Tech Central Station hits new low

Long time readers will be aware of what I think of the appalling quality of the writing about science in Tech Central Station. (Examples: Statistics, Fumento, epidemiology
physics, economics, more statistics, and more epidemiology. )

Well, they've destroyed any remaining credibility they might have had with an article arguing for Intelligent Design Creationism. And it's a twofer because it was written by global warming skeptic Roy Spencer of Spencer and Christy fame.

Spencer starts with

Twenty years ago, as a PhD scientist, I intensely studied the evolution versus intelligent design controversy for about two years. And finally, despite my previous acceptance of evolutionary theory as "fact," I came to the realization that intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism.

It goes downhill from there, with him redefining the word "evolution"

While natural selection can indeed preserve the stronger and more resilient members of a gene pool, intelligent design maintains that it cannot explain entirely new kinds of life -- and that is what evolution is.

And showing profound ignorance about the fossil record:

Yet the fossil record, our only source of the history of life on Earth, is almost (if not totally) devoid of transitional forms of life that would connect the supposed evolution of amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to birds, etc.

And finally claiming that evolutionism is a religion:

Does not classical evolutionism, based almost entirely upon faith, violate the same clause? More importantly, what about the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

If the public school system insists on teaching evolution as a theory of origins, in the view of many a religious activity, why is it discriminating against the only other theory of origins, intelligent design? (There is, by the way, no third theory of origins that anyone has ever been able to determine.) At the very least, school textbooks should acknowledge that evolution is a theory of origins, it has not been proved, and that many scientists do not accept it.

Via Julian Sanchez, who may have damaged his chances of being published in TCS again by writing:

The gross lapse in editorial judgement evinced by the decision to run this piece will leave the intellectually serious casual reader fully justified in dismissing anything that appears there in the future---which would be a shame.

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By cytochrome sea (not verified) on 08 Aug 2005 #permalink

I'm not to surprised about this. Some of Spencer's past "contributions" on TCS have been of very low quality, so this isn't completely unexpected.

It's a shame, because he does deserve credit for his MSU work.

By Ken Miles (not verified) on 08 Aug 2005 #permalink

This is just dreadful. Spencer claims to have studied the problem in depth, yet all of his points are familiar creationist canards which were debunked years ago. I half expected a link to Kent Hovind at the end.

Funnily enough, evolution isn't the only thing he claims to be a faith. Methinks there is a fair amount of projection going on here...

It seems that TCS's determination to play Bush apologist - Spencer's piece coming in the wake of the president's recent comments on ID - knows no bounds. But if publishing this rubbish "hits a new low" for TCS, what does this say about Spencer?

I read "Dr. Spencer received his Ph.D. in Meteorology" and thought immediately of fafblog:

The only explanation that makes ANY SENSE AT ALL is that these clouds were designed - INTELLIGENTLY designed - by some intelligent cloud-shaper in the sky!

Twenty years ago, as a PhD scientist, I intensely studied the evolution versus intelligent design controversy for about two years.

Given that the term "ID" was not in use 20 years ago, and that there was no such thing as an ID movement having published ID books that Spencer might have studied, I'd file this line under the category of "big fat lie".

"the fossil record... is almost ... devoid of transitional forms of life"
Tried discussing this with a creationist once. Point to similar species; chimps, hominids, etc. "Oh no, those are quite distinct, but similar, species." OK, tried the fossil record of the horse, which is pretty complete and quite clearly shows its evolution: "Oh no, that's just the evolution of a single species, not a transition into a different one". That's when the light began to dawn.....

... Julian Sanchez, who may have damaged his chances of being published in TCS again ...

I was less surprised that TCS would print a piece of pseudo-scientific tripe than that the smart and discerning Sanchez would describe TCS as

... a site that runs a fair amount of science reporting that, whether or not it happens to be correct on other points, is at any rate serious and interesting ...

or that one commenter would say that

... TCS has some excellent articles ...

I guess I'll have to take their word for it, because I have never read anything in TCS that was not transparently political in motivation or scientifically shoddy (usually both).

TCS may be running Spencer's piece now in part to support the recent

pronouncements of the Moron-In-Chief
, but this is not TCS' first sally in the ID wars. Have a look at
this gem by Frederick Turner, for instance. Particularly choice was Turner's remark that

as Gödel showed, reason cannot prove its own validity

... and this from a professor at UT-Dallas, no less.

Perhaps Sanchez and others are seeing something in TCS that I've missed, but it looks like a steaming pile of hooey to me.

I think both sides of this issue are being dishonest. Some supporters of natural selection use these theories to promote atheism at the expense of those believe in God.

