Thanks, Jim Drummond. Thanks a lot.

Last week, the Star Tribune published an article on global warming that included this foolish statement:

“If we compare the debate over the theory of evolution with the debate over the theory of global warming — global warming’s a whole lot more certain at the moment,” said Jim Drummond, a University of Toronto physics professor and chief investigator for the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change.

I’m sure Dr Drummond is a credible authority on climate, but reading that reminded me that even senior scientists can be pompous asses when speaking well outside their expertise. He’s completely wrong: there is no credible debate over the theory of evolution, and it’s as well-established if not more so than global warming. It’s simply absurd to argue otherwise.

When I saw that, I sort of groaned inwardly and predicted to myself that there’s a quote we’ll see repeated over and over again in the creationist literature. I didn’t realize it would take a mere five days.

That’s how long it took Doug Tice, former editorial writer at the Pioneer Press, current political editor at the Star Tribune, and religious apologist, to turn it into part of an anti-evolution screed. You can tell he’s rather giddy with delight, overjoyed to have a scientist casually belittling evolution.

What’s most intriguing here is not what Drummond says about global warming. It’s what he says about evolution.

The theory of global warming is “a whole lot more certain” than the theory of evolution? Is the theory of evolution not certain?

Are there doubts about evolution among scientists like Drummond? Haven’t courts ruled, for practical purposes, that’s it’s unconstitutional for American science teachers to suggest to students that there are scientifically credible doubts or alternatives where biological history is concerned? Don’t those making sport of evolution’s critics routinely liken the status of the theory of evolution to the status of the theory of gravity?


Scientifically credible arguments are good things that should be presented in science classes, where they fit into the curriculum and don’t distract from the important business of learning the basics. The objection to Intelligent Design or “Scientific” creationism isn’t that they’re alternative theories—it’s that they aren’t theories at all, they are unsupported unscientifically, and what they are actually rooted in is good ol’ old-time religion.

I should also point out that while Drummond actually is a scientist, he has very little authority and at this point zero credibility in the discipline of biology. He’s a physicist. This is an extremely difficult point to get across to creationists, but physicists usually take no biology classes at all in their academic career, and may not even have any interest in biology (hard to believe, but it’s true). Similarly, biologists typically take very little physics, and I wouldn’t understand nine tenths (speaking generously) of what Drummond does for a living. His word on evolution has about as much authority as my word on string theory.

I was going to say I know a guy at U Toronto who could take Drummond over his knee, but he already has his comeuppance. Doug Tice didn’t stop with crowing over the expression of doubt about evolution…he goes on to say that if evolution is dubious, then maybe this global warming stuff is all a crock, too. In fact, Tice sneers quite a bit at Drummond, and lumps him with former University of Minnesota president Ken Keller, who had argued that it was foolish to argue against a solid scientific theory like evolution.

But there is an unbecoming sloppiness, almost a bullying quality, about polemical flourishes like Drummond’s and Keller’s. They seem a little like warnings that anyone who questions anything about othodoxies like global warming theory or evolutionary theory runs the risk of being labeled a kook. They seem, in a word, dogmatic.

It’s not dogmatic to point out that an ignorant person quarreling with a scientific theory on the basis of his religious beliefs is a kook, pretty much by definition. You can question scientific ideas all you want — that’s pretty much an operational definition of doing science, actually — but unless you’re doing it on a foundation of knowledge, if you’re just denying a scientific idea because it makes you uncomfortable, or clashes with the words of some long dead patriarch from your holy book, then sure, you’re a kook. A kook like Doug Tice.


  1. Boo says

    Careful UD doesn’t try and make something out of this:

    they are unsupported unscientifically

  2. David Wilford says

    Don’t read the op-ed blogs of newspapers for the science, that’s all I can say! Tice and his ilk are more interested in ginning up some “controversy” (ala Trudeau’s Dr. Nathan Null) and thus indirectly promoting his own ill-informed conservative agenda. I find it funny how Tice thinks his silly little quote-mining rhetorical trick has anything meaningful to say regarding the actual science of either evolution or climate change.

