Monday, February 19, 2007

What Is Science?

The recent controversy over Marcus Ross has raised serious questions about science. In case you've forgotten about Ross, let me refresh your memory.

Ross received his Ph.D. in geosciences from Rhode Island University His thesis topic was on a class of marine lizards called mosasaurs. These animals lived more than one hundred million years ago and they went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. Ross is a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). He believes in the literal truth of the Bible. This includes a belief that all species were created in a 6 day week only 10,000 years ago. Ross is currently a Professor of Biology at Liberty University, run by Rev. Jerry Falwell, where he teaches a Christian version of Earth Science and a required course (CRST 290) on the History of Life.

CRST 290
An interdisciplinary study of the origin and history of life in the universe. Faculty of the Center for Creation Studies will draw from science, religion, history, and philosophy in presenting the evidence and arguments for creation and evolution. This course is required for all Liberty students. The video taped course is 3 semester hours credit.
According to an article in the New York Times (Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules) Ross did not discuss his YEC beliefs in his thesis, Instead, he wrote his thesis as though he believed in an Earth that was billions of years old and as though species evolved and went extinct over periods of millions of years. In other words, Ross did not tell the truth about his true "scientific" beliefs when he wrote his thesis. I assume that he also didn't discuss his true beliefs during the Ph.D. oral exam when his examining committee questioned him on his thesis work, including his interpretation and its implications.

What does the creationist community think of all this? Well, first of all they don't think that Ross was "deceptive" but they have a very peculiar definition of deceptive. The creationists admire Ross for not hiding his belief in a 10,000 year old Earth while getting a Ph.D. in geology. They see nothing wrong with "pretending" to be a scientist while attending a "secular" university. Here's how Sal Cordova puts in on Uncommon Descent.
For the pro-ID and creationist students out there, Ross shows how to make it through a Darwinist controlled secular institution. Ross was never deceptive about his beliefs, yet demonstrated he could accept Old Earth Darwinism as a working but falsifiable hypothesis. One has a better chance of overturning prevailing paradigms when one is well-versed in it. Accepting a wrong theory as a working hypothesis is no more a profession of faith than accepting the wrong idea that the square root of two is rational in order to prove it is irrational.
Let's hear from Evelyn, a graduate student in geology who just happens to be working on dating technology for her thesis (Young Earth Creationists Are NOT Geologists).
Why else am I so worked up about “Dr.” Ross and his Young Earth Creationist “geologist” friends? Currently, I date rocks for a living. In my free time, I try to date men, but mostly I’m dating rocks these days. More formally, I am a graduate student in training to become an argon-argon isotope geochronologist. Basically, I am learning how to use argon isotopes to determine dates for rocks.

I am learning that dating rocks and minerals is no easy task. For instance, this spring I am working on obtaining ten dates from a group of volcanic rocks from the Ninetyeast Ridge, a 5000 km long hotspot track in the Indian Ocean. I anticipate that my samples will range in age from about 40 million to 80 million years old. These ten age dates are going to require a solid three months of my time. Not just three months of ordinary, 9 to 5 labwork either. I am working 60+ hour weeks, and I’m also trying to do some homework now and then between samples. The past week has been particularly grueling as we (two of us– I’m working with the lab supervisor) are trying to prepare a group of samples to send off to the nuclear reactor we use to turn potassium into argon, an important step in the argon-argon dating process. For the past week, I’ve been working 14-15 hour days during the week. On the weekend, I took it easy… I worked for six hours on Saturday and for eleven hours on Sunday. Monday morning I was back at lab at 9 am, and I just returned home now (Tuesday) at 2 in the morning. Once we ship the samples off to the reactor next week, my schedule will relax again, and I’ll only work 8 to 10 hour days.

I work very hard as a geochronologist. There are many people like me who work extremely hard to produce these dates of rocks and minerals. Theoretically, someone with a Ph.D in geology appreciates how difficult these dates are to obtain and understands the science behind the isotopic dating systems. I just don’t understand how a well-educated geologist could be a Young Earth Creationist. I am angry because here is someone who is clearly NOT a very good geologist but who has GOOD geological credentials… and he’s essentially trying to discredit what is swiftly becoming my life’s work. I feel insulted, personally, by people like “Dr.” Ross. I work hard, every day, to better understand the Earth. I work hard, very hard, to obtain concrete dates for my rocks. Having a Ph.D geologist tell me that Earth is only 6,000 years old is absurd and makes me very angry and also very, very sad.
There are two issues here and it's best to separate them. First and foremost, should we give Ph.D. degrees in paleontology to students who say the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and life didn't evolve? In order to simplify the discussion, let's just consider a hypothetical honest Marcus Ross who tries to defend Young Earth Creationism in a thesis. We can imagine that the thesis will be largely devoted to refuting all of the evidence for an old Earth and for evolution.

Asked whether it was intellectually honest to write a dissertation so at odds with his religious views, he said: “I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history. I accepted that philosophy of science for the purpose of working with the people” at Rhode Island.

And though his dissertation repeatedly described events as occurring tens of millions of years ago, Dr. Ross added, “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.”
Ross is a Young Earth Creationist. Of that there's no doubt. He rejects all evidence that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. He rejects evolution in favor of a six day spree of poofing species into existence. But an old Earth and evolution are scientific facts that form the core principles of biology and geology. All scientific concepts, ideas, and theories are based on those scientific facts. You can't make sense of biology for example, unless you understand and accept evolution. ("Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.")

If Ross rejects evolution and an old Earth then there's something seriously wrong with his science. He doesn't deserve to get the highest degree that a university has to offer. Why is that so hard for people to understand? If science isn't about scientific truth then what is science?

Part of the problem is that people make the common mistake of assuming that science is little more than doing a bunch of experiments and publishing the results in a thesis or a scientific paper. They seem to think that science is all about collecting data and little else. But science is much more than that. You also have to be able to interpret your results and put them into context. You have to formulate reasonable hypotheses, not just test them. In order to interpret your results you need to demonstrate that you understand and accept the basic concepts that have been worked out over many decades by the giants upon whose shoulders you wish to stand.

Of course there's no rule in science that says you must accept the current consensus. Quite the contrary. One of the requirements of good science is that you always question authority and try to keep an open mind. Skepticism goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. But, as the saying goes, your mind mustn't be so open that your brains fall out.

The defenders of kooks will always point to the men and women who led us in new directions and overthrew the reigning consensus. As scientists, we also revere these men and women. The trick is to distinguish the true revolutionaries from the true kooks. We all know the, mostly apocryphal, stories about how they laughed at Darwin. Wegener, and Einstein. We forget that they also laughed at Bozo the clown.

We encourage students, especially graduate students, to come up with new explanations of natural phenomena. Personally, I have a soft spot for students whose intelligence and curiosity leads then to question authority—I'm not as fond of students who simply memorize and regurgitate what's in the textbooks. Questioning is evidence of a working mind.

So, how do we resolve differences of opinion in an academic environment? How do we distinguish between a revolutionary and Bozo? The answer is we fight it out in the meeting rooms and the journals. The weapons are facts and rational thinking. If someone wants to question a scientific consensus then all they have to do is marshal the facts and evidence and present it to the scientific community in a rational and logical manner. If you are successful, then science advances another step and the scientist who came up with the idea gets lots of praise and kudos (and maybe a Nobel Prize).

Of course there's a downside. If you fail in your attempt then you may be branded as a kook unless you recognize that you fought the good fight and abandon your untenable idea. It is honorable to give up when your ideas are shot down. This sort of thing happens all the time. I've had many wonderful ideas that didn't pan out.

