John West Is Angry at Nick Matzke

Our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) just posted Matzke’s Kitzmas tree!, which says:

In a new paper (PDF; subscription required) forthcoming in Science, Nick Matzke shows that even though creationism is getting stealthier in the wake of legal defeats such as Kitzmiller v. Dover, techniques from modern evolutionary biology reveal how creationist legislation is evolving. Using data collected by NCSE and state-of-the-art phylogenetic analysis, Matzke constructed a phylogenetic tree of seventy-five distinct antievolution bills and policies, reconstructing their genealogical relationships with a high degree of confidence.

“The Evolution of Antievolution Policies after Kitzmiller v. Dover” identifies the common ancestor of the bills as a series of bills proposed in Alabama in 2004 and 2005. It also discerns two main lineages, the “academic freedom act” lineage and the “science education act” lineage, which resulted when “academic freedom acts” began to target not only evolution but also global warming and human cloning. The latter lineage thrived, with the passage of such bills in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012.

Matzke’s study has been getting a lot of press attention. For example, this recently appeared in the Washington Post: How have anti-evolution tactics evolved over time? They’ve gotten sneakier.

What Matzke reveals isn’t news to us. We’ve been reporting on creationist legislation attempts in various states from year to year. While doing so, we often point out that they’re versions of the Discovery Institute’s Academic Freedom bill, often modified slightly from year to year to include variations presented in other states, and that some of them are modeled after the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act, which itself was inspired by the Discoveroids’ model act.

Although Matzke and NCSE refer to this as showing how “creationist legislation is evolving,” that’s not an accurate characterization of what’s going on. Yes, the bills presented by creationist legislators are gradually changing over time, but the process isn’t analogous to evolution, which is the result of unplanned mutations that give an advantage to the organisms possessing them. Rather, what’s happening is that the sponsors of creationist bills are consciously mimicking what they see happening in other states. It’s actually a form of decentralized design — but because this is creationist activity, we can’t really call it “intelligent” design.

As you could have predicted, Matzke’s study has drawn the ire of the Discovery Institute. Their creationist blog has a new article by written by John West,whom we affectionately call “Westie.” Westie’s article is Did Nick Matzke Misuse National Science Foundation Money Intended to Fund Science Research? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Former National Center for Science Education activist Nick Matzke has just published an utterly inane article in Science about academic freedom bills. In the article, he constructs a “phylogenetic tree” to show that various academic freedom bills are related to one another.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] Matzke is described as an “activist” and Westie says his article is “utterly inane.” Let’s read on:

If the intention was to show that Discovery Institute has supported academic freedom legislation in various states, or that many of those bills have similar language, Matzke didn’t need to construct a phylogenetic tree. He simply could have followed the reporting here at Evolution News [the Discoveroids’ creationist blog].

Yes, that’s true. Matzke is merely pointing out what’s going on — for those who never heard of the Discoveroids, or who don’t pay any attention to them. Westie continues:

If I were a Darwinist, I would be more careful: Publishing something like this might lead people to think that phylogenetics is only good for producing trivialities.

No, a “Darwinist” wouldn’t think that, but Westie and the Discoveroids apparently do. Here’s more:

A more serious issue is whether Matzke misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to write his article. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — a scandal! [*End Drool Mode*] Actually, we very much doubt that Matzke spent much of his grant money on this study. It was probably something he did in his spare time, so we’re not worried that the taxpayers were fleeced.

Westie concludes his post with this:

If Matzke used taxpayer funds intended to underwrite serious scientific research to produce this silly piece about the politics of the evolution debate, then the National Science Foundation should consider asking for some of its grant money back.

Wow — that was a powerful exposé! But why is Westie so angry? Would he prefer that Matzke spend 100% of his time on evolution research? No, that can’t be it. Oh — perhaps Westie is upset that the role of his “think tank” in orchestrating creationist legislation has been made known to an audience wider than the patrons who fund the Discoveroids. What do you think, dear reader?

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20 responses to “John West Is Angry at Nick Matzke

  1. One could argue that Matzke wrote his article under the protection of “academic freedom.” Oh, irony, Westie, is not your friend!

  2. Nowhere in West’s little tantrum does he argue with any of the content of Matzke’s paper.

  3. michaelfugate

    Or you could continue to employ two senior fellows who did this.

  4. I would expect that if Westie were wrong, he’d write a piece retracting what he wrote. But I guess that’s why he uses “if.” So, really, he’s just JAQing off.

    Anyway, I’m not going to hold my breath.

  5. “On 4 August 2004, an article by Stephen C. Meyer (Director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture) titled “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories”, appeared in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Meyer’s article was a literature review article, and contained no new primary scholarship itself on the topic of intelligent design.”

