Dembski’s Reputation Impugned!

Here’s William Dembski protesting a recent book review in the journal Nature:

Indeed, the review and its inclusion in NATURE are emblematic of the new low to which the scientific community has sunk in discussing ID. Bigotry, cluelessness, and misrepresentation don’t matter so long as the case against ID is made with sufficient vigor and vitriol.

Goodness! Sounds bad. What could have brought that on?

The review in question was written by paleontologist Kevin Padian. He was addressing three recent books on the big Dover trial. You remember that one, right? That was the one where ID, the nuanced form of creationism developed specifically to survive a legal challenge, got shredded in a court presided over by a Bush appointed judge. Here’s the always classy Dembski discussing Padian’s review:

Judge Jones, who headed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board before assuming a federal judgeship, is now a towering intellectual worthy of multiple honorary doctorates on account of his Dover decision, which he largely cribbed from the ACLU’s and NCSE’s playbook. Kevin Padian, for his yeoman’s service in the cause of defeating ID, is no doubt looking at an endowed chair at Berkeley and membership in the National Academy of Sciences. And that for a man who betrays no more sophistication in critiquing ID than Archie Bunker.

Mentally healthy human beings do not write paragraphs like that. I suppose we’re supposed to infer from this that the list of people who have headed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reads like a who’s who of mediocrity. As for Padian, I think he had his paleontological cred in line long before participaring in the trial. And considering his oft-stated contempt for atheists and belligerent religious views, I think it is safe to say that Archie Bunker was definitely an ID supporter.

The part of the review that really sticks in Dembski’s craw is the following:

One of the targets of Padian’s review is me. Here is Padian’s take on my work: “His [Dembski's] notion of ‘specified complexity’, a probabilistic filter that allegedly allows one to tell whether an event is so impossible that it requires supernatural explanation, has never demonstrably received peer review, although its description in his popular books (such as No Free Lunch, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) has come in for withering criticism from actual mathematicians.”

Well, actually, my work on the explanatory filter first appeared in my book THE DESIGN INFERENCE, which was a peer-reviewed monograph with Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory). This work was also the subject of my doctoral dissertation from the University of Illinois. So the pretense that this work was not properly vetted is nonsense.

Dembski — surprise! — is being something less than fully honest here. The work that formed the basis of The Design Inference was from Dembski’s dissertation in philosophy. There was virtually nothing in the book about applying his vapid mathematical formalism to actual biological problems, which is the aspect of Dembski’s work to which Padian is referring. That a handful of philosophers might have felt Dembski’s writing held some interest as a work of abstract, analytic philosophy (a dubious proposition to be sure) has no bearing on whether he has said anything of relevance to biologists.

Dembski goes on to mention his unreadable technical papers. Since these papers represent nothing more than a translation into mathematical symbols of the bad argument he made in No Free Lunch, I would say that nothing is lost by skipping them.

He then goes on to heap snideness and empty invective towards some of the people who have pointed out the manifest worthlessness of his work. Alas, he has not deigned to mention me in his rogue’s gallery. Then he turns around and points to a handful of people who have said nice things about his work. Whatever. Dembski can whine and cry all he wants, but that will not change one simple fact. Absolutely no one in the scientific community is using his formalism to try to resolve any biological question, despite its having been around for over a decade. I’d say that’s strong evidence for Padian’s assessment of what scientists think of Dembski’s work.

So, Dembski thinks it is a new low when Nature scoffs at his work. Sounds more like par for the course to me.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 23, 2007

    He then goes on to heap snideness and empty invective towards some of the people who have pointed out the manifest worthlessness of his work. Alas, he has not deigned to mention me in his rogue’s gallery.

    Yeah, whom do I have to bash to get a rise from that crowd? (Maybe if I turn all these links into one big meta-review. . . .)

    Getting into Dembski’s “rogue’s gallery” is today’s low-rent version of being on Nixon’s enemies list. Oh, how I wish my name were present. . . .

  2. #2 Jay
    July 23, 2007

    Hmmm, sounds as if I need to get a subscription to Nature. Rewarding them for going against the tide, or something like that :)

  3. #3 J-Dog
    July 23, 2007

    Dembski also lies when he says: “This work was also the subject of my doctoral dissertation from the University of Illinois. ”

    His doctorate is NOT from the University of Illinois, which is a first rank, #41 overall, top 100 ranked school by US News and World Reports. His docorate is from the University of Illinois – Chicago, which is a THIRD – RATE school as far as national rankings go.