  3. says

    There’s no context given for Drummond’s quote – he may have meant that evolution is certain, and global warming is even more certain.

  4. SLC says

    I can certainly testify that people majoring in physics don’t take any biology courses. The last biology (then called life science) course I took was in junior high school.

  5. says

    The linguist Mark Liberman has described a phenomenon in science journalism which he calls “attributional abduction“. He says,

    in my experience it’s a good rule of thumb to blame the journalist — or the journalistic process, including the editor(s) and the headline writer — before blaming the scientist. Though Lord knows, scientists are not always blameless.

    I’d love to find out that the quote was mangled (restoring some honor to my profession, you know). I think it’s a definite possibility that Dr. Drummond was saying something in the context of general popular perception: “You know, everybody has seen An Inconvenient Truth, there was a joke about global warming in that James Bond movie (the really crappy one). . . . If you pick a guy on the street and compare the theory of evolution to the theory of global warming, global warming’s a whole lot more certain at the moment.” A journalist out to make a buck then completes the job.

    I’m not saying this did happen, but it’s plausible. Even an ivory-tower physicist who has no clue about group selection or punctuated equilibrium and doesn’t have an instant reply to all the creationist canards must surely have heard about the Dover decision. Someone should write to Jim Drummond, pass along a pointer to TalkOrigins, and see if he was quoted accurately.

    Maybe he is as sadly uninformed as this article makes him out to be. Physicists, and scientists in general, have been more ignorant before. I just have some twitching antennae telling me that this particular bit of ignorance is implausible in this context.

  6. AnthonyK says

    We are so sensitive, aren’t we? One ignorant physicist, who is so ignorant that he probably has no idea that he was stirring up a hornet’s nest, and who probably accepts evolution anyway, makes an off-the-cuff remark. He’ll learn. But seriously, is all we’re doing soul counting? The intelligent souls, that is? ‘Cos that’s what the’re doing.
    Great post PZ, argued with both vim and vigour.whatever TF that means.

  7. david says

    When I first read it I thought Drummond was trying to put global warming on unassailable ground. Baaah.

  8. Millimeter Wave says

    I didn’t read the original remarks as in any way suggesting that evolution is not certain. Rather, he was using it as a baseline to explain that global warming is not in any kind of genuine dispute.

    Unfortunately, we know that something like this is always going to be fodder for the quoteminers…

    Perhaps it would have been better if he’d used gravity as the baseline. Wait… that actually is in dispute…

  9. Keanus says

    Tice reveals his ignorance when he states that “They [scientists] seem, in a word, dogmatic,” implying that scientists follow a dogma just like Christians or Muslims. He probably took his last course in science, if that, in elementary school, where it was called something like “messing around with nature.”

  10. Kseniya says

    Blake, your comment about the “string wars” makes me think of a story called “The Dead Past” (which, in turn, brings to mind a great story called “E for Effort” by T.L. Sherred…)

    Regarding Drummond: regardless of his meaning, his words have opened a small gold (quote) mine for Creats… what a shame.

  11. Alexander Vargas says

    Drummons must still have doubts about global warming but even more doubts about evolution. As simple as that.
    If he were an astronomer we could expect him to have a better sense about proven fact within the historical sciences.
    Remember Behe: Even if they are ignorant in natural history, they are “scientists” and have some power to mislead.
    And about ALL creationists, they KNOW they are religion-motivated. In the end, whether they acknowledge it or not, some part of them knows perfectly well they have trodden on science. Rather than kooks, I believe they are unsincere, perhaps even unto themselves.

  12. jeff says

    Just for the record, the 2001 IPCC report says that In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. The qualifier “likely” is defined to mean a 66-90% chance. I think the upcoming 2007 IPCC report will reduce this uncertainty, but I think it will still leave global warming more uncertain than evolution.

