David Berlinski dropped my name into one of his “interviews” on ID the Future. Of course, he manages to get things wrong, even in what appears to be intended as humor.
Of course it helps to be financed by secret Christian oligarchs …
… You’re not serious …
Of course not. If the DI had the kind of money that its critics suppose, do you think I would allow Steve Meyer or Bruce Chapman to appear in public in those frumpy suits of theirs? It’s the opposition that is well-funded. I happen to know that Talk Reason maintains a secret account at Smalto’s in Paris. Word is that Wesley Elsberry has just ordered suiting in a mink-worsted blend …
First stop: consider “If the DI had the kind of money that its critics suppose”. This states that “critics” have gotten this wrong. Since I’m the only critic who is mentioned by name in the passage, one might get the notion that Berlinski believes that I have gotten this wrong. Well, let’s have a look at what I’ve said about Discovery Institute funding.
In its latest come-on for money, the Discovery Institute makes a claim:
Our budget is a fraction of what pro-evolution groups have to spend, and the mainstream media are largely hostile and biased on this issue.
So I thought that I would have a look at the Form 990s for 2003 of the DI and the pro-science 501(3)(c) that engages the DI, the National Center for Science Education.
In 2003, the Discovery Institute reported $4,233,814.00 total revenue, $3,544,031.00 in end-of-year assets, and $2,499,077.00 total expenses. Of those expenses, $338,977.00 went to officers and directors, $627,285.00 went to other salaries and wages, and $122,809.00 went to travel. (In 2002, I noted that the DI could cut its travel budget in half and fund a research study. I’ll note that $60K is the level of funding for some NSF postdoctoral research fellowships.)
For comparison, let’s look at the figures in 2003 for the NCSE.
In 2003, the NCSE reported $659,270.00 total revenue, $540,943.00 in end-of-year assets, and $658,841.00 total expenses. Of those expenses, $122,040.00 went to officers and directors, $230,380.00 went to other salaries and wages, and $16,803.00 went to travel.
The DI is composed of more than just the CRSC , though, I’m sure someone will point out. But the claim that the CRSC is financially at a disadvantage seems bogus to me. First, to make any sense of the claim made at all, one would have to go beyond NCSE’s budget and include groups whose stated purposes are far broader than defending the teaching of evolutionary biology in science classrooms. In that case, the same argument that would be deployed to say that a fraction of the DI’s reported budget is involved in the EvC issue would also apply to any group outside of NCSE that opposes them as well. It’s tough to figure out what might be meant by the vague basket of “pro-evolution groups”, but mostly groups that have something to do with evolutionary biology simply aren’t putting much, if any, effort into combatting antievolutionist outfits like the DI CRSC. That job primarily rests with NCSE, whose budget is, as the official tax documents relate, much less than that of the DI CRSC, contrary to the original claim. Second, the DI CRSC is but one of many antievolution organizations whose malign purposes are backed by big cash flows. Look at Answers in Genesis, who reported total revenues of $9,016,228.00 in 2003. There are many antievolution groups raking it in, but only one NCSE.
So, is David Berlinski claiming that the DI filed fraudulent Form 990s with the IRS, or is it possible that he, once again, is having his mouth run on autopilot about things that he doesn’t actually know anything about?
I’ve already addressed “It’s the opposition that is well-funded” in part above. Let’s move on to “I happen to know that Talk Reason maintains a secret account at Smalto’s in Paris. Word is that Wesley Elsberry has just ordered suiting in a mink-worsted blend.” OK, let’s have a moment of chuckling for the funny. All right, that’s enough. Here, again, Berlinski’s lack of familiarity with facts leads him to a flat-out erroneous claim. Well, two, but I wasn’t counting the non-ordering of the whimsical “mink-worsted blend”. The “Talk Reason” domain is owned and operated, as I understand things, by a rich fellow who happens to be a friend of Mark Perakh. That doesn’t mean that I get a penny from the “Talk Reason” administration, and so far as I know, I have not. I wouldn’t complain if “Talk Reason” decided to keep me in “mink-worsted blends” and other, more practical goodies, but so far they haven’t so much as offered to buy me a beer.
