A Lesson in Discoveroid Quote-Mining

The Discovery Institute recently gave us A Lesson in Discoveroid Debate Tactics. Today at their creationist blog they’re giving us a lesson in quote-mining — a traditional creationist technique. Their new post is How Consensus Can Blind Science, and it has no author’s byline. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The ruins of Mayan civilization impress anyone who visits. For Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, they spoke to him about the philosophy of science then and now. Recounting his experience for Nature, he describes the questions that came to his mind:

This is Loeb’s article in Nature: Good data are not enough. You can read it online without a subscription. The title alone is sufficient to excite a creationist, assuming they’re willing to ignore the fact that their “theory” of intelligent design has no supporting data whatsoever.

Nothing in Loeb’s article even hints that he’s a creationist, or that he has any sympathy for the Discoveroids. He says — and the Discoveroids quote this:

The Mayans accurately tracked changes in the positions and relative brightness of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars. They documented their astronomical data in folding books called codices, with many more quantitative details than other civilizations at the time. The priest-astronomers used observations and advanced mathematical calculations to predict eclipses, and devised a 365-day solar calendar that was off by just one month every 100 years.

But after noting that, he says this — and the Discoveroids quoted only the bit we put in red font:

I came to appreciate how limiting prevailing world views can be. Just as geological and other evidence for the great age of Earth was rejected before the nineteenth century as being hard to square with biblical history, the Mayans used their fine data to support a mythological culture of astrology. They correlated the periodic motions of celestial objects with human history and, rather than seeking a physical explanation for their astronomical data, they used it to initiate wars or rituals such as human sacrifice.

In other words, Loeb says that for all the Mayans’ admirable efforts to gather data, their understanding of that data was distorted by Oogity Boogity. The Discoveroids, however, merely quote the part about “how limiting prevailing world views can be.” Isn’t quote-mining wonderful?

Okay, back to the Discoveroids, as they selectively relate what Loeb says:

In their day, Mayan astronomers were held in high social esteem. So are today’s astronomers. Loeb thought about how “Cosmologists today collect vast amounts of exquisite data in surveys of large parts of the sky, costing billions of dollars.” But Good data are not enough, he realized.

Actually, Loeb never says “Good data are not enough.” It’s merely the title of the article. Before we continue with the Discoveroids’ quote-mining efforts, you’re probably wondering just what it is about our worldview that Loeb is complaining about. He rambles a bit, but this probably sums it up fairly well:

I noticed this bias recently while assessing a PhD thesis. The student was asked to test whether a data set from a large cosmological survey was in line with the standard cosmological model. But when a discrepancy was found, the student’s goal shifted to explaining why the data set was incomplete. In such a culture, the current model can never be ruled out, even though everyone knows that its major constituents (dark matter, dark energy and inflation) are not understood at a fundamental level. Instead, observers should present results in a theory-neutral way. Observations should not converge on one model but aim to find anomalies that carry clues about the nature of dark matter, dark energy or initial conditions of the Universe.

Observe, dear reader, that nothing Loeb says even remotely challenges the refusal of science to consider supernatural explanations. The Discoveroids, however, would have us think otherwise. They say:

What might have helped the Mayans break out of the box of their prevailing world view? He [Loeb] hit upon a solution that should be of great interest to the intelligent design community.

They selectively quote Loeb:

The consequences of a closed scientific culture are wasted resources and misguided ‘progress’ — witness the dead end that was Soviet evolutionary biology. To truly move forward, free thought must be encouraged outside the mainstream. Multiple interpretations of existing data and alternative motivations for collecting new data must be supported.

Yes, Loeb said that, but not to encourage scientists to consider intelligent design. Rather, Loeb said:

How each culture views the Universe is guided by its beliefs in, for example, mathematical beauty or the structure of reality. If these ideas are deeply rooted, people tend to interpret all data as supportive of them — adding parameters or performing mathematical gymnastics to force the fit. Recall how the belief that the Sun moves around Earth led to the mathematically beautiful (and incorrect) theory of epicycles advocated by the ancient Greek philosopher Ptolemy. Similarly, modern cosmology is augmented by unsubstantiated, mathematically sophisticated ideas — of the multiverse, anthropic reasoning and string theory.

