Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lysenkoism Part II: Collectivist Science

As I continue to ponder Elsberry and Perakh's denouncement of the comparison of  Darwinism to Lysenkoism, I find it funny that their attempt to "turn the tables" on ID proponents includes appeals to their alleged "self-aggrandizing puffery."  Apparently, they are offended by the effrontery of not exhibiting the proper humility and this, to them, makes them "Soviet-like" and Nazi-like. But this is (perhaps unintentionally) a red herring.

What is the most salient connection between the bullying and harrassment by the anticreationist coalition and the initimidation of totalitarian regimes is the urgency to suppress dissent and make sure that it has serious consequences.

Elsberry and Perakh try to steer the reader in the direction of seeing ID as kin of Lysenkoism.  ID and Lysenkoism are both against the neo-Darwinian Synthesis, for one.  Secondly, both are allegedly unproductive, whereas the Modern Synthesis supposedly can be credited with the great advances of modern biology.

In many ways, even though I think E and P's arguments on the matter are fallacious, I believe it is a red herring to argue at all based on which theory any one group's model of theory choice supports.  Fervent neo-Darwinist advocate (and contemptuous anticreationist) Jerry Coyne disagrees with E and P about the practical success of neo-Darwinism.  Many science defenders are aware of this inconvenient truth, but it is often considered impolitic to point it out.  But even if it could take credit as a productive heuristic, it is still not a good argument for suppressing alternative views or for excusing suppression.

The big problem with Lysenko's Michurinism was not really that it was unproductive or wrong.  The problem was that its shortcomings were foisted on people through intimidation and the use of state power to enforce a hegemony.  If dissent and controversy had been tolerated in the universities and if various firms and organizations had been free to pursue the erroneous theory of their choice, all of the public agriculture's eggs would not have been in the Michurinist basket -- maybe only a few government-sponsored experiments.   A free marketplace of ideas would have been ideal then as now.
And if there had been a grain of truth in Lamarckism (think epigenetics) maybe it was premature to uncover it without first unraveling the most direct or primitive modes of inheritance (e.g. the "central dogma").  However, it is best to allow communities and companies to make their own mistakes and not to enforce some experts' mistakes on everybody.  The collectivist ideologies of National Socialism and Stalinism were very much about centralizing control.  The so-called "Wedge document" of the ID movement was by contrast aimed at making the academy a free marketplace once again, securing a booth in that marketplace, and being the better option.  The Darwin lobby wants them kept from competing at all because, they say, ID has nothing to offer.   If that sounds fishy, it's only because it is fishy.

I'm skeptical of any philosophy of science that says that the limits of science should be whatever the mainstream or majority dictates is worthwhile.  And I'm opposed to politics that tells parents and communities what their kids should be taught, foisting reductionism and materialism on people the academics sneeringly take for ignorant rubes.  If a community wants Futuyma's bias in their biology, fine.  If another community wants "just a theory" stickers, fine.  If another community wants to teach ID, fine.  It's their community; it's their children.  "No!" the Darwin lobby cries.  Such chaos is unacceptable.  The experts already know what is good and right for public consumption.  "We know what real science is, and your children will learn real science.  If they don't, there could be dire consequences! Save the children! Save science!"

Perakh's observation that Stalinism was outside the orthodox socialism of Marx seems pointless, and a bit of a non sequitur, without describing why Marx' collectivism did not exalt state control over community (when it did), why the squelching of private interests and natural competition for those private interests did not necessarily lead to monopolies of thought (when it did).  But since Perakh was educated in Marxism so thoroughly by his totalitarian state, perhaps I should just take his word that the differences between Stalinism and Marxism are significant.  Perhaps under Marxism you are free to say and think what you like as long as it doesn't lead to private property.  You are free to say and think what you like as long as it is the state-approved truth you got in the government-controlled schooling that Marx himself proposed.  Alas, if only Trotsky had been in charge!