I am associated with the TalkOrigins Archive Foundation (TOAF), a 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in Texas. We don’t have an account, secret or otherwise, at Smalto’s in Paris. We don’t have a secret account. In fact, all of our organizational documents are publicly available on our website. That includes budget and finance information. The TOAF total income after expenses for third quarter 2005, the most recent statement up so far, was $139.32. Yes, the decimal point is in the right place. (If that disturbs any readers, please feel free to make a donation to the TOAF.) If I were leaning toward “mink-worsted blend”, I don’t know whether that would cover the cost of a handkerchief or not. Besides which, I’m sure that rest of the board would not approve that sort of thing as an expense.
Look again at the numbers for the Discovery Institute’s budget in 2003. Over $627K went toward “other salaries and wages”. The DI CSC is well known to provide several Fellows with fellowships. Back in 1999, those were $40K per Fellow per year. Compare that $627K for one budget line of the DI report to the less than $660K total budget in the same year for NCSE. Does NCSE dole out any $40K fellowships? No. Does the TOAF dole out any $40K fellowships? Ya gotta be kidding. By comparison to NCSE and the TOAF, the folks who pay my salary and the folks who pick up the web-hosting tab I run up each year, respectively, the DI is Mr. Moneybags. Come off it, David; that claim of yours is incredible in several different meanings of the word simultaneously. Unless, of course, you want to go with the “The DI lied to the IRS” line I mentioned above, in which case I’ll leave it up to you to explain why they would put in a report that seriously inflated their reported worth.
Update: Here’s another gem from Berlinski…
The ID movement in its attack on Darwinism has simply articulated what many people instinctively feel. Darwin’s theory is plain nuts. It is not supported by the evidence; it has no organizing principles; it is incoherent on its face; it flies against all common experience, and it is poisonous in its implications.
And another thing. It is easy to understand. Anyone can become an evolutionary biologist in an afternoon. Just read a book. Most of them are half illustrations anyway. It’s not like studying mathematics or physics, lot of head splitting stuff there.
Hmm, let’s see, how about this book:
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection by Ronald A. Fisher, a variorum text of the 1930 and 1958 editions. Rather more equations than illustrations here. And lest someone accuse me of cherry-picking, this book is one of the foundational documents of the entire Modern Synthesis, the body of knowledge that Berlinski would rather mock than learn. It’s probably the most important of the foundational documents of the Modern Synthesis, since it is the one that went the farthest in convincing the mutationists and Mendelians that natural selection and Mendelian genetics were not antithetical concepts. This is also the book that I rarely see ID advocates even acknowledge its existence; I can find one instance of Loennig citing Fisher for the probability that a new allele favored by selection will be lost simply by chance, and another of Bethell citing it in order to quote Waddington making a criticism. But it is curiously absent from bibliographies in William A. Dembski’s books, even though Dembski’s project in The Design Inference is claimed to be rationalizing Fisherian hypothesis testing, and one might have thought that Fisher’s other mathematical pastimes merited some attention, especially when Dembski goes on to babble about the “mathematical underpinnings” of evolutionary biology in later works.
If becoming an evolutionary biologist is so easy, why is it that David Berlinski does not yet rank among people who are knowledgeable of it? Certainly every one of the charges Berlinski levels against even Darwin’s part of evolutionary biology is, as he puts it, “plain nuts”. Natural selection is supported by evidence, including the results of both laboratory and field experiments. We see the evidence of natural selection’s operation when we analyze genetic data; perhaps Berlinski’s afternoon of reading failed to deliver any appreciation of linkage disequilibrium. Natural selection’s basis in the differential propagation of heritable traits in populations is an organizing principle. Is natural selection coherent? Fisher’s book linked above demonstrates the coherence of the concept quite nicely. One of Darwin’s most powerful arguments for natural selection was precisely his analogy of natural selection to the common experience of artificial selection in domestic animals and pigeons. As to “poisonous implications”, it seems to me that that is not a matter of fact here, but rather of some personal interpretations made by Berlinski. It’s no wonder that someone with the varied and multidinous misconceptions of evolutionary biology seen in Berlinski’s writing on the topic would come to some pretty bizarre conclusions about that, but that doesn’t bear upon what actually is the case. I won’t do as ID advocates do and express my disagreement in relativistic terms, as the recently published Discovery Institute Press (DIP) book, Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller V. Dover Decision, does in saying that Jones’s being mindful of religious implications of ID should have been weighed against religious implications of “Darwinism”. The claim of “poisonous implications” is a subjective viewpoint that is ill-founded.