False narrative Inception

Inception, Legendary Pictures.

Inception, Legendary Pictures.

David Klinghoffer has responded to my previous post with a post of his own at Evolution News & Science Today. Right out of the gate, he mischaracterizes the dispute:

Georgia Tech biologist Matthew Herron is still chiding me for sharing synthetic organic chemist James Tour’s statements, a “false narrative,” that we — the public, the media, and yes, scientists too — are “clueless” about how life originated.

It was not Dr. Tour’s statements that I characterized as a false narrative; it was Klinghoffer’s. I was referring to this tweet:

accounting for Klinghoffer’s subsequent “clarification”:

Fine: for clarity, I should have added a few words. It is the nature, the severity of the mystery of how life began, not the mere present lack of certainty, that is unacknowledged.

I looked back at my post to see if this was unclear. It wasn’t. This is what immediately follows the above quote:

The problem is that that’s not true, either. I’m not a big fan of playing ‘gotcha’ when someone makes an unfortunate choice of words (though I’m not entirely above it, either). That’s not the issue here. The issue is that the entire narrative that Klinghoffer is constructing is false.

Klinghoffer, I think it’s fair to say, is implying not only that origin of life researchers fail to acknowledge the difficulty of understanding how life originated, but that they are doing so intentionally, dishonestly.

My objection was unambiguously about Klinghoffer’s tweet and its claim of misconduct (“widely unacknowledged”, “professional malpractice”) by origin of life researchers. In defending his false narrative, Klinghoffer has created another false narrative by mischaracterizing my complaint, a veritable Inception of false claims.

Moving on, he spends most of the post summarizing a couple of cases in which media outlets exaggerated the significance of new papers on origin-of-life topics. This is a point I have already conceded:

I should note that science journalists do often misrepresent origins of life research, but Klinghoffer’s accusation of dishonesty was specifically aimed at the researchers themselves.

He goes on to say

I don’t think anyone is deliberately setting out to fool the public.

I can’t know what Mr. Klinghoffer thinks. I can only know what he has written, for example,

It’s that [the nature, the severity of] the mystery of how life began is so widely unacknowledged by origin-of-life researchers. It is really a matter of professional malpractice.

That sounds to me like an accusation of deliberately setting out to fool the public. So does this quote (James Tour’s words, cited approvingly by Klinghoffer):

Everyone’s clueless on this but no one wants to admit it.

as does (again quoting Tour)

The origin of life community has not been honest.

Am I being unreasonable in interpreting “has not been honest” as an accusation of deliberate dishonesty?

A bit later, he objects to something in my previous post:

[Herron] thinks that “attributing misconduct” is “part of Mr. Klinghoffer’s modus operandi, for example when he recently tried to imply that there was something nefarious about an unflattering review of Michael Behe’s new book.” “Nefarious” is not a word I used.

No, he didn’t use the word “nefarious”. Nor did I claim that he did. My claim was that he tried to imply something nefarious. In his post “Early Science Review of Darwin Devolves — A Panic Attack?“, he presented as unusual things that are totally routine, such as co-authored book reviews and pre-release book reviews, finally comparing the review in question to a firing squad:

Three? Why Not One?

Why was it written and published in this way? It’s odd to review a book that hasn’t been publicly released yet. For a review of a book that’s presumably of trifling importance, why is one author not enough? Lenski is a star in the science world, whose work Behe addresses in his book. Swamidass and Lents are not well known, unless you’ve followed our interactions with them at Evolution News. I’m curious how this partnership, which sounds like an attempt at a firing squad, came about. [emphasis added]

Again, I can’t know what’s in Mr. Klinghoffer’s mind, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to interpret “an attempt at a firing squad” as implying something nefarious.

So to summarize, Mr. Klinghoffer starts by mischaracterizing my objection, spends most of his space supporting a claim I have already conceded, says that “the origin of life community has not been honest” is not intended to imply deliberate dishonesty, and objects to my claim that “like an attempt at a firing squad” implies something nefarious by pointing out that he didn’t use that particular word.


  1. rjdownard says

    It should be remembered that Klinghoffer is a willing ID policy flack, and with the departure of Casey Luskin from their posts, the most prolific one. There’s never been an ID argument that he has not promoted, and with zero fact checking. Behe, Denton etc are repeated with giddy enthusiasm, and all who criticize them are deemed flawed and muddled. “Origins or Bust” topics are a fruitful area for that form of apologetics, where Klinghoffer can wag his disparaging figure at the authority quotes and no one (yet) can drop a rigorously worked out naturalistic origin for life on him as counter argument.

    Remember too that Klinghoffer is not himself a science writer, nor does he show any notable interest in the science work, apart from his secondary commentary on the stuff that is deemed of relevance to the ID apologetics. It’s never going to occur to him to wonder why no one on his side actually does abiogenesis work, or how daunting the task is technically (way more difficult to work out than how lightning is formed in a thundercloud, and even that isn’t clearly understood).

    Here you’re dealing with the ID equivalent of an Eric Hovind, a glib secondary apologist who nods in agreement with all their technical pundits, and will defend to the bitter end that which they want to be true.

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