Monthly Archives: December 2009

Krugman and the Big Zero

Paul Krugman casts a jaundiced eye back over the last decade in his NYT column.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

Personally, I learned a lot this past decade, though not much that had to do with the economy. Economically speaking, my family has had a rough decade, and certainly grad school, non-profit service, a hiatus in hospital, and post-docs all contributed to the threadbare look to the wallet beyond the recent general economic implosion. So I don’t think my particular experience speaks to much of the rest of the population, but I do get the sense that many others have had their own problems.

But Krugman’s general point, it seems to me, remains solid: when it comes to how we deal with economic policy, it seems that we have entirely too much forgetfulness of the lessons of the past. While popular economic lore holds that a free market will automatically optimize everything, most overlook that the assumptions underlying that theoretical ideal include the one that all agents are acting rationally, and we know that real economic agents often act for all sorts of non-rational motivations, greed ranking high among them. There is a role for regulation, and it consists in ensuring that the non-rational impulses of particular economic agents are curbed and the rational ones encouraged. We accept today that regulations for fire safety, for example, are reasonable, yet these obviously restrict the free market, where nightclubs could squeeze in a few dozen more people if only the pesky fire marshal weren’t so concerned about the ability of the sardine-like mass of partiers to exit safely in case of fire. We accept that our food manufacturers should include more actual grain and less actual rat poo, and trust regulation to make it so. We even pay some amount of lip service to the notion that monopolies are somehow bad and competition is good, though a century passing since the monopoly-busting days of Teddy Roosevelt seems to have relaxed our concern somewhat. We should be taking the point from the two worst economic downturns of the past century that banking and stock trading still requires genuine oversight to reach stability in our economy.

IDCs Accept Common Descent? News to Me

A philosophical look at evolution and creation by a newly-minted history Ph.D., Leslie Tomory, is titled The Shock and Awe of Creation. Tomory is in the theistic evolution camp, and argues on philosophical grounds that antievolution is a bad thing, while affirming that faith and science can co-exist.

That’s fine by me. But here is one of the issues that diminished my enjoyment of the piece.

Young earth creationists are the first and crudest variant of this reaction, but they are by no means the only one. The Intelligent Design (ID) movement accepts common descent to varying degrees, but rejects the established mechanisms of evolutionary change. The arguments of ID proponents are structured in the way I have outlined. Reacting to evolutionism, they have chosen to go on the attack against natural selection and genetic drift. They recognize that common descent is evident and they accept it.

Uh, no. There is one major “intelligent design” advocate, Michael Behe, who is on record saying that he has no particular reason to disagree with common descent, which is a rather different proposition from saying that he accepts common descent, much less that he feels that it is evident. Within the “intelligent design” movement, acceptance of common descent ranges from a (quite common) nil of the young-earth creationists in the movement to the grudging acquiescence of Mike Behe. Wherever one finds “intelligent design” material that addresses common descent, it uniformly seeks to make common descent seem less “evident” to the reader. Common descent is still quite plainly a target of “intelligent design” advocates, but it is also clear that they recognize they have a fine line to walk if they want to appear to be at all reasonable to the rest of the world. Have a look at “Of Pandas and People” and “Explore Evolution” sometime. When they talk to a “safe” audience, though, the stops often come off.

Another issue in the essay:

The final concept contained within the notion of evolution is the pace of evolutionary change. Although gradualism was dominant in Darwin’s thinking, the second half of the 19th century witnessed the rise of other opinions regarding the pace of evolutionary change, the most important of which was mutation theory’s large jumps. The rediscovery of genetics, with its emphasis on clearly distinct expression of genes, gave further impetus to mutation theory’s jumps. This changed, however, with the forging by Theodosius Dobzhansky among many others, of the modern or neo-Darwinian synthesis in the 1930s. This united Darwinian mechanisms with Medelian genetics and the study of population dynamics. Gradualism was once again the dominant opinion, although it was somewhat modified in the 1970s.

