A Few Words about a Long-Winded Breach of Etiquette - Evolution News & Views

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A Few Words about a Long-Winded Breach of Etiquette

After debating whether Dan Brooks' recent post at Panda's Thumb should be dignified with a response, I've been persuaded that clearing away the worst of the dross is worth some of my time.

Dan Brooks, a parasitologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, was invited by the Discovery Institute to participate in a private symposium held in Boston in early June 2007. The symposium revisited the issues raised at the 1966 Wistar Institute conference on mathematical challenges to the neo-Darwinian interpretation of evolution with a view toward assessing any progress that has been made in the last forty years. Brooks' post at PT not only evinces poor etiquette in its attempt to discuss the content of a private symposium prior to the release of the conference proceedings, it severely misrepresents that content and the intent of many of the remarks that were made there. To briefly summarize, here are the facts of the situation:

(1) All participants were clearly informed that the Wistar Retrospective Symposium was a Discovery Institute initiative.

(2) The suggestion that the symposium was billed as a Gordon Conference has no factual basis whatsoever.

(3) It was clearly stated that the conference was private and would not be publicized so the attendees would feel free to engage openly and honestly on highly controversial topics.

(4) Discovery Institute assured the participants at the conference that there would be no public discussion of the meeting until the papers and transcripts of the discussions were released.

(5) There was a clear expectation, as a matter of etiquette, that attendees of the symposium would similarly respect the privacy of the conference and the other attendees by refraining from public commentary until such time as the content of the presentations and transcripts of the Q&A periods were made available and could speak for themselves.

(6) Brooks' post not only violates this etiquette, it contains factual errors and misrepresents the actual content of the ID talks and interactions.

(7) After hearing of this symposium from an invitee who declined to attend, the NCSE, through the agency of Eugenie Scott, attempted to interfere with its organization (as Bruce Weber can attest) and is now, through its former employee Nick Matzke, trying to mitigate its significance by airing Brooks' ill-conceived report.

Commentary:

Brooks was an invited participant to a closed research conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute. The conference was representative of the very kind of research our critics say we don't sponsor, even while they're actively working to obstruct its occurrence. Having failed to prevent this research symposium from happening, they then took recourse to deliberate misrepresentation in an effort to mitigate the significance of what they could not stop. Fortunately, the entire conference, including all of the discussions, was recorded, and the extent of Brooks' errors and misrepresentations will be made evident when the papers and transcripts are eventually made public.

One of the co-organizers of the conference was an honorable ID-critic, Bruce Weber, who is a biochemist at Cal State Fullerton. Both Bruce Weber and I had direct email correspondence with Brooks and all of the other participants. The PT assertion that attendees were given the impression that the conference was organized by the Wistar Institute or that it was billed as a Gordon Conference is ridiculous, as can be seen from the text of Bruce Weber's initial email to Brooks, in which it is also made clear that the conference would be a private one "out of press view." (See here; relevant remarks have been highlighted.)

My first email exchange with Dan Brooks also confirms these points (see here).

Finally, you can read here Dan's response (providing his talk title) to an email sent to all of the participants in which the private nature of the conference is emphasized.

With respect to the misrepresentation of symposium content in Brooks' account, since the extent of this will be quite clear when the proceedings are released, I feel no need to address it in a point-by-point fashion (nor do I have the time or patience to do so). If the individual scientists whose work is misrepresented wish to spend any time correcting Brooks' account of their work, I invite them to do so in this forum. I suspect most of them will have better things to do with their time. As a brief indicator of the kind of factual errors in Brooks' account, let me briefly note that he succeeds in confusing Douglas Axe with both Stephen Meyer and William Dembski on separate occasions. If Brooks can't even get right the coarse-grained details of who said what, then what credence should be given to his descriptions of the content of what they said? None at all.

As a final point for reflection, Eugenie Scott's attempt to interfere with the conference at an early stage--a meddling behavior typical for her, another instance of which will be chronicled in the film Expelled--raises another possibility: did Brooks contact the NCSE about his invitation and was he then cultivated as a plant at the conference for the very purpose of doing what he now has done? The fact that Brooks coordinated the release of his faux report with Nick Matzke, himself formerly of the NCSE, lends plausibility to this hypothesis. I don't suppose the public will ever know the truth of the matter, but it would be in keeping with the NCSE's mode of operation: work behind the scenes to stifle fair-minded scientific discussion and publication on intelligent design, then publicly proclaim that pro-ID scientists don't publish in respected journals and do nothing to engage the scientific research community with their ideas.

It's rather ironic that in a badly conceived and ill-advised "outing" of a Discovery Institute research symposium, all that Nick Matzke and the NCSE have succeeded in doing is outing themselves: they have private knowledge of solid ID research and are actively seeking to repress it. This recurrent descent into trickery and deceit by Darwinian defenders leads toward an overwhelming question: if neo-Darwinism is as scientifically beyond dispute as they claim, what have they to fear from open discussion? Everything, it would seem. Draw your own conclusions.

Bruce L. Gordon, Ph.D.
Research Director
Center for Science and Culture
Discovery Institute


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