Respectful Insolence

Oh the shame!

I’ve lamented numerous times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) about the sometimes painful ignorance of biology and evolutionary theory that’s all too common among my fellow physicians, an ignorance that leads to truly embarrassing forays into the “debate” over the pseudoscience of “intelligent design” versus the real science of evolution, an example of which includes the Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity‘s idiotic petition expressing “skepticism” about evolution.

Here we go again. This time, I learn of a pro-”intelligent design” book for children written by….a physician!


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Note the author: Geoffrey Simmons, M.D., who is now a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Note how Dembski‘s sycophants faun over it.

Oh, the shame, the shame for my profession! It looks as though it’s chock full of easily debunked ID canards, just like the last book he wrote, What Darwin Didn’t Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution.

I mean, get a load of this crap:

Dr. Geoffrey Simmons focuses on the millions of structures and systems on the Earth that came about all at once, entire…with no preceding links, no subsequent links, no “sideways” links.

To illustrate, he surveys examples like…

the hummingbird and its circulatory system
insects and insect-eating plants
the role of the thousands of species of viruses
chemical signals and the sensory apparatus that detects them
the self-regulating capacity of the Earth’s ocean/air/soil system

It’s clear: Nature contains only leaps, not links. Only the intelligence and purpose of an all-powerful Designer can explain the intricate creatures, connections, and “coincidences” everywhere.

Excellent for students and parents, especially homeschoolers, and for educators who want to present the “full picture.”

Of course they market this crap to homeschoolers. Any school worth half a glance wouldn’t even consider this tripe. Of course, none of these examples cast doubt upon evolutionary theory. Also, Dr. Simmons is well known for spewing easily debunked IDiocy.

Once again I must hang my head in shame over the proud ignorance of a fellow physician.

Comments

  1. #1 JMG3Y
    January 14, 2007

    IMO the major problem leading to these professional embarrassments is that although physicians (and other medical professionals) often obtain undergraduate science degrees prior to medical school admission, such degrees usually do not include a solid grounding in the fundamental history and philosophy of science. What is science, what isn’t science, why do we do science, how does science advance and why did science evolve the way that it has? IMO, this lack of understanding is a major weakness of most such degrees and leads to much of the foolishness we are experiencing now.

    Several years ago when the AAAS was on a campaign to raise the profile of science in communities, I suggested to the then president that the association should include practicing physicians as targets. It seemed to me that because of the science training, community stature and bent for community service, the profession would be a good spokesman for science. After all, many communities likely have the same number if not several fold more physicians as high school science teachers, for the most part they are easily identifiable and have strong professional organizations that would likely collaborate in such an endeavor. The president did not share my opinion and in pondering why, it struck me – to be successful practitioners physicians don’t need to understand the general, fundamental history and philosophy of science.

  2. #2 GrayingCynic
    January 14, 2007

    For an analogy, recall the hugely expensive campaign by Big Pharma to sell people on statins. MDs actually said on the record that statins were so safe they should be added to the water supply.

    Would any MD believe a prescription drug should be issued indiscriminately in uncontrolled dosages? Truthfully, no, or course not. By liefully, for money, of course!

    Simmons is whoring for the money and the benefits, simply put. He knows he’s lying. Once he decided to become a criminal, the rest was easy. And it will get easier, not harder. There are no awards for selling out because anyone could do it.

    Aside to JMG3Y: Typically, an MD’s education stops when he starts practice. From there on, he is informed by Big Pharma advertising, both in the form of obvious ads and in the form of articles ghostwritten by Big Pharma writers, published under the name of willing collaborators. He may subscribe to NEJM and JAMA, but he will not read any science journals: this practice allows him to talk the talk, but lets him slowly unlearn what he used to know in school. He never gets better at diagnosis, he only continually gets worse. And he buries his mistakes.

  3. #3 Infophile
    January 14, 2007

    IMO the major problem leading to these professional embarrassments is that although physicians (and other medical professionals) often obtain undergraduate science degrees prior to medical school admission, such degrees usually do not include a solid grounding in the fundamental history and philosophy of science. What is science, what isn’t science, why do we do science, how does science advance and why did science evolve the way that it has? IMO, this lack of understanding is a major weakness of most such degrees and leads to much of the foolishness we are experiencing now.

    Very good point, there. My university does offer a course in the “Philosophy of Science,” cross-listed as both a science and philosophy course. The problem is that most people who end up taking it our epistemology students needing to pick up a credit, not science students wanting to know how science works. I was one of the very few in the latter group, and taking it made me realize how bizarre it was that the course wasn’t a requirement for all science students. I’m thinking of writing a letter to someone about making it a requirement; I’m just not sure who to write.

  4. #4 Chris
    January 14, 2007

    So if “the hummingbird and its circulatory system” is an example of something that “came about all at once, entire…with no preceding links, no subsequent links, no “sideways” links.”…

    Is he saying that hummingbirds have no ancestors, or merely that their ancestors had no circulatory systems?

