Hacker News new | more | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[flagged] A Science Journal Funded by Peter Thiel Dismisses Climate Change and Evolution (motherjones.com)
48 points by aaronbrethorst 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments



As someone who has studied science extensively (geology, geochemistry, microbiology) there is nothing wrong with this and I find it refreshing.

There is no such thing as "settled science" and whenever you see that phrase you should become immediately skeptical. It's a dangerous term that is an imminent threat to scientific progress. Think about all of the "settled science" that has been upended across human history.


> When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

- Isaac Asimov


And if you click on the article about evolution that is being claimed as "dismissive", it does not seem dismissive. It posed a challenge from the 80's that apparently was popular at the time. This seems like a hit piece that people are upvoting because of the title.


I agree. I think the point of this headline is the headline. They know that most people will see Peter Thiel and something about dismissing evolution, and most people won't read the article. (At least one other commenter has confessed to falling into this pattern.) I don't agree, but if contrarianism is done civilly and in good faith, it should be allowed. What we don't want is a general regime of squashing all discourse.

Here is a link to part 1 of the article. I skimmed it. This guy could be an anti-evolution bigot if you dig deeply enough, but at least he's not pounding on the usual debunked tropes. (Maybe I should thank him for bringing issues to my attention that are new to me.) He also has a good enough grasp of science, I can't dismiss him outright, other than that I'm convinced evolution by natural selection is correct.

https://inference-review.com/article/evolution-a-theory-in-c...


> but at least he's not pounding on the usual debunked tropes.

The argument he makes is the standard absence-of-transitional-forms argument, which is pretty high on any list of “usual debunked tropes” of the dishonest creationist crowd, to the point where even at least one creationist has debunked it.


The argument he makes is the standard absence-of-transitional-forms argument

Yes, that's in there, actually.

which is pretty high on any list of “usual debunked tropes” of the dishonest creationist crowd

I only skimmed the article, so mea culpa. (There's value for the side of truth if the best effort of the opposition so easily, functionally falls into a usual debunked trope.)

However, I don't think people like that are all dishonest. I think a lot of them have some kind of mental block. I'm reminded of when I've taught coding and when I've taught music. Some people can't distinguish fine degrees of pitch difference, and those are the same people who can't distinguish little differences in rhythmic placement. (Some scientists have actually studied these "amusical" people.) Some people simply can't grasp the values of variables changing over iterations. Others may have an axe to grind.

to the point where even at least one creationist has debunked it.

That sounds interesting.


> And if you click on the article about evolution that is being claimed as "dismissive", it does not seem dismissive. It posed a challenge from the 80's that apparently was popular at the time.

The absence of transitional fossils argument it makes is a standard—and long rebutted—anti-evolution argument that's older than the 1980s (it was actually noted as a problem by Darwin, and dishonest anti-evolution folks like to pretend there has been no progress; honest creationists are a different story [0].)

[0] https://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/01/honest-creation.htm...


You sound like you know more about this than I do. Are there any theories (not even with evidence) about how sex evolved? I can’t find a way two unrelated species (that did not have a “mother and father” of some sort) came together to produce the first ever offspring with two progenitors. In otherwords some creature was conceived (using the term lossely) and born in a way vastly different from it’s parent. All the “plumbing” (organs) needed for that first combination, which would have been an evolutionary anchor up to that point, is something I can’t see my way around.


https://sci-hub.se/10.1126/science.324_1254

In short, sexual reproduction is very old (> 1 billion years ago) and first appeared in an ancestor of all eukaryotic cells and long predates multicellular life. So, all of multicellular life evolved with the haploid/diploid molecular machinery already available and different branches of life have built vastly different strategies to use it. You'd be better served IMHO to start at DNA replication and build up rather than starting at sex organs and working backward.


No, it’s just a long-winded rehashing of the tired “micro vs macro evolution” argument.

And the author quite explicitly stand by their 30-year old thesis. Quote: orthodox evolutionary theory is unable to explain the origins of various taxa-defining innovations.

This was my position in Evolution.

