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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Peer review, mere review, and smear review

Andrew Sibley here discusses a thoughtful article by Fred Pearce in the Guardian (02 February 2010) on the climate change scandal, an article which had also been mentioned to me by a kind reader recently. The article takes a critical look at peer review, a well-justified critical look in my view.

I have written about the problem with peer review here, and would recommend Frank Tipler's paper on the subject.

The basic problem is that the peer review process, intended to enforce quality, can end up enforcing mere orthodoxy or, worse, mediocrity. Or worst of all, as in the now-famous climategate e-mails, it can lead to a classic "bunker" mentality.

I would be inclined to treat all science-based dissent as legitimate. The mere fact that some scientists cannot replicate others' work or support their conclusions is not evidence of incompetence or dishonesty. It may lead to useful corrections or valuable new information.

Of course, if someone claims that climate change is caused by space aliens, an evil plot by a minority group, or proof that Jesus is coming again soon, I would say, please, this is not science. Science is about evidence from nature.

I was trying to remember recently what peer review reminded me of, and then I suddenly remembered:

For some time, politicians in my country have tried to prevent interest groups from publishing the opinions of politicians about controversial issues during an election. All the parties voted for that. Of course they voted for it! They piously informed the public that their policy prevented wealthy special interests from hijacking the election.*

But that was nonsense. What the policy really did was guarantee that politicians could keep off the table issues that no party wanted to tackle, even though much of the electorate wanted the politicians to tackle them.

Peer review can function the same way. It can simply prevent the publication of problematic data that the current establishment in science does not want to tackle.

*This problem of wealthy special interests could be dealt with simply by requiring any participant to identify the funders within the ad itself. If it turned out to be Microsoft or Ford or McDonald's, well, anyone smart enough to find their way to the polling station without falling down a hole somewhere would consider the possible motives.


Podcasts in the intelligent design controversy

Listen to these, and don't have a fight with someone on your cell phone while driving:

Moving the Goalpost: How Darwin's Theory Survives

It's easy to win the game when you can move the goalpost.

On this episode of ID the Future, biologist and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Wells explains how Darwinism, unlike football, has only one rule: survival of the fittest. The fittest are those who survive, and Darwinists are determined to survive at all costs—even if it means moving the goalpost.

Go here to listen.

(Note: This one is quite interesting because Wells talks about how his observation that a specific type of speciation needed by Darwinism has not been observed was recently distorted in a science mag to say that speciation - as such - has never been observed. This tells me that the commitment of many scientists to Darwinism is not to the idea of speciation as such, but to a broader philosophical commitment to a method by which it must happen, a method that supports broader philosophical ideas. Remember that 78% of evolutionary biologists are pure naturalists - no God and no free will.)

Is the Cell Like a Computer?

On this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin interviews Dr. Donald Johnson, author of Probability's Nature and Nature's Probability: A Call to Scientific Integrity. As both a chemist and a computer scientist, Dr. Johnson explains how the cell uses programming code, much like a computer, and he elucidates how the information is processed and converted from proteins into DNA. Listen in as Dr. Johnson shares the science of how the cell is like a computer.

Donald E. Johnson holds PhDs in Computer & Information Sciences from the University of Minnesota and in Chemistry from Michigan State University. He can be reached at his website,

Go here to listen.

(Note: In two important way, cells are not like computers. When my machine is bust, it is just bust, and my local nerd must visit. If I need a new one, it must be bought and unpacked, and inevitably, I will need him back again as something is sure to go wrong. Millions of cells die every day and are replaced, with no loss of function. Fancy that, computer!)

Alfred Russel Wallace: Champion of Natural Selection or Intelligent Design?

On this episode of ID the Future, CSC's Robert Crowther takes a look at Alfred Russel Wallace, who, along with Darwin, co-presented the theory of natural selection in letters to the Linnean Society of London over 150 years ago. Contrary to Darwin, Wallace actually believed that it was possible to detect design in nature. What would modern Darwin defenders make of Wallace today? Listen in and find out.

Go here to listen.

(Note: Actually, they have been doing a number on Wallace for centuries, as Mike Flannery points out. Go here or here for an example. Wallace, with thought design played a role in evolution, was just not as useful for propaganda purposes and was of a much lower social class than Darwin. Here is somewhat from my review of Flannery's book.)

Deepening Darwin's Dilemma With Jonathan Wells

This episode of ID the Future features biologist and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Wells, who explains why Darwin saw the Cambrian explosion as a serious argument against his theory. Darwin countered it by supposing that fossils of the ancestors of Cambrian animals once existed, but were destroyed.

Listen in and learn how the discovery of microscopic and soft-bodied Precambrian fossils makes Darwin’s excuse sound hollow.
Go here to listen.

