Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Intelligent design” creationists never define “intelligence”

Long ago, commenting on a post at Uncommon Descent, I called on William Dembski to explain what intelligence is. He responded with his standard evasion — something like “If SETI is searching for intelligence, then intelligence must have scientific legitimacy.” Unsurprisingly, the “Expelled” expelled me from his site for raising a question he didn’t want to address again.

In ethology and scientific psychology, intelligence is a hypothetical construct, not a physically real entity. You can’t cut open an organism and find intelligence, any more than you can thirst. Studies that address intelligence always define it operationally. Just as the thirst of a rat may be defined as the number of hours it has been deprived of water, the intelligence of a person may be defined as his or her score on a paper-and-pencil test. Although we know that there is a physiological basis for thirst, thirst is itself hypothetical. Similarly, density of neural connections is correlated with performance on “intelligence” tests, but intelligence remains hypothetical.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time perusing SETI documents. The use of “intelligence” is entirely casual. Some in the project have preferred “civilization” to “intelligence.” SETI scientists explicitly assume that ET thinks as they do about how to contact a distant civilization. There’s implicitly an operational definition of intelligence in that.

In contrast, intelligence does some mighty heavy lifting in ID creationism. IDCists believe that non-material intelligence, and nothing else, creates special kinds of physical information. But what is intelligence? Ruling out matter and energy, we’re left apparently with information. So information creates information ex nihilo? That’s a nonstarter. Intelligence must have a special ontological status.

Gee, what could this entity that creates physical stuff out of nothing be? Do you suppose that IDCists believe that creative intelligence is spiritual in essence? There is, of course, no way for it to be anything but in the belief systems of almost all of them. Far be it from me to criticize personal belief in creative intelligence. But I have huge problems with people who pretend to have raised a challenge to evolutionary theory that is scientific, when they know that it is at core spiritual.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Impugning randomness convincingly?

I haven’t finished reading “Impugning Randomness, Convincingly” [pdf], by Yuri Gurevich and Grant Olney Passmore, but I’ll go ahead and share its remarks about our old pal William A. Dembski:

The idea that specified events of small probability do not happen seems to be fundamental to our human experience. And it has been much discussed, applied and misapplied. We don’t — and couldn’t — survey here the ocean of related literature. In §2 we gave already quite a number of references in support of Cournot’s principle. On the topic of misapplication of Cournot’s principle, let us now turn to the work of William Dembski. Dembski is an intelligent design theorist who has written at least two books, that are influential in creationist circles, on applications of “The Law of Small Probability” to proving intelligent design [TDI, NFL].

We single out Dembski because it is the only approach that we know which is, at least on the surface, similar to ours. Both approaches generalize Cournot’s principle and speak of independent specifications. And both approaches use the information complexity of an event as a basis to argue that it was implicitly specified. We discovered Dembski’s books rather late, when this paper was in an advanced stage, and our first impression, mostly from the introductory part of book [TDI], was that he ate our lunch so to speak. But then we realized how different the two approaches really were. And then we found good mathematical examinations of the fundamental flaws of Dembski’s work: [Wein] and [Bradley].

Our approach is much more narrow. In each of our scenarios, there is a particular trial $T$ with well defined set $\Omega_T$ of possible outcomes, a fixed family $\mathcal{F}$ of probability distributions — the innate probability distributions — on $\Omega_T$, and a particular event — the focal event — of sufficiently small probability with respect to every innate probability distribution. The null conjecture is that the trial is governed by one of the innate probability distributions. Here events are subsets of $\Omega_T$, the trial is supposed to be executed only once, and the focal event is supposed to be specified independently from the actual outcome. By impugning randomness we mean impugning the null hypothesis.

Dembski’s introductory examples look similar. In fact we borrowed one of his examples, about “the man with a golden arm” [i.e., Nicholas Caputo]. But Dembski applies his theory to vastly broader scenarios where an event may be e.g. the emergence of life. And he wants to impugn any chance whatsoever. That seems hopeless to us.

Consider the emergence of life case for example. What would the probabilistic trial be in that case? If one takes the creationist point of view then there is no probabilistic trial. Let’s take the mainstream scientific point of view, the one that Dembski intends to impugn. It is not clear at all what the trial is, when it starts and when it is finished, what the possible outcomes are, and what probability distributions need to be rejected.

