Robert Todd Carroll
September 29, 2005
In this issue:
Earlier this month, Daniel Dennett wrote an op ed piece for the New York Times. Dennett wrote, among other things, that intelligent design (ID) may be "one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science."
It gets better. The anti-evolutionist folks at the Discovery Institute sent out a press release recently that says, among other things, that
So, after you have created a controversy where there is none, you can now claim that those who oppose teaching your side of the controversy are enemies of free speech and of science itself! Never mind that the idea you are advocating did not emerge in the free-for-all debates among evolutionary scientists but came from outside the mainstream of scientific investigation, publication, and argument. Never mind that the view you are advocating is the quintessential anti-scientific viewpoint: (1) You claim science cannot now and never will be able to explain how some part of the biological world evolved; (2) you claim to have an explanation for the item science cannot explain; and, (3) you claim that your pathetic, fallacy-ridden metaphysical explanation is actually scientific.
The main goal of the anti-evolutionists is to discredit evolution. They have waged a very sophisticated and clever war against evolution. Granted, their task was made easier by the fact that about 20% of adult Americans are so scientifically illiterate they think the sun revolves around the earth once a day. If anything is Orwellian, it is the way the anti-evolutionists have convinced many politicians, school board members, and a good percentage of the general public that anti-science is science and that the anti-science is "a legitimate avenue of scientific research" and should be taught in the science classroom. It is just this side of brilliant the way the leaders of the anti-evolution (AE) movement have hoodwinked millions of people. On the Orwellian scale, the AE terrorization of evolution ranks right up there with what Republicans did to the word 'liberal' over the past thirty years. That campaign was so successful that liberals have given up and are now calling themselves "progressives." (See George Lakoff's essay "Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or, Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals In the Dust." Better yet, read his book Don't Think of an Elephant.)
If anything is Orwellian, it is the notion that ID is a scientific theory that challenges natural selection. ID "researchers" have only two moves, both completely predictable and neither leading anywhere. One is to claim that something like the bacterium's flagellum can't be explained scientifically and that the best explanation is that an intelligent designer put the parts of the flagellum together. When scientists explain how the parts of the flagellum evolved and came together, the anti-evolutionists ignore the explanation and find some other scientific puzzle to declare scientifically insolvable except by appeal to an intelligent designer. This lateral process can go on for at least as long as there is life on earth. There is no light at the end of this tunnel; there is only more darkness. The other move is vertical. The anti-evolution "researcher," instead of finding more puzzles and declaring them insolvable until they're solved, can ask questions about the alleged intelligent designer. How intelligent must the designer be? Does its intelligence have to be infinite or would a finite amount of smarts be enough to pull off the task at hand? It would have to be very powerful, too. But how powerful would the designer have to be? Would it have to be omnipotent? Or, would a finite amount of power be sufficient to put the parts together? Could the designer have been designed? If so, who or what designed the designer? Will we ultimately be led by our intellectual musings to the undesigned designer? And, where did the designer get the parts? Could they have occurred naturally or would they need a creator? This vertical process is vaguely reminiscent of thousands of years of philosophical gibberish that has not led to a single item of scientific interest. Orwellian? If not, give me a synonym.
As most of you already know, there is a case in federal court involving a suit by several parents against the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board. Last October, the Dover Area School Board voted 6-3 to add “Intelligent Design Theory” to the district’s biology curriculum. A month later, the board changed its mind and instead said it would require teachers to read the following statement to all biology students:
Eleven parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school board for requiring biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to the scientific theory of natural selection. The trial began September 26th in Harrisburg federal court.
Even if the ACLU wins in Dover (which they probably will), it will be a small and short-lived victory. The cry of persecution will be heard throughout the land. What are the evolutionists afraid of? Why won't let their view be challenged? No matter how anyone responds to the anti-evolutionists, their case is made: the controversy grows. If the anti-evolutionists win the case, they win and if they lose the case they win.
A few years ago I reported on a session that took place at the World Skeptic's Conference in Los Angeles. The session featured Ken Miller, evolutionist and scientist for the plaintiffs in Dover, and William Dembski, Christian apologist for ID. I noted that the session was billed as Evolution vs. Intelligent Design and commented "Was this going to be a contest with a winner and a loser? If so, then we need no debate and should declare ID the winner. Why? Because 'vs.' implies they are competitors and the main point of the ID movement right now is to get people to believe that ID is a scientific theory that is in competition with natural selection." I stand corrected: the main point is to conjure up negative thoughts and feelings whenever the word 'evolution' is used. I now doubt that the ID folks really care whether ID is taught anywhere. (What is there to teach, anyway?) The main goal is, and always has been, to discredit evolution.