    Going from something with no circulatory system at all straight to the circulatory system of a hummingbird, or a human, *would* refute evolution as it is presently understood. However, this is not what we see in the actual facts: the first multicellular animals have no circulatory system, then some evolve a rudimentary circulatory system (just some channels where liquid diffuses around at random), then something with some kind of pump to keep the fluid circulating for better distribution of whatever it is, then the circulatory system becomes sealed off from the sea and the organism starts introducing chemicals into the circulatory fluid (might as well start calling it blood) to enhance its performance, and eventually you add more detailed refinements like valves, blood cells, pressurization and clotting. Eventually you have a system powerful enough to support a large animal (note: compared to most organisms, a hummingbird IS a large animal), and to live on dry land.

    This takes hundreds of millions of years to reach the stage of development that a human, chicken or frog already has. Whatever makes the hummingbird’s circulatory system different from that of other birds is a minor modification, probably added recently. To say that it “came about all at once, entire” is just ludicrous and reveals the author’s near-total ignorance of circulation in animals – past or present. The circulatory system is no more suddenly appearing than the eye, the wing, or any of the creationists’ other false and discredited examples.

    His other examples are no doubt equally bad.

  5. #5 Lynn
    January 14, 2007

    As an undergraduate bio major, I took a “Philosophy of Science” course, taught by a philosophy professor. It was quite interesting, and broadened my thinking in a number of subsequently useful directions, but in retrospect it was a fairly timid class, more philosophical than scientific in a number of important ways.

    However, years later, as a graduate student taking some coursework considered “outside my field,” I took a dynamite “History of Science” course which was everything that philosophy course should have been and wasn’t. It was taught by a young, dynamic history prof who was a rather rare species in his own right–he’d specifically majored in history of science throughout his college career. His expertise was particularly seventheenth century physics, eighteenth century chemistry *and* nineteenth century biology, thus hitting the key “renaissance” periods for each of the Big Three.

    That course completely changed the way I looked at science. It was like the final adjustment to a lens system–after all those years of increasingly specific science coursework, everything I’d been learning finally slipped into focus. I really saw the big picture, the connections, including the connections between scientific achievement and human civilization.

    It was a revalation to me. I wish I’d taken that course twice–once in the early days of my college education, and again (as I actually did take it) in the final years of my graduate training. No single science class I ever took was as valuable.

    Lynn

  6. #6 khan
    January 14, 2007

    the self-regulating capacity of the Earth’s ocean/air/soil system

    No doubt a lead in to Global Warming denial.

  7. #7 ERV
    January 14, 2007

    GrayingCynic: Simmons is whoring for the money and the benefits, simply put. He knows he’s lying. Once he decided to become a criminal, the rest was easy. And it will get easier, not harder. There are no awards for selling out because anyone could do it.

    Bingo. Dont be embarrassed, Orac. I used to think that professional Creationists really did believe what they spoke. Then I heard a Creationist with a PhD in neurology give a presentation on material that he admitted was incorrect on his website and written articles– he just *knew* that no one who knew he knew he was lying would be in the audience.

    But take heart– when I took the MCAT, there were phylogenetic trees and various other evolution specific questions. I think theyre now trying/hoping to crack down on the Creationists that slide through medical school.

  8. #8 Renee
    January 14, 2007

    When I was an undergraduate, I took a course of History/Philosophy of science, though it wasn’t required. One think I remember was the teacher asking us science majors if we ever wondered why certain topics were covered in our coursework, and how a topic came to be viewed as being ‘scientific’.

    I told him that for most of us, there wasn’t time to wonder about such things. One week you’ve got an entire chapter to learn, and the next week it’s the next chapter in the textbook, and so on, along with quizzes, tests, lab reports and the final. Stopping to ponder why we were studying a particular topic could possibly mean falling behind, and definitely wasn’t going to help in getting a good grade.

    I cannot remember one time where a science professor discussed the history of science, or even what ‘science’ means. Basically, we studied something because it’s in the textbook.

    When I was in grad school and teaching freshman chemistry lab, I did have one student who asked me a lot of questions about why certain subjects were in the textbook, and why we had to study them. He was a bright kid, who obviously thought about things a lot. But he ended up getting a D in the course (though not in the lab part of it). When he came to me to ask for some advice, I had to tell him that he needed to not question things so much, but to just learn the subject matter, like the rest of the students. I still remember the sad look in his eyes.