If you read Perakh, he doesn't treat any of these centralizing tendencies as threats.  He seems to defend Marxism.  A monopoly of science and academics wasn't the problem--according to Perakh--the problem was that the monopoly forced people to do bad science instead of good science.  Well, the answer must be a monopoly forcing everyone to do good science.  As long as it is not done with actual murder and imprisonment and exile, but instead uses federal authority to enforce (and punish the lawbreakers!) and lawsuits to coerce and firings to intimidate, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.  No, I'm not advocating Red Scare -- I'm saying that what Perakh doesn't say lends itself to 'polite' collectivist coercion. A kinder, gentler coercion, where talking about ID in schools is interpreted as violating federal law (i.e. the 1st Amendment).  Just do what we say or we'll destroy your career. 

In light of this salient similarity between neo-Darwinism and other past ideological hegemonies over scientific research and teaching, the qualities that E and P advance as "Soviet-like" and Nazi-like seem awfully superficial.

Perakh tries to equate ID advocates' lack of proper meekness to the ethnocentrism and over-the-top nationalism of totalitarian regimes.  Really.  We are also given several other points of analogy.  The Lysenkoists had the Communist Manifesto as their Bible, the Nazis had Mein Kampf as their Bible, and the ID advocates (presumed to be entirely Christian) apparently have The Bible as their nefarious evil-inspiring Bible.  (One almost gets the feeling Perakh had as little use for religion as he did for philosophy of science.)

Perakh even brings out that Nazis "denounced" the theory of relativity as "Jewish pseudo-science."  Hmmmm. Now, that's very interesting.  The anti-ID crowd seems to regularly and vehemently characterize and denounce ID as Christian pseudo-science.  Of course, I'm sure Perakh would have viewed this point as completely irrelevant.  The former was good science, and the latter bad science in his opinion.  However, the context here, according to Perakh, is mentality and behavior, not rightness or wrongness of belief.

One of the examples that Perakh gives of ID advocates' ugly attitude (the first example under "How ID advocates speak of their opponents") is Philip Johnson daring to describe something Einstein said as immodest.  Perakh avoids giving the context for this statement by saying "It hardly matters which statement Einstein is referring to."  Oh really?
Einstein says that the all-pervasive determinism would have general acceptance if it were not that the view requires unusual integrity and magnanimity.  Einstein just happens to think his own view requires an unusual amount of integrity and magnanimity and modesty.  I think maybe Perakh should argue why the statement is not immodest before criticizing Johnson.  Johnson's unfair rebuke of Einstein is, to Perakh, an "amusing example of the ID advocates' attitude toward anyone who is not within their ranks." Because Einstein is such an intellectual giant and Johnson is part of what Perakh derides as a mutual admiration society, we are supposed to agree that it's a "fantastic picture" for Johnson to call Einstein on modesty or logic without even knowing the context.  "It hardly matters" what the context is.  Or what the facts are.  So we're told.

Perakh follows this example with William Dembski's use of the word "rubbish" to describe arguments that he believes are fallacious.  This is an example of how Dembski "resorts to language which would be more suitable to an exchange of insults between members of rival mafia families."  His use of the word "ugly mathematics" to describe one critic's mathematical analysis is another example.  Perakh seems unaware of how tame "ugly mathematics" seems compared to the descriptions of Dembski's mathematics.  I had no idea the mafia was so civil.    

Let's recap:  The ID advocates dare to print effusively positive reviews of their work by reputable academics.  Johnson dares to say that Einstein has made an immodest statement about the inherent integrity and magnanimity of his metaphysical outlook.  And Dembski uses mafia language like "rubbish" to describe some criticisms of his work.  This is all to give us a sense of how "Soviet-like" this dangerous ID cabal is.


Elsberry and Perakh seem wholly ignorant of the tone by a horde of science defenders enjoying (what is reportedly) the overwhelming majority of opinion, referring to "Dumb-ski" and his "ID-iots."  How droll. (The sort of elevated discourse you usually only find in middle school.)  This attitude is ubiquitous.  It is prevalent.  It is typical.  And it is apparently very "Soviet-like," as well. Perakh spends several paragraphs attempting to give the impression that mud-slinging and demonization are more prevalent among ID advocates than ID critics.

