physicists are looking for a way to test their various theories, and they will accept results that are contrary to their own present opinions, if and when an experiment proves something. (And indeed, they hope that the upcoming large hadron collider may answer some questions.)

I’m afraid I do not agree that the “sociological” view of the “truth” of science has lasting import. It still seems to me that on this topic not much of lasting interest has been written since Descartes, despite the following centuries of positivism and anti-positivism. While most people here will find this a cranky opinion, I wish to forward two alternative hypotheses to explain our present state of affairs. I will write what I really believe.

The science wars are almost entirely about complex adaptive systems (ecosystem, immune system, social system, climate system, economic system, evolutionary system) and NOT ONE such system has been successfully predicted in exact detail, and, perhaps for various different reasons which can be listed, they may never be successfully predicted. (Despite this, we continue to learn more about each, and we also have a set of general inferences common to all of them: about oscillations and feedbacks, and external forcings that often lead to breakpoints and catastrophes, etc.) Here social, economic, and political forces have entered the vacuum in lieu of precise prediction, and so we have the War on Science. A notable clue is the early attack on the Precautionary Principle, which after all is no more (nor less) than a pretty good inductive rule of thumb, closely resulting from the method of induction examined by J.S. Mill.

There is a second major hypothesis I hold to be true, which is that the modern era has entirely forgotten the path of mysticism which underlies all religions. Now here everyone will raise an objection, and we get into murky waters because of three points: (A) Change in consciousness comes only after the cessation of all thought, and this very difficult to achieve, read any mystic. And since thoughts can still be “pushed” after this, outsiders will notice no difference. (B) No one can know or understand change in consciousness before it happens — a person can only “believe” a set of metaphor-words about a wordless experience; that is called theology and can sound like irrational gibberish. (C) Despite total ignorance of the mystical path, everyone, or almost everyone, is compelled to some sort of unificatory thought-process anyway. Scientists are compelled to amount it by rational thought; religionists hope to get there by compounding a mystery.

So then here are my Two Conditions of Modernity: (1) Complex adaptive systems have general patterns that are precisely non-deductive, and scientists are incapable of admitting it; and (2) Mysticism has been forgotten, and spiritual people are led into a progressing misuse of rationality by word-orientated religions.

I think these two conditions are not connected. (But I don’t think science and religion are “orthogonal.” They are in fact polar-opposite, and social organization is orthogonal to both, so that our epistemology is at the very least tripartite.) BUT the two are often mixed in the mind, and they clearly cross over each other at certain points.

One of these points is the argument over Intelligent Design: Evolutionary theory has overwhelming inductive confirmation, but its systems-complexity precludes the successful, precise prediction of any future event; we know for example that there are now wildlife species extinction-debts, but we don’t know which species will go, or exactly when. And Creationists are proposing an alternative “theory,” when they would be better-off in ceasing rational thought entirely.

P.S. Chris Mooney has written a terrific book.

51

John 03.28.06 at 2:22 pm

“It sounds like you’re talking about one level up from the normal level of peer review – i.e. deciding which among several already reviewed grants will be funded.”

No, I’m not. That should be apparent from the phrase I used: “grant REVIEW committees.” Study sections review and score the grants, and the scores are sent to the institutes that make up the NIH. But thanks for confirming that you don’t know enough about the grant review process to comment coherently.

“Thanks for that correction [mapping vs. sequencing], though your conclusion doesn’t follow, unless you can show how my error relates to the rest of my argument.”

For example, your statement, “From a strictly scientific standpoint, mapping the human genome was little more than an industrial application,” is pure hooey. I’ve published mapping papers that have zero industrial relevance. For that matter, it would only have been marginally more correct if you had replaced mapping with sequencing. Sociologically, a valid criticism would be that sequencing the ENTIRE genome was mostly industrial, because the interesting parts were getting sequenced without the project anyway.

“I don’t think you’ve read enough philosophy of science or ID to say these so dogmatically,…”

Dogmatically, as an active practicioner of science, I am correct. Your response just shows the extent to which many of those who claim to be authorities on the philosophy and/or sociology of science are ignorant of the things they claim to be studying.

“…In any case, you should always think when, by your own criteria, you would have let Darwinism into the classroom.”

I would have different standards for different classrooms.

As an example of ID not even being a hypothesis, there is the fact that its champions avoid discussions of sequence homologies like the plague, in favor of babbling about fossils. If they had a hypothesis, it would account for the observed nested hierarchies of sequences. Instead, they ignore the obvious: that even if fossils didn’t exist, the sequence data alone are sufficient to promote MET to a theory.

As a molecular geneticist, this avoidance of evidence is sufficient for me to conclude that ID proponents are intellectually dishonest. Look at you–you (mis)cited the genome project in an attempt to characterize scientists, but I can guarantee that you will never attempt to explain the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla in terms of ID.

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John Timmer 03.28.06 at 2:59 pm

The question as to whether ID can be referred to as a theory might be easier to address if Dr. Fuller would provide a definition of ID theory, the evidence which supports it, and specific predictions that are necessitated by the theory. I personally would be very interested in hearing these.

NB: specified and irreducible complexity should not be proposed as evidence, as both have incorrectly identified systems which have evolved as having been designed.

53

Drm 03.28.06 at 3:30 pm

“peer-reviewed publications, once they’re in, have to be actively purged from the scientific literature – typically by scientists in related areas who are motivated to find fault in their colleagues’ work. If we conducted politics this way, it would result in vigilantism, as it does in countries with weak democratic procedures.”

Nonsense. There is no need to purge incorrect peer-reviewed papers from the literature. Wrong results die out on their own and eventually get ignored – its evolution one might say. To remove them would be deeply unethical. The suggestion that peer-review should somehow aspire to getting everything right in a single pass is disingenous. A peer-review system that is incapable of discarding ID on the first pass, on the other hand, would be less than useless.

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Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 4:16 pm

Response to Post 52

But thanks for confirming that you don’t know enough about the grant review process to comment coherently.

I wish I could oblige, but I’m afraid all you’ve shown is that you’re familiar with the idiosyncratic proceedings of the NIH and not much else. This is interesting to learn but it’s hardly representative of all of science. Perhaps you’re not an academic. Or if you’re an academic, you work in a medical school or some other salary-sensitive environment, where agencies know they need to pay people to be ‘good citizens’ of science. Most peer-reviewing, even of grants, occurs for free, which is one reason it’s so hard to find peer reviewers.

[Fuller says]: “Thanks for that correction [mapping vs. sequencing], though your conclusion doesn’t follow, unless you can show how my error relates to the rest of my argument.”

I cite myself here because your subsequent comments don’t actually address my argument, which is about how we identify what’s newsworthy in science. You simply explain what you meant, which is fine – and even informative – but not to the point.

As an example of ID not even being a hypothesis, there is the fact that its champions avoid discussions of sequence homologies like the plague, in favor of babbling about fossils. If they had a hypothesis, it would account for the observed nested hierarchies of sequences. Instead, they ignore the obvious: that even if fossils didn’t exist, the sequence data alone are sufficient to promote MET to a theory.
As a molecular geneticist, this avoidance of evidence is sufficient for me to conclude that ID proponents are intellectually dishonest. Look at you—you (mis)cited the genome project in an attempt to characterize scientists, but I can guarantee that you will never attempt to explain the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla in terms of ID.

I can’t tell whether you actually read my entire piece, but what you say here – some of which I find opaque (what is MET?) – seems relevant. Why are you so dismissive of fossils as evidence for Neo-Darwinism? I can see how the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla would justify a certain way of classifying organisms, but would it also support the long historical story associated with Darwinism?

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Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 4:20 pm

Response to Post 53

There is no need to purge incorrect peer-reviewed papers from the literature. Wrong results die out on their own and eventually get ignored – its evolution one might say. To remove them would be deeply unethical.

You clearly have never heard of research fraud – or perhaps you hold the panglossian view that all the fraud that gets caught is all the fraud that happens? Here’s a refresher course.

56

Steve LaBonne 03.28.06 at 4:25 pm

I wish I could oblige, but I’m afraid all you’ve shown is that you’re familiar with the idiosyncratic proceedings of the NIH and not much else.

This proejction-filled bit of bluster, in response to being caught in a very basic error in an area in which you claim to be an expert, is unworthy of anyone who expects to be regarded as a serious scholar.

I can see how the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla would justify a certain way of classifying organisms, but would it also support the long historical story associated with Darwinism?

Yes, because it’s the only story ever proposed that can account for them. As John said, the ID dogs with whom you have recently been lying are extremely reluctant to address this, which is indeed prudent of them.

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Drm 03.28.06 at 4:33 pm

Retraction is not the same as purging – even a fraudulent paper remains in the journal flagged for all to see. I assume that most fraud in science goes undetected and unpunished. I doubt, however, that deliberate fraud is the dominant source of error in the literature – there are too many other ways to be wrong. The fraud that is most likely to be detected are claims of significant results that attract the attention of other scientists.

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Peggy 03.28.06 at 4:46 pm

A further remark on scientific peer review- it also includes conferences which consist of 15 minute talks for what seems like 10 hours a day for a week. The rest rest of the herd of graduate students puts up posters. The winners are easy to pick out.

Early in the article Fuller describes how the elitist physicists of NAS pushed for the ill-fated Superconducting Supercollider which lost its funding due to American democracy. Physicists moved to Europe to work at CERN where Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Perhaps impractical projects have their uses.

59

Lawrence Sober 03.28.06 at 4:50 pm

Fuller

You clearly have never heard of research fraud – or perhaps you hold the panglossian view that all the fraud that gets caught is all the fraud that happens?

Oh, the irony.

Steve could care less, of course (since his goal is not to educate but to obfuscate), but the rest of us are aware of the facts which follows.

There are two main branches of religiously inspired pseudoscientific hoo-hockey that are currently being “explored” (or, more accurately, peddled by religion promoters and their apologists). The first branch relates to the so-called “studies” of the “effects” of “distant” or “third-party” “prayer.” The second branch relates to the “intelligent design” of the universe (including every living thing that ever lived on earth).

Studies which purport to investigate the “effects” of “third party” “prayer” have shown (SURPRISE!) nothing except what we already knew: fakery and faith healing are often indistinguishable.

As for ID, when held under the harsh light of the American legal system, it turns out to be vacuous religious garbage peddled by dishonest and/or ignorant opportunists interested in money or (religion-based) power or a bit of both.

Again: for the vast majority of informed people, no suprises there.

But here is Steve Fuller trying to erect a little strawman out of fraud in science so he wave it around at the rubes, BOOGA BOOGA!!!!

Do yourself a favor and all of us honest folks a favor, Steve. Turn the light on yourself. Then turn the light on the charlatans who clutch Bibles and broadcast their “healing powers” to millions of people across the world and bilk poor people out of millions and millions of dollars annually.

You see, Steve, if you did that you’d be doing your fellow human beings a service. Your pathetic attempts to provide facially bogus philosophical cover for anti-science theocrats (i.e., anti-gay anti-woman bigots, for the most part) are not honorable. They are despicable.

Science — and the fruits of science — will not be improved by “making room” for the bogus “ideas” of fundamentalist liars like Phil Johnson, George Deutsch, Ben Domenech, Casey Luskin, Bill Dembski, Jonathan Witt, Jonathan Wells and their loathesome ilk. If these folks — and I do consider each of them to be in need of psychiatric help, frankly — want to contribute to science, they know exactly what they need to do. Scientists have told them what to do.

And yet … they refuse to do it.

Figure it out, Steve. Figure it out like we’ve figure you out.

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ogmb 03.28.06 at 4:59 pm

61

Robert 03.28.06 at 5:15 pm

My hobby is economics. Some would argue that there are problems in the peer review process in economics being taken over by a closed community that will not practice competition:

Lee, F. S. and Harley, S. (1998). “Peer Review, the Research Assessment Exercise, and the Demise of Non-Mainstream Economics”, _Capital and Class_, 66: 23-51.

Lee and Harley argue that the British RAE only counts journals open to certain communities of researchers in economics. If some economists seek out journals in which reviewers are familiar with the approaches on which they draw, their contributions will not be evaluated positively in the RAE.

As I understand the sociology of science, I would expect Steve Fuller would say that there isn’t one universal set of customs for reviews across all disciplines. I expect peer review to vary across disciplines and journals – this has been my experience. As such, I would expect it to vary in effectiveness in implementing the expressed norms of the communties practicing it.

And, since I assume that much of Fuller’s opinions have been expressed in peer reviewed literature, I would think that those defending peer review would agree with this conclusion.

(I think this community of posters can see I am not advocating replacing peer review with anything else, and I make no claims about biology.)

