They have a real talent there

Has anyone else noticed that you often only need to read the first sentence of anything written at Uncommon Descent to see them screw up royally? Especially, lately, if the author is Denyse O’Leary. Take this, for example.

Textbooks often don’t discuss extinction — the death of all members of a species — in any detail.

That’s news to me. I opened up my intro biology text, which is more a philosophy and history of biology book, and found 23 pages dedicated to discussing extinctions. It’s been my experience that most textbooks will mention at least the Permian and K/T extinctions; they’ll include quite a bit of material on modern extinctions; and they’ll always discuss mechanisms of extinctions. It’s as if these people have never even cracked a biology book, yet feel perfectly comfortable in declaring precisely what’s inside.

Even weirder, O’Leary goes on to quote a section from David Raup’s excellent book, Extinction (damn those evilutionists: they’re always trying to hide the facts by writing books with titles that say exactly what they’re about. Douglas Erwin also has a book titled Extinction — we’re trying so hard to avoid discussing in any detail these subjects, you see.) Raup wrote a book in which he documented the importance of chance events in evolutionary history, arguing that some major events, such as extinction in the face of overwhelming environmental trauma, are not something that any lineage can adapt itself to — some events really are just unpreventable accidents. He also carefully explained that because many major processes are driven entirely by chance, that does not mean that selection is false or doesn’t occur. Evolution has a plurality of mechanisms. O’Leary quoted a paragraph of that, and here’s her take.

In his day, Raup was taking a big risk by even suggesting that Darwinism might not be true, so he wisely merely provides facts that dispute it — and then covers his tracks with a resounding promotion of Darwinism in areas of study that he does not actually address in his book in any detail.

Wha…? That’s simply insane. David Raup was most definitely not suggesting that evolution by natural selection (which is what I presume she means by “Darwinism”) was not true, nor did any of the facts he describe in the book in any way dispute the role of selection. Raup is not in any way on O’Leary’s side. He is not a cunning stealth creationist writing a book to rebut evolution, and hiding his motives in a few false testimonials — he’s an evolutionary biologist, his book supports evolution, and the reason he’s explaining that extinctions don’t refute natural selection is because they don’t, as anyone with a sliver of reading comprehension would be able to tell you after reading his book.

Here’s the other amazing thing about the creationists’ output. The first sentence is stupid and patently wrong, but they always manage to get even stupider as you read deeper.


  1. natural cynic says

    There you go again. Your lack of faith means that you cannot know what’s in a book without reading it. Those with faith know what the book means, even thought it contains words that may contradict the real meaning.

  2. Richard Wolford says

    So then they treated this book just like the bible; don’t read it, but pull paragraphs/sentences/words out whenever you need to, twist them out of context to fit your preconceived conclusions, and declare victory.

    Teh stupid…it so burns…

  3. Justin H. says

    Don’t forget her bizarre fixation on psychic powers. Denyse is possibly the very strangest of the mainstream cdesign proponentsists. Remember when she kept bringing up some child who supposedly had “virtually no brain” and yet was of normal intelligence?

  4. says

    Similarly, the Bible proclaims that God doesn’t exist. In their day, the writers were taking a big risk by even suggesting that God might not exist, so they wisely merely provided facts that supoort the idea—modern Christians like O’Leary and Dembski cover their tracks with a resounding promotion of Christianity in areas of study that they’ve never addressed (or even looked into) in any detail.

    The really sad thing is that I can provide more evidence to support my re-wording than Denyse can for her original.

    Why do they hate reality so much?

  5. Sigmund says

    I personally don’t find it plausible that a lot of the ‘major’ IDiots actually believe the stuff they are coming out with. Its really just a career niche that they have wedged themselves into. Given that the US has so many creationists within its population and many of those will willingly buy anything that gives some minute veneer of scientific credence to their faith there is a ready made market for their books and highly paid lectures. Theres no need to classify them any differently than snake oil salesmen, palm readers or other such predators on the gullible section of society.
    Do you know the one thing that confuses me about the current situation? Its that there aren’t MORE IDiots – even some with proper scientific qualifications and publications!
    To be a real scientists is very difficult. Very little pay compared to the time needed to qualify, zero job security. Requirement to frequently move to pick up necessary experience (meaning many scientists find it almost impossible to own their own property and must live in rental accomodation), no pension etc (I could go on but I’m depressing myself!). Now look at creationists. Zero publications and you can get tenure at a creationist college. Not living in the US I’m not one who is likely to end up in such a place but, as I said, I’m surprised that more real biologists don’t take that path, out of financial necessity more than anything.

