It’s a fun game

Jennifer Raff, in her recommendations on how to read a scientific paper, dared to suggest that the scientific affiliations of the authors mattered, and flatly recommended that you dismiss any papers coming out of Seattle’s own temple of ignorance, the Discovery Institute. I agree! I have not read a single paper out of that group that wasn’t stupid, ignorant, dishonest, or all three — and I think it’s significant that just about the only place they manage to publish is in their own little hothouse journal, BIO-Complexity (a few of the authors occasionally get papers published elsewhere by a) making sure it’s not about intelligent design, or b) finding crappy journals like Life).

The creationists holler “bias!”, but what it actually is is knowledge of their track record. When all you do is publish garbage, and you have it on record that you’re going to stuff journals with your ideology, then it only makes sense to see the imprint of the Discovery Institute as a mark of trash. Also, they aren’t ignored — every once in a while, someone will take a look at their scientific output and verify that yep, they’re still churning out garbage.

Raff did just that in response to Casey Luskin whining about how unfair it was to reject their work simply on the basis of their prior slush; so she took the time to look at the latest article in the latest issue of BIO-complexity. I’ll do a little slumming and dig up one of their articles every once in a while, too — it’s a fun game.

So what do you think she found? More noise. She takes apart an article that plays games with the genetic code, rearranging the translations around to make a hard-to-read tetrahedral table to map codons to amino acids. That’s nice, I could see it as a little exercise to explore the mapping, but the author goes further and tries to argue that finding a pattern in the code is evidence of a designer, and right there the whole paper goes plunging off the rails of logic into the chaos-filled pit of theology.

Look. Go to a forest. Notice that there’s a consistent pattern: all the trees grow up. Now, if you’re a Discovery Institute fellow, you can write a paper asserting that the existence of a pattern in life means there was a Designer who made all trees to grow upwards. That’s what the author was doing — only he picked a more abstract and obscure topic, the better to bamboozle the rubes.

Bonus! The author shows up in the comments to make an irrelevant and unwarranted complaint about the inclusion of one of his own figures and to snidely accuse Raff of superficiality. I think she gets extra points in the game for that, and she already had beaucoup points for getting Casey Luskin to whine about the unfairness of Darwinists. She may be in the lead now.

Triple score if she can get the DI to complain about her in one of their fundraising letters!


  1. Artor says

    In another thread, I had someone link to an article by Dinesh DeSouza (!) as evidence to their claim that Hitler was an atheist. Once I saw the byline, I knew I didn’t have to read any further, and I got a good laugh out of it.

  2. mothra says

    Casey Luskin is like a hydra, you cut off an argument and he regrows the same one in its place. A better analogy might be the black knight from Search for the Holy Grail. I once did a seminar (2011) “Let the reader beware” which included the following guidelines for reading a scientific paper when not an expert in the field of study. Copy-Pasted from a slide of that talk was the following list:

    Did the paper appear in a reputable journal?
    What are the affiliations of the author(s)?
    Does the paper have associated manuscript dates? (received, accepted, publication)
    Are literature citations mostly from primary or secondary sources?
    Do figures and tables contribute information or are they decoration?
    Does the materials and methods section contain information that would allow the experiment to be repeated?
    If the paper questions well established scientific theories or principles, are there multiple authors