It was at this point when Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould put forward their theory of punctuated equilibrium, which argued that evolution proceeds by bursts, followed by long periods of stasis. Their arguments were based on observations of the fossil record which seems to indicate that on the whole, evolution proceeds in this uneven way. The bursts should not, however, be understood as occurring in a few generations. Rather, these bursts are only rapid when considered on geological time scales spanning millions of years, and speciation events occur over thousands of generations, making punctuated equilibrium a form of gradualism.

While Tomory eventually finishes by saying that punctuated equilibrium turns out to be a form of gradualism, he fails to elucidate the terminological problem at basis here. Gradualism of the sort that Darwin espoused wasn’t about constancy of rate, but rather the rather banal fact that it is populations that evolve, and its antithesis is saltationism, where new species are instantiated and founded by single organisms. Gould and Eldredge did rail against “gradualism”, but if you read the original papers carefully every such instance is best understood as shorthand for their slightly longer novel phrase of “phyletic gradualism”, a very specific and delimited concept of anagenetic speciation with constant rates of change in traits associated with the speciation event. I’m not sure that it is at all accurate to say that “gradualism” was modified in the 1970s. Gould and Eldredge elicited a lot of reactions that assumed that they were advocating saltationism, and they had, it seems, quite a bit of fun in tweaking people’s noses over the fact that they were doing no such thing. All in all, most of the brouhaha over punctuated equilibria appears, in retrospect, to have the form of an extended academic practical joke, as the rhetoric and phrasing of the original proposal appears to be gauged to elicit exactly the sort of mistakes in response as did follow. This does nothing to lessen the positive aspects of punctuated equilibria in making clear the importance of allopatric speciation on the patterns seen in the fossil record, but it does illustrate that there is more happening in the scientific literature than just straightforward explication of research findings.

Missing the Point at the Wall Street Journal

I’m guessing from the blithe and condescending tone of James Taranto’s piece in the Wall Street Journal that he is supposed to be in the class of “pundit”. Usually, it helps if a pundit can actually read for comprehension before launching into a screed. Here’s the section of interest:

True Believers?

Our lead item yesterday on science and journalism prompted several responses along the lines of this one, from reader John Steele Gordon:

Isn’t “believe in evolution” just shorthand for “accept evolution by natural selection as the explanation for the diversity of life through time”? Biologists are more than happy to explain the argument and the evidence to those who seek an explanation and evidence.

There is plenty of scientific skepticism regarding climate change, but there is none whatever regarding evolution by natural selection. The skeptics either believe in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis or in an “intelligent designer” that helped things along but, somehow, isn’t to be considered God. Neither is, even remotely, a scientific alternative theory (they are untestable and fail to explain many things that evolution explains easily). And the adherents of both are unwilling to consider rational argument and evidence. They are the ones with a belief system. Their whole “argument” consists of trying–unsuccessfully and usually tendentiously–to poke holes in Darwinian theory with the ludicrous idea that if it can’t explain everything then it explains nothing and is therefore false.

We certainly agree that neither Biblical creation nor “intelligent design” is worth taking seriously as an empirical proposition. Nonetheless, we stand behind our criticism of those who scoff at others for failing to “believe in evolution.” Just as it is an error to put forward a religious doctrine as if it were a scientific theory, it is an error to speak of a scientific theory as if it were a religious doctrine–i.e., something to “believe in.”

Gordon’s point in the quote, though, if only Taranto had paused a moment to reflect, was that it was the religious anti-evolutionists who falsely attempt to categorize acceptance of modern science’s findings on living systems as merely another belief system. It’s nice that Taranto took a moment to state agreement with Gordon’s position, but it would have been even better if Taranto had recognized that he was actually agreeing rather than disagreeing.

Update: I see John Pieret got there first. Taranto’s original claim that he said that he stood by when responding to Gordon was this:

But the reason “science” no longer “wins” is that what often poses as science today is different from the real thing. To take an easy example, supposedly science-minded people often scoff at those who do not “believe in evolution.” The problem with this is not that they are wrong to defend evolution, but that they mistake evolution, a scientific theory, for a belief system. When you demand adherence to a set of beliefs, you are no longer doing science but something that has the form, if not the substance, of religion.

