Saturday, October 22, 2005

Peer Review for the Science-Challenged

You know there's a trial going on right now up in Dover, Pennsylvania, where some parents are suing to make sure that the public schools don't teach Intelligent Design instead of science. This trial is opening the debate to public inspection, as both sides get to put their very best arguments on the record.

Dr. Michael Behe, author of a book on Intelligent Design entitled Darwin's Black Box, was on the stand this week. Here's how the Pennsylvania ACLU's blog sets it up:
It has been stated here before that Behe has not submitted his own work on intelligent design for peer review. At the same time, Behe agreed, when asked by plaintiff's counsel Eric Rothschild if the "peer review for Darwin's Black Box was analogous to peer review in the [scientific] literature." It was, according to Behe, even more rigorous. There were more than twice standard the number of reviewers and "they read [the book] more carefully... because this was a controversial topic."

One such reviewer, said Behe, was Dr. Michael Atchison, head of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school. "He was selected," Behe said, "because he was the instructor of the editor's wife." While Behe was not in touch with him, "Professor Atchison contacted [Behe]...after the book came out." ACLU blog

The lawyer then introduced a piece of evidence, an article written by this Dr. Atchison. Atchison's article is a kind of introspective piece where he muses about the consequences of introducing yourself as a Christian. He seems like a smart guy, he doesn't want to be crass or put people on the spot, but he is a religious man and if he's going to introduce himself to someone it does seems reasonable for them to know that about him.

And then he describes a situation that proves to him that, as he says, "To accomplish His will, the Lord uses His saints at strategic points." He tells about an ethics class he teaches where, on the first day, he tells the class he is a Christian.

He then switches scenes and talks about how Behe's book had been sent to the publisher for consideration, who was worried that there might be problems with it. Then there are some mysterious ways ...
The editor shared his concerns with his wife. His wife was a student in my class. She advised her husband to give me a call. So, unaware of all this, I received a phone call from the publisher in New York. We spent approximately 10 minutes on the phone. After hearing a description of the work, I suggested that the editor should seriously consider publishing the manuscript. I told him that the origin of life issue was still up in the air. It sounded like this Behe fellow might have some good ideas, although I could not be certain since I had never seen the manuscript. We hung up and I never thought about it again. At least until two years later. Mustard Seeds

Then the book comes out, sells 40,000 copies ...

Here, you might be interested in seeing how this man of faith interprets the way it all went down:
Then it struck me. This was all the result of my identifying myself as a Christian in class. By identifying myself as a Christian, I played a small, but crucial part in influencing 40,000 people. The plot unfolds. Behe's book needs to be published. The Lord places the manuscript in the hands of an editor. The editor's wife "just happens" to be in my class. The editor needs advice on issues concerning science and faith. Meanwhile, in class I identify myself as a Christian. The editor's wife tells him, "I know someone you can call." Suddenly, I can see how mustard seeds move mountains.

Now, I'll admit, I'm partial to this mustard seed business. My mother wore a little mustard-seed necklace for, I think, her whole life, at least as long as I was alive. It comes from a parable in Matthew, Chapter 13. And this guy adapts it pretty well here, this is a good example of the power of the tiny mustard seed, if you look at it from his point of view

But look. A guy's religion connects him through the social network to an editor who asks him about a book. He comments positively on the book without reading it.

The author seems to really believe his book was peer reviewed. Rigorously.

Tell me, how are going to argue with that? They think this is how science works.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't this all irrelevant considering all the attention and public review Behe's book has been subject to? Virtually every biologist in the country has chimed in with an analysis. The book's been scrutinized more than most scientific papers.

October 22, 2005 3:53 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

No, it is not irrelevant since Behe is claiming there was peer review including a professor at U of Pennsylvania. I won't equate it to people who submit a resume saying a paper is being published in a journal-when it has only been submitted or says it was submitted when it has not("but I'm planning to write it and send it, really). Still it is misrepresentation and purposely done to give scientific credence to this book.


October 22, 2005 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the many irrelevancies Jim brings up to divert attention when his arguments on the substance have played themselves out. What's wrong in Behe's book?

