Friday, June 04, 2010

It Was Just a Matter of Time

The Discovery Institute has not met a scientist yet, agnostic, atheist, Christian, or otherwise, that it hasn't been happy to lie about. Steve Matheson is just the latest.

Larry Moran discusses.

6 comments:

Crude said...

And Sternberg fires one back.

Also, from Larry's comments:

First, it's almost certainly *not true* that 90-95% of all human protein encoding genes exhibit alternative splicing. While there's no consensus right now, the majority of biochemists think this number is too high. Whether it's 5% (my guess) or 50% (a common estimate) is controversial.

Sternberg gives us no indication that he understands this controversy. He bases his entire fairy tale on a value that has been pretty much discredited.


But Sternberg replies: "This is just a rough estimate, of course. And as I wrote in my original critique of Matheson, even if I’m off by a factor of two we are still left with far more functional introns than Matheson acknowledges."

Also note: Moran says 50% is the common view, his is 5%, and Sternberg's is apparently 95%. He claims Sternberg's guess is almost certainly wrong, owing in part from it deviating from the majority. But Moran's estimate deviates as well. And that's.. "controversial."

Moran goes on:

His second problem is not even understanding the consequences of his false assumption. Let's assume that Sternberg is correct and 90-95% of all protein encoding genes exhibit alternative splicing. Since there are 20,500 such genes in our genome it follows that about 19,000 are alternatively spliced.

The minimum requirement for alternative splicing is that an intron can be included or excluded in the mRNA. The lower limit for the number of introns is thus 19,000 (actually 18,450 - 19,475).

In other words, as many as 171,000 introns could be (mostly) useless junk. It will be even more if we accept a lower number of alternatively spliced genes.

I don't think this is the message that Sternberg meant to convey in his posting. This is why we call them IDiots.


So, Moran is arguing about possible lower limits.

I notice one thing, though: Moran and Matheson are huffily suggesting Sternberg doesn't understand the data. They don't accuse him of lying. So where did that come from?

And remember: Matheson's estimate on the number of introns filling "important functional roles" was "a dozen", with him generously inflating the role to 100, then 1000, to be generous.

If Matheson's number is very wrong, and even by Moran's own words that seems to be the case, is Matheson therefore a liar?

John Farrell said...

You should read Steve's post.

Crude, if I take a slice of one of your quotes here and use it out of context in another post to score a point, then I am lying about you.

When Steve was invited to the Biola conference, he was well aware that this is probably what would happen. And of course, it did. Sternberg's attack is the sequel.

Steve's main point stands:

2. Sternberg goes on to list various genomic elements – with various functions that have been established to varying degrees – that can be found in introns. His conclusion can be paraphrased like this:

DNA elements called yadas are sometimes found in introns. Yadas are thought to function in the control of stuff. Therefore introns control stuff.

And here's what this sounds like to me:

Paint cans are sometimes found in piles of rubbish in vacant urban lots (VULs). Paint cans can be used to prop up old cars, or to fight off intruders, or to make music. Therefore VULs are useful in auto repair, home security, and musical composition.

I hope you see that Sternberg's assertion, which is widely made by ID apologists and various creationists, is not so much wrong as it is just silly. And I hope it's a little clearer what I mean when I say that introns aren't known to be functional. Sternberg was wrong to assume that I would share his view of what it means for something to have "function," and he was doubly wrong to think that I would predict that introns don't sometimes – even often – contain elements that serve functional roles. Junkyards, after all, contain lots of stuff that can serve a function. (My previous attempt to illustrate this concept employed Yugos. Check it out. Todd Wood liked it too.)


What's depressing is that Sternberg sees "not so much wrong" as a victory. But then the DI doesn't exactly have rigorous standards when it comes to science.

Crude said...

Crude, if I take a slice of one of your quotes here and use it out of context in another post to score a point, then I am lying about you.

