The Loom

Mooney Gets the Treatment

Welcome to the club, Chris Mooney…

Chris Mooney is the author of the excellent book, The Republican War on Science. He examines big hot-button scientific issues of the day such as global warming, stem cell research, and, of course, evolution. It’s a polemic, to be sure, but a well-researched one. Over the past couple weeks I’ve been meaning to write a post here to let readers know that it has just come out in paperback, with some great updates since the hardback. But it’s been hard enough for me to find time to blog, period, and it seemed like Mooney was enjoying a good reception without the little help I might offer.

I finally got roused to write about Chris this morning, because he’s now experiencing that weirdest of experiences, an attack from the Discovery Institute. In the course of his book, Mooney chronicles how the Discovery Institute has promoted intelligent design. This morning the Institute came out with a 31-page document (pdf) written by one of their “program officers,” Casey Luskin. Luskin claims to expose Mooney’s “factual and logical errors,” and demands that he retract or rewrite his chapter on Intelligent Design.

Is Mooney guilty of the charges? I don’t see the evidence here. It’s tricky, in fact, to pin down the actual complaints. “Factual and logical errors” sounds quite cut and dried, but if you actually look at the list of Luskin’s charges, you find him claiming Mooney “implied” this or “insinuated” that. On the other hand, if you look at what Mooney actually said, Luskin’s case for a rebuttal doesn’t hold up.

Luskin says, for example, that Mooney “overpraises” Darwin by calling evolution “the linchpin of modern biology” and such. Mooney is saying things that are in keeping with statements from scientific societies representing many thousands of scientists, such as the American Association of the Advancement of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. But we’re supposed to believe that the AAAS issued their statements about the importance of evolution–as opposed to intelligent design–due to “political bias.” In other words, to believe that Mooney overpraised evolution, you have to believe that a few members of the AAAS hijacked the entire society, and that its entire membership remained silent. Or perhaps the entire society is too foolish to understand the importance of intelligent design.

As for the National Academy of Sciences–Luskin would like us to know that they’re just a bunch of atheists.

Luskin drops this assertion into the middle of his account of the controversy over school standards in Ohio. The Academy objected to “criticism” of evolution, which they argued was just a veiled maneuver to undermine the teaching of biology. Well, their objection doesn’t matter, apparently, because of the Academy’s supposed atheism, which makes them “potentially-biased authorities,” in Luskin’s words. Luskin sprinkles many references to the supposed atheism of evolution or evolutionists or opponents of ID throughout his piece. Yet he also says that Mooney is wrong to write about the religious dimension of intelligent design, because it’s irrelevant to the “science” of intelligent design. One set of rules for Mooney, another set for Luskin.

Luskin claims that Mooney not only overpraises evolution but mischaracterizes intelligent design. For one thing, Mooney says that “literature searches have failed to turn up scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals that explicitly present research that supports the ID hypothesis.” Luskin is astonished. He points to a paper by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington that Mooney critiques later in the chapter, along with a few other papers.

“Perhaps the searches weren’t looking in the right places,” Luskin concludes, “or perhaps they were conducted by people who weren’t willing to accept the reality that ID has published peer-reviewed publications.”

It would have been very easy for Luskin to demonstrate that Mooney was wrong, as opposed to simply asserting that he was wrong. Luskin could have done a literature search. My search engine of choice is Pubmed from the National Library of Medicine, because it is huge (14 million records) and free. But if you search for the sort of papers Mooney describes, you come up dry. Luskin does not mention that the Meyer paper he offered as his prime example of Intelligent Design’s scientific publications was retracted by the Biological Society of Washington, which stated that the paper was published improperly. The other papers that Luskin do not refute Mooney’s statement. One paper by Jonathan Wells offers a hypothesis about some structures in the cell but no experimental data. Other people published data that refuted his claim. Another paper listed by Luskin, co-authored by Michael Behe, tries to raise doubts about whether gene duplication could produce new functions. Neither mentions intelligent design, let alone providing experimental results that they say supports intelligent design. Despite all this, Luskin wants us to believe that Mooney is wrong–so grievously wrong, in fact, that he needs to retract his entire chapter.

