May 11, 2009

More on the ICR’s Blatant Misuse of Saturn Ring Research

Posted in Atheism, Creationism tagged , , , , at 12:03 pm by Andrew

In the comment section of my previous post on the ICR’s laughable new article, “Planetary Quandaries Solved: Saturn is Young,” astrophysicist and grad student Stuart Robbins noted that the ICR had actually “relied” upon Robbins’ own research into Saturn’s ring system.

Robbins has a complete post up dismantling the ICR’s “argument” and taking them to task for misusing his (and others’) research. You should go read that now. Robbins’ conclusion won’t surprise you:

That’s really the point of this article. So, no, the planetary quandary has not been “solved” to say that Saturn is young. Rather, the ring system can still easily be old based on the latest (and if I do say so myself, the greatest) simulations, and even though some features of Enceladus appear young and active, there are other parts of the moon that tell the tale of being ancient.

Commenter Ben then argues that folks like the ICR aren’t really lying, and so people like me shouldn’t call them liars:

It’s an extreme form of religiously motivated confirmation bias and probably nothing like a willful intent to deceive. I imagine that’s exactly what I’d get out of that Henry Morris book you linked to. You call people like that liars and obviously you’ve just contributed *further* to their delusion-scape because they know full well they weren’t lying and now they think they know one more thing about you. You call honest people liars when disagreed with. … Even if they are lying, you’ve played right into their hands, because they can just lie again. My message is: Stop calling them liars and just stick with showing why they are mistaken. I wish all the sciences blogs would figure that out.

On the one hand, I think this is good advice for dealing with non-scientists who happen to be creationists — and I try to approach individuals like this without second-guessing their motives. You can see my exchanges with individual people like this all over this site.

However, I think the rules are different when someone holds themselves out as a professional, and in this case, the ICR’s Brian Thomas identifies himself (in his byline!) as an “M.S.” with the notation that he is the Science Writer for the ICR. I think it’s reasonable to hold someone who is representing himself to the world as an expert to the standards one would expect from such experts.

Such standards include, at minimum, that if one reads someone else’s research and draws conclusions not present in the original article, you should (1) contact the original author to get his views; (2) represent that author’s views of your conclusions fairly in making your own argument; and (3) submit your argument to a scientific journal for review by other professional academic peers within the respective scientific community. When you bypass all of that — particularly in support of a conclusion that would be Nobel Prize-worthy, if you truly had conclusive evidence that the Universe was 6,000 years old! — you’re quotemining plain and simple.

The ICR’s Head Science Guy didn’t follow those basic rules of professional competency and courtesy with respect to Mr. Robbins’ research. I think it’s fair to call that “misuse” at best and yes, even “lying.”

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2 Comments »

  1. Ben said,

    Andrew,

    I was actually thinking of that same distinction in the car yesterday and trying to decide whether it’s justified or not. I definitely agree the “expert” is much more responsible for the intellectual integrity of their claims, and I definitely agree that your three criteria are reasonable expectations for them that they should be held to. But it still seems to me that this forces you into a perspective rut where virtually every single “expert” creationist is now an official liar. Round them all up and in all likelihood every single last one of them supports some position paper on their side that you and I might agree misrepresents the source material. Surely they’ve even read some response from our camp that points that out. Are they really ALL liars? Even most of them? That’s just implausible like the whole mainstream creationist movement is composed of charlatans.

    As it is, this gets instantly complicated because one of your criteria opens up the “Expelled”-esque can of worms and rather than focusing on the issue (whatever it happens to be), we now have to deal with defending against auxiliary politics and conspiracy. That’s a lot of work and a lot of yuck to sort through. Decision theory, in my opinion, would favor, A: Not calling even creationist “experts” liars even if they might be lying since laity typically rally around mainstream position pieces that get lots of attention. B: Politely encouraging and giving partial credit for honoring criteria 1 and 2 since that in and of itself would be progress. C: Allowing our criticism of their papers even in their own journals to partially count as criteria 3 since that’s basically what it is. In other words set aside the “this sucks because it wasn’t published in a mainstream journal” talk and just show qualitatively why it wasn’t published in a mainstream journal.

    I could be wrong and granted I’m not always that polite myself, but I am working towards that goal in the long term and it seems to me that we would be better served that way. We could surely test it. The next big quote-mining fiasco or the next big news splash on PZ Myers blog that has “creationist” and “liar” in the same title…try out a different approach and see if you like those results better. Can’t really hurt can it?

    Thanks for listening. The politics on both sides of this culture war can be very frustrating.

    Ben


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