(Note: It gets better. The Smithsonian sat on the Cambrian fossils for decades because they did not support Darwin's theory. Yes, yes, that Smithsonian, currently alleged to have pressured California Science Center into cancelling a Cambrian film that - I gather - raises the Cambrian problem. [Almost all modern phyla of life forms appeared rather suddenly about 550 million years ago. This is just not the story Darwin was telling and he knew it and so did his supporters, and now so do more and more people.])

Any chance all those dusty drawers in the Smithsonian's cellar will be seized as evidence? Maybe we could learn something, and not about the current functionaries' e-mails.

Free advice to the public in general, not to anyone in particular: Do NOT feed bones to the shredder. Nor paper clips. Never feed anything but paper to the shredder, and feed paper with staples only if the firm warrants that the shredder will accept staples.]

"A Matter of Dismal Wet Plops": Stephen Meyer Interviews David Berlinski on Darwinism

This episode of ID the Future features a clip from the recent "Signature in the Cell" event in Tampa, FL, featuring Stephen Meyer, Michael Medved, David Berlinski and Tom Woodward. Listen in as Dr. Meyer interviews Dr. Berlinski about the questions that led him to criticize Darwinism.
Go here to listen.

(Note: Besides being brilliant, Berlinski, a mathematician, is as funny as heck - not always a common combination. We are all familiar, I suppose, with the genius who doesn't get a joke. Well, that's not him, as the title of this pod suggests. I had a lot of fun reading his Devil's Delusion, a shot at publicly funded nonsense in science, of which many people are getting royally tired. Science advisor to Marie Antoinette, check your e-mail.

Never forget: Most people fund science because they think it will help find cures for cancer or get one's country a Nobel Prize in physics [and ain't we proud!] or offer one's kid a stable, respectable job wearing a lab coat. So take that away - make science mean folly about Stone Age Man, exposed e-mail plots, court cases about broken contracts, reasonable doubts subjected to inquisition and persecution - and what happens?

One thing that might very well happen is that people who used to just sigh and pay the bill might start thinking differently. As in ... we've got the headache already, Now, where is the payload?)

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Stifling free speech is not really free


Last Updated: 4th February 2010, 4:14pm, Toronto Sun

In recent years, multiculturalism was propounded as if to ease the conscience of liberals - those who believe in liberty as Mill wrote about - when they do illiberal things such as penalizing free speech.
Read the rest here. Mansur, a Muslim, is commenting on the ridiculous trial of Geert Wilders in The Netherlands for insulting Islam.

Ezra Levant comments here:
... you must admire the honesty of the court to describe their self-destructive, amoral attack on Wilders so clearly and without euphemism.

There you have it: his "views" were unacceptable in content and presentation.

Apparently critics of Islamic fascism must be inarticulate and ineffective; or articulate and bold communicators must only be supportive of radical Islam. Now we know the ground rules in Holland.

"This method of presentation is characterized by biased, strongly generalizing phrasings with a radical meaning, ongoing reiteration and an increasing intensity, as a result of which hate is created."

Stop. Just stop for a moment and realize the amazing gulf between this court and reality. This case is about Islamic radicalism. And yet it is a critic of that radicalism who is charged with "radical meaning"; it is a critic of the relentlessness of radical Islam who is charged with "reiteration". Who knew that one could only make an argument in a wishy-washy -- not radical -- way? Who knew that one could only make an argument once -- not to reiterate it?
Two key things here in my view: First, The Netherlands' court did not emphasize that Wilder's's comments were untrue, only that they gave offence. That's the problem with all "human rights" commission type proceedings. They become a form of government censorship by definition, as we see above. The world is a patient on a couch and the government is a psychiatrist. We used to have a different kind of relationship with our government.

Second, a belief that cannot responsibly be denied cannot responsibly be believed either. If Wilders is not free to dissent loudly and publicly from Islam, its apologists will not be motivated to muster arguments against his views, but will rather go running to the government - as here - to protect them. If people are not free to just leave the religion, there will be little motivation to make them stay. In the long run, all this authoritarian/totalitarian stuff does the religion more harm than it does anyone else.

Hat tip Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee


Intellectual freedom in Canada: Fire. Them. All. News Roundup - and who is surprised by THIS turn of events?

According to, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has placed itself in a position of "deemed refusal" for refusal to provide financial records for their boss's spending, as required under the access to information legislation.

Well, these are the same people who engaged in plenty of bizarre practices on the Internet, including allegedly hacking a private citizen's e-mail address to conceal their activities.