  6. Josh in California says

    Don’t forget her bizarre fixation on psychic powers. Denyse is possibly the very strangest of the mainstream cdesign proponentsists. Remember when she kept bringing up some child who supposedly had “virtually no brain” and yet was of normal intelligence?

    I bet she was referring to someone with an extreme case of hydrocephalus. If she confuses that with psychic powers….well, at least she’s not calling for them to be burned at the stake. ;-)

  7. deang says

    Brings to mind fundamentalist Christians who denounce certain films without even having seen them.

  8. JohnnieCanuck, FCD says

    That could be said to be selling your birthright as an intelligent being in a marvelous natural world for a mess of pottage.

    It has never been clear to me what lesson was being taught as Jacob cheated his way to prosperity.

  9. keiths says

    Here’s the other amazing thing about the creationists’ output. The first sentence is stupid and patently wrong, but they always manage to get even stupider as you read deeper.

    Denyse is particularly gifted in this regard. She manages to torture syntax and semantics simultaneously.

  10. Michael X says

    No, no, no, Brownian. You just talk about reality to appease the “reality religion” around you. Very ballsy indeed. You’re taking a big risk in your day actually talking about how reality doesn’t exist. But the more you protest, the more we the non-realityiests (even spelling doesn’t hold) know that you are proclaiming our side through your cleverly worded “reality” posts.

  11. DrFrank says

    It would be nice to contact David Raup so he could specifically call O’Leary an idiot, but I’m guessing he has much more productive things to do with his time.

  12. Peter Ashby says

    Sigmund the answer to your conundrum is fairly simple. See people have this thing called self respect and not everyone is actually willing to sacrifice it unless the rewards are really big. After all many of the sort of people who would be suitable for this can earn much more and be treated with (some) respect by going into marketing and sales.

    Balancing this academics in general sacrifice financial reward for enormous job satisfaction, PZ is a prime exemplar of such job satisfaction. He even enjoys teaching. Would academics like more money? do Ursids excrete in temperate forest environments? But not at any price which is why it can be hard persuading us to commercialise every last minor discovery. The money men just don’t understand that there is more to life.

  13. Peter Ashby says

    Denyse O’Leary and Co are simply projecting. They think scientists write with hidden agendas because that is how they write. It is a shibboleth of fighting a war that you assume your enemy is motivated just like you are. They see books like Extinction as sallies in that war so of course their authors are being as dishonest and shifty as they are. The idea that they might actually be striving mightily to communicate complex ideas as simply and clearly as they can simply never occurs to Denyse, the very idea would be silly.

    The real question, if Sigmund is right, is how she manages to look in the mirror every morning. I don’t think she has any problem, at worst she gets by because she so WANTS to believe. This is exemplified by her reaction to the kid with hydrocephalus, she needs the world to be weird and inexplicable except by supernatural explanations. It is always entirely possible that she truly does believe of course. I’m not sure which is more frightening. I think that depends on who it is more frightening for.

  14. Logician says

    Almost fell off my chair over the link to the Frenchman with virtually no brain and an IQ of 75: he was a civil servant.
    Well, of COURSE he was!

  15. csrster says

    No it’s true enough. I have a textbook of database design and development on my desk right now and it doesn’t even have “extinction” in the index.

  16. says

    It’s the same mentality that gives us Holocaust deniers. There whole “where is the proof” crap. Ironically, the Germans dispute that from their own highly detailed records which, if filed laterally, would stretch 15 miles.

    Not that the deniers would care.

  17. says

    Almost fell off my chair over the link to the Frenchman with virtually no brain and an IQ of 75: he was a civil servant.
    Well, of COURSE he was!

    Posted by: Logician | January 28, 2008 5:51 AM

    :sigh: You see the same thing here. When my mom worked for US Customs they had a GS11 who was promoted because he was an Affirmative Action – mentally disabled. A problem during birth and he was without oxygen for eight-and-a-half minutes.

    Nice guy. He made mail runs and copies. About as retarded as you could be and still be capable of functioning in limited tasks.

    So it’s not like France has a monopoly on foolish or arrogant stupidity. And considering they kick our asses, on a per-capita basis, in so many important things… And the fact that we owe our self-governing country to their help…

    Making French jokes is really lame. It’s so Neocon-2002.

  18. Venger says

    I think O’Leary and the other morons lying for Christ get off on the attention, they haven’t the brain wattage to try being real scientists, but it doesn’t take much effort to be the smartest creationist in the room, and you can always be sure that the bigger idiots will hang on your every word. Being the smartest creationist in the room basically means being the one with a family tree that actually has a couple branches in it. You don’t have to know anything remotely scientific, you can make up any argument you like or just use the same tired arguments every other creationist moron has used before, lie about any fact you want, because your fans are even less capable of understanding it than you are. Of course being the smartest creationist in the room is a bit like being the most buoyant piece of excrement in the toilet, sure you’ve risen to the top, but its still just shit.