What appears to be his prime example of demonization is Dr. Jonathan Wells' reaction to what seemed to him very disingenuous (one might say, Soviet-like) methods by ID critics, that being around such behavior made him feel like he "needed a shower."  I found here the original report by Wells, where he provides some specific context for this comment.  Unlike the attitude of many ID critics, Wells isn't demonizing Miller and Krauss for their beliefs but is stating his reasons for thinking they regularly resort to shady tactics.   Perakh wraps this up by comparing Wells' alleged demonization of his opponents to Nazi cartoon caricatures of Jewish people as bloodsucking predators.

If you look at the blogs for Panda's Thumb, the site co-founded by Elsberry, Perakh, Matzke, Rosenhouse, P.Z. Myers (now there's a paragon of respectful discourse), etc. the regular contemptuous demonizing dialogue makes a good candidate for mafioso-speak.  The comment about one ID advocate's wife's Christmas letter: "Almost makes them seem human. Almost. And that's just what they want you to think."  The relatively generous observations expressing surprise that this or that ID advocate was actually seemed like a decent human being in person make me wonder what is going on their heads.

Matzke, whom Perakh seems to think Dembski treated wretchedly, has this to say about why he rallied the troops to deter Springer from publishing the Biological Information anthology: "[S]ome creationist engineers found a way to slither some ID/creationism into a major academic publisher."  Slither?  An interesting choice of words.  In light of the evidence brought to light, the idea that Springer was somehow tricked into almost publishing ID material appears to be (if you'll pardon the harsh language) rubbish.  You can read more examples of demonization here and here.

While Perakh presumably may have had the Russian mob in mind, his mafia reference makes me imagine a sort of 'philosophy of biology' parody of Goodfellas:
Luigi:  Vincenzo, on behalf of the Donamici family, I thank you for meeting with me to try to make peace between our families. I would like to think our territories could be non-overlapping magisteria.  But the way I reckon it, your people have been taking 90% of my profits according to these figures.
Vincenzo:  Those figures don't add up.  They're not even in the ball park.  That's some ugly mathematics.
Luigi:  Oh yeah, well, that's rubbish! You are immodest!  
Vincenzo:  You kiss your mother with that mouth?  I thought we could make peace, but apparently there can be no peace.   
 Among these many "evidences" of fascist behavior is that Jonathan Wells recalls Stephen Meyer repeating a phrase by Kenneth Miller in a German accent (presumably, to show just how boorish ID advocates can be). It isn't clear whether Perakh was thinking it to be in poor taste that they privately satirized Miller's phrase, or that Wells reported this satire.  (I'm sure the group at Panda's Thumb has never mocked ID advocates amongst themselves.)  Once again though, you may notice an omission about what in particular prompted this suggestion of fascism (I'm sure Perakh thought that "it hardly matters"):
Another interesting aspect of the press conference was a statement by Ken Miller, featured on the evening news, to the effect that ID advocates are trying to present their views to the public "without the approval of science." Afterwards, in private, Steve Meyer kept repeating Miller's pompous declaration with a heavy German accent . . . * [emphasis mine]
Without the approval of Science?!  Heil Science!  Heil!  Ja, das ist wunderbar!  Perakh made such a big deal about Wells confusing Himmler and Goebbels in his memoirs of the occasion.  It's too bad we don't have a recording of Dr. Meyer's impression; then we could judge for ourselves exactly which Nazi personage he sounded like.  It is possible that in getting his PhD in molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley, that Wells forgot to brush up on his history of national socialism.  We can't judge for ourselves based on the E & P paper whether there was anything fascist about what Miller said, because it was omitted.  Was it omitted because it was unimportant, or because Ken Miller sounded ominously totalitarian?  Compare the allegedly "Soviet-like" characteristics of various ID advocates to the warning about not having the "approval of science."

Panda's Thumb will continue to chastise those who express their views without the approval of Science.  Für Science. Für Reason.  Für Freiheit.

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