Dr. Fastovsky and other members of the Rhode Island faculty said they knew about these disagreements, but admitted him anyway. Dr. Boothroyd, who was among those who considered the application, said they judged Dr. Ross on his academic record, his test scores and his master’s thesis, “and we said, ‘O.K., we can do this.’ ”

... Dr. Fastovsky said he had talked to Dr. Ross “lots of times” about his religious beliefs, but that depriving him of his doctorate because of them would be nothing more than religious discrimination. “We are not here to certify his religious beliefs,” he said. “All I can tell you is he came here and did science that was completely defensible.”
If a student writes a thesis that fails to convince the examining committee then the student fails or re-writes the thesis. This is a normal part of the process. You have to understand that by "failing to convince" I don't mean that the members of the Ph.D. oral committee are instantly converted to the student's way of thinking. What usually happens is that they are convinced that the thesis is a valid scientific idea even though they may not agree.

I don't think people understand this. The thesis and its defense are as much—perhaps more—about concepts and ideas than about data. If you use the world "belief" in this context then, yes, students can be failed for their "beliefs." (I prefer not to use "belief" since it's such a loaded word.) We don't flunk students because of their religious beliefs; we flunk them because their understanding of basic scientific concepts is flawed. If their science is motivated by their religion then that's just unfortunate coincidence. Students who believe in a 10,000 year old Earth should flunk a Ph.D. oral no matter how they came to believe such nonsense. They could be atheists.

What about the second issue that's mentioned above? The Ross case gets complicated because he did not do what any honest scientist should do and defend his "scientific" opinion in public. There's nothing in his thesis about Young Earth Creationism. However, his real views were well known because he had been consorting with Young Earth Creationists for some time. Ross even made a DVD attacking the fossil record. You can see part of it at The Cambrian Explosion, Lecture by Stephen Meyer and Marcus Ross. Incidentally, Marcus Ross comes across as a very well-spoken and knowledgeable young man in this video.

In this situation we have an example of someone who carefully hid his true belief from the thesis committee, or at least went out of his way to give them an excuse to avoid facing up to the main problem. This is deceptive and antithetical to how science is supposed to operate (see Some People Defend Lying for Jesus). It opens a whole other can of worms. While most of us would agree that openly advocating a young Earth in your thesis would be grounds for failure, we couldn't fail someone who effectively lied about his "scientific" opinion. We put our faith in honesty and scientific integrity whenever possible. It's the default assumption.

But here's the rub. Although there wasn't anything in his thesis about a 10,000 year old Earth it wasn't the case that his examining committee was completely ignorant of Ross' true views on paleontology. In fact, they were aware of the history. They knew Ross was a Young Earth Creationist when they admitted him to graduate school and they had no reason to suspect that he had changed his mind.

The bottom line is that faculty of Rhode Island University gave a Ph.D. degree in geology to someone they knew to be a "scientist" who believed that the Earth is only 10,000 years old. Furthermore, they gave a Ph.D. to someone who they knew was deliberately misrepresenting his "scientific" views in his thesis. They had every reason to suspect that this misrepresentation was for the sole purpose of getting the Ph.D. since Ross knew that by being honest about his rejection of a old Earth, he would not graduate. This is a double whammy since not only was Ross ignorant of the basic principles in his field but also ignorant of the principles of scientific integrity.

75 comments:

  1. Great read. I'm appalled by this odd occurrence.
    By the way, is there any investigation or inquiry regarding this matter at the university that "handed out" this PhD?

    Over here in Europe (at least here in Portugal) we have a saying: "Only in America..."

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  2. I'd be interested in your opinion on another case.

    Old earth creationist, accepts evolution fully. Views it as the manifestation in the physical world of the workings of the hand of God. Believes that God imbeds a soul in each human at conception, and that birth defects are divine punishment for the sins of the mother.

    Does acceptable work for a PhD in developmental biology. Do you give it to him?

    I've never been a working scientist, but I find this a fascinating dilemma. I'll admit to a bit of an uneasy feeling that what's being demanded comes a bit too close to a "loyalty oath."

    After all, one could come up with other less clear-cut cases. How would the line be drAWN?

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  3. I agree, this is a tricky case, and it hinges, I think, on our interpretation of the meaning of a doctorate. Does a doctorate signal that one is learned, or does it signal that one personally accepts a certain set of beliefs?

    I lean towards the former, because the latter is too dangerous to admit. If we establish the principle that a doctoral candidate must personally swear loyalty to a core set of beliefs, we betray the spirit of scientific inquiry.

    I would argue that, even if the candidate swears loyalty to the Young Earth thesis, the only factor that should apply to the granting of a doctorate is his grasp of the material. I don't care if he's a mother-stabber, an orphan-eater, or a litterbug -- universities are not in the business of certifying the content of anybody's character.

    The counterargument here is that charlatans will use his doctorate to support their absurd theories, further misleading the public. I reject that argument because science is not a PR business and scientists should not get into propaganda wars. Scientists should simply tell the truth. The public will never fully understand science, and many members of the public will always be hopelessly ignorant. This is bad for society, but the solution lies not in applying loyalty tests to students, but to improving science education.

    The young lady who is angered by this case should calm down. The world is full of charlatans and she should not take umbrage at this one. The fellow will never get a job in a real scientific institution, so who cares?

    Lastly, I have posted some comments in the pieces regarding evolutionary psychology; I'd be interesting in hearing responses to them.

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  4. Scott, your case seems to me completely non-germane to this discussion. Your hypothetical student need not be lying about his research results at all- there are certainly enough Collins-type devout scientists around to show us that the remarkable human capacity for rationalization can allow him to embrace both his religious ideas and his scientific ones with no consciousness of conflict (however incoherent an unsympathetic observer may find his position). In the Morris case we are dealing with a guy whose thesis by his own standards would have to be regarded as a tissue of lies- he presented results while all the while being fully conscious that he didn't actually believe a word of it. Therefore I cannot go along with the instrumentalist defense offered by chepenoyon. We are dealing with a person who is self-convicted of the most flagrant academic dishonesty, which would have amply merited the withholding of his degree.

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  5. Was his Ph.D. thesis itself competent? Does that matter?

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  6. "Scott, your case seems to me completely non-germane to this discussion."

    Not at all. I was looking for a bit fuzzier example. If his work touched on causes for birth defects, there's a very direct comparison.

    For that matter, what about a PhD in cosmology by an old-earth creationist who believed that evolution was a tissue of lies? This comes back to my ending question - where do you draw the line? How directly do the bizarre personal convictions have to impinge on the work before you'd withhold the degree? Czn the beliefs which would justify withholding a degree in one field be acceptable if they don't directly affect the field being studied?

    As I said, it all seems to me to wander a bit too close to "loyalty oath" territory.

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  7. "This comes back to my ending question - where do you draw the line?" At deliberate, conscious dishonesty, as I made entirely clear, and as is unarguably the case with Morris. Why are you trying to confuse the issue?

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  8. Mr. Labonne, I believe that you have overlooked an important datum: that the professor who approved Morris' admission to the PhD program was fully aware of Mr. Morris' religious beliefs. Therefore, it is incorrect to claim that he engaged in deception -- although this case is so odd that I'd like to have some more substantial information. Nevertheless, the claim that Mr. Morris engaged in deception is an assumption on your part that is contradicted by the information available to us.

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  9. Oops. I meant to write Mr. "Ross", not Mr. "Morris". Silly of me.

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  10. Peter McKnight wrote about Marcus Ross in his Vancouver Sun column the other day. See 'Young Earth' creationist stirs a scholarly storm.

