Nick Matzke posted Entry 1259 on July 28, 2005 01:22 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1257

The Boston Globe has just published a puff-piece on George Gilder.  The article is called, “The evolution of George Gilder.” Anyway, the piece mostly just lets Gilder spout unchallenged about how evolution can’t explain genetic “information”, although it does start off OK by mentioning Pharyngula’s 2004 fisking of a Gilder essay in Wired.  For some reason, though, the reporter couldn’t bring himself to make one tiny little phone call to a biologist (I’m sure PZ Myers was ready and willing) to learn how evolution actually can produce new genes with new functions (handy free pdf).  Gilder is saying something that is the equivalent of saying “scientists don’t know how volcanos form.”  Saying that the origin of new genetic information requires divine intervention is just wrong, anyone who believes it is badly uninformed, and anyone who promotes the idea to the innocent public is a deluded pseudoscientist.

To end on a positive note, Gilder does manage to get one thing right:

“What’s being pushed is to have Darwinism critiqued, to teach there’s a controversy. Intelligent design itself does not have any content.”

(George Gilder)

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Comment #39966

Posted by DataDoc on July 28, 2005 3:14 AM (e)

Let’s see now…

Guilder was instrumental in developing and promulgating supply side economics, which has made the United States the greatest debtor nation that ever existed while screwing everybody in America who wasn’t filthy rich to begin with.

He was also instrumental in causing the dot.com bubble and bust.

And he’s a “conservative Christian by upbringing and temperament” who insists that “his belief in ID is not a faith-based proposition” even though the belief that A Designer made life and mankind is a bedrock dogma of his religion.

Not surprising that he would go on to co-found the Discovery Institute.

PZ was right about this guy.

Comment #39967

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on July 28, 2005 3:32 AM (e)

Man that is one attrocious article, take these stupid statements by the author:

At maximum conversational velocity, he waves his arms as though battling through nylon netting to get to the next point. And battle he does, with the energy of a 65-year-old man who runs 5 miles daily and could outtalk either Al, Franken or Sharpton, at the drop of a hat. Have you read this?, he asks frequently during a two-hour interview. Looked into that? Sixty-codon alphabets, amino-acid source codes, low-entropy carriers: Hey, check them out. Although a PhD in electrical engineering might be helpful, too.

Shannon is regarded as the father of information theory, a branch of mathematics that combines probability theory and statistics….

Comment #39980

Posted by jaimito on July 28, 2005 6:14 AM (e)

datadoc: It is going too far to accuse Gilder of starting the dot.com bubble or or the supply side economy. Let say he was its speechwriter, the one who gave articulate expression to the illusions of a generation. Now he is engaged in attacking science to make place for a Supreme Programmer, a Chief Information Officer of the Creation Corporation. He is doing a fine job at the Discovery Institute, he is a capable fast-speaking con-artist.

Comment #39987

Posted by Pete Dunkelberg on July 28, 2005 8:22 AM (e)

Gilder: still wailing over his spanking

Comment #39993

Posted by sglover on July 28, 2005 9:02 AM (e)

Looked into that? Sixty-codon alphabets, amino-acid source codes, low-entropy carriers: Hey, check them out. Although a PhD in electrical engineering might be helpful, too.

I suspect it’s a rare college journalism department that doesn’t allow its students to skip through the entire curriculum without even taking an algebra class. So it’s probably easy to intimidate reporters by tossing around magic totems like ‘entropy’, ‘bandwidth’, etc. On the other hand, most people with educations in science or technology are poorly equipped for conducting celebrity interviews, so there’s a certain balance to the arrangement….

Thanks for the Gilder slapdowns. He’s been begging for it since the 80’s. Doesn’t say much for the long-overrated ‘Wired’ that they publish him as somebody who knows something about anything other than awing the rubes…

Comment #40012

Posted by Bruce on July 28, 2005 10:29 AM (e)

Note that this is article is in the “Living” section, the natural place for puff pieces, and not the Tuesday Science section.