Behe also wrote in article in the book the parents in Pennsylvania are trying to hide from kids.

October 22, 2005 5:33 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

I'm not critiquing Behe's book. I don't care about him or his stupid book. It might be a work of genius for all I know, that's not what this is about. This blog post is about peer review, and the fact that some people would like to associate themselves with science without bothering to learn about or participate in the scientific method.


October 22, 2005 5:40 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

I don't know about how science is being taught right now, but when my younger son approached me a few years back I saw that they began the science unit (8th grade?) with a description of the scientific method.

There is no room for religious FAITH in the scientific method. On the contrary, it is based upon DOUBT. Conflicts, puzzles, mysteries, etc. cannot be resolved by dependence upon some higher power. Had that been the case, you would not be sitting here reading this, because I couldn't have typed it and then sent it over something called an internet. Had Max Planck tried to resolve the black-body problem by calling on Jesus, the last century would not have occurred.

I am amazed that you can't see that.

October 22, 2005 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the science courses in Monkey County begin that way.

ID is not based on faith but observations. The great scientists who had faith did indeed call on Jesus. Christian believers make great discoveries all the time. Summer before last, I personally spoke with a believing Nobel prize winner who came to my Church to speak about faith and science. Your idea that belief in Jesus would preclude scientific discovery is demonstrably wrong.

Dana, according to philosophers, there are three ways we find out whatever we know. You can discover things empirically, rationally or by revelation. No matter how find out about something, you need to subject to the other two methods to test its validity. Hope that helps.

October 22, 2005 6:19 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Science requires that a scientific hypothesis be falsifiable. That means, there must be something that, if it happened, would prove that the hypothesis was false. This is the basis of the technique known as the experiment, and underlies other statistical and quasiesxperimental methods as well.

The problem with ID -- and with the question of the existence of God in general -- is that it is not falsifiable. You cannot do any experiment that proves that God exists, or that an intelligent designer has somehow intervened in the creation of the life forms we observe.

Note that this doesn't mean the proposition is false. There may very well be a God, and He may very well have put this whole thing together just the way we see it.

What this means is that ID is not science. Evolution is subject to many empirical tests, its hypotheses are falsifiable, and the research findings are scientifically valid -- it is one of the best-supported theoretical frameworks of any field. People of faith may choose to believe that there is an intelligence behind the design of the world, there is nothing in evolutionary theory that says there isn't, again because the question is not falsifiable and cannot be addressed by scientific methods. So, if you want to think that's how this all came to be, go for it -- there is no contradiction in a scientist having religious convictions. But the belief in an intelligent designer is not part of science, and does not belong in a biology class.


October 22, 2005 10:22 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Anon, I'm getting tired of this. No, it doesn't help.I think I've been clear, but you continue to misread me.

ID is not based on observations beyond "Boy, I don't understand this so there must be a God." Maybe, maybe not. Jim made the point very clearly.

I never said faith and science were irreconcilable. Believers of all types do science every day, and some of the greats have been believers -- Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Kekule, Einstein. Some had very helpful dreams. And many -- Chinese, Muslims, Jews and atheists -- didn't need Jesus to help them.

But they don't DO science with faith, beyond a general sense that the work is worth doing, that the world makes more sense to them because they believe. That's neither here nor there. It certainly isn't intelligent design. A believer in intelligent design like Behe looks at a cell and says, "That's so complex it must be the hand of God. Time to move on." A believer who is working as a scientist might say "God has made a wondrous world, of which evolution is a part. Now let me study the evolution of the flagellum."

Basically, Behe is a scientific coward. The others used their faith, among other things, to drive their desire to understand. And in science that means not stopping at "God works in mysterious ways."

I've noticed how neither you, nor any of your intellectual compatriots, ever has a rational criticism of any of the science that I've posted. Garza and Patten slandered me in public, (though not by name), yet no one has had a word to say about my essay on gender variance. And there has been no response to the post on the evolution of the eye.

I wonder why.

