2010 has come and gone: the year of the iPad, the year of the drama surrounding Wikileaks, the year I first gained university access to scientific papers… But what happened in the intelligent design movement during that fateful year? Did anything important happen to the Discovery Institute, the infamous Seattle-based ID think tank?
I’ll be going back through the Internet archives to find out what 2010 held for the ID movement, what “research” was published, what books were released, what lawsuits exploded, among other things. I wrote a similar piece on 2009 a year ago, but this one will be slightly different – I won’t be going through the year by month, I won’t be touching on everything that happened, only the important things, and I’ll be breaking the piece into a series of blog posts, not just one massive one.
So, where shall we begin? Ah yes, the research.
It’s important to note here that none of the papers published by intelligent design proponents in scientific and philosophical journals in 2010 were actually proper pro-ID papers, in that they didn’t offer positive evidence for intelligent design and instead all attacked evolutionary theory, which is a useless tactic in the scientific community, where competing hypotheses must stand up on their own independent from each other.
The biggest research news, arguably, from the Discovery Institute in 2010 was the opening of a new pro-ID, peer-reviewed online journal: BIO-Complexity. I did some research last year into its board of editors, the people designated the task of peer-reviewing articles wanting to be published in the journal, and found that all of them (with one vague exception – a scientist from Europe whose ID views I couldn’t discover) were at the very least sympathetic to intelligent design, with a lot of them outright active proponents of ID. Unbiased peer-review? I don’t think so.
However, as biased as the editorial board turned out to be, BIO-Complexity published only four papers in 2010, all of them, as mentioned, failing to provide positive evidence for ID, deciding to attack evolution as a substitute.
Douglas Axe authored the first paper, entitled The Case Against a Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds, and argued that known evolutionary mechanisms can’t account for the adaptive, functional evolution of proteins. But there is no explicit mention of ID anywhere in the paper, raising questions about why Axe couldn’t have simply tried to get the paper published in a proper journal, which would have increased the scientific credibility of his conclusions. No one in the anti-ID community felt that the paper should be taken seriously, given the context in which it was published, lacking proper scientific checks and balances.
The same goes for the second paper, Reductive Evolution Can Prevent Populations from Taking Simple Adaptive Paths to High Fitness, authored by Ann Gauger, Stephanie Ebnet, Pamela F. Fahey and Ralph Seelke, about a population of E. coli with a doubly-mutated tryptophan synthesis gene failing to evolve back tryptophan synthesis even given a gradual pathway for that evolution. Of course, the paper has nothing to do with intelligent design, with the ID community relying on the implication that, because evolutionary mechanisms failed this apparently simple task, ID is the only other logical alternative.
But the Gauger et al.’s paper isn’t all that revolutionary, it simply demonstrated that evolution sometimes doesn’t work the way you would expect or would like it to, dumping what we would intuitively expect to be the most desirable outcome – regaining tryptophan synthesis – for an immediate fitness gain – inactivating the non-functional tryptophan gene because of over-expression. But again, it’s unclear why it wasn’t submitted to a real journal, given that it doesn’t mention ID.
The third paper published in BIO-Complexity in 2010 was A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information, authored by George Montañez, Winston Ewert, William Dembski and Robert Marks, a critique of the evolutionary algorithm ev. I’m not familiar with evolutionary computing at all so I can’t really comment on the paper’s contents, but again: it doesn’t mention intelligent design, so why wasn’t it published in a proper journal? Dembski’s previous work on evolutionary algorithms wasn’t exactly held in any high regard, so it’s hard to imagine the authors justifying their decision by appealing to the sense of prestige the paper would bring to the new journal.
The fourth and final paper was The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Population, authored by Douglas Axe, bringing the proportion of BIO-Complexity papers written by the managing editor up to 50%. The paper is a critique of Michael Lynch and Adam Abegg’s 2010 paper1 on the population genetics of complex adaptation. Like I’ve said before, there’s no real reason I can think of for Axe to publish this in a 0 Impact Factor journal like BIO-Complexity, especially when he’s critiquing the work of major names in the field. However, I have had personal confirmation from Michael Lynch that he will be responding to Axe’s paper in the near future, and I look forward to what wil result.
So that’s all the papers from BIO-Complexity out of the way, but what about other papers that the Discovery Institute promoted as ID breakthroughs into the academic literature?
Michael Behe made waves in the ID community (and nowhere else) when he published a literature review in The Quarterly Review of Biology about adaptive evolution in bacteria and viruses, entitled Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and “the first rule of adaptive evolution”. The paper didn’t mention ID (of course, as it was published in a proper journal), but was nonetheless trumpeted by ID proponents everywhere as the best thing since sliced bread. It was also widely criticised by the anti-ID community, with some pointing to Behe’s omission of eukaryotic evolutionary mechanisms, others to his omission of some bacterial evolutionary mechanisms, and others taking a holistic approach to his failures.
Behe clearly tried to extrapolate far too much from his literature review, something that the ID community has not yet admitted. And the fact that it didn’t mention ID? “Bah, inconsequential!” they most likely exclaimed.
William Demsbki, Winston Ewert, George Montañez and Robert Marks authored a paper back in April of 2010 in Proceedings of the the 42nd Meeting of the Southeastern Symposium on System Theory (a very obscure journal) entitled Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle, investigating Richard Dawkins’s WEASEL evolutionary simulation from his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker. Needless to say, it wasn’t pro-ID, or even anti-evolution, taking issue only with Dawkins’s simulation. If the WEASEL simulation doesn’t properly map to real evolution by natural selection (which it doesn’t) then Dembski et al.’s paper wasn’t really news to anyone. And guess what? Nobody paid any attention to it, for at least two reasons – I’m sure you know what they are.
Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig published a paper (accepted March 2010) in the journal Floriculture and Ornamental Biotechnology entitled Mutagenesis in Physalis pubescens L. ssp. floridana: Some Further Research on Dollo’s Law and the Law of Recurrent Variation, which mentioned ID in a positive light, but failed to justify said light. I’m actually not going to talk about it in any detail, because I already have. Also, the title of that post is my favourite pun of 2010 – I still don’t know how I came up with it.
The last paper I’m going to mention is Information and Entropy — Top-Down or Bottom-Up Development in Living Systems?, authored by Andy McIntosh in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics. Along with Lönnig’s paper, it is one of only two supposedly pro-ID papers from 2010 that explicitly mentioned intelligent design. It’s a silly paper about “intelligence”, “engineering”, “top-down processes” and the like. No wonder no one in the anti-ID community took it seriously. In fact, no one really mentioned it. Was it because of its appalling quality, or because we’re all scared of its implications and hope it will fade away? You decide.
So, that’s all the papers that were published within the intelligent design movement last year. If there were any more, the Discovery Institute didn’t mention them, and if they didn’t mention them then they really don’t matter, to be honest. If Casey Luskin thinks a “pro-ID” paper isn’t worth writing about, he probably found it scrawled on the wall of a public toilet behind a church.
None of the papers made a proper case for intelligent design, most of them were published in obscure journals, and most of them were anti-evolution, not pro-ID. The intelligent design community really didn’t accomplish a lot in terms of research in 2010.
In the next post in this series, I’ll be looking at the lawsuits that took place around intelligent design in 2010. Fun times!
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