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John 03.28.06 at 5:19 pm

I wish I could oblige, but I’m afraid all you’ve shown is that you’re familiar with the idiosyncratic proceedings of the NIH and not much else.

NIH funds most of the biology research in this country, so your dismissal of it as “idiosyncratic” is ludicrous.

“MET” refers to “Modern Evolutionary Theory,” which goes far beyond Darwin. Your labeling it as “neo-Darwinism” is purely polemic, as is your phony term “intelligent design theory.”

Why are you so dismissive of fossils as evidence for Neo-Darwinism?

What are you talking about? I’m dismissive of your ID cronies who claim that the incompleteness of the fossil record argues against MET, not dismissive of fossils. Again, those who promote the notion (neither a theory nor hypothesis) of ID avoid discussing nested sequence hierarchies, because considering them makes the fossil record, with its holes and subjective interpretations, unnecessary for establishment of MET as a theory (they are still good for loads of other stuff). The fossils just came first.

I can see how the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla would justify a certain way of classifying organisms, but would it also support the long historical story associated with Darwinism?

I see that your scholarship in this field is simply nonexistent. The nested hierarchies show how proteins EVOLVED over huge amounts of time, trashing any notion that “macroevolution” didn’t occur. The bonus is that if you look at orthologous proteins, you also see the relationships between species established by a completely independent, mathematical method. These relationships support the long historical story of Darwinism, drift, and horizontal transfer in spades, so much so that the fossils aren’t even needed to establish modern evolutionary theory. That’s why critics of MET hold on to the fossils so desperately, while ignoring the sequence data that are available to anyone.

For an example of what I mean, check out this paper:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v436/n7054/abs/nature03949.html

Dr. Fuller, you really should take a look at even a tiny fraction of the gigabytes of evidence supporting MET before getting in bed with the ID dogs.

63

John 03.28.06 at 5:26 pm

Lawrence Sober wrote:
There are two main branches of religiously inspired pseudoscientific hoo-hockey that are currently being “explored” (or, more accurately, peddled by religion promoters and their apologists)…

There’s a third that claims to be religiously/ethically motivated, yet is in a league with only ID/Creationism in its dishonesty: The animal rights movement, which engages in the same sort of historical revisionism (even lying to conceal the use of animals in successful science) and has a few alleged philosophers and sociologists like Fuller, too.

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Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 5:32 pm

RESPONSE TO 56

This projection-filled bit of bluster, in response to being caught in a very basic error in an area in which you claim to be an expert, is unworthy of anyone who expects to be regarded as a serious scholar.

How I do wish I could oblige you, but I’m afraid I cannot. I already admitted the error, for which I again thank you for pointing out. But since you still fail to establish its relevance to my original point, I feel I can sleep soundly, if somewhat wiser. Also, there is no projection in my response to you. I referee for many journals in many fields in many countries. I simply go on that experience, which admittedly does not cover the NIH. So I’ve learned something new here as well. Finally, I continue to take you seriously, even though I have no evidence that you’re an expert in anything except making money from the NIH. How do I know YOU’RE not just talking bluster? This is the downside of remaining anonymous.

Yes, because it’s the only story ever proposed that can account for [the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla]. As John said, the ID dogs with whom you have recently been lying are extremely reluctant to address this, which is indeed prudent of them.

Also, might some people not think that it’s a pretty big conceptual leap to go from showing this point about how organisms are classified to how they came to be that way? In any case, it’s hard to tell whether a given story is really any good, until we see what a competitor might look like. Some people might prefer to remain agnostic under the circumstances. And I’m happy to grant you that ID hasn’t provided a credible alternative yet.

65

Drm 03.28.06 at 5:36 pm

John: I’m not sure we want these ID dudes to start messing with trees (e.g. identical topologies that look superfically different depending on how their displayed). Might be best to let sleeping dogs lie ;)

66

Brendan 03.28.06 at 6:11 pm

Response to post 49.

I’m not being rude but your style of argument reminds of something that has been termed (I think) the Derrida two-step, in which some wild claim is made, which, when challenged, metamorposes into a trivial common place. For example, I was under the impression that you were a relativist who was arguing that ID explanations of biological phenomena were ‘as good as’ those of ‘normal’ biology.

But it turns out you are not. In fact, according to you, all you are claiming is that: ‘Mine is simply an argument against automatic deference to authority, even that of elite scientists. ‘.

Well! If that’s really all you are saying then obviously I am on your side, but who claimed otherwise? Put ‘fallacy’ and ‘appeal to authority’ into Google and you will see that it is a commonplace that we should not (in a democracy) have automatic deference to anyone, although of course (and you glide over this point) it may well be the case, that professor ‘x’ (or whoever) does indeed deserve deference once he has shown he or she knows what s/he is talking about.

Now: obviously it is worth being reminded of the fact that famous scientists sometimes talk nonsense (especially when out of their fields of expertise), that no one should be granted automatic deference because of their job title and so on.

BUT….as someone pointed out the choice is not between some idealised fantasy world of science, and real science. The choice is between science (flawed though it sometimes or usually is) and religion, a system which is built around the fallacy of argument from authority. So which do we choose?

I accept your second point. However the fact remains that putting in ‘sociology of scientific knowledge’ into Google gets quite a lot of hits. Putting in ‘sociology of sociology’ gets none.

‘My complaint about Mooney is that before passing judgment, he failed to represent both sides fairly. Had he done that, and still reached the conclusion he did, I would have been much happier with the book.’

Well you have read the book and I haven’t, so I’m in no position to challenge this claim. However I think it’s fair to say that I had inferred from some of your other statements that you were actually arguing in FAVOUR of ID. Now, however, yet again, it turns out I am wrong and you are actually merely arguing against some of Mooney’s rhetoric, and that as long as he had presented the ID case ‘fairly’ and then rejected it, you wouldn’t have objected. I stand corrected.

To conclude: I had picked up the idea that you were a radical relativist who was arguing that science is just another myth, and that ID is ‘just as good’ as biology. Now this would be a very interesting claim, if true (or ‘true’). But now it seems that you are merely stating that the argument from authority is wrong, and that people should be fair when presenting the arguments of their opponents. Both of these positions are positions, I feel, that no sane person could dispute.

In short, I hate to have to break it to you, but I don’t think your arguments are as radical as you seem to think they are.

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Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 6:14 pm

RESPONSE 62

First of all, my apologies to ‘john’. I realize that my previous response was to the wrong person. (62 came as I was writing, so I hadn’t seen it.) You’re the right person, but now I will say something different, since you’re much more agreeable than I first thought. Let’s get the peer review thing out of the way: Yes, NIH supports most biological research, but that’s not all scientific research – at least not yet!

As for ‘Neo-Darwinism’ being ‘pure polemic’, it’s not in the circles I travel in, which includes neither ID nor ‘evolutionists’. The idea of a ‘Neo-Darwinian synthesis’ is a term historians and philosophers use to draw attention to the role that Mendelian genetics played in turning Darwin’s theory of evolution into the research program we see today. Frankly, I’m not sure why you’d consider ‘Neo-Darwinism’ an especially polemical turn of phrase. Maybe because you want to drop Darwin from Modern Evolutionary Theory?

In advance, I thank you for your patience in trying to explain matters to me. They do make sense, but I still have some questions. Again, I’m not sure if you read my entire piece because we may be more in agreement than you think. Here is what you said:

The nested hierarchies show how proteins EVOLVED over huge amounts of time, trashing any notion that “macroevolution” didn’t occur. The bonus is that if you look at orthologous proteins, you also see the relationships between species established by a completely independent, mathematical method. These relationships support the long historical story of Darwinism, drift, and horizontal transfer in spades, so much so that the fossils aren’t even needed to establish modern evolutionary theory. That’s why critics of MET hold on to the fossils so desperately, while ignoring the sequence data that are available to anyone.

I’m not sure from the paper you provided how the nested hierarchies make any point about the timeframe of evolution, let alone the one associated with the age of the fossil record. So, for example, if we find that the fossil record goes back to 40 billion or 400 million years, rather than 4 billion years, would that matter to anything here? What seems to be established is a pattern of relationships that can be studied now – and indeed, as you say, ‘established by a completely independent, mathematical method’. As you also say, the fossils don’t matter to this account of evolution. However, the fossils are the only real connection with the historical past of life on earth, which is what evolutionary theory was originally trying to explain. That you can rationally reconstruct the history of life in the lab with clever mathematics is the kind of thing an ID person would like because that could be easily made to look like a hidden plan. And he would simply ask you at last to ditch the fossils – and the pretense that this has anything to do with Darwin. But maybe this is precisely what you’ve done, since the logic of your argument seems to be as follows: If you already believe Darwin’s story, then this account provides another way of telling the same story. But the story about nested hierarchies stands even without Darwin. Am I wrong here?

68

Barry 03.28.06 at 6:30 pm

Posted by Steve Fuller ·

“Also, might some people not think that it’s a pretty big conceptual leap to go from showing this point about how organisms are classified to how they came to be that way?”

Yes. Then again, ‘some’ people might not. And the stength of modern biology is that the theories of classification and orgins provide hypotheses which are testable, and which provide good predictions of data yet to be gathered.

“In any case, it’s hard to tell whether a given story is really any good, until we see what a competitor might look like.”

Incorrect. And again, sloppy thinking – ‘a competitor *might* look like’? How about actual proposed competitors?

“Some people might prefer to remain agnostic under the circumstances. “

Cop-out – and a sentence which could applied to just about everything under the sun.

“And I’m happy to grant you that ID hasn’t provided a credible alternative yet.”

Then perhaps it shouldn’t taught in high schools.

69

Drm 03.28.06 at 6:32 pm

The explanation for molecular phylogenies based on ID theory is really very simple, I can elaborate it completely in this space:

“poof”

Convincing, no? Invoking magic solves alot of problems, but it doesn’t rule too many things out either. Or is there some rule that says where we are allowed and not allowed to invoke it? It’s difficult to write consistent fiction based on magical themes much less do science.

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John 03.28.06 at 6:35 pm

I’m not sure from the paper you provided how the nested hierarchies make any point about the timeframe of evolution, let alone the one associated with the age of the fossil record.

Perhaps you should read a few papers on mutation rates and get back to me. Of course, you should have read a few papers before pretending that ID has anything scientific to offer. ;-)

…What seems to be established is a pattern of relationships that can be studied now – and indeed, as you say, ‘established by a completely independent, mathematical method’.

Seems? How do you conclude that the relationships only seem to be established?

As you also say, the fossils don’t matter to this account of evolution.

That’s not what I say, Dr. Fuller. They aren’t needed. The gigabytes of sequence data confirm the fossil data many times over, as well as offering far more detail about the relationships between proteins and organisms.

However, the fossils are the only real connection with the historical past of life on earth, which is what evolutionary theory was originally trying to explain.

The sequences are a very real connection. They do exist, you know.

That you can rationally reconstruct the history of life in the lab with clever mathematics is the kind of thing an ID person would like because that could be easily made to look like a hidden plan.

What is particularly clever about the mathematics involved? And if it is the kind of thing that an ID advocate would like, why do they run from it when challenged?

And he would simply ask you at last to ditch the fossils – and the pretense that this has anything to do with Darwin.

Then show me a single ID advocate who is willing to eschew fossils and engage in a discussion of nested hierarchies of sequences that illustrate the relationships between organisms and their components (proteins).

You won’t.

But maybe this is precisely what you’ve done, since the logic of your argument seems to be as follows:

Straw Man Alert…I love the way you left yourself weasel room with “seems.”

If you already believe Darwin’s story, then this account provides another way of telling the same story.

Not at all; your desperation is showing. If you don’t believe Darwin’s story and believe in ID, how do you explain the sequence relationships in terms of ID? Please try not to ignore that we no longer have just one (species), but two (species + proteins) huge sets of data that fit MET. We can even separate Darwinian (selection) from non-Darwinian (drift). We are more sure about the latter classification. But, you see, acknowledging drift entails abandoning the polemic label “Darwinian.”

But the story about nested hierarchies stands even without Darwin. Am I wrong here?

Yes; it’s not a story, it’s a data set. ID simply can’t explain the nested hierarchies without postulating major characteristics of their Designer’s behavior, none of which suggest that their Designer is omnipotent. That’s why these data are ignored by ID proponents in favor of phony claims that modern biologists put all their eggs in the fossil basket.