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  11. Steve Labonne,

    "At deliberate, conscious dishonesty, as I made entirely clear, and as is unarguably the case with Morris"

    No you didn’t make it clear, because it is manifestly false. Ross engaged in no dishonesty at all. He said, in effect, I’m a creationist, However I’ll do this work from the point of view of conventional science if you give me a Ph.D. His adviser and the committee said yes—end of story. You, and Larry with his breathtakingly stupid analysis, want to make elevate the meaning of a Ph.D. from an award given for the completion of agreed-upon work to a religious anointing for the pure of heart. What complete and total bullshit. Ross’s beliefs are as irrelevant for the legitimacy of his Ph.D. as Sam Harris’s touchy-feely mystical new-age psycho-babble sympathies will be for his.

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  12. Surely the point is this. How is it possible simultaneously to believe the Earth is 10,000 years old and yet also believe that mosasaurs went extinct 65 million years ago?

    Because this issue is central to the work done in his PhD, Larry is absolutely right to raise it.

    The most likely interpretation is that Ross is engaging in some form of religiously-inspired doublethink. Recall from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

    “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth”.

    Would you hire someone capable of such mental gymnastics?

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  13. "Ross engaged in no dishonesty at all. "
    You are using words in some strange Orwellian way. In his thesis he presented, as true to the best of his ability, scientific results predicated on the "scientific
    paradigm" of an old earth, while being quite conscious of firmly disbelieving in the old earth and consequently, in his results. Where I come from that's called "lying". I sincerely hope that I naver develop your "sophisticated" attitude towards the truth.

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  14. I would add that a purely instrumental "understanding" of science reminds me quite a bit of a cargo cultist's understanding of industry.

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  15. The Geosciences department at Rhode Island has a very lowly reputation. Their reputation deservedly will go down a little more after this controversy.

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  16. Steve LaBonne,

    “I sincerely hope that I naver develop your "sophisticated" attitude towards the truth.”

    I don't think there is any cause for concern that you'll develop my attitude towards the truth. By the way, I hope I never develop the gall that you and Larry have to hide (or rather attempt to hide, rather childishly) your hypocrisy behind a veneer of piety. A scoundrel of any flavor is awarded a doctorate if he completes his thesis project without fabricating data or falsifying his analysis. There has never been a requirement that he passes a character test. None. You are inventing one, and only in this case, because you don't like Ross's views. No other reason. Of Marcus Ross, (whose YEC science I detest as even worse crap than what Dembski champions) Larry Moran, and Steve LaBonne, only the latter two are demonstrably dishonest.

    What Ross did is not lying, no matter how many times you repeat the charge. (And even if it were, that wouldn't matter, so long as he didn't lie about his data or his analysis—but for Ross's case we don't need to descend into that more subtle area, because he didn't lie, period.) In fact, you are a shameless liar for calling Ross a liar. Ross accepted a premise for the purposes of solving a problem. Such an approach is more than common. It is perfectly good practice. Good scientists everywhere will sometimes solve problems based on a premise they don't believe, to see where it leads, perhaps to refute the premise, or maybe to see if they might be wrong. Presumably Sam Harris accepted some basic neural science principles even though we know what he really believes, given he wrote "Even the contemporary literature on consciousness, which spans philosophy, cognitive science, psychology and neural science, cannot match the kind of precise phenomenological studies that can be found throughout the Buddhist canon." (The End of Faith, p.217.) I doubt that the scientific consensus among neural scientists is that the Buddhist canon is the seminal text for studies of consciousness, but Harris, like Ross, is entitled to his screwball unscientific views and he gets a degree so long as his actual thesis work is scientifically sound. Ross's thesis, by all accounts, even those of his critics, is sound. The stupidity, bigotry, and dishonesty on display in the unethical attacks on Ross are disgusting. If PhDs could be revoked for character flaws, then you (if you have one, a PhD that is) and Moran would be front and center.

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  17. Yes Heddle, we all realize that you don't think lying counts as long as it's lying for Jesus. (With friends like Heddle, Morris hardly needs enemies.)

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  18. A decently ranked geosciences department would not have admitted this liar, let alone grant him a Phd. The administrators should seriously consider dissolving this half baked geosciences phd program (they can keep the BS and MS programs going).

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  19. Top blog!

    I tend to think he is entitled to his PhD. In other subjects - philosophy, economics, history - putting forward ideas you don't actually believe for the sake of argument is actually approved of. It's difficult to argue why scientists should have to believe their claims.

    One has to assume that Dr Ross will find it hard getting anything published in journals which reflects his true views, and consequently will find it hard getting a job as a proper lecturer/researcher. The only problem is that - no doubt as he planned - he will be able to publish articles and speak on behalf of creationists as an accredited geology expert.

    Often the reason scientists lose debates against IDiots is because of a lack of punch in what they say. So, in the future, when scientists try and discredit Dr Rodd they will end up sounding boring and overly technical.

    Therefore, I think the scientific community should urge the university to issue a pithy, authoritative quote saying that Dr Ross was awarded a PhD despite of - not because of - his young earth views. If this one-liner is whelled out by people arguing against him often enough it might stick eventually.

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  20. "In other subjects - philosophy, economics, history - putting forward ideas you don't actually believe for the sake of argument is actually approved of." Ideas for discussion, sure. Things presented as one's actual research results and conclusions- which are required in a dissertation in all those fields- absolutely not. Where do you get such nonsense?

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  21. It seems to me that if the advisor was aware of this fraud's actual perspective, then the advisor was involved in the fraud itself.

    (I'm going on the premise here that a PhD should not be awarded to anyone under the present circumstances)

    (which is the only justifiable point of view.)

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  22. I was appalled to hear that they granted this git a PhD. But on further reflection, I've mellowed my opinion a bit. At least he was honest about his dishonesty (how's that for hypocrisy?). In my opinion, the real damage here is granting the credentials to his name that will likely be used on popular "science" books and various creationist PR campaigns. In that vein, I think the damage would be greater to *appear* to be requiring loyalty oaths from scientists to get an advanced degree.

    Granted, he was dishonest. One doesn't write a thesis that one thinks is incorrect. There's nothing in my thesis that I thought was incorrect at the time (though now, with more data, I think there are a few things in there that are out of date). Perhaps rather than a loyalty oath, one could require graduate students to sign an honesty statement saying that nothing in their thesis is untrue, to their knowledge? This could function as a way to protect against data fraud, in addition to Marcus Ross' idea fraud.

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  23. I suggest a mental exercise: Suppose that Mr. Ross submits a paper on Mososaurs to a scientific journal. The paper is evaluated by referees who do not know the identity of the author, and who determine that the paper is worthy of publication. Should the editors refuse to publish the paper on the grounds that Mr. Ross does not truly believe what he has written?

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  24. No they shouldn't. (But if I knew about it I'd sure want to replicate his results extra-carefully before relying on them in my future work.) Which has absolutely fuck-all to do with the question of who should receive a Ph.D.

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  25. I should expand on my reasoning. Two completely different questions are at issue. The journal editor is certifying that the paper is OK- that its conclusions are adequately supported by the data, as far as that can be judged by the peer-review process. (And in any case incorrect work, regardless of why it's incorrect, will be exposed and corrected in the normal course of science, unles the field is an absoute backwater where nobody else cares to work.) The Ph.D. granting department is certifying the person as worthy of induction into "the ancient and honorable company of scholars". It devalues the degree and besmirches its own reputation when it fails to exercise due diligence in this process.