  9. #9 Kevin
    January 14, 2007

    How would doctors from the Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity group handle this situation?
    (With Thanks to Doonsbury)
    Doctor: (Looking at X-ray) Uh-oh. Hope he’s only a Sunday creationist.
    (After telling patient the diagnosis)
    Patient: TB! My God! Are you sure?
    Doctor: Afraid so. But we caught it early.
    Patient: So my prognosis is good?
    Doctor: Depends. Are you a creationist?
    Patient: Why yes, yes I am. Why do you ask?
    Doctor: Because I need to know whether you want me to treat the TB bug as it was before antibiotics … or as the multiple-drug-resistant strain it has since evolved into.
    Patient: Evolved?
    Doctor: Your choice. If you go with the Noah’s Ark version, I’ll just give you streptomycin.
    Patient: Um … What are the newer drugs like?
    Doctor: They’re intelligently designed.

  10. #10 Justin Moretti
    January 15, 2007

    It’s one thing to poke holes in the flaws of Evolution – all theories have them.

    It’s another to propose tearing down the entire edifice when you KNOW that all you have left to replace it is politico-religiously motivated anti-scientific crap.

    Natural Selection/evolution was more easily defensible IMO when we didn’t know how the changes were passed on; we could just accept there were “mechanisms” that acted between the generations. Now that we know something of the mechanisms, the creationists want to tie us to the post and lash us because we can’t explain every single bloody step along the way. We’re honest enough to admit we don’t know everything, and look what we get for our honesty!

    (Actually, what I think we’ll eventually get is a free trip through the Pearly Gates, while those who seek to shove antiscientific bulldust down vulnerable children’s throats will get a one way ticket to everlasting pain – not bearing false witness is one of the Ten Commandments after all.)

  11. #11 Grumpy Physicist
    January 15, 2007

    just to chime in a bit. In the physical sciences, it’s the engineers that will (much like the MDs you mention) go off on a wacky tangent.

    I suspect it’s because they learn a lot of “how”, and not so much “why”. At least the amount of harm they can do with their crackpot ‘ether’ theories and cold-fusion nonsense is rather limited.

    Like some others, I took a couple of H&P of S classes as an undergrad. One was quite interesting, on the H&P of quantum mechanics: half physics students, half philosophy students, and MAN the arguments we got into over causality. Good times.

    It would help a lot if actual scientists taught more of the H&P type courses, otherwise it’s like a non-musician music critic teaching a course in how to play a musical instrument.

  12. #12 Amy Alkon
    January 15, 2007

    What worries me is that, if doctors aren’t trained in the scientific method, how can they assess studies to know if they’re good or not? And what worries me (with both doctors and shrinks) is my suspicion (probably correct) that few of the primary care types have read any studies since they graduated. I think many get their information out of the often-flawed popular press and from drug company reps. Am I right?

    I take Ritalin to write (and have since long before it became trendy), and when I go into my prescribing shrink’s office, I’m always a little shocked when I look at his bookshelf and see all the books there to be approximately of the vintage of Bruno Bettleheim’s “Uses of Enchantment” (which is on the shelf, too).

    My best friend’s an epidemiologist, and if I have a problem, I ask him to pull the studies on it (ie, if I have a persistent cough, which I have had for a couple of months, do I need to be screened with a spiral CT or with a mere X-ray)? The doc gave me an X-Ray. Apparently, they didn’t spot anything.

    No, I have no medical degree, but it’s good to have at least one person in the doctor/patient relationship up on the latest in reseach in the field. With a friend who teaches stats to doctors (Mr. Epi) and a copy of Statistics For Utter Fucking Morons, plus about 10 years experience parsing ev psych studies, I can read a study and pretty much make out what the deal is.

  13. #13 Melissa G
    January 15, 2007

    Sorry for the off-topic comment, but I couldn’t immediately locate an EneMan post, so I decided to leave this in the “get a load of this crap” post– next best thing, really! Found this link via Fat Doctor’s blog– it’s for enema-themed jewelry. Quite lovely, really… kinda.

    http://lunaparc.com/anat_and_repro/enema_bag.htm

  14. #14 lost_erizo
    January 15, 2007

    Unfortunately this kind of thing doesn’t surprise me.

    Back when I was a grad student at a prestigeous Ivy League school (that shall not be named), the other teaching assistants and I sat down and figured out that depending on what electives they took, a biology major could graduate having had exactly _one week_ of instruction in population genetics and evolutionary theory. Given that about 80% of our students were headed for Medical School, and that these are the people that end up presctibing antibiotics, you’ll understand why I found this little factoid terrifying.

    No wonder the general public is confused if the people for whom this is supposed to be their area of expertise are so poorly trained.

  15. #15 Bruce H.
    January 17, 2007

    ID isn’t even pseudo-science. There is simply nothing remotely ‘sciency’ about it. It’s all just claptrap to sell the gullible on creationism in schools. In other words, a PR campaign. To label ID as a pseudo-science is to demean all other pseudo-sciences everywhere. At least some of the latter are entertaining.

  16. #16 mc2
    January 18, 2007

    I have a post on my new blog about the rules for challanging a scientific theory perhaps we should sent this out the the creationist and anyone else who could use a does of reality

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