The Intersection

My latest piece for Science Progress–where I am now a contributing editor–has just gone up. It’s entitled “Enablers,” and it’s how people like us, who care about science, are often guilty of actually empowering those who who are attacking it.

A great example occurred recently with the Heartland Institute’s climate skeptic conference in New York. Climate skepticism is totally passe–this event should have been completely ignored. Instead, many of my intellectual allies were screaming their heads off denouncing it, and thereby drawing greater attention to it.

In the piece I give other examples, including one that comes from the latest version of the Nisbet-Mooney talk (about Ben Stein), and that I owe Matt Nisbet for originally pointing out:

There’s certainly a longstanding mentality among progressive groups that nonsense must be refuted, often in rapid-fire mode if possible. But that mindset runs up against something else that ought to be obvious: controversy sells. If you create a big fuss over what your intellectual opponent is saying, you might well be helping him or her. Fox News’s highly publicized lawsuit against Al Franken surely helped sell copies of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. So why wouldn’t repeated critiques by environmental groups of someone like, say, Bjorn Lomborg or the Heartland Institute do exactly the same thing?

Nevertheless–and to stick with environmental groups for a second-they fall into this trap constantly, refuting at length anti-environmental forces at rightwing think tanks or in the media. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund (now known simply as Environmental Defense) both published lengthy studies to refute New York Times contrarian John Tierney’s 1997 attack on the efficacy of recycling, to name just one example. Couldn’t all the energy and resources bestowed on rebutting our enemies be better used to help promote our friends–perhaps, say, by devoting resources to getting the word out about individuals who have written pro-environment books? Rather than reacting, couldn’t we be setting the agenda?

Unfortunately, yet another example of scientific defenders enabling anti-scientific forces has recently come to my attention. The rightwing comedian Ben Stein has a new movie out called Expelled, a supposed documentary about how evolutionary forces are suppressing the intelligent design movement’s intellectually valid dissent. Now, this is nonsense, but what better way to help nonsense thrive than to unleash public statements that would seem to confirm it or to be consistent with it?

Sure enough, one of the Expelled trailers features the following quotation from Oxford evolutionary biologist and atheism apostle Richard Dawkins: “If people think God is interesting, the onus is on them to show that there is anything there to talk about. Otherwise they should just shut up about it.” And then in comes Ben Stein to play the rebel, the Galileo, against this oppressive scientific orthodoxy, against “Big Science” that tells the little guy to “shut up.” How’s that for enabling?

The full column can be read here.

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    March 19, 2008

    I am disappointed in Mr. Mooney, writing such drivel. Would he ignore a cancerous growth in the hope it would go away?

  2. #2 Jason Failes
    March 19, 2008

    I agree….but it seems the alternative, ignoring it, would be worse.

    You have to understand that anti-science viewpoints are, to their adherents, unfalsifiable.

    Critique Stein? You are an evil suppressive Darwinist.
    Ignore Stein? Ha, they have nothing to say because they know I’m right and the case for ID is so strong.

    The advantage of resisting is that it allows us to get out the facts in the controversy. This may not work in network sound bites, but can be effective across the internet. Anyone drawn to TalkOrigins by the controversy will not be able to unread what they see there, for example.

    I do agree that a greater energy should be given to positives, but not at the expense of taking away energy from these good fights.

  3. #3 The Flying Trilobite
    March 19, 2008

    I don’t know if I would call it drivel, but I certainly agree with SLC.

    For every person who glances at an article about a supposed “controversy”, there is at least a chance -a chance!- that they will look into it further and see which theory the evidence lends itself to. Letting on the pseudoscientists speak without rebuttal would be to shirk responsibilty.

  4. #4 Oran Kelley
    March 19, 2008

    It is completely amazing to me how people seem to miss the point of practically anything written about political strategy or tactics.

    For instance: the immediate jump to the cancer metaphor! Why not the Nazi threat lurking in the mid-1930s. Never ignore anything that can be construed as a threat! All out war, immediately!

    (Hopefully some folks have learned the lesson of questionable metaphors from the Iraq war. Fifth anniversary is today, btw)

    Or, think of the counterarguments!

    The thing is, we aren’t talking about cancer or counterarguments between intellectual pugilists. We’re talking about how things play out in public fora.

    How does the republic party respond to the many very poignant criticisms launched socialist intellectuals?

    Can they possibly ignore that cancer? Do they worry about the cutting remarks they will suffer at cocktail parties?

  5. #5 JuliaL
    March 19, 2008

    My exposure to academic science is extremely limited: a high school physics class taught by a former coach who let us play with the lab equipment while he sat at his desk and read, and a really good one-semester college botany class around 1962.

    Perhaps there is indeed no need to “create a big fuss,” but I personally appreciate factual responses to inaccurate claims, especially those responses summed up in terms basic enough for the layman and short enough to read in fifteen minutes or so. A search for factual information in small bites is really what caused me to seek out relevant blogs after I retired.