The most liberal part of our approach is the definition of independent specification. But even in that aspect, our approach is super narrow comparative to Dembski’s. There are other issues with Dembski’s work; see [Wein, Bradley].

I’ve changed the reference numbers to tags that are meaningful to many of you. TDI and NFL are Dembski’s The Design Inference and No Free Lunch, respectively. James Bradley wrote “Why Dembski’s Design Inference Doesn’t Work” [pdf] for BioLogos, and Richard Wein wrote Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates for TalkOrigins.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I was wrong about the Ninth Circuit opinion

In my last post, I exhibited a knee-jerk response to language in an opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. I’ve edited it to indicate my errors. I’m not terribly embarrassed to have forgotten Edwards v. Aguillard, and failed to recognize it as the source of various creationist watchwords. However, I have no excuse for failing to see that the court addressed the behavior of a history, not science, teacher.

I apologize for the errors, and thank Glenn Branch and Robert Luhn of the NCSE for gently setting me straight.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Scary Ninth Circuit opinion [NOT]

[I was wrong. I’ve edited to indicate my errors.]

The National Center for Science Education is celebrating the vindication of James Corbett, a California high-school teacher who characterized creationism as “[religious,] superstitious nonsense.” A federal district court found that he had engaged in “improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.” But a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed [vacated this part of] the decision.

[Mindful that there has never been any prior reported case holding that a teacher violated the Constitution under comparable circumstances, we affirm the district court’s conclusion that the teacher is entitled to qualified immunity. Because it is readily apparent that the law was not clearly established at the time of the events in question, and because we may resolve the appeal on that basis alone, we decline to pass upon the constitutionality of the teacher’s challenged statements.]
So what’s scary about this? The panel has taken language from the creationist legislation of several states, and inserted it into federal case law:
But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities. This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the pedagogical methods they believe are most effective.
This is a very bad turn of affairs. [Glenn Branch, Deputy Director of the NCSE, gently explained to me that there’s similar language in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), and that the creationists have been trying to exploit it.] However, the offended student reportedly is appealing the decision. If the full court accepts amicus briefs, then I would recommend that the NCSE and/or some legal organization submit a brief suggesting more appropriate language. [What I had in mind here is that critical thinking is more heavily constrained in science than in all other disciplines, with the exception of math. However, the courts ruled on Corbett’s behavior in a college-level history class. There’s no reason for them to comment on science education, or for any science organization to get involved.]

Monday, July 25, 2011

Potted corpses impassively reciting old rants

It's seemed for some time that the nonstop propaganda at Uncommon Descent was like something I'd seen before. I've finally put my finger on it.

[Edit: The YouTube video copy(right violation) is gone. I highly recommend Beckett on Film, which includes a production of "Play" directed by Anthony Minghella, and starring Alan Rickman, Kirsten Scott Thomas, and Juliet Stevenson.]

By the way, this is a brilliant performance of one of the finest plays of the 20th Century. But you're probably not going to follow it well unless you read the script [also gone].

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tolstoy on church “hypnotism”

In his last book, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894), Leo Tolstoy insists that Jesus taught nonviolence, and argues that only nonviolent responses to evil can remedy evil. Gandhi said that the book was one of the three most important influences on his life.

More germane to this blog is Tolstoy’s description of how churches manipulate “so-called believers.” In the following excerpt, I’ve added emphasis to a passage that speaks volumes to what we see constantly in the ID movement — conflicted, frightened Christians foisting on children the lie that there is no conflict between Biblical literalism and scientific realism.

A man of the present day need only buy a Gospel for three copecks and read through the plain words, admitting of no misinterpretation, that Christ said to the Samaritan woman "that the Father seeketh not worshipers at Jerusalem, nor in this mountain nor in that, but worshipers in spirit and in truth," or the saying that "the Christian must not pray like the heathen, nor for show, but secretly, that is, in his closet," or that Christ's follower must call no man master or father — he need only read these words to be thoroughly convinced that the Church pastors, who call themselves teachers in opposition to Christ's precept, and dispute among themselves, constitute no kind of authority, and that what the Churchmen teach us is not Christianity. Less even than that is necessary. Even if a man nowadays did continue to believe in miracles and did not read the Gospel, mere association with people of different forms of religion and faith, which happens so easily in these days, compels him to doubt of the truth of his own faith. It was all very well when a man did not see men of any other form of religion than his own; he believed that his form of religion was the one true one. But a thinking man has only to come into contact — as constantly happens in these days — with people, equally good and bad, of different denominations, who condemn each other’s beliefs, to doubt of the truth of the belief he professes himself. In these days only a man who is absolutely ignorant or absolutely indifferent to the vital questions with which religion deals, can remain in the faith of the Church.