Most reasonable people would consider the theory of natural selection to have some validity. But to be honest I am absolutely turned off by the way some people stamp on anyone who disagrees, which is not necessarily just due to arrogance. Atheists seem to have glommed onto NS and use it to bash mainstream Christianity. However, I must admit that the creationists using ID to support their case are also dishonest. This is a case where NS- a perfectly good theory is being abused, which is a sense means science is also abused.

However, I am not quite sure if most people who support the idea of NS really know what they are supporting. If one supports NS, then how can one also ignore such things as the startling differences in racial IQ's? NS can easily explain the reasons why there are IQ differences between racial groups as it can about startling differences in sporting abilities between races. How is this circle squared? I sometimes shudder at the dishonesty of the revered Ivy League Schools in the US. NS is accepted as gospel at these schools. Admittance at these schools is made primarily through the SAT, which can only be described as an IQ test. However try writing about racial differences in IQ's or even better try and talk about gender differences in cognitive abilities. Actually you better not, at least not if you are the Harvard President.

By The Pessimist (not verified) on 10 Aug 2005 #permalink

...tried the fossil record of the horse, which is pretty complete and quite clearly shows its evolution...

I have no expertise in this area, but I thought this claim had long been considered junk. Niles Eldredge referred to the evolutionary story of the horse as "speculative," and from what I understand this is accurate. Charts were constructed by placing fossils of different species, that lived during different times and on different continents, in an arrangement that gave the appearance of a natural sequence. Moreover, I believe there is evidence that the modern horse and its supposed ancestor lived at the same time. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Given that the term "ID" was not in use 20 years ago...

According to Wikipedia, the term first showed up in Christian literature in the late '80s, so that more or less squares with Spencer's claim.

As for the question of transitionals, I've read through the talkorigins discussion of the evidence to try to get a clearer picture, and find that there is so much fast and loose play with the definition of "transitionals" that the word essentially has no meaning. Does anyone have a different source?

Stickwick Stapers if you want to know what Niles Eldredge thinks about evolution and how his comments about the evolution of the horse have been incorrectly interpreted read

The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism by Niles Eldredge

For a good source of information about evolution try the National Academy of Science's website at

By Joseph O'Sullivan (not verified) on 10 Aug 2005 #permalink

The term ID was in use in the 80's but the concept wasn't fleshed out til around '90. There were no ID materials for him to study in the mid-eighties. Spencer would have been doing his reading with Creation Science materials, which in those days were still pushing a Young Earth/fixed species doctrine. I'm surprised he didn't start talking about created kinds.

Hi Tim,

There is a dutch proverb (I'll translate):
"If you want to beat a dog, it's easy to find a stick"

Looks like you found another stick to beat the skeptics...

By Hans Erren (not verified) on 10 Aug 2005 #permalink

Tim, I'll have a look at that link when I get a chance. I tend to be skeptical of anything I read at talkorigins since reading their incompetent and misleading "debunking" of something I do happen to have expertise in (Gerald Schroeder's cosmology-Genesis argument). I have no reason to believe that they are not perpetuating the same kind of disingenuousness with all of their other material.

Stickwick, The term ID was in use in the 80's but the concept wasn't fleshed out til around '90...

OK, so yer gonna quibble about a five-year exaggeration?

OK, had a chance to look at the talkorigins page about the horse. A few thoughts...

In his book Genesis and the Big Bang, Schroeder says, 'As Dr. Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History in New York stated so definitively, "The pattern (in the fossil record) that we were told to find for the past one hundred and twenty years does not exist."... Some scientists cite the horse as an example in which fossils show a gradual evolution. However, a careful study of the line, from Eohippus to Equus (today's horse) reveals an erratic path, in which "some of the variants were smaller than Eohippus not larger."'

So now, if I understand correctly, the argument is that the straight-line model is no longer considered to be valid by evolutionists. The author of the talkorigins article, herself, starts right off by saying, " evolution didn't proceed in a straight line." So instead we've got got this evolutionary "bush" idea with a nice diagram. But the problem is this. The diagram is still claiming something that Schroeder refutes and evolutionists themselves deny, which is that there is a straight line from Hyracotherium to modern Equus. Follow it. Hyracotherium - Orohippus - Haplohippus - ... - Archeohippus - ... - Neohipparion - ... Equus. The frills around the bush are just meant to make it look more compelling when it is still all bullcrap. A straight line -- which the diagram shows -- from Hyracotherium to Equus cannot be supported by the fossil evidence, according to Schroeder. If you want to read a more involved argument for this, I recommend picking up Schroeder's books.