  19. says

    I can just see the cdesign proponentsists’ response to this: “We just said ‘textbooks’, not specifying which one! You obviously picked an exception.” (I expect that they would throw in some false praise for your particular choice, followed by an immediate retraction, as it is obviously flawed in other respects, such as its treatment of evolution as scientifically supported reality.)

    I find it telling, though, that Ms. O’Leary does not specify what kind of textbooks she is discussing. I suspect that even most biology textbooks would not include a section on it. Physiology, anatomy, animal behaviour, cell biology, genetics… pretty much only books on ecology or evolution would have a proper need to discuss the topic in any detail. Those and, of course, introductory biology texts, but I suspect that Ms. O’Leary’s “honesty” requires her to consider all biology textbooks (or, as csrster points out, all textbooks of any kind), regardless of their relevance to the topic at hand. She did not technically say anything incorrect, after all.

    Wait, I just said something in Ms. O’Leary’s defence. Even satirically, that is just wrong. I think that I will go brush my teeth now.

  20. Sigmund says

    Peter Ashby, I’m quite sure you are correct but the notion of selling out, while quite normal in most areas of work is incredibly rare amongst biology researchers when faced with an obvious career niche such as shown by the example of these creationists. That is not to say biology researchers won’t sell out to industry. I can tell you from personal experience that the very best PhDs coming through my department at the moment are leaving research in their droves for industry – for the simple reason that this is the only place they can have a secure job. The financial side is entirely secondary to most researchers, it is job security that is the big problem. They spend over a decade qualifying for a job only to find themselves working in a department where the janitor is the only one with the job security to get a mortgage. What puzzles me is that, given the large numbers of biologists who are qualified, and apparently with such little job security, why it is that so few have sold out (for instance compared to the number of climate scientists that have done so)?

  21. Donnie B. says

    Perhaps Ms. O’Leary was referring to High School Biology textbooks. You know, the ones that don’t even refer to evolution thanks to the efforts of folks like… Ms. O’Leary.

    I’ll bet she’s right that they have little to say about extinction.

  22. windy says

    Making French jokes is really lame. It’s so Neocon-2002.

    I interpreted that as a joke on civil servants, not the French specifically…

  23. rjb says

    Sort of an aside, but I’ve come up with a nice “sports analogy” that I use with my students that seems to work. Take football. The goal of football is to score more points than your opponent. Now, there are many ways that teams can go about achieving this goal. Some teams have outstanding offenses, some have outstanding defenses. But you could make a football “theory” that states that teams that have better defenses have a distinct advantage, and therefore, better defenses are “adaptive” and those teams will be more likely to win. But wait! What about a team like last year’s Super Bowl winners, the Colts? Their defense was simply mediocre. Yet they succeeded by a somewhat different strategy–having a superior offense. So, the “creationist” football fan would look at this and say “Aha! see? Defense isn’t important, therefore, your theory is wrong!!” Just about every student can see the fallacy of this “creationist” argument. Just because there are multiple ways to achieve a final goal doesn’t mean that if one strategy isn’t used in every case, it isn’t important in general.

    It’s sad to say, but when I phrase things to students like this when I talk about evolution and natural selection, they get it.

  24. Peter Ashby says

    Sigmund I am one of those, an unemployed post doc who finds himself in a world that does not value his, fairly unique, skillset and experience. Most of what I can do can be done by a well trained technician but nobody will hire me as a technician…

    It is simple grade inflation as to why there are so many biology PhDs nowadays. It used to be that a good first degree differentiated you from the herd, now there are both many more people with first degrees and a great many have firsts or 2:1s. So to lift yourself above the herd you need to go higher. What nobody tells them is that their chances of anything that resembles a tenured job are miniscule.

    Why aren’t they told? because they are cheap labour, not as productive as a postdoc but much cheaper. Also all those new minds are great sources of ideas to feed jaded lab heads who have run out of grant ideas. Why aren’t postdocs allowed to hold their own grants? because they would take those grants from the lab heads. And yes, I have written a grant, from my own idea and we got it. Was I an applicant? no.

    A nice Catch 22: to get a proper job you need to demonstrate ‘an ability to attract grant funding’, BUT you need a proper job to be able to apply for grant funding. If it wasn’t so funny I would cry.

  25. maxi says

    It’s things like this that worry me. I’m nearing the ending of my MRes, but what to do afterwards? I’m thinking of leaving research and getting a normal job. I cannot see a future here.

  26. Pablo says

    “I bet she was referring to someone with an extreme case of hydrocephalus.”