    Yes, and Meyer continues to this day to reference his pseudo-science paper in his books and elsewhere. The paper was withdrawn from publication, but Meyer used to offer it to his suckers, excuse me, followers, on his web site or the Dishonesty Institute’s website.

  6. And let us not forget the lack of academic freedom at the Dishonesty Institute’s website for not allowing an open exchange of views regarding ID, rather, censorship takes priority on their behalf.

  7. @Ed


    The DI.

    Good one.

  8. If a teacher is hired to teach the kids so that they pass the standard test, and the kids do better, is the teacher going to be called on the carpet for using the classrooms, equipment and textbooks in a way that was not part of the contract?
    Or, maybe this:
    If they hire a coach to teach sportsmanship and team play, and the team turns out to win the city championship, is he going to have some explaining to do? That was not the purpose of the training equipment and field.

  9. What I think is that Matzke has a fine sense of humour.

  10. Great response to West’s article at Pharyngula. PZ describes what those grants really are, and how West’s accusations are what lies south of a northward facing bull. See: Taking a phylogenetic approach to the law. The money quote:

    Neither of those awards are directly to Matzke. The larger funds an institute, the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, which by its nature would support diverse projects. The smaller one includes citations to 5 papers with Matzke as an author, all relevant to the grant, so there’s certainly no evidence that he’s been neglecting his responsibilities.

    Certainly shows the difference between a Tooter and a real scientist who deals with real grants!

  11. Ceteris Paribus

    Westie blathers:

    “Publishing something like [Matzke’s diagram] might lead people to think that phylogenetics is only good for producing trivialities. “

    Well, Westie surely knows more about “producing trivialities” than most of us. But there is some irony in the fact that Darwin’s original and magnificent work, the one that likely still keeps Westie awake at night, bears the very trivial title: “Origin of Species”.

  12. Does Westie have ANY clue of how small, petty and utterly insignificant his whining makes him appear?

  13. The whole truth

    DavidK said:

    “The paper was withdrawn from publication, but Meyer used to offer it to his suckers, excuse me, followers, on his web site or the Dishonesty Institute’s website.”

    David, I just checked and it is still offered (i.e. promoted) at meyer’s website, discotoot sites, and many others (especially websites pushing christianity), and “Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington” is still under the title.


  14. Yes, Meyer’s paper is available, but nowhere does he admit that it was withdrawn from the original publication because it was a fraud.

  15. > “A more serious issue is whether Matzke
    > misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to
    > write his article.”
    A more serious issue is that the Dishonesty Institute has conned Louisiana and Tennessee into misappropriating taxpayer money in order to teach religion in public schools.

  16. SC: Yes, the bills presented by creationist legislators are gradually changing over time, but the process isn’t analogous to evolution, which is the result of unplanned mutations that give an advantage to the organisms possessing them.”

    Ah, but it is analogous, and maybe even more than mere analogy! First, we simply don’t know if mutations are “unplanned,” as ultimate causes (design, creation, etc.) are untestable. There could be all sorts of designers tinkering with cells. But that does not mean that any Discoveroid caught one red handed. They did no such thing, and they know it. Conversely, if there really are no designers, then the “deliberate” changes to the bills are just as unplanned as the ones in living cells. More importantly, in both cases there is evolution and speciation.

  17. Charles Deetz ;)

    @Frank J and so we learn from Matzke’s example. Maybe even one could create a lot of science doing this type of analysis of ideas in general. I wonder how I could apply this thinking to sales and product forecasting for our company.

  18. @Charles Deetz;)
    I wonder whether there are lawyers right now who are paying attention. Is there going to be a case built up on the basis of this kind of analysis? Intellectual property rights. Conspiracy. Financial dealing. RICO.

    Can one use this kind of analysis to produce an objective, numerical analysis of “Social Darwinism” and other unspeakable movements of the early 20th century?

  19. In my best Gilbert Gottfried, “John West, YOU FOOL!!!” Nick Matzke is kicking your intelligently designed [edited out] by getting reported in the LA Times, Washington Post, AP and even Scientific American’s “Minute Science” podcast.

    And guess what the Disco Tute looks like? That’s right, a bunch of CHUMPS! Nice one, Westie, I’m sure this publicity is going to do you a world of good.

  20. I’m far from convinced that Matzke’s analysis will be read by, much less understood by. the millions who are not committed evolution-deniers, but nevertheless inadvertently approve of the DI’s scam with such comments as “what’s the harm in teaching both sides?” Until they see how deliberately deceptive these anti-science activists are, we will continue to lose the “swing vote.” Sure, we can always say that it violates the Establishment Clause, and that may scare some teachers away from misleading students. But let’s not forget that most non-biology majors who do learn “evolution only” in high school, quickly replace it with a common false caricature. And that’s very good news for anti-evolution activists. In other words, what good is affecting the supply if we do nothing to affect demand?