We should have known better—Egnor fooled us all

A world-class neurosurgeon couldn't possibly have been as stupid as Michael Egnor — the denial of even the most basic and medically relevant evidence of evolution in bacteria, the outright denial of the importance of the scientific literature, dismissing it as "chaff", the obtuse insistence on self-contradictory definitions of information — it should have told us long ago that our leg was being pulled. We put a lot of effort into debunking arguments that only a purblind ignorant creationist could have fallen for, and we should have noticed that Egnor was just a little too far over the top.

As the Panda's Thumb reveals, those wacky fellows at the DI have carefully set us up with a well-built-up foundation for an April Fools prank, establishing Egnor as a believer in ideas so outrageously inane that not even Casey Luskin could possibly have fallen for it. I blush to admit that I did think it was possible a well-trained surgeon might hold notions as foolish as those expressed by the clownish Egnor persona. It just goes to show that the line between creationist parody and creationist reality is drawn awfully fine.

Now that the trick has been played, though, I do hope the Discovery Institute goes back through Egnor's postings that were put up to establish his fake creationist bona fides, and edits them or adds disclaimers. There's a lot of material he's put up in the last month that's going to have to be labeled with big bold THIS IS A JOKE! stickers, lest others also be fooled into thinking the DI supports that kind of blatantly backwards old-school creationism.

More like this

Now that it's been admitted that the apparent Discovery Institute prank, in which Dr. Michael Egnor posed as a parody of the most ignorant creationists there are, spouting truly inane and long-debunked canards about evolution for a month and a half, all in an effort to snooker us evil Darwinists…
Yesterday, the Panda's Thumb revealed that Michael Egnor had only been pretending to be a creationist. They even linked to his confession at Evolution Views and News. I chimed in, defending our prior work on Egnor's absurd claims with argument that "the line between creationist parody and…
Mike, Mike, Mike... What did I ever do to deserve this? Specifically, your remarks about our creationist neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor: In his "response," "Egnor" manages to completely distort pretty much everything about my article, in a way that is so ham-fistedly inept that it is simply…
This Panda's Thumb entry makes me wonder if I was wasting my time with all those rebuttals of Dr. Michael Egnor's astoundingly ignorant attacks on "Darwinism." Could it be that Dr. Egnor really was just pulling our legs all along? I have to admit that it seems plausible. After all, how could a man…

And the DI wants people to take them seriously as a scientific institute?

What exactly are they trying to prove? They think we're gullible because we think they're idiotic?

I do have to say that I think P.Z. spends way to much time responding to these idiots. I think it's part of their methodology to harp on the most mundane and obvious crap and make us do all the work proving them wrong. Sorry, they have to prove themselves right, not the other way around.

By Unstable Isotope (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

And the DI wants people to take them seriously as a scientific institute?

Well, who says they can't have a little fun. The problem is that many creationists took them seriously as well. At one forum I frequently visit, creationists and self-described IDers were actually defending the caricature.

Egnor's rants were getting to be too far out, even for the DI. The best way for DI to back away from this is to claim it's a joke. That is probably what heppened.

By richCares (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

I was surprised though that they changed the website to Evolution Views & News.

Oh well they realy got us there, though of course if you ask me the hallmark of a good april fools prank is thats its so convoluted that even the admission of the prank looks like a prank itself.

By Pascal Leduc (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Wow, the DI has completely lost any credibility that it ever had. Could you even imagine the AAAS doing something this intellectually dishonest?

Well I hope you can do better than this next year P.Zed. To good to be true is one thing but impossible is the word that sprang to mind by the time I'd read to the end of the title.

Hasn't Dembski on occasion escaped from a mess of his own making by claiming, 'Just kidding, folks'? How are we supposed to be able to tell that Egnor, having wrapped himself in a web of his own IDiocy, is NOT simply trying to extricate himself by declaring that it was all a joke?

You see, this joke was shooting fish in a barrel. It's really not that funny to act ignorant all year and then act slightly more ignorant and say, "Ha, I got you!" How is one supposed to tell ignorant from slightly more ignorant?

I for one will be happy to acknowledge that the spokespeople at the Discovery Institute are masters at sly misdirection and clever parodies of science!

I hope all of you at scienceblogs.net are suitably contrite.

The real question is the joke Egnor's weeks of anti-evolution trash, or the claim made on April 1st that he was 'just kidding'?

And how can you trust anything he says now to be an honest representation of his views?

By Benjamin Franz (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

This is just odd. What have they gained from this? Presumably they'll be chasing down all their creationist supporters who've been citing Egnor in their arguments in order to tell them it was all a "joke"?

