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.