What deceptions and what strenuous efforts the churches must employ to continue, in spite of all these tendencies subversive of the faith, to build churches, to perform masses, to preach, to teach, to convert, and, most of all, to receive for it all immense emoluments, as do all these priests, pastors, incumbents, superintendents, abbots, archdeacons, bishops, and archbishops. They need special supernatural efforts. And the churches do, with ever-increasing intensity and zeal, make such efforts. With us in Russia, besides other means, they employ, simple brute force, as there the temporal power is willing to obey the Church. Men who refuse an external assent to the faith, and say so openly, are either directly punished or deprived of their rights; men who strictly keep the external forms of religion are rewarded and given privileges.

That is how the Orthodox clergy proceed; but indeed all churches without exception avail themselves of every means for the purpose — one of the most important of which is what is now called hypnotism.

Every art, from architecture to poetry, is brought into requisition to work its effect on men's souls and to reduce them to a state of stupefaction, and this effect is constantly produced. This use of hypnotizing influence on men to bring them to a state of stupefaction is especially apparent in the proceedings of the Salvation Army, who employ new practices to which we are unaccustomed: trumpets, drums, songs, flags, costumes, marching, dancing, tears, and dramatic performances.

But this only displeases us because these are new practices. Were not the old practices in churches essentially the same, with their special lighting, gold, splendor, candles, choirs, organ, bells, vestments, intoning, etc.?

But however powerful this hypnotic influence may be, it is not the chief nor the most pernicious activity of the Church. The chief and most pernicious work of the Church is that which is directed to the deception of children — these very children of whom Christ said: "Woe to him that offendeth one of these little ones." From the very first awakening of the consciousness of the child they begin to deceive him, to instill into him with the utmost solemnity what they do not themselves believe in, and they continue to instill it into him till the deception has by habit grown into the child's nature. They studiously deceive the child on the most important subject in life, and when the deception has so grown into his life that it would be difficult to uproot it, then they reveal to him the whole world of science and reality, which cannot by any means be reconciled with the beliefs that have been instilled into him, leaving it to him to find his way as best he can out of these contradictions.

If one set oneself the task of trying to confuse a man so that he could not think clearly nor free himself from the perplexity of two opposing theories of life which had been instilled into him from childhood, one could not invent any means more effectual than the treatment of every young man educated in our so-called Christian society.

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed—the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ's teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ's teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so-called believers.

The “intelligent design” creationists are hardly focused on the Sermon on the Mount.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The worst in statistical reasoning, from Climategate scientist Phil Jones

According to the BBC News, Phil Jones declared global warming since 1995 statistically insignificant last year, and statistically significant this year. Why? Last year, the probability that “ordinary” variation of global temperatures yielded warming as extreme as that observed was .1, and this year it is .05.

I clearly recall the day my statistics professor railed against categorical response to the 95% confidence level as “statistically significant.” It is hard to believe that Jones, who is younger than I, did not hear something similar in school. Suppose that when next year’s data are processed, the confidence level goes down to 94%. Will Jones revert to saying that the observed warming is not statistically significant?

It is impossible to decide absolutely whether human activity is causing global warming. Scientists in general, and climate scientists in particular, should explain that their research leads to degrees of belief.

Furthermore, what policymakers need is Bayesian processing of climate data, not the Fisherian silliness of Phil Jones. That is, the possibility of anthropogenic global warming calls for sophisticated risk management rather than a true-false decision. We are gambling on the future of the world, and the only reasonable response, given present information, is to hedge our bets.

[Thanks to jivlain for his comment. I'm presently having to use an outdated browser, and cannot enter a comment of my own. So I'll respond here. From the infamous BBC Q&A with Jones in February 2010:
B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.
Jones should have known to respond that the trend was statistically significant at the p% confidence level.]