  13. says

    The line of argument over at Uncommon Descent the other day was basically, “If they’re still mentioning us, even to knock us down, then we must be having a scientific controversy!”

  14. says

    NO RELATION, and if there were, well, I’d ask that you didn’t associate me with his views regardless.

    Since my family is from MN, there’s a good chance he’s a distant relative I don’t know about, but I’m not a Tice by blood more than three generations back, so maybe that helps?

  15. Geordie says

    I was commenting on a post over at and had a similar response from one of their math/physics buffs he said:

    START: On the subject of controversy and evidence for evolution vs. evidence for CO2-induced global warming, I’d say both are well supported but that in some ways the case for anthropogenic global warming is a bit more straightforward. That’s because its mostly physical science rather than biology. We have quantitative mathematical representations of far more of the process, and ways of testing individual bits in a more straightforward way. Evolution proceeds slowly, and while there are definitely cases where it can be observed in action, reading the fossil record presents difficulties that are in some ways more challenging than reading the paleoclimate record. There are cases where the difficulties are comparable but on the whole, we know how to take a reductionist approach to climate better than we know how to take a reductionist approach to biology. END

    I personaly find the opposite true but I am a biology guy, I think things seem simpler when you study them. So climatology seems simpler to them.

    I think they are trying to lift AGW up past the level of evolutions certainty (which I told him was impossible). Especially since the only remaining argument against evolution is faith. While the claims in AGW’s argument still have a few gaps.

  16. says

    Physics, in particular over the last century, also undoes the distinction between Theory, Hypothesis and Conjecture that we’ve been trying to drill into peoples’ heads for a very long time.

    Without a grand verified hypothesis, for example, it’s still String Theory :)

    No wonder they might get confused at the verification state of the Theory of Evolution :)

  17. amph says

    Related to this: several times in recent months when the global warming issue came up, I have seen comments on postings on this blog that seem to assume that evidence for human-induced global warming (HIGW) is of the same quality as that for evolution, and consequently that anyone denying it is comparable to young earth idiots and the likes. Also people were using totally irrelevant arguments including anecdotical reports about mild temperatures in December etc.
    I am not a climate expert and I may perhaps even know as little about climate as Drummond about biology, but I am trying to follow the discussion and it is quite obvious to me that many HIGW skeptics are quite reasonable people using real arguments, unlike, say, Michael Behe. For one thing, no one uses the Bible as a source of his/her ideas.
    That the climate is heating up seems pretty straight-forward, the statistics show a clear tendency towards higher temperatures in many parts of the world. Whether human activity causes (all of) this, is a distinct question and extremely complex to address. Models that predict dramatic warming and rise of sea-level can not explain things that happened in the past. Predicting the future is even more difficult than explaining the past; a Jurassic Darwin wouldn’t have predicted the elephant.
    Perhaps the HIGW advocates are right, I don’t know, but I feel that here a debate is going on between two groups of reasonable people, totally unlike the case in the evolution debate.

  18. Dunc says

    I am not a climate expert and I may perhaps even know as little about climate as Drummond about biology, but I am trying to follow the discussion and it is quite obvious to me that many HIGW skeptics are quite reasonable people using real arguments

    Ummm, I wouldn’t be too sure about that. The vast majority of contra-AGW arguments are actually little better than PYGMIES + DWARVES if you study the matter. The areas where real uncertainty exists are not to do with the existence of AGW, but the precise impacts.

  19. Michael Saelim says

    Hey hey hey! Some physicists take biology courses in college. Unfortunately, trying to pull a double major in four years has only allowed me to take Honors Intro Bio I & II, but I’m looking at possibly taking some more biology classes while in graduate school, if my other studies allow. I also did a summer REU at Los Alamos in biophysics – I look forward to seeing more quantitative biology in the coming decades. :)

  20. amph says

    The areas where real uncertainty exists are not to do with the existence of AGW, but the precise impacts.

