Thursday, June 19, 2008

Davescot Sets a New Low for Quotemining

I try really hard these days to not give the IDers too much attention. We've got to follow their political movements of course (ie Louisiana), but for the most part they remain a dying movement that doesn't deserve any unearned publicity. Expelled was a major flop, Louisiana's scam bill is the first headway they have made in eons anywhere, and they spend more time playing "gotcha" semantic games than they do making serious arguments. But still, sometimes one of them says or does something so utterly unbelievable, I just have to talk about it. Enter the king of baseless bluster Davescot.

IDers quote mine all the time. It is pathological, as if they think they are playing a game, or just don't realize the inherent dishonesty in it. Well, if Davescot's example is indicative, they must not understand the inherent dishonesty in it, because he doesn't even try to hide it.

The quote comes from a New Scientist article about the recent revolutionary experimental results achieved by Richard Lenski:

"It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait."

Seems clear enough, doesn't it? Generically, it says "It's the first time Process A has been caught in the act of making Result B", and indeed, that is exactly what it was. That says nothing about what other results Process A might have previously been caught in the act of producing. This is the sort of thing you learn in 5th-grade sentence structure. Apparently Davescot missed that day, because the title of his article, and the way he represents the quote in his criticism of it, is:

"the first time evolution has been caught in the act”

He then goes on to pretend that the qualifier of "making such a rare and complex new trait" wasn't said, which completely changes the meaning of the statement. It is the equivalent of taking the statement "I've never seen LeBron James play basketball so well" and leaving off the "so well". Yet he quotes the paragraph in full right before he quotemines it! There are no words to describe this. What does one do with a child who lies with the proof in plain sight?

Let's also not lose sight of the mad goalpost moving that Davescot and company are engaged in here. The event Lenski documented was, according to ID lore, not supposed to be able to happen at all, first, last, or any other time. Attempting to play word games to try to twist this into somehow meaning there was no prior evidence for evolution doesn't change the fact that there certainly is evidence now, and extremely robust evidence at that. Their standard challenge of explaining evolutionary history in terms of strictly beneficial mutations has been eradicated.

The ID ship is sinking, slowly but surely. Each time the make a claim, and science disproves it, it makes the space their gods can hide in that much smaller. Yet nothing makes that space bigger. It is only a matter of time until it is too small to attract any but the most blinkered of audiences.

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