This is even more egregious than Taranto’s miscomprehension of Gordon’s comment. Can Taranto substantiate his claim that (1) what he claims happens, happens “often” and (2) that those “often” doing this really and truly have mistakenly put their backing behind a belief system rather than simply being imprecise in their arguments? That still doesn’t help his prior claim of the first sentence, that this represents an instance of something that “poses” as science rather than being science.

As Pieret notes, scientists sometimes do use the words “believe in evolution”. Though I’d say that the odds are that they are not formally stating their own views (i.e., taking evolution to be a belief system), and are responding to the formulation that the religious antievolutionists use, which assumes evolutionary science is a belief system. To take just the most prominent example of the words being used, let’s visit Richard Dawkins’ famous bromide in his review of Blueprints:

So to the book’s provocation, the statement that nearly half the people in the United States don’t believe in evolution. Not just any people but powerful people, people who should know better, people with too much influence over educational policy. We are not talking about Darwin’s particular theory of natural selection. It is still (just) possible for a biologist to doubt its importance, and a few claim to. No, we are here talking about the fact of evolution itself, a fact that is proved utterly beyond reasonable doubt. To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

But neither Dawkins nor the authors of Blueprints ask for people to believe in the sense required to support Taranto’s argument. Just a bit further on from the above, Dawkins also wrote the following:

If you feel even vaguely in the mood to stand up and be counted, evolution is a pretty good issue on which to take your stand. It is an excellent standard-bearer for reason and the gentle virtues of civilization. This is because the more you read, quietly and soberly, the evidence for evolution, the more powerful will you discover that evidence to be. You are as safe taking your stand on the fact of evolution as you would be on the fact that the earth goes round the sun. But the latter is not — any longer — at stake in the war against fundamentalism. Evolution is on the front line because it is an important issue disputed by fundamentalists, and you can be completely confident that you can easily prove them wrong.

Emphasis added. Dawkins doesn’t expect people to switch allegiance between belief systems like fans switch between rooting for sports teams. Dawkins is not treating evolutionary science as something that is “posing” for science — he quite well understands that what makes evolutionary science worthwhile is the evidence that underlies it. I could wish that Dawkins also explicitly noted in his review the simple fact that religious antievolutionists want this cast as belief systems all around, and that the sciences aren’t like that, but nobody’s perfect.

So I’m still waiting, just as Pieret is, for Taranto to give us a specific example of what he claims happens “often”. I somehow doubt Taranto will be providing that.

Read “The Duck”

Please go read The Duck. Pass it on to your friends, especially if they are journalists.

ONCE TWO SCIENTISTS—it hardly matters what sort—were walking before dinner beside a pleasant pond with their friend, a reporter for the Dispatch, when they happened to notice a bird standing beside the water.

Opderbeck and Dover, Round 3

This is a reply to a comment by David Opderbeck in this thread. Since David has consistently accused me of misunderstanding, I’m going to pull in a number of sources to demonstrate that such is not the case. So I’ll tag quotes as follows: [DO S&S 1] for David’s first “Science and the Sacred” post on the topic, [DO S&S 2] for his second post, [DO Aus 1] for David’s first comment here, [DO Aus 2] for his second comment here, [DO Aus 3] for his third, and [DO Aus 4] for his most recent comment here.

[DO Aus 4]Wesley, you are again contradicting yourself, and again missing the point of my first two pieces on Science & Sacred.


You seem to be getting desperate to find some way to be dismissive of my commentary. Not only was I consistent before, and explained why, but I have given you no reason to claim logical error on my part this time, either. In fact, I have pointed out logical flaw after logical flaw on your part, and you seem to take no notice of that.

Let’s review those first two pieces that you erroneously claim I’m misunderstanding.

Paragraph 1 from the first piece goes like this:

[DO S&S 1]On December, 2005, Judge John E. Jones, III (left) issued his opinion in the now-infamous Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District intelligent design case. Like many thoughtful evangelical Christians at the time, I was impressed with intelligent design theory. I had read many of the ID movement’s foundational texts, and felt confident that ID offered an intellectually and theological satisfying alternative to the extremes of young earth creationism and atheistic Darwinism. Shortly after the Kitzmiller decision was issued, I blogged and wrote publicly about Judge Jones’ opinion, which I thought was largely mistaken.

