Discovery Institute’s Long March to Respectability

We may be seeing the next propaganda initiative from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

You can observe the beginnings of their new campaign in two new posts at the Discoveroids’ creationist blog. The first is by their leader, John West: Journal Apologizes and Pays $10,000 After Censoring Article. The second is by Casey Luskin — everyone’s favorite creationist: The First Law of Darwin Lobbying and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Before we discuss those new posts, let’s review some of the earlier campaigns waged by the Discoveroids. First they attempted to penetrate academia, but that failed spectacularly (see, e.g., Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment), leaving them only with a woeful list of martyrs featured in their now-defunct “documentary,” Expelled!

Then they identified the soft-underbelly of American politics — school boards — and tried to influence them. That’s had it’s ups and downs (see Kansas Flashback: The Crazy Days). In the past few years they’ve been promoting their misleadingly-named “academic freedom” bills, but so far those efforts have failed everywhere but Louisiana. And although they promote litigation from time to time (always remaining in the background), that hasn’t worked out at all (see Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District).

They’ve always been aware, however, that one of their major failures has been getting their creationist “research” published in respected, peer-reviewed science journals. Quite simply, they’ve never had any science to publish that literally challenges evolution, and until they do their “theory” of intelligent design will remain a fantasy (see Creationism and the Burden of Proof). When they tried to publish by dubious means they failed (recall Stephen C. Meyer’s paper that was approved by Richard von Sternberg, resulting in the infamous Sternberg peer review controversy).

Desperate for some record of being published in peer-reviewed journals, the Discoveroids then tried to set up their own captive journal, BIO-Complexity (see Discovery Institute: Creationist “Peer-Review”). Nobody was impressed. Then, a few months ago, we posted Intelligent Design in Peer Reviewed Publications, in which we said of their recent publication “triumphs”:

[G]etting insignificant survey articles published in journals that are the scientific equivalent of “Toilet Tissue Technology Today” doesn’t mean anything.

But now they seem to be embarked on what looks to us like a campaign of intimidation, an attempt to bully their way into respected journals, perhaps by threatening litigation to frighten the editors of such journals into a more “respectful” attitude toward creationism. We’ve seen signs of this in the Synthese imbroglio, about which we haven’t written because we regard it as a matter to be resolved by the editors of that journal — but you can read about it in the New York Times: Debate Over Intelligent Design Ensnares a Journal.

With all of that background out of the way, we can now look at the two new Discoveroid articles to which we linked at the start of this post. Taking West’s piece first, he says, with his links omitted and bold font added by us:

In one of their favorite soundbytes, members of the Darwin lobby like to assert that intelligent design scientists do not publish peer-reviewed research. That claim is manifestly false. But the fact that intelligent design scholars do publish peer-reviewed articles is no thanks to Darwinists, many of whom do their best to ensure that peer-reviewed articles by intelligent design scientists never see the light of day.

Yes, it’s all a conspiracy. Then he says:

Witness the brazen censorship earlier this year of an article by University of Texas, El Paso mathematics professor Granville Sewell … . Sewell’s article critical of Neo-Darwinism (“A Second Look at the Second Law”) was both peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the journal Applied Mathematics Letters. That is, the article was accepted for publication until a Darwinist blogger who describes himself as an “opinionated computer science geek” wrote the journal editor to denounce the article, and the editor decided to pull Sewell’s article in violation of his journal’s own professional standards.

We have no idea what happened, but we’ve written about Sewell before. See: Discovery Institute: Math Disproves Evolution from January of last year, and also Discovery Institute Touts Another Genius from a month later. Sewell is signatory to the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. His book, which the Discoveroids were touting last year, was published by Discovery Institute Press (the Discoveroids’ own publishing arm) and it received a favorable review by — get this! — a Discoveroid fellow. How lovely.

Let’s read on from West’s article:

The publisher of Applied Mathematics Letters (Elsevier, the international science publisher) has now agreed to issue a public statement apologizing to Dr. Sewell as well as to pay $10,000 in attorney’s fees.

