Mar 09 2012

ID – Making an End-Run Around Science

We live in an increasingly complex society. There is a proliferation of clever strategies to deceive you, including in areas that require a great deal of expertise to sort out. We can no longer take comfort (if we ever could) in the notion that the trappings of legitimacy are a reasonable guide to what is legitimate. Universities have been infiltrated by all manner of pseudoscience, their good names abused to provide legitimacy for nonsense. False controversies are manufactured to erode confidence in legitimate science, while ideological journals are invented to pretend to be part of the mainstream scientific literature. Docudramas can dress up fiction as if it were fact. The quality of journalism is eroding while it is getting more challenging to separate scientific truth from pseudoscientific fiction. Meanwhile the internet has made the dissemination of information so fast that it’s a challenge just to keep up. It has also drastically reduced the price of pretending to be a legitimate organization – all you need now is a slick website.

The purveyors of pseudoscience are also getting slicker at distorting and getting around the institutions of science and academia, while eroding confidence in those institutions. The two movements that have perhaps been the most successful at this are alternative medicine and creationism, and there is remarkable overlap in their strategies (for example, the use of “health care freedom” laws and “academic freedom” laws respectively).

Recently we learned about creationists infiltrating geologist scientific meetings in order to spread stealth creationism.

From Grrlscientist in The Guardian we now have a story of another clever attempt by creationists to manufacture false trappings of scientific legitimacy. The story starts with a meeting organized at Cornell University of a bunch of intelligent design (ID)/creationists.  How did such a meeting take place? Well, first off it was held in the School of Hotel Administration. It was organized by John Sanford, a young earth creationist who is a courtesy professor at Cornell (i.e. retired). The conference consisted of the usual ID suspects giving the usual information theory, evolution can’t explain the complexity of life nonsense.

The proceedings of the conference were then gathered together in a book., and submitted to the German publishers, Springer-Verlag. Fortunately, the announced title,  Biological Information: New Perspectives, caught the attention of ID watchers who dug into the situation. The book was submitted to the computer science/engineering section of the publisher, probably because they would be less likely to notice that it was a book of ID propaganda and not legitimate science. It worked – the publishers’ computer science editors were fooled and they approved the book. When it was pointed out to them that perhaps they were being snookered by creationists, the publishers removed the announcement from their website and stopped plans to publish the book pending further review.

We can see how calculating and deceptive the entire process was. The path to getting an ID book published was clear – attach the prestige of Cornell University to the content via the School of Hotel Administration and a YEC insider. Then get published through a computer/engineering editor, disguised as a book on “information.”

This is just one more in a long list of deceptive practices by ID proponents, and their primary organization, the Discovery Institute (even the name is deceptive). They cannot make any headway with their ideas – because their ideas are bankrupt. They are trying desperately to dress up notions that were discarded over a century ago with modern terminology, but the ideas are fundamentally the same. Real scientists have already demolished their distortions of information theory and their notion of irreducible complexity. They have no evidence to support their ideas (which are essentially religious faith pretending to be scienceish), their ideas are not even falsifiable and therefore don’t qualify as science, and they ignore the many fatal refutations of their claims.

And yet they want to change society and the nature of science itself. They want to inject supernaturalism into the process of science, so that it can be made to support their world-view and religious beliefs. They cannot do this honestly, so they do it deceptively. They are also well-funded and tireless.

That is why we need a skeptical movement and organizations like NCSE to be a watchdog on such creationist shenanigans. We also need to make the public more savvy and skeptical, to see these deceptive practices for what they are. That is an uphill battle, but one worth fighting.

7 responses so far

7 thoughts on “ID – Making an End-Run Around Science”

  1. CrookedTimber says:

    That was an impressively slick attempt. Eternal vigilance…

  2. In the SkepticBlog piece by Donald Prothero, the incursions into the geological meeting by young-earth creationists went unrecognized by most of the attendees. The way he writes it, the only way anyone was alerted was through recognizing the names of the folks involved.

    And while it’s not entirely clear how the German publisher story was sussed out, as Steven and the Guardian piece highlight the article name more than anything, it’s suggested that the editor roster had a lot to do with recognizing the book as an intelligent design tool.

    So are blacklists our primary weapon in fighting this kind of nonsense? That strikes me as an extremely vulnerable approach. But it’s a theme I see in a lot of these types of stories, that the way someone ultimately recognizes there’s a problem is when a particular name is attached to a project. It’s kind of scary.

  3. Nikola says:

    I would disagree about characterizing their ideas as unfalsifiable, although I know you are charitable and careful that way, Steven.
    You yourself say there are “many fatal refutations of their claims”, and by claiming that they are not part of science we are making their retreat for them, instead of crushing them underfoot.
    Sure, the basis of their idea is unscientific (like the ill-defined omnipotent designer), however they make many, many claims that can and have been tested. And guess what… They are wrong!
    By a priori allowing them general untestable status we deny ourselves precious targets of opportunity to weaken or destroy any such idiotic movement.

  4. robm says:

    Good thing this was caught early, hopefully it will help thwart future attempts at getting creationism published in off topic categories by otherwise reputable publishers. My guess is creationists will try and have more success in getting curriculum teaching students “the pros and cons of” or “critical thinking about” evolution to try to get creationists arguments taught to students in order to sow doubt. Given that publishers have caught flack for publishing off topic papers and books by ideologically driven groups, I hope their ability to sneak their pseudoscience through will be diminished.

  5. RBH says:

    The “Cornell” conference had a parent. See Panda’s Thumb.

  6. BobbyG says:

    “legitimate science”

    OK. Y’all gotta continually remake the definitional case.

    “The law of the jungle is, ‘eat or be eaten. The law of “civilization” is ‘define or be defined.’ – Szasz

  7. willradik says:

    Currently writing the final essay of the composition class I’m taking. It’s an argumentative essay. I chose to write about the dangers and ineffectiveness of alternative medicine. Of course, there is someone in the class doing the same thing with the opposite aim. I don’t think her paper is going to be as good, though…

    I have a lot of firmly evidence-based citations from a very reputable blog known as Science-Based Medicine to include in mine.

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