I've been dealing with creationists for a long time now, and I thought that I'd gotten over being surprised by dishonest behavior in their ranks. In fact, I thought I'd gotten over it even when I'm on the receiving end of the false witness, and when the person dishing it out is someone who really should know better. As it turns out, I might not have quite as far over it as I thought.
As regular readers know, Dr. Michael Egnor is one of the more impressively credentialed denizens of the Discovery Institute's media complaints blog. He has decades of experience as a neurosurgeon. He's on the faculty at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he serves as a professor of neurosurgery. And, based on the level of intellectual integrity that he just demonstrated, he's not someone I would trust to train a dog, much less a doctor.
That's a harsh statement, I know, but I just got through reading his response to my recent critique of some of his Discovery Institute ramblings. Or, rather, his response to what he says was my recent critique. It was actually an interesting experience. He managed to take what I wrote so far out of context, and distort it so thoroughly, that I actually had problems recognizing some of the quotes as being my own work.
I may (or may not) deal with the nonexistent scientific merit of Dr. Egnor's reply later on. I'm not even going to try and catalogue all of the cases where Egnor was less than honest in his characterization of my writing. Instead, I'm simply going to highlight the most egregious case of flat-out, nose-growing, pants-on-fire lying.
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Someone once pointed out that when a dog pisses on a fire hydrant, it's not committing an act of vandalism. It's just being a dog. It's possible to use that analogy to excuse a creationist who takes a quote wildly out of context, I suppose, but I don't think it's really appropriate. Creationists might indulge in quote mining with the same casual disregard for public decency as a male dog telling his neighbors that he's still around, but, unlike dogs, the creationists are presumably capable of self-control. We've simply grown blase about their propensity for twisting other people's words because they do it so often.
Still, I expected more from Michael Egnor. He's not some diploma mill hack, who really might not know any better. The man is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at SUNY Stony Brook, and is actually the vice chairman of neurosurgery. He's been in academia for some time, and presumably has some understanding of the importance of intellectual integrity. When he picks and chooses which words to quote to make it appear that someone has said something very different from what they meant, he has very clearly chosen to tell a lie. And that's just what he did when he quoted from one of my posts.
Here's what he wrote:
Zoology graduate student and Darwinist Mike Dunford at Panda's Thumb has replied to recent posts in which Dr. Jonathan Wells and I pointed out that Darwin's theory is irrelevant to medical research on antibiotic resistance, and that antibiotic resistance itself is irrelevant to the debate about intelligent design and Darwinism. Remarkably, Mr. Dunford, referring to a recent advance in research on antibiotic resistance, concedes both points. He writes:
The scientists worked in a lab. They artificially replicated a set of conditions (an antibiotic-rich environment) that occur in nature. Finally, they placed the bacteria into this environment - something that happens spontaneously outside the lab...We'll pretend that anything that happens in a lab must be artificial selection, and that it is totally and completely wrong to use the phrase "natural selection" when referring to these experiments.
Mr. Dunford is right. Selection that happens by design in a lab is artificial selection, not natural selection. This distinction is of fundamental importance in this debate. Why? Consider Mr. Dunford's next observation:
Now, here's what I actually wrote. The portions that Egnor skipped over are highlighted in boldface:
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We're now into the third day of the brouhaha that was sparked by Casey Luskin's misuse of the "Blogging About Peer-Reviewed Research" icon. Casey posted a few responses to criticisms in the discussion thread over at the BPR3 blog, then packed his bags and went home because Dave Munger didn't delete all of the comments that had said bad things about Casey. It's pretty clear that Casey got what he was fishing for before he left, though: more stories about how poor Intelligent Design proponents are picked on by mean scientists.
They've been playing up that sort of story for a while now, and it's easy to understand why. Stories - even blatantly fictional ones - are a good way to make a point. We use stories to teach our children. More importantly, our parents used stories to teach us. We've been dealing with stories all our life, so we tend to respond when we're given a familiar story. In this case, they're giving us a variant of the "David and Goliath" story, and we all know who to root for when we hear that one, right?
Casey had to work really hard to get that story, but he's pretty sure he managed it:
(1) A large number of the people on this thread continue to oppose approving my request for registration, explicitly admitting that they simply don't want to allow ID proponents to be part of these discussions. If ID proponents aren't even allowed to "officially" blog about peer-reviewed research on the internet, who can say that their research would get a fair hearing from the actual peer-reviewers in the real world of science?
The italics were in the original, and Casey really must have meant it, because he used the same phrase again later on in the comment, replacing the italics with boldface. As arguments go, that one is pretty typical. It sounds nice and reasonable and bears only the faintest resemblance to anything that actually happened.