I still think Judge Jones’ opinion in Kitzmiller missed the mark in some important ways, even though I think (and have always thought) the end result was correct. Moreover, I remain impressed with the energy and intelligence of the ID movement’s thought leaders. Scholars such as Bill Dembski and Mike Behe have made some interesting arguments about epistemology, divine action, and causation. However, when I dove into the broader ID discussion after the Kitzmiller case, I came to believe that many aspects of the ID movement are not as helpful as I had first thought – and, indeed, that ID rhetoric is often used to hinder positive interaction between the truths of the Christian faith and truths learned through the natural sciences.

This says that your opinion of Jones’ decision was negative. Paragraph 2 explains how your opinion changed somewhat as you examined the “broader” discussion, but that your opinion was that the Kitzmiller decision still was flawed. You reviewed some of the legal history of the antievolution movement, and gave your opinion that “intelligent design” has been misused by “the Church”. Piece 1, though, never got around to an argument about any of these things. And it still says that the Scopes trial occurred in 1926, when I provided the actual year of 1925 for you back on the 1st of December. There’s some pretty questionable stuff in there besides that (Behe and Dembski???), but given that it was all cast as opinion, it doesn’t seem worth a digression.

Now let’s turn to the second piece.

[DO S&S 2]Supporters of Judge Jones’ approach in the Kitzmiller case suggest that a similar gatekeeping function is important with respect to public education. Without some demarcation of what can be taught as “science” in the public schools, aren’t we opening the floodgates to the teaching of all sorts of pseudo-science, such as astrology and young earth creationism? I think this is a valid concern. For this and other reasons, I personally don’t agree with the “teach the controversy” approach promoted by many ID advocates. If I were to serve on my local school board, I would not vote in favor of introducing ID materials into the science curriculum, primarily because I don’t believe the ID program has generated sufficient results to reach the public schools. Like the courts, the public schools lack the time and resources to address views that fall far outside the scientific mainstream.

I’ve said before that Jones’ approach is not about gatekeeping the science curriculum. You just keep re-asserting that it is without effective support. This is an error on your part, and is a part of your mistaken claims made against my arguments. It is an error that drives the remainder of your piece as well.

I understand your S&S pieces just fine. I continue to think that they do you no credit; quite the contrary.

Now back to your most recent comment.

[DO Aus 4]You can’t have it both ways. If you think the demarcation of “science” was “key” in the “sense” of being necessary to evaluate the “secular purpose” of the School Board’s policy, then it was “key.” Key is key. It seems pointless for us to continue arguing about whether the demarcation question was “key” or “central” to the opinion. Obviously, it was, at least for the “sense” that you advance here.

There is a point, though. It has to do with you producing some support for your claim:

[DO S&S 2]In my view, however, there is a significant qualitative and quantitative difference between giving an issue some consideration and making it the central issue in the case.

My sense of “key” is any argument that could have caused a higher court to overturn the decision, which means that a great many “key” arguments may exist in a decision. This is quite readily distinguishable from your sense of “the central”, of which there can be only one such issue in the decision. I think I’ve done a good job of arguing that what you asserted was the single most important argument in the decision is, instead, but one of many comparably important considerations. And, of course, that you have mistaken the nature of that argument.

And, as I described at great length last time and have consistently said, I do not agree that creating a “demarcation” criterion was the intent of decision. Please stop ascribing that view to me. Judge Jones applied a definition of science from a source stipulated as authoritative by both the defense and the plaintiffs, which is far, far different from seeking to establish a general demarcation criterion. I note that you do not even attempt to support your claim, even though I told you what to look for if Jones had actually been doing something toward finding a demarcation criterion.


[DO Aus 4]In this regard, the “appeal proofing” argument really doesn’t work, for three reasons.

First, as you admit above, the “science” demarcation part of the opinion does some “key” work under the Judge’s construction of the establishment clause issue. This is clearly more than appeal proofing.

Is that your final answer?

That’s absurd.

Remember my connotation of “key” being an argument that if mishandled or unaddressed by the judge could result in overturning the case on appeal? Do you really want to argue that refusing to drop out explication of an argument because its absence could cause a higher court to overturn a decision is not part of appeal-proofing?