October 22, 2005 11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're partly right and partly incorrect. Design is not completely falsifiable but neither is any theory. Scientists have noted data that supports design and that data can be tested. As Dana has correctly noted, there are many mainstream scientists busily working on disproving Behe's research right now. There are more status quo scientists trying to shoot it down than any theory in history. Haven't done it yet.

Meanwhile, problems arise with the theory of evolution all the time but scientists who desperately want to believe in it keep bending the theory to coincide with the new data. Darwin himself said that if the fossil record doesn't eventually show a even, steady evolutionary progression then his theory would be incorrect. That's not what the record shows.

Haven't read your eye paper yet because its so long but will try soon. Don't know what other paper you're talking about.

Also, Dana, consider this: homosexuality doesn't convey any competitive advantage to the individual. If evolution is true and if homosexuality is genetic, how does it persist in a species?


October 24, 2005 10:30 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...


Firstly, as has been said here before, Darwin is not God. I don't know any biologist who cares whether evolution, as presented by Darwin in 1859, holds up perfectly. There seems to be punctuated equilibria, as one example. So what? That's scientific progress.

If there are holes in general relativity, does that negate the theory? That's progress. If it had answered all the questions, we would have ignored pulsars and neutron stars, black holes, dark matter and energy, etc. We could have said, "The firmament is God's handiwork. Amen."

Darwin was an early 19th century biologist who wrote his work at the same time the concept of the gene was first crafted, and sixty years before it was discovered. A real God-fearing person would consider that story just amazing.

As for scientists working to undercut Behe, it's been my impression that everyone who has bothered to do so has, and the Discovery Institute has admitted that they have no evidence to back up any of their own claims.

Homosexuality from an evolutionary standpoint -- interesting question. First, you have to posit obligate, lifetime homosexual-only relations. There's no reason to do so. One could certainly have only same-sex desire and still procreate for the sake of procreating.

There are theories about gay people being the aunts and uncles necessary to help the next generation survive. Their DNA is still similar enough to make the expenditure of effort worthwhile.

And then there's the issue of individual selection vs. group selection. That's a contentious topic, but if it turns out that gay people help the species survive, and that's not a hard case to make on many levels, then they would fit right in. I don't have any problem with critiquing the original Darwinism in that manner, any more that I have in accepting Gould's theories.

The point is, none of them have anything to do with injecting a God into the process, which can only retard any research. "Hey, Joe, how do you think Vishnu impacted the construction of the Golgi body? Do you think Kali interfered? Ganesh would have had a stroke on visualizing those transmmebrane proteins from his perch in the interdimensional space."

October 24, 2005 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One could certainly have only same-sex desire and still procreate for the sake of procreating."

I think you're right. Most people are capable of having intercourse with anyone- if they let themselves go down that road. That's why it's actually a choice. John Garza put it well at CRC's organizational meeting, "there's a homosexual inside of us all." That's also why having public schools present a neutral perspective of homosexuality will be detrimental to society.

October 24, 2005 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, Anon, it is possible to
procreate without having
intercourse. Modern science has
given us the ability to produce
children even if we are

Surrogate mothers have many
reasons for helping infertile and
same sex couples have babies.
Here's the first one that came up
on my google search for "surrogate
mothers" and "gay couples."

Maybe you are right - maybe Garza
does have a homosexual inside of
him, one he obviously preferred
wasn't there. That might explain
his conduct. It's hard to be
tolerant of others if you can't
even be tolerant of yourself.


October 24, 2005 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


That gay stuff's been goin' on since Adam was a pup. Passin' down thru them genes. Must be those dagnabit "gays" can do it either way. Modurn science weren't around back then.

Uncle Fester

October 24, 2005 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple of interesting stories about the Darwinian religion today:

CBS News is reporting new poll results showing only 15% of Americans believe mankind evolved and God wasn't involved. TTF's evangelism apparently isn't too effective.

Massive volcano exploded in Galapagos today. Let's see what's the fittest to survive this one.

October 24, 2005 5:19 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

Yes, Americans are lagging pitifully in science education. Hopefully science never becomes something that the population votes on.

The good news is that with the collapse of the Bush White House, it will be harder for the government to un-educate the public and falsify research results.