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  26. Chepenoyon,

    And how about a theoretical physicist, well versed in string theory and quantum loop gravity, and who believes the first is wrong and the second is right. If he nevertheless realizes he can solve a long-standing string theory problem, one that has eluded researchers for years, should his solution be published? If it is a thesis, should it be accepted? Of course—because apart from those dishonest souls like Moran, Myers, and LaBonne, no one has ever demanded a pledge of allegiance and fealty to the paradigm one adopts for the purposes of an investigation.


    On this same topic, Myers is making statements on his blog worthy of, well, worth of this blog. He wrote:

    "A Ph.D. is not supposed to be earned by parroting back the answers you expect the examiners want -- it is supposed to be earned by doing creative, scholarly work."

    This is a piss-poor excuse for a cogent argument, because Ross did not parrot answers he expected the examiners wanted, he reported on original research. How could he "parrot" answers about new research for which he was the investigator. Garbage from PZ, as usual.

    PZ also wrote,

    " If I'd been on his committee, I would have directly asked him to defend his public statements about the age of the material he was studying—not his statements to his committee alone, but to the public at large. I would have insisted that he defend those comments scientifically. And when he failed to do so, I would have voted to deny him his degree."

    A purely hypothetical scenario that taxes credulity, since it is customary to have, on a PhD committee, examiners who actually do research and publish papers. Blogs and Seed magazine articles don't cut it. So, continuing down this hypothetical path, if I had been Ross's adviser when PZ asked that question, I'd have told him to confine his questions to the quality of the research being presented or sit down, shut up, and stop making an ass of himself.

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  27. David Heddle says,

    A scoundrel of any flavor is awarded a doctorate if he completes his thesis project without fabricating data or falsifying his analysis. There has never been a requirement that he passes a character test. None. You are inventing one, and only in this case, because you don't like Ross's views. No other reason. Of Marcus Ross, (whose YEC science I detest as even worse crap than what Dembski champions) Larry Moran, and Steve LaBonne, only the latter two are demonstrably dishonest.

    I have supervised and graduated Ph.D. students. I have sat on graduate student advisory committees. I have sat on the Departmental Graduate Committee. I have been on many Ph.D. oral committees and chaired dozens of others.

    I believe I have some knowledge of the process and I can assure you that more is required than just avoiding the fabrication of data.

    David, you list yourself as a "physicist." Can you tell me how much experience you have supervising graduate students?

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  28. Rhysickle says,

    I tend to think he is entitled to his PhD. In other subjects - philosophy, economics, history - putting forward ideas you don't actually believe for the sake of argument is actually approved of.

    Not only is it approved of, it's practically a requirement in science. You are obliged to deal with the main counter-arguments to your claim and you are obliged to present the opinions of those who disagree with your hypotheses. In fact, you must present those opinions correctly.

    You are then required to present your own analysis of the problem and defend it in front of your department. At least that's how it works in good graduate departments.

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  29. Greg Laden says,

    It seems to me that if the advisor was aware of this fraud's actual perspective, then the advisor was involved in the fraud itself.

    It certainly looks that way doesn't it? This incident does not reflect well on the University of Rhode Island and its faculty.

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  30. David Heddle says,

    So, continuing down this hypothetical path, if I had been Ross's adviser when PZ asked that question, I'd have told him to confine his questions to the quality of the research being presented or sit down, shut up, and stop making an ass of himself.

    And if I were chairing the exam I would point out that it's up to the chair to make that call and not the supervisor—especially not the supervisor. Furthermore, I would issue a warning to the supervisor not to interfere again and to respect his colleagues. One more violation and I would dismiss the supervisor from the room.

    Many of the rules of the Ph.D. oral exam are put in place with the sole objective of providing an fair exam that is not unduly influenced by the candidate's supervisor. In some cases the supervisor does not even have a vote.

    It's clear from David's comments that he does not understand how the process works at a decent university.

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  31. Larry Moran,

    For 11 years I had a joint position at a world-class national lab:

    http://www.jlab.org/

    and tenure at the next-door neighbor MS granting university:

    http://www.cnu.edu/

    where I supervised six or seven MS students (we had a thesis requirement.) From my contacts at the lab (and from another nuclear physics lab where I worked earlier, at the University of Illinois), I served (as an "outsider" on several Ph.D. committees for research universities.

    I have more than enough experience to know what is demanded of a candidate, and what is demanded is that he or she does original research, can defend it, and can write about it. We don't get to ask: "Hey Sam Harris, will you tell me about these strange things you believe regarding eastern mysticism?"

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  32. If Sam Harris's thesis was on some subject relevant to his ideas on eastern mysticism (say, if he were getting a theology degree), he'd damn well better be able to discuss the subject with his committee. Saying, "I hold opinions on the subject of this very examination which I will share with reporters, employers, and students, but will not discuss with my examining committee" is pretty much an act of intellectual cowardice and would be reason to refuse him any honor.

    Asking Ross about eastern mysticism in his exam is off the table. Asking him to explain his ideas about the age of the earth? Pretty much required.

    I'm not talking about a character test, or a pledge of obedience to belief. I'm talking about the ability to evaluate fundamental concepts in the chosen field of study.

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  33. I haven't seen enough of Ross' statements to really get a handle on this. Does he deny or distort the facts that tell us the earth is very old and how life developed? Or does he simply maintain that the earth must be young despite the evidence?

    YEC is factually indefensible, so I'd be fascinated to see how he answers questions such as why mosasaurs are only found in Cretaceous strata, and why these strata consistently date from 100-65mya.

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  34. I can acknowledge the weight of the argument that granting a PhD constitutes a certification of the scholarly merits of an individual, and that as such, it is wrong to grant a PhD to one who denies a universally-accepted truth. Yet I remain very nervous about embracing this as a principle. What's to stop a faculty member from voting to deny solely because the candidate refuses to accept the faculty member's pet theory? This is dangerous territory, which is why I lean toward giving the Rhode Island faculty a pass on this one.

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  35. Oh my dear scientific friends!! What immeasurable and irreversible damage hath my fellow philosophers of science wrought among you?? I'm afraid this really is the fault of the Kuhnians and Feyerabendians. Has Methodological anarchism infested even the Ph.D awarding process in the hard sciences?? I give up. If there's no truth, there's no hope.

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  36. I've been in a few prelim exams as the supervisor of the student myself, many more as one of the committee, and I was also, of course, tested in one of those exams.

    A really good way to scuttle a student is for his supervisor to try to take over and answer the questions. I was in one like that. The impression you get is that the student doesn't know anything. He failed.

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  37. Hey, here's an interesting suggestion for you Americans living in the States: over here in Europe (well, in Italy, where I am, at least), every examination is an oral examination with candidate, committee and NO supervisor. Yes, there are some tricks and manipulations of even this system. But, don't you think it would have been substantially more likely that a fellow like Morris like this would have been tripped up and his wacky ideas exposed far, far earlier in the process than at the doctorate level!! On the other hand, very few doctorates are awarded to Italian in Italy. They almost all have to go to the US or UK, etc., because the university system is basically a mafia-controlled "cupola". Ah well....just thinking out loud.