[Bob O'H, it's great to see a statistician call for such a straightforward interpretation. But you're apparently looking at different numbers than Jones is:
C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.
I'll hazard a guess that your data have been adjusted to take radiative forcing into account — as they should be. Total solar irradiance (TSI, plotted here) contributes substantially to global temperatures, and cycles up and down with a quasi-period of about 11 years. The most recent downswing in TSI began in 2002, was more pronounced than usual, and lasted longer than usual (until 2009). The BBC question is utterly ill-posed, because it calls for analysis of cherry-picked data.]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revised ID thesis describes plagiarism in originally accepted version

The response at Baylor University to my report of plagiarism has been extraordinary, though not entirely perfect. The thesis of [student], [title], now includes a preamble that, while somewhat evasive, describes what was wrong with the originally accepted version.

Before going into the details, I want to emphasize again that I am not reveling in the academic misconduct of a young master’s student. The villains are the members of the thesis committee, who have not, to my knowledge, had to acknowledge their misconduct publicly. I hope that Baylor administrators censured Gregory J. Hamerly, the assistant professor of computer science who served as thesis chairperson despite the fact that Robert J. Marks II directed and contributed to the research, for negligence in oversight. And I hope that they put Marks on a short leash for approving plagiarism of his own publications with William A. Dembski. In particular, Marks, who is an electrical engineer, should not be allowed to direct the research of graduate students in computer science.

Here is the preamble, with my responses interspersed.

This thesis is a replacement of a previous version. The replacement is necessary because of a number of serious challenges. Some of the contents of the first version were taken from previously published work of the author. As was done in the original version, copyright notices are included at the end of the thesis. Although using previously published work in a thesis is common practice, the document itself did not make clear that this was the case.
The replacement is necessary because of defects, not challenges. You did not indicate in any way that William A. Dembski was a coauthor of text you copied into your thesis. You excluded his name from the copyright release forms, and those forms are unchanged in the revised thesis. Are you showing us the forms you actually submitted to the IEEE Press?
Additionally, and more seriously, the introduction was constructed by drawing passages from previous papers including some which the author of thesis was not a coauthor. This was clearly an inappropriate usage.
You copied more than half of the introduction from publications by William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II.
The work for this thesis was done in collaboration with others in Dr. Marks’ research group. All of content in the thesis including the sections from the introduction were produced by members of the research group including Dr. Marks who was a member of the thesis committee.
Dembski and Marks wrote the papers you plagiarized before you joined the group. You contributed in no way to that effort. And you seem not to understand that it is scandalous for a thesis committee member to condone plagiarism of his own work. As for the chapters which you generated collaboratively, I doubt highly that you can explain all of the math (e.g., Markov chain analyses). What sort of thesis defense is it in which the committee agrees not to question the candidate on certain parts of the document?
Within the group, we use tools such as LaTeX and Dropbox which make collaboration very easy. Unfortunately this also made it easy to reuse existing text in an inappropriate manner. This is not an attempt to excuse the content of the original thesis, but rather to explain how the mistake was made.
The technology is a red herring. You did not collaborate in the preparation of the papers by Dembski and Marks, so why should you possess the LaTeX source for them? People have mentioned on this blog that they stapled together photocopies or reprints of published papers to generate theses. Obviously, complete lists of authors appeared in their documents. You went out of your way to avoid mention of Dembski, and continue to do so even here.
In future all members of the lab, especially the author of this thesis, will be careful about the reuse of collaborative work.
It is hardly your place to offer a guarantee that Marks will behave appropriately in the future. He should step forward and acknowledge his own misconduct.
This version of the thesis remedies these problems. The introduction has been rewritten by the author and those sections drawn from previous work of the author have been appropriately cited in the thesis body.
The revisions are indeed appropriate.

Grumblings about the preamble aside, I have to say that it is remarkable to see any admission of wrongdoing at all. My hat is off to Baylor for dealing with the thesis as judiciously as it has. I can only hope that my report to EthicsPoint also triggered an investigation of Marks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plagiarism at a glance

I reported yesterday on a thesis, Studies of Active Information in Search, I retrieved from the BEARdocs archive at Baylor. If the document is authentic, then Distinguished Professor of Engineering Robert J. Marks II, a.k.a. the "Charles Darwin" of intelligent design, approved extensive plagiarism of publications he coauthored with William A. Dembski.