Comment #40019

Posted by HPLC_Sean on July 28, 2005 10:53 AM (e)

You guys are too quick for me. You caught the same ignorance-ridden quotes I latched onto.

he asks frequently during a two-hour interview. Looked into that? Sixty-codon alphabets, amino-acid source codes, low-entropy carriers: Hey, check them out. Although a PhD in electrical engineering might be helpful, too.

Ummm, Yeah… We’re talking about electrical engineering… that’s it. I literally burst out laughing when I read that.

“I’m not pushing to have [ID] taught as an ‘alternative’ to Darwin, and neither are they,” he says in response to one question about Discovery’s agenda. “What’s being pushed is to have Darwinism critiqued, to teach there’s a controversy. Intelligent design itself does not have any content.”

His unapologetic doubletalk goes unchallenged. Obviously journalism isn’t what it used to be. Besides: If I were founder of a 14 year old think-tank that had no content, I’d pull the plug.

Using Darwin to explain how life began, he adds, “isn’t even remotely feasible in information-theoretic terms. Something else has to be posited. What that additional factor is, how this intelligence emerges in the universe, I don’t know and isn’t for me to say. But nobody else does, either.”

Gilder is obviously a political speech-writer; who else could say so much while meaning so little? Darwin never tried to explain life’s beginnings in “information-theoretic” terms! What the hell does “information-theoretic” mean, anyway?

This guy is famous for screwing up. My guess is he’ll screw up the Discovery Institute too.

Comment #40021

Posted by DrJohn on July 28, 2005 11:01 AM (e)

The idiot Gilder is clearly a crackpot. Now he’s a crackpot in deep debt because of his crackpottery!

Why is it people just can’t leave crackpots alone, and walk right on by snickering? The world would be a better place without them, so why keep them in the news?

Comment #40027

Posted by Albion on July 28, 2005 11:25 AM (e)

Oh, good grief - yet another DI person who insists that his adherence to ID has nothing - NOTHING - to do with his conservative Christianity but that it’s all completely science based and then carries on about the evils of materialist philosophy, as though that had anything to do with information theory.

Interesting typo in this bit:

“As a senior fellow at the institute, Gilder primarily focuses on telecom policy. Yet the controversy over ID, recently reflected in the Smithsonian Institution’s decision to screen an ID-friendly documentary titled “The Privileged Plant: The Search for Purpose in the Universe,” has brought the issue to Gilder’s front doorstep.”

I assume the author of this piece did know that it’s “The Privileged Planet” and that this is a typo rather than a comical misunderstanding. It sounds as though somewhere in the universe there are plants privileged with the ability for purpose and intention.

Comment #40029

Posted by Les Lane on July 28, 2005 11:49 AM (e)

No content?

How insightful. Fits the DI intellect perfectly!

Comment #40042

Posted by SEF on July 28, 2005 12:18 PM (e)

The Privileged Plant could instead be about the world-wide “big pharma” conspiracy … it’s probably second only to the EAC in the minds of loons …

Comment #40046

Posted by harold on July 28, 2005 12:30 PM (e)

Creationists keep claiming some variation of “no new information can be created”.

This is actually contrary to Shannon Information theory. Although Shannon theory deals with the transmission of a message, it is the RECEIVER who decides what is actually information.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/information/infotheory.html

It has been pointed out here that in Shannon Information Theory, the message is assumed to be “perfect”, and that in this sense, it does not deal with the creation of new information. This is true, and this is totally compatible with empirical science. If we are attempting to sequence a strand of DNA, for example, the “best” we can theoretically do is to come as close as possible to sequencing it “perfectly”.

But what creationist absurdly claim, when you get right down to it, has nothing to do with this. They are in essence claiming that there can never be a new message at all.

The replication of DNA is always a straightforward disproof of this creationist idea.

Comment #40050

Posted by harold on July 28, 2005 12:39 PM (e)

If you go to the link, you’ll find this quote from Gilder -

“I’ve never taken a biology course”.

Yet to some, this open confession of ignorance may make him seem more credible. Here’s why -

Some of the very early molecular biologists of the 1950’s came from physics backgrounds. The work they did in biology was not mathematical in nature; it was not what we would refer to today as “biophysics”, and it was an extension of work being done by career biologists at the time. They changed fields because of excitement and interest, and they remained productive biologists.