[DO Aus 4]Second, federal judges in particular have significant control over what issues get tried. The Judge could have excised much of the material relating to the “science” demarcation issue at various stages of the pretrial proceedings, but didn’t … because he apparently believed it was key to the proceedings. You seem to think that a Judge must passively hear and decide everything the parties throw at him or her, but that simply is not the case.

First, you shouldn’t have used “second” to introduce this paragraph, since you are no longer discussing appeal-proofing.

Second, you have strayed into inconsistency with this objection. It goes counter with what you told us previously:

[DO S&S 2]The looming presence of this question is one of the key reasons I don’t believe Judge Jones played the role of “activist judge” in Kitzmiller, even though I am critical of the opinion. The question whether ID, like “creation science,” is inherently religiously motivated, is a live concern, and was extensively briefed and argued to the court by both sides. In order to address the question of religious motivation, the court could not have avoided some consideration of the essential nature of ID theory.

You can’t have it both ways, David. Either the court could have avoided “some consideration” of the issue, or not, but you don’t get to pick which one happens to be convenient to your argument moment-by-moment.

Third, I’m quite aware of what latitude a trial judge has in determining what becomes admissible. I was involved in the plaintiffs’ pre-trial strategy formation concerning exactly that point in the case in question. That consideration, though, is conspicuous by its absence in your two S&S pieces, where you couch your opinion in terms of asserted but unsubstantiated faults in the decision, and not in procedural concerns previous to the decision. Did you overlook that before, or are you just flailing? My opinion leans to the latter.


[DO Aus 4]Third, even when a trial court allows evidence at trial on an issue, the court is not compelled to deal with it at length in a written opinion. It is not reversible error in itself to do this. Many, many, many times I’ve seen courts slap down with the back of a hand arguments made at length by the parties, without any negative repercussions on appeal. The briefer statement I offered in my Science & Sacred post, in fact, would have served this purpose (and the appeal proofing purpose) well.

Again, you have mislabeled your introductory word, since you once again are dismissing and not addressing the appeal-proofing argument. Argument by anecdote is widely considered to be weak. I can’t speak to the numbers of terse dismissive or spotty decisions that get a pass from higher courts relative to the ones that get overturned or remanded by those higher courts (e.g., Selman v. Cobb County), and I don’t think that you are in a position to make a statistical argument, either. Given the raw page number fiasco earlier in our discussion, I’d say I’m well justified in that. Nor does a personal opinion of how well your offered alternative might have held up to hypothetical review do much for anyone looking for an objective reason to prefer your opinion. You have to argue that the mere existence of airy dismissal in some decision means that airy dismissal should be what judges use generally or exclusively to even come close to having a point. I just have to point out that completeness of argumentation is not a fault to completely invalidate your stance that an error lurks in the Kitzmiller decision because of length of consideration, and I have. The thing that you should be looking for is a reason within the practice of law for a trial judge to high-handedly dismiss an argument that comprised a significant proportion of the testimony and evidence heard in a case. Given that the arguments were admitted, what reason in law would a judge have to prefer an uninformative dismissal of the argument to a full explication of why the judge decided on those arguments the way he did? I’m still waiting to hear one.

What I and I think others would want to see is that you show clearly that airy dismissal would have been better legal practice for a judge to engage in than completely addressing the arguments before the court. I haven’t seen anything from you that comes close to that.

Of course, I’ve said about the same thing before without an indication that you are taking my point.


[DO Aus 4]Now, as to the central point of my Science & Sacred piece: my primary concern is about which institutions in our society should make demarcation decisions, and for which purposes. Courts have to make demarcation decisions about “science” for evidentiary purposes (the Daubert standard), but that it is a narrow purpose tailored specifically to the unique role courts play. Broader demarcation decisions should be left to other institutions and to broader public debate.