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Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 6:43 pm

Response to 66 (edited)

I’m not being rude but your style of argument reminds of something that has been termed (I think) the Derrida two-step, in which some wild claim is made, which, when challenged, metamorposes into a trivial common place. For example, I was under the impression that you were a relativist who was arguing that ID explanations of biological phenomena were ‘as good as’ those of ‘normal’ biology. Now this would be a very interesting claim, if true (or ‘true’). But now it seems that you are merely stating that the argument from authority is wrong, and that people should be fair when presenting the arguments of their opponents. Both of these positions are positions, I feel, that no sane person could dispute. In short, I hate to have to break it to you, but I don’t think your arguments are as radical as you seem to think they are.

Brendan, you’re having a conversation with yourself here. Unlike Derrida (as presented), I haven’t changed my mind about anything over the course of our brief encounter. You have simply come to understand my position better. You have done the two-step from ignorance to knowledge.

Also, I don’t seem to recall claiming I was radical. However, you must travel in very different circles from me to think radical relativism is exciting, as opposed to boring and even lazy. Deciding how to treat opposing positions fairly is actually much more interesting and more challenging. The reason I have been vilified by Neo-Darwinism’s Beavis and Butthead Brigade is that I said under oath that science as it’s currently constituted is systematically biased against the development of ID, and that some kind of affirmative action (e.g. it’s being taught in high schools) would be needed for it to get a fair run for its money. At the same time, I also admitted that ID is not nearly so well evidenced as Neo-Darwinism, but I think it’s still best classified as science. Many strokes of the keyboard have been spent on all this, and I won’t repeat the arguments. I also don’t expect you buy them. But I don’t think they have much to do with relativism one way or the other.

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Steve Fuller 03.28.06 at 6:57 pm

Response to 70.

John, again many thanks for your patience. I’m not sure what you know of my views, but I’m not ‘desperately’ trying to defend ID here — only trying to see how you think Modern Evolutionary Theory hangs together. I still think we’re talking a bit at cross-purposes. But it’s now 1 am in Britain, and so I’d like to get a little sleep before resuming with this conversation tomorrow.

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John 03.28.06 at 7:31 pm

For tomorrow, I have one more question. You wrote, “So, while intelligent design theory may appeal to those who believe in divine creation, its knowledge claims, and their evaluation, are couched in terms of laboratory experiments and probability theory that do not make any theistic references. Of course, this does not make the theory true but (so I believe) it does make it scientific.”

To what laboratory experiments do you refer in this passage? I am unaware of a single instance in which ID proponents have tested any ID notion or hypothesis experimentally. As for probability theory, has it ever been rigorously applied to a biological system by any ID proponent? For example, when ID proponents pontificate about random walks, do they ever note that existing biological sequences are closely clustered in a tiny fraction of available sequence space?

One more addendum to sequence hierarchies: MET predicts that as sequence similarities become indistinguishable from statistical noise as we go back in time, structural biology will still allow the construction of larger nested hierarchies between protein superfamilies. What does ID “theory” predict?

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Lawrence Sober 03.28.06 at 7:38 pm

The reason I have been vilified by Neo-Darwinism’s Beavis and Butthead Brigade is that I said under oath that science as it’s currently constituted is systematically biased against the development of ID, and that some kind of affirmative action (e.g. it’s being taught in high schools) would be needed for it to get a fair run for its money.

Nice try, Steve.

Sorry to break the news to you (again and again and again) but the reason you are “villified” Steve is because out of (1) willful ignorance and/or (2) reckless self-promotion you lent your alleged “expertise” to some patently ignoble anti-science bigoted fundamentalist crusaders.

The stuff you said under oath was rather helpful to us defenders of science and the First Amendment, Steve, when it came to winning the Dover trial. You performed poorly for those who requested the use of your “credentials.” That aspect of your testimony has also been well-documented (as you surely know but choose to forget or obfuscate, as usual).

By the way, Steve, I know some Holocaust deniers that could use your help. I’m sure you’re aware that there’s quite a bit of “science” involved in determining what really happened (or didn’t) at Auschwitz, for example. It seems to me that the Holocaust deniers could use some “affirmative action,” too, Steve, to help their theories get more traction. Surely our country’s children deserve to hear all sides of the story, not just the side favored by the overwhelmingly liberal scientists who often hail from Ivy League schools on the East Coast (wink wink).

Or is it only science-smearing fundies who are entitled to your “able” assistance, Steve? Seriously, I think you should think hard about this. I’m sure there are quite a few thoughtful racists out there who, like you, really and truly appreciate the important role that “monotheism” played in the discovery of gravity, the double helix, etc. Those folks would warm up to you eventually.

Bottom line: it’s never too late to switch sides, Steve, and acknowledge your mistakes.

And maybe even apologize. Grown men do that all the time.

75

Robert 03.28.06 at 8:00 pm

Brendan,

Try a Google search on “sociology” and “reflexitivity”. I wish there were more hits, and not all are relevant. But perhaps that will give you a start.

76

Lawrence Sober 03.28.06 at 8:39 pm

Donn Day

Obviously, you’re a deeply disturbed individual,

Why? Because I abhor professional dissemblers who play politics and I refuse to pretend I’m sitting on a comfy chair in a tweed sweater smoking a pipe with Steve Fuller?

Calling someone like Steve an enabler of lying charlatans with an anti-gay agenda does not make someone “disturbed.” Truly pissed off? Yeah. I have a reason to be, though, and I’ve explained why.

and you offer not one wit of value to the discussion.

I’d like to see how you calculate “value” in this context. Calling attention to the fact that (1) ID peddlers are to science what Holocaust deniers are to history and (2) Steve Fuller on at least one well-publicized occasion somehow was able to convince himself otherwise is valuable. Why is it valuable? Because it’s an honest description of the state of affairs and gets right to the crux of what is so rotten about this “ID” business.

Jeebus, why do you think Chris Mooney wrote his book? For the fun of it? As an “intellectual exercise”?

This stuff is important, Donn. I’m not sitting up in some ivory tower with my tenure and my biscuits writing this as an abstract exercise. I am sincerely dedicated to discrediting folks like Steve Fuller and the pathological liars he has chosen to associate with.

If I wanted to, I could do what John is doing and provide Steve Fuller with a free science education. I appreciate John’s efforts but … some of us have already been around the block with Steve a couple dozen times. Go and read the links at Berube’s blog.

The bottom line is that Steve Fuller attracts folks like me not because he is “interesting” or “controversial” but because he is a high-profile dishonest ass. Is Steve as obnoxious on a personal level as he is when he types his self-serving ignorance-informed baloney? I have no clue. But Steve doesn’t make a living off his good looks and personal charm.

Either do I.

77

John Quiggin 03.28.06 at 9:03 pm

Please, no Holocaust references except where that is the topic under discussion. Remember Godwin’s Law.

78

Lawrence Sober 03.28.06 at 9:42 pm

Please, no Holocaust references except where that is the topic under discussion. Remember Godwin’s Law.

Did I say Holocaust deniers? I meant flat earthers.

Or was it HIV deniers …

http://myweb.cableone.net/silentdave/hiv_and_evolution.htm

Serious questions are met with frivolous answers, because HIV science is practiced by people like those domineering jurors, who made up their minds before all the facts were in and then stopped listening. The HIV theory has become axiomatic, and so even patently question-begging answers will suffice to explain away disconfirming evidence. The HIV scientific establishment gets away with this unprofessional behavior because AIDS research is tightly controlled from the top, and because acquiescent science reporters and editors have allowed themselves to be bamboozled by self-serving propaganda. The HIV scientists claim that it is somehow “homophobic” to question the HIV theory, or that reporters who publicize the mounting reasons for doubt will be responsible for furthering the spread of the epidemic. Few voices in the biomedical research community, which depends on HIV money for its funding, are raised in protest. The example of Peter Duesberg, who lost virtually all his funding as a consequence of his dissent, stands as a warning to all the others.

Do the “arguments” raised in the italicized quote smell familiar?

Like ID — whose gifts to science allegedly “might” be waiting just around the corner if only scientists weren’t so hung up on their idiosyncrantic dogma-perpetuating ways — a genuine cure for AIDS lies just outside the reach of blinkered scientists. Only enlightened “free thinking” folks like Phil Johnson and Steve Fuller can appreciate the glorious benefits to science that flow from the worship of One Deity. These strong-willed idiosyncratic geniuses rail against the dull sheeplike behavior of unimaginative scientists who write their pitifully detailed articles while humanity grows increasingly secular and gay with every passing second.

O Atlantis!

79

Grady 03.28.06 at 10:58 pm

Now that Godwin’s law is in effect, let me raise the intellectual level of discussion and suggest that if philosophers of science got off their asses and did some bloody experiments, they would have both less time and less inclination to write long, smug essays on how and why actual scientists do science.

We’d all be the better for it.

On second thought, Mr. Fuller is a smarter man than I am. If I had realized that I could found a career by just speculating on my colleagues motives, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time in the lab.

80

albert 03.28.06 at 11:01 pm

Brendan,

Searching “sociology of sociology” at scholar.google.com and at google.com gets plenty of hits.

As #78 said, the “sociology of sociology” usually gets called “reflexivity.” See especially Bourdieu’s “Science and the Science of Reflexivity” and “An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology.”

You might also look at: Clemens et al, “Careers in Print” AmerJourSoc, 1995. and Burris, “The Academic Caste System” AmerSocRev, 2004.

Lastly, I should not that it’s much easier for sociologists to get funding support to study science (NSF shovels it out), and almost unheard of for such funds to support sociologists studying sociology or other social sciences.

81

Chris 03.29.06 at 12:39 am

Fuller, on publishers and non-publishers:

Again, I can’t speak for other sciences, but my experience in cognitive science has been that, for the most part, the stratification between publishers and non-publishers is largely self-selected. As I’m sure you know (and I’m all but certain this happens in other fields), there are faculty who, upon reaching tenure, no longer feel the need to strive to publish. So they don’t. This may be because they don’t enjoy the pressure of spending a year, two, or more, on research, writing it up, submitting it, and then getting inevitably negative feedback, rewriting, resubmitting, and perhaps being forced to go throug the whole process again with another journal. I don’t think anyone would describe that as fun. But it’s still their choice, and honestly, if they don’t have the passion for it, I’d rather they not publish. Perhaps you disagree.

I don’t doubt that there are some tenured faculty who don’t publish because their teaching loads are too great, they have family issues, they have trouble getting grant money (though it’s not a very well kept secret that running a lab without grant money is hardly impossible, at least if you don’t need expensive equipment), or any number of other reasons. But neither you nor I know what percentage of the population this is, and without that knowledge, I find any speculation about the negative results of this to be… idle.

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Nick (Matzke) 03.29.06 at 1:57 am

Dr. Fuller,

Have you ever considered the possibility that you might have lined up with the forces of darkness on the evolution education issue? Being contrarian is all well and good, but in this case you’ve provided aid and comfort to the reactionary right-wing in the U.S. You are on the same side as the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons (and Phillip Johnsons) of the world. This crowd doesn’t care about productive science or good education, they care about spreading their reactionary fundamentalist ideology as widely as possible, via government power if possible.

Let’s look at two of the Dover Defendants on whose behalf you testified: William Buckingham and Alan Bonsell. These two rascally rebels against the dreary scientific establishment happened to be fundamentalist young-earth creationists who got themselves convinced that those nasty biology teachers in Dover were teaching atheism and materialism when they spend a period or two of their year-long biology classes teaching evolution. Buckingham apparently approved when a janitor removed a student’s mural on evolution from the biology classroom and burned it out on the playground. Buckingham and Bonsell started pushing for equal time for creationism — ID was not part of the discussion until lawyers got involved in 2004 — at board retreats and meetings. Buckingham eventually got in touch with the Discovery Institute and received the standard propaganda package of videos and books. After watching Icons of Evolution, he became convinced that any mention of “Darwin” in the biology textbook, e.g. “Darwin’s finches”, meant that the textbook was lying to children. These two champions of free thought began an extended campaign to browbeat the Dover biology teachers into submission, attempting to coerce them into teaching only microevolution, or preferrably no evolution at all. The school board members called special meetings with the teachers — an unprecendented event — and had the science teachers watch the Icons of Evolution video apparently not once, but twice. These meetings included attempts to extract promises from teachers that they would not teach about the “origins of life”, by which was meant the origin of new species, especially the origin of humans. In other words, “microevolution” only, not macroevolution. Teacher Jen Miller used to teach her students about geologic time by having them run a long paper timeline down the hallway, but that and many other standard bits of science education were dropped under pressure from above.

