Pharyngula

And it’s a dud. They’ve got two complaints against Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos posted, neither of which are particularly stunning.

They repeat the claim that Haeckel’s embryos and all that silly recapitulation theory are still endemic in biology textbooks. It’s not true, no matter how much they whine about it. I’ve gone over a number of these textbooks, and what you typically find at worst is a figure of the Haeckel diagrams for historical interest with an explanation that rejects recapitulation theory; more often what you find are photos or independently redrawn illustrations of the embryos. The point is still valid; there is an interesting phenomenon going on in development, in which there is a period during which the body plan of vertebrates is roughly laid out, and biology has some explanations for it. ID’s strategy seems to be to wave away the evidence so that they don’t have to explain it.

The second claim is that Olson lied about the DI’s budget. They say Olson claimed the DI’s budget was around 5 million dollars (I’m going to have to watch the movie again to check, because I don’t believe anything the DI says, but for now I’ll assume they are correct in reporting his words.) I think they’re right, that Olson overstated their budget for that year, which was actually around $4.2 million.

i-741624ce637737733f36bdfbf94b6fb8-dibudgetgraph.gif

Unfortunately, they don’t just say that, because that’s not a big enough case to wrap a load of outrage around. So they squink mightily to amplify the magnitude of the error, as in that graph to the right. Note that Olson mentions that the DI is a big fish with a budget of around $5 million, but what they put in the graph is only their expenditures on ID of around $1.2 million—they’re comparing apples and oranges.

Then to make themselves look weak and much abused, they compare their budget to the $75 million budget of the AAAS, again ignoring the huge differences in the mission and kind of organization being compared; the DI does not do anything like what the AAAS does, and a more apt comparison would be with the NCSE…which had a total revenue of $650 thousand, compared to the DI’s over $4 million. The NCSE seems to accomplish much more with its money, of course; I suspect that the real difference is that the NCSE is staffed with competent and intelligent people, while the DI is sinking its budget into a team of clowns, shills, and prima donnas.

That’s a damp squib the DI has just tried to set off, and note how they describe it: they claim to have exposed “two of the most egregious false facts in the film”. That’s it? One error of 15% in a casual statement of their budget, and one lie about biology that they have been pushing for years?

It’s pathetic.

Comments

  1. #1 John Marley
    February 7, 2007

    Did you expect better of them?

  2. #2 H. Humbert
    February 7, 2007

    “So they squink mightily to amplify the magnitude of the error…”

    Squink?

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    February 7, 2007

    Short for “squid ink” — throw out clouds of goo to obscure their evasion of the topic.

    Gotta learn the lingo around here, you know, and that’s a really useful verb when discussing creationists.

  4. #4 Carl Zimmer
    February 7, 2007

    But what about those menacing dodos on the DI page? 😉

  5. #5 W. Kevin Vicklund
    February 7, 2007

    Let’s see if Olson’s claim of “around $5 million” holds up to the math

    ceiling[DI 2003 budget]=ceiling[$4.2 million]=$5 million

    So sorry, DI, you lose. Again.

  6. #6 jpf
    February 7, 2007

    Off topic (well, it does involve squid and ink), but I was just emailed this and thought you’d enjoy: FSM paper automata (sorry if it’s already been mentioned in one of the other comments)

  7. #7 Numad
    February 7, 2007

    “Short for ‘squid ink'”

    I thought it might have been a word for the cry of the Dodo. It’s rarely heard, nowadays.

  8. #8 Jim Lippard
    February 7, 2007

    The Discovery Institute had $4.2M in revenue and $2.5M in expenses in 2003, but that’s for the whole Discovery Institute, not just the Center for Science and Culture.

  9. #9 Jim Lippard
    February 7, 2007

    Oh, and I’ve covered the DI’s finances for the last few years here.

  10. #10 Pipe Up
    February 7, 2007

    [delurk]

    “Squink”: a new Word Of The Week!

    Actually, my husband has used the word in the adjectival form for decades (I think he thinks he made it up) to mean rotten or untrustworthy. For example: “This milk looks old and squinky!” So quite similar, actually.

    Could this be a case of liguistic parallel evolution?

  11. #11 Simon Greenhill
    February 7, 2007

    Careful, you don’t want to anger them into bringing out the big guns! Like a flash animation of a farting dodo with a silly voice… we’ll be unable to deal with that.

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2007

    Careful, you don’t want to anger them into bringing out the big guns! Like a flash animation of a farting dodo with a silly voice… we’ll be unable to deal with that.

    yes, that would truly be “clever beyond measure”.

    pardon, as that’s likely a joke only someone who had seen Paul Nelson try to defend William Dumbski would know.

  13. #13 Bob O'H
    February 8, 2007

    I thought it might have been a word for the cry of the Dodo. It’s rarely heard, nowadays.

    That’s because it’s pining for the fjords.

    Eh? Oh.