Assuming that the second S&S piece is referenced, let’s have another look at that:

[DO S&S 2]This leads to my primary criticism of the Kitzmiller decision. I don’t believe Judge Jones should have ventured a broad definition of “science” in the Kitzmiller case, as though such an exercise necessarily ends the discussion of constitutionality. Under the applicable standards for establishment clause cases, the proper inquiry is into purposes and effects: was the government’s purpose “secular” and was the primary effect of the government’s decision to advance or inhibit religion or to produce an excessive entanglement of government and religion? Whether an idea is labeled “religion” or “science,” in itself, is irrelevant to the constitutional question. “Religion” is a constitutionally proper subject of study in the public schools, provided that the purpose and effect of that study is not sectarian.

You specifically note that figuring out whether a secular purpose exists is a proper avenue of inquiry for the courts. You and I disagree, and have done so throughout, over your unconvincing assertion that the Kitzmiller decision is an example of an improper and extensive exploration of “demarcation” generally rather than secular purpose claims in particular. You continue to appear to be confused over what “demarcation” means for this discussion despite my having gone on at considerable length to fill that in for you. I am consistent in part because I have always said that assertion of yours was wrong. Acting as if I had stipulated it at any point is poor form.


[DO Aus 4]On this last point, I’d suggest you check out some of the resources on science and the law that I list in my Science & Sacred post, none of which have anything specifically to do with ID. The literature on this is legion, there are numerous areas of public policy that it intersects, and it is by no means confined to reactionary claims of “judicial activism.” It seems to me that a narrow focus on the ID question is crabbing your understanding of the broader policy issues at play.

I’ll note that Cranor’s book seems to indicate that the Daubert criterion is mostly a bar to plaintiffs being allowed to make their case, something that obviously is not applicable to your chosen example.

It seems to me that you have a poor track record of trying to say what I do or don’t understand, as poor as being skunked over and over on that score can get. We agree that Judge Jone is not guilty of “judicial activism” and we have not argued that point. The “broader policy issue” in your S&S 2 piece is merely that courts should limit their inquiry into figuring out intent and purpose, and not offer to get involved in curriculum content decisions generally. But you chose to base your opinion on a particular example, and it was obvious to me that your chosen example failed to support your statement of general concern. Maybe there is a judicial example of somebody overstepping the line and seeking to establish a “demarcation” criterion in general; I’m pointing out, once again, that the Kitzmiller v. DASD decision written by Judge John E. Jones III is not it. Try again.

As I pointed out before, you are urging jurists to take extra-legal considerations into account and to alter their decisions on that basis. (Or, if we credit your turnabout, urging them to change what they consider admissible to a trial on that extra-legal basis.) You fault in particular the 2005 decision in Kitzmiller v. DASD by Judge Jones. If your assertion had merit, it should be robust enough to charitably consider the procedures that may legitimately be used by competent judges, including that of rendering a decision that pretty completely lays out the grounds for that decision. However, it is plainly obvious that charity is fatal to your claims; if we grant that a judge may reasonably respond at goodly length to arguments that occupied a significant proportion of a trial, there is nothing left to support your assertion because of the length of the section that causes you offense. When we examine the content of it, as I’ve gone over in previous responses, there is but one sentence you’ve noted as possibly problematic, and if we note that it directly addresses a possible way that secular purpose could be claimed, it, too, fails to support your assertions because there was a good legal reason that you yourself have stipulated that it should be addressed. Given that neither length nor content provide you a basis for continuing in citing the Kitzmiller decision as supporting your fears, I would hope that you would issue an apology to Judge Jones and look for something that actually provides the example you are questing for.

Now, there is another issue that you could take up, which would be whether the “is ID science” section was mistaken given the evidence and testimony taken in the case. So far, your argument has stopped short of trying to do such a thing, and merely asserted without effective substantiation that it was somehow wrong for Judge Jones to do anything but in the most cursory way possible assert that he found the defense had no secular purpose for their actions. I don’t blame you for not trying that; the defense experts turned out to make the plaintiffs’ case quite convincingly. “Intelligent design” is not science, nor is it going to turn into science someday. It is just yet another label slapped on a subset of the same moldy old religious antievolution argumentation that got recognized as such in previous court cases. ID’s purpose is simply to evade those legal precedents, nothing more.

Opderbeck and Dover, Round 2

I’m going to respond to a comment left by David Opderbeck to my previous post.

