Monday, February 14, 2005

The Washington Times Backs Sternberg. Surprise!

The Washington Times is well known for the rightward bias of its reporting. So it is no surprise that they would give highly sympathetic coverage to Richard Sternberg, the disgraced former editor of The Procedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

As I have previously mentioned (see here and here, Sternberg has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Council alledging religious discrimination by the Smithsonian Institution. Sternberg's supervisor at the Smithsonian has categorically denied the charges. That is all we know for the moment, a fac that hasn't stopped countless right-wing and Christian bloggers from running with the story.

The Times article mentions early on that the Smithsonian denies the charges. But from there it does everything in its power to imply that Sternberg is the aggrieved victim. For example:

Mr. Sternberg said his troubles started after the appearance of the August 2004 issue of the journal, which included a peer-reviewed article by Stephen C. Meyer. The article, titled, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” made the case for a theory known as intelligent design, or ID.

ID contends that the origins of some biological forms are better explained by an unspecified intelligent agent than by natural processes, such as natural selection and genetic mutation, which are hallmarks of Darwinism.

Actually, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that “an unspecified intelligent agent” is superior even to total ignorance as a possible explanation. More to the point however, there are serious questions about how above-board the review process was. The fact that the article was sent to three reviewers (as will be mentioned in a later paragraph from the article) is suspicious in and of itself. It's very unlikely that a small journal like PBSW routinely goes to such lengths. It is almost certainly the case that the three reviewers were chosen specifically for their sympathy to ID and not for their scientific credentials. I suspect that Sternberg sent the paper to so many people just so he could later brag about the extensive peer-review of the paper. The fact is, if he sincerely believed the paper needed serious scrutiny, it becomes hard to understand why he never mentioned its existence to anyone else on the editorial board.

In his report, Mr. Meyer, a fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, argues that ID is a more likely explanation than evolution for the biodiversity in the Cambrian period about 530 million years ago. He points to the “explosion” of phyla, which “suddenly appeared within a narrow 5- to 10-million-year window of geological time” during that period.

“To say that the fauna of the Cambrian period appeared in a geologically sudden manner ... implies the absence of clear transitional intermediate forms connecting Cambrian animals with simpler pre-Cambrian forms,” Mr. Meyer wrote in his defense of ID.

Of course, the specific claims made by Meyer in his article have no relevance to an article about Sternberg's travails. But if the article is going to discuss specific scientific assertions, it really should have quoted someone pointing out that Meyer is simply wrong here. For one thing, there are a respectable number of clear transitional forms linking the Precambrian to the Cambrian. See this essay by geologist Keith Miller for details. Also, there is the fact that the Cambrian explosion spanned a period of at least ten million years. Even by geological standards that's a long time.

The fact is that the Cambrian explosion is only a problem for evolution in the sense that there are many possible explanations for it, but insufficient data for deciding between them. In reality, the Cambrian explosion is just a talking point ID folks can use to sound scientific when addressing lay audiences; audiences that often include sympathetic right-wing journalists.

The report was “peer-reviewed” by three outside scientists, Mr. Sternberg said, “but employees at the Smithsonian, who had a sharply negative reaction to the report, insinuated that editorial malfeasance occurred on my end. I protested vigorously.”

See previous paragraph.

He says he gave up his post as managing editor of Proceedings in September but continued to be harassed by Smithsonian officials. Mr. Sternberg says he was penalized by the museum's Department of Zoology, which limited his access to research collections and told him his associateship at the museum would not be renewed because no one could be found to sponsor him for another three-year term.

Note the clear implication that Sternberg resigned his editorship in response to harassment from the Smithsonian. In reality, his term as editor was simply up. We should also remind everyone that Sternberg's supervisor has specifically denied the allegation being made here.

The article prattles on like this for a few more paragraphs. The next time you hear a right-winger blubber about left-wing bias in the media, keep in mind that the article above is their idea of fair and balanced journalism.