Attorney’s fees? Well, that’s one way to get published. Let’s see if Casey’s article adds anything else of interest. No, not really. He basically praises and rehashes West’s article. Oh, at the end he says:

In the peer-reviewed article he wrote for Applied Mathematics Letters, Sewell argued that the basic principles underlying the second law of thermodynamics, when properly applied, might be a bar to Darwinian evolution after all. I’ll further discuss Sewell’s thesis in a second article later this week.

So there you are. Intelligent Design continues its long march toward respectability.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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17 responses to “Discovery Institute’s Long March to Respectability

  1. Even if Sewell were right (he isn’t), any time we observe the world not obeying some law of nature, that is a reason for humans to change their theories, not pretend that nature isn’t acting that way. If evolution did violate the 2LOT (it doesn’t), that would be a reason to revisit the 2LOT, not claim evolution doesn’t happen.

  2. Bob Carroll

    Um, Eric, if a conflict were discovered between 2LOT and evolution, *both* would have to be examined closely, since both are based on our observations of nature. Of course there is no such conflict, as you stated.

  3. If an exception were found to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the last place to look for an explanation would be in “intelligent design”.

    The 2nd law of thermodynamics was discovered, after all, because the clever engineers of the industrial revolution ran up against limitations on what they could intelligently design.

  4. I don’t understand why Sewell was entitled to an apology, much less $10K in attorney fees. But it ought to serve as a warning to future editors of legitimate science journals. Don’t humor these people. They’re motives are suspect. Either ideological or monetary, or both – but never strictly scientific.

  5. Just to fill in a bit more history here … in 1998, the Discoveroids and their sympathizers (like Hugh Ross) held their “Mere Creation” conference at Biola. They boldly predicted that they would be obtaining at least one federal grant for ID research in 5 years. Well, it’s been 13 years, and nary a peep about grants has come from the ID camp. One would think that they’d be writing grant requests by the boatload, and yet there is no evidence of seeking such grants.

    Instead, we see a negative campaign against evolutionary theory AKA “Darwinism” as branded by the ID camp. Sewell’s paper isn’t a positive case for ID; it’s a negative diatribe against Darwinism. And it’s not even in a biology journal, but rather an “applied mathematics” journal where the conclusions are only as good as the premises.

    Why bother with all of this extracurricular activity, if ID truly represents a new frontier of scientific research? It seems much more worthwhile to concentrate on scientific research, not this other stuff like legislative coercions and so forth. Everybody here knows the answer to that: there’s nothing worthwhile in ID to research from a scientific perspective.

  6. I have to second Bob Carroll here. There have been times in science when two sets of evidence conflicted. For example, the age of the sun, as estimated by nineteenth-century physicists, was far younger than the age of the earth estimated by geologists and the time required for evolution. In that case it was the physics that was wrong. When argon was discovered, either the periodic table had to be wrong or the physics of gases had to be wrong, and in that case it turned out that the periodic table was wrong. In our day relativity and quantum mechanics can’t both be 100% right, but for the most part they have different scales at which each is important and we get though it with various kludges.

    A genuine conflict between two successful theories is the sort of thing we ought to pray for in the sciences, since it implies some huge discovery on the horizon.

  7. Of course, you could take Dembski’s path and avoid trying to bend the 2nd Law to your ends. Dembski simply invented his own 4th Law of Thermodynamics, (very modest fellow, Dembski) which he claims mandates conservation of complex specified information. (in other words, made-up stuff can neither be created or destroyed). Dembski then argues that his 4th law trumps the tired old 2nd law… so there!

    Good to be back from vacation. I thought you guys were going to defeat creationism during the last week and none of these blogs would exist anymore. What happened?

  8. Ed says:

    I thought you guys were going to defeat creationism during the last week

    It’s been defeated for generations. But they haven’t figured it out yet.

