Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dembki's explanation: smells like mendacity

So Dr. Dr. Dembski has notpologized for plagiarizing stealing using the Harvard-produced video "The Inner Life of the Cell." It's all very touching, how mean old Harvard refused to sell him the DVD (as though that would have given him the right to use it) and so he was forced to plagiarize not the original, but someone else's mangled version:
A few months after announcing the video at UncommonDescent, I found on the Internet a version of the video that did add a voiceover, giving the relevant biology, and was in a format that allowed me to incorporate it into my PowerPoint presentations. I used the video a handful of times, including at a talk in Oklahoma this September.
Dr. Dr. Dembski's misuse of Harvard's video is pretty egregious even in the way he tells it. But right now, Dr. Dr. Dembski's convenient narrative has what Brick Pollitt used to call "the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity."

Here's my question: Where did he find this version? I've looked around at the intertubes a wee bit, and I can't find it. Nobody I know can find it. Yet Dr. Dr. Dembski managed to find this spectacularly ID-friendly version "on the internet." He must have worked pretty hard for that one!

Look, I'm a writing teacher. I deal with plagiarism from time to time, and with bullshitting behavior on a regular basis. Simply put, I found it on the internet is not an explanation, and it's not an excuse. I found it on the internet is what a person says when he's making stuff up, when he's spinning, when everybody except the person speaking knows he's caught.

Hey, it suddenly occurs to me that, on an abstract level, there's something about this pattern that seems like what might be called "the inner life of the cdesign proponentsist." Consider

Statement 1: I found it on the internet.
Statement 2: the Designer did it.

In each case, there's no natural explanation.

Back to the topic at hand. Given Dembski's past behavior, why should we believe him anyway? Unless and until the good Dr. Dr. shows where he "found" this ID-friendly, crapped up version of "The Inner Life of the Cell," his claim that he "found it on the internet" should be treated as just so much bluster.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Plagiarism and Intelligent Design

Plagiarism and intelligent design: two of my favorite topics. Turns out they taste great together.

Intrepid grad student blogger and creationism-whacker ERV has discovered an interesting factoid: Dr. Dr. William A. Dembski, whose co-authored Darwin-destroying textbook has just been vanity published, has been poaching a legitimate animation while lecturing about Intelligent Design around the country. The animation, called "The Inner Life of the Cell," is fascinating both with and without narration. Beth Marchant described it last July:
Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, the animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli.
But Dr. Dembski's lecture takes the non-narrated version, clips the credits, and adds his own woo-filled ID-friendly narration. Is it a mashup? A remix? ERV has another name for it:
From my point of view, as a virologist and former teaching assistant, this isnt just copyright infringement. This is theft and plagiarism. Taking someone elses work without their consent, manipulating it without their consent, pretending it supports ID Creationists distorted views of reality, and presenting it as DIs work.
True enough. But how is it presented? This is my transcription -- slightly cleaned up -- of how Dembski introduces this video in the link to his lecture above.
A colleague of mine, Michael Behe, wrote a book back in 1996, called Darwin's Black Box, in which he was looking at systems like this. And what he found was, he looked at the -- actually inside the cell, he's a biochemist by training, and so he was looking at -- what he found were molecular machines inside the cell. I mean, it's just marvelous the sorts of things that happen inside the cell. You've got self-replicating robotic manufacturing plants, information processing, storage and retrieval, signal transduction circuitry, high-efficiency, high-tech nano-engineered motors, transportation and distribution systems, automated parcel addressing, UPS labels, ZIP codes, I mean things have to be delivered from one place in the cell to another, -- you've got all this going on inside the cell -- complex monitoring and feedback control -- all of this in the cell in molecular biology.

Now I want you to watch a little video, which as it were -- this is state-0f-the-art computer animation of what's inside the cell. And so just, watch and enjoy.
Now, what would I be expected to take from this introduction? First, there is the claim that Michael Behe somehow discovered the notion of molecular machines. Dembski says Behe looked at cells and "what he found were molecular machines inside the cell." But Behe discovered nothing. He did no original (observational or experimental) research. He did not even look at the cell but at literature about the cell. This may seem like a minor point, but it's a crucial distinction in science. He did no experiments. He measured nothing. He did no no bench work at all for that book (or for his recent follow-up, whose main contribution to science may be in launching to prominence the nascent career of the blogger known as ERV.) So attributing any "finding" to that book is simply wrong.

More important, the animation is introduced without context: it's simply described as "state of the art." If you were in that audience, wouldn't you think the animation was created by or for either Behe or Dembski? Isn't that what they want you to think?

ID types accuse others of plagiarism all the time. Dr. Dr. Dembski said this of Judge Jones's decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover:
Instead of original and impeccable reasoning, Jones uncritically took extensive material from the ACLU’s proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law” and either copied it directly or modified it ever so slightly. Outside the legal system this is called plagiarism. But since judges are allowed to draw on briefs of the parties, this is called legal scholarship. Even so, courts frown on decisions in which judges extensively copy and paste from other briefs — which is exactly what Jones did!
What's good for the goose, etc. Let's look at that again.
Instead of original and impeccable reasoning, Dembski uncritically took extensive material from an expensive and carefully presented scientific presentation and either copied it directly or modified it ever so slightly. Outside the pseudoscience system this is called plagiarism. But since Discovery Institute fellows are allowed to draw salaries without doing any research, this is called aposcholarshiplogetics.* Even Christians frown on propaganda in which intellevangelistectuals extensively steal from other works — which is exactly what Dembski did!
*Thanks to Reciprocating Bill for that term.