I could go on, but I hope that’s enough to give you a flavor of whole document. This sort of attack is, I should add, nothing new for the Discovery Institute. I first encountered this tactic five years ago, when I wrote the companion book to the PBS series Evolution. The Discovery Institute came out with a 154-page attack on the show two weeks before the show aired. As far as I know, no one at the show figured out how they got their hands on a copy in advance. For all the work that went into it, however, it didn’t have much bearing on the facts. For example, the Discovery Institute claimed that the television show misled viewers by claiming that all living things shared a genetic code. Brown University biologist Ken Miller responded by pointing out that their argument made as much sense as saying that Americans and Canadians speak different languages because we say “color” and they say “colour.”

Five years later, little seems to have changed.


  1. #1 sharon
    September 16, 2006

    Luskin does not mention that the Meyer paper he offered as his prime example of Intelligent Design’s scientific publications was retracted by the Biological Society of Washington, which stated that the paper was published improperly.

    Answers in Genesis did quite a similar thing with your Evolution Series on PBS too, as you know.
    Jonathan Sarfati purposely referred to an out of date journal to “debunk” Kenneth Miller, on the Ambulocetus illustration with pelvis, claiming no pelvis was ever found.
    But at almost the same time N.G. came out with full-sized photograph of Ambulocetus skeleton… so, all legitimate science knew as early as 2001 a pelvis existed!, but Answers in Genesis didn’t know as late as 2002 [sure, sarcasm], (when the article must’ve been published. (PBS Evolution Series is from 2002)
    I contacted Thewissen, and he said, “The specimen was dug up in two phases, results from the first were published in 1994, results from the second in 1996. In 1994, we described some vertebrae, most leg bones, but no pelvis. In 1996, we described many more vertebrae, as well as the pelvis. … So there is really no reason why anyone should be misled (as long as they take the trouble to go back to the original publication).”

    No effort to correct their page. They don’t care if they mislead readers into believing Ambulocetus still has no pelvis

    Jonathan Sarfati probably claims to still know nothing of the pelvis to have that page corrected, it’s 2006, long overdue. Pretends he did not know in 2002, he ignored the 1996 Journal describing Ambulocetus Pelvis, and hand-picked his information from an out of date ’94 publication.

    I perceive it as deliberate dishonesty. AiG went one further when I contacted them about their dishonesty. Referring to still yet another article from 1994, “A Whale of A Tail”, which addresses critics’ claims that Sarfati was dishonest, and AiG sent this URL to me,
    but it’s not even addressing the errors they created on the 2002 PBS Great Transformations page.

    It has nothing to do with the 2002 Great Transformations page. Unless they’ve updated since, which I doubt, and I’m not wasting my time checking.

    Yoda says, Beward Creationist Mind Trick

    September 16, 2006

    Of course, Mooney is not a scientist.

    Aren’t the mainstream evolutionists always ridiculing people who aren’t scientists commenting on these subjects?

    So whats with the double standard, Carl?

  3. #3 MarkP
    September 16, 2006

    Simple. Mooney’s comments are consistent with the findings of scientists in those fields. The creationists’ claims are not. One needs a higher level of understanding to dispute the findings of specialists in a field, than one needs merely to acknowledge their findings.

  4. #4 sharon
    September 16, 2006

    Of course, Mooney is not a scientist.
    Aren’t the mainstream evolutionists always ridiculing people who aren’t scientists commenting on these subjects?

    Creationists themselves are very quick to point out when evolutionists hold no science degree, yet…
    So whats with the double standard, Carl?
    You mean trying to get “intelligent design” the camouflage for creationism in the school cirriculum for “science” textbooks?
    That’s not double standards. Strictly, creationism is not science, it is philosophy and religion.

  5. #5 oldhippie
    September 17, 2006

    “Aren’t the mainstream evolutionists always ridiculing people who aren’t scientists commenting on these subjects”
    No. No one really cares about qualfications of anyone who shows that they really knows what they are talking about. When people waffle nonsence and show not the slightest abilty to come to grips with the science and flaunt legal or engineering degrees as qualifications, they get rightly ridiculed.