[David Opderbeck:] Wesley, I have one more post coming, more on theological issues. On the Kitzmiller opinion itself, if you don’t think the “demarcation” question was central to the opinion, you’re just misreading it.


We seem to be at an impasse, then, as it seems to me that we each believe the other is the one having difficulty with reading for comprehension on this point. But I will go you one better and explain why I think so.

I’ve made a living for more than twenty years reading judicial opinions.

That might be relevant if we were at loggerheads over points of law. We aren’t. We are discussing philosophy of science and public policy as it intersects with the practice of law. You are advocating that the judiciary take cognizance of extra-legal considerations in how they formulate decisions. I’m advocating that the judiciary do the complete job that is in front of them and not be bullied for responsibly doing that job. I think that you are mistaken concerning the relevant philosophy of science and that this has led you to advocate erroneous things.

That certainly doesn’t mean I always get it right, but counting the “parts” of the opinion as you’re trying to do here surely isn’t helpful.

Helpful? Please, strive for a bit of objectivity here. You introduced a raw page count as evidence for your argument without even an indication of the total length of the decision to guide the reader as to the proportion of the decision that comprised. The general concept of raw number reporting gets a fair amount of attention in Darrell Huff’s fine book, How to Lie with Statistics.

You have completely failed to address the reasons that one might legitimately expect a lengthy and detailed consideration of those arguments that were put before the court by the defense and the plaintiffs. You have completely failed to address why we should consider an unsupported denial of the defense’s claims to having a secular purpose in “intelligent design” being scientific as responsible behavior in a judge putting together a decision that would perhaps be reviewed at the appellate level. You are making an argument founded on the belief that Jones could have completely excised from the decision his response to the defense’s extensive argumentation that they had a “secular purpose” because they asserted that “intelligent design” was science and the extensive rebuttal of those arguments mounted by the plaintiffs. You have justified none of that belief other than with a false appeal to consequences.

I think that looking at the logical structure of the decision is a better approach to understanding what may reasonably be called “central” to it. Let me explain what I am taking as connotations for “key” and “central” just so we can make sure that we are on the same page in the discussion. A “key” element of the decision would be one that if not addressed appropriately could result in overturning the decision at an appellate level. There are lots of components of the Kitzmiller decision that can be called “key” in that context. A “central” element, though, would be the one that was the primary finding in the decision. The primary finding, though, was that concerning the “endorsement test”, and it rested on four separate considerations of which the “is ID science?” consideration was just one. I think that is far more helpful to the reader looking for orientation than a raw page count.

Moreover, if you’re correct, and the “demarcation” portion of the opinion wasn’t central to the opinion, then it seems to me that you should agree with my ultimate conclusion. After all, central my point is that a relatively lengthy and involved effort to define “science” wasn’t necessary to the establishment clause analysis. When you argue that the “demarcation” portion wasn’t central, and then argue at length about how good and important that part of the opinion was, you contradict yourself.

You are basing your argument upon false premises, that the section of the decision on “Is ID science?” was about demarcation criteria and “effort to define science”. I’ll try once again to explain why this is so. This involves philosophy of science, which is not the primary field of expertise for either of us, but I do have some relevant experience. A demarcation criterion provides a way to tell both if a concept is not science, and also if it is science. That is, a proper demarcation criterion provides both the necessary (ways to tell if something is not science) and the sufficient (ways to tell if something is science) properties that make the difference between science and non-science. The primary problem with all proposed demarcation criteria thus far is that there is no general agreement concerning what might constitute the sufficient properties of scientific concepts. However, one will find that there is general agreement about at least some of the necessary properties of scientific concepts. That puts us in the position of being able to say with good certainty that various and sundry concepts don’t have those necessary properties and thus aren’t candidates to be considered scientific, but not being able to definitively say that any particular concept which may have all the necessary attributes also has the sufficient attributes that would positively make the case for considering it scientific. Because necessary attributes are conjunctive, we don’t have to collect the whole set before we can make use of any of them: failure to meet any of them rules out the concept in question. However, striving to establish a demarcation criterion would require that the Kitzmiller decision took up the problem of what the sufficient attributes might be, and this is conspicuous by its absence from the decision. If such were the case, you could prove me wrong easily enough by quoting a section from the decision that shows such a search for the sufficient attributes. (I’m not going to hold my breath.)