October 24, 2005 7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The good news is that with the collapse of the Bush White House, it will be harder for the government to un-educate the public and falsify research results."

Good point. Bill Clinton did more to expose children to alternative sexual techniques than any modern president.

October 24, 2005 7:51 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

Well since Clinton promoted the use of the V-chip, my kids didn't see any of it. You use it, don't you?


October 24, 2005 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no. my kids were younger than and only watched PBS- no commercial TV. now, though, Monica and Bill are part of history class. thanks for the memories, Bill.

October 25, 2005 7:14 AM  
Blogger andrear said...

Right, Bill Clinton is responsible for oral sex. I can pretty much guarantee that the kids having oral or anal sex are not doing it because of Bill and Monica- they don't even know who Bill Clinton is. Kids do it because they think if you can't get pregnant, it isn't sex- because Mom and Dad don't want to talk to them about sex(my kids are too young, too innocent,if we don't talk about it- they won't do it).

October 25, 2005 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Clinton did more to expose children to alternative sexual techniques than any modern president?

Oh really? That's not the way I remember it.

Clinton tried to keep his private life private. It was Ken Starr and the GOP controlled Congress who made public every salacious detail.

October 25, 2005 9:42 AM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

It's fascinating that people still think they can score points bringing up Clinton's sex life. Right now, the Republicans completely own the federal government -- the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. So what do we have? The House majority leader booked and fingerprinted, the Senate majority leader under investigation and sure to get popped for stock market fraud, both the President and the Vice President's aides just about to see indictments resulting from their treasonous act of giving an American spy's name to the enemy in wartime, rumors that the VP will have to resign, we just hit 2,000 Americans dead from a war that was based on lies and that nobody wants, the President's popularity ratings in the thirties, the conservatives revolting against the President over his Supreme Court nomination and the incompetence that they have suddenly come to admit, the fiasco of Katrina and the suddenly-revealed fact that the government appoints unqualified political friends to important positions, the federal budget drained and propped up with loans from countries like China and Saudi Arabia, the US practicing torture and locking up people on international soil where they can avoid any law, citizens' rights of privacy going going gone ... and somebody wants to talk about Clinton having an affair with an intern.

Really. Fascinating.


October 25, 2005 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey PB

You're probably too young to remember this but Bill Clinton would capriciously bomb foreign countries whenever a new Lewinsky revelation came out- to distract the public.

Unbelievable the people who now defend him. Using his influence to coerce a young person into unsafe sex in the Oval Office.

Ken Starr had to reveal details because was saying things like we never had intercourse (and he later said because oral sex is not real sex.) He was indeed who popularized that concept whether young today know it or not.

October 25, 2005 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those "capricious bombings" would have hit Osama bin Laden and prevented 9/11 if people like you hadn't claimed they were a diversion from the real issues, such the investigation of his sex life.

It is incredible that you think sex with an intern is comparable to the current president driving this country into a ditch. What kind of mind doesn't see the difference there?


October 25, 2005 5:30 PM  
Blogger Kay2898 said...

M Lewinsky was an adult who chose to do what she did...period. Two adults who chose what they did together...period.

Enough said....

What does Clinton and Lewinsky have to do with sex education curriculum in schools? They are not writing it nor will be teaching it.

October 26, 2005 8:28 AM  
Blogger andrear said...

wow, Bill Clintom is responsible for all of this oral and anal sex. Who knew? And these kids who are doing it- are doing it because of him- even though they don;'t know who he is or that he did it. That makes a huge amount of sense to me- like many of the arguments put forth by the "anons" on this list.
I do not condone what Monica and Bill did - I think adultery is wrong (shocking-huh) -but there is no way that this led to the current activities of teens.
I think it comes from poor education - the unwillingness of parents to discuss this openly- to explain what sexual activity is so that a teen knows that all of these activities are sex- not to say- " we don't talk about this" or " that is an adult subject" or to create an atmosphere where kids are scared to ask and then believe it when told " no, that isn't sex- cause you're still a virgin if you do it"

October 26, 2005 10:31 AM  

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