Ian Wishart is a local “investigative’ journalist and well-known conspiracy theorist from way back. He’s dabbled in climate change, creationism, health, political, crime, and other issues. He’s a firm creationist and so it’s no surprise he has picked up on a recently published paper Scientists dumbstruck: signs of intelligent design in DNA code. No surprise because it’s currently being promoted by creationists and the Discovery Institute as some sort of proof of intelligent design. And Wishart is part of that echo chamber.
The paper itself is extremely dense – probably only fully intelligible to computational biologists and similar specialists. Fortunately, local science blogger Grant Jacobs, who has skills in this area, has been through the paper and explains it in an article that is accessible to most people – see Investigate magazine struck dumb by numerology of genetic code. Have a read, you can see what the paper really says, what the problems are with it and make up your own mind about the degree to which Ian Wishart, and other creationists, have been fooled by it.
“Design inference” and “reinterpretation research”
I think there is a bit of a lesson here. Grant describes a basic problem with the paper.
“it rests on a false comparison of two options:
- Created by random chance
- Created by space aliens
This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.
The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:
- Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)
To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.”
Anyone who has followed the so-called research carried out by intelligent design proponents may recognise this pattern. Discovery Institute senior fellow William A. Dembski even formulates the pattern as a basic way of detecting intelligent design. Creationists often call it the Design Filter. (He describes it in his book The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities).
Usually the “design inference” boils down to:
- Reject chance – easy to set up statistics to show probabilities are extremely low. (For example, the chance of all atoms randomly combining to form a molecule of DNA at one instant is remote);
- Analyse any existing scientific explanation or mechanism to show it is wrong. (Easy to do by misrepresentation, choosing old research, ignoring alternatives, etc.);
- Accept design as the only, default, alternative. Therefore claim design has been “proved.”
Now, combine that approach with the other leg of intelligent design research – “reinterpretation research.” This has extremely low overheads as it only involves taking published work, rubbishing it by misinterpretation, etc., and inventing a different interpretation of the facts to “prove” design.
In essence this is what all intelligent design “research” boils down to. At best it can only find possible problems in current understanding (which is surely the purpose of all research). It cannot support an alternative hypothesis.
So you can see the basic character of all the intelligent design publications they claim. Work which investigates possible problems with existing ideas in evolutionary science without offering, or even considering, alternative hypotheses. Plenty of that around – put it on the list.
But they ignore the normal honest research approach. They never advance a structured hypothesis, one that is consistent with intelligent design. They therefore never submit such hypothesis to any testing or validation.
Yet they want to claim their ideas as science – and want to teach it to children in science classes!