Inference: Dracula is a creationist and climate change denialist


When this new online “science” journal, Inference, came out, no one was fooled. The first issue featured an article by the notorious crank creationist, Michael Denton, so it wasn’t as if it wasn’t obvious. Jeffrey Shallit wrote the first expose, I think, noticing that the grubby fingerprints of David Berlinski were all over it. Ho hum, yet another attempt by creationists to create a pet journal, to feed the illusion that they’re actually doing credible, peer-reviewed work. But then another mystery has arisen: where is all their money coming from?

When Inference first approached me, the offer was appealing: up to $4,000 for a 4,000- to 6,000-word essay. According to their website, the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Sheldon Glashow was on the editorial staff, which—as a physicist myself and a fan of Glashow’s work—was almost enough for me to accept on the spot. But a declaration in italics on their masthead gave me pause: “We have no ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever.” This struck me as unusual over-emphasis, so I did a little digging and came across a 2014 blog post by the computer scientist Jeffrey Shallit, where he muses on the first issue of this new “science” publication, adding: “the weirdness is strong—very strong—with this one.”

When someone claims they have “no ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever”, they’re lying. What they’re really claiming is that their biases aren’t biases at all, which is a real danger, because it means they aren’t thinking and challenging their own assumptions.

But wow. That’s some nice pocket change for an article — I am so used to just writing stuff for free. That adds up over multiple issues with multiple articles, and it isn’t funded by ads, so there has to be a pipeline somewhere that’s pouring cash into the enterprise. This article did some digging and found out who: it’s Peter Thiel.

Those tax returns reveal that Inference’s entire operating budget came from $1.7 million in donations during its first three years (through August 2017, the latest reports available). These donations came from a single donor: Auzen LLC. Looking at corporate tax reports and other registration documents, it’s unclear whether Auzen LLC and another entity, Auzen Corporation, are involved in activities other than funding Inference. But those documents make it clear that Auzen LLC and Auzen Corporation are run by the same people — and they also state that the sole director of Auzen Corporation is Peter Thiel.

Ah, another billionaire poisoning the world. “No ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever”…bullshit. He’s a libertarian wanna-be vampire and climate change denier who loves Donald Trump and thinks letting women vote was a bad idea. His agenda is devious but transparent.

Not all of Inference‘s articles are junk science. About 90 percent of the articles in the publication appear to be accurate, written by genuine scientists and science writers—at least several of whom weren’t aware of the publication’s record on evolution or climate change, or the source of its funding.

But whatever Inference’s actual intentions, one thing is clear: The inclusion of demonstrably pseudoscientific writing alongside the work of highly regarded researchers puts the two on equal footing—a false equivalence that gives creationism and climate denial an air of legitimacy that is not only unwarranted, but misleading to readers. Add in the fact that the enterprise is apparently funded by a billionaire with close ties to President Donald J. Trump—whose administration has a clear history of attacking and undermining science—and there seems ample reason to question just what it is that Inference and its backer are hoping to accomplish.

Note to self: When the revolution comes, make sure some of the people storming the citadel of malignant capitalism are carrying wooden stakes. Also, do it during the day so Thiel can’t flap away.

Comments

  1. Sean Boyd says

    Bram Stoker (among others) made vampires evil. Then, thanks to Anne Rice, they were angsty. Twilight (shudders thinking about it) made them sparkly. Now they’re evil again. Hmmm.

    (checks bag for wooden stakes)

  2. fusilier says

    I know everyone here is familiar with Sir PTerry:

    https: // goo.gl/images/Surm3e

    (Be sure to remove spaces)

    fusilier, who’d have Pookie and Miss Meow Meow along

    James 2:24

  3. whywhywhy says

    One more piece of evidence to increase the estate tax, institute a wealth tax, and re-establish a progressive income tax. The world would be better without billionaires.

  4. cartomancer says

    When we do rise up and eat the rich, can I be exempted from a portion of this one please?

  5. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Cartomancer,
    Given his concern with retaining a youthful skin tone, I was thinking perhaps a luggage set made from his skin…

  6. JustaTech says

    I have this wild idea that Elon Musk is somehow encouraging Thiel to really go all out on the total wackaloonery so that, by comparison Mr “Robot Submarine” looks reasonable by comparison. Because that’s the only way that Musk looks reasonable any more.
    Not that I think that Thiel isn’t 100% into and behind everything he says and does. He’s become a good bellwether of people to avoid. You say you think Thiel’s great? I’m checking the exits and backing away.

  7. Mark Dowd says

    “We have no ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever.”

    Also know as the “doth protest too much” disclaimer.

  8. says

    I’m late to the party, but I might as well tell my part of the story. Inference offered me the chance to write a response to Glashow’s review of Becker’s book (the review that Becker stops just short of claiming was some sort of reprisal for his investigating their finances). The invitation first went to one colleague, then was handed off to another, before eventually falling to me. Somewhere along the way, the e-mail boilerplate about paying contributors got lost, so I didn’t know money would be involved, and for an academic gig I didn’t think it would be. My essay would have been critical both of Becker’s book and of Glashow’s review.

    After Becker’s piece in Undark came out, I was convinced that my criticisms would be portrayed as some kind of payback, so I withdrew the brief draft I had composed. David Berlinski wrote to me (this was the 1st of February) to ask me to change my mind. Now, I’ve devoted years of my life to striving for an honest understanding of the mathematical modeling of evolution. As far as I’m concerned, Berlinski hasn’t earned the right to speak to me. I had been dubious all along about his name being on the masthead, but I’m also sadly accustomed to seeing Big Egos affiliated with “interdisciplinary” projects. Learning that he took any active editorial role — instead of being some kind of nominal holdover from an earlier management — convinced me that I had made the right choice.

    I withdrew before I had learned that they paid for articles, so I’ll never know how much money I passed up.

    Eventually, I wrote an expanded version of my critique, one that I’m mostly happy with, though I’m sure that no journal would take it.

Leave a Reply