    Yes I agree, but that is by far the most important issue. It makes the difference between see levels rising 10- 15 or more meters within 50 years and the ensuing total panic on one hand, and the idea that there is just a minor delay on the way to a new Ice Age on the other hand. (BTW, I live below see level, so if anyone should panic, I should)

    And yes, I know there are idiots opposing the notion of AGW using wrong arguments, perhaps giving anti-AGW a bad reputation.
    But here is an example of a civilized discussion by an “AGW alarmist” of a Science paper by someone who thinks that the consequences of global warming are not all that alarming, which would be unimaginable between opponents and advocates of evolution.

  21. Matt the heathen says

    As a physics grad student – some of us do take biology courses. Physics simulations of protein folding is a large area of research. NMR, crystography, MRI are all technologies developed by physicists with biology backgrounds.


  22. jeff says

    Another distinction between anti-evolutionists and global warming skeptics is that the legitimate arguments against global warming are, for the most part, scientific, and focus on legitimate areas of uncertainty. They may exaggerate the size of the uncertainty, or propose unlikely but possible stabilizing mechanisms. But it is nonetheless scientific. Lindzen, at MIT, is a good example of a scientist who is also a skeptic. He has proposed several possible mechanisms that have led to significant research programs which ultimately led to improved knowledge of the climate system which proved him wrong. I am not a biologist, but I don’t think anything like that exists in the field of evolution.

    The scientific consensus on evolution is that it is correct. The scientific consensus on climate change is that there is a good chance it is caused by CO2, there is the potential for large negative impacts, and by the time we know with certainty, it may be too late to do anything about it.

  23. Graculus says

    But here is an example of a civilized discussion

    Well, you don’t have any AGW denialists that think that climate doesn’t exist, for starters.

    It seems, however, that most of the denialists have reached the bargaining stage. I’m looking forward to “depression”.

  24. says

    Drummond’s statement was also in Nature or Science, as best as I can recall (could have been Physics Today or some other periodical I read, but I don’t think so). And yes, I read it as a way of making global warming out to be certain, but thought it a very poor comparison, if probably pretty much off-the-cuff. I thought about it, and it seemed to me that the fact that global warming is happening is probably as certain as evolution, while that it is anthropogenically-caused is probably somewhat less certain than both. I suppose that statement could be argued, but that’s my take on it.

    Even if much is being made out of little, let’s think of why, probably, Drummond said it. First off, he doesn’t actually know the science well, but that’s been said. What goes with that, however, is that for those who don’t know the evidence, the mere caterwauling of a bunch of IDiots takes a psychological toll on the certainty of what is (virtually) certain, never mind that Drummond doesn’t wish to be swayed by noisy yahoos. You want evolution to have a small, but illegitimately large, amount of doubt among the populace? You only have to put it there–force biologists onto the defensive, put out a bunch of nonsense that sounds vaguely plausible (even to non-biologists who are scientists), and claim that you want to “teach the controversy”.

    I don’t think it’s possible to choose between the certainty that the globe is warming and evolution to say which is “more certain”, while the anthropogenic nature of the former can only be characterized as “slightly less” (there are possible natural mechanisms that can’t be ruled out, but can’t be ruled in and don’t appear to be very likely to be doing much). Drummond knows about how certain global warming is, and appears to have some vague unarticulated doubts about evolution put into his head. He knows science and evidence too well to think that evolution is in any reasonable doubt, which is why he uses it as a comparison. Yet because of the noise of Behe, Dembski, and other know-nothings, he doesn’t recognize that evolution is every bit as solid as global warming is.