    Couldn’t all the energy and resources bestowed on rebutting our enemies be better used to help promote our friends–perhaps, say, by devoting resources to getting the word out about individuals who have written pro-environment books?

    Certainly it’s good to get the word out about factual books, but it would be a mistake to transfer absolutely “all the energy and resources” away from responding directly to false claims.

    Even those non-science types like myself who are making a sincere effort to understand are unlikely to get around to reading whole books in order to find out about the accuracy and relevancy of some new widely-publicized claim; for example, the apparently big news not so long ago that the hottest year this century was not recently, but (I think) 1935. It was very helpful to me to have pointed out in easily obtained media the importance of trends versus single data points, as well as the difference between average US temperature and average global temperature with its disproportionate effect felt at the poles.

    I find Scienceblogs and Panda’s Thumb to be particularly helpful in pointing out what is science and what is pseudoscience. I do agree, though, that strings of insults and being told to shut up have never helped me to understand anything. And the hours wasted wading through insults and adolescent jibes in search of facts has led me to be more selective about which science blogs I spend my limited time reading.

  6. #6 steve s
    March 19, 2008

    The Index of Creationist Claims is valuable. By cutting and pasting, you can both respond to them, and show that their objection is old and dumb, without wasting much time.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html

  7. #7 Lance
    March 19, 2008

    So you think that by putting your fingers in your ears and telling others to do the same that objections to the premise, methodology and data backing AGW theory will whither on the vine?

    Have you checked the satellite and surface temperature anomalies lately Chris? What was the ACE index last season? What is the current sea ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctic systems? What is the correlation between actual tropospheric heating and the values predicted by “climate models”?

    Or are all of those scientific issues “passe” as well?

  8. #8 Jonathan
    March 19, 2008

    That last paragraph by Nisbet is really what all of this is about. Science defenders must, at all times, be wary of what they say, and how they say it! Or else, god forbid, someone somewhere who knows how to use video editing software, or even something as basic as cutting and pasting will make us all look bad! Just be polite, talk nice and slow, and maybe, in a hundred years, the naysayers will just retreat back into a hole after being completely ignored and everyone will stand up and agree “By jolly, AGW is real, and we need to do something about it!”

  9. #9 SLC
    March 19, 2008

    Re Jonathan

    I think that Mr. Jonathan is right on. A snarker after my own heart.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    March 19, 2008

    This is actually a much more mild proposition than a lot of posters seem to assume, at least as far as I can see. Pro-science activists have a tendency to be reactive to every move made on the denialist front, and this often brings the latter undue publicity.

    It’s certainly true that you need to make sure good information is available to those who seek it, but realistically, the tide of public opinion is affected little by what we think of as “information”. Those who are short on facts and long on rhetoric can be very effective in muddying the waters. When environmental scientists respond to every piece of brownlash propaganda with vigor, sometimes the only discernable effect is to draw attention to it and generate an atmosphere of controversy where none legitimately exists.

    Oran Kelley is correct in pointing to Republican propaganda as an example. Right-wing think-tanks seldom expend effort refuting criticisms of their propaganda, as they focus instead on bullhorning it out into the public discourse. The Republican ascendency of the past two decades clearly vindicates such a strategy.

  11. #11 Neuro-conservative
    March 20, 2008

    If you’re going to start ignoring ideas you don’t like, you might need to turn off NPR:

    Morning Edition, March 19, 2008 · Some 3,000 scientific robots that are plying the ocean have sent home a puzzling message. These diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years.

  12. #12 Andrew
    March 20, 2008

    I don’t believe it is possible to be more wrong.

    I agree that much of the pro-science rhetoric is as juvenile –viz.”demented fucktards”- and as blindly partisan as any on the anti-rationality front.

    However, smugly ignoring or not taking militant mysticism seriously because it is intellectually contemptible is what has allowed the most ignorant and anti-intellectual government in the history of democracy to celebrate 5 years of a “successful war”.

    This is not penny-ante, we’re playing for all the marbles here and if you don’t have the stomach for a fight to defend reason against unreason, then at least consider the implications of complacency before becoming an advocate for it.

  13. #13 Chris C. Mooney
    March 20, 2008

    Oran Kelley put it best: “It is completely amazing to me how people seem to miss the point of practically anything written about political strategy or tactics.”

    I agree completely.

  14. #14 J. J. Ramsey
    March 20, 2008

    SLC: “Would he ignore a cancerous growth in the hope it would go away?”

    False analogy. Imagine a weird sort of tumor where a treatment can have two contradictory effects:

    * If the tumor is growing, then the treatment keeps it in check, as we expect.

    * If the tumor is already shrinking and dying out, the same treatment risks triggering it to revive and grow again.