Here are images, purposefully low in resolution, of pages 1-7 of the 8-page introduction. Passages plagiarizing papers by Dembski and Marks are highlighted in color. Those copied from papers by the thesis author (with Dembski and Marks as coauthors) are "lowlighted" in gray. The gray areas are hard to see, and some of you have suggested that they should be white. But I emphasize that the bibliography does not include the papers, and that Dembski's name is omitted from the copyright release forms in the appendix. I call shenanigans.

There are also comment boxes in my annotation of the document. They indicate the sources of the copied passages, and I include that content here to cover myself legally. Most of you will want simply to glance at the images, and gauge the scale of the plagiarism.

YELLOW: I give a reference list below.
PURPLE: Begin at first sentence of [1].
YELLOW: Begin at paragraph 2 of [1]. A period has been changed to a colon, and "no free lunch theorem" has been capitalized.

GRAY: First sentence of [4].
RED: Begin at third complete paragraph of second page of [1].

GRAY: Points (a-c) here come from the third sentence of [3].
GREEN: Begin about midway in the second column of [1], with "can" changed to "often" in the last sentence.

BLUE: Begins with the third sentence on the second page of [1].
PURPLE: Skip 3 sentences, arriving about midway in the first column of second page of [1].
GRAY: First 3 paragraphs of [4], with one awkward sentence rewritten. This gray passage runs to the end of the thesis section.

PURPLE: Opening of Sect. II-A of [2], with a period changed to colon, and with a reference deleted. Note that the copied period in the equation should have been changed to a comma.

YELLOW: The fourth sentence in column 2 of [2], with one reference removed. Note that the period at the end of the equation is copied, and that the "bits" should have been inserted ahead of the period.
RED: Skip two sentences following Equation (3) [(1.3) here] in [2].
GREEN: Begin with second sentence, third paragraph of Sect. II of [2]. The colon prior to the equation is changed to period here.
BLUE: Begin with third sentence following Equation (2) in Section II-A of [2], eliminating initial clause, and changing "for" to "of."
PURPLE: Begin with last paragraph of first column of page 2 [2].
YELLOW: Begin with the second sentence of footnote 3 of [2].

RED: Begin with second sentence, column 2, second page of [2]. Note that exogenous information is given above (1.2), so the copy here of the definition in [2] is redundant.
GREEN: Begin with last sentence of first full paragraph in column 2 of page 2 of [2], and move footnote 4 into the body.
BLUE: [blue highlighting, yellow box by mistake] Second full paragraph in second column, second page of [2]. Here "dB" is changed to "decibels," and "instead" is changed to "rather."


It seems to me that 4+ pages are highlighted. In other words, at least half of the introduction is copied from papers by Dembski and Marks. If Marks in fact approved this, then he has suffered a serious lapse in ethics.


[1] William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II "Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success" IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics A, Systems & Humans, vol.5, #5, September 2009, pp.1051-1061,

[2] William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, "Bernoulli's Principle of Insufficient Reason and Conservation of Information in Computer Search," Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics. San Antonio, TX, USA - October 2009, pp. 2647-2652,

[3] [Student], William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, "Evolutionary Synthesis of Nand Logic: Dissecting a Digital Organism," Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics. San Antonio, TX, USA - October 2009, pp. 3047-3053,

[4] [Student], George Montañez, William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II, "Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle," Proceedings of the 42nd Meeting of the Southeastern Symposium on System Theory, IEEE, University of Texas at Tyler, March 7-9, 2010, pp.290-297,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

“Charles Darwin” of intelligent design condones plagiarism at Baylor?

Last year, “intelligent design” creationist William A. Dembski, Research Professor of Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said of one of his coauthors at Baylor University, “[Student] — With pro-ID graduate students like this, Darwinian profs don't stand a chance.” Well, [the student] evidently went on to defend a master’s thesis, Studies of Active Information in Search, in the Fall semester of 2010. I downloaded it from Baylor’s document archive, and had only to read to the bottom of the first page to discover plagiarism.*

Almost half of the first chapter is copied, without citation or sign of quotation, from

[Edit 3/24: Actually, at least half is copied, as you easily can see in my markup of the text.] According to the signature page, Marks, who holds the rank of Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor, served on the thesis committee. Yes, I am referring to one of the twenty most influential Christian scholars — the “Charles Darwin” of intelligent design.