All that Loeb seems to be saying is that researchers shouldn’t fall in love with one theory, and then try to cram their data into it. That’s sound advice, but it’s of no help to the Discoveroids — unless they distort it. They do so near the end of their post:

Think about what ID has to offer the admittedly stagnant field of consensus cosmology:

• Theory of information: its source and conservation

• A cause to explain the fine-tuning of the universe …

• [Something about math]

• Philosophy of science unlimited by naturalism

• A different vocabulary and comfort zone

• Research outside the box

Observe, dear reader, what the Discoveroids don’t offer — which is data. All they have is what they call a theory, an alleged cause, a supernatural philosophy, and a different vocabulary. They end with this, presumably addressed to Loeb:

But while the rise and fall of Mayan civilization is on his mind, leading him to ponder modern cosmology’s potential for worldview blindness, the time seems right to engage the discussion.

Somehow, we suspect that Loeb will decline the Discoveroids’ invitation.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

7 responses to “A Lesson in Discoveroid Quote-Mining

  1. “Observe, dear reader, what the Discoveroids don’t offer”
    Intellectual integrity.

  2. The “prevailing worldview,” at least in the U.S., is belief in a creator.

  3. Think about what ID has to offer the admittedly stagnant field of consensus cosmology:
    • Theory of information: its source and conservation
    • A cause to explain the fine-tuning of the universe …
    • [Something about math]
    • Philosophy of science unlimited by naturalism
    • A different vocabulary and comfort zone
    • Research outside the box

    Let’s take these one at a time, shall we? (Ignoring “something about math,” which is a touch too vague to comment on.)
    (1) Theory of information: This poor spavined old workhorse of creationism is long overdue for the glue factory. “Information” can indeed be created; it’s “conserved” only within an absolutely closed system, which the planet Earth is not.

    (2) A cause to explain the fine-tuning of the universe … And again, creationists get it wrong. the universe wasn’t created so that we could exist; we exist because the universe is as it is and has had the history it has, which could easily have been different. If we didn’t exist and never had, the universe would have gone right on. And for what it’s worth, some recent theoretical work indicates that life might have been possible even if the universe had been “fine-tuned” considerably differently.

    (3) Philosophy of science unlimited by naturalism: Meaning, presumably, a philosophy in which the supernatural is presented as scientifically admissible. This, however, is impossible by definition, because any phenomenon subject to scientific study is part of nature. The study of the “supernatural” in nature isn’t science, period.

    (4) A different vocabulary and comfort zone: This is of use to cosmologists (or scientists in general) in what way exactly? Most ID “vocabulary” is either nonsense or willfully misused terminology from genuine science (“information” comes to mind). And science isn’t supposed to be about operating within anyone’s “comfort zone.”

    (5) Research outside the box: Ah, the daring of creationists, pardon me, ID proponents, to go “outside the box” of actual evidence and trust in faith and intuition instead.

    Yes, I know they actually do “research” of a sort, but almost all of it is of the “We know Darwin was wrong, so how do we explain . . . ” variety. In other words, they’ve built a box of their own, crawled inside and sealed the lid over themselves.

  4. Philosophy of science unlimited by naturalism.
    May I observe that it is not a virtue to remove limits to explanations. A definition is useful because it is a limit. In mathematics, an added axiom allows one to prove more theorems. One can understand the present physical state by fixing its boundary conditions.

  5. Information is obviously not conserved. Shannon’s motivation for founding information theory was that, if you put a message into a channel, such as a telephone line, what comes out at the other end is generally not simply the information that you put in, but some of what you put in plus new information produced by what Shannon called “noise” in the channel. Hence in the real world it is undesirable to attempt to transmit your information in the shortest possible form, but rather to introduce some level of redundancy which will enable the original information to be reconstructed in spite of additional information from the noise.

  6. In all of the “information” ID claims to detect, for some reason it cannot find any information about the designer who created it. I think that is rather odd. I look forward to the analysis of information to deduce when it was created and how it was done, what the motive might have been, and some description of the abilities and limits of the entity that created it.

    That is what scientists would do, anyway.

  7. It was Darwin’s fault that the Cubs went a century between World Series championships, and why Cleveland continues to wait.

    I mean, why not?