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Integrity in Science — A Facebook Dialogue

Ann Gauger

Editor’s note: Our biologist colleague Ann Gauger had the following interaction on Facebook yesterday. Sadly typical, it speaks for itself.

Questioner: Has anyone in the Discovery Institute thought of doing any real experiments?

Ann Gauger: Read our papers. Plenty of real experiments there.

Q: Where, Ann Gauger?

Ann: [LINK]

Q: “Peer review” means different things in science and in intelligent design. Yet more deception.

Q: I don’t see any evidence of any science being done.

Another FB correspondent chimes in:

[LINK] Axe

[LINK] Reeves

And this: [LINK] Gauger

Q: Who has reviewed these?

Ann: As you know, peer review is confidential and I do not know their names. They were qualified research scientists by no means all favorable to ID. More than that I cannot say. The process is rigorous. Many papers are turned down.

Q: From “BIO-Complexity, Purpose and Scope”:

Purpose: BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal. It aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life. Because questions having to do with the role and origin of information in living systems are at the heart of the scientific controversy over ID, these topics — viewed from all angles and perspectives — are central to the journal’s scope.

To achieve its aim, BIO-Complexity is founded on the principle of critical exchange that makes science work. Specifically, the journal enlists editors and reviewers with scientific expertise in relevant fields who hold a wide range of views on the merit of ID, but who agree on the importance of science for resolving controversies of this kind. Our editors use expert peer review, guided by their own judgement, to decide whether submitted work merits consideration and critique. BIO-Complexity aims not merely to publish work that meets this standard, but also to provide expert critical commentary on it.

Ann: We have reviewers on both sides of the question and invite anyone who is qualified to participate. As you can guess, the problem is that we are being stonewalled. We have applied to mainstream journals and they are returned without being considered.

Q: Ann Gauger, you just said you don’t know who reviews what.

Ann: I don’t. But if you’ve been through peer review yourself, you know that you can get a general feel for the attitude of the reviewer without knowing their name.

Q: “Reviewing” and publishing in a specially protected environment basically makes them whiff of cargo-cult science and deliberate attempts at deception. They won’t win any scientific case that way, just take in gullible lay people.

Ann: Let me respond to your accusation of cargo-cult science and deception. BIO-Complexity is not the first journal to be founded to advance a controversial case. From Wikipedia [regarding the journal Nature] — you can check their sources:

“…Nature was conceived, born, and raised to serve polemic purpose.”[12] Many of the early editions of Nature consisted of articles written by members of a group that called itself the X Club, a group of scientists known for having liberal, progressive, and somewhat controversial scientific beliefs relative to the time period.[12] Initiated by Thomas Henry Huxley, the group consisted of such important scientists as Joseph Dalton Hooker, Herbert Spencer, and John Tyndall, along with another five scientists and mathematicians; these scientists were all avid supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution as common descent, a theory which, during the latter-half of the 19th century, received a great deal of criticism among more conservative groups of scientists.[14] Perhaps it was in part its scientific liberality that made Nature a longer-lasting success than its predecessors. John Maddox, editor of Nature from 1966 to 1973 as well as from 1980 to 1995, suggested at a celebratory dinner for the journal’s centennial edition that perhaps it was the journalistic qualities of Nature that drew readers in; “journalism” Maddox states, “is a way of creating a sense of community among people who would otherwise be isolated from each other. This is what Lockyer’s journal did from the start.”[15] In addition, Maddox mentions that the financial backing of the journal in its first years by the Macmillan family also allowed the journal to flourish and develop more freely than scientific journals before it.[15].”

So spare me your sneers.

Q: Ann Gauger, I expect their eventual success rested on the veracity of their science.

Ann: And so we will let time tell.

Q: Not to mention their intellectual integrity and honesty.

Ann: No — read the history of the X Club. And I thought our conversation was honest and above ad hominems.

Q: Questioning honesty is not ad-hominem. It relates directly to the trustworthiness of what they are saying. Criticising an organisation or an individual for being naughty in a way that is unrelated to what they are arguing — that would be ad-hom.

