More from Luskin

By | 2006/08/01

Casey Luskin is back with “Part II” of his articles against the TalkOrigins Archive, and promises a “Part III” to follow. It is a masterwork of contradictions and unintended irony. (MHT of original article saved off, check.)

Let’s start with a look at the first three paragraphs:

In Part I, I responded to John Derbyshire’s points about ID and peer-review. Part II will rebut some of the false claims on the TalkOrigins webpage cited by Mr. Derbyshire. I will finish this post with Part III later this week.

Firstly, the TalkOrigins webpage claims there should be more pro-ID peer-reviewed papers “especially considering the long history and generous funding of the movement.” This statement is highly ironic! The money available for ID research is dwarfed by evolution-funding. Tens of millions of dollars in grants are given to evolution research each year. Because Darwinists hold the purse-strings, design theorists have little-to-no chance of obtaining an NSF grant to explicitly investigate ID. Indeed, the NCSE got over \$450,000 from the NSF just to design a pro-evolution-science/theology website! The comparison cited by Mr. Derbyshire is completely backwards.

Moreover, the comparison falsely portrays ID proponents as if they do not do research. The Research Fellowship Program has been by far the single largest program expense of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. From 1996-2005, total expenditures of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture were approximately \$9.8 million. Direct expenditures on research fellowships accounted for approximately \$3.7 million (or 38%) of this figure. Important note: The \$3.7 million amount does not include money for staff support or overhead costs (such as accounting) relating to the administration of the fellowship program.

Note the glaring inconsistency between paragraph two (‘we don’t get enough money, wah!’) and paragraph three (‘we’re spending oodles of money on research, so there!’). It’s a poster child for how not to make an argument.

Now, let’s take up the specifics of each. First, consider the point made by the TalkOrigins article by Mark Isaak:

Even by the most generous criteria, the peer-reviewed scientific output from the intelligent design (ID) movement is very low, especially considering the long history and generous funding of the movement. The list of papers and books above is not exhaustive, but there is not a lot else. One week’s worth of peer-reviewed papers on evolutionary biology exceeds the entire history of ID peer-review.

Obviously, Isaak had not attempted to correct for disparity of scale, but even that does not provide Luskin a valid point here. The research production rate by the ID movement is low, even when you consider things at the scale of the productivity of individuals, like DI Senior Fellow Michael Behe and DI Senior Fellow Jonathan Wells. Sure, there are more people doing research within evolutionary biology, but when you look at the typical productivity of evolutionary biologists as individuals, they are publishing papers far more frequently on topic than the people most often cited as ID researchers. Scott Minnich’s productivity on virulent pathogens looks to be in the normal range, but as he testified in the Kitzmiller case, those don’t address ID.

The full-time funded fellowship rate that the DI was paying in 2000 was \$40,000. There are lots of graduate students in evolutionary biology who do research — and publish papers about it — completely on their departmental support. I think it is safe to say that none of them received so much as \$40K from their department in a year. I spoke about this in my talk at the 2001 CSICOP meeting, saying that perhaps the DI was funding the wrong people. Paul Nelson was sitting just beside the podium, and he gave me a very hurt look on hearing that.

When it comes to NSF funding, it is very much a zero-sum game: there is a fixed amount of money in the pot, and people submit competitive proposals on how to spend it. If NSF funds one study, by that decision they are *not* funding several others. (As of 2005, an NSF program director said that less than 20% of applications in his program got funded.) Part of what NSF looks at are the proposed methods for research. Methods that have a proven track record of success are a plus. Modern “intelligent design” advocates, on the other hand, have a track record of over two decades of failure to produce scientifically compelling research. Accepting ID proposals, if such existed, would mean not funding other proposals that likely use tested methodologies and set out achievable research goals. Back in 2001, I encouraged William Dembski to set about putting together an ID pilot project, some small bit of research that, if successful, would be the basis for making proposals that referred to its success. That apparently was not deemed an appropriate suggestion to act upon. If that \$3.7M that Luskin referred to at the start had been applied, year by year, to a focused and ongoing research project, it would have had far better funding than most NSF projects rely upon. Instead, they paid a variety of people whose activities were heavily weighted toward writing articles for popular media, extensive speaking engagements, and writing op-ed pieces. If NSF had paid out \$3.7M, you can bet that they would have wanted to have seen actual research results coming out of it, and would stop funding just as soon as it became apparent that publishing in the scientific literature was not a priority. Apparently, that isn’t the way the DI handles accountability.

NCSE, by the way, was a sub-contractor to the University of California Museum of Paleontology on the NSF grant for the “Understanding Evolution” website. The \$450,000 figure was the total budgeted amount for the project. NCSE’s part was a small fraction of that. Since Luskin can’t get that small detail correct, should we trust what he says about larger issues?

WordPress ate the last half of this post. Maybe I’ll get the time and energy later to re-write it.

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3 thoughts on “More from Luskin

  1. steve s

    Paul Nelson was sitting just beside the podium, and he gave me a very hurt look on hearing that….and then he resumed not publishing anything.

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