Hat tip: Blazing Cat Fur

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Intellectual freedom in Canada: Unbelievably, comedian Guy Earle still on trial

Here's another example of the malignity of "human rights"commissions in Canada - charging a comedian. As Blazing Cat Fur writes,
Monday, February 01, 2010

Guy Earle v. Complete Societal Breakdown

Comic Guy Earle v. Hatchet Faced Hecklers... er Lesbo CryBabies is scheduled for the BCHRT March 29 2010

A message from Guy Earle -Persecuted Comic:

"Did ya hear the one about the BCHRC Chair that ignored the Canadian Supreme Court? Well, apparently, even though the S.C. has quashed the process that has been brought against me, the BC Human Rights Commission has decided to proceed with the original tribunal?!! At great expense (and suffering), I went to Vancouver last year for the tribunal. My lawyer had the process QUASHED, so I came back East to get back to work... Well, we are still a-go for March 29, 2010. So, I was a little premature in thinking there is justice in this world. Fans of freedom, we are not out of this mess yet! (More on link)
No indeed, you are not, Guy, unfortunately.

This was an interesting situation for me because I am not the sort of person likely to be spotted at late night comedy clubs. I expect that everyone there has had as much drink as is good for them - and more - and that lots of silly and offensive stuff will be said. So, if that bothers you, stay home and read or write letters, as I do.

Every society needs safety valves - where people just let off steam. If we try to be nicey nicey all the time, we will all go off our rockers. Late night comedy - absent violence, crime, or public disorder - is one of those valves. So some people, who shouldn't have been there if they didn't expect to be offended, showed up - and later complained to the BC Human Rights Tribunal because they were ... offended.

Huh? That's like me going to the kiddie rides at the Exhibition and complaining because everyone there seemed to be under ten years old.

If offense wasn't what those people were paying for, they were in the wrong venue!

I helped raise money for Earle, and wrote him a letter of support. (More links here.)

I hope this is the case that gets the Tribunal abolished. Maybe too much to hope for just now, but not ultimately. Wait till this type of thing goes viral and all kinds of people are trying to cash in at their neighbours' expense, claiming to be "offended" by something or other.

One reason Canada has a low violence rate is that we have taken a laid back approach to stuff like Earle's comedy.

As Mark Steyn tried to explain to the Ontario legislature (Queen's Park), in societies where you can't just shout "The king is a fink!", people react by blowing things up instead. Most people only want the right to shout that the king is a fink; then they go home and sleep it off, and then go to work.

Mark Steyn thinks Earle might be hurting his case by too much accommodation of people who should just be stoutly resisted. We'll see. What rights has Earle anyway under the Tribunal? Is this really a "case" - in the English Common Law sense?

Hat tip: Blazing Cat Fur

Here's the stalwart radio host Rob Breakenridge on the subject, including a podcast with Earle.

Hat tip: Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee

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Intellectual freedom in Canada: News roundup

- Blazing Cat Fur published Laura Rosen Cohen's response to this predictable nonsense in the National Post (January 27, 2010), helping those of us who are concerned about anti-Semitism understand the c ontext: Why do so many "Jews for a living", as civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant calls them, support the "human rights" shakedown:
Time after time, when Jewish “leaders” resort to their default position on hate speech and fatuous accusations of anti-Semitism, I am called upon by my exasperated pro-Israel gentile friends to explain why these “leaders” seem so hell bent on alienating them with their knee-jerk anti-Christian biases and their frankly completely un-Jewish moral support of censorship-such as the Canadian Jewish Congress’s support of the CHRC “Hate Speech” and other “Hate Crime” legislation.

Some of these “leaders” are Holocaust survivors, and some are children of survivors. Many are Jewish only in name, and use their Jewish-sounding names to invoke a certain sense of kindred, or communal values even while aligning themselves with the issues of the most marginal importance to the Jewish community. Indeed, barely a month after the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by yet another Muslim terrorist, and several months after the worst jihadist terror attack on North American soil since 9/11 at Fort Hood, Mr. Farber puzzlingly turns his organizational focus once again back to Darfur, Rwanda, Kosovo and Cambodia.
The whole is well worth reading. It's good news that a few people somewhere in the Jewish community are starting to talk about this problem. No decent person needs reminding that anti-Semitism is a very serious problem, but in that case, the last thing the Jewish community needs is people who are still fighting the battles of the last century, and ignoring the ones of today.

I've said before that it probably has to do in part with age. When I was at a meet on these problems a while back, I noted that - quite honestly - too much of the Jewish leadership on these issues is just too old. Old people can bring wisdom, but they can also bring hardened attitudes and an inability to adapt to changed times.

Most anti-Semitism in Canada today is not coming from the Christian community, but from Middle Eastern Muslim sources, doubtless angry about conflicts over there.

But we Canadians have never accepted the idea that new immigrants should bring their violent conflicts to Canada. If you want to live here, you want to live in peace and prosperity and get along. If you want to fight other ethnic and religious groups, stay where you are and be happy being miserable and poor, and making others so.

Hat tip: Blazing Cat Fur

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