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  38. The Ph.D. is not a reward for having written a thesis. It is a certification by the degree-granting department that the recipient deserves recognition as a practitioner in that field. The successful completion and defense of the thesis is just one part of the path to a Ph.D. In spite of satisfying the thesis requirement Ross is not qualified to practice geology because he does not show the least understanding of the scientific method which is the bedrock of his field. And the cornerstone of that method is assertion that geologists (chemists, biologists, ...) entertain theories based on material explanations and data which can be experimentally verified by anyone with the expertise to do the experiment. This is not a "loyalty oath", this is how science works. If a person doesn't agree with this methodology they can go and invent their own discipline. Certain simple, yet crucial, questions should have been posed to Ross. Does he think that the question "How old is Earth?" has a unique answer: not a unique answer within a given paradigm (yikes!) but just a single answer. How old does he say Earth is? If he says 4.5 My at his defense then why does he say it is 10000 y at other venues? What is his geological proof that it is 10000 years old? Etc. If he subscribes to the multiple answers to the same scientific question, if he feel that he can tailor his professional answers to his whim, if he cannot support the young Earth hypothesis with the tools of his profession, then he is not qualified to be called "Dr" of geology. Based only on what I have read in the papers his professors knew what the answers to these questions would be. They, in my opinion, deliberately avoided asking those questions because they were afraid of the controversy which would attend not awarding Ross his Ph.D. And they are, in my opinion, academic punks. "Never be it said that my thoughts are [their] thoughts." (Sophocles)

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  39. Steve LaBonne: Where do I get such nonsense? I dunno... probably somewhere in my brain. Where do you get your friendly demeanour?

    Larry: Thanks for the considered answer, sensitive to the fact that not everybody with an opinion is an expert on PhD award panels.

    I still think he should keep his PhD though. The very fact that such a debate is raging here shows that, even among those awarding PhDs, what is to be expected as far as belief of one's own thesis is concerned is not obvious. If it was obvious, and being stripped of a PhD was the expected consequence of denying your thesis, then I doubt Mr. Ross would have been so brash about it.

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  40. Just a fe more comments:

    This is a process that varies between institutions. But what is held in common is that the process is not allowed to complete (the award of the PhD) for anything less than several key elements. The candidate has to have knowledge and understanding that is at least as great as any member of the committee ... the candidate has to make an original contribution, new research, new data/analysis/etc. ... and the candidate has to have the ability to demonstrate breadth and true command of the subject of the thesis and the topical areas the thesis incorporates.

    This students thesis held on it's own is not sufficient to obtain a PhD.

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  41. The meaning of my previous comment (sorry, I got distracted ...) is that if this student is really a young earth creationist who also wrote what we can call an old earth thesis, it is unlikely that they have the intellectual power to really earn a PhD. The process should not have gotten as far as it did.

    I think most (or all) of us who have sat on numerous PhD committees are sitting here wondering what went wrong here...

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  42. At least this clown has settled at a "university" where the amount of damage he can do in the alleged name of science is limited by the fact that anyone matriculating there is already a lost cause, and probably has been since around the age of two. Then again, if he could blend in at a real university and get away with teaching YEC to non-brainwashed students, he'd probably try.

    More than anything else, I wonder what will happen at URI in terms of the number and quality of students applying to its doctorate geoscience program(s). There aren't a whole lot of people in academia who have not taken notice of this. If these faculty members knew what Ross was about and handed him a PhD. anyway, fine; but ye reap what ye sow, and any negative publicity the department gets as a result is well-earned.

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  43. ChepeNoyon asks,

    What's to stop a faculty member from voting to deny solely because the candidate refuses to accept the faculty member's pet theory?

    Integity, and five or six other members of the examining committee.

    We deal with this all the time. Students are already being flunked for failing to measure up to the standards required for a Ph.D. That's what makes the Ross case so outrageous. Many students have failed for showing a much better understanding of science than what Ross demonstrates.

    The only reason Ross gets a pass is because of the religion complication. It's not fair to other students.

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  44. Yet I remain very nervous about embracing this as a principle. What's to stop a faculty member from voting to deny solely because the candidate refuses to accept the faculty member's pet theory? This is dangerous territory, which is why I lean toward giving the Rhode Island faculty a pass on this one.

    Absolutely not. This is not a system where we have to, say let a few criminal free in order to never accidentally execute an innocent person. It is more like making a car that has the parts it needs to run and the safety features in place. If when we get near the end of the assembly line there is stuff missing or not working, we can take a little longer and make it work.

    It is absolutely possible for a faculty member to vote do deny for in a limited, narrow way. However all the systems I've worked in have assurance against that. One person cannot single handedly stop a PhD from getting awarded. You need a consensus to go, and you need a consensus to stop, pretty much.

    It's also pretty rare for someone who should not be awarded a PhD to get this far along that it hangs on the thesis. Students who get to full candidacy and well into their thesis often don't graduate but it is almost always imply because they don't finish. I find it hard to believe that this particular situation did not present itself much earlier in the process. It makes me wonder what the motivations of the faculty are in this case.

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  45. Isn't requiring a specific religious view to award a degree a form of discrimination? If it isn't, please explain. He demonstrated an understanding of the material. Understanding does NOT require agreement.

    Einstein once said of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, "God does not play dice with the universe!" Here we have him invoking the name of a supernatural being and disagreeing with what is now considered scientific fact. I guess we need to reconsider Einstein's PhD. We need to 'very carefully consider' everything he wrote because he is some kind of religious freak. Just to be safe, we should probably revoke his nobel prizes also. Science might well come to an end if we don't.

    Right or wrong, YEC is very easy to defend if you are willing to include an all-powerful creator (as the chistian faith does, in case you hadn't heard).

    Since christian bashing is kind of popular in these parts, lets pretend he was a muslim instead.

    "Mr. Ross, you are on record as saying you are a muslim fundameentalist. Is this correct?"

    "Yes it is," he resonds.

    "We're sorry, but we can't award a PhD in geology to muslim fundamentalists because we can't believe a man of science would be stupid enough to believe that garbage."

    HMMMMM.... THAT's going to work out really well, don't you think?

    I know a lot about Star Trek. I can make accurate predictions about who is going to die in an episode I have never seen. That doesn't mean I believe it to be real, but it doesn't make me wrong when I say that Security Officer Jones' only line will be 'Captain, I found an AAaaiiiiieeeeee!"

    There is no shortage of kooks with PhDs, and there won't be if aliens come and kidnap every person who ever earned or awarded a degree in the United States (its not 'only in America...its about humanity, not geography, and educated people should know this).

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  46. What's to stop a faculty member from voting to deny solely because the candidate refuses to accept the faculty member's pet theory?

    Integity, and five or six other members of the examining committee

    Uhm yeah....because people with PhDs have a certified and measurable amount of integrity, and are screened to make sure it is up to standards before being allowed to make a decision.

    Let's not forget when you get a GROUP of people (even 5 or 6) making a decision, you can be absolutely certain than politics and pet theories won't come into play.

    And you think his faith in a 10,000 year old earth is naive.

    Sorry, but that's crap, and you know it.

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  47. Verlon syas,

    Uhm yeah....because people with PhDs have a certified and measurable amount of integrity, and are screened to make sure it is up to standards before being allowed to make a decision.

    That's correct. The system tends to select against people who lack integrity. By the time someone is qualified to sit on a Ph.D. oral committee they've jumped many hurdles.

    Professors aren't perfect, by any means, but they do have a great deal of experience in trying to be fair and impartial. This is one reason why the Ross case is so unusual. The system seems to have broken down at the University of Rhode Island.

    Verlon, I don't know how much experience of university you've had but it must not have been very enjoyable if you distrusted your teachers as much as your comment implies. That's sad. I feel sorry for you.

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  48. PZ,

    “If Sam Harris's thesis was on some subject relevant to his ideas on eastern mysticism (say, if he were getting a theology degree), he'd damn well better be able to discuss the subject with his committee.”

