The Fair Treatment of Intelligent Design

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Ben Stein’s propaganda flick Expelled comes out today. Since other people have hashed the film to death, I won’t write about Expelled except to make the following observation.

This is a graph showing the number of technical publications indexed in PubMed under the search terms “evolution” and “intelligent design”. I threw in a third search term, “biochemistry”, just to give a sense of how evolution sits relative to another large research field. Basically, the graph measures the productivity of a field in terms of scientific publications. In 2007, scientists produced 17 technical publications every day that employed or tested some aspect of evolutionary theory.

See the blue flatline at the bottom? That’s the productivity of intelligent design. It is dead weight.

The point of Expelled seems to be that intelligent design proponents are being treated unfairly. I don’t agree. They’re being treated about as fairly as one would expect for people that have produced no tangible results. If they want equal time in the classroom, they’ll need to put in equal time at the lab bench.

(And what’s with the death spiral of biochemistry 1995-1998? Did all those folks start keywording with proteomics? Can we expect Ben Stein to narrate a movie lamenting the surpression of biochemistry?)

10 thoughts on “The Fair Treatment of Intelligent Design”

  1. Did all those folks start keywording with proteomics?

    “Molecular biology”, I’ll bet.

    Sadly, I think Ben & Co. would turn your stats to their profit. “Of course intelligent design has no productivity, as measured by those who benefit by making sure that the rules of measurement exclude ID.”

    As I’m sure you know, most argumentation in this world is based on persuasion, not analysis – and especially not analysis based on the principle of falsification. If this were not so, OJ Simpson would be behind bars today. Analysis based on falsification (one way of talking about the “scientific method”, I guess) is, I propose, an “iron curtain” preventing people with sexy but doubtfully workable ideas from making money off of them.

    Fortunately for Ben & Co., the scientific method is hard to master. Most people can’t get their heads around it, or won’t try. This circumstance opens the door for those who argue by persuasion. Which works well in the arts and in politics, where “he who shouts loudest has the floor”, and the winner stacks the house with loyalists to his ideology. Whether or not it actually works, Mr. President.

    The productivity that matters to Ben & Co. is the 75%(!!!) of Americans who assert that some form of creationism should be taught in American public schools. Which means that, once again, evolution will be gutted in, or pulled from, America’s science textbooks. Ben & Co. will have succeeded, once again, in pinning the label of Frankenstein on the one segment of humanity that has the analytical tools to pull that humanity out of the various planet-threatening messes that it’s gotten itself into.


  2. Good job on the graph, and good points. I’m a fan of ants (and spiders and dragonflies) myself. I’m glad to see the film is being panned.


  3. You make an interesting point here. The greatest weakness of the ID camp is their lack of foundational research. I am sorry to have offended you with my post, although I think you misunderstood my point. I have added a sentence for clarity.

  4. By the way, your photographs are really awesome. My wife and I were admiring them. I also like the name “myrmecos,” mostly since I know what it means, but not because I’ve ever studied ants, just Greek.

  5. Yeah, I’d have to agree that ID hasn’t been a particularly productive theory, and that it’s really not clear that it could be. Evolution provides a lot of general framework that becomes useful for asking and answering many other scientific questions. I do think ID asks some interesting questions, specifically, “Is it possible to scientifically determine whether an organism has been designed?” However, to me it’s really unclear whether this question could ever be answered, and it doesn’t seem likely to lead to much more fruitful research.

  6. I would apologize for cluttering your blog, but now that I’ve found it (via your comments on consanguinity), i will probably subscribe because it is rather fascinating. I will apologize for not having a blog where you might reply to any of my opinions. I read faster than i write, and don’t really have anything interesting to say. my email address is correct though, should i err.
    there is no polite way that i have found to tell someone they approached statistics wrongly. A good deal of the past 4 years of my life has been given to the study of how to correctly apply statistics to reality in order to gain something that is, if not true, honest. please spend the time to study the correct use of statistics, or do not use them. I would pick the later, because bugs are far more interesting than statistics. After all, you have a fascinating blog, and i don’t.

  7. My sense (and I can’t say this for sure) is that many folks who really do believe in Intelligent Design (in the sense that there’s a God behind creation) are embarrased by the folks who are on the forefront of the ID side of the debate. These people really do believe that the Bible is God’s truth (or perhaps they adhere to another theistic belief), but they are not stupid and realize that science of course can’t be all wrong. They believe that the truth of science will one day fully coinicide with the truth of the Bible and look for ways to find compatabilty. For example, man of the ID folks are also “young earthers,” who are adamant that the world was created in 7 24 hour days. But this has not been the position of many many of the church leaders through the centuries and of many thinking Christians today. There’s absolutely no reason to interpret the Bible this way and there is plenty of Biblical evidence (let’s start with the fact that the sun and moon don’t appear til the fourth day, so what lights separated day and night before? not necessarily any 24 hours… not to mention that the word often translated day can also be translated age…). It’s a shame to me that the more strident members of both sides of this argument are who we hear in the public squre, when there is in fact a middle ground that few hear or know about (like the physics professors who had a great impact on my faith).

  8. Since Cheno is so knowlegable about statistics, perhaps he can enlighten us as to where Alex used statistics in the post, and offer suggestions for improvement? All I see is data presentation.

    I don’t think its clear that much is ecology, evolution and other biological fields are really just applied statistics. For example, I have taken more graduate level statistic coursework than graduate level biology coursework during my tenure as a grad student.

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