    Bob

  14. #14 RedMolly
    February 8, 2007

    Squink [n]: to peer at through squinted eyes, esp.after copious intake of alcoholic beverages, thus rendering invisible all orders-of-magnitude differences.

    “I squinked at Dresden Files the other night. Man, is that an X-Files remake or what?”

  15. #15 Colugo
    February 8, 2007

    “a figure of the Haeckel diagrams for historical interest with an explanation that rejects recapitulation theory”

    It might be best to avoid any discussion and illustrations of Haeckel’s ‘Biogenetic Law,’ even for purely historical and pedagogical purposes, in basic biology textbooks designed for high school students and undergraduates. Nor is it advisable to use such images for aesthetic purposes (as on the cover of Gerhart and Kirschner’s excellent ‘Cells, Embryos, and Evolution’). Haeckel’s recapitulation theory is not a fallacy widely held by students and hence necessitating refutation, and just bringing it up might confuse the naive and become fodder for the malicious. In his ‘Case of the creeping fox terrier clone’ essay, Gould made a similar argument against the common practice of discussing Lamarck and giraffe neck evolution in introductory textbooks.

    I can’t think of any scientist who has done more longterm damage (undone and corrected by this point) to evolutionary biology, and even fields outside of science, than Haeckel.

    Scott F. Gilbert: Ernst Haeckel and the Biogenetic Law
    http://8e.devbio.com/article.php?id=219&search=haeckel

  16. #16 rjb
    February 8, 2007

    I don’t know if it’s found in any evolutionary psychology textbooks, but I had to cringe a few years ago when a fellow teacher (who is big into evolutionary psych) used the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” when talking to a class. Reading some neuro books written by biopsychologists (ie, Bloom, Nelson, and Lazerson’s “Mind Brain and Behavior”) really gives a skewed view of evolution that suggests hierarchichal evolution with humans at the top (at one point saying that simpler organisms, like crayfish, have little more than a brainstem–huh??).

    I didn’t see any of Haeckel’s embryos though…

  17. #17 windy
    February 8, 2007

    I don’t know if it’s found in any evolutionary psychology textbooks, but I had to cringe a few years ago when a fellow teacher (who is big into evolutionary psych) used the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” when talking to a class.

    Sounds weird, how would evo-psychers even apply that idea? Does child behaviour progress from lemur-like to monkey, gibbon, great ape, australopithecine, and finally teenagers as homo erectus? 🙂

  18. #18 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 8, 2007

    That’s because it’s pining for the fjords.

    So how come we see DI do dodo doo-doo?

  19. #19 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 8, 2007

    That’s because it’s pining for the fjords.

    So how come we see DI do dodo doo-doo?

  20. #20 Dunc
    February 8, 2007

    They repeat the claim that Haeckel’s embryos and all that silly recapitulation theory are still endemic in biology textbooks. It’s not true, no matter how much they whine about it. I’ve gone over a number of these textbooks […]

    Ah, but I bet you’re looking at current textbooks, rather than the 50+ years old textbooks the DI uses… 😉

  21. #21 Jim
    February 8, 2007

    Thoughts from Kansas has more on this:

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2007/02/di_lies_about_haeckel.php

    The illistrations used by DI are not from Hacekel.

  22. #22 Randy Olson, Head Dodo
    February 8, 2007

    Greetings from Seattle where the Discovery Institute seems to be melting down into a puddle of amateurish rage as Darwin Day approaches and they, among other things, have put out an amusing home made video/infomercial in which lawyer Casey Luskin plays himself in a sort of, “gosh, funny you should ask” defense of Jonathan Wells book. Check it out if you haven’t already. And kudos to Casey for at least making things entertaining.

    http://laelaps.wordpress.com/2007/02/07/it-burns-it-burns/

    But while its important that everyone keep straight the absurdity of wrangling over Haeckel’s embryos, it is much more important that a single word is kept in mind throughout this — TRIVIA. Everyone needs to stay focused on the larger issue which is the subtitle of Wells book, “Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong.” As I point out in Dodos, he doesn’t say “some,” or “a little bit,” or “a few things.” He says MUCH.

    The important thing is that the whole process needs to begin with THE BURDEN OF PROOF being on him to prove that his case consists of more than just trivia.

    We have a legal system in this country where if you’re searching for the culprit to some crime committed by a white male you can’t just drag in any random white male and expect to get a full trial. Instead, you have to present your case to a judge to first get an indictment, which basically is an exercise in the judge taking a look at your case and deciding whether you have some thing more than trivia (“Your Honor, this suspect has two eyeballs, just like the description of the murderer”) before wasting the public’s time and money.

    It’s the same thing with Wells. The burden of proof needs to remain on him to make the case for this word “much.” With the Haeckel’s embryos anecdote he is implying that the entire field of evolutionary embryology is faulty just because of this piece of teaching trivia which is a crusty artifact from the world of science history.