    Look back in the Table of Contents to Science and you will find a commentary titled “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” about such a case. Early 80s, I think.

    Of course, as has been pointed out, no one is claiming anything supernatural about it, just that it tells us that the functions of the brain can be remapped if done in specific ways. You see, that’s what scientists do, they LEARN from what they observe and ADAPT their thinking as a result.

  27. Sigmund says

    Peter, I know what you mean. Most people interested in biology or genetics (I can’t speak about physics research but probably the same applies) knowingly give up the opportunity of high salaries, that they could make in other jobs, to pursue their chosen career of scientific research. What they don’t knowingly do is aim for a career with no security. I think that this is the big secret that is kept from young people who show an interest in science and it comes as a shock to them later on when they start to look for a job following qualification.
    I wonder if the Discovery Institute has actually got their tactics all wrong. All they really need to do to attack ‘materialistic’ science and keep young people from heading down that path is not to lie about actual research but to publicize the truth about it as a career.

  28. Peter Ashby says

    Maxi, the ways to succeed are these:

    1. work every hour you can, even at the expense of your health and definitely at the expense of your relationships (I failed at this, I love my family). I know so many who have done it this way and failed though, or are living in horrible places. I’m not dissing PZ, but i couldn’t live in Morris, it would drive me crazy.

    2. Be lucky. I have seen people given their own labs simply because they were in the right place at the right time. One of them came up to me once and asked if I had any ideas of experiments he could put in his grant application, he couldn’t think of any…

    3. Find a sugar daddy and ingratiate yourself. I very nearly succeeded at this and was even promised a proper job, I turned down other opportunities for it. Then it evaporated, 6weeks before my contract ended. So close.

    My advice? stop at the MRes, become a very good technician. Your life may not be entirely in your hands but you should never be unemployed for long. A PhD reduces your employment prospects, it does NOT improve them.

  29. rjb says

    As someone who has a PhD, I want to offer some balance to what Peter is saying. It’s not all doom and gloom if you get your PhD. If you are absolutely set on academics as being your only path, then yes, the odds are long. But he’s giving a very narrow perspective. For example, in my graduating class of PhD’s, there were 7 of us. 6 of us are gainfully employed as of last check that I know of. 4 of us are still in academia, 1 is working for the forest service, 1 has gone into banking (and is making a lot more money than the rest of us). I have other friends and colleagues who have gone to law school, gone back to medical school, gone into business, journalism, etc.

    The bottom line is, a PhD is a lot of time and work. Do it because you want to learn more. It WILL help you in the future, because of the skills you learn to think independently and creatively and the ability to express yourself. It may not be necessary for your chosen line of work, but you can gain a lot from it. But do it because you love the science. Don’t do it if you’re looking for a jumping off point for a lucrative career. Still, most likely, you won’t starve if you get your PhD, and you won’t have to dig ditches.

  30. Ian says

    I think O’Leary has inadvertently hit on the next phase in Intelligent Design Information Orthodoxy Theory (IDIOT).

    Insist that all books actually support design but are forced by the Evilutionist overlords to pretend they support the Theory of Evolution. Sorry, my bad – Darwinism.

  31. Peter Ashby says

    rjb you simply make my point about grade inflation for me. A generation ago would you have needed a PhD to get into banking or forestry? no. Is a PhD level education actually necessary to do these jobs? I doubt it. They are evidence that the reason for doing a PhD and what the degree is for are no longer fit for purpose.

    Time was people stepped straight from PhDs to running their own labs and lecturing.

  32. says

    Wait, wait… Doesn’t O’Leary come from the tradition that whines that Evolution is wrong because it’s governed by random forces? So what’s she doing pointing out how brave Raup is to show the world that a “random force” is part of the evolutionary process? I’m confused. (Ah hah! She’s succeeding!)

  33. maxi says


    1) Sorry, just can’t do that!

    2) Luck has gotten me this far. I was working as a veterinary tech and was practically given an MRes. This offer of a research assistant is also down to luck, I think. But as you quite rightly say, those who get places because of luck maybe aren’t qualified to be there!

    3) Very tempting… alas my PI is female and nothing, nothing on this good earth would persuade me to go there!

    I agree that PhDs do open doors for you that would have otherwise remain shut. I am reminded of a piece I saw in New Scientist in the summer which compared earning power with qualification. I believe it went something like this: Phd (or higher)-> BSc/BA -> MSc/MA… That’s the trouble with a Masters, you are betwixt and between.

    Want fries with that?

  34. CalGeorge says

    She’s quick to be critical of the work of others but so obviously blind when it comes to turning the criticism on herself.

