Discovery Institute: The Seen and the Unseen

Reality-denial is strong among 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).

Consider this latest post by that noted creation-science author, Casey Luskin: Nature Admits “Bioscience is Thriving” in Louisiana, Blows Up Darwin Lobby Talking Point.

What’s he talking about? He links to this article in Nature: All jazzed up, the sub-title of which is “Bioscience is thriving in New Orleans as the city bounces back from multiple disasters.” It first tells about three men who started a biotech enterprise in New Orleans in 2010. It says:

The founders attribute the partnership’s creation not only to the pooling of their respective strengths, but also, says Heiman, to “the magic” of New Orleans: the city’s innovative spirit, already known to inspire greatness in food and music.

At this point we’ll note, just so you don’t miss it, that the founding of Heiman’s company in New Orleans isn’t attributed to fact that back in 2008 Louisiana became the first state in the US to pass an anti-science, anti-evolution, pro-creationism “Academic Freedom” law modeled after the Academic Freedom Act promoted by the Discoveroids. That infamous piece of legislation is the Louisiana Science Education Act (the “LSEA”). The legislature passed it almost unanimously. The bill was promoted by the Louisiana Family Forum, run by Rev. Gene Mills, and it was signed by the state’s ambition-crazed governor, Bobby Jindal, the Exorcist.

The Nature article also tells us:

This bioscience renaissance is powered by a programme of investment by the state and federal governments and by the private sector, much of which was spurred by the effort to help the region to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The area is also benefiting from research funds resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 … .

Okay — the incentive to locate a new firm there comes from a government program and from other money sloshing around because of the BP oil spill. Again, there’s no mention of Jindal’s LSEA. We are also told:

The region offers a cost of living that is below the US average, as well as robust tax incentives for investors and start-ups and a strong pool of talent from research and educational institutions.

The article discusses a few other start-ups too. Okay, it’s very easy to understand a bit of growth due to tax incentives, a flood of cash from the BP oil spill, a low cost-of-living, and a pre-existing talent pool from pre-existing educational institutions. Now let’s see what Casey has to say about it. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:

In early 2008, when the Louisiana State Legislature was considering passing its Science Education Act — the nation’s first academic freedom law — we heard all kinds of ominous warnings threats [sic] about how science and tech businesses would leave Louisiana if a law permitting the critique of evolution in public schools was passed. More recently, when Tennessee was debating its own proposed academic freedom law earlier this year, we saw the same kind of fear-mongering.

[…]

An article in the most recent issue of Nature, “All jazzed up,” notes: “Bioscience is thriving in New Orleans as the city bounces back from multiple disasters.”

You know where Casey is going, don’t you? Sure you do. Observe:

Now keep in mind that it’s not every day that Nature publishes an article like this about a burgeoning bioscience hub in a particular city. And of course the causes of this growth are varied — they have a lot to do with investment in Louisiana in the wake of Katrina and the Gulf Oil spill.

How very honest of Casey to acknowledge that the causes of growth are varied. Then he concludes:

But the point is this: Darwin lobbyists cried that Louisiana’s sci-tech economy would tank because of the Science Education Act, and guess what happened? Nothing of the kind. Now Nature has blown this mainstay argument of the Darwin lobby to bits. Whoops!

Well, at least he didn’t claim that the Louisiana creationism law attracted the biotech firms. Let’s give him credit for that. But does Casey expect us to believe that the LSEA has had no negative effect?

We’re told that post-disaster New Orleans is enjoying some growth. That’s what’s visible. But it’s a tiny sample of the available data, and therefore no conclusions can be drawn. The trumpeting of such limited statistics is somehow reminiscent of the way the old Soviet Union used to regularly tout their economic statistics in their controlled press, in an effort to persuade their captive population that everything was going according to plan. But when their people became aware of what was going on in the rest of the world — by a visit to West Berlin, for example — the false facade of limited data fell away.