At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think you would be hard pressed to argue that “an unspecified intelligent agent” is superior even to total ignorance as a possible explanation"

I wish I knew why. The computer I'm using to send this to you is less complex than the computer in the cell, and that cell appeared on the first day, 4 billion years ago, working as a full blown computer. If I suggested this computer on my desk evolved, there's not a person who wouldn't say it was crazy. But, to find another computer, with the same functions, everything a computer does, that's more complexly assembled, and assume it's also designed, you don't think there's any value in noting that? Why not?

At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Anonymous poster who said "the cell, and that cell appeared on the first day, 4 billion years ago, working as a full blown computer"

No it didn't and evolutions don't say it did. By the way, are you serious about the phrase "the first day"? Come on.

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a mind is formable, it is young. The education of children form critical beliefs that will stay with them throughout their life. It is difficult to convince people to change their beliefs, even if they have no proof for them. I beleive in the wind, but I can't prove to someone it exists unless I take them to experience it. Likewise, I can't convince that intermediate fossil life forms exist, because no one has ever found one. It is peculiar that in defense of this, the essay referred to in this blog, to 'prove' intermediates, does no more than physcobabble double-talk about how "To use an illustration given by Denton, triangles and quadrilaterals have clear typological definitions and are easily separated into two classes of geometric shapes. Now, if one side of the quadrilateral were reduced in length by infinitesimal amounts until it was only two geometric points wide, it would still be a quadrilateral by definition although absolutely indistinguishable from a triangle. The most conceivably gradual transition has been made, yet typologically there were no intermediates!" So, with this analogy, I am supposed to believe by the absence of intermediate shapes, then there must be intermediate life forms. Even though the analogy ends up saying there are still two shapes, nothing evolved.... hmmmmm. It is just that since it looks like a dog, barks like a dog, eats like a dog, mates like a dog, and has more dogs like a dog, that is is really a rabbit, that looks like a dog.

I was not around when it all began, and I will not agree that science can prove anything by using large words, and confusing speech.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger bio-enquirer said...

Darwin defers to God Darwin writes in his Origin of Species -:
“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances … could have been formed by natural selection, seems I freely confess absurd in the highest degree …”
After a bona fide attempt to explain the eye Darwin writes “… may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass as the works of the Creator are (superior) to those of man?”
(from Origin of Species, Charles Darwin :: Chapter VI, Difficulties of the Theory)

My 14 year old son attends a regular secular school in North Alabama. In my sons Biology text book which is generally really good and thorough on most subject matter such as Genetics and hereditary etc. - it says…
“Divergence of organisms and thus speciation may not occur smoothly and gradually. Indeed the fossil record suggests that rapid speciation may be the norm rather than the exception. The fossil record seems to indicate that many species existed without change for long periods of time.”

Are we now confessing and couching the (scientific) observation that it actually looks like creatures were created?
Sounds like the theory of evolution is the only thing evolving here. So much for Darwin’s gradual changes over eons of time! that our first Biology books pushed.
OK, if your theory seems to be sinking -Just define new terms and conditions - then anything is possible.
You know that we cannot always determine what fittest really means? Is fittest bigger, stronger, faster, or even “prettier?”.
No-one really knows except God, and there is no rule that always covers all the specimens for all the species.
SO, — Same text book, — let’s add weight to an evolving science! this text book defines 3 natural selection terms - 1.Stabilizing selection (average trait wins out) , 2. Directional selection (extreme trait wins out) and 3. Disruptive selection (opposite extremes win out).
So now whatever the observation occurs in nature - the winner must fit into one of these categories and you can say ” you see evolution at work -that was Disruptive selection at work. -Whoops , new results just in - looks like the winner was actually average size — Oh okay - you see evolution at work again - this was a classic example of Stabilizing selection, critical as you see to the evolution of some creatures.!!!??

And just to make sure you don’t start asking questions about all this - a few pages later - a graph of Degree of change vs. Time in millions of years for 2 imaginary species - looks like a straight line about 30 degrees and a wavy line for the other species oscillating over the first line - with the so-called “critical Thinking question” asked ….” What kind of evolution does the curve for species A represent?” - and also “Are the overall rates of change different for species A and Species B”. - You know - which color car then shall we order for you sir, blue or red?