    Pitiful. She should stick to her Bible reading.

  35. Sigmund says

    maxi, I think Peter is giving excellent advice here.
    Do not look at it in terms of financial rewards, the job security available to PhDs is much less than that of technicians and the wages not that much different if you have been employed for a few years at one place (something that can be very difficult for a PhD). As an example of what to expect as a PhD, heres what recently happened here in Sweden. An EU law designed to protect workers on short term contracts came into effect meaning that employers had to offer permanent contracts to workers who were employed in the same job for more than three years. The research authorities got around this problem by suddenly designating that no postdoc post can last more than two years – resulting in a law designed to prevent employee abuse turning into the very thing that made many PhDs unemployed.

  36. Peter Ashby says

    And if you do get consecutive contracts you find you spend one day unemployed between them so that they are not technically consecutive.

  37. dhogaza says

    rjb you simply make my point about grade inflation for me. A generation ago would you have needed a PhD to get into banking or forestry? no. Is a PhD level education actually necessary to do these jobs? I doubt it.

    Um, the US Forest Service does a lot more than “forestry”, it runs a fair number of research programs in non-forestry areas, research programs that you’d expect PhD biologists, economists, etc to be involved in.

    This isn’t new, either.

  38. Timcol says

    I’ve noticed that O’Leary has become quite prolific lately. Not only does she have several blogs of her own, she contributes regularly to UD (much more than Dembski in fact). And now she also seems to be the sole contributor to a new blog called which is a spin-off of the book of the same name by Wells and Dembski.

    Well, you think, she must be some important scientist, right?

    Nope, she’s a journalist and her degree (see is in English and as far as I can tell she has zero scientific training. Yet somehow she seems to be turning into the leading spokesperson for UD, if not ID itself. But unlike real science journalists who usually try to report objectively, not only is she obviously bias but she has the arrogance to think of herself as an authority on these matters. Just try pointing an error or mistake on one of her blogs. It won’t get published – she never admits her mistakes (apparently her form of Christianity does not seem to practice humility or self-examination).

    Not only that, but I actually think she’s a very poor writer. Her articles frequently ramble, contain numerous non-sequiturs, and usually do not have any coherent structure to them. I frequently read them and just go “huh?” at the end because it seems like she has just penned a random stream of consciousness without any thought behind her (her infamous “Nine predictions” are classic O’Leary in this vein). Plus of course she has a coying “street-talk” style of writing that she obviously thinks is damn clever, but is not only irritating but detracts from her message.

    I guess what is amusing is, is the best the ID movement can come up with? A D-list second-rate journalist with no scientific background?

    Why aren’t the real “scientists” in ID blogging instead?

  39. Peter Ashby says

    And I shared a PhD office with a guy from the govt agricultural research station over the hill. He was an independent research scientist there and had more than a few years experience. The only reason he was doing a PhD was so he wouldn’t be overlooked in the promotions race as grade inflation meant more and more people around him had PhDs. IOW he didn’t need one to do his job.

  40. Ole says

    In defense of O’Leary, the sentence quoted doesn’t specify the type of textbooks – maybe she meant economics textbooks?

  41. Peter Ashby says

    And I had some lecturers who were Mr Smith, not Dr or Prof Smith. They were tenured lecturing staff with their own labs. This was only 20 years ago. These are only my standout anecdotal examples of grade inflation. The statistics are even more stark. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the world is how it is because it needs to be that way.

    Sure not everyone doing a PhD is wasting their time, but a distressingly large number are to a very great degree. Don’t get me started on what is required for a PhD thesis these days either.

  42. rjb says

    Peter, I think I’m in agreement with you for the most part, but I still think you’re missing my point. If all you care about is your career, then by all means a PhD is not the most efficient or direct option to get to a satisfactory, money making career. Also, if your only possible option with a PhD is an academic position at a research institution, then you also stand a high likelihood of being disappointed. However, if you really love the science, and are willing to put a lot of yourself into it (yes, you have to work incredibly long, stressful hours, and it isn’t always fun or pleasant), then doing a PhD might be worth it. And my take home message is that if you get your PhD, you CAN be successful in just about anything that you apply yourself to afterwards, whether it be science, banking, or running a hotel. You learn skills of critical thinking and independence (hopefully) that are transferable to any career.

  43. Sigmund says

    rjb said “if you get your PhD, you CAN be successful in just about anything that you apply yourself to afterwards, whether it be science, banking, or running a hotel.” Except, considering the number of researchers versus the number of available research posts, statistically research (the main reason most of us actually DO a PhD) is unlikely to be one of them.
    Actually I agree with you about the money making career part. There are quite a few researchers hired at my institution on the condition that they do so in a voluntary, non salaried capacity. It actually makes things hugely less complicated for their ’employers’ – no salaries, overheads, pension or health contributions etc. Is this really the way forward for research? As I mentioned previously, the very best young researchers coming through the system can see with their own eyes what sort of prospects they face and are choosing to leave research for industry.

