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Monday, December 19, 2005

A New Strategy for Intelligent Design Proponents?
For several years now, proponents of ID have been trying to get themselves taken seriously in the scientific community. It's a tough sell, since, according to some studies, upwards of 90% of scientists are agnostics or atheists. Scientists, as a whole, require data to be convinced.

The road to scientific acceptance runs roughly like this:
Step 1: Come up with an idea, preferably one that can be tested experimentally and that you can make some predictions as to the outcome.

Step 2: Test your idea.

Step 3: Take the results from Step 2, and show other scientists how they agree with your hypothesis from Step 1.

Step 4: Repeat, incorporating those new data into a new hypothesis.

The problem is, ID seems to be stuck at Step 1. They're like the Underpants Gnomes from "South Park," believing that the mere collection of ideas will win them profit in the end. It just doesn't work like that with scientists. And, lacking any testable hypotheses or actual data, they revert to metaphors and keep cramming a 'designer' into the nooks and crannies of the last few unknowns out there.


But now it appears that ID has taken a new tack. Lacking data, and therefore reputable publication, they seem to be moving more to a public relations campaign that gives a veneer of reputability while remaining as empty as their entire hypothesis.

This last week, some of us here at Give Up attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology. It's a fairly large conference, with approximately 10,000 attendees and around 2,500-3,000 poster presentations of peoples' research. All posters contain an abstract (a brief description of your hypotheses and your findings), and the abstracts are published in the Society's journal, which has an official-sounding name, is well-cited, and is peer-reviewed.

We happened to notice that one poster there was from Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute. If you're not familiar with Dr. Wells's past, check here. Briefly, he's a Moonie who got a PhD in order to "devote [his] life to destroying Darwinism." (his words). Why then, would he go into a lion's den of non-believers to present his ID theory?

The easy answer is that he didn't. The poster he presented was entirely fluff - a virtually untestable hypothesis and no data. It was titled in such a way to sound respectable but ultimately unnoticeable. In fact, the only people I ever saw standing in front of it were myself and the people in our circle that know who Dr. Wells is. He put the poster up overnight, stood in front of it for an hour and a half, and then left. Only one person that I know of actually confronted him, and it was fairly brief. An image of the poster is below. For a hi res image of the poster, abstract, or conclusion, click the links.

So we now have an outspoken Creationist, sponsored by the Discovery Institute, presenting a data-free poster at a large scientific conference. All posters from this conference are published as a supplement in what would normally be a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It's safe to say that the malarkey he proposes would be ripped apart during a real peer-review. But to the general public, there's little distinction between a supplement and the real deal. So be wary if you start seeing that the Discovery Institute has published its findings in Molecular Biology of the Cell, and that they've presented at ASCB. It's a load of crap designed to look like they're being accepted by the scientific community when in fact they exploited a loophole and flew under the radar.

I'll publish the abstract in the comments section if you want to read further. It sounds quite official, until you read it carefully and see that it sounds like one of those 'context free grammars' that are randomly generated to get into scientific conferences.


Another Anonymous Poster said...

A Possible Link Between Centrioles, Calcium Deficiency and Cancer
J. Wells; Discovery Institute, Seattle, WA
Centrosomal defects leading to chromosomal instability appear to be an early step in the development of major human cancers, though the precise nature of the centrosomal defects remains unknown. An animal centrosome contains two orthogonally oriented centrioles, each composed of nine microtubule triplets arranged like the blades of a turbine. An engineering analysis of centriole ultrastructure based on electron microscope data leads to the hypothesis that these organelles function as dynein-driven turbines to generate a high-speed, small-amplitude oscillation in spindle microtubules that resembles the motion of a laboratory vortexer. Calculations show that the result would be a polar ejection force several times stronger than gravity that would tend to push chromosomes away from spindle poles during prometaphase and metaphase. [Rivista di Biologia /
Biology Forum 98 (2005): 71-96]. The transient increase in intracellular calcium that normally accompanies the onset of anaphase would shut down the dynein-driven centriolar turbines to permit the unobstructed poleward movement of chromosomes. Under conditions of calcium deficiency or defective calcium regulation, however, centrioles could generate an increasing polar ejection force throughout anaphase that would break chromosome arms and produce chromosomal instability. Several experimental approaches are suggested to test the hypothesis, which if corroborated may contribute to a better understanding not only of cell division but also of cancer.

