Thursday, April 03, 2003

Has Commentary Lost its Mind? The April issue of Commentary magazine features the article "A Scientific Scandal" (not available online) by David Berlinski. The article claims to expose a systematic campaign of distortion regarding the article "A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve." Written by biologists Dan-Erik Nilsson and Susanne Pelger, the article, which appeared in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, attempted to calculate an upper limit on the time required for the major features of the vertebrate eye to evolve from a simple, light-sensitive patch of cells. Their calculation yielded an estimate of slightly less than 400,000 years, vastly less than the time available for such a structure to evolve. This constituted a major blow to the anti-evolutionist claim that there has not been sufficient time in Earth history for the evolution of such a complex structure.

Berlinski claims "...I suggested that Nilsson and Pelger's arguments are trivial and their conclusions unsubtantiated. I also claimed that representations of their paper by the scientific community have involved a serious, indeed flagrant, distortion of their work." People with some experience reading the literature of pseudoscience will immediately recognize such hyperbolic sentiments as coming straight out of the crank playbook. In fact, Nilsson and Pelger's article represented a significant advance in our understanding of the plausibility of evolving an eye by Darwinian means in the available time. None of Berlinksi's major arguments withstand scrutiny. I will have more on this later, but for now it is enough to wonder why Commentary, once a reliable source of sensible conservative thought, has decided to make itself a platform for pseudoscience.


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