  44. June says

    O’Leary write that, when facts are not available, dangerous folklore takes over and pop culture icons arise that do not reflect the real history of life.

    Yo, Denyse! Anything familiar here? Hint: Folklore stories and pop culture icons of talking snakes, men made from mud, women made from ribs, great floods, burning bushes, stone tablets, rivers of blood, walking on water, ……

  45. windy says

    As an example of what to expect as a PhD, heres what recently happened here in Sweden. An EU law designed to protect workers on short term contracts came into effect meaning that employers had to offer permanent contracts to workers who were employed in the same job for more than three years. The research authorities got around this problem by suddenly designating that no postdoc post can last more than two years – resulting in a law designed to prevent employee abuse turning into the very thing that made many PhDs unemployed.

    I heard the limit was 18 months? And I also heard that not only is a single postdoc post limited, you can’t be employed in any other capacity at the same institute afterwards, either. But there are a lot of rumors going around, frustratingly.

  46. Peter Ashby says

    When I was last employed here in Scotland the rule was no more than two successive contracts of two years or more each.

    Also rjb you are assuming that a PhD is the only or the best way to gain the sort of skills you think are valuable in employment transfer. I remain severely sceptical about that point.

  47. says

    They repeat their BS among themselves as much to convince themselves as others. My sense is that O’Dreary really does believe (with nagging, but completely inadmissible doubts) that “Darwinism” is a metaphysical explanation which the “Darwinists” never dare to question, except in hushed tones and careful out-of-the-way references. The mere fact that major science conferences deal with extinctions (as do texts) and their non-Darwinian implication would, naturally, escape this lazy ignorant moron.

    The one thing I’d add regarding the history of science is that it was not so many decades ago that adaptationism was almost the default explanation for extinctions. The dinosaurs must have been killed in their eggs by wily egg-eating mammals–that sort of thing. I wouldn’t be too hard on that default, however, since science did know about adaptation, and not about the Chicxulub crater and the iridium layer. There was some opposition to catastrophic explanations which made headway into biology, but clearly it wasn’t anything that science was going to “stop” over its “non-Darwinian” aspects.

    Gould, of course, wrote quite a lot about the non-adaptive accidents in the history of life. So did many others. Densie comes very late into the “controversy,” with her ignorant and uninformed agenda, and she really knows nothing except to see it in terms of conspiracies and anti-Darwinists skulking around the periphery of science (there’s the hope in some of these IDiots that the oppressed anti-Darwinists in the science community will rise up and vindicate them at some point, as well–in your lunacy, Denyse). She has never been able to see science in its diversity or its adoption of non-Darwinian accidents–because she began her “quest to understand” with an already made-up “mind” which saw ideologically-committed “Darwinists” who never heed any opposition, against those who are right (don’t forget that the culture is of apocalypse and the fight of good against evil, even if she’s a Catholic who should have at least a somewhat better understanding of life).

    She’s never been able to understand science and its debates, so she models her vision of science upon her own limited binary oppositions and suspicion of the outsider. She almost certainly truly cannot fathom how science debates issues (often with some entrenched old guard bigots among the scientists, who most frequently cannot prevail), considering issues with a flexibility and understanding of another’s position of which she has never been capable.

    Hence she cannot imagine that “non-Darwinian” extinctions are part and parcel of paleontological thought today, simply because her world doesn’t make sense without there being “Darwinists” around who cannot and will not consider any other options. Why else would they reject ID? Indeed, that’s why they call MET “Darwinism,” because they have no case if evolutionary science isn’t bigotry. The only other option is that ID is bigotry, and they can’t even begin to consider that fact.

    Glen D

  48. bPer says

    Justin H @#3 said:

    Remember when [O’Leary] kept bringing up some child who supposedly had “virtually no brain” and yet was of normal intelligence?

    I can see why she and her cretinous colleagues would find such a person a curiosity. After all, she and the other IDiots supposedly have a normal brain and yet have virtually no intelligence!

  49. rjb says

    Peter, you’re still missing my point. I am actually in agreement with you. Do NOT do a PhD if you are looking at it as a way to get into a lucrative career, or if you solely want to gain critical thinking skills. Yes, there are many better, more efficient ways to do this. Only do a PhD if you absolutely love your field and you want to immerse yourself completely in it for the next 5-15 years (YMMV). HOWEVER (and this is my point), if you do a PhD and then leave academia, you will have gained valuable skills that you can apply to any field of study.