A little really critical thinking shows that the concept and word evolution is being pushed - but like a leaking boat it just doesn’t seem to want to hold water any longer.

Dear scientific thinker, this an interesting theory for true critical thinking that’s had me thinking about it for 40 years. BUT, just like most academic exercises its value is in stimulating thought more than actually explaining life, existence or anything else for that matter. It’s important that this is underscored or at least contrary theories be also submitted to the class. -Hey! I thought the Scopes trial was just to give evolution a little room in the class - d’ya think Creationists can get a foot in their door ?

References:pp. 306-308 Disruption of Genetic Equilibrium, Graph p.315 –Book: Modern Biology, Holt, Rinehart and Winston. (c)2002

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing how some people are so proud of their ignorance and lack of understanding, and bizarrely try to use that as proof that they are right.

Scientists use big words and they confuse me, therefore those PHD biologists are wrong when they write about evoution. Quote: "I will not agree that science can prove anything by using large words, and confusing speech." Yup, and the same goes for quantum mechanics and relativity. Them sciamatists use big words like "entanglement" and confusing speech like "frame dragging" just to try to bamboozle us.

And then we have wildly ignorant claims that intermediate fossil forms have never been found. Virtually every fossil is an intermediate form between some older fossils and newer fossils (or between an older fossile and some currently living thing). The only fossils that are NOT intermediate forms are the very oldest fossils, and the last fossil in a line that went extinct. Just go to a damn decent natural science museum and LOOK at strings of intermediate form fossils lined up in beautiful and indisputable strings.

And then we have someone who picked up their child's simplistic highscool level intruduction to biology and didn't understand it, and then proceed to make the bizarre argument that we can observe multiple catagories of evolutionaly change, and somehow thinks that proved evolution doesn't happen? WTF? We observe multiple cataorgies of X, so X doesn't happen. And by that logic chemistry is wrong also: Chemistry says that carbon can form into graphite and also says carbon can form into diamond. And because we actually observe both, chemistry is wrong. What bizarre logic.

This same poster also seems to have a problem with reading comprehension. He quotes Darwin (clipping out the easy explanation of the evolution of the eye) and cites "may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass as the works of the Creator are (superior) to those of man?" This poster apparently did not understand basic english, that Darwin was saying the (clipped) explanation of the evolution of the eye is (or should be) a clear and easily believable explanation of how evolution can and does create things of "divine" quality. Darwin is saying evolution is the mechanism God used to create the complexity and diversity of life on earth, just as optics is God's mechanism for rainbows, and nuclear fusion in teh sun is God's mechanism of "let there be light" for teh earth, and a sun-centered solar system with a spinning earth is God's mechanism for dividing the light from the dark (day from night).

This poster, like most anti-evolution idiots, apparently has the absurd and false notion that evolution somehow conflicts with god, that evolution somehow equals atheism. Evolution is a proven fact, and evolution is simply one of many mechanisms going on in the universe. It takes astounding hubris for someone to define God in his own image, for someone to FORBID GOD to have used evolution as His chosen natural mechanism for teh universe. A perfect creation universe that can itself produce the sun and the earth and light and rain and rainbows and the diversity of life. A single perfect creation following natural laws and natural mechansisms producing everything He wanted. Gravity and optics and relativity and chemistry and quantum mechanics... all acceptable natural mechanisms by which the universe operates... but for some bizarre reason randomly picking biology to invent some stupid and nonexistant conflict between God and science. No different than the middle ages idiots who inveneted a stupid conflict between God and science when Galileo said the earth moved around the sun.

Andone who claims there is a conflict between God and evolution is an idiot trying to tell God how He is and is not permitted to run His universe.

At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got to ask . . . When did Darwin's theory of evolution become a proven fact? The last writer must be unto some facts that us poor souls are not privy to Geeze, I wish I was part of the elite. In the meanwhile, I think I might look up the definitions of 'theory' and 'fact' I'd also recommend that some other individuals do the same.


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