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How Falsifications of Darwinism Get Ignored

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Five months ago, we showed that Bateman's whiz-bang mathematical theory of sexual selection had been essentially falsified. That escaped the notice of researchers at of University of Idaho, who continue to cite Bateman and Darwin as reliable authorities.

Go back to our article from June, "Bateman's Sexual Selection: Another Darwinian Pillar Falls." We reported how Gowaty et al. replicated Bateman's own 1948 experimental methods in light of modern genetics and got garbage results: "Bateman's method overestimated subjects with zero mates, underestimated subjects with one or more mates, and produced systematically biased estimates of offspring number by sex," they said. "Bateman's methodology mismeasured fitness variances that are the key variables of sexual selection." (Emphasis added.)

Waltzing along in the dark come John Byers and Stacey Dunn of the University of Idaho, using Bateman's equations to prove another case of sexual selection in pronghorns: "These results support the validity of the Bateman relationship," their abstract says. The paper, "Bateman in Nature: Predation on Offspring Reduces the Potential for Sexual Selection," bears the imprimatur of Science Magazine.

Joining the dance, Michael J. Wade in the same issue of Science claims that Byers and Dunn found a "Bateman slope" in their data, asserting that "Bateman's insight has since been given quantitative expression" by Fisher and others: "They report a positive Bateman slope in each of the 10 years of the study and convincingly rule out random variation in male mating success as its cause." Bateman's sexual selection lives on, falsified or not.

Naturally, big daddy Darwin is smiling down from his exalted plane. "Angus Bateman's laboratory experiments on Drosophila melanogaster provided the first experimental support for Darwin's sexual selection hypothesis," Byers and Dunn chime, apparently oblivious to all the flaws in those experiments. Wade begings his bow to Darwin and Bateman, "Ever since Darwin (1) identified female choice of mates as a mechanism of sexual selection," blah blah blah -- cheerfully giving a hat tip to Origin of Species as citation #1.

Maybe these scientists didn't know Gowaty had falsified Bateman's theory. After all, Byers and Dunn's paper was submitted in May; Gowaty came out in June. But the editors accepted the pro-Bateman papers in September, months later. Maybe Science's editors didn't catch the news in the torrent of papers published each week. Even so, if Byers and Dunn had read it, they could have withdrawn their draft. Wade didn't cite Gowaty, either.

Was this an innocent oversight? Perhaps, but it's much easier to check these days than it used to be (remember those fat old books in the library, Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature?). A quick keyword search on Bateman could have raised a red flag to the authors and publishers of this new paper, hinting that maybe this isn't so good a time to cite Bateman. The title of Gowaty's easily accessed open-source PNAS paper, "No evidence of sexual selection in a repetition of Bateman's classic study of Drosophila melanogaster," should have stood out like a four-winged fruit fly.

In fairness, these evolutionists don't cite Bateman as an infallible authority. Byers and Dunn found that he had overlooked some factors. "Bateman was a pioneer in the study of sexual selection," they conclude, "who established important principles that continue to guide empirical work. However, our study shows that single point estimators of the Bateman principles may be misleading and that ecological forces can modulate the potential for sexual selection." Wade agrees that the new study modulates Bateman's insight: "they discovered an interesting and opposing interaction between sexual selection and subsequent fawn viability that mitigates the former."

But Gowaty et al. had gone further. They didn't just modulate or mitigate Bateman's principles, they overturned them. They rendered Bateman's foundational experiments useless. We said, "Bateman failed to take into account biases inherent in his methods, failed to measure factors that discounted his conclusions, and left a mess of data that is perfectly hopeless for making predictions about fitness due to sexual selection." Gowaty and team "were left wondering why" so many graduate students have simply accepted Bateman's principles without questioning them for 64 years. "The paradigmatic power of the world-view captured in Bateman's conclusions and the phrase 'Bateman's Principles' may dazzle readers, obscuring from view methodological weaknesses and reasonable alternative hypotheses," they preached. Bateman's "insight" didn't need fixing up; it needed tossing out.

The point here is not to beat up on Byers, Dunn, Wade and Science Magazine over one paper on pronghorns that leans on a weak premise. It's to highlight a fundamental failing in actual versus theoretical scientific practice. In theory, scientists should replicate others' work and attempt to falsify it if they can; good theories will withstand testing. But in practice, classic papers are accepted by faith if they appear to support a favored paradigm. Sixty-four years went by before Gowaty et al. decided to check if Bateman's Principle, a pillar of Darwinian sexual selection theory, could stand up. It fell over like a single pillar in an earthquake, leaving the temple constructed on it hanging in mid-air.

Even worse, after a classic paper is tested and falsified, it lives on! Nobody blows a siren and announces over loudspeakers, "Hear ye, hear ye! Bateman's Principle has been falsified! Do not use it!" Instead, the announcement flows by in the river of scientific journals, noticed only by a few. Most likely, the heroic story of Bateman's classic experiment will live on in the textbooks for years, maybe decades, as do Haeckel's embryos and all the other icons of evolution that Jonathan Wells debunked in his book of that name 12 years ago.

For years now, we have pointed out study after study that falsifies Darwinism. Whether in genetics, biochemistry, paleontology -- you name it -- Darwinism has suffered so many fatal blows that it should be rejected out of hand, yet The Origin continues to rank as citation #1 in many scientific papers. This is not how science is supposed to work.

Many continue to think of science as a self-correcting process, citing Karl Popper, who promulgated falsification as a criterion of good science. Instead, as Willard van Orman Quine suggested, shocks are usually absorbed into a web of belief; and as Thomas Kuhn taught, favored paradigms often require scientific revolutions to dismantle. This is especially the case when a strong ideology, like secular naturalism, reinforces the web of belief.

If those within the paradigm won't heed the sirens, those outside should turn up the volume.

Image: Antilocapra americana, Wikipedia.