Thursday, February 07, 2008

Science meets stupid

Daniel Brooks has written a fascinating summary of a 2006 conference put together by intelligent design advocates as a retrospective of the famous 1966 Wistar conference on evolution that is often cited by creationists who haven't bothered to understand what actually happened at that conference. (It was an example of what happens when you try to come up with models for phenomena you don't understand well enough to formulate models for.) The ID advocates invited numerous prominent scientists to the conference, including Brooks, whose book with E.O. Wiley, Evolution as Entropy, is a classic on evolution, thermodynamics, and information theory of the sort that creationists ignore except to quote mine (e.g., as Duane Gish did in his Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics). My favorite part of the summary is this paragraph, which ends the summary of a talk by ID advocate Ann Gauger:
She was then prompted by one of her colleagues to regale us with some new experimental finds. She gave what amounted to a second presentation, during which she discussed “leaky growth,” in microbial colonies at high densities, leading to horizontal transfer of genetic information, and announced that under such conditions she had actually found a novel variant that seemed to lead to enhanced colony growth. Gunther Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.
Quick--time for an emergency coffee break, and let's just forget that last question...

The ID advocates repeatedly evaded tough questions from the scientists, and at the end of the conference...
A few days after the meeting ended, we all received an email stating that the ID people considered the conference a private meeting, and did not want any of us to discuss it, blog it, or publish anything about it. They said they had no intention of posting anything from the conference on the Discovery Institute’s web site (the entire proceedings were recorded). They claimed they would have some announcement at the time of the publication of the edited volume of presentations, in about a year, and wanted all of us to wait until then to say anything.
So it's left to the real scientists, not the ID advocates, to publicly discuss their conference and its implications.

Read the full summary at The Panda's Thumb, as well as some revealing exchanges in the comments between ID advocate and young-earth creationist Paul Nelson, Dan Brooks, and Nick Matzke. John Lynch also has a nice brief summary.

There is one notable error in Brooks' summary, and that is his erroneous claim that Richard von Sternberg was fired as editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Sternberg is actually a false martyr who hasn't actually lost any jobs, positions, or status as a result of his opinions.

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