It’s a far cry from the claims of creationists that, knowing nothing about biology and doing no work to learn it, right up to the age of 65, they can use “information theory” to disprove decades of empirical work.

In case my post above isn’t crystal clear, under Shannon information theory, just about anything is information if someone decides to pay attention to it. That’s a far cry from “no new information”.

Comment #40053

Posted by Les Lane on July 28, 2005 12:49 PM (e)

Quote from Phillip Johnson:

“What I noticed in 1987, was that Darwinism and evolution were more in my field, legal analysis, than in science. The amount of biology you have to know to argue it is very slim. It was mainly a matter of assumptions and logic.”

The whole of the ID movement is based on ignorance. It seems to extend well beyond biology.

Comment #40068

Posted by Greg Peterson on July 28, 2005 1:35 PM (e)

Three-leaf clovers are so common, I don’t even notice them. But I’ve found three or so four-leaf clovers in my life, and I picked them and gave them to family and friends, for “good luck.” I’m not sure why the extra leaf is taken to communicate good fortune, but it is. So…did the mutation within the plant that caused it to grow four rather than three leaves increase information, or did it not? It was communicating nothing without the mutation. With it, it communicated “luck.”

I know this isn’t exactly what the IDiots have in mind when they talk about information theory, but it’s analogous, and besides, screw them.

Comment #40070

Posted by natural cynic on July 28, 2005 1:39 PM (e)

Wow! Case #5,662 from Discovery Institute Thinking Tanks.

Comment #40090

Posted by Steve Reuland on July 28, 2005 2:42 PM (e)

Personally, I’m happy that Guilder associates himself with the ID movement and makes himself its occasional spokesman. It’s as good a way to discredit ID as any.

Comment #40116

Posted by Pete Dunkelberg on July 28, 2005 3:45 PM (e)

”The Privileged Plant: The Search for Purpose in the Universe,”….

It must be Venus’ flytrap. It’s a snap trap that’s self setting, self cleaning, and even self baiting. Puts a mouse trap to shame. Couldn’t have evolved. Praise The Designer!

Comment #40126

Posted by Marek14 on July 28, 2005 4:00 PM (e)

Greg Peterson wrote:

Three-leaf clovers are so common, I don’t even notice them. But I’ve found three or so four-leaf clovers in my life, and I picked them and gave them to family and friends, for “good luck.” I’m not sure why the extra leaf is taken to communicate good fortune, but it is. So…did the mutation within the plant that caused it to grow four rather than three leaves increase information, or did it not? It was communicating nothing without the mutation. With it, it communicated “luck.”

Actually, are four-leaf clovers mutants? Or is it development issue?

Comment #40273

Posted by Jaime Headden on July 29, 2005 3:56 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #40275

Posted by Alan on July 29, 2005 4:06 AM (e)

Actually, are four-leaf clovers mutants? Or is it development issue?

It’s a horses teeth issue. Somebody needs to check, if they haven’t already.

Comment #40281

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 4:45 AM (e)

Actually, are four-leaf clovers mutants?

Unlikely, as there’s no common descent.

Or is it development issue?

Or recessive genes, or a combination.

Comment #40298

Posted by harold on July 29, 2005 8:42 AM (e)

ts and alan -

“Actually, are four-leaf clovers mutants?”

“Unlikely, as there’s no common descent.”

The original question, by alan uses the term ‘mutant’ to describe an entire organism, which is a common but confusing practice, as I will explain in a moment. Presumably, he means “is the four leafed trait in clovers related to expression of a mutant allele?”

The term “mutant” or “mutation”, in genetics, is a relative term.

If a nucleic acid sequence is different from an ancestor sequence, it contain a “mutation” where the difference occurs. If you want to get technical, almost all alleles are mutant alleles relative to some ancestor sequence. It is in this most correct sense that the term is used when evolution is said to be related to “mutation and natural selection”. (I prefer the term “genetic variability and natural selection”, which also incorporates recombination).

In practice, the term “mutation” is used rather loosely, and other, more restrictive meanings are often (by necessity) implied.

The term “mutation” is often restricted, for convenience, in some circumstances, to alleles whose expression has a noticeable effect on the phenotype, especially a deleterious or easily visible one.