    You propose delivering the same treatment to both kinds of tumors.

  15. #15 Pierce R. Butler
    March 20, 2008

    J. J. Ramsey: If the tumor is already shrinking and dying out, the same treatment risks triggering it to revive and grow again.

    Uh, interesting analogy. Is there any such tumor/treatment combination? If so, how does it pertain to the current situation?

  16. #16 JuliaL
    March 20, 2008

    Morning Edition, March 19, 2008 · Some 3,000 scientific robots that are plying the ocean have sent home a puzzling message. These diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years.

    Is that accurate? How does it relate to overall global warming? I imagine that this will be (if it hasn’t already been) used as an argument that global warming isn’t happening. This is a good example of an opportunity to provide facts (but not a big fuss) to help out us non-science types.

  17. #17 Jon Winsor
    March 20, 2008

    I understand what you’re trying to say, and I think it applies in some cases, but what about placing it in a larger context? Joseph Romm does this to some extent in his reply to you:

    Most of the media hardly covered [the Heartland conference]. And many of us only discussed the conference to dis the media for covering them or to reframe their purpose.

    Indeed, the other reason one must take on the deniers nonsense is that the media continues to cover them, albeit less seriously than before (since it is obvious to just about anybody who follows this issue that they have been dead wrong and spreading disinformation for over a decade). The media ran with the “Earth is cooling” story, and that means everybody who needs to know how to rebut it

    If anyone are the denier/delayer enablers (other, than, of course, the ExxonMobils and conservative think tanks and Rush Limbaughs of the world), it is the mainstream media. That’s why I do as much media criticism on this blog as denier/delayer refutation.

    Remember the Paul Krugman column from a while back on industry funded think tanks and scholars? Do you think the press establishment fully realizes the extent to which right wing think tanks do this? Part of the problem, I think, is that the media establishment hasn’t gotten a sense of the tactics that have been used. Their actual reputation at this point lags their deserved reputation.

  18. #18 Jon Winsor
    March 20, 2008

    As Paul Krugman and others have recently argued, a lot of these tactics can be intentional and coordinated.

    Also, if you haven’t seen it, make sure to listen to Naomi Oreske’s talk on the history of climate change denialism. You’ll be familiar with most of the stuff at the beginning, but I like the way she frames the problem toward the end. Libertarian types have to be honest about what they’re debating–they like to pretend they’re having a scientific debate, when they’re really having a political one. It’s fine to have the political and economic debate, but they should be clear about what they’re debating, instead of obfuscating the science.

  19. #19 Jon Winsor
    March 20, 2008

    Argh. Some of what I said above is a bit garbled. Essentially, what I meant to say was 1) the establishment media doesn’t understand the extent to which right wing science and research distorts findings for political purposes, 2) the actual reputation of right wing sources of information lags their deserved reputation, 3) there’s something to be gained by consistently pointing these things out, and showing how problemmatic libertarian think tanks (etc.) are are as sources of information.

    Once the establishment press “gets it,” it will be much harder for the “counterestablishment” (as it was once called) to pull off the kinds of things that Naomi Oreske describes.

  20. #20 J. J. Ramsey
    March 20, 2008

    Pierce R. Butler: “Uh, interesting analogy. Is there any such tumor/treatment combination?

    I have no idea if there are any real tumors like that.

    “If so, how does it pertain to the current situation?”

    Isn’t it obvious? It has already been pointed out even before this article that attempting to rebut a myth can help reinforce it. Now when groups like the Heartland Institute are in a strong position, one is stuck with working around that dynamic and publicly countering their misinformation. When such groups are on the ropes and having a hard time attracting the public attention they need, then publicly rebutting them brings them this attention and that dynamic that I just mentioned comes into play.

    The catch, of course, is figuring out whether a group is really on the ropes or not.

    Interestingly enough, while Mark H on the Denialism blog disagrees with Mooney, he does understand what Mooney is trying to get at.

  21. #21 SLC
    March 20, 2008

    Re Neuro-conservative

    The answer to this apparent conundrum is very simple. The admixing of cold water coming from melting ice with ocean water is temporarily preventing the oceans from getting warmer. See, wasn’t that simple?

  22. #22 SLC
    March 20, 2008

    Re J. J. Ramsey

    The problem with Mr. Ramseys’ analysis is that the tumor, in this case creationism and other whacky ideas, are not shrinking and dying out. It is growing and metastasizing. I seem to recall that Mr. Ramsey was involved in the discussion with a whackjob calling himself JonS over at the evolution blog. Anyone following that discussion would not come to the conclusion that the problem was going away.

  23. #23 Pierce R. Butler
    March 20, 2008

    J. J. Ramsey: Y’know, the rhetorical purpose of building a straw man is to attack it, not to stand behind it as the strong point of your case.