    This is what I advise my students who are considering getting a PhD. I do not sugar coat it, I tell them it’s a ton of work for little pay with no guarantees of being able to continue your career. All I’m saying is that it can be a rewarding enterprise in and of itself, and it can lead you to a happy and successful life, whether continuing on in research or elsewhere. Like anything, though, it’s not a guarantee of success or happiness.

  50. Peter Ashby says

    OK fair enough rjb if you do so advise your students then I think you are telling them like it is and well done. Unfortunately the advice I got was fitted for a world that was on the cusp of changing forever.

  51. Sigmund says

    Knowing what I know now I would never advise anyone to do a PhD and a career in research unless they are independently wealthy. 90% of those who enter the field simply cannot rely on it to provide a regular salary or support a family. Unless you are one of the 10% who are lucky to get the right breaks (choose a famous supervisor who gets lots of Nature papers!)
    then you are likely to be in the 90%. I was heading for an industry job as a MSc in biotechnology when I was advised to do a PhD (and no, there was no mention of the vale of career tears I was being sent towards, the bastard!). It becomes a vicious cycle. Research groups need PhD students because they are the only researchers they can afford. They are taken on and promised a PhD but as soon as they get it they are dumped on the market where they find the role they have qualified for is being done (badly but cheaper) by yet more PhD students.
    And so it goes.

  52. says

    In an amusing bit of irony, I’ve been reading Origin of Species recently, and I’m in the middle of the chapters on “difficulties of the theory”. Where Darwin repeatedly discusses extinctions as being one of the essential requirements for evolution to work. (You know, part of that “selection” business.)

    Given that the extinction of species is not only a prediction of the theory of evolution but actually a component of one of its core mechanisms, i.e. natural selection, I have a little bit of trouble seeing how extinctions should be a problem for us Darwinists.

  53. CHANGCHO says

    All I can say is that Raup’s book is excellent, and only a moron would claim it’s anti-Darwin…

  54. Timcol says

    Looks like Mr. Darwin himself had quite a few things to say about extinction. It’s true that he did not think that they were caused by large-scale catastrophes, but neverthless he did obviously think that extinction worked hand in hand with natural selection. It’s also clear that he thought that at least localized natural disasters could result in extinction events. Maybe O’Leary needs to stop blogging for a bit and actually get herself educated for once….


    We have as yet only spokesn incidentally of the disappearance of species and of groups of species. On the theory of natural selection, the extinction of old forms and the production of new and improved forms are intimately connected together. The old notion of all the inhabitants of the earth having been swept away by catastrophes at successive periods is very generally given up, even by those geologists, as Elie de Beaumont, Murchison, Barrande, etc., whose general views would naturally lead them to this conclusion. On the contrary, we have every reason to believe, from the study of the tertiary formations, that species and groups of species gradually disappear, one after another, first from one spot, then from another, and finally from the world. In some few cases, however, as by the breaking of an isthmus and the consequent irruption of a multitude of new inhabitants into an adjoining sea, or by the final subsidence of an island, the process of extinction may have been rapid. Both single species and whole groups of species last for very unequal periods; some groups, as we have seen, have endured from the earliest known dawn of life to the present day; some have disappeared before the close of the palaeozoic period. No fixed law seems to determine the length of time during which any single species or any single genus endures. There is reason to believe that the extinction of a whole group of species is generally a slower process than their production: if their appearance and disappearance be represented, as before, by a vertical line of varying thickness the line is found to taper more gradually at its upper end, which marks the progress of extermination, than at its lower end, which marks the first appearance and the early increase in number of the species. In some cases, however, the extermination of whole groups, as of ammonites, towards the close of the secondary period, has been wonderfully sudden.

  55. mothra says

    The only reason to complete a Ph.D. is genuine interest in science, the subject at hand and the desire to continue in a research career. Since probably the early ’80s one would never do it for the money.

    I’ve go to go and feed my non-extinct birds: Martha, Doodles, Incas, and there is this big glossy black & white woodpecker hammering a hole in dining room- might have to shoot it and do a painting. Never mind- in fifth grade I read Silverberg’s ‘The Auk, the Dodo and the Oryx.’

  56. windy says

    Research groups need PhD students because they are the only researchers they can afford. They are taken on and promised a PhD but as soon as they get it they are dumped on the market where they find the role they have qualified for is being done (badly but cheaper) by yet more PhD students. And so it goes.

    It’s symptomatic that apparently most papers in Sweden are authored by PhD students (at least in some fields). And I’ve heard senior researchers mention this as a good thing! …if you do the math, the prospects of a research career can’t be too good if it’s true.

