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Design Detection in the New York Times — The Issue of Science Fraud

Paul Nelson
Photo credit: David Spode, via Unsplash.

Microbiologist Elisabeth Bik writes for the New York Times that “Science Has a Nasty Photoshopping Problem.” The illustrations in the article are particularly useful for showing the role of Bill Dembski’s paired notions of “specification” and “small probability” as the two arms of an analytical pincer. When that pincer closes around a pattern, intelligent causation is uniquely implicated. 

The duplicated images isolated by Dr. Bik — e.g., blots from electrophoretic gels, photomicrographs of bacteria — each individually represent a small probability pattern. But when that SAME pattern is reproduced in a putatively independent sample, the specification arm of the pincer closes on the pattern in question. Each duplicated image specifies its original, or another image, with the same small probability, only now we must take the product of those small probabilities. Design is implicated: the deliberate, directed, intentional action of at least one intelligence.

“Rediscovering” Dembksi’s Analytical Pincer

What’s so fascinating to me, at this moment in November 2022, is the independent “rediscovery” of this analytical pincer by Lee Cronin, Sara Walker, and their collaborators, in their Assembly Theory project. Here’s a screen capture from Cronin’s Twitter account, just a few days ago:

The motto of the Assembly Theory team is “copy number counts.” Why, or how, can we be sure that the bogus images Bik has identified represent science fraud? Why have so many papers been retracted after their duplicated images have been caught?

“Copy number counts.” Or, to use Bill Dembski’s formulation — after all, Bill got there in his Cambridge U Press monograph almost 25 years (1998) before the Assembly Theory project — specified patterns of small probability are caused by design, not undirected physical processes.

By the way, I apologize for the f-bombs, but see this clip from Martin Scorsese’s movie Casino. The first big slot machine payoff specifies the second, and those two payoffs specify the third, when conjoined analytically with the small probabilities in each case. “There’s an infallible way,” says Robert De Niro (playing casino boss Sam Rothstein), to determine that cheating (design) was involved. “They won.”

Copy number counts.