    As SLC points out, the liars are hardly “on the ropes” – not even Bush & Cheney, who are lame ducks repeatedly exposed as shameless frauds.

    More to the current point: many of us in the anti-war movement delight in reminding the public of such propaganda ploys as “Mission Accomplished”, “Ba’athist dead-enders”, “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” Do you, or Mooney & Nisbet, or anyone, think that we are thereby promoting Bush’s wars?

  24. #24 J. J. Ramsey
    March 20, 2008

    SLC: “The problem with Mr. Ramseys’ analysis is that the tumor, in this case creationism and other whacky ideas, are not shrinking and dying out.”

    That is half-true. Creationism as a whole is not dying out, but the effort of the movie Expelled is dying, and the climate change denialists are enough on the losing end that even Bush has paid some lip service to the reality of climate change. Funny thing, these are the issues that Mooney was talking about.

  25. #25 J. J. Ramsey
    March 20, 2008

    More to the current point: many of us in the anti-war movement delight in reminding the public of such propaganda ploys as “Mission Accomplished”, “Ba’athist dead-enders”, “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” Do you, or Mooney & Nisbet, or anyone, think that we are thereby promoting Bush’s wars?

    Like you said, the rhetorical purpose of building a straw man is to attack it, not to stand behind it. Funny, then, that your examples aren’t cases where the opponents aren’t trying to pull a ploy where they misrepresent a controversy between scientists and themselves as a debate about the science itself–which again, are the sorts of cases that Mooney was explicitly talking about.

  26. #26 Mark
    March 20, 2008

    For those interested here is my reply at denialism blog.

    While I agree that Chris has a point that to some degree it seems like we sciencebloggers end up being the only ones talking about some cranks, thus giving them press, the HI conference is a bad example of something to ignore. As many people have pointed out in this thread, historically ignoring denialism has not worked. I’ll add the additional example of the tobacco companies denialist campaign which used many of the same actors who are working on the global warming denialist campaign. These people get their bullshit into all sorts of corners if you let them and don’t expose them.

    Now, some smalltime crank occupying some outpost on the interweb certainly would fall under Chris’s realm. I rarely write about a bunch of creeps like holocaust deniers and HIV/AIDS denialists until they break out of their little shitbird nests and create a more public ruckus. But groups like Heartland, or the DI, or CEI, who have money, lobbyists, and journalists spitting their BS into every little nook and cranny that will take it need to be dealt with proactively.

  27. #27 Jon Winsor
    March 20, 2008

    …as a debate about the science itself…

    Actually, the best work that I’ve seen discusses how the misinformation came about–for instance the link between denial campaigns and big tobacco. This changes it into a story about the culture of misinformation, you could say, more than about the misinformation itself.

    This seems to be solidly in the tradition of muckraking journalism, and it is often very effective. (The Newsweek cover story that ran a few months back comes to mind.)

  28. #28 Pierce R. Butler
    March 20, 2008

    Our “opponents” in the cases of Bush’s wars aren’t claiming scientific validity, but their misrepresentation of military and geopolitical analysis is comparable to their exploitation of the name of science, whether considered as howling dishonesty or exploitation of public ignorance.

    The creationists differ from the warming deniers (& the warmongers) in lacking corporate subsidy, but they more than make up for it in ecclesiastical support. In all three instances, a policy of deliberate neglect cannot be expected to stop the growth of the “tumor”.

    Even where no significant outside support for absurd claims can be seen, such as the UFO movement, it’s hard to see that the de facto “ignore ‘em and they’ll go away” strategy has succeeded.

  29. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    March 20, 2008

    Pierce R. Butler: “Our ‘opponents’ in the cases of Bush’s wars aren’t claiming scientific validity”

    More to the point, they aren’t trying to use the presence of public argument as a misleading implication of the lack of scientific consensus. Different opponents, different ways of handling them.

    Pierce R. Butler: “policy of deliberate neglect cannot be expected to stop the growth of the ‘tumor’.”

    And no one has been saying that deliberate neglect should be a universal strategy.

  30. #30 Josh Greenberger
    March 20, 2008

    A deeper analysis of the underlying mechanism behind evolution and the fossil record, leaves little doubt that mutations of a random nature could not possibly have been the driving force behind the development of life on earth.

    There has been opposition to the theory of evolution on the basis of whether a random process can produce organization. An analogy often given is, can a monkey on a typewriter, given enough time, produce the works of Shakespeare purely by random keystrokes? Let’s assume for the purpose of this discussion that this is possible — and that random mutations, given enough time, can also eventually produce the most complex life forms.

    Let’s begin by rolling a die (one “dice”). To get a “3,” for example, you’d have to roll the die an average of six times (there are six numbers, so to get any one of them would take an average of six rolls). Of course, you could get lucky and roll a 3 the first time. But as you keep rolling the die, you’ll find that the 3 will come up on average once every six rolls.

