Sunday, March 6, 2016

Making Mountains out of Molehills, Discovery Institute Style

You are probably familiar with the idea of making mountains out of molehills.  If not, it's simply taking something relatively minor and turning it into something much larger.  You see it quite often when raising teenagers -- where every little thing is the end of the world!

I don't know if you are familiar with this story, but bear with me, there is a modern aspect to this story.  Way back in 1631 a printer was making reprints of the King James Bible.  Now if you are even slightly familiar with the technology of the day, the printing press.  It used something called 'movable type' to create the templates use for printing.  

What this means is that each line in the Bible had to be typeset into constructs like the above image.  Consider the intricacy and level of effort required.  Well, in 1631, the printer messed up and left out a word.  The word was 'not' and the place it was left out was on one of the Commandments, specifically the one that said thou shalt not commit adultery.  Yes, the Bible printed actually said "Thou shalt commit adultery".  About a year later, the publishers of this 'Wicked Bible' were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300 (£44,614 or $63,377, as of 2016) and deprived of their printing license.  Basically they missed one word and it cost them their livelihood.

Don't mistakes happen sometimes?  Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury was apparently pretty angry about it.  But as I said, mistakes happen.  Did they over react?  I don't know, but I do know that half of the issue in learning from your mistakes is how you and the people affected handle errors.

Today when books contain errors we have it much easier.  If the details are important to us, we can create and distribute an errata sheet.  In fact here is the errata sheet to something not particularly important to me, but I know it was important to the Discovery Institute.  It's the errata sheet for Stephen Meyers' Darwin's Doubt:

Yes, even the DI makes mistakes.  In fact Meyers' book was so loaded with them, they even published a sequel book called 'Debating Darwin's Doubt' supposedly to address the many errors pointed out in the original book.  There was quite a lot of criticism of the first book, as there should be when errors happen.  However rather than learn from them, the DI simply repeated many of them in the second book, especially the lack of involvement of anyone with a paleontology background to address a book primarily about . . . paleontology..

Currently we have another error to talk about.  It certainly falls under the heading of 'mistakes happen'.  You might have heard something about it.  Yes, there has been a lot of press about it.    Nature is reporting that an online science journal, PLOS ONE messed up.  Yes, they messed up, and they even admit it.  PLOS ONE is an online journal that is:
"PLOS ONE gives researchers a faster path to publishing in a high-quality peer-reviewed journal. All work that reaches rigorous technical and ethical standards is published and freely and immediately available to everyone."
Apparently, in a paper "Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living" by "Cai-Hua Xiong of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, and co-authors", contained:
"Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention"
When contacted Cai-Hua Xiong stated:
When contacted by Nature, Xiong said that he was discussing the issues raised with his co-authors and would respond as soon as possible. He added, “Indeed, we are not native speakers of English, and entirely lost the connotations of some words such as ‘Creator’. I am so sorry for that.”
So what this looks like is a translation problem.  The that, in all honesty, should have been caught before the paper was published by PLOS ONE.  But it wasn't.  It will certainly make people look askew at PLOS ONE for a while.  PLOS ONE has decided to retract the paper and review the policies that let it slip through the cracks, as should happen when such errors occur.  So far all other comments about the paper have been very positive and nothing identified supports Creationism in any way . . . except for the mis-translation. 

That's the molehill!  And now for the mountain!

Do you think it would be possible for the Discovery Institute not to say something about this?  Of course not!  They are trying to get plenty of mileage about this, claiming censorship, among other things.  Here are a few:
Mob with Pitchforks Forms as Science Journal PLOS ONE Acknowledges "Proper Design by the Creator"
The paper did not acknowledge 'proper design', it was a translation error.  But of course they can never agree to that.  The fact this paper was in an actual scientific journal is something they will be feasting on for a while.  
Censorship in Real Time -- PLOS ONE Retracts "Proper Design by the Creator" Paper
Does davey 'klingy' klinghoffer even own a dictionary?  Is their errata sheet for Darwin's Doubt censorship?  Since when is correcting a translation error censorship?  It's not, but remember . . . molehills aren't something to write much about . . . so hence the creation of this artificial mountain.  You can read klingy's posts if you want.  You won't actually learn anything other than the lengths the DI will go to inflate minor things into imaginary issues.  How many posts did they have about the United Methodist Church?  Way more than it deserved.  I wonder how many they will stop at before finding a new mountain to work on.  


  1. The DI has a martyr complex. They need to feed that, with calls for "academic freedom" to combat alleged "censorship." That, in turn, goes to their primary working strategy, such as it is, of their legislative goals at the state level: "academic freedom" legislation, where public school science teachers to probe the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory.

  2. Like 'academic freedom', censorship means one thing to the rest of the world and something completely different to the DI. I still have to shake my head about the whole 'strengths and weaknesses' argument when they haven't been able to identify an actual weakness. Thanks for the comment, rubble

  3. Oh, I think that there are legitimate weaknesses. But they aren't on the DI list of weaknesses, which are alleged weaknesses and not actual weaknesses.

    The biggest real weakness IMO is the complexity of evolutionary theory. Just take a look at Gould's tome "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" to get an idea of what I mean. The time may not yet be ripe, but eventually there will be a reckoning, much as there was in the 1930s with the modern synthesis.

    But that weakness, and others like it, aren't in the DI's political and cultural sights. It seems more likely that the DI is a sham, a "make-work" Potemkin village for its paid staff, with the public rubric constructed to appease the fundie sugar daddies.

  4. The DI is certainly at it again . . already two additional posts about the PLOS ONE paper and retraction. The first I find really funny, even thought little davey 'klingy' klinghoffer says he doesn't agree, he still posted this "Racism? Here's an Interesting Take on the PLOS ONE Censorship Story". Yes, he disagrees, but still had to frame it to make it look like racism might be involved. Remember Bugs Bunny's line: "What a Maroon!"

    In the second post "From a Biologist, Common Sense on That Censored PLOS ONE Paper" klingy tries to make it sound that the paper shouldn't have been retracted or even changed. But knowing the DI and their motivations, they would love the paper to remain as is so that can use it as support for their version of creationism.