In Search of the Elusive Intelligent Design Laboratory

Kansas.jpgThis morning the Kansas State Board of Education is all shook up.

Last year the board voted 6-4 for much-criticised, creationism-friendly science education standards. Yesterday the primaries for the board elections took place, and on balance, the science-standards bloc lost two seats to Republic opponents. So it looks as if the balance is going to shift to 4-6, and the standards are going to go down.

The vote is all the more notable for the fact that the primaries saw a big media campaign carried out by the Discovery Institute, the main organization pushing intelligent design (a k a “the progeny of creationism”).

During the campaign, the Discovery Institute claimed over and over again that they were not actually promoting the teaching of Intelligent Design. They were simply supporting the Board’s call for the “critical analysis” of evolution. But how are teachers supposed to teach “critical analysis” according to the Board? One way is to dredge up the red herrings and other fallacious arguments that have been repeatedly invoked by creationists in the past. Another way is to consider “alternatives” to evolution, such as–surprise–intelligent design. So, despite their protestations, yesterday’s elections represent a political loss for the Discovery Institute. And, as Panda’s Thumb notes, this is the latest in a series of disappointments for them, from the polls to the courthouse.

I haven’t yet seen a reaction from Intelligent Design advocates to the new defeat. But in the past, advocates of intelligent design have brushed off their defeats as irrelevant. Apparently, despite all their press releases, op-ed columns, radio ads, court testimony, and cable news appearances, it’s all about the science.

In December, when parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, got intelligent design ejected from science classes, the lawyer for the school board scoffed to the New York Times:

“A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid,” said Mr. Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says it promotes Christian values. “It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that.”

William Dembski, now of the Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary told the reporter, “I think the big lesson is, let’s go to work and really develop this theory and not try to win this in the court of public opinion…The burden is on us to produce.”

Those remarks came nine months ago. How has it been going in those labs?

Have these unnamed scientists been publishing a stream of papers in peer-reviewed biology journals in which they test hypotheses based on intelligent design, in which intelligent design is shown to provide a superior understanding of the world compared to other theories?

Medline, one of the world’s biggest medical and biological literature databases, reveals that the answer is no. Search for papers (not news reports) with the phrase “intelligent design,” and you get zip. Try other phrases–“Discovery Institute,” “irreducible complexity,”–and again, nothing. Try the names of Ph.D.s at the Discovery Institute–Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, for example–and once again, zip.

By the way, claiming on a web site that someone else’s paper about gene networks supports intelligent design does not count–especially if you studiously ignore the paper’s discussion of evolution and the complete absense of the phrase intelligent design from its pages.

To put this silence in perspective, I then searched the database for papers about evolution published since December, when the Dover trial ended. The result: 4298 papers.

I’m curious to see the inside of one of those intelligent design laboratories Thompson was talking about. They seem like quite the hopping places.

Update 12:15 pm: The ID reactions are arriving. Guess what–the standards don’t matter. (See Ed Brayton for more.)

0 thoughts on “In Search of the Elusive Intelligent Design Laboratory

  1. Carl says:

    By the way, claiming on a web site that someone else’s paper about gene networks supports intelligent design does not count–especially if you studiously ignore the paper’s discussion of evolution and the complete absense of the phrase intelligent design from its pages.

    This process is following the path well worn by previous creationist incarnations … they just have a different interpretation of the evidence.

    I’m pushing for a new word coined for this practice: pubjacking. I suggested para-cite as an alternative neologism.

    I’m curious to see the inside of one of those intelligent design laboratories Thompson was talking about.

    I’m guessing we’ll see more results from Muppet Labs than from ID Labs.

  2. I’m pushing for a new word coined for this practice: pubjacking

    as a Brit, I can think of a far more pleasurable meaning for that particular word…

  3. Just to clarify…I did not invent the term. My invention was para-cite (which I thought was rather clever at least, although no pubjacking). That was I believe first coined, or at least it was where I first saw it, by MisterDNA over on Jason’s blog.

  4. Medline isn’t actually too good for evolution research. Web of Science indexes a lot more journals that are relevant. A search on “evolution” in citations published in 2006 gives 19,103 hits. A search on “intelligent design” in 2006 gives 55 hits, most of which seem to be in engineering journals or have titles like “Postscripts to letter to God – On why the eye lacks intelligent design”(Wood, A, BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL 332 (7555): 1454-1454 JUN 17 2006). None of them seem to be actual research papers on ID, although I must admit that I haven’t gone through them all rigorously.



  5. Bruce Chapman claimed last Saturday, in a letter to the Rocky Mountain News Business section, that IDC research is being done at the Discovery institue !
    Maybe they will publish soon!………,2777,DRMN_23916_4878676,00.html
    Anschutz didn’t support intelligent design work

    Your news story of July 8 repeats a falsehood from the Daily Express in London that Denver businessman Phil Anschutz is “a major backer of a campaign to have ‘intelligent design’ . . . taught in American schools” instead of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

    As president of Discovery Institute, where the intelligent design research is chiefly located, I can tell you that Anschutz has never given that program a nickel. His foundation gave our programs on technology and law $70,000 three years ago. None of it went for the program on science and culture, which includes the intelligent design activity.

    We would have been delighted, of course, if he had desired also to support our program on science and culture. But he didn’t.

    By the way, our program does not advocate that intelligent design be substituted for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Our school policy recommendation is that students be allowed to learn the scientific evidence both for and against Darwin’s theory – period.

    The American press has a hard time reporting accurately on this subject, but the Brits’ stories seem to be completely sensationalized. Perhaps the rest of the London news accounts on Anschutz should be read in that light.

    Bruce Chapman

    president, Discovery Institute


  6. I’m all for the term pubjacking. Let’s start using it.

    Since suggested by Mister DNA on July 22, the term “Pubjacking” has already filtered over it to UD.

    Honestly, this feels like grasping at straws. So, an article uses the word ?program? and presumably that implies ID? Is this what UD has descended to – the ?pubjacking? of external articles that remotely, vaguely say anything about ID? Frankly, it comes across as a little desparate. What we really need to see here are articles on ORIGINAL ID research.

    Comment by timcol ? July 28, 2006 @ 9:39 am

  7. When pressed, most IDers who actually do scientific research for a living will admit that a scientific theory of ID and a decent research program is necessary and fundamental to their enterprise. The persistent mantra is, “The breakthrough will happen in year or so”. Unfortunately, that’s been the mantra for almost a couple decades and they still can’t reach internal agreement about the status of common descent or even the age of the Earth.

    Don’t hold your breath…

  8. and yet in the poll of public opinion:

    Which do you think is more likely to actually be the explanation for the origin of human life on earth: evolution or the biblical account of creation? * 261010 web responses


    Evolution 36% 33%
    Total biblical account of creation 51% 57%
    Don’t know/none of the above 13% 10%

  9. To continue with the more important aspect of this debate:
    You can have both pub-jack and para-cite. Someone who pubjacks is a paracite. See it works. After all, could you call someone a pubjacker with a straight face? But a pubjacking paracite, that works well.

    P.S. That NBC poll scares me.

  10. What people tell polls and interviewers is one thing. How they act is another. Many people claim to believe in angels and creation, but when they drive they make sure that seat belts are fastened (not relying on a guardian angel) and when they get sick, they want the best antibiotics and not someone praying over them.

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