    Sorry, not good enough. If Harris wrote that he likes to relax using transcendental meditation, and enjoys seeking out Britney Spears during his out of body experiences, and has a personal guru-mystic in whose school he diligently studies, that’d be one thing. But he argues that Buddhism has cornered the market on substantive contributions to the study of consciousness, dwarfing what the neural scientists, cognitive scientists, and psychologists have to say, and his academic area is neural science. His position is, if anything more relevant with respect to a science degree than it is for a theology degree. (Keep in mind that I wouldn’t ask him about it because, unlike you, my position is self-consistent: a PhD is all about the work.) This puts Harris in the same position as Ross. The free pass you give Harris is simply further proof that your argument against Ross is not really based on some enlightened view of the academy; it’s just your everyday, garden-variety, low-brow, trailer-park mentality bigotry.

    PZ,

    ”A really good way to scuttle a student is for his supervisor to try to take over and answer the questions. I was in one like that. The impression you get is that the student doesn't know anything. He failed.”

    That’s true if the question is about content. It is not universally true. During my defense, the outsider (a chemist) asked a really dumb question. When I paused, searching for a polite way to say “that’s a dumb question,” my adviser spoke up and said something the gently sent the same message. I’m sure no member of my committee viewed that as a sign of weakness—just an awkward moment diffused by my adviser. Likewise, if you asked Ross about his beliefs, rather than waiting for him to be forced to tell a professor to shut his pie-hole, I’d do it for him, if I were his adviser.

    Larry Moran,

    ” We deal with this all the time. Students are already being flunked for failing to measure up to the standards required for a Ph.D. That's what makes the Ross case so outrageous. Many students have failed for showing a much better understanding of science than what Ross demonstrates.

    The only reason Ross gets a pass is because of the religion complication. It's not fair to other students.”


    Larry—I’m not sure you have ever demonstrated any critical thinking in your writing. Are you just a stream-of-consciousness sort of guy? The theory that Ross is getting a “free pass” (With free passes like this, who need criticism?) is too asinine to warrant a response.

    Naturally your other point is also wrong. As teachers and professors the way we evaluate a student’s understanding of science is by exams. This imperfect method is still the best. Here is the truth of the matter:

    Ross understands geology better than you do.

    You believe the earth is old in spite of not understanding the details of the science that makes the case. Ross believes in a young earth, in spite of the fact that he understands the science. That renders him unfit to be a scientist, as far as I’m concerned, and I would certainly never hire him to teach, but it doesn’t change the fact that he understands it better than you do, nor does it provide any basis for denying him a degree—only employment. If we had a panel consisting of Ross, you, PZ, and presumably all those mythical flunked students whom you allege have been treated unfairly because of Ross’s “Free Pass for Christians” (what nonsense)—it would be Ross who could best, with scientific accuracy, precision, and full understanding, answer the question: please explain the evidence, and the science behind the evidence, that supports a roughly 4.5 billion year age for the earth.

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  49. "Ross understands geology better than you do." Ross showed that he can mouth the words. If that is your definition of "understanding", then a cargo cultist understands industrial capitalism.

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  50. Steve LaBonne,

    "Ross showed that he can mouth the words. If that is your definition of "understanding", then a cargo cultist understands industrial capitalism."

    That's a load of crap. If, for the sake of argument, we accept the simplistic view of Einstein's take on quantum mechanics, then at some point of his career he both understood QM and yet didn't believe it. I say he gets an A+ because he can surely solve all the QM problems you threw at him; he doesn't fail because he heppend to think that QM's indeterminacy is a fatal flaw. Or would you argue that he should fail QM because he was just "mouthing the words?"

    In the same way Ross can understand Geology without believing it. The distinction is beyond obvious—but a bigot is always willing to ignore the 500 pound gorilla.

    It's not "mouthing the words." Maybe those were the only kind of exam you could pass, but I am sure Ross had to solve problems throughout his academic career. Problems in the sciences cannot be solved to the satisfaction of a professor by "mouthing the words." Problem solving demands understanding, but it doesn't require affirmation.

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  51. Ross understands geology better than you do.

    Once again - Ross is a young earth creationist, he believes the earth is less than 10.000 years old.

    Clearly he doesn't understand geology at all!

    Its not a question of religion, its not a question of discrimination.

    He is simply wrong. If he claims that the facts support a young earth then he is wrong. The claim is factually false. It shows he doesn't understand the first thing about geology.

    And if he simultaneously claims that a species became extinct 65 million years ago, and that the world is less than 10.000 years old, then he is lying.

    So he doesn't understand geology, even though he may be able to parrot it. And he claims one thing in his thesis, and another thing publicly. Thus he is a liar.

    /Soren

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  52. I don't need to respond to Heddle's latest drivel because anonymous beat me to it.

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  53. If Einstein had made a thesis for his Ph.D in the field of quantum mechanichs, at the same time stating in other forums that QM was a load of bull, and factually wrong, then he shouldn't be awarded a Ph.D

    Why do you think it should be different just because he's Einstein?

    It's not a matter of you having to accept a certain belief, but you can't argue one position in your thesis, and simultaneously declare that this position is false. That is unless you put this in your thesis.

    The scientific process is used to gain new knowledge. A thesis should introduce new knowledge. If you use a position you think is utterly wrong in your thesis, then you cannot have as a goal to find new knowledge. You are just too intellectually lazy and dishonest to try to defend your own position, so you parrot something you do not agree with.

    Surely you must agree that Ross must always have felt that the thesis was pointless and irrelevant, just a means to an end. Since he didn't believe in the basic assumptions he used, none of his conclusions or observation must be trustworthy to him.

    Honesty should compel him to declare this out in the open, both in the thesis, and at the defense. Instead he shut up, wasting his own and the committy's time for a useless exercise.

    /Soren

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  54. I read someone else who said "This is about the philosophy of science, and it is not the business of insitutions or committes to dictate the philosophy of science to candidates". And I see some dancing around this issue here on this post.

    So that would mean that Ross was an anti-realist of the instrumentalist stripe (to be most generous). If this were only the case I would probably be forced to agree that he gets a pass. And shame on the advisor and committee members anyway.

    But Ross has shown that he is NOT an anti-realist. He does believe there is an objective reality: the earth is less than 10000 years old. And Larry is right: That is not a sacred or out-of-bounds religious belief, because it doesn't matter why he thinks the earth is that young, atheist or zarathrustrian or whatever. It is a batshit idea that is the conceptual foundation for his science.

    And for that he gets flunked. Heddle you as usual are way off the mark.

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  55. If one of my students were flouncing around at quack meetings saying things that directly contradicted their dissertation research I'd can them. There are too many other good candidates out there.

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  56. Anonymous,

    "If Einstein had made a thesis for his Ph.D in the field of quantum mechanichs, at the same time stating in other forums that QM was a load of bull, and factually wrong, then he shouldn't be awarded a Ph.D"


    Let me get this straight—

    Suppose Von Neumann wasn't around and Einstein, not believing in QM, nevertheless wrote a brilliant, important Ph.D thesis which put QM on firm mathematical footing (what Von Neumann did.) You would deny him his PhD? If so, you're a fool.

    You wrote

    "Surely you must agree that Ross must always have felt that the thesis was pointless and irrelevant, just a means to an end."

    Probably—and he certainly wouldn't be the first to think so. Especially the "means to an end" part. This fantasy world where graduate students are "pursuing science for the unimpeachable reason of furthering knowledge and world peace" is made up by Moran et. al. as a soap box from which they can attack Ross. Almost every graduate student in science views his PhD work, probably in large part, as a means to an end. For example, they want to be a professor.

    "Honesty should compel him to declare this out in the open, both in the thesis, and at the defense."