Buckingham and Bonsell, however, were not satisified with their progress thus far in advancing creative young scientific ideas. Facing resistance from the teachers, who would continually give concessions but never quite accede to all their demands, they began seeking an official policy to enforce their liberal ideals. Buckingham testified in court that at an early meeting that they needed an evolution policy because he felt the teachers “weren’t being straight with him” because they were teaching evolution behind his back — how dare they follow the the Pennsylvania Academic Standards and their professional training, rather than forward-thinking educational philosophy of William Buckingham?

After all this happened, Buckingham got in touch with the Thomas More Law Center, a well known defender of progressive causes. It was from them he learned about Of Pandas and People and probably that he should ixnay the eationismcray alktay. TMLC said they would defend the Pandas book and a ID policy all the way to the Supreme Court, so Buckingham began twisting arms to get the Pandas book adopted by the school board by hook or by crook — memorably, by holding the mainstream biology book hostage until one of his allies defected. This led to the “anonymous donation” of the Pandas books, which Buckingham and Bonsell later lied about in court. The history from this point on is more widely known.

Now, it’s quite possible that you detest this sort of thing as much as the rest of us. But I don’t think you can dissociate the ID movement in the same way. Buckinghams and Bonsells are quite common over here in the U.S. They are the actual market for, and actual on-the-ground support for, “intelligent design” and so-called “critical analysis of evolution.” Various reports indicate that a third of biology teachers experience pressure to skip or downplay the teaching of evolution. These kinds of attitudes are why evolution was officially banned in many states and local districts for over 40 years, until the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in 1968. The “if we can’t ban evolution, we’ll at least get equal time for our fundamentalist religious views — err, ‘creation science’” sentiment was the next best option, and right around 1968 Henry Morris invented “scientific creationism” (read Numbers) and spread this monument to the human capacity for self-delusion far and wide until two whole U.S. states passed equal-time laws in 1981. These collapsed in court, but never fear, in 1987 the creationists quite literally relabeled their creationism as “intelligent design”, and thus produced the first ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, two years later in 1989. Dr. Behe joined the movement and presented his “irreducible complexity” argument first not in his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, but instead in the 1993 version of Pandas, which he coauthors, and all of the other “new” ID arguments that you seem impressed by also appear in this textbook for 14-year olds. Doesn’t this seems like a strange way to start a new scientific movement?

When someone finally gets the gumption to call “bull@*#%” on these sorts of flagrant shenanigans in court, you, Dr. Fuller, come along and accuse the scientists and philosophers of all kinds of nasty and repressive things — when they merely point out the problems with teaching ideological fake science as if it were real. But where is the real ugliness here? Where, really, is the oppression, propaganda and “newspeak” coming from? Is it really the ACLU, NCSE and the NAS that are the problem, or might they actually have some point that in arguing that we need to oppose the Buckinghams and Bonsells of the world, and their coaches at the Discovery Institute and elsewhere?

83

john c. halasz 03.29.06 at 2:07 am

Just to add my $.02 worth at the end of this thread, I’m really puzzled by Steve Fuller. There are many bits and pieces of what he says that I might be sympathetic to or inclined to agree with, but, when he puts it together “systematically” in an overall argument, the results seem to be far more “irrational” than need be. And his “support” for ID, whether “brave” or “foolish”, strikes me as needlessly stepping into the deep doo-doo, without any clear end or “pay-off”, other than courting aggressive rudeness, here or elsewhere. In the name of what sort of social status, solidarity, or reference group does he raise his claims, or does he think that he has pulled himself by his pony-tail out of any such question? And does he really think that natural science is reducible to politics, or, perhaps more reasonably, that it is a distinctive set of cognitive practices, which, institutionalized, develops an “internal” politics of its own, which is inevitably intricated in the broader world of political economy? But, if the latter, then what account of that broader political economy and the relation of natural science to it does he offer? Perhaps the Adornian,- (or backhandedly Hegelian),- point that there can be no such thing as a “free, democratic, and open” science, unless there is a “free, democratic and open” society/polity, or vice versa, and that that antinomy can not be resolved by fiat, would need to be addressed here, if suitably shorn of its “utopian” baggage.

If I can intuit anything of his perhaps misguided motive in “supporting” ID, it seems to me that he might wish to foreground the issue of intelligibility in relation to natural scientific explanation. But that is an historical and philosophical rather than a scientific question, and, further, he seems to conflate the former two. Yes, metaphysical or theological notions of divinity as a source of intelligible order did form a significant motivation and explanatory template in the past development of scientific theories, but, nowadays, the desire to understand the “mind of God” might more reasonably be seen as an hallucinatory than an explanatory aim, of no more probative value than similar accounts of sovereign power. On the other hand, I understand modern natural scientific explanation to be, broadly speaking, “economic” in nature, which means that some sorts of questions can be addressed by its means and others, regardless of what rational legitimacy might be critically accorded to them, can not. Scientific explanations might not be entirely satisfactory meaningfully or rationally. But that just means that the sort of intelligibility that scientific explanations can and do provide should be elucidated and delimited, without being pressed into services that they can not perform, and that other sorts of questions, including the relation between the cognitive norms of natural science and other domains of social activity and their normative claims, should be separated off from scientific questions, without necessarily impugning either.

The other peculiar motive that might be at stake in Fuller’s “support” for ID is not relativism,- (which I think is often an exagerated and dogmatic fear),- but rather a kind of philosophical skepticism, (which I would think Wittgenstein put paid to a while ago). That would explain the vagueness of his appeal to alternative possibilities, together with his resistance to acknowledging the overlapping implications of different kinds of evidence that make for confirmation of such a basic scientific paradigm as “neo-Darwinianism”, or evolution by natural selection. I don’t think that there is ever such a thing as absolute “proof”. But I think it’s important to recognize that explanation is a human activity with aims of its own such that application is “internal” to cognitive practices, rather than just a consideration for “external” domains. For example, reportedly, Goedel in his late conversations with Einstein developed an interpretation of Relativity equations purporting to show that time was not itself “real”. But, to my view, that would just be mathematics, ignoring the “point” of the equations, whereas the derivation of the cosmological notion of the “Big Bang” from the same set of equations would have been “to the point” of the original explanatory aim of the equations. To ask more of “proof” than a given explanatory aim could provide amounts to a kind of category mistake, or perhaps rather, a failure to explain how a cognitive practice “works”.

Finally, I would ask after the application of the epithet “neo-Darwinianism”,- (which is itself a linguistic solecism),- and whether it is meant to apply broadly to the whole paradigmatic idea of evolution by natural selection or whether it is meant to apply to a specific set of restrictions on the interpretation of that idea or proposals within its framework. I don’t see, say, Loewontin, Gould, Lynn Margulis, or Stuart Kauffman as contesting the broader Darwinian framework, let alone its naturalistic premises, despite what some of their antagonists might polemically claim, but rather as offering alternatives and amendations within it, however debatable. On the other hand, the fact that natural scientific explanation occurs tautologically on naturalistic premises does not necessarily license any claim to a totalization of philosophical naturalism, such as Daniel Dennett’s project to enlist a version of Darwinism in an effort to renew a (fairly traditional) program of ontological naturalism/epistemological representationalism. To me, disputes within the broader Darwinian fold are far more interesting and fruitful than efforts whose apparent explanatory aim is to provide theological, metaphysical, or just “humanistically” intelligible self-satisfaction. Efforts to explain resistances to acknowledgement of our inevitably “natural” condition would perhaps be still more to the point, rather than apolegetics for our failure to do so.

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brendan 03.29.06 at 6:57 am

‘I should note that it’s much easier for sociologists to get funding support to study science (NSF shovels it out), and almost unheard of for such funds to support sociologists studying sociology or other social sciences.’

Well this is rather my point isn’t it?

85

Ginger Yellow 03.29.06 at 9:22 am

Professor Fuller:

My background assumption is that politicians, whether they’re doing good or ill, are checked on a regular basis through elections, whereas peer-reviewed publications, once they’re in, have to be actively purged from the scientific literature – typically by scientists in related areas who are motivated to find fault in their colleagues’ work. If we conducted politics this way, it would result in vigilantism, as it does in countries with weak democratic procedures.

This checking, to the extent that it exists, is done by the majority, no? Or at least a plurality. So how do regular elections offset majoritarianism?

86

albert 03.29.06 at 10:25 am

Brendan-

I thought your point was that sociologists were content to study (debunk) other people but never looked within, thus being less than honest about their approach.

Obviously that’s not the case. Additionally, the financial constraints against sociologists taking sociology as their object of study would seem to undermine your point (ask I took it) that the orientation of the field is somehow the fault of individual practitioners.

87

John 03.29.06 at 5:49 pm

Looks like Steve-o bailed on us.

88

Steve Fuller 03.29.06 at 6:19 pm

No, I haven’t bailed. I’ve just read and responded to Kieran Healy’s new blog on my post. I’ll be back here shortly.

89

Barry 03.29.06 at 6:52 pm

“Being contrarian is all well and good,…”

No, actually it’s not good – it’s a vice. Moral courage, the willingness to be alone for the sake of truth – that’s a virtue. But contrarianism – the desire to be contrary – is just vanity.

90

Donald Johnson 03.29.06 at 8:04 pm

Steve Fuller seems oddly dismissive of non-fossil evidence for evolution. In post 55 he says this–

“Why are you so dismissive of fossils as evidence for Neo-Darwinism? I can see how the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla would justify a certain way of classifying organisms, but would it also support the long historical story associated with Darwinism?”

In post 65 he says this–

“Also, might some people not think that it’s a pretty big conceptual leap to go from showing this point about how organisms are classified to how they came to be that way? In any case, it’s hard to tell whether a given story is really any good, until we see what a competitor might look like. Some people might prefer to remain agnostic under the circumstances. And I’m happy to grant you that ID hasn’t provided a credible alternative yet.”

What’s interesting about this is that anyone even somewhat familiar with the history of the theory of evolution would know that the fossil evidence was never more than a fraction of the case in its favor. If anything, in The Origin of Species Darwin seemed to think that the fossil record of his day was a strike against his theory, at least in the sense that there weren’t very many links known at that point. So he argues the case for evolution with evidence from biogeography and the hierarchical classification system and so on, claiming (correctly) that this evidence fit neatly into his theory while under special creation there was no particular reason anyone could suggest why God would have done it that way. That’s the point, isn’t it? Evolutionary biology is no different from any other branch of science–Newtonian physics gives us an explanation why planetary orbits are elliptical, while those who adhere to the angel propulsion theory can happily accept any possible orbital shape whatsoever.

BTW, I’m a Christian and so I’m not opposed to the notion that God could have left His fingerprints all over creation if He’d wanted to. But at least in biology there’s no strong argument for saying that He did so. I used to have more hope for the anthropic principle and sometimes I wonder if we theists should try drawing the line at human consciousness, but unlike the intelligent design movement, I don’t see the point in being dishonest about it. If human consciousness can be explained in materialistic terms, I’m not going to cheer for people on “my” side if the best they can do in response is no better than what we see in the intelligent design movement.

91

Steve Fuller 03.29.06 at 11:08 pm

RESPONSE TO 71 AND 94

FIRST 94:

Steve Fuller seems oddly dismissive of non-fossil evidence for evolution. In post 55 he says this— “Why are you so dismissive of fossils as evidence for Neo-Darwinism? I can see how the nested hierarchies of protein families across phyla would justify a certain way of classifying organisms, but would it also support the long historical story associated with Darwinism?”

You missed the point of why I asked the question. I am trying to figure out what exactly is Modern Evolutionary Theory supposed to be a theory ABOUT, and hence the relative importance of the evidence brought to bear on it. Is the theory about the actual history of life on earth? In that case, the fossils do matter, and Darwin did not dismiss fossils or even thought they counted against his theory. Fossils were his best evidence for extinction, which is the limiting case of natural selection. The problem is that the fossil record appeared radically incomplete, so the evidence was inconclusive on that front. Nevertheless, Darwin’s remained a theory about life on earth, and so one would want primarily to examine the pattern of propagation and extinction of life on earth, including the forms of breeding that survive in natural environments. Lab-based bioscience conducted at the genetic or molecular level would not have counted for much, as far as he was concerned.

Now, of course, Darwin was a 19th century naturalist and not a 20th century geneticist, and so we shouldn’t tie the fate of evolutionary theory to what he would have personally accepted as reasonable methodology. But are card-carrying evolutionists still trying to answer Darwin’s question, or has that question been subsumed under – or perhaps replaced by – some broader inquiry that involves exploring the implications of a certain abstract model that could be in principle applied to just about anything, anywhere, and anytime?

The article you linked from Nature (in response 63) is, as far as I understand it, about the classification of organisms and their common ancestors, which happens to coincide with what we know of the history of life on earth. But would the validity of this general line of research be affected if it turns out that we can’t find fossil evidence for the sorts of common ancestors it predicts?

