Friday, April 04, 2008

Michael Egnor Gets It Right

 
Michael Egnor has posted a number of quotations from me about how I would deal with people who don't understand the basic principles of science [Dr. Larry Moran and Censorship of Intelligent Design].

He get it mostly right. If they are undergraduates who don't understand that evolution is a scientific fact, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, then they flunk the course. If they are graduate students in a science department, then they don't get a Ph.D. If they are untenured faculty members in a science department, then they don't get tenure.

Readers might be amused at Michael Egnor's comments regarding Kirk Durston. It's further proof that IDiots are irony deficient. (Note that Kirk has not accepted my invitation to give a seminar here in the Biochemistry Department. I guess his "courage" has limits.)
Why should Mr. Durston’s willingness to present his scientific evidence for intelligent design to other scientists require courage? Isn't the presentation of evidence a routine part of science? Why should presenting evidence for intelligent design put Mr. Durston’s "scientific reputation on the line"?
Are you listening Kirk? Michael Egnor M.D. wonders why you don't come here and defend your evidence that protein folding demonstrates the existence of God.

I gave you two dates last November: you can give a seminar on Tuesday April 22nd or Tuesday April 29th.


13 comments :

  1. What an honor!

    You have drawn the attention of the Egnorant One.

    Just thank Zeus that you aren't one of his patients . . . dreadfully ill while he consults his Wholly Babble for guidance.

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  2. Larry, may I ask you some questions about this?

    I'll preface my questions by saying that I understand from statistical studies in genomics that humans and chimps most likely share common genetic ancestors. And I believe that humans and chimps share common genetic ancestors.

    Here are my questions:

    1)How do you define "scientific fact"?

    2)How do statistical studies establish scientific facts?

    3) Are freshman students in science classes at your university told on the first of class that proficiently working with scientific evidence is not enough if they don't believe that humans and chimps have common genetic ancestors?

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  3. james goetz asks,

    1)How do you define "scientific fact"?

    Something that is so well supported by evidence that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.

    2)How do statistical studies establish scientific facts?

    I don't understand the question. It's a fact that if one parent has O blood type and the other parent is AB then the probability that a single child will be AO is 50%.

    Is that what you mean?

    3) Are freshman students in science classes at your university told on the first of class that proficiently working with scientific evidence is not enough if they don't believe that humans and chimps have common genetic ancestors?

    No. Instead they are told to be honest and truthful when they answer exam questions. They are also told that if they get the facts wrong they will fail the course.

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  4. How do statistical studies establish scientific facts?

    In various ways. Observations and theories deals with ensembles (such as biological populations) and usual statistical methods apply. For example, as theories makes predictions you can in principle make an hypothesis test against a certain area's standard.

    In medicine/biology your populations often don't separate well, so you have account for that. In physics it is easier; common standard is 3 sigma uncertainty for a prediction to be established beyond reasonable doubt. (And 5 sigma for standalone observations that will extend current theory, and often an unspecified amount more if it breaks it.)

    I'm not sure why you ask though, as methods improve as we accumulate knowledge. There is no absolute about this part of science; but we can in principle (and often in real life) quantify uncertainties.

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  5. James Goetz,

    Get this thing about "belief" out of your frame of reference. It is immaterial and irrelevant. We don't according to beliefs, we simply follow conditioned responses. You don't "believe" in evolution. You simply act in ways that conform to the implications of evolution. But of course, since in our rather brief lives, we are never going to have an opportunity to test every one of our beliefs, we invent stories to rationalise our actions. A guy like Egnor - though not a scientist, simply a tinkerer, does exactly that. There are 100s of things we do regardless of our 'beliefs'. People who don't jump off a high cliff to the ground, don't behave thusly because they "believe" in Newton's Laws. It is the fear of sure pain that keeps us from doing it. Similarly Egnor for all his prattle follows evolutionary principles in his work, because he knows if he doesn't the consequences may be so bad that he would be disbarred from practice.

    Larry, maybe Egnor isn't an IDiot, he's just Egnorant!