    Naughty, naughty Dr. Dembski! One might expect that a PhD of mathematics would do a better job of understanding statistics – unless Lying For Jesus makes it all okay to lie through omission?

    http://collegeapps.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=collegeapps&cdn=education&tm=7&gps=91_234_766_416&f=10&su=p554.2.150.ip_&tt=2&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/brief/t1natudoc_brief.php

  4. #4 RBH
    July 23, 2007

    Jason remarked

    Absolutely no one in the scientific community is using his formalism to try to resolve any biological question, despite its having been around for over a decade. I’d say that’s strong evidence for Padian’s assessment of what scientists think of Dembski’s work.

    Oh, it’s worse than that. No one in the ID movement is using his formalism to do anything, either! Try to find one instance of the actual application of his filter, CSI, or specified complexity that actually applies the formalism to a biological structure or process in the way Dembski asserts it must be applied. I have yet to find one such instance; I’d appreciate knowing if there are any.

  5. #5 Scott Simmons
    July 23, 2007

    “His doctorate is NOT from the University of Illinois, which is a first rank, #41 overall, top 100 ranked school by US News and World Reports. His docorate is from the University of Illinois – Chicago, which is a THIRD – RATE school as far as national rankings go.”

    Now, J-Dog, UIC has a pretty respectable graduate philosophy program. Or did when I was in it, which was … (short web search) …

    Um, around the same time as Bill …

    What? Why don’t I remember him? Hell, I was in that department at the time he got his M.A., and left while he was working on his Ph.D. He must have been awful darn quiet. Of course, he already had his Ph.D. in math at that point, so he probably wouldn’t have been hanging much with the snot-nosed kids just out of undergrad. But still … I can’t even figure out who his advisor would have been. I’ve got to check into this further, that’s for sure.

  6. #6 second
    July 23, 2007

    And Dembski, snot that he is, has to point out once again that “[Richard] Wein holds no more than a bachelors degree in statistics.”

    I’m guessing that Wein uses more math in his profession than Dembski does in his. What’s more, the targets of Wein’s critique, namely The Design Inference and No Free Lunch, contain nothing beyond freshman-level math, so Wein’s lack of grad degrees seems pretty irrelevant.

  7. #7 mark
    July 23, 2007

    If Dembski thinks Judge Jones was such a fool, how come he ran away from Kitzmiller v. Dover? And if he thinks Wein’s level of mathematical ability is so low, how come he could not provide an effective response to Wein’s critique? Such a sniveling crybaby.

  8. #8 386sx
    July 24, 2007

    What makes Dembski think the head of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board can’t be an intellectual? Just because it has the word liquor in there? Lol.

  9. #9 Richard Wein
    July 24, 2007

    I’m guessing that Wein uses more math in his profession than Dembski does in his.

    Sorry to disappoint. I’ve worked as a software developer and as a technical translator, and haven’t needed much maths in either profession. I’ve never described myself as a mathematician.

    What’s more, the targets of Wein’s critique, namely The Design Inference and No Free Lunch, contain nothing beyond freshman-level math, so Wein’s lack of grad degrees seems pretty irrelevant.

    Quite right. My critique contains no claim of special expertise. What is particularly revealing (and I think the reason why it is often mentioned) is the obvious vacuity of Dembski’s responses to it.

  10. #10 Richard Wein
    July 24, 2007

    Absolutely no one in the scientific community is using his formalism to try to resolve any biological question, despite its having been around for over a decade.

    The word “biological” is redundant there. It seems that no one is seriously applying Dembski’s formalism to any real question. If they were doing so, I’m sure Dembski himself would be trumpeting that fact. (He once claimed that the DoD was interested in his work–for detection of encrypted messages IIRC–but he soon dropped that claim. My guess would be that a creationist somewhere in the DoD was impressed by Dembski’s books and dreamed up some fantasy application, but it never got any further than that.)