    This can’t be helped. Lies do work, even when they merely put a small doubt into the minds of the primates we call “humans”, and more so when they land in ill-educated or easily-persuaded primate minds. It is the only thing that IDiots have going for them, yet it is enough for it, and/or some other version(s) of creationism, to last for a very long time. If defamation of an idea were possible (thankfully it is not), we’d sue for such debased tactics, and we’d probably win (given that the same rules regarding defamation of “private citizens” were used).

    Drummond meant no harm to evolution, though he thoughtlessly opened a door for the stupid to enter. He did nevertheless exhibit the anti-intellectual value of placing illegitimate doubts into the minds of people, for since he knows of nothing that makes evolution less certain than that the globe is now warming, so can only have been reflecting IDist nonsense. The latter is and should be legal to publicize, however it remains as reprehensible as any lie about anybody and anything.

    Glen D

  25. Dave C says

    “Great post PZ, argued with both vim and vigour.whatever TF that means.

    As a non-scientist the only meaningful contribution to this conversation I can make is that I might be able is to posit an answer to “TF this means”.
    From my days as a youngster at a military school, Vim was/is a powdery cleaning product that needs to be applied with a damp cloth, Vim didn’t so much clean as scour the shit off of any surface (along with the top layer of the surface and skin on the hand wielding the cloth), but would only do so with the maximum of elbow grease or vigour. Also the whole mess dried leaving a white powdery covering on the surface “cleaned”. The surface was then mopped to remove this powder. Think of “Vim and Vigour” as the sanitary equivalent of a scorched earth campaign. My suggestion would be that we save the use of this phrase until the coup de grace has been delivered to any poster, comment etc. because it really is that devastating a concept.
    In the true traditions of scientific endeavour, my hypothesis is now up for disdent and counter claim, but please cite your sources

  26. dzd says

    Well, you don’t have any AGW denialists that think that climate doesn’t exist, for starters.

    I did once run into a guy in a discussion online who staunchly believed that CO2 wasn’t a greenhouse gas. That’s roughly equivalent, I’d say.

  27. AC says

    Dave C, I think the word “vim” precedes the cleaning product, and that the latter was named after the former because of its powerful effects.

    Still, the word “vim” is a bit archaic at this point, so that may be why AnthonyK said what he said.

  28. mygaia says

    I think what he was saying is that evolution is certain and that shows by comparison just how much more certain global warming is. If anyone wants to check, his address is

  29. Richard Simons says

    Surely Jim Drummond was misquoted. I find it hard to accept that any knowledgeable physics professor would include the theory of evolution and the theory of global warming in one breath. The TOE is a scientific theory whereas the ‘theory’ of global warming is not. I agree, various scientific theories are used to make the prediction that global warming will occur (or, more likely, is already taking place) but global warming is not, in itself, a scientific theory.

  30. Doug Clover says


    To a degree you are right Lindzen developed a credible hypothesis called the Iris theory. This theory has subsequently has been largely discredited, but he has refused to either move on and changed his views, or develop new ideas refuting AGW. In fact he seems to have moved out of science into full time advocacy. He is very quickly using up is scientific cred, which is a shame.

    Climate change denialsts use many of the same tactics as the ID movement. For example
    – refusal to recognise new information that conflicts with their view
    – referring to old out of date material
    – cherry picking and quote mining the science
    – arguments from of authority by those who do not work in the field (in ID it seems to be lawyers and engineers, in AGW its economists, petroleum geologists and engineers)

    For a recent effort by Linzden in this case on the science of the Stern Report see Ne3us6 at

  31. ray says

    As soon as I saw the press release (EurekAlert maybe?) I fired off an email to Drummond. Perhaps I over-reacted, but I did not like the tone of it. Anyway, I mainly emphasized that the ToE has withstood almost 150 years of challenges. The ‘theory’ of AGW? Not so much.

  32. says

    How can a professor of physics so misunderstand something. “Global Warming is more convincing than evolution at the moment”

    He is eithier lying and he knows its, is delusional or he is a complete dumbass who somehow cheated himself to a PhD (is that even possible).