Monday, February 27, 2012

Waiting for a substantive response from Marks and Dembski

Robert J. Marks II and William A. Dembski have been mouthing off publicly about the grand progress they've made in IDC theory. It's not so much that they annoy me as that they make it clear that they're preparing for the next judicial test of public education in creationism. The recent approval of a "scientific strengths and weaknesses" bill by the education committee of my state's house of representatives has got me thinking that the next court case may not be all that far in the future.

A "Darwin or Design?" podcast interview (read on while it loads in a new tab, and then skip to 7:52) with Marks includes this cute little exchange:

Question: Are you getting any kind of response from the other side? Are they saying this is kind of interesting, or are they kind of putting stoppers in their ears? What's going on?

Answer: It's more of the stoppers in the ears thus far. We have a few responses on blogs, which are unpleasant,* and typically personal attacks, so those are to be ignored. We're waiting for, actually, something substantive in response.

The fact is that I contradicted a key claim of Marks and Dembski 16 years ago, in my very first paper regarding the "no free lunch" theorems. I proved that a search algorithm cannot gain exploitable information by processing samples of the fitness function. Yet Marks and Dembski insist on characterizing fitness functions as "oracles" that "guide" searches to satisfactory solutions by providing "warmer-colder" information. The burden is not on me to demonstrate that this is hooey, but instead on them to prove me wrong. You should not wait with bated breath for them to do so, any more than you should gamble on seeing the refutation of the coevolutionary free lunch theorem that they supposedly have in the works.

As for publishing direct criticism of their work, it's harder to do than you might suspect. Engineers and scientists are not paying attention to Marks and Dembski, and thus there's little reason for a journal to accept an article that does nothing but debunk their claims. The trick is to develop valuable new results that naturally give rise to critical analysis of so-called "active information."

* Yes, I am plenty annoyed with Marks and Dembski. I gave them ample benefit of the doubt, and they demonstrated that they are liars for God. I've learned that people who fob off defense of religious faith as research usually exhibit other unsavory behaviors. In my early days of IDC watching, I emailed Dembski to explain politely that he had misunderstood the "no free lunch" theorem, and he replied, "OK, but don't expect me to admit to that." When I found Marks' name on the signature page of a master's thesis plagiarizing his own publications with Dembski, I was shocked, though I should not have been. Sure, I've posted a lot on the character of these apologists who sow confusion in a field that I worked hard to plow. But I've also posted plenty of technical substance. Don't expect them to acknowledge points other than those they absolutely must.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oppose the Oklahoma Science Education Act

Oklahoma Senator Josh Brecheen went out of his way to publish his religious purpose for introducing anti-science legislation last year:
[SB 554] is an attempt to bring parity to subject matter taught in our public schools, paid for by the taxpayers and driven by a religious ideology. I’m talking about the religion of evolution. Yes, it is a religion. The religion of evolution requires as much faith as the belief in a loving God, when all the facts are considered (mainly the statistical impossibility of key factors).
This year he's pushing SB 1742, the Oklahoma Science Education Act. The statute in the bill comes from the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which passed in 2008, and has yet to be tested in court. However, it excludes LSEA's provisions for regulation of teaching in local school districts.

There are two main ways in which SB 1742 differs from similar bills the Oklahoma legislature has considered. First, rather than require local school districts to instruct students in arguments against particular scientific theories, it would allow them to do so, and would require the State Board of Education to provide assistance. Second, it indicates that the secular purpose of the instruction would be to promote "critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories."

SB 1742 would allow teachers to "use supplemental textbooks and instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories," including "evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning." However, the ostensible learning objective is utterly unrealistic, and the supplements themselves purport to provide objective review, analysis, and criticism. Thus it is patently dishonest to suggest that the supplements merely "help" the students.

When a bill like this reaches the floor for a vote, demagoguery walks in the door, and rationality flies out the window. Thus it is essential to stop it at an earlier stage of the legislative process. Members of the Senate Education Committee and the Subcommittee on Education of the Senate Appropriations Committee (see below) will consider SB 1742, and I ask those of you who live in Oklahoma to contact them as soon as possible.

Why exclude LSEA's provisions for regulation?

Here is the proposed law, along with substantive text deleted from the Louisiana law:

     A. The State Board of Education, upon the request of a school district board of education, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and school administrators in creating an environment within the public school system that promotes critical thinking, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning. Assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in this subsection.
     B. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard science textbook and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the… local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of… Education.
     C. This act shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular or set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
     D. The State Board of Education and each… local public school board shall adopt and promulgate the rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this act.
Barbara Forrest1 reports that after LSEA passed, the Louisiana Department of Education drafted regulations forbidding what the act putatively does not promote:
  1. Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking.
  2. Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.
It took some behind-the-scenes maneuvering to get the regulations removed. Senator Brecheen apparently seeks to ensure that no state-level entity will prohibit violations of federal law. In any case, he wants for all Oklahomans to foot the bill for "no strings attached" assistance.

Senate Education Committee

This committee will consider SB 1742 first. Provide your street address in email notes.

Senator John Ford (R) (Chair) 405-521-5634
Senator Gary Stanislawski (Vice Chair) 405-521-5624
Senator Cliff Branan (R) (405) 521-5543
Senator Josh Brecheen (R) (sponsor of the bill)
Senator Greg Childers (R) (405) 521-5522
Senator Kim David (R) (405) 521-5590
Senator Judy Eason McIntyre (D) 405-521-5598
Senator Earl Garrison (D) 405-521-5533
Senator Jim Halligan (R) 405-521-5572
Senator David Holt (R) (405) 521-5636
Senator Clark Jolley (R) (405) 521-5622
Senator Charlie Laster (D) (405) 521-5539
Senator Richard Lerblance (D) (405) 521-5604
Senator Mike Mazzei (R) 405-521-5675
Senator Jonathan Nichols (R) (405) 521-5535
Senator Susan Paddack (D) 405-521-5541
Senator John Sparks (D) 405-531-5553

Subcommittee on Education of the Senate Appropriations Committee

I've omitted contact information for senators listed above.

Sen. Jim Halligan (Chair)
Sen. John Ford
Sen. Cliff Aldridge (R) 405-521-5584
Senator Josh Brecheen
Sen. Rick Brinkley (R) 405-521-5586
Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre
Sen. Earl Garrison
Sen. Mike Mazzei
Sen. Susan Paddack
Sen. Frank Simpson (R) 405-531-5607
Sen. John Sparks
Sen. Gary Stanislawski

1 Professor Forrest, who provided expert testimony on the intelligent design movement in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, has provided gobs of information relevant to SB 1742 on the Louisiana Coalition for Science blog.