Most of the thesis is copied from two published conference papers, and from an article that had been accepted for publication:

  1. [Student], William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, Evolutionary Synthesis of Nand Logic: Dissecting a Digital Organism, 2009
  2. [Student], George Montañez, William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II, Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle, 2010
  3. George Montañez, [Student], William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II, A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information, accepted August 27, 2010; published December 15, 2010
Not only are these papers not cited, but they also are not listed in the bibliography.

Chapter 2 is essentially (2), beginning with the fourth paragraph, and skipping Section II. (The first three paragraphs are in Chapter 1.) It corrects errors that I identified here at Bounded Science. More than half of the paper is mathematical analysis that is beyond most master’s students in computer science. I would guess that [the student’s] contributions were programming, data gathering and visualization, and paper preparation. If I am right, then it is inappropriate for the thesis to give the impression that [the student] did the math.

Chapter 4 is (1) with Section I eliminated, and with several small changes. It haplessly ends with “we have not explored in this paper.” (For those of you who are not scholars, I should explain that theses are not referred to as papers.)

Chapter 3 is not so simply related to its source, presumably because its author is not the lead author of (2). Almost all of its text is present in the article. But the chapter reorders passages of the article. Most notably, it moves empirical results ahead of theoretical analysis, and introduces awkward forward references to the analysis. Also, there are occasional replacements of words with synonyms, as well as deletions and insertions of short phrases. All in all, the chapter looks like the work of someone who was trying, pathetically, to make copy-and-paste pass for original writing. (Seventeen years of teaching experience are talking here.)

Chapter 5 is a double-spaced, one-page conclusion.

Some universities limit how much of a thesis may come from published work, but I can find no indication that Baylor is one of them. Yet the thesis does not state that the chapters are excerpted from published and forthcoming papers. Instead there is an appendix entitled ”Copyrights” that gives, without explanation, copyright release forms bearing the titles, but not the complete lists of authors (required by the publisher), of (1) and (2). Guess which author is missing? Yes, that would be William A. Dembski. I suspect that the forms on file with the publisher bear his name.

To get a hint that Dembski deserves credit for contributions to the thesis, you have to click the Show full item record button of the entry for the thesis in the BEARdocs system, and then figure out the meaning of the identifier.citation fields providing full citations of (1) and (2). In my opinion, burying this information in the metadata of the document retrieval system is unethical.

The copyright release forms indicate that the authors retain the right to use the published material in derivative works, “provided that the source and any IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers] copyright notice are indicated.” So the thesis perhaps does not violate the copyrights of the publisher. But there is much more to academic integrity than not breaking the law. When you draw on a source, you cite it, even if you are one of the authors. When you copy from a source, you indicate clearly what you are copying. It would have been so easy to end the introduction of the thesis with an indication that Chapter 2 is excerpted, with emendations, from (2), and that Chapter 4 is excerpted from (1). As for Chapter 3, the author should have written it from scratch, and should have cited (3) in all places where the work was not his own.

Now, should you believe that self-citation and self-quotation are optional in scholarly writing, go back to the beginning of this post. It is unethical for a thesis committee member to condone plagiarism, even if it is plagiarism of his own work. The unacknowledged use of (3) in the thesis is egregious. It is clearly wrong to draw on the work of others, and not indicate that you are doing so. (For those of you who are not scholars, I should mention that references to forthcoming publications are common.) There is no wiggle room here. If the document is authentic, then both [the student] and Marks are out-of-bounds ethically. And one really must wonder what was going on with the chairman of the thesis committee, associate professor of computer science Greg Hamerly. Was Marks the de facto chairman? Had Hamerly even bothered to read the handful of papers on active information? If he had, then he is complicit. If he had not, then his performance was shabby, to say the least.

The contact information below should come in handy for any journalist who wants to work on the story. And I encourage readers to let Baylor administrators know what a blight on the reputation of the school the thesis is. Click here now to open your default email application and address the dean of the graduate school, J. Larry Lyon. You will CC the executive vice president and provost, the dean of engineering and computer science, and the chairman of the computer science department.