  9. The lawyer, Lepiscopo, is the same guy involved in the AFA vs California Science Center lawsuit. Interesting how the DI gets involved providing legal council while staying just far enough out of the center of the action.

    Who, me?

  10. The Discovery Institute was born in a primordial cesspool, and has marched inexorably toward another intellectual cesspool.

    Slime merchants are exempt from the laws of natural selection.

    And so it goes . . . . . .

  11. “And so it goes …” Best book ever. I’ve read it many times and enjoy it every time.

    You know, these numbnuts have been around for quite a while and it was great when you could tap into them late at night, in the desert, between cities on the AM dial. Vastly entertaining AM late night talk radio with alien abductions, government conspiracy theorists, pyramid power people, channeling to past lives and the entire gamut of woo which you could summarize as Deepak Chopra 540 on the AM dial, all Woo all the Time … next caller …

    But, now, these creeps have infiltrated the mainstream and I can only fault our civilized politeness that we don’t shout them down and pelt them with rotten vegetables. I never thought I’d have to go to the State House to get my dose of crazy talk!

  12. I’ve thought many times that the DI’s talent has been wasted on creationism. They would do so much better on alien abductions, ancient astronauts, and various new age woo – given their west coast audience. Instead of being “expelled” by the scientific community, they would be giving conferences with thousands of attendees and would be enjoying great popularity.

  13. Curmudgeon: “It’s been defeated for generations. But they haven’t figured it out yet.”

    As usual, it depends on how one defines “creationism.” If you include ID and replacement scams such as “academic freedom” (aka “academic anarchy”) it will never be defeated, but will continue to evolve. In that case the best we can do is exploit it to our advantage., which is to show reasonable people how evolution works and how creationism is at best useless, basesless incredulity, and at worst a deliberate scam to mislead.

    However, if “creationism” is defined as the average person-on-the-street defines it, it was defeated by a self-inflicted “fatal gunshot” before the famous 1987 “cdesign proponentsist” embarrassment. When the once-promising (to some minds) “scientific” creationism was unable to agree on a basic chonology of life, much less well-defined independently originated “kinds”, the “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when, just manipulate evidence to pretend that evolution has gaps” policy was implemented, it was a virtual admission of defeat.

    As usual, my moral of the story is (ironically inspired by Dembski): “don’t take the bait.” Let them publish their “mere incredulity” arguments, and brag about passing peer review. If anything, each article will give us more ammunition to show how they avoid coming up with original, testable ideas, much less test them and support them on their own merits.

  14. I would echo magpie61 here: On what grounds was the journal compelled to apologize and provide attorney’s fees? Was there some binding contract in the original agreement to publish? Or were they just badgered into submission?

  15. Gabriel [and Bob said something similar] A genuine conflict between two successful theories is the sort of thing we ought to pray for in the sciences, since it implies some huge discovery on the horizon.

    No disagreement there. I think I flubbed my original point; when our explanations for how the world works – including things like the TOE and QM, etc… – conflict with direct observables, it is the explanations that shift. The direct observables may be repeated to make sure we didn’t make an error, but once observables are confirmed, we do not ignore them in favor of some theory. When I spoke of ‘evolution’ in my first post, I was really thinking about the direct observables of evolution. Such as descent with modification. If any theory of ours predicted without equivocation that daughter organisms could not vary from their parents, that theory would be rejected/modified based on the fact that daughter organisms do in fact vary from their parents. We wouldn’t keep the theory and reject the fact.

  16. I love how John West thinks I can write a letter as a representative of the Darwinist Magisterium, yet to lawyer Lepiscopo I’m a nobody blogger. But these folks have never heard of cognitive dissonance, or actually enjoy the experience.

    @Poolio – to Elsevier, it is a nuisance lawsuit, and companies settle these all the time rather than waste expensive lawyer time. Not a quest for truth and vindication, but there it is.

  17. You’re a powerful Darwinist, David vun Kannon. The international conspiracy will reward you handsomely for your work.