Can We Trust Science? (Part 2)
By Merle Hertzler
"Honey" left additional comments arguing for the validity of the Answers in Genesis (AiG) site at Can We Trust Science? and at Answers in Genesis?. I respond to her here. Her words are indented and highlighted.
No, no, I do not say that the claims of AiG are wrong because they have not been submitted to peer review. I say they are wrong because they "would never pass the scrutiny of science." Please read what I write.
Yes, the claims at AiG look impressive to the uninformed public, but when those who are familiar with the science examine them, the claims are repeatedly shown to be faulty. We looked at one example of the problem here. AiG promotes a page claiming to have found a major error in the dating of rocks, even though there is a fatal flaw in their reasoning. They fail to account for xenoliths in the rock, which are known to give false readings. Those that understand the science can read such essays, and point out the problem with ignoring the xenoliths. Those who do not understand the science read such essays, and think they are impressive. This is the problem with the AiG site. Many of their claims have been shown to be faulty by scientists, but they continue to post them on their site for the general public to read.
The absence of peer review does not make a claim false. The presence of fatal flaws in the research makes it false. And the best way we know to eliminate such fatal flaws is to submit claims to peer review before publishing. Would you like to suggest a better method that scientists could use to reject false claims?
I already answered this. Let me run through it again, in case repetition helps. Suppose you find old pictures of yourself in a drawer, and find pictures when you were in grades 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, & 9. Will you not be able to see a clear progression in yourself through those pictures? The fact that you do not have pictures of every grade, or every step between each grade, does not negate the clear progression. You can have a clear progression, even though there are gaps.
We see the same thing when we look at the fossils of the mammal-like reptiles. There is a clear progression from reptile ancestors to mammal. (See The Fossil Record).
Okay, the skeletal systems fossilize best, so this is where we get most of our information. There are other sources that show the progression of the soft tissues, but this is not always as clear as the fossil record of the skeletal system. Sure we do not have all of the evidence, and never will. But the evidence we do have clearly shows that AiG is wrong.
I have no idea what you are trying to accomplish with this illustration. It has no bearing on my illustration of gaps in a person's school photos in a drawer, and is not even close to the evidence as it stands in the fossil record.
Yes, of course, there is insufficient evidence to prove that Michael Jackson descended from Jesus. We agree. But is there inadequate evidence to demonstrate that I descended from my grandfather. No! Can you see that the fact that there is insufficient evidence to verify one claimed ancestry does not invalidate all claims of ancestry? Can you understand that the failure to prove that Michael Jackson descended from Jesus cannot be used to prove that poodles did not descend from wild dogs? Can you see that your illustration about Michael Jackson in no way proves that mammals did not descend from early ancestors of reptiles?
Excuse me, but this represents a complete misunderstanding of the way that rocks are dated. I will grant you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you write the above misinformation because you misunderstand, not because you deliberately deceive. As it appears that you totally misunderstand the scientists you condemn, do you understand how some people might think you should read what those scientists write before you condemn them? Your God will allow you to read the actual arguments made by mainstream science before you condemn them, won't he? Or does your God demand that you condemn without understanding what is said by the person you condemn?
If your God allows you to read what mainstream scientists say before you condemn them, then please read, Radiometric Dating and the Geological Time Scale, and Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective.
Sorry, but it appears you are mistaken on this also. See Observed Instances of Speciation.
Sorry, the response of bacteria to antibiotics is very different from our own immune systems. It involves mutations that give the bacteria new functions that allow them to resist modern antibiotics.
But there is no real evidence for the Da Vinci Code. There is plenty of evidence for evolution. See 29+ Evidences for Evolution.
Sorry, I was not trying to be deceitful. I was merely responding to your words.
When I refer to "science" I refer to that which is regarded as science by mainstream scientists. And your words attack mainstream science. Yes, I know there are dozens of other systems that claim to be science, such as the faith-healing system known as "Christian Science." These systems use the word science but mean something completely different from mainstream science. To avoid confusion, I will change the statement in question to say that you were "condemning mainstream science." Your words condemned mainstream science, including global warming and evolution. And your condemnation of peer review strikes at the very heart of the scientific method. So your words condemn science as it is known by mainstream scientists.
Yes, I understand that you recognize a different science, and that there may be much overlap between science as you recognize it and mainstream science. Throughout my essays I use the word science to mean the same thing as mainstream scientists mean when they use the word. I do not include things like astrology, quack medicine, young earth creationism, or faith healing, because mainstream science has shown these to be unscientific.
Excuse me, but Dr. Warren was not kicked down. For the story of how the scientific community responded to Dr. Warren's claims, read Bacteria, Ulcers, and Ostracism. This case is actually a beautiful illustration of how science embraces new findings with healthy skepticism, curiosity, and continued study. Read it for yourself. I think you will then drop the claim that Dr. Warren was ostracised by science.
Huh? Now you tell us Dr Warren experienced "Tall Poppy Syndrome" where people were jealous of his achievements and tried to cut him down to size? Oh, please justify your claim. Show us where the scientific community attacked his person because they were jealous of his success. Where are you getting this stuff from?
According to the link you provided, Warren was well received once the data backed up his claims:
Doesn't sound to me like they are jealous of him and trying to cut him down. If this is Tall Poppy Syndrome, then we all want Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Yes, of course they have problems convincing scientists that the earth is 6000 years old and that creatures did not evolve. There is abundant evidence that the earth is old and that evolution happened.
Dr. Macreadie may be highly regarded in research, but science is not based on what an authority figure says. It is based on facts. Dr. Macreadie will need facts if he wants to sway the opinions of scientists.