Seems plausible to me that he was indeed serious but that they're disowning him. I don't know, it just doesn't make sense.

If it was a prank then surely the joke's on them? The guy was indistinguishable from actual creationists. Oddballs.

By Dylan Llyr (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

I mean, why should we even get offended, or annoyed at this? Probably the bigger joke was on the creationists themselves. The DI never had any credibility with us from the get-go, yet some creationists did believe all the joke crap. How are they gonna feel, when they defended this stupidity in all seriousness?

I don't even see a point in trying to figure out if they just figured it was too nuts to begin with and April Fools is just a scapegoat. Who cares about that? Creationist stupidity, whether is some childish in-joke or not has to be pointed out because there are people who actually believe that crap.

I don't believe it. I think this is the joke and that they believed every word that they wrote.

also if the "Glass" ad is shown above, go to the 24th or 26th second and repeatedly click on the bar to repeat the one or two second clip...

hilarious!

Are we sure that they are not lying about it being an April fool ?

Given how stupid Egnor mdke himself and the D.I look I would not put it past those lying coniving bastards to take advantage of April 1st to disavow someone who was making them look even more stupid and clueless than normal.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Who is really the prankster here and who are the April Fools? Did anyone else notice:
1. the URL, with the site root as www.evolutionnews.net not www.evolutionnews.org
2. the "Main" link at the top of the post does take you to evolutionnews.org, which has a completely different post from Egnor for April 1, and,
3. the error in the banner at the top where it says Discover Institute (no y).

So who is playing this joke now? I suspect PZ is in on this?

Yeah... I thought about this, but I don't know the address of the DI or evolution news, or how does it look like. I guess I'm just not used to this April fools stuff yet.

Damn you Greg Laden, you posted just a couple of minutes after my rant.

You got me anyway Panda's Thumb and (maybe?)Myers... moving on...

Yeah, it definitely isn't real. But it is pretty damn funny. Good job, PZ.

Only one complaint: To really qualify an April fools prank takes place on April 1st, not the previous decade or so. That said, The Discovery Institute is really the all time greatest April Fools joke of all time. With the millions spent on the set up, the building lease, staff hired and expenses incurred....I am Stunned. The jokester behind the DI needs to take a bow! All that nutsy stuff they have said for all these years! The testimony in court in Pennsylvania takes the joke to a whole new, and unprecedented level.
KUDOS DI!

By Norman Tabernackle (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

PZ, I'm shocked to see you're still promoting this "Evilution" nonsense. As it's Sunday I'm going to pray for you in Church this morning.

in my defence it did pass midday five and a half hours ago here

By Dylan Llyr (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Panda's Thumb, PZ: You got us. I was suspicious, but not suspicious enough. :P

By Benjamin Franz (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Indeed, I can hear it too, Greg - and hope I didn't ruin the joke by revealing it too early (well, at least here on the west coast, it is a bit early on a Sunday morning!). I should have read the comments on PT to realize that you and one or two others had figured it out too.

aww! that "THIS IS A JOKE!" part completely ruined it for me. PZ, you should have put that under a fold. I normally scroll down to read the posts in the order they were posted, so that part popped up at me, reminding me it was april fools, and I didn't take a single word you said seriously. lol

It WOULD have been funny though...

This little bit at the bottom of the page is a giveaway:

"Evolution Views & News presents analysis of that coverage, as well as original reporting that accurately delivers misinformation about the current state of the debate over Darwinian evolution."

But oh so funny.

Wait, so what's changed?

Egnor: Sorry fellas, but it was all an elaborate ruse! I was playing an outlandish character, and you all fell for it!
Discovery Institute: Ha ha ha!
Panda's Thumb: Oh, phew! Wow, are our faces red or what? Nice one, guys.
Discovery Institute: Thanks. Boy, you guys sure are gullible.
PZ: Heh, yeah.. So, wait - Dr. Egnor, does that mean you accept that the papers we and the folks at Panda's Thumb cited DO represent research into real evolutionary change?
Egnor: ...Oh, heavens no!
PZ: ...

This is all getting far to complicated!
I look forward to tomorrow when we can see what is real and what is not and who is behind it all

By G. Shelley (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

I liked the trackback URL to diSOCvery.org followed by a paragraph including this line:

Evolution Views & News presents analysis of that coverage, as well as original reporting that accurately delivers misinformation about the current state of the debate over Darwinian evolution.

PZ's post does appear to be labeled with a big red this is a joke tag.

Oh, this was a good one, but I managed to get it before the comments tipped me off.