1:18 PM, December 19, 2005

Rev. Dr. said...

Well, the abstract is badly written. All intro and no key results. Sounds like the first paragraph of a grant. Must be because he has no results.

This is the kind of poster a graduate student would put together so they could go to a conference and get an abstract citation without doing any actual science to justify the poster.

3:02 PM, December 19, 2005

Anonymous said...

The ACB should simply insert a little "disclaimer" in the issue in which the abstracts are published, stating :

"These abstracts are not peer-reviewed and should not be cited by creationist and/or anti-science organizations in a way that would suggest that the ACB find merit in the work or in the anti-science agenda of the scientist who presented the abstract."

That should do the trick. Just a plain statement of fact. Kind of like the Cobb stickers, except there are no lies or misrepresentations about science in the disclaimer I proposed.

5:47 PM, December 19, 2005

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I missed would have been fun to keep asking him, "So where are the data?"

6:26 PM, December 19, 2005

Another Anonymous Poster said...

Anonymous number 2:

I actually asked him that. He said they would be 'testing it soon.' So I asked him how. He hemmed, hawed, and hand-waved for a few minutes, saying how calcium did all sorts of stuff, how it would be tough to pin down the exact effects, blah blah blah.

So as I walked away, I told him point-blank "You guys are good at coming up with untestable hypotheses."

6:52 PM, December 19, 2005

truth machine said...

"It's a tough sell, since, according to some studies, upwards of 90% of scientists are agnostics or atheists. Scientists, as a whole, require data to be convinced."

That's an absurdly high number -- no study I'm aware of approaches that. And it's irrelevant -- scientists' religious views have nothing to do with the requirements of the scientific method. And in this case specifically, even if all of Wells' factual claims were true, that would have no religious significance whatsoever and would have no bearing on the ID claim -- which is a metaphysical claim about the supposed causal insufficiency of evolution and the supposed entailment of a conscious creator ("designer").

10:08 PM, December 19, 2005

truth machine said...

P.S. My question for Wells would be "Why did God design cancer?"

10:13 PM, December 19, 2005

Anonymous said...

A force "several times stronger than gravity"? Wouldn't that be rather tiny for something microscopic? I mean, what's that compared to hydrogen bonds?

12:00 AM, December 20, 2005

WTF? said...

A force "several times stronger than gravity"? Wouldn't that be rather tiny for something microscopic? I mean, what's that compared to hydrogen bonds or electrostatic forces at that scale?

12:01 AM, December 20, 2005

Rev. Dr. said...

An excellent point my friend!

The problem here might be trying to apply science to a poster that isn't designed for a true scientific purpose. At the same time you may have exposed a critical flaw, a physics slight of hand that distracted the biologists that contribute to our blog. That's embarrassing to me because I have a degree in physics. Dammit. It's been too long.

12:18 AM, December 20, 2005

Mark said...

Perhaps Wells feels, like Behe, that it is up to the real scientists to do the work and test the hypotheses, because the creationists have better things to do with their time.

8:30 AM, December 20, 2005

WTF? said...

If it were Behe, he'd say "Prove to me that the chromosomal 'drive' isn't a molecular motor!"

8:38 AM, December 20, 2005

Another Anonymous Poster said...

Truth machine-

You're right that an individual's belief in whatever shouldn't have a role in their acceptance or not of the scientific method. But I think it would be safe to say that, regardless of the arguments for or against ID, that if you don't see evidence of a Designer, then ID would be a tough sell. After all, ID (to me, at least) is just good old-fashioned creationism packaged in a pseudo-scientific cover.

As for the numbers, I admit they're a bit out-dated (from the mid-1990s). The citation is: E.J. Larson and L. Witham, ‘Leading scientists still reject God’, Nature 394(6691):313, 23 July 1998. The >90% number refers to disbelief (agnostics/atheists) among responding National Academy members. Among scientists as a whole, those numbers were more in the range of 60% - still a substantial majority.

9:56 AM, December 20, 2005

Rev. Dr. said...

I meant to link this but forgot.
Sci Gen is a program that some computer scientists created to generate abstracts for scientific meetings. They proved how bad review is at conferences because the program strung together several abstracts that were then accepted at conferences by reviewers asleep at the wheel.

5:35 PM, December 20, 2005


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