Thesis author:

Thesis committee member:
Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Engineering
(254) 710-7302

William A. Dembski, Ph.D.
Research Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
817-923-1921 ext.4435

J. Larry Lyon, Ph.D.
Dean of the Graduate School
Baylor University
(254) 710-3588

Elizabeth Davis, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Baylor University
(254) 710-7803

Benjamin S. Kelley, Ph.D., P.E.
Dean of Engineering and Computer Science
Baylor University
(254) 710-3871

Signed to approve thesis as department chairman:
Donald L. Gaitros, Ph.D.
Professor and Chairman of Computer Science
Baylor University
(254) 710-3876

Thesis committee chairperson:
Greg Hamerly, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Computer Science
Baylor University
(254) 710-6846

Thesis committee member:
[completed Ph.D. and joined Baylor in 2009]
Young-Rae Cho, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Baylor University
(254) 710-3385

* I emphasize that my remarks are contingent on the authenticity of the document residing in Baylor’s BEARdocs archive on March 19, 2011. When possible, I assess the thesis I retrieved, and not persons. I have verified that Baylor requires entry of theses into BEARdocs. A metadatum indicates that the thesis was added on January 5, 2011, which is consistent with December 2010 graduation. I contacted [the student] by email to ask if the document were the final draft of his thesis, and he responded, “I have not verified the document, but it should be the final draft.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The most dangerous innovation of ID creationism

At the Panda's Thumb, Richard B. Hoppe posts a link to a 1981 debate between Henry Morris and Ken Miller, and asks, "What arguments, if any, do contemporary ID proponents offer that Morris does not?" The overall response is that there's really nothing in "intelligent design" creationism that was not present in overt creationism. Unsurprisingly, everyone focuses on matters of science. I must say that this reflects a dangerous indifference to the role of philosophy in judicial tests of creationism.

Any test of the legality of teaching a form of creationism as science in public schools will hinge on demarcation of science and religion. My reading of the Kitzmiller decision is that demarcation was much more important than the specifics of science and pseudoscience entered into evidence. For instance (pp. 67-68),

It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM [ID movement] itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 591-92; McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. (28:26 (Fuller); 21:37-42 (Behe)). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. (38:97 (Minnich)).

Prominent IDM leaders are in agreement with the opinions expressed by defense expert witnesses that the ground rules of science must be changed for ID to take hold and prosper. William Dembski, for instance, an IDM leader, proclaims that science is ruled by methodological naturalism and argues that this rule must be overturned if ID is to prosper.
By the way, we all laugh at Behe now, but he is really no worse a philosopher than the majority of scientists. I shudder to think how the trial would have gone if Pennock and Forrest had dropped out, and a couple of "philosophy is bullshit" scientists had testified that science proves naturalism true.

So what is the most dangerous innovation of ID creationism? The movement stopped trying to overturn methodological naturalism, and adopted a new perspective on the nature of nature. The physical Universe is now comprised not just of matter and energy, but also of information. There is conservation of mass-energy, but not of information, which is created (only) by non-material intelligence. Six years ago, the design inference was to non-natural (i.e., supernatural) cause, and mainstream scientists were denigrated as naturalists. Now intelligent design is a non-material, though natural, cause, and mainstream scientists are denigrated as materialists.

The change in ontology makes IDC much more slippery than it was in Kitzmiller. On a verbal level, IDC has stepped entirely within naturalism. It does not obviously appeal to supernatural explanations. Many physicists accept the notion that information is in some sense physical. Thus it is much harder today than it was six years ago to argue that IDC is not science and that teaching of IDC as science does not serve a secular purpose.

Of course, most of us regard an unobservable entity that creates physical stuff, whatever it may be, out of nothing as supernatural. But we really should worry about a judge who is disposed to accept intuitively that people are creative, and that what they create by virtue of intelligence is not matter, but the information that gives form to matter. On the face of it, this does not seem a religious claim. And when IDCists say they can measure the information created by intelligence, citing the peer-reviewed publications of Dembski and Marks, it does not seem an unscientific claim. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to develop a simple explanation of why such a seemingly innocent notion of creation of information must be regarded as super­naturalism.