The only 'out of context' use by Sternberg, according to your own quote of Matheson, is Matheson essentially arguing that Sternberg is correct on 'roles for introns' but the two of them differ about what this means re: something having a useful function, and Sternberg should have realized that. What's more, he's piling analogies on top of analogies - sure, he thinks introns are mostly junk. But that doesn't conflict with introns sometimes, even often, being useful! Junk is often useful!

Honestly, that seems forced. Something along the lines of a campaigning politician being caught on tape referring to an important town as a toilet - and then he's on camera saying how toilets are important! Why, they dispose of waste and filth! They're the Clint Eastwood of plumbing fixtures!

And by your standards, if Sternberg considers his paraphrase by Matheson to be inaccurate - guess what? - Matheson is lying. How much would you like to bet that Sternberg's going to object to the spirit of Matheson's "paraphrase"?

But you know what's worst here? The tone. Matheson's is, frankly, abysmal on that front when it comes to ID.

What's depressing is that Sternberg sees "not so much wrong" as a victory. But then the DI doesn't exactly have rigorous standards when it comes to science.

To be dead honest, John, I have yet to see anyone who has "rigorous standards when it comes to science" when the topic touches on design and/or God. Hell - is calling introns (or any other part of an organism) "junk" a scientific statement? I'm sure you can say, with a handful of qualifications, that 'taken properly' it is. But then, so much for rigor.

John Farrell said...

To be dead honest, John, I have yet to see anyone who has "rigorous standards when it comes to science" when the topic touches on design and/or God. Hell - is calling introns (or any other part of an organism) "junk" a scientific statement?

No, it's a conclusion. A provisional one, but one for which right now scientists can be mostly confident about.

Can you point me to any science journal articles--not press releases--that should lead us to conclude otherwise?

John Farrell said...

As for the tone you complain about, Crude, fine. But I would ask you to start with the title of Sternberg's first salvo, accusing Steve of promoting 'fairy tales'. (i.e., lies)

For that matter, just scroll through the headings of any random month at evolution news and tell me what any third party should conclude.

As I've said many times before on this blog, I do not for a moment believe the DI really has any interest in science.

But if you can point me to peer-reviewed research on introns that should lead us to conclude they do have a role in genetic function, contra Larry, by all means feel free to post them here.

Crude said...

John,

No, it's a conclusion. A provisional one, but one for which right now scientists can be mostly confident about.

Can you point me to any science journal articles--not press releases--that should lead us to conclude otherwise?


No, and you can't point me to any either - because science is not and cannot be in the business of passing value judgments. "Science" doesn't conclude that anything is "junk", just as "science" never concluded that (say) poor people or minorities were "more primitive humans, whose breeding should be discouraged". People mistaking their philosophical convictions or beliefs with science did.

If ID managed to get in a science journal, it wouldn't make ID suddenly "science" - journals don't have the 'science' midas touch.

As for the tone you complain about, Crude, fine. But I would ask you to start with the title of Sternberg's first salvo, accusing Steve of promoting 'fairy tales'. (i.e., lies)

You're asking me to compare Sternberg's tone and civility with Matheson's? Fine: Sternberg is and always has been vastly more reasonable and polite. Dembski and certain others have been far less so, especially with that atrocious "The Brites" or whatever page they used to run.

But here's the real point of contention between us.

As I've said many times before on this blog, I do not for a moment believe the DI really has any interest in science.

That depends on what you mean, but in many ways I can agree. The problem is, I also think that Dawkins, PZ Myers, the NCSE, and many others don't really have much interest in science. Neither did eugenicists, Lysenkoists, or countless others - despite their, at the time, harping on and on about science.

And that's one of my main problems. So many people act as if ID proponents are engaged in some kind of wicked, new, never-before-seen heresy. In fact, their extra-scientific speculations about scientific data is shockingly typical. The only real difference is their particular conclusions are unpopular. When said conclusions are more 'in line' - say, Hawking's wild speculations on intelligent life in the universe - nary a peep is heard.