Burt Humburg posted Entry 2986 on March 14, 2007 06:45 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2976

Scarecrow2.jpgOver at the Discovery Institute’s Ministry of Media Complaints, to which he has recently become a contributor, SUNY neurosurgeon Michael Egnor responds to my criticism of his post, “Why Would I Want My Doctor to have Studied Evolution?” Dr. Egnor couldn’t think of much to say in response to my criticism because he never responded to my criticism; rather, he responded to a version of my criticism that he invented just for his essay. In other words, he’s responding to a straw man version of my argument, and straw men (wearing the jerseys of the opposing team, say) are a lot easier to defeat than the actual opposing team.

Let’s start simply. Dr. Egnor, in his original post, wrote:

Doctors don’t study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no ‘professors of evolution’ in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools. No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology. [Therefore, evolutionary] biology isn’t important to modern medicine. (Quotes are excerpted.)

Medical schools think evolution is pretty important so they’ve made the MCAT, in part, to test the student’s understanding of evolution. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have what he did in his essay in the light of what the MCAT evaluates.

Some of the most brilliant insights in evolutionary biology and some of the worst scientific defeats for creationist arguments have come from professors that teach primarily at medical schools or are charged with teaching medical students. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have written what he did in his essay in the light of those faculty appointments.

I suspect it could be said accurately that no recent Nobel prize could have been won without the insights and assumptions afforded by evolutionary biology. In any case, I did show in my essay several Nobel prizes that had been awarded on the basis of or strongly appealing to evolutionary biology concepts. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have written what he did in his essay in the light of the research that has earned those Nobel prizes.

Dr. Egnor did respond, however, to the criticism of his thesis that “random heritable variation and natural selection is responsible for all biological complexity” is an unsound statement. His objection would have been an perfectly straightforward inclusion had he ever made it or had I ever objected to it. But he didn’t make that argument and I wouldn’t have objected to it if he did.

More on the flipside.

Seriously, check for yourselves. Go to his original essay and do a search for “heritable,” “variation,” “responsible,” or “complexity.” The words just aren’t in the essay. And he can’t say that he was arguing that idea implicitly without using those particular words because he actually quotes that phrase.

He goes on to say, “It does seem fairly obvious. Doctors don’t use Darwinism[.]” Does Egnor use the word Darwinism even once in his essay? (Go ahead and check, I’ll wait.)

Here’s the craziest thing about it: his invented language, had he actually written those phrases, is unobjectionable. Random heritable variation and natural selection may very well be responsible for all of biological complexity, but I doubt any scientist - even an atheist - would attest to that particular phrasing. (You don’t know what you don’t know and it is entirely possible that something else amenable to scientific investigation is responsible.) Further, there exist people who fully support evolution and yet also think that some non-natural agent is involved somehow, whether through a mechanism scrutable to science or not. Arguing in favor of the idea that all biological complexity arose only due to random heritable variation and natural selection would needlessly alienate those theists who also support evolution and would make statements that would be potentially rebutted by whatever is discovered to create complexity that isn’t evolution. (The data don’t demand it, it would be needlessly divisive: who else but a creationist would suggest that such language be used?)

As for his specific claim that “Doctors don’t use Darwinism,” which again is an invention from his latest essay and not the one that started this exchange off in the first place, I’ll be the first to admit it, nay proclaim it. No doctor or scientist ever uses Darwinism today, unless one is placed into the rare circumstance of trying to frame an idea into the understanding of evolution that Darwin was limited to: an understanding absent genetics, population biology, the framework of modern synthesis, and almost all of post-Darwinian evolutionary research (cladistics, Archaea, biochemical evidence all go away). It would be appropriate to use “Darwinism” in that context because that is the proper definition of Darwinism: the understanding of evolution that Darwin and his contemporaries had. This is in contradistinction to Darwinism as creationists define the phrase: everything about evolution to which the creationist objects.

Doctors do, however, use Neodarwinism, which itself is needlessly cryptic. It is far simpler, and less ambiguous, to say that doctors use evolution. Employing “Darwinism” or it’s cognates/declensions invokes ambiguity, and strategically ambiguous phrasings are a staple of creationists and their ilk. We at the Thumb strongly recommend people to avoid playing into the creationist’s strategy in this fashion: call it evolution only, please, Michael Ruse.

Egnor’s straw men inventions don’t stop there. Maybe his offense at my essay got him too riled to see this but I never questioned his competence, ever. In fact, I was at pains to say that it is possible to practice medicine brilliantly and still not have a clue about any of the basic sciences at all. Were Egnor ignorant of all science but could practice to the standards of care as they change without fail, he could still be an excellent neurosurgeon. (There are other things, like collegiality, which factor in, so one cannot be definite knowing only that he practiced to set standards.) I want to make it clear that I retreat from any formulation of my argument in which I claim him to be incompetent of neurosurgery. I never said it and I’d be apologizing right now if I did. But I didn’t, so it’s another straw man argument.

Now, as regards intellectual integrity, or being honest with yourself, I would leave it for the reader to decide whether Dr. Egnor has much of it when he appears to accept the utility of animal testing but settles for an intellectual vacuum rather than pushing through to evolution when it comes to the question of why animal research is applicable to humans.

Apropos, Egnor talks about Galen, using him as the centerpiece of a rebuttal that one can indeed do animal research without knowing about evolution. Properly answering his argument would involve knowing what intellectual model Galen was using to apply the results from his research in animals to humans. Was Galen a creationist and thought that a common designer led to common design? Did he settle for an intellectual vacuum when it came to making his extrapolations to humans? I’m not a historian and the limited resources I have at my disposal today aren’t sufficient to answer that question.

But what the devil is Egnor’s point? The Greeks did a decent job modeling the motion of the stars by appeal to understandings of celestial spheres, all but the last of which were transparent, so one could conceivably say that it is possible to understand astronomy without knowing gravity or Newtonian mechanics and at least draw some modestly true conclusions. But they were quite wrong about other things and astronomy has moved on since the ancient Greek understanding of spheres and all that business. If there were some factional equivalent of creationists to astronomy, say a group that had a white-knuckled, wide-eyed fear of gravity, would an Egnor from that group honestly expect the citation of the ancient Greek understanding of celestial spheres to be a rebuttal to the idea that celestial mechanics can’t be comprehended without an understanding of gravity and Newtonian mechanics?

So Egnor’s playing a weak game of intellectual gotcha. Let’s drop the word games. Yes, it is possible to make sense of certain things in biology even if evolution is not correct. However, our understanding of the interrelationships between organisms, and especially the conclusions we draw regarding humans based on research in animals, only make sense in the light of evolution. Furthermore, given that Galen was wrong about a great many things in his medical pronouncements (circulation being but one), it seems odd for Egnor to appeal to the ancient understandings provided by Galen as a rebuttal to modern understandings of biology, cherry picking what Galen got essentially correct and disavowing what Galen got wrong. Modern understandings are superior and have supplanted Galenic understandings; an ancient and wrong understanding is no rebuttal to a modern and right one, if one is arguing that it is possible to make sense of something without a modern understanding.

In closing, Egnor’s new station at the Discovery Institute’s media complaints blog means that we’ll be hearing a lot about creationist understandings of medicine. And despite the fact that I’m the resident physician (figuratively, as well as literally, at least for the next year and a half) at the Thumb, and therefore as well-placed as anyone to rebut his pronouncements, I have to say I’m not enthusiastic about it. This was a weak rebuttal: he didn’t or couldn’t respond to the arguments I did make and he railed against straw men arguments I didn’t make.

At least Galen dissected animals, not straw men, Dr. Egnor.

BCH

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Comment #165487

Posted by Karen on March 14, 2007 7:27 PM (e)

Hmm, I guess Eg never saw the article Evolution and the Origins of Disease from Scientific American, November 1998.

As it explains, “The principles of evolution by natural selection are finally beginning to inform medicine.” (Note that the article was written almost 10 years ago!)