In Response 71, we had this peculiar exchange (and again, I apologize for not getting your point here):

FULLER: As you also say, the fossils don’t matter to this account of evolution.
JOHN: That’s not what I say, Dr. Fuller. They aren’t needed. The gigabytes of sequence data confirm the fossil data many times over, as well as offering far more detail about the relationships between proteins and organisms.
FULLER: However, the fossils are the only real connection with the historical past of life on earth, which is what evolutionary theory was originally trying to explain.
JOHN: The sequences are a very real connection. They do exist, you know.

I don’t deny the reality of the sequences, and I don’t deny that they currently show a pattern that supports what we know of the actual history of life on earth. But if, in the future, we should discover some persistent deviation between the sequences and the fossils, would it matter to the validity of the general project of genomic sequencing? (I expect your answer to be no.)

Finally, at the end of 71, you say:

ID simply can’t explain the nested hierarchies without postulating major characteristics of their Designer’s behavior, none of which suggest that their Designer is omnipotent. That’s why these data are ignored by ID proponents in favor of phony claims that modern biologists put all their eggs in the fossil basket.

ID may not be able to explain the nested hierarchies, but your other two points are not right. First, historically ID has been open-minded about the powers attributed to the designer. In any case, I think you mean to question the designer’s omniscience rather than omnipotence. For example, Charles Babbage of ‘analytical engine’ fame thought God programmed the universe in a way that required humans to complete the programme as they saw fit, and in doing so participated creatively as mini-gods. But theology aside, the reason ID people want to tie biologists to the fossil record is because they think that biologists have subtly shifted the goalpost of what ‘evolution’ means so that it no longer turns on the actual history of life on earth but on a simulated history cooked up in the lab or on a computer. This is why I ask the questions as I did.

92

Donald Johnson 03.29.06 at 11:28 pm

I think Darwin would have seen the molecular evidence as a natural extension of the arguments he made based on anatomical traits and how they were used to classify organisms in his time. Obviously fossils are an important part of any case for evolution, but Darwin and presumably all modern evolutionists would be evolutionists even if the fossil record didn’t exist (if we lived in some alternate universe where physical laws prevented fossilization from occurring.) They would come to this conclusion based on the rest of the evidence. Now if the fossil record contradicted the rest of this evidence, then evolution would be in real trouble, and that’s why the young earth creationists sometimes claim to have found human footprints in Mesozoic strata.

93

Donald Johnson 03.29.06 at 11:45 pm

BTW, my own feeling about ID is that there is a place for it in high school–in a philosophy class, in a comparative religion class, or in a history of ideas class. And it could even be mentioned in biology class as part of the background history on what led to Darwin’s theory. It shouldn’t be taught as a serious scientific rival to evolution because it isn’t. I doubt it will be in 100 years, but supposing it were, it’s not customary for high schools to teach theories that will only have strong evidence to support them 100 years from now.

Of course there’s the little problem that high schools typically don’t offer philosophy classes AFAIK, but that’s clearly where a discussion of design in the universe belongs, until or unless we find empirical evidence of God’s fingerprints somewhere. And I’m not trying to relegate the notion of design to an intellectual ghetto–it has been an important part of Western intellectual history and one could argue it ought to be taught somewhere.

94

Ginger Yellow 03.30.06 at 5:43 am

“But theology aside, the reason ID people want to tie biologists to the fossil record is because they think that biologists have subtly shifted the goalpost of what ‘evolution’ means so that it no longer turns on the actual history of life on earth but on a simulated history cooked up in the lab or on a computer. “

No it’s not. It’s because half-truth and false arguments about gaps in the fossil record and “missing links” resonate well with members of the general public who do not have much understanding about genetics or evolutionary theory. The genetic evidence is so overwhelming that it’s undeniable, but even if it weren’t your average bloke wouldn’t understand it well enough to consider it a blow against evolution. I’m an extremely interested, university educated layman and I struggle with the genetic side of things sometimes.

95

Steve LaBonne 03.30.06 at 9:05 am

And it needs to be said clearly that there is absolutely nothing “simulated” or “cooked up” about the history that’s written in gene sequences. It’s essentially just another kind of fossil, but far less “gappy” and more information-rich than the kind you dig up from the ground. This is another instance of Fuller’s astounding willingness to make would-be authoritative pronouncements on matters of which he knows absolutely nothing. Which in turn makes one wonder how anyone (especially other sociologists) can justify taking him seriously.

96

Ginger Yellow 03.30.06 at 9:47 am

Well I think he’s referring there to the sort of thing Dennett goes on about, ie natural selection as a substrate neutral algorithmic design process. Which it is. But that’s not “moving the goalposts” any more than it’s “moving the goalposts” for medicine to learn lessons from biology. Evolutionary scientists still study the history of life on earth. It’s just that the lessons evolution teaches us are applicable to other subjects.

97

Steve LaBonne 03.30.06 at 10:02 am

No, Fuller actually said in a comment elsewhere in this symposium that fossils are our “only real connection to the history of life”, or something along those lines. Which is complete balderdash and really does indicate that he knows nothing at all about contemporary evolutionary biology.

98

Jonathan Goldberg 03.30.06 at 10:31 am

It is opined:

“ID people want to tie biologists to the fossil record is because they think that biologists have subtly shifted the goalpost of what ‘evolution’ means so that it no longer turns on the actual history of life on earth but on a simulated history cooked up in the lab or on a computer.”

The reason ID people want to stick to the fossil record is that there is some ambiguity in it, as there is not in the sequence evidence (among others).

And the reason people I attribute theological motives to ID supporters is the supposition, which I think correct, that only religious motives could bring anyone to defend such indefensible views. To think otherwise it is necessary to think that MET might be wrong. It is impossible for anyone with any familiarity with the evidence to honestly belive that. I had started on a much longer and more detailed post, but it died of the why bothers.

This, along with the rest of this post, is the worst (really, only) drivel I’ve ever seen on CT, a blog whose standards are normally high.

99

Ginger Yellow 03.30.06 at 10:48 am

Steve: fair point. The irony being that our genes are in a way far more closely connected to our biological past than fossils, which are after all rocks.

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John 03.30.06 at 12:53 pm

Steve Fuller wrote:
I am trying to figure out what exactly is Modern Evolutionary Theory supposed to be a theory ABOUT, and hence the relative importance of the evidence brought to bear on it. Is the theory about the actual history of life on earth?

It’s much more specific than that. It is about the mechanisms that have produced the diversity of life on earth.

In that case, the fossils do matter,…

Of course they do. The point that keeps flying over your head is that they are no longer needed to promote MET from hypothesis to theory. They are still very useful in studying many things. Maybe the other poster I quoted below makes the point more clearly.

… and Darwin did not dismiss fossils or even thought they counted against his theory.

Of course he didn’t. Fossils, along with shared characteristics of existing organisms, were the main evidence to support the theory for decades. I’m trying to point out that the sequence evidence supports MET much more strongly, which is why ID proponents don’t address the sequence evidence.

Fossils were his best evidence for extinction, which is the limiting case of natural selection. The problem is that the fossil record appeared radically incomplete, so the evidence was inconclusive on that front.

Despite being incomplete, it was conclusive. Your problem now is that we have a much, much more complete set of sequence data to support MET, which is why ID proponents don’t try to explain nested hierarchies.

Lab-based bioscience conducted at the genetic or molecular level would not have counted for much, as far as he was concerned.

You clearly don’t understand the lab evidence well enough to make that sort of prediction.

Now, of course, Darwin was a 19th century naturalist and not a 20th century geneticist, and so we shouldn’t tie the fate of evolutionary theory to what he would have personally accepted as reasonable methodology.

What? Theories are about making predictions, and are not tied to people as you pretend here. You really don’t understand the sociology of science at all.

And evolutionists don’t carry cards.

The article you linked from Nature (in response 63) is, as far as I understand it, about the classification of organisms and their common ancestors, which happens to coincide with what we know of the history of life on earth.

You missed the point. It is about understanding relationships for which we have no fossils.

But would the validity of this general line of research be affected if it turns out that we can’t find fossil evidence for the sorts of common ancestors it predicts?

No.

I don’t deny the reality of the sequences, and I don’t deny that they currently show a pattern that supports what we know of the actual history of life on earth. But if, in the future, we should discover some persistent deviation between the sequences and the fossils, would it matter to the validity of the general project of genomic sequencing? (I expect your answer to be no.)

No. It might matter greatly to MET, though. You see, MET makes predictions that are confirmed virtually every time someone analyzes a sequence. ID doesn’t.

ID may not be able to explain the nested hierarchies, but your other two points are not right. First, historically ID has been open-minded about the powers attributed to the designer.

Not really. That is a purely political ploy, because you can modify ID to account for them. If they were open-minded, they would be actively analyzing the hierarchies to understand the designer’s methods and limitations, as well as making and testing predictions.

In any case, I think you mean to question the designer’s omniscience rather than omnipotence.

Not at all. I understand the difference between those words quite well. To explain the hierarchies, the designer would have to value conservation of effort, which clearly is inconsistent with omnipotence. MET, OTOH, predicts that what comes later depends entirely on what existed before.

…the reason ID people want to tie biologists to the fossil record is because they think that biologists have subtly shifted the goalpost of what ‘evolution’ means so that it no longer turns on the actual history of life on earth but on a simulated history cooked up in the lab or on a computer. This is why I ask the questions as I did.

Wrong. They babble about the fossil record and ignore sequence hierarchies because they reject the scientific method.

Donald Johnson wrote:
Obviously fossils are an important part of any case for evolution, but Darwin and presumably all modern evolutionists would be evolutionists even if the fossil record didn’t exist (if we lived in some alternate universe where physical laws prevented fossilization from occurring.)

This is the point that Fuller keeps missing. The elevation to theory would have happened later, but those who question evolution wouldn’t be able to exploit the incompleteness of the fossil record.

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Steve Fuller 03.30.06 at 4:34 pm

I suppose it’s asking too much not to rush to judgement about whether I’m idiot, but at least I’m grateful for your responses. But there are still a few things that aren’t clear to me.

Take Post 99 (by Steve Labonne):

And it needs to be said clearly that there is absolutely nothing “simulated” or “cooked up” about the history that’s written in gene sequences. It’s essentially just another kind of fossil, but far less “gappy” and more information-rich than the kind you dig up from the ground.

Here aren’t you’re really talking about gene sequences from living organisms, rather than whatever genetic material might be gleaned from fossils? If so, then in what sense would these sequences constitute a more information-rich kind of fossil? The only sense I can make of your claim in the context of this discussion is that you presuppose the truth of Neo-Darwinism and then you interpret the gene sequences as traces of evolutionary history. But if you didn’t already believe the theory, the gene sequences would simply give you an effective way of demonstrating the interrelatedness of different species: a taxonomic device like the ones found in chemistry.

Now take Post 102 (by Jonathan Goldberg):

And the reason people I attribute theological motives to ID supporters is the supposition, which I think correct, that only religious motives could bring anyone to defend such indefensible views. To think otherwise it is necessary to think that MET might be wrong. It is impossible for anyone with any familiarity with the evidence to honestly believe that.

Well, I hate to break the news to you, but it’s only been in the last generation that a considerable number of – though perhaps still not most – philosophers have taken MET with the epistemological seriousness that posters here seem to. And most of these sceptics of evolution have been positivists who, like the ID people, did not see a clear inferential link between micro- and macroevolution. Of course, these positivists were not necessarily trying to sneak God through the backdoor, but they thought that agnosticism was a more rational attitude than the sort of enthusiasm exuded by, say, Dennett. You might say that the evidence is now much better than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but I think their objections were of a much principled character – having to do with how you access information (let alone make ‘predictions’, a word that is used very loosely in this discussion) about the remote past.

Finally, we get to Post 104 (by John):

Donald Johnson wrote: “Obviously fossils are an important part of any case for evolution, but Darwin and presumably all modern evolutionists would be evolutionists even if the fossil record didn’t exist (if we lived in some alternate universe where physical laws prevented fossilization from occurring.)” This is the point that Fuller keeps missing. The elevation to theory would have happened later, but those who question evolution wouldn’t be able to exploit the incompleteness of the fossil record.