  57. Richard Simons says

    Just to add to the discussion about the value of a PhD. It can work against you. My wife, who has a PhD in zoology and post-doc research experience, was turned down for a position teaching science in high school in favour of someone with a general degree because she would have cost them more. She offered to remove it from her cv but with no success.

  58. Sigmund says

    windy, that is certainly true. To get a PhD here you need four papers, two of which should have the student as main author. This, tied to the overall numbers of PhD students compared to post-doc researchers, leads to a situation where a sizeable proportion of the whole research program consists of a means to get manuscripts for PhD students (generally lower quality papers since we cannot afford the time or financial investment to get really top quality papers). I know the head of department of a major research institution here that only last year was able to get a four year position. Thats the head of department from a major university here, and they have only now managed to get job security for four years – imagine what your standard post doc has to cope with. Last year the EU announced a program to invest in PhD students so that there would be a real career for them to look forward to, several thousand post-docs applied from Sweden, about 15 managed to get on the short list and in the final result it will be lucky if a single candidate from here gets even one of the positions. Its a disaster for biologists and yet its considered rude to bring up the subject. If any other profession (and yes I do see scientific research as a profession, not a hobby) had to cope with this situation – physicians, teachers, nurses etc – then there would be an outcry but in the case of researchers its considered rude to bring up the reality in public.

  59. windy says

    Thats the head of department from a major university here, and they have only now managed to get job security for four years – imagine what your standard post doc has to cope with.

    I don’t have to imagine it, that’s why I’m leaving :)

    Its a disaster for biologists and yet its considered rude to bring up the subject.

    Not only by non-biologists, but senior researchers as well: they are all “oh, PhD students and postdocs have it so good, why do they complain? I am a poor old senior researcher. My sight is poor, my legs are old and bent…”

  60. Peter Ashby says

    Sigmund it is because if every researcher went on strike nobody would notice. We would have to strike for 5-10years before anyone noticed that industry was stagnating with no new inputs etc. In addition the assumption (true in the past) was that PhDs are indeed doing it because they only care about the beauty of truth. Those who will work with no pay only serve to reinforce this in the minds of our masters. Add in the seemingly never ending stream of new PhDs and why should the bosses care?

    There are reasons why the children of researchers go into the professions and become medics, dentists, lawyers etc. I have tried to put off mine but the eldest seems set and has the eternal optimism and confidence of youth. The youngest is into bioinformatics (she inherited the computer affinity from her mother) which will be a growth area in biology, there is a need for computer bods who can understand the biologists and biologists who can talk tech with the nerds. Efficient if you can combine that. She has her head screwed on about the supposed value of a PhD and intends to go work some before she even considers a masters.

  61. KenGee says

    Do’L realy is silly. I’ve never understood why the phase “From goo to you” is used by Creationist to derided evolution, don’t they believe in “Mud to Bud” didn’t the sky fairy breath on some mud and there was Adam? Then he couldn’t repeat the feat when making women he snapped a bit off Adam. Had he run out of mud?

  62. Sigmund says

    I don’t even blame the bosses. They are not exactly living on easy street themselves. What is the solution? Should entry to science courses actually reflect job prospects afterwards ? Making it incredibly difficult to get a place in University might limit the numbers coming through but considering the numbers of foreign post-docs applying for the same posts it won’t make much of a difference in the end apart from probably causing universities departments to lose income. Its a difficult one. Research has developed, not from a profession people grew up inspired to pursue as a career, but from the hobbies of the independently rich. Does anyone seriously think Darwin could have written ‘The Origin of Species’ if he needed five papers a year to get his two year grant renewed?

  63. maxi says

    I’s just like to say thank you to everyone who has offered me advice (Peter Ashby, rjb, Sigmund) it was most unexpected but very welcome! I didn’t realised the PhD/Post Doc situation was that bad… Lots of thinking to do…

  64. Sigmund says

    I wouldn’t want to destroy your dreams completely maxi so I’ll give you some extra advice. Getting a post-doc research position requires a track record and this can be achieved much easier if you manage to do your PhD in a top laboratory. If you choose a laboratory for other reasons (OK pay, good location, friendly people etc) then your time as a PhD student might be great but you are shooting yourself in the foot career-wise. There is a ‘track’ system that really does allow you to jump the queue if you have the right supervisors, papers etc so if you do decide to go into research then make sure you have the right supervisor (my mistake was to do my PhD in a place for location reasons – my wife was doing a course at a particular University and I managed to get accepted for a research post close by which allowed me to do a PhD at the same time – It was fine for money and location but ultimately worked against me when I finished (mind you, financially I doubt I would have been able to do a PhD any other way at the time).)