Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is ID the New Lysenkoism?

"[I]mprovement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of 'like begets like'. 
[I]f truth be told, evolution hasn't yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say.
~ Jerry Coyne, fearless defender of neo-Darwinism, quoted here
Elsberry and Perakh, despite their obvious disdain for Darwin skeptics, make for interesting reading when they try to comment on the substance of ID approaches.  They completely jump the shark on the matter of ideological science in general and Lysenkoism in particular.

First of all, I'd like to comment on where I first heard Lysenkoism mentioned with respect to Darwin-skepticism.  The first was in some commentary by Eugenie Scott.  As I recall, it wasn't in response to anything by ID advocates, but simply an analogy based on her belief that all ID is driven by ideology, and since the Lamarckist approach under Stalin was favored because of Marxist ideology, ID and Lysenkoism are obvious soulmates.  Profound.  (It's possible she was inspired by the E&P paper, but I don't remember seeing any references to it.)

The second instance was in the book Corrupted Science, which was advertised as an unbiased look at the relationship between ideology and science, and ironically turned out to be completely political polemic.  This too wasn't a reaction to Lysenkoism comparisons by ID advocates.

My impression upon reading the Scott article was a sense of irony.  The lost jobs, lost tenures, lost promotions, etc. where professors and teachers go from being praised and celebrated to suddenly being denounced as third-rate hacks abound.  As neo-Darwinist zealots often remind us, skeptics of hyper-selectionism and neo-Darwinism are sorely outnumbered.  In spite of this, what you will hear from the "science defenders" are complaints as to how dangerous it is to question ID (you might lose the good opinion of all those cranks they make fun of).

When you read Elsberry and Perakh's reactions to ID advocates having compared Darwinism to Lysenkoism, if you keep the aforementioned in mind, you might see what some ID advocates are looking at that E & P seem to unconsciously evade:  Their analogy with the two ideological regimes that E & P despise has in mind the sense of hegemony that neo-Darwinism seems to hold over biology academics.  The ACLU practically wrote the federal decision for Kitzmiller vs. Dover.  Aside from the federal power wielded against ID on behalf of the general anticreationist fervor of the federal judiciary, there is the National Academy of Sciences and its defense of Darwinian orthodoxy against the ID boogeyman. There is the teaming of PBS and NOVA to make anti-ID propaganda.

These are aside from (but not unrelated to) the general hostility that has reached the point of punishing employees that share knowledge about ID with co-workers as though it were religious harrassment (ironic!).  If you don't trust the findings of the federal investigation into the Smithsonian's handling of Richard Sternberg, more power to you -- but the facts that appear in that report remain undisputed, and the email trail reveals nothing short of a witch hunt (figuratively speaking).

The cases of the Smithsonian inquisition, California Science Center scandal, Guillermo Gonzales scandalNMNH backpedaling, Granville Sewell censorship, Springer publishing misdeed, NASA JPL persecution, Ball State U discrimination, etc. do not make Perakh or Elsberry pause, nor do such events seem relevant at all to their discourse on this topic.

Elsberry juxtaposes two interpretations of ID advocates' analogies with Lysenkoism.  He first offers a "more benign" one that the basis of analogy is the sudden unraveling of Lysenkoism.  The more insidious interpretation in his mind is that idea that ID advocates "represent the underdog anti-establishment pitted against the implacable opposition of entrenched ideology."  Elsberry's contrast here is all an extended analysis of statements by Jay Richards and that the analogy is about neo-Darwinism as a sociological phenomenon as a "moribund 19th century enterprise" which has nonetheless established a monopoly through intimidation; this analogy is "a sociological observation about a seemingly invincible intellectual hegemony that which nevertheless collapsed quickly." [emphasis mine]  What Elsberry fails to see is that both the sudden unraveling and the "less than civil means of suppressing dissent" are related--both moribund systems have had to be propped up with authoritarian force because they are houses of cards.

Elsberry will not present any information about why ID advocates and ID sympathizers such as David Berlinski believe that neo-Darwinism is a shaky house of cards.  He takes the specific contributions of neo-Darwinism to important fields for granted.  From what I have been able to gather the contributions of it to the fields of immunology and biotechnology are simply too numerous to mention, which is why none of them are ever mentioned.  He will merely state the contributions are myriad and demonstrate that Darwinism has been rigorously tested in Popperian fashion for 150 years.

Now, I think we can cut a shorter path through Elsberry's circuitous exegesis of Richards' statement by looking at the word "nevertheless."  In context, the word tells us that the Lysenkoist house of cards "collapsed quickly" in spite of being a "seemingly invincible intellectual hegemony."  Let's say that again, the house of cards will fall in spite of (in Elsberry's words)  "the implacable opposition of entrenched ideology."  Wow, it seems as though Elsberry didn't really have to read in between the lines.  Once he does though, he claims that the analogy fails because neo-Darwinists don't have the power to suppress opinion through exile, imprisonment, torture, extortion, starvation, and assassination" and instead merely resort to public ad hominem attacks, career derailment, public pressure to figuratively exile, use of federal power to define the opposition as anti-science, undermining of publishing contracts, and other figurative assassinations and exiles.

Yes!  Elsberry is actually arguing that there is no "implacable opposition of entrenched ideology" because there is no starvation or death or gulags.  There must be actual, not figurative, reeducation camps for there to be some sort of oppressed underdog analogy.  "[P]ublic firing and humiliation of some teachers" is not a literal war.  It's wrong to call what happened to Richard Sternberg a witch hunt, because he wasn't actually burned at the stake.   It's wrong to call any of it character assassination because no one died.  There may have been coercion, but no extortion in the legal sense of the word.  Case closed.

Elsberry and Perakh will instead turn the tables on the ID movement by pointing out their "Soviet-like defensiveness," and Perakh will spend a lot of time showing how ID advocates are lacking in humility and are therefore more like the Lysenkoists and the Nazis.  These red herrings reminded me of a bit of dark humor that I never quite saw the humor in (there is something almost Tarantino-esque about it).  It was about a how a member of a persecuted minority gets buried up to his neck by a bunch of bullies.  They start to kick the poor guy in the head and he manages to get his teeth into the Achilles tendon of one of them.  The oppressed bully squeals, "Fight fair!"  The humor is apparently to be found in what it reveals about the nature of bullies.  This comes to mind when Perakh speaks as though ID advocates corner the market on "ad hominem attacks, rude derision, misquotations and outright distortions,"  or on "Soviet-like defensiveness" for that matter.

This reminds me of something that I read in an online news article concerning Richard Sternberg's plight at the Smithsonian.  Someone was quoted as saying something like, "So Sternberg says that people weren't being nice to him.  Big deal!  Grow up!"  That's funny ... where I work they have a word for targeting someone for repeated incivility based on what you think that person believes.  Harassment. The usage of the term for that seems to be pretty common at many workplaces, actually.

But to all those science defenders who are disturbed that this flat-earther isn't showing due consideration for the many blessings that neo-Darwinism confers on the true believer (e.g. tenure), here is a special hymn:

Note: See ID and Lysenkoism Part II here.

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