    And this is all a part of this larger syndrome that I think of as “Trivia Tackling” — the idea of trying to take down a large institution, idea or individual, not by assailing the large and significant parts, but by doggedly locking on to pieces of trivia. It’s what the Swift Boat Veterans managed to do skillfully with their attack on John Kerry’s war record. It’s what holocaust deniers attempt to do. And it’s what Wells had hoped to do with his book.

    So back to the big picture. It’s fine to split hairs about the last remaining vestiges of Haeckel’s artwork in the teaching of embryology, but the important issue is whether “much of what we teach about evolution is wrong.”

    It isn’t.

    And lastly, a huge thanks to P.Z., Genie Scott, and all the other good folks signed up to make showings at Dodos screening for Darwin Day. Two nights ago we had an excellent hour long post-screening discussion of the movie with about 400 people in, of all the intellectual deserts of the world … Hollywood, at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. When things like that happen you know there is still hope for humanity.

    Please visit our website, http://www.flockofdodos.com, check out the national map of screenings, and encourage everyone to join the Darwin Day fun.

  23. #23 Nance Confer
    February 8, 2007

    Squink [n]: to peer at through squinted eyes,
    *****
    Like Popeye — he of the squinky eye.

    Maybe a squid inked him????

    Nance

  24. #24 infidel57
    February 8, 2007

    What strikes me as cowardly is that the DI has no way to reply to their blogs. They just put their crap out there with no danger of being refuted on their own website. I take the opportunity to chide them for this everytime I see an e-mail address for them.

  25. #25 Kristine
    February 8, 2007

    What strikes me as cowardly is that the DI has no way to reply to their blogs.

    Why enable a comments feature? They’d delete most of the comments anyway (or “hold them for moderation”). Man, if Uncommon Descent ever released all the comments they are “holding” they’d need a set of Depends for their blog.

  26. #26 mark
    February 8, 2007

    Did the DI include a bar graph comparing the number of peer-reviewed scientific reports dealing with biodiversity and evolution published by AAAS members and DI members?

  27. #27 Johnny Logic
    February 8, 2007

    Look at the Wikipedia entry for ‘Flock of Dodos’— the Discovery Institute’s nitpicks are already posted, but no rebuttals. Editing time!

  28. #28 truth machine
    February 8, 2007

    There’s an excellent article on the movie at
    http://abdulmuhib.blogspot.com/2007/02/in-land-of-dodo.html
    It’s interesting that it asserts that “the ID people are the nice ones that you want to agree with even if they’re wrong”, and at the same time establishes what assholes they are:

    DI claims this is fraudulent, because their budget is only 4.2 million, and the budget for work on ID specifically only 1.2 million.

    I asked Olson if he could respond to this. He felt again that DI is looking at trivia, in a difference between 4.2 million and 5 million, when the NCSE has such a much smaller budget for all of science. He also mentioned that, after the DI refused to return any of his calls, and after the movie came out, they sent him emails about the items on the embryos and the budget. He went back and reviewed the data, and discovered the DI was correct- their budget was indeed only 4.2 million. But at that late date he didn’t want to spend the extra $1000 to correct a trivial difference, especially since the Discovery Institute had refused to correct facts at an earlier point in the film making.

  29. #29 bybelknap
    February 8, 2007

    Speaking of the NCSE’s budget…

    They have a wishlist at Amazon.com. I just bought them this:

    Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin’s Lost Notebooks

    I am not a scientist, but I have a bachelor’s degree in Psycho-biology, and a voracious reading appetite for all things biological. I also have 3 girls in middle school. Dover is a stone’s throw away from my particular part of Pennsyltucky, and I support the NCSE with a monthly contribution, and occasional additional gifts such as this book. The fact that such an important organization’s budget is so tiny compared to a pack of charlatans and shills like the DI is sick-making.

  30. #30 H. Humbert
    February 8, 2007

    Thanks for clearing that up for me, PZ.

    Squink. I like it, and all too appropriate.

  31. #31 Sean D.
    February 8, 2007

    “Two nights ago we had an excellent hour long post-screening discussion of the movie with about 400 people in, of all the intellectual deserts of the world … Hollywood, at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd.”

    Intellectual desert is right, $cientology is just down the street (You will be absorbed, it is the will of ELRON).

    (snicker)

  32. #32 Jedidiah Palosaari
    February 10, 2007

    Truthmachine,

    Thank you for your compliment. To clarify, I’m referring there to the point that the movie, Flock of Dodos, is making- though I think the movie makes a good point. And when I say they are nice, or when the movie says they are, I’m saying they are pleasant to talk with. That they are sneaky and deceiptful at the same time is entirely possible.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    February 18, 2007

    I think it would be important to look at the specific textbooks mentioned in the Discovery Institute’s document. There is the distinct possibility that some textbooks suck.

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