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Josh Rosenau’s “Potemkin” Arguments

Earlier this year, Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) apparently felt the need to find a way to deal with the fact that Discovery Institute is funding scientific research that challenges neo-Darwinism, and is being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. (Discovery Institute has been funding such research for over a decade, so I don’t know why Mr. Rosenau suddenly became so concerned about this only in 2011 when he blogged about it.) Mr. Rosenau’s blog makes it clear it’s his personal blog and doesn’t officially speak for the NCSE. But given that he’s a leading activist in the Darwin lobby, the quality of his arguments against ID are worth considering.

Mr. Rosenau’s commentary on ID research started off with mockery intended to distinguish his group from those he seems to consider, in Inna Kouper’s words (see my previous post on anti-ID rhetoric), “wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless.” Or as Dale Sullivan put it, he uses “ridicule” and “public scorn in displays of derision” to “de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community.”

Let’s look at what Josh Rosenau writes:

“There’s no question that the Discovery Institute is ideologically driven, that their fellowships are wingnut welfare, a way to employ creationists and give them the gloss of respectability.”

Rosenau continued to use what Dale Sullivan called “hold[ing] heretics up to public scorn in displays of derision” with the intent to “de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community.” In that case, the dangerous publications are those of BIO-Complexity and Biologic Institute researchers. Mr. Rosenau writes:

The DI does not fund external research. They have a Potemkin laboratory, and a house journal dedicated to publishing their own staff’s “research.” All of this is oriented towards creating a pseudoscientific infrastructure, the semblance of an active research program and academic community, so that they can convince schools to teach claptrap and can interfere with the administration of colleges and universities, the content of textbooks, and by such means to advance a narrow version of Christianity. Their fellows are chosen because of their support for this ideological agenda, just as papers in their pseudo-journal are selected for their adherence to the Disco. ‘Tute agenda, and so forth.

Mr. Rosenau is of course welcome to his opinions, but he provides no scientific analysis, no scientific arguments whatsoever, to show why the research funded by Discovery Institute is scientifically flawed. There’s plenty of ridicule, but virtually no substance.

The little substance that is present is based upon false claims. At the risk of dignifying Mr. Rosenau’s rhetorical style with an evidential rebuttal, let’s examine a few of them.

  • First, Discovery Institute does fund research conducted by people external to Discovery Institute. It funds research by Christians and non-Christians alike.
  • Second, the journal Rosenau refers to, BIO-Complexity, is anything but “Potemkin.” It has an editorial board with over two dozen PhD scientists and scholars in fields such as biochemistry, evolutionary computing, evolutionary biology, microbiology, cladistics, and physics, from respected academic institutions around the world. Yes Discovery Institute has obvious connections to the journal — some of those members of the editorial board are also our fellows. But many of the editorial board members have no affiliations with Discovery Institute, though they share with us a common conviction that the debate over ID and neo-Darwinism needs to be fostered at the high level of peer-reviewed scientific journals. Thus, the journal invites submissions from both ID proponents and ID-critics, and isn’t committed to publishing papers that only express one viewpoint. Whether affiliated with Discovery Institute or not, BIO-Complexity has an impressive body of scientists that run that show, and they impose high quality peer-review quality control.
  • Rosenau’s attempt to ridicule the Biologic Institute laboratory as “Potemkin” of course intends to suggest the laboratory is fake. How, then, does Mr. Rosenau explain the multiple scientific papers published by Biologic scientists in the past few years that report research conducted at the lab? (Here’s an impressive recent example.)

I could go on, but that’s all that is needed. The substance-poor, ridicule-rich, and otherwise uncivil quality of Rosenau’s rebuttal to ID research shows how important it is for him to dismiss this journal, and how difficult it is for him to do so convincingly.

Whatever you think of Mr. Rosenau’s style of argument, two things are clear: (1) it’s full of errors, (2) it seems designed to use rhetorical devices and strategies to mock and insult ID research in order to dismiss ID arguments without actually engaging them. His purpose appears to be, as Kouper puts it, to use “mockery” and “insulting evaluations” in order to get people to remain in his “group.” Or as Sullivan put it, he is desperate to “de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community.”

There’s no harm in having a little fun. But the fact that Darwin lobbyists like Rosenau spend so much time using mockery, ridicule, and talking about the supposed motives of ID proponents — without offering clear scientific rebuttals — makes you wonder if they have any better arguments to offer at all.

The good news is that ID proponents can feel encouraged by this: The fact that these are the best counter-arguments coming from leading ID critics should give us confidence that ID arguments hold merit. If the critics had something better to say, we’d be hearing about it.

In my next article I will discuss a few recent examples that have sought to dress up the uncivil style with scholarly rhetoric.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



evolutionintelligent designJoshua RosenauMichael BeheNational Center for Science EducationResearch