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Yesterday, I wrote a post about Casey Luskin's misuse of the ResearchBlogging.org "Blogging about Peer-Reviewed Research" icon. Today, Casey removed the icon from his post, and provided an explanation for his actions. I'm glad that he decided to cease his misuse of the icon, but his explanation leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. He admits no wrongdoing, makes no apology, and presents a series of excuses for his actions that - even if accepted at face value - are weak at best.
The first excuse he presents is essentially a claim that he didn't know what he was doing:
A co-worker had recommended that I include a graphic that said this was discussing peer-reviewed research. At the time, I was unaware of ResearchBlogging.org and the fact that they requested registration in order to use their graphic. Important note: It should be clear that when I first posted my post, I had not yet seen ResearchBlogging.org and was unaware of how it worked. (Italics in original.)
I'm finding it very hard to believe that Casey was unaware of ResearchBlogging.org when he used the icon. Here's why:
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Casey Luskin has a post up over at the Discovery Institute's website that discusses an article that was recently published in PLoS Biology. The post itself is nothing particularly remarkable - Casey takes a paper that says that current hypotheses don't adequately deal with all of the problems of figuring out how life started, and claims that a lack of a workable hypothesis is evidence that an Intelligent Designer is needed to explain how life got here. Along the way to the argument from ignorance, he manages to misrepresent portions of the article, put words into the author's mouth, and use three little dots to chain sentences located paragraphs apart into a single quote. In most respects, it's a fairly typical example of Discovery Institute work.
This time, though, Casey added a little something extra to his usual work product. He stuck a little image up at the top left corner of his post. His use of the icon in question demonstrates an eagerness to assume the trappings of intellectual respectability without actually making the effort to be respectable.
The icon in question is the ResearchBlogging.org "Blogging About Peer-Reviewed Research" icon. You may have seen the icon before. I'm one of a large (and growing) number of bloggers who have used the icon to mark posts that feature an in-depth discussion of an article found in the peer-reviewed literature. The ResearchBlogging.org website provides a single location where you can find all of the properly marked posts.
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One of the joys of procrastination is that sometimes if you wait long enough, someone else really will take care of things. I mention that because Ed Brayton just did a good job dismantling Casey Luskin's latest whine about how big bad Judge Jones was such a nasty judicial activist for daring to issue a ruling in the Dover, PA Intelligent Design case that addressed the question of whether or not ID is good science. I was planning a long and detailed post on the same thing, but now all that I have to do is highlight one point that Ed didn't make in his post.
As Ed points out, there were a number of reasons for Jones to rule on that point. For starters, he had to look at that if he wanted to handle the case in front of him the same way that the Supreme Court handled its last creationism case. (That's called following precedent.) He also needed to look at that point in order to apply the test commonly used by the Federal Courts when they look at Establishment Clause cases. (That's also called following precedent.) As Ed also notes, both the plaintiffs and the defendants specifically asked the judge to rule on that point.
What Ed doesn't mention is that the plaintiffs and the defendants were not the only ones who asked Judge Jones to rule on whether or not Intelligent Design is good science:
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Today's New York Times has a story up on the upcoming Ben Stein "documentary" on the alleged persecution that ID proponents face in the academic world. The NYT article quotes a number of scientists who were interviewed for the movie (including Scienceblogs own PZ Myers) as saying that they were told that the interview was going to be for an entirely different movie.
Bill Dembski posted something about the article, with a brief comment of his own:
I can't say I feel sorry for these atheistic scientists in agreeing to interview for EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED. When the BBC interviewed me for their Horizon documentary on ID (Horizon = the UK version of PBS Nova), they gave the ID side no warning that the program would be titled A WAR ON SCIENCE (I wouldn't have agreed to be interviewed had I known that was going to be its title). What goes around comes around.
They shouldn't complain about what was done unto them because somebody once did something like that unto you. Way to show that good old Christian attitude, Bill.
If you love predictability, you've got to love the Discovery Institute. Whenever someone publishes a paper about human evolution, it's a pretty safe bet that someone there will soon take the time to explain how having learned something new means that we somehow know less than we did before. You can set your watch by it, almost.
The latest example comes from Casey Luskin. He "discusses" a paper that came out in Nature this week that reported on some fossils from Dmanisi, Georgia. Several skulls have been described from this site already, and the current paper focuses on post-cranial (less technically, non-skull) remains.
I'm not going to bother with a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal of Casey's claims. (See this post by Afarensis for that.) Instead, I'm just going to look at one of the more glaringly dishonest tactics that Casey used this time.
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