It wasn't until I scanned PZ's post again when I understood who exactly I'd been had by (yes, the big red THIS IS A JOKE finally sunk in).

Still, I had to check to see if there was a real "Michael Egnor" to make sure.

I guess I was too early with my April Fool's joke on Friday when I managed to convince one of my Michigander friends that people in Illinois really do pronounce the 's' at the end of 'Illinois'. It's funny how being fooled is o.k. if you've managed to already fool someone else...!

By Frank Anderson (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

April 2nd 2007,

Posted on Pharyngula:

Hahahaha! I fooled ya all! I really do believe in ID!
Betcha ya never would have guessed it.

PZ Myers.

By Fernando Magyar (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

I guess I was too early with my April Fool's joke on Friday when I managed to convince one of my Michigander friends that people in Illinois really do pronounce the 's' at the end of 'Illinois'.

Frank,

That's actually not so far-fetched when you consider that people in Missouri really do say 'Missoura', and people in La Fontaine, Indiana call it "Luh Fountain".

Frank: Do you know that here in Minnesota, we pronounce the K in words like Knudson and Knife?

Well, OK, half of that is an April Fool joke. The other half is not.

So, it's either "Hand me the k-nife, noot", or "Hand me the nife, K-nute"

You decide.....

this is an April Fool's joke
but not by the DI, this is a joke on the DI by Panda's Thumb
Really good, until you check phony DI "URL"

Thank's Panda's Thumb, you made our day.

double good joke!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By richCares (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

SOME people in Missouri say 'Missoura'.

By jimmiraybob (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Frank, I will personally make sure you will burn in hell if you managed to convince one more person in this world that it's pronounced Illinoyez.

So now when do we find out that Dr. Egnor has really been the alter ego of PZ all along? It's a double joke, right? Right?

Yeah, who is this Miohael Eqncr fellow?

Posted on April 1, 2007 12:19 AM

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

I'm sure we would have figured that out... by about comment 400.

Blynd as a bat!

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

The most visible and absurd use of Scientism (see 6b,6d) invading curricula is Intelligent Design.

I have a 2nd order Philosophical (not 1st order Scientific) analysis in the terms of my 100+ page paper on Axiomatizations of Occam's Razor, out of which 2 published conference papers have been excerpted so far.

This follows up on a conversation I had on the question: "Is Intelligent Design a SIMPLER theory than Darwinian Natural Selection and/or the Neodarwinian synthesis?"

Let me put this in the context of Alan Baker's
brilliant survey of the Philosophy of Simplicity: "A
distinction is often made between two fundamentally
distinct senses of simplicity: syntactic simplicity
(roughly, the number and complexity of hypotheses),
and ontological simplicity (roughly, the number and
complexity of things postulated).[3] These two facets
of simplicity are often referred to as elegance and
parsimony respectively...."

(1) Intelligent Design hypothesizes one new entity:
GOD (although it sneakily avoids saying so
explicitly);

(2) In return for "multiplying entities" in apparent
violation of Occam's Razor, it claims to reduce other
entities, such as Natural Selection as a cause-effect
system, and the actual mechanism of Heredity (which
Darwin was forced to postulate, not knowing of Mendel, let alone of later-doscovered DNA, etc.);

(3) Intelligent Design is TOO simple, in that it has
zero explanatory power and is only falsifiable at the
fringes;

(4) The hypothesis of the existence of God, despite
many clever arguments over the millennia (i.e. the
Ontological Argument, etc.) is NOT a falsifiable
hypothesis until, hypopthetically, once has died and
entered Heaven or Hell, by which time it is rather too late to publish.

(5) Intelligent Design has Syntactic Simplicity
(roughly, the number and complexity of hypotheses),
and can be stated and explained in many fewer words in a school curriculum, and in fact, is syntacically too simple to be useful outside of the realm of politics and propoganda; but KISS principles (Keep It Simple, Stupid) account for some of its appeal;

