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December 19, 2006

Playing at science

by Feòrag

New Scientist this week has a short article looking at creationists' latest tactics to convince lay people that their religion is really science. It mostly involves doing some work which is published in a peer-reviewed journal, and then (afterwards) claiming this is evidence in favour of a creator, even though all the results have shown nothing of the sort.

Fersht says he did not at first know about the Discovery Institute's support for ID. People do work in labs on external funding. Basically he [Axe] had a fellowship from what I thought was a bona fide research institute, he says. When another researcher in his lab pointed to the Discovery Institute's agenda and suggested that Axe be asked to leave, Fersht refused. I have always been fairly easy-going about people working in the lab. I said I was not going to throw him out. What he was doing was asking legitimate questions about how a protein folded.

In 2000 Axe published a paper about protein mutations (Journal of Molecular Biology, vol 301, p 585). The paper itself makes no mention of ID, but William Dembski, a philosopher and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, cites it as peer-reviewed evidence for ID

By 2002 it was becoming clear that Axe and Fersht were in dispute with each other over the implications of work going on in Fersht's lab. At the time Fersht was preparing to publish a retraction of a paper in which he and three colleagues had claimed to have caused one enzyme to evolve the functionality of another (Nature, vol 403, p 617). Axe interpreted the fact that problems had surfaced with the result as evidence that there were problems with the theory of evolution. I described to Alan preliminary results of mine that seemed to challenge the ability of spontaneous mutations to produce proteins with fundamentally new structures, and I suggested that the struggling projects under his direction might actually be pointing to the same conclusion, Axe told me in an email. Fersht disagreed with the suggestion. The problem result didn't show anything of the sort, he says. It showed there were inadequacies in our knowledge.

An editorial in the same issue compared the creationists' use of science with that of another industry:

In using science to this end, the movement would be following a tactic previously employed by the tobacco and oil industries.

Intelligent design: The God LabNew Scientist, 15th December 2006; Editorial: It's still about religionNew Scientist, 16th December 2006.


Posted in Science Fiction at 09:57. Last modified on December 19 2006 at 10:16.
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1: Posted by: G. Tingey | December 19, 2006 10:31 AM

One can quote it as an axiom, almost...

Any Creationist or proponent of ID ( Usually referred to as Cretinists and ID-iots) must belong to at least one of two non-exclusive classes:

2: Posted by: King Aardvark | December 21, 2006 7:40 PM

I guess if you're Dembski and have had absolutely nothing scientific to go on, you take what you can get.

I have mixed feelings, but I have to agree with Fersht about not throwing Axe out right away - as long as he's doing legit research, it shouldn't matter what his nutiness leanings are. That's the great thing about science - it's inclusive to everybody, regardless of gender, race, religion. But the problem is when he uses his real research to push a nutty agenda, as that could tarnish the image of other scientists involved.

Wax lyrical

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