For people who claim to endorse a Darwinian theory of evolution, which stresses the contingency of speciation, etc., I find it astonishing that you seem to endorse a teleological view of the history of science, which argues that, even without fossils, we would have come to interpret the gene sequences as evidence for evolution. It’s as if there’s only one path to the truth, and we’ll get there sooner or later. At least, that’s the only interpretation I can give to the above statement. And it strikes me as historiographically naïve in the extreme. Geneticists and molecular biologists traditionally thought of themselves very much like classical physicists, coming up with the basic elements and principles of life without any special concern for history, let alone evolution. It is only the introduction of Darwinian concerns about the history of life on earth (starting in the 1920s but really in the 1930s-40s) that enabled all this lab-based research to be interpreted as relevant to Darwin’s original historical concerns (‘evolution’ in the proper sense, I would say). It would have been perfectly possible for natural history and genetics to go their separate ways, make their most characteristic findings, yet retain relatively independent research agendas, much like anthropology and experimental psychology in the social sciences.

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Drm 03.30.06 at 5:08 pm

“It’s as if there’s only one path to the truth, and we’ll get there sooner or later. At least, that’s the only interpretation I can give to the above statement.”

The point is quite the opposite, there are many paths to the truth. In the long run, the path taken by science doesn’t matter – some paths are shorter, some are more scenic, some are more elegant – but we will get there eventually. That is infact, a fundamental philosophical underpinning of science. That’s what enables a bunch of sociopathic, politically motivated primates to practice science with reasonable success. What is remarkably about the fossil approach in comparison to the sequence based phylogenies is how well the paleontologists and systemists have done using only morphological characters without knowledge of the underlying genetic content of those traits. The classical guys deserve alot of credit.

103

Zarquon 03.30.06 at 5:27 pm

One thing that needs to be pointed out is that Darwin didn’t need to use the fossil record. Creationists and their fellow travellers like to argue against the fossil record because it is (inevitably) gappy and incomplete. But the fossil record is not a weak point in evolutionary theory, it merely means that the history of life on Earth can’t be reconstructed in the excruciating detail antievolutionists require. Big deal. The theory of gravity doesn’t allow us to reconstruct the history of the solar system in excruciating detail either, and only the flat-earthers argue against gravitational theory.

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Donald Johnson 03.30.06 at 5:41 pm

Zarquon wrote–

“One thing that needs to be pointed out is that Darwin didn’t need to use the fossil record.”

Several of us have pointed this out, Zarquon, but Steve Fuller doesn’t seem to understand the point, which drm states in his own way right above you–there are several different pathways which one could take that would lead one to believe that evolution is true. As it happens, Darwin did not take the fossil record as his path.

Also, one could imagine an alternative biology on some other planet where the organisms simply couldn’t be fit into a hierarchical classification scheme in any natural way. In that case, you wouldn’t have evidence for evolution as the Darwinians understand it. The periodic table is an example of this–there’s a pattern, but it doesn’t suggest Darwinian evolution. (Though as it happens, the elements were cooked up inside stars in roughly the order from smallest atomic weight to largest. But that idea comes from a combination of data from astronomy and nuclear physics–nobody thinks the periodic table demonstrates that helium evolved from hydrogen via a process of random genetic change and natural selection.)

105

Ginger Yellow 03.30.06 at 6:04 pm

Prof Fuller: Here aren’t you’re really talking about gene sequences from living organisms, rather than whatever genetic material might be gleaned from fossils? If so, then in what sense would these sequences constitute a more information-rich kind of fossil? The only sense I can make of your claim in the context of this discussion is that you presuppose the truth of Neo-Darwinism and then you interpret the gene sequences as traces of evolutionary history.”

No, and once again I find it difficult to believe you say this in good faith. If evolutionary theory is true, then gene sequences in living organisms should show certain specific patterns. These predictions are borne out by experiment. Such evidence was presented on the very first day of the Dover trial at which you yourself testified. Have you not even read the judgement? Here’s Dr Miller’s extremely clear testimony:

We have, as I’m sure most people know, 46 chromosomes in our human cells. That means we have 23 pairs of chromosomes because you get 23 from mom and you get 23 from dad, so we’ve all got 46 total. We’ve got 23 pairs.

Now, the curious thing about the great apes is they have more. They have, as you can see from the slide, 48 chromosomes, which means they have 24 pairs. Now, what that means, Mr. Walczak, is that you and I, in a sense, are missing a chromosome, we’re missing a pair of chromosomes. And the question is, if evolution is right about this common ancestry idea, where did the chromosome go?

Now, there’s no possibility that that common ancestry which would have had 48 chromosomes because the other three species have 48, there’s no possibility the chromosome could have just got lost or thrown away. Chromosome has so much genetic information on it that the loss of a whole chromosome would probably be fatal. So that’s not a hypothesis.

Therefore, evolution makes a testable prediction, and that is, somewhere in the human genome we’ve got to be able to find a human chromosome that actually shows the point at which two of these common ancestors were pasted together. We ought to be able to find a piece of Scotch tape holding together two chromosomes so that our 24 pairs — one of them was pasted together to form just 23. And if we can’t find that, then the hypothesis of common ancestry is wrong and evolution is mistaken.

Go to the next slide. Now, the prediction is even better than that. And the reason for that is chromosomes themselves have little genetic markers in their middles and on their ends. They have DNA sequences, which I’ve highlighted in here, called telomeres that exist on the edges of the chromosomes.

Then they have special DNA sequences at the center called centromeres, which I’ve highlighted in red. Centromeres are really important because that’s where the chromosomes are separated when a cell divides. If you don’t have a centromere, you’re in really big trouble.

Now, if one of our chromosomes, as evolution predicts, really was formed by the fusion of two chromosomes, what we should find is in that human chromosome, we should find those telomere sequences which belong at the ends, but we should find them in the middle. Sort of like the seam at which you’ve glued two things together, it should still be there.

And we should also find that there are two centromeres, one of which has, perhaps, been inactivated in order to make it convenient to separate this when a cell divides. That’s a prediction. And if we can’t find it in our genome, then evolution is in trouble.

Next slide. Well, lo and behold, the answer is in Chromosome Number 2. This is a paper that — this is a facsimile of a paper that was published in the British journal Nature in 2004. It’s a multi-authored paper. The first author is Hillier, and other authors are listed as et al. And it’s entitled, The Generation and Annotation of the DNA Sequences of Human Chromosomes 2 and 4.

And what this paper shows very clearly is that all of the marks of the fusion of those chromosomes predicted by common descent and evolution, all those marks are present on human Chromosome Number 2.

Would you advance the slide. And I put this up to remind the Court of what that prediction is. We should find telomeres at the fusion point of one of our chromosomes, we should have an inactivated centromere and we should have another one that still works.

And you’ll note — this is some scientific jargon from the paper, but I will read part of it. Quote, Chromosome 2 is unique to the human lineage of evolution having emerged as a result of head-to-head fusion of two acrocentric chromosomes that remain separate in other primates. The precise fusion site has been located, the reference then says exactly there, where our analysis confirmed the presence of multiple telomere, subtelomeric duplications. So those are right there.

And then, secondly, during the formation of human chromosome 2, one of the two centromeres became inactivated, and the exact point of that inactivation is pointed out, and the chromosome that is inactivated in us — excuse me, the centromere that is inactivated in us turns out to correspond to primate Chromosome Number 13.

So the case is closed in a most beautiful way, and that is, the prediction of evolution of common ancestry is fulfilled by that led-pipe evidence that you see here in terms of tying everything together, that our chromosome formed by the fusion from our common ancestor is Chromosome Number 2. Evolution has made a testable prediction and has passed.

Prof Fuller: “But if you didn’t already believe the theory, the gene sequences would simply give you an effective way of demonstrating the interrelatedness of different species: a taxonomic device like the ones found in chemistry.”

But how can gene sequences demonstrate the interrelatedness of different species unless common descent with modification is true?

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John 03.30.06 at 6:41 pm

Steve Fuller wrote:
I suppose it’s asking too much not to rush to judgement about whether I’m idiot…

Give it a rest, Steve. If you were a sincere idiot, you’d be engaging in discussion or bothering to look at the sequence evidence before defending yourself. You’re a somewhat clever polemicist, but you’ve latched on to a losing cause.

The only sense I can make of your claim in the context of this discussion is that you presuppose the truth of Neo-Darwinism and then you interpret the gene sequences as traces of evolutionary history.

The relationships between the sequences are predicted by MET. New sequence is produced every day that has the potential to demolish MET. What predictions does ID make about the nature of sequences yet to be discovered?

But if you didn’t already believe the theory, the gene sequences would simply give you an effective way of demonstrating the interrelatedness of different species: a taxonomic device like the ones found in chemistry.

Sorry, but they are much richer than that, and I suspect that you realize it.

And most of these sceptics of evolution have been positivists who, like the ID people, did not see a clear inferential link between micro- and macroevolution.

Erm, Steve, the relationships between the sequences are all about macroevolution. The dichotomy is patently false.

… having to do with how you access information (let alone make ‘predictions’, a word that is used very loosely in this discussion) about the remote past.

Epistemologically, the predictions are not about the remote past. The theory about what happened in the remote past makes very clear predictions about what we will learn in the future. What does ID do?

For people who claim to endorse a Darwinian theory of evolution, which stresses the contingency of speciation, etc., I find it astonishing that you seem to endorse a teleological view of the history of science,…

It doesn’t seem that way to anyone discussing this in good faith.

… which argues that, even without fossils, we would have come to interpret the gene sequences as evidence for evolution.

“Evidence for evolution”? No, they are evidence for the mechanisms of evolution. How can you be so sloppy, Steve?

It’s as if there’s only one path to the truth, and we’ll get there sooner or later.

No, it’s the polar opposite. I am pointing out that there are many paths to the truth–that the fossil path is now unnecessary for cementing MET as a theory.

Geneticists and molecular biologists traditionally thought of themselves very much like classical physicists… (starting in the 1920s but really in the 1930s-40s) that enabled all this lab-based research to be interpreted as relevant to Darwin’s original historical concerns (‘evolution’ in the proper sense, I would say).

I would say, “So what?” given that I was trained as a geneticist in the late ’80s. I could tell that a gene that I sequenced didn’t fall into either of the known classes within a family just by looking at the sequence–not a shred of math was necessary.

It would have been perfectly possible for natural history and genetics to go their separate ways, make their most characteristic findings, yet retain relatively independent research agendas, much like anthropology and experimental psychology in the social sciences.

Pure hooey. I suggest that you look at the evolution of biology outside those politically-charged fields. For example, divisions between basic-science departments in medical schools are becoming almost totally irrelevant.

In fact, believe that someone relatively famous wrote a book about this very subject…;-)

107

Lawrence Sober 03.30.06 at 9:34 pm

The only sense I can make of your claim in the context of this discussion is that you presuppose the truth of Neo-Darwinism and then you interpret the gene sequences as traces of evolutionary history.

The only thing you need to “presuppose,” Steve, is that organisms on earth were reproducing and passing genetic information to their offspring via DNA 1 million years ago in more or less the same way that did five days ago.

This is standard procedure for science, Steve. If you want to claim that organisms reproduced and passed their genetic material on to their offspring in profoundly different ways back in the Olden Days, that’s your right. But if you have no evidence for your claim and you are unable to article a plausible alternate mechanism without invoking “mysterious alien beings” with “mysterious powers”, then you are not a scientist. Instead, you are a hack preacher pulling fantasy stories out of your holy hinder.

This is not a difficult concept to grasp, Steve. More importantly, this concept has been explained to you before in equally plain language.

So, do you GET IT now???

If not, we can fairly conclude that you are a scientifically illiterate moron who shouldn’t be given any credit for his theories about scientists, OR you are simply pretending to not get it (i.e., you’re a liar) in which case we are equally entitled to write you off for all time.

If I were you, Steve, I’d consider “seeing the light” and apologizing for my denseness and/or intentional obfuscation and make a fresh start of it. We’ve all made mistakes.

Then again, I don’t earn a living as a vapid pompous ass so perhaps there are contingencies to my proposal that I’m not aware of.