(6) hence I state that Intelligent Design (and other
theological systems of causation) are:
(a) Ontologically Quantitatively Parsimonious if and
only if one accepts that the introduction of the God
entity results in eliminating at least one other
entity; [definition: "Ontological Parsimony
Perhaps the most common formulation of the ontological form of Occam's Razor is the following: 'Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity'"];
(b) Scientism, i.e. pretending to be Science, for
persuasive effect; hence giving the appearance of, but not the value of, Naturalistic Justifications of
Simplicity.
(c) Pseudorationalism, pretending to apply
Justifications via Principles of Rationality, claiming that it is irrational to hypothesize structure coming randomly from chaos [paradox: there may be no non-circular answer to "why should one be rational?];
(d) Mere "Intrinsic Value" Justifications, smuggled
under scientism, i.e. depending on the psychological
position that it is intrinsically justifiable to
believe in God;
(e) an attempt at Metaphysical Justifications [i.e.
One approach to justifying simplicity principles is to embed such principles in some more general
metaphysical framework], not in itself a bad idea;
(f) most deeply, in the words of Baker, "Theological
Justifications: The post-medieval period coincided
with a gradual transition from theology to science as
the predominant means of revealing the workings of
nature. In many cases, espoused principles of
parsimony continued to wear their theological origins
on their sleeves, as with Leibniz's thesis that God
has created the best and most complete of all possible worlds...";
(g) dependent on A Priori Justifications of
Simplicity, (which work only if one a priori accepts
God).

My paper, as a long Word document, is available on request. The recent mathematical results on Minimum Description Length are important, not widely known outside of Information Theory, let alone the Philosphy of Science, Philososphy of Biology, and Phislosophy of Mathematics.

Now I'm really confused. This is like a triple negative joke - a fake joke about the DI playing a joke? This is a little too complicated for my brain.

By Unstable Isotope (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Register.com says:

domain: evolutionnews.net
owner: Wesley Elsberry

PZ, I'm disappointed.

When I "Whois"ed, -Evolutionnews.net-, I expected to find your name as the registrar, not Wes E's of PT.

My Hero Worship has been brutally crushed. You are only partially responsible for this great April 1st Joke.

haha, best I've seen all day.

Well done all involved.

By melatonin (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

I got completely suckered.

Discover Institute. Well done.

I knew something was odd when I read about Dembski and Luskin wagering alchohol. Don't you folks know that with these hardcore evangelicals a party consists of two-litre bottles of Vess, hot dogs on soft white Wonder bread, and the lights on at all times!! The real joke is that Egnor is not just a sick joke.

By Pattanowski (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Great joke! Thanks for the laugh.

One of things I really love about this blog is that the posts and comments are often so funny.

By Paguroidea (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Good one, PZ. All I want to know is how you got that URL, since going to just "www.evolutionnews.net" gets a 404 error.

But you didn't need to go that far. Everything they put up there at the DI is an April Fools Joke. Except it isn't funny.

Got me! Superb...

First I thought it was a joke by PZ. Then I read the article and realized it was being presented by the DI , and thought - hand on, that's

1. Quite a good joke
2. Really at their own expense

Knowing that the DI are a po-faced bunch who take everything they do *way* too seriously...

But the confusion does underline the point that Egnor's ranting really are inseperable from a joke...

By Tryptamine (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

You know, I just can't keep up with everything on the 'net.

I saw that "peanut butter disproves evolution" video and had a flashback of the youth group at church and how evolution is not true because of potato chips. So, yeah, I fell for the Egnor thing, too.

"Hey, you got your peanut butter on my potato chips!"
"No, you got your potato chips in my peanut butter!"
"Mmm! It tastes pretty good!" Okay, not...

Can someone hold my hand and explain: did Luskin fall or not fall for this? I wasn't paying that much attention...

H H H! Y vltnsts r s dmb! Y fll fr stpd jk. Y ll shld mv t kyrgyzstn nd lrn t ply xylphn msc. Th scnc frd psnch rftw mnsqxczbl. Wtfbbq.

Gbbldgk!

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. Fooled me.

Kudos to Wesley Elsberry, but I think that PZ was in it as well. My bet first was on Marc Chu-Carroll (has the computer literacy and the humor), but the meanness of describing someone's actual views as April jokes.. well, I smell octopus.

Now I have to wait for at least one hour until my blood pressure goes down again.

Actually, Reed Cartwright gets most of the credit, with contributions/nitpicking/gripes from the backchannel crew at the Panda's Thumb.

Damn it, PZ, ya got me. But is was quite believable with Dembski's "street theater" mentality.

Wow, I've lost track of how often we all got gotten in this multi-layered farce.

Well done gentleman. Egnor will now be forever tailed by the question "Is this article serious, or a joke?".

Both actually.

This reminds me of the great April Fools stunt perpetrated by the New Mexicans for Science and Reason a few years ago. They planted a dinosaur fossil with a partially eaten human fossil in its jaws. And did the fundies bite!

By Bob Carroll (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Best April Fools in a while - and you even had me the believing the first few seconds, before remembering to check the site. (Unfortunate force of habit - PT is serious business, right? Apparently not always... [Adjusts clue meter.])