  6. #6 Paul C Maybury Jr
    September 17, 2006

    I tried reading the document by Mr. Luskin, but I guess I no longer have the patience to read the tiresome ‘arguments’ put forward by creationists and people who espouse intelligent design. When I was about 8 years old, about 47 years ago now, my grandfather gave me a tract booklet entitled ’50 reasons why evolution is wrong’. He was a fundamentalist minister and a little upset about me telling him that ‘we all come from frogs.’ ok, a little simplistic, but I was only eight years old. I spent many enjoyable hours in my room poking holes in the arguments one by one, I even wrote my own counter tract. Today I am one of those atheists who love science. I love science because it is always changing, there is something new to read and think about every day. I simply find religious ‘explanations’ boring and repetitive. And furthermore, only the ridiculous can be ridiculed. The duplicity and constant lying and misrepresentation of the religious creationists is to me, intolerable and disgusting. Will they never learn? Not if they can help it.

  7. #7 Stephen
    September 18, 2006

    What if you grow up, go to school, decide to plug into society, only to discover that you are both scientifically literate, and a Republican? I mean, you might be a Republican sort of by default. Your parents are Republican, and have told you that the party is conservative. That sounds nice. But as time goes on, you start hearing Republicans, right from the top, talking about how ID should be taught in schools as science. You hear nonsense like “there’s no quick answer to the fuel crisis”. And it just continues. What do you do?

  8. #8 Alex
    September 18, 2006

    There’s a quick solution to the fuel crisis? What would that be, exactly?

    There are plenty of sensible Republicans who aren’t bible-beaters and don’t think creationism should be taught in schools. I would be one myself, except the Rep platform is far too liberal for me.

    Check out Newt Gingrich’s interview in Discover mag. (September, 2006, I think)

    And, before abandoning the Reps on account of this one major stupidity, keep in mind that there are plenty of Dems who are in favor of “alternative ways of knowing.” Post-modernism didn’t start at a Goldwater campaign meeting.

  9. #9 Garrett
    September 18, 2006

    As a Canadian, I have a really hard time speaking your language. Trying to say colour and many other words without the ‘u’ is proving difficult for me. Why, oh why won’t the Ontario education system get off their rear ends and introduce an American as a second language course?

  10. #10 matthew
    September 18, 2006

    Unfortunetly, Gingrich says he respects and believes in the scientific community in one hand, but in the other rejects itheir conclusions when it’s convenient for him. That Discover article was a really good example of that. In Newt’s world, cockroaches haven’t evolved in millions of years and global warming isn’t something anyone should be worried about it. At least he believes that ID belongs in the philosophy class (can you call it a philosophy?) rather than the science class…

  11. #11 somnilista, FCD
    September 20, 2006

    There are plenty of sensible Republicans who aren’t bible-beaters and don’t think creationism should be taught in schools. I would be one myself, except the Rep platform is far too liberal for me.
    Check out Newt Gingrich’s interview in Discover mag. (September, 2006, I think)

    I read that interview in the October 2006 edition of Discover, which is available online for subscribers. Gingrich says that he himself believes in evolution, but when it comes to the schools, he trickles down his leg to respect “community standards”. RE global warming, he says the conclusions are not clear, which only tells you something about his sources of information. I was not impressed.

  12. #12 Keanus
    October 23, 2006

    I always am much amused at the attacks on Mooney, and other professional science writers, for not being a scientist, like the esteemed Luskin (who’s a newly minted lawyer with a bachelors in geology, IIRC). Mooney is an accomplished writer and reporter who knows how and where to dig up information. He also knows that he has to access mutliple sources, make sense of conflicting information, and carefully run it all through a very good BS detector. People like Luskin have never learned to do any of that and consider it unnecessary–after all he knows he can count on his religion to guide him to the truth.

  13. #13 Bill Ectric
    November 21, 2006

    Maybe you can help me with this. I once read an article about a big debate between two men over the nature of light. This debate took place no later than the 19th century, maybe even before that. The funny thing is, the person who wrote the article did not know enough about the science of light to realize he was backing the wrong side!

    The article was in one of those quasi-religious, conservative magazine that is affiliated with someone or some organization. I’m trying to remember the names of the two men who were debating one another. I can’t remember the name of the magazine, either.

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