    Bullshit. He was honest and did declare it (not that that was necessary, but it was commendable) in other venues. For his thesis, all that is required is that he explain his assumptions, (not whether he believed them or not) his methods, his data, his analysis, and his conclusions. Nothing more.

    " A thesis should introduce new knowledge."

    Agreed, and presumably Ross's did—regardless of whther he thought so. Presumably any of us who agree with Ross's assumptions (old earth) would agree that his thesis work resulted in new knowledge. The fact that Ross himself may not think so is irrelevant.

    "It's not a matter of you having to accept a certain belief, but you can't argue one position in your thesis, and simultaneously declare that this position is false. That is unless you put this in your thesis."

    Says who? Where is that written in stone? Anyone is entitled to take a model, run with it, and write a thesis. In my hypothetical example, we would welcome Einstein rescuing QM even if he didn't believe in it.

    Erasmus,

    No, in this case, unlike others where I am just given my opinion, I am demonstrably correct. That is, unless you can produce documented requirements, in place at the time, for a PhD at URI that would allow you exclude Ross. I'll make a bet you don’t find anything related to "anti-realists of the instrumentalist stripe." I'll make it easy and settle for one that states: "You must firmly believe and affirm that the paradigm from which you wish to base your thesis work represents absolute truth."

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  57. As long as he says what they want to hear, give him a Phd. It doesn't matter if tomorrow he presents a paper to a YEC publication that the Earth is only 6000 years old, as long as he gave a good thesis.

    I don't see why everyone else can't see it's absurd to give a scientific degree to the unscientific.

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  58. Verlon said:
    "Right or wrong, YEC is very easy to defend if you are willing to include an all-powerful creator (as the chistian faith does, in case you hadn't heard)."

    That's not science. That is religion. Give him a theology degree.

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  59. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this...

    Suppose I'm a Creationist who just fell off the turnip truck and landed in front of the Geology building at Local U. I've got a vague notion that everything dates back to the Flood. If I dig a hole in my backyard, there's a chance that I'll find the skeleton of a human inside the skeleton of a mosasaur inside the skeleton of a nephilim.

    So I wander into the Geology 101 classroom and hear a lot of stuff that upsets me. But it's OK; after class I log onto some Creationist websites and learn things like, "Carbon-14 dating is inaccurate! The rocks are used to date the fossils and the fossils are used to date the rocks!" And I notice that my professor is just repeating what's in the textbook; he isn't showing me any direct evidence. So I decide that the textbook is based on a bunch of faulty assumptions, but I memorize them and pass the class.

    But suppose I hang around and take higher-level classes. Eventually I start seeing direct evidence, and I see that the "faulty assumptions" somehow have predictive power. The Creationist websites aren't any help; they don't discuss things at that advanced a level.

    So maybe I assume that the direct evidence is being manufactured by some vast conspiracy. But now I'm in graduate school, and nobody's invited me to join the conspiracy or even hinted that it exists. Sometimes they let me help them do research, but they use my actual results instead of telling me what results to make up.

    So maybe God in his infinite wisdom did an odd set of miracles during the flood. A particular rock would only be 4000 years old, but God gave it an "apparent age" of 50 million years, and for some reason certain types of fossil are only found in rocks with that "apparent age".

    But that's not compatible with YEC. YEC says that there's solid evidence for a young earth, and that this is obvious to any unbiased observer. There's no way I can reconcile the evidence I've seen with the YEC theory.

    All that being the case, I've got to assume that Ross' dishonesty is going in the opposite direction: Ross did honest research and legitimately earned his PhD. Now he's going to cash in on it by peddling lies to the creationists.

    I imagine that his lectures will be along the lines of, "Well, I've seen all the evidence for the standard model of Geology, and I understood it well enough to parrot it back and get a PhD. And I can tell you that it's all unbelievable nonsense. Carbon-14 dating is unreliable! And how can mountains be created by the random movement of tectonic plates? That violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics!"

    It does seem a shame that Rhode Island U got tricked into helping him set up his con game, but I'm not sure how that could have been prevented. (I assume they required some sort of Scientific Ethics class, so they at least exposed Ross to the idea that being a con artist is wrong.)

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  60. Suppose Von Neumann wasn't around and Einstein, not believing in QM, nevertheless wrote a brilliant, important Ph.D thesis which put QM on firm mathematical footing (what Von Neumann did.) You would deny him his PhD? If so, you're a fool.

    I think we have to look at the structure of the argument.

    Einstein would have started by saying: "If QM is true, then certain experiments will produce the results predicted by these equations."

    He could have continued: "Of course, I think QM is false, so I assume that the experiments will produce different results and disprove QM." In that case, sure, he gets his PhD.

    Now, what if experiments had already produced the results predicted by the equations?

    He could have said, "I think the assumptions behind QM are a convenient fiction. They're not literally true, but assuming that they're true gives us an accurate-enough model to predict the results of those experiments. We'll need to do more research to find out what's really happening behind the scenes." He's still entitled to a PhD.

    Or he could have said, "Well, it's true that the QM equations have accurately predicted the results of these experiments. And the classical equations predicted a completely different set of results. But I still think classical physics is correct." In an ideal world, he wouldn't get a PhD and we'd all be allowed to punch him in the mouth for wasting our time with his nonsense.

    Don't you agree?

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  61. I agree that a PhD is more than making a thesis, but I still can't see how to make a general lithmus test beyond defending it. As always there are some leeway, so as erasmus says one can choose the able people before or after the PhD if one wants. (Ethical codes should help, especially in a litigious society.)

    Some bemoan the philosophical influences of Kuhn and Feyerabend, but the bounded rationality of Ross is the usual religious divide. I think Ross shows very well why it is an inferior view.

    ""What's to stop a faculty member from voting to deny solely because the candidate refuses to accept the faculty member's pet theory?"

    Integity, and five or six other members of the examining committee."

    I haven't the experience of some here who has sat on committees, but politics complicate things in real life. I know an example where the department chair worked against a supervisor. Or at least the supervisor supposed so for good reasons and had an agreement with his candidates to work extra hard to be able to pass.

    As I said above, there are some leeway, outside the supervisor role even. But it isn't always a good thing.

    "Einstein, not believing in QM"
    It is a bad choice to claim that Einstein didn't believe in QM for two reasons.

    First, he was very supportive of it. His Nobel prize was awarded for the photoelectric effect, for one. He made many direct and indirect contributions to QM, such as classic atomicity and QM for gases, QM for radiation, the wave-particle duality, the EPR paradox.

    Second, Einstein never rejected QM as false, he thought it was incomplete and sought a larger theory. As a scientist can do, and exactly what Ross is impotent to do.

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  62. Mazement,

    Your analysis ain’t worth the pixels used to display it. If our hypothetical Einstein and his hypothetical committee agreed that, should he succeed in placing QM on firm mathematical footing, he would get a PhD, then he’d get a PhD. Furthermore, they would be overjoyed to give it to him for such an achievement, so beneficial to science, and presumably so beyond their own abilities. And they'd give it to him even if he went on Letterman and stated "I'm sure it doesn't represent physical reality, I think it's just mathematics. I just did it because I had to do something and that problem was sort of interesting."

    Torbjörn Larsson

    When I introduced the “hypothetical Einstein” analogy it was with the statement “If, for the sake of argument, we accept the simplistic view of Einstein's take on quantum mechanics, then at some point of his career he both understood QM and yet didn't believe it.” What’s the point of nitpicking over what the real Einstein believed about QM? It certainly was the case that he, at least at first, did not believe the Copenhagen interpretation—but at any rate it was meant as an illustration.

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  63. If our hypothetical Einstein and his hypothetical committee agreed that, should he succeed in placing QM on firm mathematical footing, he would get a PhD, then he’d get a PhD.