108

john c. halasz 03.30.06 at 10:33 pm

Reading the Steve Fuller train-wreck here, one wonders just how he thinks that paradigmatic frameworks or basic theoretical ideas could ever be connected with evidences and inferences and be regarded as warranted, however tentatively, or as the best available explanation and most promising lines of research. That the logical positivists objected to Darwinian evolution perhaps just goes to show how inadequate (and physics-fetishizing) their accounts of natural science were, and, if Popper voiced similar views, (which he later recanted), then perhaps that too goes to show weaknesses in his conception of natural sciences and how they operate. (He was initially concerned to “demarcate” science from pseudo-science,- leaving aside the question of disciplines that might be methodical and rational, but not amenible to experimental procedures,- via the notion of falsification, and if he went some way to explaining how ideas could become amenible to testing, to my knowledge, at least, he did not adequately address the question of how scientific ideas themselves are generated, such that they should be plausible candidates for testing, that is, the demarcation between established sciences and their pre-scientific roots. Perhaps Fuller is himself carrying over some of that weakness in his historical retrospectives, which don’t seem to take into account the positional weighting of issues as they arise: Darwinian evolution “won out” over possible alternatives or competitors because it proved far and away the most productive line of research in biology, one that has achieved successive waves of rational integration in biological explanation.) But the point here is that what philosophers (or sociologists) say doesn’t matter to what natural scientist do and to the results that they achieve. Kant thought that chemistry was not a proper science; then he read Lavoisier and changed his mind, (or rather, judged that his criteria were met). But such criterial questions arise within natural scientific research itself and do not require the intervention of philosophers or their like. Consider the “reformed cladistics” movement of the 1980′s, which declared itself agnostic toward Darwin, since the systems of biological classifications on which it would be based wer inadequate, a matter which has since been addressed and largely settled for now. The point here is that such criterial questions and skeptical doubts are most likely to arise and be effectively addressed within the respective sciences themselves, since the scientists themselves are the ones who, for the most part, best understand the information, context and implicature of such questions. So why should the practices of natural sciences be subjected to the ad hoc legislation or skeptical subversion of philosophers, (since there must be grounds or reasons for doubts just as much as for cognitive claims)? Scientists undertake distinctive normative commitments, which they aquire, together with their fund of empirical knowledge, in the course of their advanced training and which are institutionally re-enforced, hence not merely personal, and it does little good to fail to recognize those commitments or to override them simply because they are “unfounded”. Too be sure, one can attempt to elucidate and explicitate them, to bring them to reflective and public awareness, and one can attempt to study scientific institutions sociologically to examine how those norms actually operate and are applied, as opposed to an officially idealized account or self-representation. Further, one can raise questions about the imposition of constraints and pressures of the practice of scientific research by dominant political and economic institutions and interests and the ways, at any given time, that that might limit or distort the cognitive truth potential of scientific research or codetermine it through its organization and funding. But what one can not do is attempt to stipulate or determine the results of natural scientific research through external criteria or stipulations.

Perhaps Fuller lends support to ID, because he wants to hold on to Christian humanism, whether as a matter of personal religious belief and commitment or as a cultural tradition that he finds ethically congenial. But natural science is a wholely secular enterprise, normatively dedicated to studying natural causal processes that are “value-free”, (since value predicates only apply to beings that are in some sense recognizable as “free”, hence capable of bearing them), and is not responsible to such concerns. (Darwinian evolution might undermine certain bases or ways of hold such beliefs, but whether it necessarily undermines them, or whether fundamentalist reaction is itself still more destructive of such beliefs is a matter for religious criticism and not science). Perhaps he fears an “imperialistic” over-extention of evolutionary thinking to socio-cultural processes that would undermine social understandings. But that’s a philosophical matter, without any established evolutionary warrant, and can readily be argued against philosophically, rather than through claiming to establish another ersatz “scientific” research program. Perhaps he’s worried about “transhuman” science fictions, but that’s just a genre of gruesome comedy and has little bearing on the contributions of evolutionary thinking to the challenges we are likely to face. What’s truly weird about Fuller’s tactic or position is that he claims to want to do a politicized sociology of science without doing any elementary political sociology first, such that he ends up perversely supporting a tendency clearly allied to corporatist and reactionary/phalangist political programs that seek to repress natural science in the interests of imposing a functionally authoritarian social and politico-economic order. Go figure.

109

John Timmer 03.31.06 at 8:14 am

A quick clarification: molecular data is more exact than the fossil record for several reasons. One is that it’s clearly quantitative. A second is that it’s relatively easy to determine how typical a given sample is simply by sequencing more examples from a given population. Finally, by comparing synonymous with non-synonymous changes, you can detect which proteins are under selection for change vs. those where change is selected against.

I covered all of this (and much more) in one lecture when i taught graduate genetics last year. If you are interested in evolution, Dr. Fuller, i’d recommend checking into whether the University you’re at offers genetics courses, and try to sit in on a few.

One question Fuller raises is whether we’d view molecular data as anything more than a sophisticated classification system. Classification systems based on morphology predate Darwin and, for Darwin, Wallace, Larmarck, and almost certainly others, raised the question of whether these classifications reflected some sort of biological reality. The molecular data would just have made the urgency for proposing an explanation more intense.

It’s not clear what other than common descent can explain these similarities (which is probably why all three mentioned above made proposals based on that assumption). Once you have common descent, what you need is mechanism; in the absence of Darwin, the relative emphasis on drift, geography, natural selection, and sexual selection might have been different, but the results would probably be the same.

This is not a question of determinism; it is simply a question of a given collection of scientific data having a limited number of reasonable explanations.

110

Steve LaBonne 03.31.06 at 9:13 am

Why are people tempted to take this dishonest blowhard any more seriously than Judge Jones did? Trying to educate him is the very definition of a wasted effort.

111

Steve Fuller 03.31.06 at 9:15 am

RESPONSE TO POST 106

The point is quite the opposite, there are many paths to the truth. In the long run, the path taken by science doesn’t matter – some paths are shorter, some are more scenic, some are more elegant – but we will get there eventually. That is in fact, a fundamental philosophical underpinning of science. That’s what enables a bunch of sociopathic, politically motivated primates to practice science with reasonable success. What is remarkably about the fossil approach in comparison to the sequence based phylogenies is how well the paleontologists and systemists have done using only morphological characters without knowledge of the underlying genetic content of those traits. The classical guys deserve alot of credit.

Thanks for correcting my hasty formulation. You’re right, teleology only implies a common goal not a common path. My apologies. Unfortunately, everything you say after that is not so right. First, the idea that science converges on a common reality is a secular holdover of the idea that there is a divine plan that we – as humans created in the image of God – are designed to figure out. Many philosophers and scientists still hold on to this view, often without knowing its theological provenance. However, philosophers like Whewell and Mill who reviewed Darwin’s Origin of the Species when it first came out objected to the book precisely because it undermined our reason for thinking that there is some ultimate truth about reality, once we concede that everything just contingently arose. In that case, we can only know in retrospect, not prospect – at least this is what the knowledge situation looks like once humans are placed inside the Darwin story. There is no ‘unity in nature’, only unpredictably endless diversity.

You should be able to see this problem because you manifest it in your remarks. I know you’re aiming for irony but you make it seem that the ability of sociopathic primates to understand the nature of reality is a miracle. Well, it wouldn’t be a miracle if there is no ‘nature of reality’ to understand, but only the reality that enables us to survive to the next generation. That’s all Darwin gives us, nothing grander than that. Finally, your condescending remarks about the morphologists getting things as right as they did is just a retrospective judgment – AS IF morphologists were trying to contribute to a Neo-Darwinian synthesis over a century before it was invented. My guess is that Gould would be turning over in his grave if he saw that remark.

112

Steve Fuller 03.31.06 at 9:53 am

Again my thanks for your patience. This is really quite illuminating. I’m going to combine a few comments that have made related points, and then respond:

Response to 109

But how can gene sequences demonstrate the interrelatedness of different species unless common descent with modification is true?

Response to 110

[Fuller] … which argues that, even without fossils, we would have come to interpret the gene sequences as evidence for evolution.
[John] “Evidence for evolution”? No, they are evidence for the mechanisms of evolution. How can you be so sloppy, Steve?

Response to 111

The only thing you need to “presuppose,” Steve, is that organisms on earth were reproducing and passing genetic information to their offspring via DNA 1 million years ago in more or less the same way that did five days ago.

Response to 113

One question Fuller raises is whether we’d view molecular data as anything more than a sophisticated classification system. Classification systems based on morphology predate Darwin and, for Darwin, Wallace, Lamarck, and almost certainly others, raised the question of whether these classifications reflected some sort of biological reality. The molecular data would just have made the urgency for proposing an explanation more intense. It’s not clear what other than common descent can explain these similarities (which is probably why all three mentioned above made proposals based on that assumption). Once you have common descent, what you need is mechanism; in the absence of Darwin, the relative emphasis on drift, geography, natural selection, and sexual selection might have been different, but the results would probably be the same.

First, let me concede sloppiness, per response 110. But this is because I remain unclear about what actually constitutes evidence for evolution itself – i.e. not merely as ‘the tree of life’, interrelated through common descent, as evidenced by gene sequences. That just gives us a static taxonomic order. It says nothing about the actual causal processes themselves. The issue here isn’t quite the one identified in 113. I’m not questioning the biological reality of the tree of life. Rather, I’m asking about how the tree acquired its shape. After all, that is the real bone of contention between Darwinists and ID people.

Now, as 113 also says, Darwinism proposes natural selection and a host of other forces, evidence for which can be demonstrated in the lab and simulated on computers. But how exactly does this tell us anything about long history of life on earth? Perhaps response 111 is supposed to be the answer. But to say that genetic information has always reproduced the same way leaves the question open as to whether natural selection etc. or some divine programme are involved in determining the success rates of this mechanical process. There seems to be a problem with the way you guys use terms like ‘evolution’ and ‘common descent’ to describe, on the one hand, something depicted on cladogram or demonstrable on demand in a lab and, on the other, something that’s actually happened in nature. This is why I return to the fossils.

113

Steve Fuller 03.31.06 at 10:09 am

RESPONSE to 112

Perhaps he fears an “imperialistic” over-extention of evolutionary thinking to socio-cultural processes that would undermine social understandings. But that’s a philosophical matter, without any established evolutionary warrant, and can readily be argued against philosophically, rather than through claiming to establish another ersatz “scientific” research program. Perhaps he’s worried about “transhuman” science fictions, but that’s just a genre of gruesome comedy and has little bearing on the contributions of evolutionary thinking to the challenges we are likely to face. What’s truly weird about Fuller’s tactic or position is that he claims to want to do a politicized sociology of science without doing any elementary political sociology first, such that he ends up perversely supporting a tendency clearly allied to corporatist and reactionary/phalangist political programs that seek to repress natural science in the interests of imposing a functionally authoritarian social and politico-economic order. Go figure.

Actually, guys like you bother me a lot more than our biological brethren. You must be young and/or naïve. Evolutionary psychology has come a long way since it was demonised as ‘sociobiology’ thirty years ago, not just as a field of research (which admittedly remains controversial) but as an off-the-shelf explanatory framework for social phenomena. Books like Pinker’s The Blank Slate would have been given the Konrad Lorenz treatment in the 1970s. Now he’s seen as the most reasonable guy on the planet. To be sure, transhumanism is still in its infancy but it has a considerable cross-ideological cult following, including the Discovery Institute, which has ties with Ray Kurzweil. I doubt that a few deft philosophical moves will prove sufficient to deflect either tendency in the long term. Finally, with regard to your political sociology remarks, no socio-economic movements owns a set of ideas unless we decline to use them to our own advantage.

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Steve LaBonne 03.31.06 at 10:14 am

See? He’ll just keep generating more irrelevant and ill-informed BS than you can possibly keep up with. He’s learned well from his new Creationist paymasters. I suggest a cessation of troll-feeding.

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John Timmer 03.31.06 at 10:52 am

Now, as 113 also says, Darwinism proposes natural selection and a host of other forces, evidence for which can be demonstrated in the lab and simulated on computers. But how exactly does this tell us anything about long history of life on earth? Perhaps response 111 is supposed to be the answer.
Indeed 111 is the answer. Science assumes a sort of universalism; the rules of reality that we can observe in action today in one location apply to other locations and times unless there is evidence to the contrary. That’s why physicists and cosmologists are having so much trouble trying to reconcile gravity with the universe we observe today. Things would be simple for them if they’d just say, “what we observe in the solar system today doesn’t apply elsewhere or in the past,” but science doesn’t allow that sort of easy way out. For the same reason, science attempts to explain the past history of life given the heritable variation we can observe today in both labs and natural systems.

But to say that genetic information has always reproduced the same way leaves the question open as to whether natural selection etc. or some divine programme are involved in determining the success rates of this mechanical process.
It leaves that open in the theological sense, but not in the scientific sense. There is absolutely no evidence for divine programming or intervention (again, specified and irreducible complexity fail as evidence, since they do not correctly identify designed systems). There are mountains of evidence for the inheritance of variations that can be selected for or against. Science goes with the evidence, and applies it to those systems that cannot or have not yet been systematically examined.

This description, of course, doesn’t even get into the actual molecular evidence that the mediators of heritable change, the replication and segregation systems, are ancient, and our knowledge of today’s systems applies to their ancestors’.

