Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Still More thoughts on "What NOVA Won't Tell You About Dover." I can't get the link to work but a web search will bring it up.

In a previous post, I had some thoughts about the Discovery Institute's rebuttal to the NOVA special on Intelligent Design by Anika Smith. Moving on, Ms. Smith writes:

While Michael Behe took the time to explain the distinctions between the scientific theory of intelligent design and its implications, Judge Jones ignored his testimony in favor of the mischaracterization of ID put forth by the plaintiffs.

This is a valid concern in part and also not. Michael Behe is trying to do honest scientific work in his own field. The problem is the non-scientific hierarchy within the DI that hangs like a millstone around the likes of Behe and Dembski. It is this organizational structure that seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, it employs people like Behe and on the other hand, it creates books like Of Pandas and People, which is truly awful as a texbookBehe was clearly over a barrel. The not true part is that there was a mischaracterization of ID. The show and the transcripts show this not to be the case--culminating in the reading of the Paper by Nelson.

She writes:

Even though Scott Minnich shared the experiments he ran in his University of Idaho lab in his courtroom testimony, spending days explaining his tests on the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, Judge Jones falsely declared intelligent design untestable, and therefore not scientific.

Minnich, when asked about the three letter codon system and its resistance to point mutations, states, in this instance:

We have a code that from the get go is optimized to minimize the effects of point mutation. Now, that to me, and my colleagues, too, when we've discussed this causes them to pause. I mean, people just stop and get reflective. That to me has a signature of design on it, okay, that you have a, this is a sophisticated, this is the most sophisticated information storage system that we know of. It's true digital code we've got, it codes for algorithms.

It is still an argument from personal incredulity. when questioned about that, he responds:

I mean, that's -- Dawkins makes that argument that because I can't imagine a mechanism that would produce this that I suffer from incredulity, and I'm, darn it, you know, we are trained to be skeptics. We are trained to look at things through, you know, a very narrow lens.

Ms. Smith writes that:

In fact, it was the section on whether intelligent design is science, where Jones might have been expected to consider the testimony of the scientists actively pursuing the theory of intelligent design, where he copied the ACLU verbatim or near-verbatim, even including typographical errors. This is the tragic truth about Dover, as even critics of intelligent design like Boston University law professor Jay Wexler agrees that “[t]he part of Kitzmiller that finds ID not to be science is unnecessary, unconvincing, not particularly suited to the judicial role, and even perhaps dangerous to both science and freedom of religion.”

This appears to be smack on the money. It seems that the esteemed Mr. Jones did copy quite a bit of text from the ACLU's document. While I don't find the ID movement's arguments remotely compelling, I have absolutely no love for the ACLU, which I find to be misguided at best and antagonistic to organized religion at worst. Hat's off to the DI for uncovering this.

Ms. Smith also writes about the original negotiations between the DI and NOVA:

According to Rob Crowther, director of communications for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, “Going into negotiation with NOVA’s producers, we were initially cautious but hopeful for a chance to tell our side of the story. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to work with us.”

This is not elaborated upon so it is not clear what Mr. Crowther meant by this. Given the statements of Ms. Absell of NOVA, they did not intend to give ID a fair shake in any event.

In closing, Ms. Smith notes:

Past experience with the media teaches that intelligent design is often misrepresented, especially through the editing process. Quotes taken out of context are used to mislead the viewer, often with effective results. Because of this, Discovery Institute has a policy that all interviews be recorded for the protection of its speakers. While NOVA at first agreed to these common-sense measures, they later changed their mind and would not allow Discovery Institute scientists to be interviewed with these protections.

According to World Magazine:

Apsell instead offered to provide Discovery officials with complete footage of the interviews provided they signed away any right to make it public. Rob Crowther, the institute's communications director, told WORLD that arrangement defeated the purpose of holding NOVA accountable. "We have had some other experiences with the media where we've been edited and kind of sliced and diced," he said. "NOVA didn't want to be held accountable."

NOVA paints this in very different words. The narrator in the special states:

NOVA made repeated requests to interview members of the Discovery Institute to talk about this and other issues, but the institute set conditions that were inconsistent with normal journalistic practice.

It is difficult to see how this is "inconsistent with normal journalistic practices." Why not come right out and say what the dispute was? Nothing else is mentioned about this and it makes the DI look bad.

If you are interested in the DI's case, further reading can be found here. It seems that errors were made all around and there was sleight of hand performed by both sides: The Dover School Board tying the teaching of ID to the dreadful book Of Pandas and People and NOVA being not quite above board about its intentions or practices.

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