Again, this is nothing more than an argument from authority, which means nothing in scientific circles. Science is based on facts, not on pronouncements from authorities. Once more, what facts does he have to support his case for a young earth?
I am surprised at some of your links. That link argues that peer review is indispensable in science, although it is an area that could use more study. Somehow you think this supports your attack on peer review. The article states that one of the reasons for the study of peer review is that "better definition of the process should help allay the fears of critics who believe...that the entire process lacks objectivity." They are writing to alleviate the fears about the process of peer review! They are writing to show that peer review is objective and worthwhile! And yet you somehow decided to quote-mine their article, and pull out a few quotes out of context that seem to support your attack on peer review, while ignoring the intention of the article itself!
The article concludes, "Although our understanding of peer review also remains crude, this fallible, poorly understood process has been indispensable for the progress of biomedical science." (emphasis added.) Okay? The process of peer review is indispensable for the progress of science. Why you use an article that states that peer review is indispensable to prove that peer review is dispensable is beyond me.
Uh, this is the introduction to the article, and it states the objections that are sometimes stated against peer review. The article than goes on to describe the importance of peer review, and studies that are being done to alleviate the above concerns. The article admits that the process is imperfect. Of course! Almost anything human is imperfect, and could use some improvement. But peer review, like science itself, though imperfect, is an indispensable tool for discovering the world.
Sure, peer review is not perfect, but it serves an important function. The article says it screens out investigations that are "poorly conceived, poorly designed, poorly executed, trivial, marginal, or uninterpretable," and it "helps people who are not experts to decide what to believe."
You don't like peer review? Then what would you put in its place? For instance, I discussed the AiG article which mentions the dates found on a formation, but fails to account for the fact that xenoliths in the formation make the test invalid. Now somehow, such a report should surely be screened before it is presented to the public as science, shouldn't it? Non-experts in the field will read the study, and will not think to ask if xenoliths were present in the sample. We are not all experts in all fields. Science has an answer to that problem. Scientific studies are first given out to peer review, so people knowledgeable in the relevant fields can screen them, and stop them from being published as science if they are judged invalid. If you don't like peer review doing this, what would you put in its place? Would you allow all sorts of pseudoscience to be published as science, with no discrimination as to the validity of the claim?
Uh, excuse me, please read that statement in context. The authors are not saying that peer review is almost totally unscientific but not quite. They are claiming it is scientific. Please do not misrepresent what they are saying.
That is true. Any fallible test sometimes is mistaken. A teenager may fail to pass his driver's test because the officer was biased against his race, and that does not prove he is a bad driver. Someone may fail to gain admittance to a college because the college was biased, and that does not prove the student was unworthy. We all agree that evaluations are sometimes biased. But we cannot eliminate driver's evaluations because sometimes worthy people fail due to examiner bias. The solution is not to get rid of the evaluations. The solution is to improve the process.
As I have explained to you before, there are many scientific journals. If one journal is biased against your claim, find another. There is no dictator in science that declares that all journals must resist certain claims. Each journal operates independently. If you are going to claim that every single journal is deliberately biased against your claims, then you are postulating that there is a massive, world-wide conspiracy within science. The claim that such a massive conspiracy exists is so ridiculous, we need not waste our time refuting it.
But even if every journal rejects the claims, there are other avenues. Previously, I had asked SH to present us with a claim that should be accepted as valid science and shows that the earth is young. The article he pointed out was completely unacceptable from a scientific standpoint. That is the problem. The articles claiming a young earth are scientifically invalid. That is why they do not pass peer review. If you know of a scientifically valid article that is good evidence that the earth is young, please point it out to us.
First, peer review cannot weed out fraudulent research. No, of course not, and it was not designed to do that. In peer review, the completed article summarizing the research procedures, data, and conclusions are sent to knowledgeable peers in science. Their job is not to determine if the researcher is lying about his procedures and data. Their job is to look at the procedures, data, and conclusions as presented, and to decide if there are known scientific reasons to reject the research as flawed. The reviewers have no way of knowing if the author is lying. That is not their job. (But if the author is deliberately lying about the experiment, and if he is caught, you can be certain that he can kiss his career goodbye. Mainstream science despises faking the data.)
Second, peer review is not guaranteed to eliminate all flawed studies. The reviewers are, after all, human. They make their best judgments. Sometimes bad articles get published, just like sometimes bad drivers pass the driver's exam.
Uh, excuse me. The article itself states the purpose of peer review. It does not list "gain beneficial feedback" as a benefit, although I suppose that is a minor benefit. "Beneficial feedback" is not the primary purpose of peer review, just like "beneficial feedback" is not the primary purpose of college entrance exams.
But I have never made either of the above claims, nor does the scientific community make these claims. So why are you making up false claims, and pretending that somebody believes them, and then joyfully shooting them down? Why attack a straw man?
And why do you turn to personal attacks? Why do you challenge my integrity? If I am mistaken on some point, it could well be accidental. Doesn't prudence dictate that we give others the benefit of the doubt when they state something wrong? For instance, when you completely misrepresented how scientists date fossils, I gave you the benefit of the doubt, and assumed that you may have misspoken because you really didn't understand how fossils are dated. Surely you must like it when others give you the benefit of the doubt when you are mistaken. Then why don't you do the same for others? Why do you turn to attacks on the integrity of the person when you think he is wrong about some point? And besides, where exactly have I misspoken on science? If I am mistaken on any point, please point it out and I will correct it.
I invite you to leave your comments at Can We Trust Science?
Copyright ÓMerle Hertzler 2006. All Rights Reserved.