Nor was Judge Jones seeking to create a definition of science, as “effort to define science” seems to imply. Instead, we see him carefully seeking to find and use an existing definition of science that could be argued to already be agreed to by both parties. He noted that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was stipulated by both parties as the foremost scientific body in the country and relied upon the definition that the NAS provided. Further, accusing Jones of drafting a new definition of science is ironic given what Jones showed in the decision about the IDC predilection to do that themselves:

[From the decision:] It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 591-92; McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. (28:26 (Fuller); 21:37-42 (Behe)). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. (38:97 (Minnich)).

Nor is it even true that Jones engaged in ‘a relatively lengthy and involved effort to define “science”’, even if we ignore the implication that he was creating such a thing. The 25 pages of “Whether ID is Science” is further subdivided. Jones takes up three issues there, in only the first of which does a definition of science play a major role. Jones begins that three lines from the end of page 64 and has found and related the definition he applies by the middle of page 66. Jones finishes with application of the NAS definition to his first issue by five lines into page 71. Until one gets to the conclusions starting on the last line of page 88, the rest of the section discusses the other two issues about contrived dualism and repudiated negative argumentation against evolution, with the exception of a seven line paragraph on page 82 that references definitions of science. One does have to give some leeway for perceptions, but mine seems diametrically opposite to yours, that Jones’ approach to the first issue, the one involving a definition of science, was concise, efficient, and economical.

I am being completely consistent: Judge Jones had to address the arguments made about “secular purpose” by both parties, and in order to accomplish that, he had to make a determination on the issue placed before the court and argued as a point of law, which was whether “intelligent design” qualified as a scientific concept and therefore provided a secular purpose for the defendants. This analysis was “key” in the sense I gave, that without doing so Jones would have committed an error that could cause an appellate court to overturn the decision. In order to argue that the defense failed in its claim to having a secular purpose, Jones had to rely upon existing agreement upon what necessary attributes of science “intelligent design” did not encompass. This neither is an effort to define science himself nor to resolve the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science. You are simply mistaken in your fixation on this, and I have spent considerable effort to explain why that is the case.

I’m sorry, I see no reason that I should sign on to a conclusion founded on false premises and substantiated only by a logical fallacy.

[David Opderbeck:] In any event, I suspect that when you read my third post in the series (I think it will come up later this week), you’ll agree substantially with it. Our areas of agreement on this, I think, are larger than our areas of disagreement. I think you’re mistaking me for an ID advocate, which I’m not (though I was at one point). Nevertheless, I have some overriding concerns about which governmental institutions should be involved in demarcation questions, as well as concerns about freedom of speech and religious liberty, that give me significant pause about the Kitzimiller opinion and about the nature of the public debate on this issue.

I can certainly get on board with us agreeing on many things… democracy, mom, apple pie, etc. But that doesn’t mean that I should give a pass to plain error being promulgated and disseminated, which is what I still think — and argue — your “primary criticism” of the Kitzmiller decision amounts to.

We may disagree on how those questions factor into the equation, but I hope that provides a basis for conversation, rather than for attack (particularly the sort of ad hominem with which you opened this conversation…).

Argumentum ad hominem does have an actual definition as a logical fallacy. It is where one notes some personal failing on the part of one’s interlocutor and concludes that his argument must fail because of that. Just to be clear, that is not what I finished up my previous post with. Instead, I went from the basis that a number of the arguments made were unfounded, therefore that made for a negative impression of the author. That is no logical fallacy, nor is it even what is casually construed as an ad hominem. You can call me snarky, rude, or impolite, and I’ll shrug and say, “Mea culpa.” But I won’t accept a false accusation of ad hominem argumentation aimed my way.

I admit to being a bit of a prickly fellow myself, and having been perhaps unduly swayed by Ernst Mayr’s approach to argumentation, which tended to the blunt and direct sort of thing. Mayr himself noted this and explained himself as looking to move quickly through thesis, antithesis, and then hopefully to find synthesis somewhere in the outcome. We seem to be stuck at thesis and antithesis at the moment.