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  6. I agree that students should flunk, graduate students shouldn't get degrees, and non-tenured faculty members shouldn't get tenure if they disavow the facts of evolution. They are either incompetent or dishonest. I also understand why tenure should allow for more latitude, but surely there are limits. Are you saying that's it will be okay for a tenured faculty member to say anything, regardless of how incompetent, because there are just too few to worry about? That it's better to just tolerate these few cranks than challenge the whole tenure precedent?

    But you would agree that disavowing the facts of evolution makes you a crank, regardless of your station in academia. Correct?

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  7. Don asks,

    Are you saying that's it will be okay for a tenured faculty member to say anything, regardless of how incompetent, because there are just too few to worry about? That it's better to just tolerate these few cranks than challenge the whole tenure precedent?

    Yes, that's what I saying.

    Once you have jumped through all the hoops you are granted the right of academic freedom. If academic freedom means what it says then we have to put up with all the bad apples as well as the good ones.

    But you would agree that disavowing the facts of evolution makes you a crank, regardless of your station in academia. Correct?

    Yes. Just because tenured Professors have academic freedom does not mean they are immune from criticism and ridicule.

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  8. I'm not sure it's a good idea to invite these cranks to present at your university. Yes, they will make fools of themselves and will utterly fail to convince intelligent people of their nonsense. However, the problem is that this establishes their claim that there is "debate" over ID at the university level.

    I don't believe denialists should be debated. The appearance of a debate is really their only goal, as their non-explanatory theories have no practical utility and will ultimately fail on the merits. So why grant them their wish? The appearance of legitimacy of an invitation to present at a university only serves their goals.

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  9. Looking forward to Kirk responding to your offer!

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  10. Did Egnor blatantly reorganize your quotes in order to strengthen his position? In my eyes, it looked as though you were saying that it is unfair to flunk those who admit to not buying into evolution, because there are those who will act as if they believe it just to get a passing grade.

    When Egnor reversed the order of your statements it made it sound as though you do, in fact, flunk anyone who believes in a god.

    I agree with everything you said in your post, as well as in the follow up comments, by the way. Just checking if Egnor, once again, showed his phobia towards telling facts.

    DS

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  11. Mark,

    "The appearance of legitimacy of an invitation to present at a university only serves their goals."

    Actually, I usually would agree with this, but there is a special case where these kind of invitations are a good idea. Namely, when the IDists are attempting to sell their nonsense with a ridiculous conspiracy-theory about being stamped out of academia and persecuted. Such an invitation undercuts the whole message.

    I think it's important to avoid conferring legitimacy onto cranks, but the specific actions that accomplish that vary with the PR tactics the cranks are using. While the PR tactics of the IDers lean heavily on propaganda like Expelled, a very visible case of a declined invitation could be very helpful.

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  12. Larry, the answer to your question is "no". I mean research that includes statistical inferences. For example, we could study a sample of children who have one parent with O blood type while the other parent is AB and do a statistical test to see if 50% of the children have AO, not that the research would be worth anybody's time. On the other hand, I learned about my common genetic ancestry with chimps and slime molds by examining statistical studies in population genetics and molecular evolution. Eight credits of freshman biology in the early 1980's gave me a great overview of evolution, but I had no working knowledge of evolution until I worked with the molecular statistical studies.

    And I also guess that statistical inference helps us to estimate the age of the universe, the sun, and the earth. But I don't have a working knowledge of those estimates while I have faith (Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.) in the scientists who made the most recent estimates for the respective ages.

    Again, I ask you, How does research with statistical inferences establish scientific facts?

    And you paraphrase the late Stephen Jay Gould when you define "scientific fact". I like Gould's writings, but I need to know more about the scientific criteria that decides, "Something that is so well supported by evidence that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." May you be more specific about this criteria?

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  13. James Goetz,

    Is there anything we design or make that requires us to take into account that the earth is >4 billion years old? But your experimental work is another matter. Even then if you can conjure up something like the "demon theory of friction" described here by Mano Singham
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/5rxuke, you can get away with your ad hoc gibberish. Egnor's problem lies deeper. He has almost no understanding of life sciences. He seems to have stopped learning biology after he took his MCAT. If he were ever deposed or X-examined in court he would fare v.poorly. Behe is dishonest, Egnor isn't - he just doesn't know.

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