    The same holds true for any random process. You’ll get a “Royal Flush” (the five highest cards, in the same suit) in a 5-card poker game on average roughly once every 650,000 hands. In other words, for every 650,00 hands of mostly meaningless arrangements of cards (and perhaps a few other poker hands), you’ll get only one Royal Flush.

    Multi-million dollar lotteries are also based on this concept. If the odds against winning a big jackpot are millions to one, what will usually happen is that for every game where one person wins the big jackpot with the right combination of numbers, millions of people will not win the big jackpot because they picked millions of combinations of meaningless numbers. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a multi-million dollar lottery yet where millions of people won the top prize and only a few won little or nothing. It’s always the other way around. And sometimes there isn’t even one big winner.

    How does this relate to evolution?

    Let’s take this well-understood concept about randomness and apply it the old story of a monkey on a typewriter. As mentioned earlier, for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll assume that if you allow a monkey to randomly hit keys on a typewriter long enough he could eventually turn out the works of Shakespeare. Of course, it would take a very long time, and he’d produce mountains and mountains of pages of meaningless garbage in the process, but eventually (we’ll assume) he could turn out the works of Shakespeare.

    Now, let’s say, after putting a monkey in front of a typewriter to type out Shakespeare, you decide you also want a copy of the Encyclopedia of Britannica. So you put another monkey in front of another typewriter. Then, you put a third monkey in front of third typewriter, because you also want a copy of “War And Peace.” Now you shout, “Monkeys, type,” and they all start banging away on their typewriters.

    You leave the room and have yourself cryogenically frozen so you can come back in a few million years to see the results. (The monkeys don’t have to be frozen. Let’s say they’re an advanced species; all they need to survive millions of years is fresh ink cartridges.)

    You come back in a few million years and are shocked at what you see. What shocks you is not what you find, but what you don’t find. First, you do find that the monkeys have produced the works of Shakespeare, the Encyclopedia of Britannica and “War and Peace.” But all this you expected.

    What shocks you is that you don’t see the mountains of papers of meaningless arrangement of letters that each monkey should have produced for each literary work. You do find a few mistyped pages here and there, but they do not nearly account for the millions of pages of “mistakes” you should have found.

    And even if the monkeys happened to get them all right the first time, which is a pretty big stretch of the imagination, they still should’ve type out millions of meaningless pages in those millions of years. (Who told them to stop typing?) Either way, each random work of art should have produced millions upon millions of meaningless typed pages.

    This is precisely what the problem is with the Darwinian theory of evolution.

    A random process, as depicted by Darwinian evolution and accepted by many scientists, even if one claims it can produce the most complex forms of life, should have produced at least millions of dysfunctional organisms for every functional one. And with more complex organisms (like a “Royal Flush” as opposed to a number 3 on a die), an even greater number of dysfunctional “mistakes” should have been produced (as there are so many more possibilities of “mistakes” in a 52-card deck than a 6-sided die).

    The fossil record should have been bursting with billions upon billions of completely dysfunctional-looking organisms at various stages of development for the evolution of every life form. And for each higher life form — human, monkey, chimpanzee, etc. — there should have been millions of even more “mistakes.”

    Instead, what the fossil record shows is an overwhelming number of well-formed, functional-looking organisms, with an occasional aberration. Let alone we haven’t found the plethora of “gradually improved” or intermediate species (sometimes referred to as “missing links”) that we should have, we haven’t even found the vast number of “mistakes” known beyond a shadow of a doubt to be produced by every random process.

    We don’t need billions of years to duplicate a random process in a lab to show that it will produce chaos every time, regardless of whether or not it might eventually produce some “meaningful complexity.” To say that randomness can produce organization is one thing, but to say that it won’t even produce the chaos that randomness invariably produces is inconsistent with established fact.

    A process that will produce organization without the chaos normally associated with randomness is the greatest proof that the process is not random.

    The notion that the fossil record supports the Darwinian theory of evolution is as ludicrous as saying that a decomposed carcass proves an animal is still alive. It proves the precise opposite. The relative scarcity of deformed-looking creatures in the fossil record proves beyond a doubt that if one species spawned another (which in itself is far from proven) it could not possibly have been by a random process.

    To answer why we don’t see many of the “mistakes” in the fossil record, some scientists point out that the genetic code has a repair mechanism which is able to recognize diseased and dysfunctional genetic code and eliminate it before it has a chance to perpetuate abnormal organisms.

    Aside from this not being the issue, this isn’t even entirely true. Although genetic code has the ability to repair or eliminate malfunctioning genes, many diseased genes fall through the cracks, despite this. There are a host of genetic diseases — hemophilia, various cancers, congenital cataract, spontaneous abortions, cystic fibrosis, color-blindness, and muscular dystrophy, to name just a few — that ravage organisms and get passed on to later generations, unhampered by the genetic repair mechanism. During earth’s history of robust speciation (species spawning new ones) through, allegedly, random mutation, far more genes should have fallen through the cracks.