Ann: Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit …

Q: Ann Gauger, as I said, the exception is when we question their honesty and integrity in making statements.

“X is a habitual liar, so you cannot trust what he says about anything.” This is not ad-hom.

“X is smelly, so you cannot trust what he says about anything.” This is ad-hom.

Ann: Casting doubt on the integrity of an individual does not address the argument, it dismisses it, just as you dismiss our papers because of where they were published. Why not read them and judge them on their own merits?

And why not take my arguments as truthful, not deceptive, based on the evidence, not any prejudgment or label?

How are we to get an adequate hearing in the face of such prejudice?

Q: Ann Gauger, your history is against you. Starting with the Wedge document. My “prejudice” is based on years of investigating the claims of creationist/ID enthusiasts, and by learning about their underhanded tactics for infiltrating academe. You have brought all this upon yourselves.

Ann: Well, apparently, you know something about our history that I don’t. Infiltrating academe? What does that mean?

Ann: It took me a while to find this, but your accusation of infiltration reminded me of a quote from a book I had read:

[T]he process of conversion involved much hard lobbying by Huxley, Hooker and other naturalists who jumped to the defense of the theory. Huxley’s real triumph was in gradually extending the influence of those who shared his aversion to the design argument within the community of professional scientists. This influence was at last beginning to expand, and Huxley networked endlessly to ensure that people sympathetic to his position got the jobs that were opening up in the universities and elsewhere. It became unfashionable for a scientist to make open appeals to the supernatural, even if he (and they were still almost all men) believed in a Creator.

(Peter J. Bowler, Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 38-39)

Q: Ann Gauger, do you have any evidence that Huxley was underhanded? Dishonest?

Ann: There’s more to the quote that I don’t have available to me now. Do you have such evidence?

Q: Nope.

Ann: And with regard to ID?

Q: I’ve already mentioned the Wedge document. It starts there.

[What’s the so-called “Wedge document” he keeps mentioning? See here. –Editor]

Ann: One more piece, this time about Darwin [LINK]:

Darwin’s picture of himself, and our dominant picture of him, as a pure scientist, slow at writing, poor at arguing, concerned only with the truth or with the judgment of a small group of experts and indifferent to public opinion, is a picture taken in the earlier part of his career and is irreconcilable with his motives and actions in the years of public controversy. Darwin’s self-image ignores his extensive efforts to proselytize, to simplify the bases for believing in evolution, and to broaden his base of support. Darwin’s failure to integrate his rhetorical action with his self-understanding as a scientist has powerfully reinforced a positivist interpretation of his achievement as merely the inevitable consequence of a superior account.

Finally the study has implications for our understanding of the ethics of scientific rhetoric. Given that science and civilization exist in an interdependent relationship, how far is it legitimate for science to mask its opposition to dominant cultural values? To what extent does the ethic of science demand truthfulness, when the price of truth may be a temporary, or perhaps even sustained, reaction against a particular scientific theory? In his use of Gray’s essays, does Darwin’s encouragement of the public to draw a theological conclusion beneficial to his persuasive aim, but counter to his personal convictions, make him cynical or dishonest? Or should we see him as acting to create a cultural environment beneficial to science and perhaps in time conducive to a more enlightened understanding of religion? It seems that however we interpret Dar win’s rhetorical strategies and tactics, we are left with the discomfiting realization that Darwin the historical truth bearer was not always Darwin the historical truth teller. The ethical obligation peculiar to rhetoric is to give truth effective advocacy.

Ann: The people I work with are men of integrity and honesty. I am not aware of any deception or misrepresentation on their part.

You may disagree with their motives or conclusions. But then as should be clear above, Huxley and Darwin were fighting their own cultural battle, and not always openly, with some deception involved. There is the story of how Darwin managed to get his theory admitted before the Royal Society at the same time as Wallace by lobbying with friends and Lyell. Your indignation over the Wedge document, which I have not read by the way, is mainly cultural, I suspect, and not because anyone was proposing underhanded science….

Ann: Gotta go. It’s been fun.