  11. #11 hoary puccoon
    July 24, 2007

    If science proceeds by disproof, then scientists must, of necessity, criticize other people’s data and/or theories in order to advance the field. That’s the way it works. If the point of science were never to say a critical word about another scientist, Emily Post would have won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Kevin Padian’s comments about Dembski weren’t in any way out of line with the frank criticism that any decent scientist should have learned to expect by about mid-term of the first semester of grad school.
    Bill Dembski must surely know that. His complaint that he was unfairly attacked can’t possibly be directed toward the scientific community. No, he’s playing, yet again, to his real audience– sincere believers who might be persuaded to part with their hard earned funds to support the ‘beleaguered’ IDists. If he wants to spend his time fundraising, why can’t he pick a useful goal like AIDS research and stop harassing junior high science teachers and schoolchildren?

  12. #12 Glen Davidson
    July 24, 2007

    Absolutely no one in the scientific community is using his formalism to try to resolve any biological question, despite its having been around for over a decade. I’d say that’s strong evidence for Padian’s assessment of what scientists think of Dembski’s work.

    As others noted, it isn’t applied to anything–including potential cases of design.

    But let’s not forget why it’s so utterly useless, which is that it deliberately confuses the unlikelihood of designed objects being “naturally” produced–an unlikelihood that generally relates to their simple and rational production (at least prior to more recent times)–with the complexity of living organisms which is owed to evolution with its incremental changes and complex histories. He calls both complexity in a flagrantly dishonest reductionism of both design and biological complexity to mere “unlikelihood”, and he uses this species of dishonesty to claim that we use measures of complexity to detect design, when we manifestly do not in the vast majority of archaeological cases.

    ID is the reductionist endeavor, not science in its whole. No real scientist could use anything that stupid and dishonest for any scientific purpose, for it only exists to deny the obvious differences between machines and organisms.

    Glen D
    http://www.geocities.com/interelectromagnetic

  13. #13 rimpal
    July 24, 2007

    Dembski’s Reputation Impugned! Reputation, does Dembski have such a thing?

    J-dog, UIC, is a pretty decent institution. It is at the center of the state of Illinois’s health sciences endeavours, in education and research, hosting both the state’s dental and medical schools. It does a lot of federally funded research. It’s no diploma mill like some of the places Dembski is associated with these days.

  14. #14 Ed Darrell
    July 25, 2007

    Let me note that Dembski, despite his planned seminar on intelligent design in business, is not exactly known as a management whiz.

    In contrast, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is a more than $1 Billion business, the largest retailer of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. and second largest in the world:

    The PLCB holds monopolistic rights to the distribution of all wines and hard liquor in the commonwealth. To this end, the agency owns and operates Wine & Spirits retail locations, commonly referred to as “state stores,” in all 67 counties. This government corporation is the largest purchaser of wine and liquor in the United States and, after the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which operates in a slightly more populous Canadian province, the world. Wine & Spirits stores were allowed to conduct business on Sundays starting in February 2003 through the enactment of Act 212 of 2002, approved by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in December 2002.

    In Fiscal Year 2005, sales were almost $1.6 billion, with approximately $80 million being transferred to the commonwealth treasury. In addition to this profit, 18% liquor tax (included in the shelf price) and 6% sales tax are collected. PLCB revenue is contributed to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s drug and alcohol programs. It also fully funds the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE), the section of the Pennsylvania State Police responsible for the enforcement of all liquor laws.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Liquor_Control_Board)

    As usual, Dembski’s sense of proportion, manners and intellect are hidden by his overwhelming desire to snark, to ridicule all others.

    Those who can perform socially redeeming acts do, those who can’t, carp.

  15. #15 secondclass
    July 25, 2007

    Richard:

    Sorry to disappoint. I’ve worked as a software developer and as a technical translator, and haven’t needed much maths in either profession. I’ve never described myself as a mathematician.

    No disappointment. As a software developer myself, I know that the most math I’ll ever do is converting decimal numbers to binary or figuring out what data structure or algorithm will give the best performance. But whatever sparse use of math your job entails, it’s surely more than Dembski uses as he teaches theology and rhetoric.

  16. #16 rimpal
    July 25, 2007

    These IDC guys can’t run even a cash bar if they had to. Imagine railing against a man who ran the PLCB! WAD is so full of himself that in the said post the guy has described his pitiful riposte (evasion and obfuscation) a “withering critique”. Note the quotes. Looks like even WAD doesn’t take his gabbing seriously!