    And, as an aside, how did the genetic repair mechanism evolve before there was a genetic repair mechanism? And where are all those millions of deformed and diseased organisms that should’ve been produced before the genetic repair mechanism was fully functional?

    But all this is besides the point. A more serious problem is the presumption that natural selection weeded out the vast majority, or all, of the “misfits.”

    A genetic mutation that would have resulted in, let’s say, the first cow to be born with two legs instead of four, would not necessarily be recognized as dysfunctional by the genetic repair mechanism. (I’ll be using “cow” as an example throughout; but it applies to almost any organism.) From the genetic standpoint, as long as a gene is sound in its own right, there’s really no difference between a cow with four legs, two legs, or six tails and an ingrown milk container. It’s only after the cow is born that natural selection, on the macro level, eliminates it if it’s not fit to survive.

    It’s these types of mutations, organisms unfit to survive on the macro level, yet genetically sound, that should have littered the planet by the billions.

    Sure these deformed cows would have gotten wiped out quickly by natural selection, since they had no chance of surviving. But how many millions of dysfunctional cows alone, before you even get to the billions of other species in earth’s history, should have littered the planet and fossil record before the first stable, functioning cow made its debut? If you extrapolate the random combinations from a simple deck of cards to the far greater complexity of a cow, we’re probably talking about tens of millions of “mistakes” that should have cluttered planet earth for just the first functioning cow.

    Where are all these relics of an evolutionary past?

    Did nature miraculously get billions of species right the first time? Of the fossils well-preserved enough to study, most appear to be well-designed and functional-looking. With the low aberration ratio of fossils being no more significant, as far as speciation is concerned, than common birth deformities, there seems to have been nothing of a random nature in the development of life.

    One absurd response I’ve gotten from a scientist as to why a plethora of deformed species never existed is: There is no such thing as speciation driven by deleterious mutation.

    This is like asking, “How come everybody leaves the lecture hall through exit 5, but never through exit 4?” and getting a response, “Because people don’t leave the lecture hall through exit 4.” Wasn’t this the question?

    What scientists have apparently done is look into the fossil record and found that new species tend to make their first appearance as well-formed, healthy-looking organisms. So instead of asking themselves how can a random series of accidents seldom, if ever, produce “accidents,” they’ve simply formulated a new rule in evolutionary biology: There is no such thing as speciation driven by deleterious mutation. This answer is about as scientific, logical and insightful as, “Because I said so.”

    It’s one thing for the genetic code to spawn relatively flawless cows today, after years of stability. But before cows took root, a cow that might have struck us as deformed would have been no more or less “deleterious,” from the genetic standpoint, than a cow that we see as normal. The genetic repair mechanism may recognize “healthy” or “diseased” genetic code, but it can’t know how many legs or horns a completely new species should have, if we’re talking about a trial-and-error crapshoot. If the genetic repair mechanism could predict what a functioning species should eventually look like, years before natural selection on the macro level had a chance to weed out the unfit, we’d be talking about some pretty weird, prophetic science.

    In a paper published in the February 21, 2002, issue of Nature, Biologists Matthew Ronshaugen, Nadine McGinnis, and William McGinnis described how they were able to suppress some limb development in fruit flies simply by activating certain genes and suppress all limb development in some cases with additional mutations during embryonic development.

    In another widely publicized experiment, mutations induced by radiation caused fruit flies to grow legs on their heads.

    These experiments showed how easy it is to make drastic changes to an organism through genetic mutations. Ironically, although the former experiment was touted as supporting evolution, they both actually do the opposite. The apparent ease with which organisms can change so dramatically and take on bizarre properties, drives home the point that bizarre creatures, and bizarre versions of known species, should have been mass produced by nature, had earth’s history consisted of billions of years of the development of life through random changes.

    To claim that the random development of billions of life forms occurred, yet the massive aberrations didn’t, is an absurd contradiction to everything known about randomness.

    Evolutionists tend to point out that the fossil record represents only a small fraction of biological history, and this is why we don’t find all the biological aberrations we should. But the issue here is not one of numbers but one of proportion.

    For every fossil of a well-formed, viable-looking organism, we should have found an abundance of “strange” or deformed ones, regardless of the total number. What we’re finding, however, is the proportional opposite.

    Evolution may have made some sense in Darwin’s days. But in the 21st century, evolution appears to be little more than the figment of a brilliant imagination. Although this imaginative concept has, in the years since Darwin, amassed a fanatical cult-like following, science, it is not. Science still needs to be proven; you can’t just vote ideas into “fact.” And especially not when they contradict facts.