Comment #165488

Posted by waldteufel on March 14, 2007 7:31 PM (e)

I read Dr. Egnor’s rebuttal piece today, and I was aghast. His intellectual arguments are indeed weak.

I really think that the Disco Institute is getting more and more desperate. They continue to lose ground in almost all venues. I might be completely wrong, but I sense that the DI is more and more playing to their donor base …trying to justify a relevance that just doesn’t exist.

Anyway,I say “thanks” to Dr. Humburg for his persistence and intellectual honesty.

Comment #165492

Posted by Cedric Katesby on March 14, 2007 7:51 PM (e)

Nice smackdown, Dr Humberg.
Logical, informative and a good read.
Yet it lacks that certain something.
Something to give it that extra “ooomph”.
If only you’d taken the ID approach to an argument and included an audio file of somebody farting, then it would be just perfect. :)

Comment #165495

Posted by Jeffrey K McKee on March 14, 2007 8:21 PM (e)

I taught anatomy at a medical school (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa) for ten years. The evolutionary insights our medical students gained from paleoanthropological/human evolution perspectives were key to their educations. It was not just that the resources were there – we’d take them to fossil sites and give lectures on South African fossils – it was that they could truly understand the nuances of human anatomy, and the medical implications of our evolutionary heritage. It it explains a lot of the brain, and Egnor should understand that, but apparently he does not.

It is true that medical doctors are not scientists. My wife is a medical doctor, and although she has a Masters of Science degree and understands the scientific method, she does not characterize herself as a scientist. On the other hand, she can certainly apply evolutionary knowledge in her daily practice, and can easily debunk the nonsensical dismissal Dr. Egnor gives to the solid science and applicability of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary knowledge is everyday stuff in medicine.

Engor, like David Menton, at my alma mater of Washington University, is an anomaly among medically trained individuals. They are inconsequential to the scientific community UNTIL they actually provide some cogent research regarding their wanton posts on creationist/ ID web sites.

*sigh*
Jeff

Comment #165497

Posted by Keanus on March 14, 2007 8:37 PM (e)

wildteufel observed “…I sense that the DI is more and more playing to their donor base …trying to justify a relevance that just doesn’t exist.”

I think you’re right, but then I think that’s what they’ve always done. They have never been seriously interested in joining a debate with evolutionary biologists, other than to gain some street credibility for being on the same stage. I’ve always seen their on-line comments, especially the Media Complaints Division, as a play to their base and an effort to justify their support. I don’t think they seriously think they’re having an impact on biology. Are they? Surely they’re not that deluded? After all they’ve never put forth serious testable hypotheses, proposed anticipated consequences of ID, or placed ther ideas at risk in the professional sphere, where other scientists risk all. They much prefer to engage school boards and church congregations where they know they’ll be welcome and no one will punch holes in their dreams.

And by the way, a big thank you to Burt for his dissection of Egnor’s two-stage nonsense. This non-biologist very much appreciates it.

While reading some Mark Twain tonight I came across an observation of his that addresses the frequent tarring of evolution as the Church of Darwin by the IDiots. To wit “A scientist will never show any kindness for a theory which he didn’t start himself.” Another in a different vein, which the IDiots should take to heart: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt,” the latter being what the DI, recently in the person of Casey Luskin and now Dr. Egnor, does daily.

Comment #165504

Posted by Lanewilcox on March 14, 2007 9:48 PM (e)

“Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice.”

Hmm, I’ll have to let all the MD’s in my cytogenetics lab to stop using evo theory, especially in reference to robertsonian translocations (such as in the creation of the current human Chromosome 2). Also any microduplications and/or balaced non-robertsonian translocations. yeah, what does clinical medical genetics at any level (molecular, locus, or chromosomal level have to do with evolution?

Comment #165505

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 14, 2007 9:52 PM (e)

I suppose that Egnor’s the only thing happening at this time, otherwise I can’t see why his drivel is given so much space. I think it’s at least as interesting that the latest paper C & EN (Chemical and Engineering News, letters) has the old boy Phil Skell giving us the same old nonsense that evolution has had no practical consequences. Nothing worth repeating, just flat-out denial based on the opinion of some hack he asked once upon a time (he doesn’t say so in his letter, it was elsewhere that he admitted to it).

Of course I applaud the fisking by Humburg, but hey, they sure don’t make it hard in any intellectual sense. Just Egnor displaying his ripe ignorance, indicating that he lets others cut and paste everything for him, as he knows nothing of what goes into the science that he uses. No doubt it’ll go down with the people who think Conservapedia is on to something, but they’re educationally a lost cause at this point.

Galen, huh? I wonder if he was really up on the differences between mouse physiology, chimp physiology, and human physiology. No? Gee, why not? Maybe he lacked a theory that would relate morphology, genetics, and physiology according to divergence patterns. I mean, why would we want to move beyond Galen, since we’re (well, they’re) willing to use scholastic methods to discern the origins of humans? Down with the anti-Galenic Harvey and his absurd notions about blood circulation, and the even more radical Darwin with his ideas that chimps are “related” to humans.

Sure Egnor, we’re going down that path. Oh, or does that actually strike at what you actually know, instead of at the masses of information that haven’t yet glanced off of your pathetic little neurons?

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165506

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 14, 2007 9:58 PM (e)

Oh, I said there was nothing worth repeating in Skell’s letter in C & EN, but there was one thing that was amusing. He noted that there are no divisions of evolutionary science in the drug companies, as if somehow companies have the sorts of divisions that academia might have.

You caught us out, Skell, the pharmaceuticals merely utilize evolutionary knowledge in their research, they’re not doing basic research into the origins of life, etc. It’s called the “fruits of evolutionary study,” not evolutionary study itself. And BTW, Skell, there also aren’t microbiology, biochemistry, and organic chemistry divisions in the drug companies either. Perhaps it’s time that you learn about that industry, rather than parroting the line of your favorite pseudoscientists.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165542

Posted by Frank J on March 15, 2007 4:17 AM (e)

bhumburg wrote:

Employing “Darwinism” or it’s cognates/declensions invokes ambiguity, and strategically ambiguous phrasings are a staple of creationists and their ilk. We at the Thumb strongly recommend people to avoid playing into the creationist’s strategy in this fashion: call it evolution only, please, Michael Ruse.

Thank You!!! I have been begging critics of ID/creationism for 8 years to just stop using the word “Darwinism.” Although we do need to use it, and the increasingly common “Darwinists,” in quotes to alert people to anti-evolution word games.

Does anyone know if Egnor had anything to say about another MD who rejects “Darwinism” but not evolution - Stuart Kauffman? I do know that the ID community actually portrayed Kauffman at various times as both friend and foe of ID (Kauffman wants no part of ID).

Comment #165556

Posted by Chip Poirot on March 15, 2007 6:54 AM (e)

The use of the term “Neo-Darwinian” is not only perfectly appropriate, it is in fact far preferable to simply “evolution”.

The term evolution can apply to any number of crackpot theories ranging from Lamarck to saltationism to orthogenesis. Neo-Darwinism describes a paradigm/research program/research tradition (pick your term).

What is the point of denying that scientists work in paradigms and that paradigms are ordered by interrelated concepts, theories,ontological assumptions, methodological rules, etc.?

Comment #165563

Posted by ERV on March 15, 2007 7:56 AM (e)

Though I took the MCAT a couple of years ago (theyve switched formats since then)– My biology section had a huge phylogenetic tree, questions on the evolution of the immune system, etc. And there were rumors at the time of the AAMC still wanting to increase the number of evolution questions.

Sure you can get into med school with a 7 or 8 in the biology section, but your chances are severely crippled.

Comment #165566

Posted by Raging Bee on March 15, 2007 8:29 AM (e)

Doctors don’t study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution…

And doctors still prescribe penicillin because they never studied how bacteria have evolved to resist it since the 1950s. Right, “Dr.” Egnor?

Comment #165569

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 15, 2007 9:02 AM (e)

The term evolution can apply to any number of crackpot theories ranging from Lamarck to saltationism to orthogenesis.

