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The Quote Mine Project

Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines

The Discovery Institute Quote Mines Stephen Jay Gould

Copyright © 2006
[Posted: October 9, 2006]

Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute has posted three articles at the Discovery Institute's blog, Evolution News & Views, entitled "Peer-Review, Intelligent Design, and John Derbyshire's New Bumper Sticker" Part I, Part II and Part III.

Luskin quote mined Judge Jones' decision in Part I of his article above, which I previously addressed.

Here I want to address his quote (in Part III) of an amicus curae brief that was signed by, among others, Stephen Jay Gould, in the 1993 Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. Luskin has abused Gould's participation in this brief previously in his article, "New England Journal of Medicine Traipses Into the Kitzmiller Decision (Part II)" and it unsurprisingly appears in the Discovery Institute's hastily thrown together attempt to blunt the effect of Judge Jones' decision, Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision (DeWolf, D.K.; West, J.G.; Luskin, C. and Witt, J. 2006. Discovery Institute Press: Seattle, WA), on pp. 55-56.

This is how Luskin presents it in his latest version:

[T]he danger of the TalkOrigins page runs much deeper. It seeks to instill a mindset where concepts must enjoy high levels of support in the scientific community, and the oft-criticized peer-reviewed literature, before being trusted. This mindset threatens to inhibit the progress of science.

In conclusion, this point was made emphatically by Stephen Jay Gould and other scientists to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, pleaing (sic) that courts should not disbar scientific evidence from the courtroom simply because it hasn't won a "popularity" contest:

Judgments based on scientific evidence, whether made in a laboratory or a courtroom, are undermined by a categorical refusal even to consider research or views that contradict someone's notion of the prevailing "consensus" of scientific opinion. ... Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once eccentric deemed or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth. ... The quality of a scientific approach or opinion depends on the strength of its factual premises and on the depth and consistency of its reasoning, not on its appearance in a particular journal or on its popularity among other scientists. (Brief Amici Curiae of Stephen Jay Gould (and other scientists) in support of petitioners, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) (No. 92-102).)

Would Dr. Gould approve of the mindset promoted by the TalkOrigins webpage or would he rightly recognize it as dangerous to science?

Would it surprise anyone that Gould may be somewhat misrepresented here? You can see for yourself because the Supreme Court's decision in Daubert and the brief that Luskin quotes from can both be found on the web, though you would not know that from Luskin's article.

The ellipses in Luskin's version are interesting. The first leaves out a single short sentence:

Science progresses as much or more by the replacement of old views as by the gradual accumulation of incremental knowledge.

It seems a strange omission until you remember just what it was that Darwin's theory replaced. Perhaps the faithful were not deemed ready to contemplate that Intelligent Design (ID), in its earlier and more honest manifestation as Natural Theology, was the dominant view that was displaced by evolutionary theory.

The text represented by the second ellipsis is much more extensive, covering several paragraphs and moving into a completely different section of the brief. Normal conventions for quoting would have at least had the text following the second ellipsis set off in its own paragraph. Among those issues omitted along with the missing text is the fact that the brief is complaining about the Circuit court relying solely on whether or not a proposition has made it into the scientific literature as a mechanistic test of its admissibility. As the Brief put it:

The [Circuit] court thereby converted that editorial tool into something no scientist or journal editor ever meant it to be: a litmus test for scientific truth. This is not the way scientists work in their laboratories and symposia, and it is not the way that science should be used in the courtroom if the goal is to ensure the most accurate and valid judgments possible.

Specifically, the Brief complained that the:

. . . Court of Appeals did not even purport to investigate the soundness or professionalism of the expert's approach. Instead, it simply asserted, without reference to any authority drawn from the scientific community, that [a procedure] is "generally accepted by the scientific community" only when it is subject to peer-review and published.

Of course, Judge Jones did nothing of the sort. The section where he addressed the issue of peer review was only 3 pages out of a 25 page discussion, most of which was devoted to three main reasons why ID is not science. Those reasons were [p. 64]:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation;

(2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and

(3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Only then does Judge Jones mention:

As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. (Emphasis added)

Thus, Judge Jones clearly recognized that the lack of peer-reviewed publications (or the pathetically few peer-reviewed publications, even allowing for the five whole articles, after almost 20 years, that Luskin cites) was not definitive but was just one, and not the most important, of the diagnostic criteria for a scientific theory. Luskin's failure to reveal the actual argument that was made in the amicus brief Gould signed is quote mining. His attempt to use it against Judge Jones' thoughtful and nuanced decision is merely bad sleight of hand.

I think is safe to say that, if the only reason anyone gave for rejecting the claim that ID is science was because it wasn't publishing peer-reviewed articles, Stephen Jay Gould would have strongly objected. But his objection would have been that such an argument only begins to scratch the surface of why ID fails as science.


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