    If PhDs were given out on that sort of work-for-hire basis, then, yes, he'd get a PhD.

    But as several people have pointed out, getting a PhD is supposed to require an understanding of the field.

    Not believing in QM is one thing...but what if Einstein insisted that the Classical equations were correct, while simultaneously admitting that the Classical equations produced demonstrably incorrect results? We'd have to question the depth of his understanding. At the very least, I'd encourage him to put his thesis defense on hold until he'd taken a nap and figured out what he was trying to say.

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  64. Believing something is human, and just as much part of science as non-science. The basis of belief is the real question. The thing about non-science is that you hold the view that arbitrary fantasy or make-believe is valid.

    In science, arbitrary make-believe is not valid because it is, a-priori, unable to be falsified and is indistinguishable from any other of an infinite set of made-up fantasies.

    Creationism is not science because it holds that life began because of... (insert arbitrary fantasy here). Whereas evolution boils down to life became what is is via a natural processes, the primary one being natural selection acting on inheritable variations.

    In effect, the creationist statements can only become science if they take out all the hokum, but if they do that, they are just left with evolution.

    Any "explanation" or hypothesis that contains make-believe clauses can always be adjusted to suit facts.

    E.g. [me to creationist] The galaxy is more than 100,000 light years across. So how come we don't see the stars "winking on". [creationist] God created it that way with the light on its way. Etc...

    In my opinion, people dismiss Karl Popper's ideas on falsification too readily becasue they focus in the succession of theories. Whereas in fact, the idea is a powerful tool for locating non-science poppycock inserted in to otherwise "apparently reasonable" hypotheses.

    I think we should call it Popper's Razor - If a hypotheis contains bits that are make-beleive, then it isn't a scientific hypothesis because it can never be falsified.

    A sceintific hypothesis, on the other hand, is still "scientific" even if it is wrong.

    In that regard, make-believe does not have to explicitly involve religion. Einstein was scientifically skeptical of an interpretation that invoked a "spooky" action at a distance. In that regard, he can beleive that some aspect of QM interpretation is wrong (Bohr's Interpretation) and still not be inconsistent. In contrast, duality and many-world explanations are far more dubious becasue they contain made-up elements that get to "explain" everything. All this stuff about "if you look at an electron it collapses the wave function" smacks of an explanation that can be conveniently adjusted to suit facts.

    I think these latter theories have persisted because they are quite literally "un-falsifiable".

    Why is QM the way it is? Beats me.. should still be the honest answer of scientists.

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  65. David:

    Sorry about a late reply.

    "What’s the point of nitpicking over what the real Einstein believed about QM?"

    The point, which I should have made explicit, was that the argument used Einstein to suggest that this happens to important scientists. It remains to be shown.

    John:

    I agree that Popper is more important than philosophers usually think. Not every claim of a theory need to be testable, in the same manner as not every object in a theory need to be real. But if there is no predictions to test at all, or no real element at all, the theory isn't acceptable.

    "I think these latter theories have persisted because they are quite literally "un-falsifiable"."

    None of the acceptable interpretations are falsifiable, since the differences hasn't yielded testable predictions yet. But there are some differences that could possibly be exploited. Decoherence has advanced the area somewhat.

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  66. This story just goes to show that any Dr. is just another story of their own creation be it that they are parrots of others or a voice of their own . A fake that can jumble words to make what eva up for profit is a disgrace to humanity. We know what makes sense to existence in this world and to not live for truth is to live for the demise of truth..

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  67. seems to me that the ignorant ones here are moran & steve. are they so insecure about their own faithlessness that they are threatened by the fact that scientific thinking & process is understood by, God forbid, someone who just might believe in God & is not ashamed to say so? do they not know that the skill of understanding what you don’t necessarily believe in, the ability to see somebody else's view that can be drastically different from ones own, is in fact the art of learning? i have to pitty you and those who think like you - you must not have had decent teachers in all your years of phd collecting to really understand what earning a phd really is about; however, i'm comforted by the fact that some of your responders do know what learning is all about... kudos to them!

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  68. Let me get this straight.

    1. Marcus Ross, in order to achieve his PhD in science produces a thesis that is (presumably) consistent with well-established scientific consensus and therefore the conclusion that the Earth is far older than he believes it is.

    2. The RIU committee awards Ross a PhD in science based on his thesis and an oral examination which presumably demonstrated his mastery of the field to their satisfaction.

    3. Ross acquires a position as "Assistant Professor of Biology" at Liberty University (run by Jerry Falwell), "where he teaches a Christian version of Earth Science and a required course (CRST 290) on the History of Life."

    Hmmm. One has to wonder. Just what motivated Ross to bother obtaining a PhD in a SCIENCE that furnishes abundant and overwhelming evidence that completely contradicts his own beliefs? Why isn't his faith sufficient validation for his belief in Young Earth Creationism? If it isn't, does he expect to find scientific evidence to support YEC? If he conducts research with a preconceived aim to validate the "hypothesis" of YEC, would he expect his PhD to validate his interpretations of such evidence as scientific?

    Whatever the immediate issues revolving around the academic or ethical relevancy of his beliefs in the decision made by the RIU committee to award him his PhD, a more pedestrian take on this sordid tale easily detects the odor of a hoodwinker whose alleged mastery of the science camouflages a much superior and sinister mastery in deceit. Science and ethics are NOT well served. Shameful. Only in America indeed.

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  69. "Even the Devil can pose as an Angel of Light"

    Ross would doubtless deny he's emulating the Father of Lies, but it's hard to refute the sin of not following JC's maxim "Let your 'yes' be yes, and your 'no' be no. Anything else is of the Evil One."

    Scientific integrity be damned! First and foremost, this guy's a sinner! ;-)

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  70. "do they not know that the skill of understanding what you don’t necessarily believe in, the ability to see somebody else's view that can be drastically different from ones own, is in fact the art of learning?"

    This is a misunderstanding. You are referring to the act of analyzing arguments. Learning in science is so much more, and the achievement of knowledge is based on accepting facts.

    Since Ross didn't do that he can never be a good scientist, and that concerns Larry and Steve and many more. What we argue is how to make the process not only produce valid science but valuable scientists.

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  71. Should Francis Collins the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute have to resign? He is a believer in theistic evolution and said in his book The Language of God that " The god of the Bible is also the God of the genome"

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  72. Peter Brown asks,

    Should Francis Collins the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute have to resign? He is a believer in theistic evolution and said in his book The Language of God that " The god of the Bible is also the God of the genome"

    There's a big difference between Collins and Ross. Collins does not deny any of the basic facts of science. Ross does.

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  73. Folks, for a bunch of scientists, I'm shocked you can't even read an article and remember the name of the central character. His name is Marcus Ross, not "Morris"!

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  74. Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge" or "to know") is the effort to discover, and increase human understanding of how the physical world works. Through controlled methods, scientists use observable physical evidence of natural phenomena to collect data, and analyze this information to explain what and how things work. Such methods include experimentation that tries to simulate natural phenomena under controlled conditions and thought experiments. Knowledge in science is gained through research.
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    Dhananjay

    Rhode Island Drug Addiction

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  75. roopa says,

    Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge" or "to know") is the effort to discover, and increase human understanding of how the physical world works.

    I disagree. Science is a way of knowing that uses rationalism and evidence to understand anything that humans are interested in. It is not restricted to the "physical" world if by that you mean that the arts and humanities are off limits.

    As far as I'm concerned there isn't anything that can't be investigated using the scientific approach. This includes religious claims.

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