Really? So what processes do these “theories” (you misused the term “theory”, Chip, since most of these “alternatives” don’t measure up to the standards of either accepted or of unaccepted theories today) describe?

When we talk about evolution we mean what happened, not what cranks claim happened. When we talk of evolutionary theory we mean accepted theory, not ID or anything else which accommodates, but does not in the least explain, evolutionary changes. When we say “physics” we’re not referring to hafnium bombs or the woo that claims ESP to be “based on physics,” so why do we have to accommodate crackpots within the term “evolution”?

Neo-Darwinism describes a paradigm/research program/research tradition (pick your term).

Yes, it was a synthesis that has been superseded by the variety of processes now known.

What is the point of denying that scientists work in paradigms

What is the point of asking ridiculous questions?

and that paradigms are ordered by interrelated concepts, theories,ontological assumptions,

Because they aren’t, or at least needn’t be, based upon ontological assumptions at all. Learn some philosophy, like maybe Kant.

methodological rules, etc.?

We don’t deny that science follows methodological rules, however there usually isn’t much point in bringing these up, since rules in science are not hard and fast. Hence we move beyond “Darwinism” and “neo-Darwinism”. It’s generally when egregious and flagrant violations are urged upon us by IDists, or utilized in fraudulent science, that methodological rules are invoked.

Anyhow, people were complaining about the use of the term “Darwinism,” not the term “neo-Darwinism,” the latter of which is at least closer to reasonable today.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165571

Posted by TheBlackCat on March 15, 2007 9:05 AM (e)

“If there were some factional equivalent of creationists to astronomy…”

Wouldn’t the flat-Earthers and the fixed-Earthers fit that bill pretty well?

Comment #165573

Posted by harold on March 15, 2007 9:24 AM (e)

I have heard over the grapevine that medical schools are beginning to consider specifically including evolution in the curriculum.

When I was in medical school, we didn’t specifically study evolution as a seperate course, but evolution is as unifying and explanatory as it is in any other biological field. Medical students study microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, anatomy, physiology, etc.

Obviously, despite his clinical brilliance, Dr Egnor must be a right wing political ideologue. That’s the unifying theme of ID.

Whether the term “scientist” should be denied to the applied scientific fields like medicine, veterinary medicine, forensics, engineering, and so on, and apply only to academics doing original research, is a debate I won’t enter.

Comment #165574

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on March 15, 2007 9:34 AM (e)

The term evolution can apply to any number of crackpot theories ranging from Lamarck to saltationism to orthogenesis.

But we can practically distinguish between evolution theories (all such posited) and evolution theory (the non-falsified ones), as we do with gravitation theory, field theory et cetera.

Btw, some seem to object to neo-darwinism as not containing all of the current research?

Comment #165576

Posted by Raging Bee on March 15, 2007 9:42 AM (e)

I just read Egnor’s “response,” and it’s nothing but diversionary hyperbole. Every word I read leaves me less inclined to let him mess with any part of my body. Or my brain, which he’s already trying to mess with without my consent (will he bill me for that?).

Of course we can do comparative physiology, comparative anatomy, and comparative pharmacology without Darwinism…

We can also fly across the Atlantic without heliocentrism. The non-use of a theory by this or that person does not make the theory false.

And if Egnor doesn’t use evolution, then I guess he won’t be able to tell us why a certain “wonder-drug” invented during WWII isn’t being used anymore.

None of this raises any questions about Egnor’s talent as a neurosurgeon; but all of it raises serious questions about his integrity, and his ability to think sensibly. A surgeon who flatly denies the usefulness of a theory as ubiquitous as evolution, is not a person who should be trusted to handle life-or-death issues. He’s worse than a carpenter who brags about not having any use for levellors/levellers/those thingies you use to see if something is level.

Comment #165578

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 15, 2007 9:54 AM (e)

Btw, some seem to object to neo-darwinism as not containing all of the current research?

Here’s an ID article misusing objections to “neo-Darwinism”:

http://www.idthefuture.com/2006/02/davidson_erwi…

The trackbacks point out how egregiously Nelson uses the objections.

Comment #165579

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 15, 2007 9:56 AM (e)

continuing from above:

As far as I can tell, some would include what Eric Davidson is talking about within the term “neo-Darwinism,” while he does not. My sense is that it’s probably best to move on, as there was a distinct “neo-Darwinian” synthesis, while modern theory utilizes so much more than it did. I mean, why didn’t biologists back then just stick with “Darwinism” as a term? It’s sort of like moving beyond “modernism” in the art world—no matter how odd it seems to suggest that to be “modern”, art has to be a few decades old.

I don’t see “neo-Darwinism” used in the journals much, so it seems that in practice most have gone to just talking about “evolutionary theory”. Mere convention evidently is ruling against “neo-Darwinism” as the usual label for today’s evolutionary theory, and it actually decides semantics in the end.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165582

Posted by Raging Bee on March 15, 2007 10:07 AM (e)

The sheer lameness of Egnor’s arguments is growing on me. So what if he doesn’t use evolution? Plumbers, pilots, truck-drivers, technical writers, economists, baseball players and artists don’t use it either. What’s Egnor’s point? All he’s proven is that he has no use for evolution, and didn’t study it, therefore he has no clue what he’s talking about, so he should just shut up and get back to work.

I guess this shows how low the creationists have sunk: they can’t disprove evolution, they can’t get their creation-stories accepted as “science,” they can’t conceal ID’s religious origins; so now they’re trying to insist (in places where replies aren’t alowed, of course) that certain people don’t use evolution, and that that’s somehow significant. Sort of like the old plumber who’s always done his job the same way since he learned it in 1935, refuses to use any of those newfangled tools that came out after WWII, and claims that makes him some sort of paragon of stability, or authenticity, or martyrdom, or something…

“Argument from authority” meets “argument from ignorance?”

Comment #165584

Posted by Raging Bee on March 15, 2007 10:15 AM (e)

Egnor again:

Burt has also been involved in the Kansas evolution struggle. You might say he has a dog in this hunt.

We all have a dog in this hunt: our freedom of speech and freedom of religion – not to mention our kids’ futures – are threatened by a political campaign to disguise a narrow religious doctrine as science, for obvious purposes of forced indoctrination.

Doctors don’t use Darwinism, at least not since eugenics lost its luster.

And law-enforcement doesn’t use specious religious arguments to determine guilt or innocence, at least not since witch-hunting and the Inquisition lost their luster.

Comment #165585

Posted by TheBlackCat on March 15, 2007 10:24 AM (e)

“He’s worse than a carpenter who brags about not having any use for evellors/levellers/those thingies you use to see if something is level.”

I would say he is more along the lines of a builder who refuses to accept that incline planes work and asserts that no builders use them or build them. Despite this he still uses screws, nails, ramps, hammers, ladders, crowbars, shims, axes, and many other dozens of tools that involve incline planes in some way. He still builds stairs, gutter, drainage pipes, driveways, bridges and many of the things that are based off incline planes.

He is rejecting one of the fundamental tools used by the field while still making use of it, rejecting one of the fundamental objects he builds while still building it. He says that there are no construction tools called “incline planes”. He says that he never builds something called on “incline plane”. When it is pointed out to him that all of those things require the use of incline planes, he says that he does not have to believe in incline planes to use them or build them. He claims that you can accept that a wedge-shaped tool can separate two objects apart without accepting that it reduces the force needed to move two objects away from each other. The fact that these statements are nearly equivalent escapes him.

He claims that on-site training of contractors does not include a section on incline planes, and that tool manufacturers do not employ anyone who is an expert on incline planes. When someone points out that it is expected that they know that water runs downhill, or that a wedge can force things apart, or that walking up a staircase is easier than jumping 15 feet in the air, he ignores them. When people point out that to get a contractor’s license in the first place you have to show you understand incline planes on an exam, and that this is heavily emphasized in contractor training courses, and that contracting companies say that they expect their employees to know about incline planes he ignores that as well. When it is pointed out that tool companies do in fact employ people people who are experts on incline planes he ignores that as well.

He then goes on to say that his critics are stupid for criticizing his statement that “incline planes are not the only tools ever used by builders and the not only tool they ever will use”. His critics are obviously baffled, having never heard him make this statement and having absolutely no disagreement with it whatsoever. He then proceeds to refer to them as “halberds” and says that it seems obvious to him “contractors don’t use halberds”. He either intentionally or unintentionally ignores the fact that halberds, although a type of incline plane, are outdated and just not useful anymore outside of historical study and where never really that useful to contractors to begin with.

Comment #165586

Posted by Frank J on March 15, 2007 10:28 AM (e)

Chip Poirot wrote:

What is the point of denying that scientists work in paradigms and that paradigms are ordered by interrelated concepts, theories,ontological assumptions, methodological rules, etc.?

Then just say “Neo-Darwinian paradigm” instead of “Darwinism,” which implies a philosophy. If the article is for general audiences, make sure to contrast the scientific meaning with the common caricature to alert the audience to the anti-evolutionists’ bait-and-switch.

If anything I think that Darwin would want us to stop using “Darwinism.”

Comment #165591

Posted by Raging Bee on March 15, 2007 11:11 AM (e)

Since “Dr.” Egnor has offhandedly blamed evolution for the atrocity known as eugenics, I have to ask him for clarification on one point: was eugenics actually practiced by evolutionary biologists, or by doctors?

And since Egnor just spent a LOT of bandwidth asserting that doctors don’t use evolution, then who, exactly, is really to blame for eugenics?

If Dr. Egnor could reply to this point here, it would go a long way toward restoring his credibility.

Comment #165593

Posted by Raging Bee on March 15, 2007 11:13 AM (e)

Thsnks, BlackCat, your analogy was better than mine, which was cobbled up in haste.

Comment #165595

Posted by fnxtr on March 15, 2007 11:21 AM (e)

If, as Mr. Egnor claims, doctors don’t learn or use evolutionary theory, then he has no basis as a critical authority, has he. At least Wells has his “education” he can ignore.

Comment #165596

Posted by fnxtr on March 15, 2007 11:23 AM (e)

Sorry, RB, I just noticed you said it first and better.

Comment #165597

Posted by Pete Dunkelberg on March 15, 2007 11:34 AM (e)

The terms Darwinism and neo Darwinism lack specific meaning and are essentially a bad habit. Evidently the neo form was started in the 1890’s by Romanes - John Wilkins knows the details. To a rough approximation, neodarwinism often means evolutionary biology as it was 20 or thirty years ago. In other cases darwinism with or without neo refers to sundry strawman versions of evolutionary biology, panadaptationism for instance. Ironically, Gould, the scourge of this straw man, called himself a Darwinian. At other times the term refers to evolutionary biology as it is at the time of writing. As Burt says, Darwinism may also refer to Darwin’s understanding of evolution - which may be better that some latter day straw man versions.

Chip is of course right that the term “evolution” is also subject to misuse. For instance, creationists may use it as an umbrella term for all the things they think God got wrong when he set up the universe.

Still, the correct term for evolution (the history of life and the processes by which it occurred)  is   “evolution”.

For usage or, usually, not, in the professional literature,  see here.

Comment #165617

Posted by Sam on March 15, 2007 3:29 PM (e)

Skell is much like a broken record, sending out (spamming) the same text over and over again. For example, a couple years ago he sent it to everyone at Penn State’s department of mathematics. Why? I don’t know.

His rant hasn’t changed the least bit over the years. No original research to advance any of the alternatives to evolution, no new angles on the subject, no new ideas. Just mailing the same essay: he has never seen evolution used.

Is that any way to spend retirement? This guy was a researcher, so he ought to know that what he is doing just doesn’t cut it in the academic world. It doesn’t even cut it in the PR world of creationism/ID. His ramblings are on the level of amateurs who claim to have found an elementary proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem and disproved Einstein by coming up with a theory that explaines why UFOs fly. This is senility.

Comment #165618

Posted by QrazyQat on March 15, 2007 3:34 PM (e)

There are other things, like collegiality, which factor in…

Dean Edell has always pointed out that collegiality and bedside manner in general, are often sorely lacking in surgeons, and he further points out “who cares?” because in his view, what you want in a surgeon is not what you want (and need) in a GP or most other types of doctors. What you want is good hands and a good knowledge, along with experience if possible. In a surgeon collegiality and bedside manner are the last things on the list you want, as they are pretty much the last things on the list of what makes one a good surgeon.

Judging from Egnor’s writings, he’s a good surgeon.

Comment #165619

Posted by harold on March 15, 2007 4:02 PM (e)

A comment on the terminology “neo-Darwinism” or “Darwinism” -

What’s wrong with just talking about the theory of evolution?

Yes, it’s true, totally ignorant people don’t understand the use of the term “theory” in science, but that doesn’t stop scientists from talking about the theory of relativity. And they almost never call it “Einsteinism”.

There is a good reason to avoid “nameism” labels. They tend to imply an ideology or religious sect dominated by a single charismatic figure, with adherents who struggle for purity. Eg Marxism, Hicksism, etc. Such “nameism” labels are rarely complimentary. Creationists are trying to falsely put the theory of evolution in this company.

Referring to the theory of evolution clarifies that one is referring to the modern, unifying theory of evolution, and not incorrect past hypotheses of the mechanism of evolution, such as Lysenkoism or Lamarckism (note the use of “nameism” labels, unfairly in the case of Lamarck, to refer to these in an uncomplimentary manner).

The central point of the modern theory of evolution is that natural mechanisms of offspring divergence from parent, coupled with different rates of reproduction for different phenotypes, can explain the diversity of life.

Differences between parent and offspring genomes are often called “mutations”, and sometimes referred to as “random”, which is true in the sense that they result from physical events, not magic, and cannot be based on specific predictions of the future. Of course it can get complicated (mutations that make other mutations happen more often can be selected for in some environments, or the opposite can happen in other environments, etc). But the basic principles hold.

As for Egnor, I’ll say it one more time. ID is a reflection of a political movement. Although virtually all ID advocates will claim to be religious, usually to be evangelical or Catholic, that is not the true underlying unity. Although they are usually uneducated in science, that is not the underlying unity either, as Egnor to some degree may illustrate. They come from diverse educational and religious backgrounds. The underlying unity is that all creationists are “conservative movement” ideologues. If ID were a religious, philosophical, or scientific movement, we would see some diversity of technically irrelevant political views, but we don’t. I’ll lay you ten to one that Egnor is a Rush Limbaugh fan. Why? Because this is what the evidence to date predicts. They all have been before.

The converse does not hold. The theory of evolution is not accepted only by “liberals”, nor only by any other group unified by a characteristic technically irrelevant to examination of the evidence. In fact, even though there is clear pressure on “conservatives” to at least give lip service to ID, we even see a few conservative ideologues critiquing it.

ID is a manifestation of right wing politics. If a brain surgeon says he supports it, what he really means is that he drinks “conservative movement” political kool-aid. End of story.

Comment #165621

Posted by David B. Benson on March 15, 2007 4:09 PM (e)

harold — I agree. Although I do wish it to be named properly: The Theory of Biological Evolution.

Comment #165624

Posted by MarkP on March 15, 2007 4:58 PM (e)

Raging Bee said:

Since “Dr.” Egnor has offhandedly blamed evolution for the atrocity known as eugenics, I have to ask him for clarification on one point: was eugenics actually practiced by evolutionary biologists, or by doctors?

Fabulous Bee. It’s amazing how insightful and objective you can be when you aren’t talking about Dawkins. :)

In that same vein and along with Blackcat’s excellent comments, Egnor reminds me of an instructor who told me he had never learned algebra and never saw the need for it in all his life. I quipped that I could give a young caveman a hammer, and he could easily give it back to me on his deathbed with the same comments.

You have to understand something to know how to use it.

Comment #165628

Posted by the pro from dover on March 15, 2007 7:02 PM (e)

I find the remarks about not letting Dr. Egnor doing surgery “on me” a display of the profound ignorance of the reality of neurosurgery in the United States. How many of you bothered to see how many Neurosurgeons practice near where you live? Particularly those who have not limited their practices to spine only. In fact there are 50% fewer of them licenced to practice in the USA than there were 10 years ago. Neurosurgery residency slots routinely get fewer applicants than there are slots for them. Neurosurgery is mostly emergency interventions and perfect outcomes are rare. Neurosurgeons spend half their lives working 36 hours on and 12 off and the other half defending themselves in court ($500,000 per annum malpractice rates are not unheard of). Methinks if Dr. Egnor was the only neurosurgeon in your neck of the woods you’ld ask him to fix your cerebral aneurysm PDQ.

Comment #165635

Posted by Dizzy on March 15, 2007 9:21 PM (e)

If a brain surgeon says he supports it, what he really means is that he drinks “conservative movement” political kool-aid. End of story.

Or he appreciates the sizable chunks of cash he probably gets for convincing people that he drinks it…

Seriously - if Barbara Forrest’s recap of Kitzmiller v Dover is correct, Dembski made $20,000 off of the Thomas More Law Center even though he withdrew from the case, and while the plaintiffs’ team served pro bono, all expert witnesses for the defense apparently charged a per-hour fee.

Makes you wonder what they actually believe, doesn’t it?

Comment #165640

Posted by Sir_Toejam on March 15, 2007 9:44 PM (e)

I find the remarks about not letting Dr. Egnor doing surgery “on me” a display of the profound ignorance of the reality of neurosurgery in the United States.

it’s not so much ingorance, as it is disgust.

regardless of the proficiency of a given surgeon, I’d think twice about utlizing his services if he was a rabid racist, for example.

not that i would be thinking it affects his skills, but it would naturally cause me to pause, nonetheless.

moreover, there is always that nagging thought in the back of your mind that if the surgeon knows YOUR views directly contrast to his, and he IS a rabid racist, who’s to say on any given day he just might not crack and decide you simply aren’t worthy of living?

heck, we’ve certainly seen stranger things, often coming from those who exhibit the kind of rational disconnect that Egnor does.

indeed, not ignorance, but familiarity that breeds contempt here.

Comment #165642

Posted by Dizzy on March 15, 2007 10:04 PM (e)

I find the remarks about not letting Dr. Egnor doing surgery “on me” a display of the profound ignorance of the reality of neurosurgery in the United States. How many of you bothered to see how many Neurosurgeons practice near where you live?

This is nonsense. People fly over the country to find specialists with the right qualifications. You go to where the specialist with the qualifications you need is, you don’t just throw up your hands and say “oh well, there isn’t one in my neck of the woods.”

And there is a growing shortage of doctors in general, not just neurosurgeons.

Neurosurgeons spend half their lives working 36 hours on and 12 off and the other half defending themselves in court ($500,000 per annum malpractice rates are not unheard of).

If they spend all of their working hours practicing or in court, how does Egnor have time for instruction? And where does producing all this ID drivel fit into his schedule?

Comment #165647

Posted by JohnK on March 15, 2007 10:43 PM (e)

After Egnor’s incredible letter to the NYTimes regarding the Terri Schiavo case
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9…
…(try to read the last paragraph without getting nauseated), is there any surprise that Egnor ignored, distorted and misrepresented the points in Dr. Humberg’s article?

And remember - this man teaches ethics to med students.

Comment #165649

Posted by Sir_Toejam on March 15, 2007 11:30 PM (e)

And remember - this man teaches ethics to med students.

That was what always troubled me the most.

It still greatly puzzles me that not only has the ecology and evo bio dept at Stony Brook not had ANY comment on Egnor at all, but there is also no comment from the Dean of the college of medicine at Stony regarding his admission of teaching historical revisionism in his ethics courses.

WHY THE HELL IS THE REST OF STONY BROOK STONILY SILENT!

Comment #165665

Posted by harold on March 16, 2007 7:20 AM (e)

Dizzy -

“Or he appreciates the sizable chunks of cash he probably gets for convincing people that he drinks it…”

An excellent point. I don’t want to run the risk of being excessively cynical about Dr Egnor’s motives. So far, I’ve merely opined very strongly that he is almost certainly driven by whatever emotional or cultural issues cause people to embrace “the conservative movement” in a rigid, ideological way, to the extent of being motivated to show loyalty by exploiting his (undeniably impressive) applied science credentials, in the cause of right wing pseudoscience.

The fact that he has commented on the Terry Schaivo debacle as well certainly strengthens my hypothesis.

I wonder how long it will be before links to the hard-line political right, in the form of donations, conference attendance, and/or campaigning, are revealed?

But it is true that the massively profitable “conservative affirmative action” for mediocre intellectuals must, at some level, be a temptation for many. At this point, Dr Egnor could certainly write a book entitled something like “The Brain of the Creator - A Neurosurgeon’s Vision of Design” - and write it very quickly. Enforced sales to conservative groups that buy all such books in bulk (to create the appearance of massive sales and reward “conservative intellectuals”), as well as to those who buy every book that Rush Limbaugh orders them to, would guarantee a good pay-off. And then there would be the lectures. But of course, Dr Egnor may not be consciously scheming in this way.

Comment #165672

Posted by Raging Bee on March 16, 2007 8:00 AM (e)

I find the remarks about not letting Dr. Egnor doing surgery “on me” a display of the profound ignorance of the reality of neurosurgery in the United States.

As I, for one, explicitly said on this thread already, the issue is not Egnor’s technical competence; it’s his ethics and integrity, and his willingness to assimilate new ideas in the furtherance of his work. Egnor’s arguments have not only been refuted, they have been proven factually false, due to either ignorance or dishonesty; therefore, everything he says is suspect. If he didn’t have time to study evolution, then he should have admitted his ignorance, stayed out of the debate, and let those who DID study it have the final word. Us working stiffs would have understood.

Competent, even brilliant, people get fired for dishonesty in all professions.

Methinks if Dr. Egnor was the only neurosurgeon in your neck of the woods you’ld ask him to fix your cerebral aneurysm PDQ.

Youthinks correctly – if I could not afford to shop the competition. And people who can’t shop the competition – due to isolation, poverty, and/or lack of education – are the people on whom the Christofascists routinely prey.

Comment #165673

Posted by Ed Darrell on March 16, 2007 8:18 AM (e)

Burt, could you sometime do a little lay primer on organ transplantation and any application of evolutionary connections therein, especially in the need and use of immunosuppressives?

It might be fun to resurrect all the old creationist claims against blood banking, too, and compare them to current claims about evolution’s irrelevance to medicine.

Comment #165681

Posted by Dizzy on March 16, 2007 9:40 AM (e)

I wonder how long it will be before links to the hard-line political right, in the form of donations, conference attendance, and/or campaigning, are revealed?

Unfortunately, such links actually appear to be a *positive* attribute to many people…

Comment #165683

Posted by Dizzy on March 16, 2007 9:46 AM (e)

It still greatly puzzles me that not only has the ecology and evo bio dept at Stony Brook not had ANY comment on Egnor at all, but there is also no comment from the Dean of the college of medicine at Stony regarding his admission of teaching historical revisionism in his ethics courses.

WHY THE HELL IS THE REST OF STONY BROOK STONILY SILENT!

Well, if you take a cynical view, they’re probably waiting to see if this helps or hurts their enrollment statistics.

Acceptance and yield rate are important criteria in national rankings; national rankings are used extensively by Joe College-Applicant to measure prestige; and prestige is the currency of higher ed institutions.

Of course, a smart Joe is going to look beyond that, but not everyone is that kind of Joe.

Comment #165685

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 16, 2007 10:22 AM (e)

Egnor wrote:

Terri Schiavo’s autopsy report claimed that she was probably blind. Supporters of the decision to starve her to death have hailed this finding as bolstering their argument that withdrawal of her feeding tube was ethical.

Their reasoning is hard to follow.

Well, the reasoning is certainly hard to follow if one completely misrepresents it. From http://thinkprogress.org/index.php?p=1100:

Freshly-released autopsy results reveal that Terri Schiavo was blind … Which makes Dr. Frist’s expert “diagnosis” all the more outrageous: … “I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office,” he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. “She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli.”

Schiavo’s functional blindness refutes Frist’s claim. That reasoning is pretty easy to follow by anyone whose brain is still functioning.

If Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, blindness is a meaningless diagnosis. Only sentient people can see, and only sentient people can be blind. And if she were blind, then she was sentient, and the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state was a genuinely fatal mistake.

Talk about hard to follow logic! As is repeated stated in the autopsy report, PVS is a behavioral diagnosis of a living person; autopsy findings can only provide supporting evidence. As for blindness, the autopsy finding was that she was functionally blind. That doesn’t imply sentience – hey, she was dead at the time of the autopsy.

Here’s what the medical examiner’s death investigation (included in the above linked autopsy report) says:

What diagnoses can be made in regards to the brain of Mrs. Schiavo? (See attached neuropathology report)

Mrs. Schiavo’s brain showed marked global anoxic-ischemic encephalopathy resulting in massive cerebral atrophy. Her brain weight was approximately half of the expected weight. Of particular importance was the hypoxic damage and neuronal loss of her occipital lobes, which indicates cortical blindness. Her remaining brain regions also show severe hypoxic injury and neuronal atrophy/loss. No areas of recent or remote trumatic injury were found.

Either Egnor is incompetent and doesn’t understand the term “cortical blindness”, which refers to the function of the visual cortex, not to sentience, or he attempted to intentionally mislead people with his letter, or both.

Comment #165686

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 16, 2007 10:33 AM (e)

I find the remarks about not letting Dr. Egnor doing surgery “on me” a display of the profound ignorance of the reality of neurosurgery in the United States.

That’s one heck of a non sequitur conclusion from, and misrepresentation of, “Every word I read leaves me less inclined to let him mess with any part of my body”.

Comment #165690

Posted by harold on March 16, 2007 11:09 AM (e)

“Only sentient people can see”.

He’s semantically twisting the meaning of the words “blindness” and “see”, and this he really shouldn’t be doing. A completely unconscious person with a functional visual system can show reflexes like pupillary contraction, and brain activity that corresponds correctly to external stimuli can be recorded in the visual cortex. Insects can see, whether they are sentient or not.

On the other hand, many totally sentient people happen to be blind, for one reason or another. In such cases, reflexes may or may not be present, and the visual cortex may or may not show activity that correctly corresponds to external visual stimuli (it will always show some activity), depending on the cause of blindness.

Sentience and blindness to visual light are largely unrelated to each other. When we say that someone is blind in a physical, medical sense, we aren’t philosophically debating whether they are “aware” of what they see. We’re talking about whether they have the physical capacity to see.

Dizzy -

I didn’t mean to suggest that everyone would think ill of Egnor for being a right wing ideologue; I’m just elaborating on the point that ID is a political phenomenon. Just as all Lysenkoists were communists, all ID advocates are right wing ideologues, and many right wing ideologues feel compelled to become ID advocates.

Although I am not, of course, a right wing ideologue myself, I could be one, and still acknowledge the truth of this observation. In fact, it’s generally acknowledged by “conservatives”.

This is an important point, because it helps to stress the fact that ID is not a natural, rational idea that would occur to an independent thinker, nor even really a sincere religious inspiration, but rather, a strained and insincere political construction.

It was designed to “court-proof” creationism in schools, in an effort to keep antsy evangelicals loyal to a party that may not represent their own best interests in many ways.

Comment #165694

Posted by Raging Bee on March 16, 2007 11:42 AM (e)

As he does with the points his critics make to debunk his assertions, “Dr.” Egnor completely ignores the enormous body of evidence and reasoning on which the final decision on Terri Schiavo was based (all fifteen years of it), and pretends that one peripheral point – Terri’s alleged “blindness” – was the sole reason for removal of her feeding-tube.

We need to remember that whole episode, as proof of the far right’s insanity and dishonesty. Thank you, Dr. Egnor, for helping us remember what your side of this debate is really like.

Comment #165701

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 16, 2007 12:46 PM (e)

Just as all Lysenkoists were communists, all ID advocates are right wing ideologues, and many right wing ideologues feel compelled to become ID advocates.

I wouldn’t want to disagree with the above in essence, however I’d be concerned that it sets a too-high standard that can be faulted by producing merely one person who claims to be “liberal” or simply “moderate” in outlook. I rather suspect that some few do exist. Steve Fuller alone might falsify your claim, depending upon what is meant by “ID advocate” (I would generally include him since he mostly reinterprets the political “teach the controversy” plea into post-modernist claims. They all say that they’re not trying to force one idea on us, instead they’ll tolerate science as long as they can teach partisan pseudoscience).

Of course the one theme beside the religious one at UD and other such apologetics fora is the opposition to the “liberals” who supposedly constitute the opposition to their “science”. There’s no question that they’re overwhelmingly “conservative,” and as long as one writes it that way you’re not waiting around for them to produce someone addled enough to advocate ID while professing to be “moderate” or “liberal”.

They seem not to know what to do about conservative evolutionists, and in their simplified conceptions “moderates” barely exist. They’ll disagree with conservative evolutionists from time to time, certainly, yet there is no getting past their false dichotomies in which evolution is one side and the righteous on another. Diversity of religion and politics among those able to agree on the meaning of biological facts can’t puncture their cozy world of the righteous vs. the biased (um, let’s see, “evolutionists” have diverse beliefs, IDists largely lack diversity, but hey, if you’re focused on one criterion (the conclusion, not the process, the latter of which they fail to understand) to detect “bias”, the rest doesn’t matter), and my considered opinion is that they look at conservative evolutionists as heretics unable to overcome elitist prejudice at this time, yet who might eventually be brought back to the fold.

There’s just no looking at their “opposition” in anything but their own terms—elsewise, why wouldn’t they look at science in terms other than their own cloistered beliefs? What stands out in my creationist childhood are the debates about how many scientists might honestly “believe in” evolution, versus the undoubted many who simply were unwilling to “accept the evidence”. The “enlightened view” was that many really didn’t know any better, since they’d been deprived of the fine evidences and reasonable thinking of the creationist side. Hence, if one could just get them to look non-prejudicially at “the evidence” one might be able to turn many. It’s the kind of “thinking” that makes one fearful to consider anything so “wrong-headed” as evolution, for why would one decline from one’s open-mindedness to look at the prejudices of atheists and those who unthinkingly accept those prejudices? The neat thing is that it has a plausible-seeming account for why diverse people accept what science says (ultimately it goes back to the tempting of the devil, at least among fundamentalists) and sets the onus for giving up prejudices on everyone else. Therefore one never even asks why there are very few indeed who accept creationism/ID aside from the religious (they all know that once you give up your prejudices in evolution you’ll notice that God is the best explanation for all “controversial” issues).

So yes, they’re conservative and religious, which for them only goes to show what “right-thinking” does for a person and groups of people—they begin to see everything correctly. Nonetheless, saying “all” or “none” about them does invite the rare exception (whether or not the “exception” is genuine) to be produced, despite the overwhelmingly religious and conservative nature of the beast.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165703

Posted by Dizzy on March 16, 2007 1:10 PM (e)

Glen, harold,

Thought an article in today’s WaPo might be worth a read:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/art…

Interesting take on the multiple motivations & interests related to some of the issues here.

Comment #165706

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 16, 2007 1:30 PM (e)

Thanks Dizzy, yes that’s interesting.

It is, perhaps, instructive that on UD the pseudoscience of denying global warming is being linked with the pseudoscience of ID (not that I think global warming is nearly as well-evidenced as evolution, since evolution makes specific claims which are borne out by genetics and fossils, while global warming is a powerful coincidence (in the scientific sense) of hypothesized cause and observed effect. Anthropogenic warming is correlation, evolution is causation, IOW). It does appear that few other than conservatives really attack the science of global warming, while others admit that the anthropogenicity of warming is subject to some margin of error and accept the science under those terms.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165707

Posted by Raging Bee on March 16, 2007 1:31 PM (e)

Egnor has just posted yet another non-response to his critics. It’s more of the same old lies and evasions, but I just thought you’d like to know…

Comment #165713

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 16, 2007 2:13 PM (e)

Pete Dunkelberg wrote:

Ironically, Gould, the scourge of this straw man, called himself a Darwinian.

Good points re “Darwinism” and “neo-Darwinims”.

I thought I’d add some thoughts on why Gould might call himself “Darwinian,” perhaps making it less ironic. Gould at times opposed a claimed “Darwinian” gradual rate of evolution (my opinion is that Darwin did suggest this at times, while disclaiming gradualism at other times—but I haven’t read a lot of Darwin, so take it or leave it), and wanted to assure his colleagues that he wasn’t denying the broad outline of evolution. People, including scientists, jump to conclusions, and he wanted to ward off as many false conclusions as he could.

Then too, he was acutely aware of creationists and their quote-mining, so he took pains to undercut any use of his ideas about the rates of evolution calling into question the fact of evolution and its apparent causes. Naturally they quote-minded him anyhow, however it wasn’t too difficult to show that this was the case, since Gould claimed to be “Darwinian”.

On the whole I’m glad that he used “Darwinian” to describe himself. I just don’t think that there are many others who would similarly avoid misunderstandings by using what is essentially an outdated term today.

It was mentioned on another thread that Luskin claims that Darwinists call themselves Darwinists, however I rather suspect that Luskin once more doesn’t understand either the evidence in favor of this claim, nor how limited that evidence really is. I am used by now to British persons calling evolution “Darwinism”, which possibly is the limited evidence of which Luskin is aware (if he indeed is aware of any such evidence—I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt). Darwin was from their island, and the Brits don’t have to deal so much with creationists as we do.

“Nameism,” as harold calls it, tends to be frowned upon at least in America, and Darwinism would be a strange exception, particularly for a major theory in the sciences. Even medical terms have been changed, probably throughout the scientific world, to mostly avoid using proper names for organs. Fallopian tubes are now more commonly and “properly” called oviducts. Descriptive terms are more conducive to learning and are evocative of function, thereby seeming to facilitate communication. Evolution is another such term, especially since there is no honest controversy about the causes of evolution (were there opposing two camps rallying around particular scientists it would be different), with “Darwinism” suggesting a particular and parochial view of evolution even without deliberate exploitation of that term. Then when IDists do deliberately utilize “Darwinism” to suggest bias, belief in one man’s writings, and what is construed to be “merely one suggested cause” of evolution, we have been given ample reason to move away from obsolete adaptations of names in yet one more instance, and ought best to move toward a descriptive label that adequately relates the relative unity of evolutionary thought.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #165719

Posted by David B. Benson on March 16, 2007 3:26 PM (e)

There ought to be a name for the particular form of insanity that people like Egnor exhibit.

Rationality Disorder?

Comment #165730

Posted by Jeffrey K McKee on March 16, 2007 5:49 PM (e)

Egnor is obviously reading these comments, as indicated by his most recent post on the creationist page of the DI. He is sidestepping some real issues:

- comparative neurobiology, with which he should be familiar when he uses his neocortex, provides some of the best non-fossil evidence for evolution.

- it is the insight that comes from evolutionary theory, not just well-meaning evolutionary biologists who are “fine scientists,” that leads to the educational value of evolution to medical practitioners in their understanding of anatomy and physiology. There is no other adequate way to understand anatomy and physiology.

- Intelligent Design creationism offers NO answers to medical patients. If my wife were to tell her patients just “sorry, your bipolar disorder was just the act of an Intelligent Designer,” or “here, take this flu vaccine from 15 years ago, because nothing evolves,” then I think her practice would fail. Knowing the evolution of the brain, and the evolution of disease, is the only way to deduce the most correct answers to patients’ needs.

- he states “but the assertion that randomness is the raw material for all biological complexity plays no role in medical education or research.” This is a common misunderstanding of evolutionary biology that is promulgated by the DI and other creationists. As I explain in “The Riddled Chain,” randomness or chance plays a role, but it is PROCESS, not chance alone, that determines evolutionary trajectories. Creationists always leave out the PROCESSES … of which natural selection is key, but not the only process. Medical research without an understanding of evolutionary processes is like geometry of circles without an understanding of pi … you can do some of it, but not most of it.

**sigh**,
Jeff

Comment #165747

Posted by KL on March 16, 2007 8:59 PM (e)

I dunno-I find it amazing when people pass judgement on the content of areas not their own, whether it is physicians or engineers (or chemists such as Skell) talking about evolutionary biology, or judging the work of climate scientists. I am used to it happening to teachers (everyone has gone to school, so some people think they are experts at teaching and are so sure how we “ought” to be doing our jobs) I think that some of us have lost the understanding of the importance of “mileage”. If you have not done the “time” (all that is involved-the work, keeping up in the literature, etc.) in the area discussed, your opinions don’t carry the same weight.

Anyhoo, my two cents worth…

Comment #165829

Posted by Sir_Toejam on March 17, 2007 7:16 PM (e)

Either Egnor is incompetent and doesn’t understand the term “cortical blindness”, which refers to the function of the visual cortex, not to sentience, or he attempted to intentionally mislead people with his letter, or both.

wait, how could someone who is the head of the neurosurgery dept. at stony brook possibly be ingornant of basic brain anatomy?

there is no reason to infer ignorance here. It was definetly an intentional attempt to mislead people.

I do hope that Stony Brook has retired him for the next academic year.

Comment #165895

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 18, 2007 8:55 PM (e)

As he does with the points his critics make to debunk his assertions, “Dr.” Egnor completely ignores the enormous body of evidence and reasoning on which the final decision on Terri Schiavo was based (all fifteen years of it), and pretends that one peripheral point – Terri’s alleged “blindness” – was the sole reason for removal of her feeding-tube.

No, he doesn’t do any such thing: “Supporters of the decision to starve her to death have hailed this finding as bolstering their argument that withdrawal of her feeding tube was ethical.”

Lying about Egnor isn’t needed to refute him, and is no better than RB’s lying about Dawkins.

Comment #165896

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 18, 2007 9:09 PM (e)

while global warming is a powerful coincidence (in the scientific sense) of hypothesized cause and observed effect. Anthropogenic warming is correlation

It’s more than that. The evidence strongly indicates that increased release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has resulted in warming. And the evidence strongly indicates that human activity has resulted in an increased release of greenhouse gases into the atmoshphere. That’s causative, not merely correlated. As the IPCC stated, “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability.”

That the changes are in part due to human activities is no longer in doubt, only the relative magnitude of the human contribution.

Comment #165934

Posted by Glen Davidson on March 19, 2007 10:47 AM (e)

while global warming is a powerful coincidence (in the scientific sense) of hypothesized cause and observed effect. Anthropogenic warming is correlation

It’s more than that. The evidence strongly indicates that increased release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has resulted in warming. And the evidence strongly indicates that human activity has resulted in an increased release of greenhouse gases into the atmoshphere. That’s causative, not merely correlated.

I knew, of course, when I wrote that one was “causation” and the other “correlation” that these were slippery terms. In the strict (Humean) sense, it’s all correlation, with “causation” being confirmed merely via strong correlations.

Nevertheless, in the vernacular, including in the scientific realm, the distinctions are usefully made. There’s no absolute standard, certainly, so one sometimes goes for a relative comparison. So while I could hardly say that finding anthropogenic “causation” in global warming is incorrect, to me the certainty in the very strong correlation amounting (IMO) to causation of evolutionary effects by known causes, is different enough from coincidence of the warming of the earth with the rising greenhouse gas emissions, to use different labels for both processes.

Global warming is certain, really (as opposed to “probabilitistic” in the vernacular sense), as is also the fact that organisms have evolved. Magic is no alternative to known causes, of course, and in any case what we see in evolution is what we’d expect from known causes, to the degree that we understand them. Thus we don’t really talk about probabilities of whether global warming is occurring or if (scientifically understood) evolution has occurred and is happening now.

However, we do still talk in probabilities with respect to anthropogenic global warming. The latest figure showing up in the scientific literature is 90% certain that global warming is (largely) caused by humans, though that too is a guess (probably a good one, on the conservative side). But then the 90% figure is a figure relating to causation, yet it is stated as a probabilistic correlation.

We could look at the standard example of specious correlation arguments, smoking, lung cancer, and the tobacco industry, if we really want to thrash the subject to death. And at this point I apparently do want to.

What made the tobacco companys’ “It’s only correlation” argument so bad was that there were millions of correlations between smoking and lung cancer, that you could look at Aunty Mabel’s death from lung cancer and hypothesize from it that smoking causes lung cancer (simplistic I know, but I don’t think anyone here is thrown by this example), then test it against all future lung cancer cases.

Then you find somewhere around a 90% correlation of smoking and lung cancer across millions of cases. At this point you have about as strong a case of causation as you can ever have.

What of global warming and its causes, though? Here you have one case, and only one. Of course you have purported greenhouse gases being produced at the time before a considerable rise in temperatures, yet there are disagreements about how these gases affect our atmosphere. The correlation is good, but you have only one case, and you do know very well that temperatures have risen considerably in the past without a concommitant increase in greenhouse gases (ice cores have revealed this).

With the smoking example, you have nearly a 100% chance of a 90% causation of lung cancer by smoking (at the smoking rates at the time of the studies). With global warming you have, best official guess, a 90% chance of causation, which is known via correlation of greenhouse gas emissions with the increase in temperature. The question of whether it is “correlation” or “causation” in the example of global warming depends upon what you mean by those terms, and what I meant by those terms was that evolution by “natural means” is so highly correlated with what we see, while global warming is so much less specific to the purported causes, that I do not like to see the two cases treated in the same way. Yes, anthropogenic global warming is too certain for us to ignore, as the “hockey stick” is alarming, but we have only one case of global warming by anthropogenic causes (actually, there are arguments for such past events, but at the best they are rather different from the present case, while at worst they might be considered to be conjecture as yet), we do not have the repeated correlations in many cases that we have in lung cancer and in evolutionary evidence.

I am concerned about what we can say in science much more than I am concerned about the remaining uncertainties about global warming’s causes (chemicals have no Miranda rights, and 90% chance is easily enough to provoke a response). Repeatability is crucial in nearly wiping out any doubt about the causes of lung cancer, of evolution, and of global warming. See, the thing is that even if lung cancer is 90% caused by smoking under certain rates of tobacco use, we still only have a 90% (actually, it’d be a tad higher in this event) correlation of cause and effect in the case of a smoker who has gotten lung cancer ‘from tobacco’ (once the type of cancer is known the probability of cause and effect may go higher or lower). Therefore, accepting the 90% figure that global warming is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, by some standards we’re still talking of a correlation that could fail us, because we know that temperatures can rise dramatically without greenhouse gas emissions (arguing for anthropogenicity is the fact that we don’t see any other likely causes, yet we don’t know all of the possible causes).

As the IPCC stated, “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising.

Yes, those are the facts. And we establish causation, or at least likely causation, from correlation.

What the IPCC isn’t telling you is that for CO2 to have the predicted effects, positive feedback has to occur. The strongest greenhouse gas at present happens to be water vapor. Many times when engineers and scientists calculate rule-of-thumb greenhouse effects, they ignore the relatively small CO2 effect, and just figure the water vapor effect. Thus, some write letters to the various journals and trade magazines asking why the small effect of CO2 increase is supposed to matter when the total matters as little as it does now.

The answer given, and it is a good one IMO (understand that I am no climatologist, but I think I have some ability to assess arguments made by climatologists), is that there is positive feedback in the water vapor whenever CO2 (and methane, etc.) levels rise, from the fact that more heat means more water vapor in the atmosphere (the geological record seems to support this, as well). But naturally negative feedback processes might also occur, and it is not at all certain how much positive feedback happens with water vapor.

We have to rely on theory and models in an apparent one-off event (so far) like global warming. Nothing wrong with that, but this is why it isn’t a strict cause-effect relationship. You can’t just plug in greenhouse gas, look at temperature, and say, “ah-ha, see that, exactly like we predicted”. This is because temperatures are not what they predicted, there is a range of predictions (depending on highly complex models of feedbacks, aerosols, and biological effects), and I don’t think that anyone at all has predicted the time and curve of the “hockey stick”.

The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability.”

Yes, that’s the 10%. And this being a single event, I tend to see the 90% as correlation, though it’s worth noting that it’s not “mere correlation”, it’s the correlation of a suspected cause with a predicted effect. The trouble is that this effect can be caused by other factors, as noted in the IPCC report. The taxonomic hierarchies, the types of changes occurring in evolution, and the DNA evidence are predicted by variable heredity alone–by evolutionary theory–and are not predicted by anything else whatsoever. That, to me, means causation, with any mention of “correlation” being superfluous in normal speech.

That the changes are in part due to human activities is no longer in doubt, only the relative magnitude of the human contribution.

What the IPCC said was that likely it was mostly due to human causes, which is not the same thing as saying that the changes are in part due to human activities is no longer in doubt.

That’s a quibble, though. The fact is that virtually no one has claimed that greenhouse gases wouldn’t be “partly responsible” for the recent rise in temperatures. As I said, CO2 is recognized as having a small effect on its own, which the greenhouse skeptics typically accept (I think that most skeptical scientists actually agree that there’d be at least some positive water vapor feedback as well). Almost exclusively, the disagreement has been over any dramatic rise due to greenhouse gas emissions.

So whether or not the IPCC says so directly or not, just about everyone thinks that any increase in temperatures is “in part” due to human activities (but then how would you actually show that this is so if warming were mainly due to “natural” variations?). What a critic like Idso claims is that while others say that doubling CO2 will cause, say, a 4 degree C rise in temperatures, there will only be a 1/2 to one degree rise in temperatures. The issue of causation has been over the ‘mostly due to human output’ part of the hockey stick.

I’ve use the “hockey stick” term several times, and it’s worth noting that mainstream scientists have largely criticized the naive use of the hockey stick. The point is that supposedly we have a largely flat “stick” portion throughout history and into prehistory, then the curve goes up around the beginning of the 20th century, and the blade spikes out (so far) in the 90s and the 00s. The problem is that we hardly have such a great climate record that we know for sure that there have been no couple decade or so spikes in the temperatures.

So the upshot of all of this is that of course the correlation of temperatures with greenhouse gas emissions is strong and hardly worth ignoring. But the correlation of the hockey stick (and that is the correlation that people mean, not whether or not an invisible portion of a natural spike might be anthropogenic) with the emission of greenhouse gases is just that, and as a one-off event it hardly rises to the level of causation that can be seen in lung cancers and in evolution. One may quibble with the term “correlation” for an apparent causative relationship between rising temperatures and greenhouse gas levels, however causation has not been demonstrated in this single event to anywhere near the same confidence levels as has been done with evolution.

I can see why people are not using the term “correlation” with regard to global warming, since it would give the public the wrong idea (for, the correlation shows likely causation). Given the uncertainties that remain, I am more comfortable calling it “correlation” here, while I doubt I’d call it “correlation” in an article for public consumption either.

I made the distinction in part because some physicist once said that global warming (I assume he meant anthropogenic) was more certain than evolution. No, that organisms evolved (and not by magic) is not something that scientists would discuss in terms of probabilities, while anthropogenicity of the temperature rise is still discussed in terms of probabilities.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Trackback: Dr. Michael Egnor: The gift that keeps on giving

Posted by Respectful Insolence on March 17, 2007 7:47 AM

Agh! I say: Agh! Again. Remember how it was just a mere three days ago that I administered some Respectful Insolence™ to Dr. Michael Egnor, the Energizer Bunny of jaw-droppingly, appallingly ignorant anti-evolution posturing based on his apparently non...