    One sign of the desperation of evolutionists to get their fallacious message across is their labelling of all disproofs of evolution as “Creationism,” even when no mention of Creation or a deity is made. Ironically, it’s evolutionists’ dogmatic adherence to concepts that are more imagination than fact that smacks of a belief in mystical, supernatural powers. What evolutionists have done, in effect, is invented a new god-less religion and re-invented their own version of creation-by-supernatural-means. However, the mere elimination of God from the picture doesn’t exactly make it science.

    So if the development of life was not an accident, how did life come about?

    Well, pointing out a problem is not necessarily contingent upon whether or not a solution is presented. In this case, presenting an alternative may actually be counterproductive. Evolutionists often get so bogged down with trying to discredit an proposed alternative, frequently with nothing more than invectives, that they tend to walk away believing evolution must still work.

    The objective here, therefore, is to point out that Darwinian evolution does not fall apart because a solution being presented says it happened differently. The objective here is to show that the mechanics of evolution are incompatible with empirical evidence, verifiable science and common sense, regardless of whatever else may or may not take its place.

    For a true study of science, we need to put the theory of evolution to rest, as we’ve done with so many other primitive concepts born of ignorance. Science today is far beyond such notions as metals that turn into gold, brooms that fly, earth is flat, and mystical powers that accidentally create life. What all these foolish beliefs have in common is that they were popular in their own time, were never duplicated in a lab, and were never proven by any other means.

    We’d be doing society a great service if we filled our science textbooks with verifiable facts that demonstrate how science works, instead of scintillating fabrications that demonstrate how imaginative and irrational some scientists can get.

  31. #31 Lance
    March 20, 2008

    The answer to this apparent conundrum is very simple. The admixing of cold water coming from melting ice with ocean water is temporarily preventing the oceans from getting warmer. See, wasn’t that simple? – SLC

    I believe you mean “simplistic” as in reduced in complexity to the point of non-meaning.

    If the oceans show no sign of heating for the last five years and the net sea ice extent is the same as it has been for over a decade and the atmosphere is cooler than anytime in the last ten years then where exactly IS your heat SLC?

    Oh, I forgot you boys are having a “political” discussion about trying to censor the scientists that are presenting evidence that just isn’t following your script.

  32. #32 Jon Winsor
    March 20, 2008

    [T]hey aren’t trying to use the presence of public argument as a misleading implication of the lack of scientific consensus.

    No, but there are similarities. During the runup to the war there was the manipulation of what Naomi Oreskes called “the prestige media” (see Judy Miller, the Wall Street Journal Editorial page during the runup, etc.), and also there was the taking advantage of the technical nature of knowledge surrounding aluminum tubes, plus there was the ingenious and selective use of facts in the administration’s public statements during the runup to the war (see the comment thread that begins here on NYU professor Jay Rosen’s blog).

    Again, if it’s done well, I don’t see how reporting on how distortions are produced, and how the media buys them, can be bad.

    BTW, Al Gore specifically compared the runup to the Iraq War with the public discourse related to climate change in this Charlie Rose appearance. He apparently sees them as related.

  33. #33 J. J. Ramsey
    March 20, 2008

    Jon Winsor: “No, but there are similarities.”

    But one of those similarities is not a tendency to say, “Aha! There’s engaging us. See, that means we must be credible.”

  34. #34 Pierce R. Butler
    March 21, 2008

    J. J. Ramsey: … they aren’t trying to use the presence of public argument as a misleading implication of the lack of scientific consensus.

    Misdirection, fraud, smoke’n'mirrors, spin, character assassination. repetition, abuse of authority, scapegoating, slick superficiality… – the similarities outnumber the distinctions.

    Different opponents, different ways of handling them.

    SS, DD. The same corrupt jerks who are screwing up everything else in the country, abetted by the apathetic & ignorant majority, versus the people trying to straighten things out. As with the routine tactics (see above short list), not that much variation within the respective subsets working various rackets.

    no one has been saying that deliberate neglect should be a universal strategy.

    Other than this necessary-but-insufficient tactic of (cue the band) Accennntuuuaate the Positive!, the dearth of pro-active strategic recommendations around here is discouraging.

  35. #35 Kristjan Wager
    March 21, 2008

    Chris, I can see your point of view, but I think you are somewhat wrong.

    I’ve explained it at greater length in this post, but basically my stance can be summed up to the following:

    We shouldn’t debate anti-scientists, but we should call them out on their lies.

  36. #36 Mark
    March 21, 2008

    Denialists should not be debated.

    But it is worthwhile pointing out that the so-called scientists attending this meeting are proven liars, both on this topic and in other denialist campaigns such as challenging the linke between cigarettes in cancer.

    I’ll say it again though, ignoring HI and DI is a bad example of this principle. They are too well-funded. They have well-defined lines of communication with large bodies of people and media sources. Ignoring them will come around to bite you in the ass.