In a larger sense, the economic history of the world during the past 50 years should be approached the same way — it’s not sufficient to look at growth rates only in one’s own country. If one looks only at growth in his own country, it’s possible to be deluded into thinking that everything is wonderful. But is it? Maybe, but one doesn’t really know if he ignores what’s happening elsewhere. It’s only when one looks at growth in other countries and compares that to growth in his own that he starts to look for reasons why investors and entrepreneurs choose to invest in country X rather than country Y.

Now let’s think about the very limited set of data Casey is using — about a few start-ups in New Orleans. That’s what’s visible, and it’s very nice, but what isn’t visible? What growth occurred elsewhere, as a result of decisions by entrepreneurs to be somewhere other than Louisiana? Were there any companies that shut down, or moved away from Louisiana? That data is missing. Hey, did the new startups hire any creation scientists? Any intelligent design advocates? We suspect not, or Casey would have mentioned it.

For a clue about the direct effect of the LSEA, consider the video at Senator Karen Peterson’s website of the hearing on the recent attempt to repeal the LSEA. LSU’s Dean of the College of Science testified that he has lost researchers because of the state’s creationism law.

Anyway, we don’t have any data about biotech relocations or startups anywhere else during the same period. All we know is what we’ve been told about a few new firms in New Orleans. Nevertheless, we somehow suspect that if a proper comparison were made, the true standing of Louisiana would appear rather sickly. Our point is that without all the relevant data, we don’t have enough information to reach any conclusions. So Casey’s bold declaration that the Nature article has blown away the “Darwinist” argument about the deleterious effects of the LSEA seems rather silly. But then, what else would we expect from the Discoveroids?

As you may have noticed, we borrowed our title from Frederic Bastiat’s That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Discovery Institute: The Seen and the Unseen

  1. Charles Deetz ;)

    So what you are saying is that Luskin is relying on anecdotal evidence and not research? How, um, cdesign proponentsist of him!

  2. I doubt many students have seen changes in their science courses in the past 4 years due to the LSEA. So far the law seems pretty impotent. At any rate, the impact of changes to education will not be visible in the job market immediately, but will become obvious some years into the future. For example, when Louisiana universities cease to have any science students qualified for in-state tuition.

    Their move to send students to conservative religious schools using taxpayer money, under a voucher system, will probably be more damaging in the long run then the LSEA, in numerous ways.

  3. docbill1351

    Luskin seems to have forgotten that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancelled its 2011 convention in New Orleans to protest this law.

    So, as usual, it’s nothing but lies and misrepresentation by “lawyer” Luskin but, hey, it’s a living.

  4. johnpieret

    Wait until the tech industry finds out that Louisiana is diverting money from public schools to Xian “academies” that are teaching that evolution is not true because the Loch Ness Monster is a plesiosaur, thus proving that millions of years is false … or somethin’.

  5. retiredsciguy

    When it comes to attracting businesses to an area, especially businesses that rely on a highly-educated work force, it’s the perception of school quality that matters most. There’s no telling how many companies have avoided Louisiana and established new facilities elsewhere for fear that they would not be able to recruit the professionals they need.

    Seriously — if you were a biochemist, say, with school-age children, would you accept a research position in Louisiana if you had other options?
    Even if the state’s pro-creationism laws are repealed tomorrow, the damage to their educational reputation has already been done, and that reputation will last for many years.

  6. Ed: “I doubt many students have seen changes in their science courses in the past 4 years due to the LSEA. So far the law seems pretty impotent.”

    Another commenter a few months ago also observed that, and speculated that even the minority of teachers who want to teach pseudoscience and/or misrepresent evolution refrained for fear of another Dover. Not to defend the law in any way, but it’s not the law itself that would cause the “brain drain” but the reaction to it that its supporters want. That could still happen, though, as Dover becomes a more distant memory, and the scam artists work to persuade those teachers that they have nothing to fear.

  7. Ed wrote: “Their move to send students to conservative religious schools using taxpayer money, under a voucher system, will probably be more damaging in the long run then the LSEA, in numerous ways.”

    In Louisiana, a great number of parents already send there children to these private religious schools. The voucher system just redirects tax money away from an already poor public school system. Parents who want their children to get a decent education will likely choose to live elsewhere.