Kudos to the crew behind, and may they sleep uneasily before the next April Fool's day when the comeback ensues.

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

On reading Egnor's genuine post for April 1st, it seems that he didn't get the memo about not mentioning the 'G' word.

So has there been a response from the ID folk?

I was relieved that the DI had pulled off such a masterful hoax. It demonstrated that they had cunning, understood the "Darwinists", were able to precict the reaction and (most of all) had a sense of humor.

However, I could believe all of it except for the sense of humor part. As a former class clown I know humor when I see it and the DI has never, ever, not once exhibited any humor. Not a smidgen.

With this hoax I'd have to revise my whole worldview, praise the Lord!

Alas, not so. Now I'm back to square one. The DI are a bunch of humorless twits and the Darwinists Rule!

As for Egnor, how sad is that? Foiled again, in several ways.

While pretty much everyone has already caught on, I thought this in particular was an amusing additional detail:

whois evolutionnews.net

Domain Name: EVOLUTIONNEWS.NET
Registrar: COMPUTER SERVICES LANGENBACH GMBH DBA JOKER.COM
Whois Server: whois.joker.com
Referral URL: http://www.joker.com
Name Server: A.NS.JOKER.COM
Name Server: B.NS.JOKER.COM
Name Server: C.NS.JOKER.COM
Status: clientDeleteProhibited
Status: clientRenewProhibited
Status: clientTransferProhibited
Status: clientUpdateProhibited
Updated Date: 09-jan-2007
Creation Date: 09-jan-2005
Expiration Date: 09-jan-2009

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

This reminds me of the great April Fools stunt perpetrated by the New Mexicans for Science and Reason a few years ago.

A friend of mine posted this on her blog earlier:

Alabama Changes the Value of Pi

The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0. Before long the article had made its way onto the internet, and then it rapidly made its way around the world, forwarded by people in their email. It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by a physicist named Mark Boslough.

Classic.

I'm looking forward to seeing how long this takes to die down. Please tell me that page is going to be left up for a while... ;-)

By Millimeter Wave (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

When the world can't tell your outrageous fake from a genuine creationist, I think you have a credibility issue.

By Rockingham (not verified) on 02 Apr 2007 #permalink

The joke is and has always been on Egnor. I feel embarrassed for him every time I hear him speak, but they keep trotting him in front of the audience even though they know he clueless. Apparently actual knowledge and understanding are not as important as a nice degree in something. Look at the shiny!

They think we're gullible because we think they're idiotic?

The fact is, sadly, that an awful lot of people reading PT and Pharyngula have proved that they are gullible and are idiotic for believing the incredibly implausible claim that Egnor was just faking it.

When the world can't tell your outrageous fake from a genuine creationist, I think you have a credibility issue.

Sigh. There was no outrageous fake. Egnor was, is, and will probably remain a creationist.

By Popper's Ghost (not verified) on 04 Apr 2007 #permalink

At one forum I frequently visit, creationists and self-described IDers were actually defending the caricature.

Not just at one forum, at many forums. So why would you possibly believe that he was a caricature, one that supposedly ensnared many many IDists, and one who put forth views that IDists have put forth numerous times before? Just because PZ says so? On April 1st? Just because PandasThumb says so? On April 1st? Just because they link to an unsigned post at a site that superficially resembles a DI site -- one that shows up on April 1st? Didn't it warrant just a wee bit of inspection? How stupid can you get? And sadly, a number of people who accepted this mindlessly now try to defend themselves with "how could we have known?", rather than doing some honest introspection.

By Popper's Ghost (not verified) on 04 Apr 2007 #permalink

"Our arguments are so dumb you can't tell when we're serious!"

No, actually, it's easy to tell -- when the arguments are dumb, they're serious. When not so dumb, as with the evolutionnews.net post, it's not them at all.

By Popper's Ghost (not verified) on 04 Apr 2007 #permalink

Our readers really need to work on their observation skills.

Not just observation skills, but their ability to evaluate evidence. Many people simply ignored the extensive evidence that Egnor really believed what he said -- much the way the religious ignore all sorts of evidence in the rush to grab onto anything that seems to support what they want to believe.

By Popper's Ghost (not verified) on 04 Apr 2007 #permalink

They must really like you, PZ, to have devoted that much effort to creating this hoax.

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 30 Jul 2007 #permalink

Best April Fools in a while - and you even had me the believing the first few seconds, before remembering to check the site. (Unfortunate force of habit - PT is serious business, right? Apparently not always... [Adjusts clue meter.])

Kudos to the crew behind, and may they sleep uneasily before the next April Fool's day when the comeback ensues.

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink