Monday, October 6, 2014


Caught an interesting post from Dr. James F. McGrath's 'Exploring Our Matrix' blog, "Defining Pseudoscholarship".  We've discussed Pseudoscience many times, but I thought the perspective here was interesting.  He quotes a commenter, Peter Regnier, on one of his other blog posts.  Paul defines Pseudo-scholarship like this:

Pseudo-scholarship tends to
  1. Denigrate entire scholarly fields
  2. Largely ignore established academic channels
  3. Largely ignore or parody academic conventions
  4. Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives
  5. Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within them
  6. Make sensationalist claims
  7. Appeal to dubious methodological privilege BUT
  8. In reality employ flawed methods
  9. Rely on supernatural over natural explanations
  10. Be developed and supported disproportionately by non-specialists.
Let's see how well any of these apply to the whole idea of Creationism/Intelligent Design.  Since we have to narrow the field a bit, let's be a little more specific and consider the Creationism/Intelligent Design outflow from the Discovery Institute:
  1.  Denigrate entire scholarly fieldsHow often have I, and many others, asked that the Discovery Institute support their own ideas rather than denigrate biology and evolution?  Often in their meanderings, you cannot find a single item of substance supporting their own ideas, but only attack after attack on biology and history.  Yes, remember their Nazi and Darwin conspiracy ideas are laughed at by biologists and historians. 
  2.  Largely ignore established academic channelsWhile the Discovery Institute whines and complains about not being able to get published in established academic channels, the issue isn't they do not, the real issue is that they don't seem to be trying.  They don't seem to make any effort for a very simple reason, they refuse to follow the same rules and guidelines for submitting their work as actual scientists.  To quote Dr. Mark Chancey again (Chair of the Religious Studies Department at SMU) " . . . When scholars criticize ID, they are not attacking religion. They are only asking ID proponents to be transparent in their agenda, accurate about their representations of scholarship, and willing to play by the same rules of peer review and quality control that legitimate scholars and scientists around the world follow every day." 
  3.  Largely ignore or parody academic conventionsI think they parody more than ignore.  Isn't their pet lab, the wholly owned Biologics Institute, whose contact information and address is the Discovery Institute, a parody of a real lab?  Isn't their own journal and publishing house set-up as a parody of an actual scientific journal and publisher?  They comply with none of the standards such professional journals and publishers have for vetting and supporting the work they publish, yet they claim things self-published are peer-reviewed.  Sounds like a parody to me.  As for ignoring, how about any aspect of scientific methodology?  Dressing up in a lab coat does not make you a doctor.  Dressing up ideas in one doesn't make your idea a scientific theory.
  4. Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectivesRegardless of how often the Discovery Institute, and their various mouthpieces, claim that Intelligent Design is not a religious proposition, each and every examination shows it's religious underpinnings.  It was found to be religious by a Federal Judge.  They constantly give presentations to religious audiences and at the invitation of religious groups and organizations.  Their own strategy document, the Wedge Strategy, makes the connection quite clear.  Yet they continue to verbally deny while their actions support a very narrow range of ideological perspectives.
  5. Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within themNow this one I am not sure how to address, exactly what is a meta-narrative?  I checked a few definitions and see that it's a 'narrative about other narratives', or a comprehensive explanation overarching other more narrow explanations.  OK, that works because isn't the modern theory of evolution an overarching explanation consisting of many other much more specific theories?  Doesn't the DI make sweeping characterizations to reject the majority of evolutionary theory?  Even the whole idea of micro-evolution v. macro-evolution is nothing more than a way to try and reject a large portion of evolutionary theory.
  6. Make sensationalist claimsHow many can we name?  Dembski's 'Design Filter' which is supposed to be able to detect intelligent design in nature, but doesn't seem to do much of anything?  How about the constant claim of the demise of evolution?  That's been going on for decades, and the DI keeps harping on it.  I think it was Dembski (again) who predicted a 5 year period that would spell the end of evolution and I think we are a decade past that.  Or the annual Paul Nelson Day as we still wait for his detailed exposition of “ontogenetic depth" as a way of measuring complexity.  I think we are about the decade past the due date on that one as well.
  7. Appeal to dubious methodological privilege BUT
  8. In reality employ flawed methodsI have to tie these two together because I'm not sure they mean much apart.  The key here is their flawed methodology.  A lack of falsifiability, the use of straw-man arguments, inability to test, reliance on testimonials, the assumption that if science hasn't addressed something it must be a deity's action, refusing the consider conflicting data, the list goes on.  Yet for all their methodical errors, they insist their pet idea is the equal to a real, valid, viable scientific theory and they demand a spot on the science lectern, a privilege they have yet to earn!
  9. Rely on supernatural over natural explanationsThat's all they rely on!  They try and cover their supernatural explanations with more innocuous words like 'Designer', but they are talking about a deity.  Their own words and actions reveal more than their official denials.  They are desperate to deny their dressed-up version of Creationism, but they never can separate themselves from it and they never will.  Once their efforts fail, they'll find another lab coat.  Creationism in school changed to Creation Science which became Intelligent Design.  They'll be something else once this one is realized to be futile.  But at the core of all of the comments, tactics, and strategies lies their supernatural ideas and desires. 
  10. Be developed and supported disproportionately by non-specialistsWhen you look at the Discovery Institute and their popular authors, posters, and bloggers.  You find lawyers, philosophy majors, historians, but very few biologists of any sort.  Do they do the science to persuade other biologists?  No, they target politicians, school boards, and every Christian group they can find.
    Hmm, let's bring up something we haven't discussed in a while, their 'list' of 700+ 'scientists who 'dissent from Darwinism'.  Remember that list?  I think they finally topped 800.  If I recall the last check, less than 20% of the list were people in biology-related fields and none were in any field that related in any way to evolutionary biology.  There were chemical engineers, self-taught rocket scientists, a guy who writes books on butterflies,  . . . you get the idea?  Sure didn't take aim at scientists and biologists, did they?
Well, it certainly looks like the pseudo-science promulgated by the Discovery Institute is certainly an excellent example of pseudo-scholarship!

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