Our illustrious governor hasn't weighed in on the anti-evolution issue, but California's Superintendent of Public Education, Jack O'Connell, has: "Our state has been recognized across the country and around the world for the quality and rigor of our academic standards. Just like I will fight tooth and nail to protect California's high academic standards, I will fight to ensure that good science is protected in California classrooms." Translated: no anti-evolution here!
New Scientist recently reported that, according to epidemiologist John Ioannidis, most published scientific research papers are wrong. (How can you trust such a paper?) He doesn't "show that any particular findings are false. Instead, he shows statistically how the many obstacles to getting research findings right combine to make most published research wrong." The result is that there is "less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true."
"We should accept that most research findings will be refuted," Ioannidis says.
That's my lead-in to another story. In an earlier newsletter, I commented on a controversy over fluoridation and an allegedly suppressed paper that found a causal link between fluoridated tap water and osteosarcoma. The plot thickens. Chester Douglass, chair of the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, is being investigated for claiming that there is no correlation between fluoride and osteosarcoma when his own doctoral student analyzed data from Douglass’s own study and concluded that: “Among males, exposure to fluoride at or above the target level was associated with an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma. The association was most apparent between ages 5-10 with a peak at six to eight years of age.” He's being charged with attempting to falsify and cover-up his data. Douglass's critics claim that "he was editing a newsletter funded by Colgate-Palmolive Co., which creates a serious conflict of interest since Colgate-Palmolive manufactures toothpaste with fluoride." We're not told how many millions he was paid for editing the newsletter, but it must have been significant to warrant the claim of "serious conflict of interest."
In any case, if Ioannidis is right, there is a greater than 50% chance that both Douglass and his graduate student were wrong. Where this leaves us is anybody's guess.
I received a very interesting e-mail from a woman claiming to be psychic. However, for some reason she has me confused with James Randi. She starts off her missive with the following:
Actually, the first thing I'd say is that you don't need to be psychic to know that I don't offer any challenge money.
Another thing you don't need to be psychic to know is that I've never claimed that no one is ever tested scientifically. (I'm not psychic, however, and have no idea who tested these 7th graders, but it may well have been Rupert Sheldrake, Russell Targ, or Hal Puthoff.)
I admit that it's hard to concentrate when locked in vault with two variables at once.
Actually, I say that psychics are most likely frauds or delusional. You may be the exception that proves the rule.
I see. Your psi-radio receiver is fussy. That explains a lot.
I see. You can predict the past because it's already happened and is fixed in stone but you can't predict the future because it hasn't happened yet and until it happens you won't know what was going to happen. That's as clear as a crystal ball.
There's a lesson here. Does anyone else get it?
Wow! A folie-à-deux, synchronous dreams, and transmission problems!
It is amazing how much clearer things are once they've happened.
I don't want to be the one to burst your bubble, but most studies on subjective validation tend to get the same success rate as you claim to have. It started with Forer and hasn't got any better since.
Or they'd punch you in the face or laugh in your face. It is thoughtful of you not to tell the nearly-departed about their condition. On the other hand, this alleged ability of yours would be very easy to test. You should contact James Randi (he's the one who has the money for psychic challengers) and I'll bet he'll set up a test. If you can walk into ten rooms of ten people each and predict correctly who's going to die next in 8 out of ten cases, I'll bet he'll give you the million dollar prize. Unless, of course, you or an accomplice are found guilty of murdering the 8 victims.
We have your very precise and carefully chosen words for it, right?
As the late Carl Sagan once noted, they also laughed at Bozo the clown.
I don't know why I shared your e-mail with all these nice people. I guess every once in a while I need to open the window to let the ghosts out.
Light Harmonics Institute is the spirit child of Linda Lancaster. Her Web site claims that she has been spreading light and energy in the name of medicine since 1981. She's the founder and principal of Keys College of Radionics. Radionics is a bit of quackery that should have died out long ago but, like some bacteria, nothing seems capable of destroying it. Believers in radionics will tell you that it's a form of holistic treatment (vibrational medicine) that helps the body repair itself. Skeptics will tell you that radionics is another example of the pernicious effects of not understanding ideomotor action.
The second issue of the Inquiring Minds Newsletter is now available. Inquiring Minds is an educational program sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and Skeptical Inquirer magazine - part of the Center for Inquiry International.
Derek Colanduno, co-host of the Skepticality podcast remains hospitalized due to bleeding in his brain. It's been about three weeks since he was rushed to the hospital. His prognosis remains uncertain. If good will could cure, Derek would be back broadcasting tonight.
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