If expression of an allele can havee deleterious effects on a phenotype, that particular allele is often refered to as a “mutant allele”, and other alleles of the same gene may be refered to as “wild type alleles” or even “normal” alleles. This practice, combined with the focus of human biomedical science on human alleles that cause human disease, gives rise to the creationist nonsense statement that “there are no positive mutations”.

Likewise, when an organism can be seen to express a “mutant allele” at a focus of interest, by its phenotype, the entire organism is sometimes refered to a a “mutant”. I discourage this usage, as the term has irrational derogatory connotations when applied to human genetic disorders. We are all mutants many times over, technically, of course.

The statement above by ts above is incorrect, although his second statement, below, is correct. There is no reason to believe that four leaf clovers do not have some other four leaf clovers as ancestors. Furthermore, if the four-leaf phenotype is due to a recessive allele, it is technically possible for an individual four leaf clover not to have any four leaf ancestors (this would become less and less likely as we traced more and more generations of ancestors, of course). Yet the trait would still be due to a “mutation”.

“Or is it development issue?”

“Or recessive genes, or a combination.”

Recessive alleles are coding genomic nucleic acid sequences, in diploid organisms, whose expression does not strongly affect phenotype unless two copies of the allele are present. This definition is mildly oversimplified, as “recessive” alleles may have mild phenotypic effects in the heterozygote state, and may have different effects in the heterozygote state depending on which different allele is at the partner locus. Nevertheless, the term is fairly useful one.

Because some recessive alleles may have serious deleterious effects only in the homozygous state, they are acted on very slowly by natural selection. The heterozygous phenotype may be at no selective disadvantage. There are many examples in which the heterozygous phenotype even has an advantage in some environmental circumstances, the sickle cell gene being one of the most famous. In these cases, a “recessive” allele with a severely deleterious homozygous phenotype may nevertheless be selected to a very high frequency in the population.

If a recessive allele leads to a selective advantage for the homozygous phenotype, the allele could increase in frequency very rapidly, or very slowly, depending on the level of reproductive advantage concurred, the initial frequency of the allele, and whether or not heterozygotes have any selective advantage or disadvantage.

Here, ts is exactly correct, although only one gene, not “genes”, need be involved. The frequency of four-leafed clovers is said to be about one in ten thousand wild clover plants. Assuming wild clovers are diploid, one plausible explanation would be a single recessive allele with an allele frequency of about 1 in 100. Other than provoking Irish humans to pick the clover plant, the four leafed morphology may or may not be deleterious or advantageous with respect to natural selection. If a recessive allele is at work, the allele frequency might be expected to stay about the same over many generations, unless the heterozygous state is selected for or against, of the homozygous state is strongly selected FOR.

The action of multiple genes, or environmental/development factors, could also be involved. It could even be a purely environmental issue. I suspect a single recessive allele is the most likely explanation. I wasn’t able to find a good technical article. A few horticultural web sites blithely claim that the four leaf state is due to a “mutation”, but I saw no primary references.

Comment #40335

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 11:39 AM (e)

although only one gene, not “genes”, need be involved

I was too lazy to type “gene or genes”; I wasn’t implying that there had to be more than one. Other than that – you’re right, of course, a recessive (or any other) gene would have originated as a mutation, and all four leaf clovers could share a common ancestor; I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Comment #40638

Posted by Bruce on July 31, 2005 10:15 AM (e)

Slight digression:
Consider this article from a less-fluffy section of the Globe: Beliefs drive research agenda of new think tanks.
On the one hand, it shows that any claim of authority derived from publication in a peer-reviewed journal needs to be inspected. On the other, it makes me wonder why so few ID science articles even make it into the samizdat press.

Comment #40648

Posted by steve on July 31, 2005 11:53 AM (e)

On the other, it makes me wonder why so few ID science articles even make it into the samizdat press.

All they do is scientist x is wrong about detail y. They don’t do any research, unless you count dembski’s mathematical sophistry, which no one does. They do almost nothing which even resembles science. They remind me of the Lit Critters, who sit around and say things like “Principia Mathematica is a rape manual.” Just no brains at all.