05 December 2005

The Discovery Institute and publications

In responding to a recent New York Times article (already discussed in detail here and here), the Discovery Institute's John West once again points to the Discovery Institute's list of "peer-reviewed and peer-edited publications" as evidence that the Discovery Institute really does do science.

That document, like so much that the Discovery Institute puts out, does not paint an accurate picture of what is actually going on. The list has been available in one form or another for quite a while now, and individual entries on the list have been critiqued in a number of locations. I'm going to address the list as a whole here. I will briefly comment on some of the individual entries in the process, but I am not going to take the time to address all of them. For the most part, I will assume, FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT ONLY, that the articles are more or less what they claim to be.

The list contains, by my count, 34 entries. However, upon closer examination it turns out that some of the publications listed in the "Featured Articles" section at the top are duplicated in other places on the list, bringing the number of unique entries down to 31. An additional three books are listed in a section titled, "Books Supportive of Intelligent Design Published by Prominent Trade Presses." These three are neither peer-reviewed nor peer-edited, and therefore should not have been included in the list. This reduces the total to 28.

At this point, it is probably worth discussing the "peer-edited" component of the list. "Peer-edited" is not a term that is in common usage in the sciences. Nobody that I know of considers "peer-editing" to be a meaningful distinction, and it is certainly not viewed as equivalent to peer-review. The use of "peer-edited" serves only to give the Discovery Institute an excuse to increase the number of listed publications slightly.

We will ignore, for the moment, the distinction between peer-reviewed and "peer-edited." We will ignore the fact that the compilers of the list decided to further inflate their numbers by first listing Campbell and Meyer's book Darwinism, Design, and Public Education as a "peer-reviewed book" and then listing each of the book's five chapters as a separate listing. We will even ignore the fact that five of the articles are listed as appearing in "peer-reviewed philosophy journals," rather than in science journals, and that two of those actually appear in books, not journals.

If we do in fact ignore all of the major complaints with the list, and assume that the Discovery Institute folks can actually claim 28 legitimate publications, what does that say for their academic status?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is not much.

To put that figure into perspective, I took a look at the publication lists for two members of my department's graduate faculty: Rob Toonen and Brian Bowen. Both are relatively new faculty, and have been in the department for less than five years. Between the two of them, they have authored 26 peer-reviewed articles since 2000. That's just two fewer articles than the entire body of "peer-reviewed and peer-edited" work claimed as supporting Intelligent Design, and it is five more articles than the ID folks claim for that period of time.

That figure of 26 articles doesn't count book chapters or popular publications. It doesn't count "peer-edited" material. That's just what's appeared in peer-reviewed journals. I didn't pick these two professors because they have authored an unusually high number of articles, either. I picked them because I happened to still have their lab homepage up in a browser tab when I started writing this. In fact, these particular professors had to get their lab set up and running over the last couple of years, which probably reduced their output a bit.

To sum up, the Discovery Institute's list of articles supporting Intelligent Design can best be described as pitiful by any measure. The list includes things that don't belong there, lists some entries twice, inflates the number of publications, adds philosophical articles to the scientific ones, and still fails to match the output from two professors over a five year period. That's why nobody considers them to be serious scientists. If they want scientific respect, they need to set up labs, do research, and get serious about producing and publishing real results.

11 Comments:

Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Oddly, the ID crowd seems to have no cross examination . . .

Alas for ID, you seem to be wholly correct.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Steven Thomas Smith said...

Cross posted:

The total absense of peer-reviewed ID literature has been pointed out several times before [e.g., Zimmer’s post]. One important literature search not yet shown is for Dembski’s concepts of “complex specified information”, the “law of conservation of information”, and “specified complexity”.

The answer from IEEE Xplore: zero articles.

Searching IEEE Xplore for “complex specified information” yields zero articles.
Searching IEEE Xplore for “law of conservation of information” yields zero articles.
Searching IEEE Xplore for “specified complexity” yields one completely unrelated article on VLSI design.
Searching IEEE Xplore for “dembski information theory” yields zero articles.
Searching IEEE Xplore for “dembski” yields zero articles.

By the way, if there really were a “law of conservation of information”, where do the daily weather reports come from?

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Smith,
While I share your opinions about the strength of ID research, you should be careful about scoffing at everything. Conservation (or not) of information is a topic of some legitimate debate. For example:

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6193

The consensus is that information is conserved. I realize your last sentence was meant to be funny, but you can't legitimately deride Dembski for using conservation of information in his theories.

4:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Smith,
While I share your opinions about the strength of ID research, you should be careful about scoffing at everything. Conservation (or not) of information is a topic of some legitimate debate. For example:

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6193

The consensus is that information is conserved. I realize your last sentence was meant to be funny, but you can't legitimately deride Dembski for using conservation of information in his theories.

4:10 AM  
Blogger Dignan said...

I think you guys may enjoy this post critiquing ID from more of a philisophical perspective. Not all Christians are on board with ID.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Tom Ames said...

Recall also that the Meyer et al. DDPE chapter has SUBSTANTIAL overlap with Meyer & Snokes.

That's the way to get a lot of pubs, alright.

How much of the DI list is duplicated in this manner?

6:34 AM  
Blogger Arun said...

Yes, if one understands what the debate is about whether blackholes conserve information, then one can deride Dembski for using that idea. The analog with the blackhole argument would be to ask whether an organism and its entire environment conserves information, where information is tracked at the most fundamental levels of degrees of freedom (and the answer is yes). At the molecular level, the answer is straightaway, no, overall entropy increases, and information is not conserved.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The consensus is that information is conserved."

The article that was linked favors the notion that existing information is tough to eliminate. Dembski's contention is that information (of some sort) is tough to *generate*. Big difference.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Steven Thomas Smith said...

Anonymous,

Shannon information corresponds to thermodynamical entropy. So while my statement is intended to be humorous, it is also technically accurate.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow!!! What can I say 26 articles and years of whining!!!! As a lowly grad student working by myself I published about 15% of the total published by the ID crowd in just two years. If they want to be taken seriously they should stop crying and start working.......... really working as scientist. But then again, if your hypothesis is flawed to the point of stupidity what can you do but to whine and cry.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Rev. Dr. said...

Also of note my friends, the peer reviewed publications they do have are a joke.

Notice many are proceedings from meetings. This means that they are exploiting a scientific loophole in publications, that is, if you submit an abstract to a meeting it is technically "peer-reviewed" and will be published in the proceedings. The problem is with meetings with 10,000 attendees and 3,000 abstracts like ACSB, peer-review of the posters becomes a joke. You could send in randomly generated sentences and probably get your poster in (computer science geeks have actually proven that randomly generated papers willl get past peer review for scientific conferences). See Sci Gen.

Members of our little science blog caught Jonathan Wells of the DI trying to get more publication credits for DI using this trick. Check it out.

12:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home