A straight line — which the diagram shows — from Hyracotherium to Equus cannot be supported by the fossil evidence, according to Schroeder.

I can't speak for the Animalia, but in plant biol (I have a Hort degree) we learned evolution is not straight line.


In response to Hans (#18): It is especially easy to find a stick if the dog goes and brings one to you...which seems to be what is happening in this case!

Don't blame us if global warming skeptics go about discrediting themselves in this manner. My only thought is that Spencer must really feel strongly about this evolution-ID stuff because he must have known how silly this would make himself look to most of the scientific community and yet he chose to do it anyway. Kind of shooting himself in the foot if you ask me!

By Joel Shore (not verified) on 10 Aug 2005 #permalink

I think TCS support of ID is a political quid pro quo. For supporting politically influential evangelical's attack on evolution science TCS and the political groups it represents receive evangelical's support for their attack on climate change science.

Stickwick stapers you seem to be confused.
Creationists and IDers frequently quote Niles Eldredge to support their claims. Eldredge in no way, shape or form supports ID or creationism. Eldredge's main contribution to evolution science is the punctuated equilibrium theory that primarily deals with the rate of evolution and does not disprove or weaken the facts of evolution at all.

The idea of straight-line evolution does not mean that evolutionary lineages cannot be traced. The diagram was a simplified portrayal of the evolution history of the horse but still demonstrates the randomness of evolution. There is a huge amount of evidence that supports this evolution history of horses.

The rejected concept of straight-line evolution is that species are undergoing a series of improvements that are almost non-random with the purpose of reaching an advanced state. IDers often use this invalid straight-line argument to support their theology.

By Joseph O'Sullivan (not verified) on 10 Aug 2005 #permalink

According to Wikipedia, the term first showed up in Christian literature in the late '80s, so that more or less squares with Spencer's claim.

It does not. The term "intelligent design" did not come into widespread use until the mid 90s. The first book which specifically advocated ID was the text book Of Pandas and People, published in 1989, but it gained little attention. It wasn't until Philip Johnson started publishing his stuff in the early 90s that the ID movement, as it were, came into existence.

By the way, I'm the one who wrote that bit into the Wikipedia page, so I can assure you that the author doesn't think that the ID movement existed in the late 80s. Even if it did, Spencer would still be off by 4 years.

One way or the other, Spencer is full of it. In all likelihood, he is just conflating ID with creationism, which is understandable since the former is just a watered-down version of the latter. But if he had really read any ID literature, he'd know that the IDists vehemently deny being creationists. So either he doesn't know the first thing about ID, or he's just making the whole thing up.

Concerning horse evolution, the crude diagram on the T.O. page is not a proper cladogram. If it were drawn properly, it would show branches with species (or genus) names at the tips, with the nodes unlabled. Contemporary phylogenetics recognizes kinship relationships, it does not pretend to be able to elucidate direct ancestor/descendent relationships, as this is probably not possible. Although one could say, in many cases, that certain fossils are probably very close to what a common ancestor would have looked like.

Yes, of course, the concept of "straight-line evolution" is kind of a red herring; wouldn't it imply that every fossil we find is the actual direct ancestor of the next fossil, timewise? I don't think anybody ever believed that.

I read the TCS site now and again. I like some of the economic writing, even when it sets my teeth on edge.

ID is not even a little scientific, IMO. And I'm suspicious when someone refers to understanding and agreeing with the theory of evolution as "evolutionism". "Evolutionist" sort of sucks, too; as a chemist, does it follow then that I am a follower of Chemism? (Note to self: look into starting new religion...)

"Evolutionists" can be pretty strident, I suppose, but no more so than their opposition. 'Tu quoque' arguments are weak, I admit, but in addition to being strident, the creationism crowd tends to be dishonest (I won't cite chapter and verse here, but has plenty of fodder) as well as shrill.

By Dave Eaton (not verified) on 19 Aug 2005 #permalink

Beware, Tim:

Couple Sues Operators of Evolution Site

By The Associated Press
posted: 26 November 2005
07:14 pm ET

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- A California couple has sued the operators of a University of California-Berkeley Web site designed to help teachers teach evolution, claiming it improperly strays into religion.

Jeanne and Larry Caldwell of Granite Bay say portions of the Understanding Evolution Web site amount to a government endorsement of certain religious groups over others because the site is partly funded through a public money grant from the National Science Foundation.

In the lawsuit filed last month, the Caldwells contend the site is an effort "to modify the beliefs of public school science students so they will be more willing to accept evolutionary theory as true."