  37. #37 J. J. Ramsey
    March 21, 2008

    Pierce R. Butler: “the similarities outnumber the distinctions.”

    And that means that we should ignore the distinctions?

  38. #38 Jon Winsor
    March 21, 2008

    And that means that we should ignore the distinctions?

    I’d note that we’re having a pretty abstract conversation already, ignoring the distinctions.

    My argument is that there’s a very good case for covering the Heartland conference. The story is how the denial industry works, laid out for all to see. Now, as you rightly argue, if a science defender were to elevate a marginalized view, and debate it, that wouldn’t be helpful. But, as Joseph Romm pointed out, if science defenders call out the media’s coverage of the event, or “reframe” the conference as a great specimen of longstanding libertarian think tank activity, then that could be helpful.

  39. #39 SLC
    March 21, 2008

    Re Expelled

    Attached is a link to PZ Myers blog describing how he was ejected from a private screening of the subject movie while Richard Dawkins was allowed in!

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/expelled.php#comments

  40. #40 Pierce R. Butler
    March 21, 2008

    J. J. Ramsey – And that means that we should ignore the distinctions?

    Apparently, it means you have full license to ignore all my other points, so why not?

    So as to segue into the new topic du jour around here, how does the preferred (in your view) approach suggest we “frame” the Great PZ Expulsion/Dawkins Infiltration saga?

  41. #41 Norman Doering
    March 21, 2008

    Chris Mooney wrote:

    …one of the Expelled trailers features the following quotation from Oxford evolutionary biologist and atheism apostle Richard Dawkins: “If people think God is interesting, the onus is on them to show that there is anything there to talk about. Otherwise they should just shut up about it.” And then in comes Ben Stein to play the rebel, the Galileo, against this oppressive scientific orthodoxy, against “Big Science” that tells the little guy to “shut up.” How’s that for enabling?

    Did you know that over at the Expelled Movie Blog they also use a semi-quote from Chris Mooney:

    Just two years earlier, the elfin journalist Chris Mooney had likened adult stem cell research to creationism and assured the readers of his best seller, The Republican War on Science, that this “dogma” had been “resoundingly rejected by researchers actually working in the field.”

    So, Chris, were you enabling them too?

  42. #42 Lance
    March 21, 2008

    Chris,

    Just two years earlier, the elfin journalist Chris Mooney…

    Well this explains your interest in Tolkien’s work.

  43. #43 J. J. Ramsey
    March 21, 2008

    Pierce R. Butler: “how does the preferred (in your view) approach suggest we ‘frame’ the Great PZ Expulsion/Dawkins Infiltration saga?”

    Simple. The scientific minutiae is largely beside the point, so the dynamic described below doesn’t apply:

    The strategic framing these groups employ to attack mainstream science heavily features the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty–and so if you try to answer their arguments, you’re inevitably committed to conveying more abstruse technical information and, thus, more uncertainty as soon as they wail back at you (which they thoroughly enjoy doing).

    PZ has already found a frame that puts the Expelled people on the defensive: namely the hypocrisy of those screening (in more ways than one) the film.

  44. #44 J. J. Ramsey
    March 21, 2008

    BTW, if my last post appears contradictory, note that it was in response to the question of how to frame an event, not whether to ignore it.

  45. #45 J. J. Ramsey
    March 25, 2008

    Sorry for the triple post, but I finally decided that I was way too soft on Mooney.

  46. #46 Todd Suomela
    April 2, 2008

    Please Mr. Mooney stop enabling the controversy over framing. Stop telling people how to approach controversial issues. Stop telling other people to keep their mouth shut. If you are so worried about people promoting bad science by refuting it then spend your energy on getting the good science out there into the public sphere.

    The problem with this discussion about denialists versus framers is that the solution proposed by the framers is to tell the denialists to shut up. It’s not working. So I suggest that the framers stop worrying about the denialists and start creating some of their own positive framing for science. You are committing the same error you are condemning. You are wasting your energy creating a controversy and drawing more and more attention to it.

    So finally please stop. Stop telling other people why they should shut up and start producing some of these wonderful frames that are going to change the public discourse about science. So far the only thing I see coming out of your efforts are complaints about other scientists and no changes in public opinion. Stop please. Stop it now. Create the better frame instead of railing against the frames of your opponents.

  47. #47 AndyD
    April 19, 2008

    Ignoring up-start nobodies is probably worthwhile bu it’s difficult to ignore people who are already capturing the minds of the policy-makers – the people who decide where to shovel our taxes.

    An alternative might well be to start a movement with a positive name that captivates (not “skepticism” for Pete’s sake) and to start selling ideas that politicians and media personalities can grasp without needing a degree in physics. In other words, take the offensive position instead of the defensive. Easy to say but can it be done?