There seems to be a problem with the way you guys use terms like ‘evolution’ and ‘common descent’ to describe, on the one hand, something depicted on cladogram or demonstrable on demand in a lab and, on the other, something that’s actually happened in nature. This is why I return to the fossils.
That’s a failing with your understanding of a scientific theory then, rather than a problem with our writing. Theories unify experimental evidence and observation, applying defined mechanisms to explain the observations. Evolutionary theory unifies the fossil record with the demonstrated instances of speciation and the heritable variation/selection. These sorts of extrapolations go on in all fields of science – for example, plate tectonics unifies geochemistry, modern seismology, and evidence of the geological past within a single theory, even if it cannot directly address much of the past (or even address much of the present via controlled experiment). It’s considered as fantastically successful as evolution.

All of these – the molecular evidence, observations of the present, genetics, genomics, fossils – are part of evolutionary theory; removing any one may make it easier for a non-scientist to grasp, but it would in turn weaken the theory both in terms of its evidentiary support and explanatory power.

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John 03.31.06 at 12:00 pm

Steve Fuller wrote: But this is because I remain unclear about what actually constitutes evidence for evolution itself – i.e. not merely as ‘the tree of life’, interrelated through common descent, as evidenced by gene sequences.

Steve, evolution, including speciation, has been observed in real time. It is a fact.

That just gives us a static taxonomic order.

It does much more than that.

It says nothing about the actual causal processes themselves.

It says a lot about them. You’re just not listening.

I’m not questioning the biological reality of the tree of life. Rather, I’m asking about how the tree acquired its shape.

Mutation, natural selection, drift, sexual selection, transduction, retroviral integration, etc. All these things go into MET.

BTW, a tree is a poor metaphor. It’s better to view it as looking down on a bush, with the origin in the center and the present being the circumference.

After all, that is the real bone of contention between Darwinists and ID people.

Well, Steve, since Darwin didn’t come up with drift, mutation, viral transduction, transposable elements, et al., it’s pure sophistry to call me and other modern biologists Darwinists. Since I’ve pointed out that falsehood above and you persist in using it, I have to conclude that your persistence is deliberately dishonest.

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Drm 03.31.06 at 12:40 pm

“Finally, your condescending remarks about the morphologists getting things as right as they did is just a retrospective judgment – AS IF morphologists were trying to contribute to a Neo-Darwinian synthesis over a century before it was invented. My guess is that Gould would be turning over in his grave if he saw that remark.”

My respect for morphologists is anything but condescending. IF morphologists HAD been guided by the modern synthesis, and had the molecular/genetic data been available to them, then the framework they constructed would hardly be worth a footnote. That their independently constructed framework is in good agreement with the molecular phylogeny is precisely the point. Us molecular types on the otherhand, can be suspected of having had the modern synthesis in the back of our minds all along.

Scientists generally get excited when independent fields using unrelated methods converge on a common picture. Makes us think we’re on to something. It reinforces the notion that the model of reality that emerges from faithful execution of the scientific process is independent of the starting point and the details of the path taken. That doesn’t mean we will necessarily arrive at a single formulation of a single theory (e.g. look at physics). It means the best theories available at any given time will give equivalent predictions.

I don’t know whether a scientists belief in an objective reality is historically rooted in theology, but your point sounds plausible. (Afterall, astromony started out as astrology.) That history is fascinating, but it is really just a starting point of a particular path that led to our concept of science. More importantly, that belief is strongly reinforced by the evolution of successful, non-trivial theories that have undeniable predictive power. E.g. “God did it” is not a valid theory.

An elementary illustration of why I think there is something fundamentally correct about the scientific process that goes deeper than our prejudices can be found in physics: Two principles that emerged very early in the evolution of science 1) the same experiment performed in geographically separate locations should yield the same results, 2) the same experminent performed at two different times should yield the same results. Centuries later in the early 20th century physicists recognized that these requirements (invariance under translations in space and invariance under translations in time) correspond to the laws conservation of momentum and conservation of energy, respectively.

On the one hand, I imagine that an epistomologist like yourself (I’m speaking way beyond my expertise here, so feel free to correct my naivete) might say that of course you got out exactly the laws you asked for by the criteria that were set. I on the other hand would invert the relationship and suggest that scientists stumbled on two principles that are fundamentally necessary to construction of predictive theories about the universe. The reason I believe that is that ignoring the predictive power of the conservation laws can have a very severe impact on one’s chances of survival (e.g. while driving on the highway).

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Lawrence Sober 03.31.06 at 12:58 pm

See? He’ll just keep generating more irrelevant and ill-informed BS than you can possibly keep up with. He’s learned well from his new Creationist paymasters. I suggest a cessation of troll-feeding.

Agreed. The job is done. Another data point has been generated showing incontrovertibly that Steve Fuller is an insufferable willfully ignorant blowhard and anti-science (i.e., pro-creationist) propagandist who is incapable of acknowledging his profound errors.

Anytime you’re ready to fess up and apologize, Steve — be our guest. Based on my many years of experience as a Christian, I would humbly suggest that an admission and an apology is the “right thing” to do.

Of course, if you insist on continuing to smear scientists and peddle ID on the Internet, dissembling all the while, rest assured that we’re paying attention.

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Steve LaBonne 03.31.06 at 1:42 pm

Anyone who has observed Creationist trolls elsewhere on the Internet will immediately recognize all of Fuller’s rhetorical gambits: “questions” not sincerely intended to elicit information; twisting of his interlocutors’ words out of their intended sense; misplaced condescencion toward those far better informed than he; long-winded attempts to “blind ‘em with bullshit” when he knows he’s not competent to address the information presented to him; the idiotic habit of labeling people who understand science as “Darwinists”, as though they belonged to some personality-worshipping cult (and persistence in using this label even after its utter inapproriateness has been explained); a more general fixation, of which the “Darwinist” label is a symptom, on “authority figures” like Darwin or Gould, extending to misleading, selective quoting or paraphrasing to put words in their mouths that bear no resemblance to their actual thinking; above all, the sheer volume of meaningless, repetitive verbiage, designed to club his “opponents” into submission.

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Steve Fuller 03.31.06 at 4:33 pm

Let me thank you once again for a very illuminating discussion. I learned a lot I won’t prolong it any further now but I do expect to see you crop up again the next time I raise related matters. But let me leave you with some parting comments:

(1) I have not yet been paid a cent for serving as an expert witness for the defence in the Dover trial. You may recall that the school board has gone bankrupt, since by losing the case, they’ve had to pay both sides’ court costs. My inquiry here is more honest than you seem to think.

(2) It’s always worth keeping in mind that the people who come up with a finding are not necessarily the ones who most benefit from it. Mendel may have been a special creationist, but his work has mainly served the interests of Neo-Darwinists like yourselves who don’t share his metaphysical/theological assumptions. The point cuts both ways: The more you can make it seem as though the history of life on earth is something that can be simulated on a computer or reproduced in a lab, the more easily it will be for ID people to say that you’ve demonstrated God’s programme.

(3) This last point is where Darwin matters. Darwin didn’t think that evolutionary theory was reducible to a set of forces whose combined interactions on elements (that are themselves programmed) could be demonstrated on demand like a physics experiment. Darwin wasn’t aspiring to be the Newton of biology because he didn’t think that life worked like physics. In case, you haven’t noticed, there are no laws of evolution. If Darwin believed there were such laws, he would have probably remained a theist, as most physicists did – and remain today, I suspect.

(4) I take you at your word that Darwin is now irrelevant for ‘modern evolutionary theory’, not least because you’ve taken his insights in a direction he did not think was possible – namely, one that is congenial to ID. I know this conclusion will sound strange to you, but perhaps you’re thinking about ID the wrong way. When someone like Behe talks about the ‘irreducible complexity’ of, say, the bacterial flagellum, you guys focus on the assumption that the flagellum had to be created all at once, which suggests a divine designer. The more daring assumption is that such a designer would think like a human – i.e. someone who does in nature what humans do in labs when they bioengineer things. In short, the easier it becomes to convince yourselves that humans can reproduce in the lab or on computers evolutionary processes that are presumed to have occurred for billions of years in nature, the more you’re making the ID point that God is a Big Engineer and we are imitating him.

(5) Darwin short-circuited that inference by giving the impression that the origins of life are pretty much random, and life need not have developed the way it did at all. And if you want to keep a clear boundary between modern evolutionary theory and ID, then you should continue to pay attention to Darwin.

Pax Vobiscum

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Lawrence Sober 03.31.06 at 5:00 pm

ARgghghg … I can’t help himself. The inanity is impossible to bear!

In short, the easier it becomes to convince yourselves that humans can reproduce in the lab or on computers evolutionary processes that are presumed to have occurred for billions of years in nature, the more you’re making the ID point that God is a Big Engineer and we are imitating him.

Sure. And the better I am at wiping my butt, the more I’m making the ID point that God painted the Grand Canyon.

Bye, Steve.

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john c. halasz 03.31.06 at 5:22 pm

117:

An “Umfunktionierung” of ID? Whose being naive? Perhaps you’ve been outside the States for too long to understand what’s been going on. ID is a deliberately crafted agenda put out by think tanks that are part of the network of the right-wing “movement” political machine. Just follow the money trail. It’s aim is not just to shore up the supprt of its reactionary fundie “base”, while providing it with a disguise of intellectual “respectability”, but, more broadly, to obfuscate the public understanding of science, while mobilizing anxieties and resentments in the service of its political and economic machinations. Ya see, back in the good ol’ U.S. of A., its not just religious believers who are resistant to evolutionary thinking, but your average sensual man-on-the-street, as well. The latter is offended in his naive sense of teleology, as if human purposes must be metaphysically pre-inscribed in the world to hold good, and thinks evolution means that life boils down to mere “chance”, (since he is liable to have only the dimmest understanding of probability or modal concepts such as contingency,- just look at the popularity and lucrativeness of state lotteries.) And, indeed, evolutionary thinking does cut against such naive “metaphysics”, since it implies that human purposes are incorrigibly a human responsibility in an indifferent, if not inhospitable world, which thought is irremediably anxiety-provoking. That’s why “Darwinism”, in disctinction from other equally naturalistic branches of natural science, presents such a rich target for the right-wing attack machine: anything that obfucates public understanding and provokes anxieties capable of reactionary mobilization will do. Now, the relation between politics and rationality is a vexed one, but any political position or commitment certainly aims at effectiveness, if not exactly normative truth or justice. If one is at all attached to a “progressive” and “democratic” agenda, wouldn’t attempting to rationally obviate public resistances to delimited naturalistic understandings be the thing to do, rather than free-riding on an agenda that seeks to inculcate an ideological denial of “reality” or reality? Perhaps your understanding of rationality in politics is as loose as your understanding of scientific rationality.

Konrad Lorenz was an important path-breaking biologist, and if his views on the instinctual bases of aggression, especially with reference to the human case, were unwelcome,- (Austrians from that time had some untoward complexes and experiences to deal with),- his life’s work did contributed to the rise of the burgeoning field of primate ethology, which has since considerably limited, modified and complicated his claims.

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Barry 04.01.06 at 2:23 am

Steve Fuller: “Well, I hate to break the news to you, but it’s only been in the last generation that a considerable number of – though perhaps still not most – philosophers have taken MET with the epistemological seriousness that posters here seem to. And most of these sceptics of evolution have been positivists who, like the ID people, did not see a clear inferential link between micro- and macroevolution.”

It’s amazing that this only happened in the last generation, considering that evolution has been the foundation and connecting theme of biology for what – a century? A century and a half?

Second, the inferential link between micro- and macroevolution is obvious – the accumulation of change.

Third, this number of philosophers is so considerable that Steve didn’t list any. The number ‘zero’ is ‘considerable’, but not in the way that Steve implies.

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Barry 04.01.06 at 2:29 am

Steve: “(1)I have not yet been paid a cent for serving as an expert witness for the defence in the Dover trial. You may recall that the school board has gone bankrupt, since by losing the case, they’ve had to pay both sides’ court costs. My inquiry here is more honest than you seem to think.”

First, until a third-party auditor of your income verifies that, I for one will refrain from believing it. You’ve been a bull-sh*tter on everything else, so why not this.

Second, we can judge the honesty of your inquiry by the inquiry itself. So far, the consensus opinion seems to be that your inquiry is not honest.

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John Timmer 04.01.06 at 9:09 am

Wow – i’m just struck by how little one can know about science – not knowing how molecular data is interpreted, not knowing what is encompassed by the theory of evolution – and still be considered a philosopher of science. Is he tenured? If so, maybe i should try to get a job at his university.

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Barry 04.01.06 at 2:26 pm

john, there’s probably a difficult ethics test to pass. Not difficult as in ‘having high ethics’, I’d guess.

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