It remains my position today


I'm not sure if I trust MotherJones to be the arbiter of this, but I believe the accusation is that the published articles are not actually science, but are instead ideological stickbats. If you flip the political parties, you have the "grievance studies" fiasco that was on the HN front page the other day. People are complaining that the other political factions are slipping rousing speeches into the scientific water supply.


Well, let's just go to the source. Here's one of the articles in question:

https://inference-review.com/article/evolution-a-theory-in-c...

I don't have time to read it right now and form a judgment, but if anyone else here does I think that'd the most useful/productive way of figuring out if the article has any basis.


I jumped to the last couple paragraphs of that piece as most of it appears to be issues that do not have proofs within the theory of evolution. Assuming these issues are presented truthfully, they are valid and should be addressed. If they cannot be addressed within the evolutionary framework this does indeed mean an alternate theory is needed.

The author's alternate theory is that "the basic laws of physics have been designed to generate a cosmos adapted for life as it exists on earth." This theory is not falsifiable. It does not provide any insight into why things are the way they are, while evolution provides incredible insight. I see zero reason to believe this work is anything but ideological.


If they cannot be addressed within the evolutionary framework this does indeed mean an alternate theory is needed.

All we know is they cannot be addressed yet. Lots of people need to make a good faith effort before an alternate theory is justified. That said, some gaps are always going to remain with any theory. That doesn't necessarily invalidate the entire field.


If the great majority of the article presents legitimate issues or gaps in the theory, I don't think the entire article can be dismissed as "anything but ideological" regardless of whether it presents a satisfying alternate theory in the last few paragraphs.

I think that conclusion would be more fitting if the examples presented are not legitimate in some way -- perhaps already explained or debunked in other literature or simply incorrect in certain details.


There is a difference between an open mind and a hole in the head.


What is there to be afraid of? Put it out there so it is open to criticism. Why suppress it?

Think of it through the lens of emergence, or the shotgun effect.. The more competing, different theories that are out there, the more likely that we will get closer to the truth. This allows future researchers to draw from a larger pool of diverse thought.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."


> What is there to be afraid of?

Propaganda and asymmetric warfare trying to disrupt the information commons is something to be afraid of.

The idealistic tropes that you are quoting are not born out in real-life experience, and we have some large eveents of the last 100 years that make us wary of people who use propaganda as warfare tactics.


Propaganda and asymmetric warfare trying to disrupt the information commons is something to be afraid of...we have some large events of the last 100 years that make us wary of people who use propaganda as warfare tactics.

In the short term, propaganda can get an entire country of people to do just about anything. In the long term, people come back to themselves and tell the charlatans to take a hike. The big danger, as borne out all across history, is to invest concentrated power in someone to take care of the problem. People like Cincinnatus are rare, and most people don't give up power once they have it.

The public discourse will eventually relegate the nutters. Lose Free Speech, not just in the letter of the law, but in the spirit throughout society, and you lose the public discourse. That's not somewhere we want to go.


Who is suggesting that the solution to this is to restrict speech? I think it's fair enough to accurately label this as a high-end disinformation campaign, and Thiel's thumb on the scale is something that should be disclosed, but I don't think anyone is calling for censorship.


> Who is suggesting that the solution is to restrict speech?

Look at the comments, you'll see that people are more than willing to take it upon themselves to ostracize independent thinkers and skeptics.

Look at the article and how it's been upvoted on HN because of the premise of how evil and ridiculous it is.


>Look at the comments, you'll see that people are more than willing to take it upon themselves to ostracize independent thinkers and skeptics.

Why do you believe "independent thinkers and skeptics" should be allowed to disagree with the status quo, but that disagreeing with them is tantamount to censorship and restricting speech?

>Look at the article and how it's been upvoted on HN because of the premise of how evil and ridiculous it is.

Yes. People believe it's ridiculous... and meanwhile plenty of skeptics believe mainstream science is ridiculous.

You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't support criticism and not expect criticism in return.


Why do you believe "independent thinkers and skeptics" should be allowed to disagree with the status quo, but that disagreeing with them is tantamount to censorship and restricting speech?

Disagreeing and debunking is fine. Deplatforming isn't. Trying to garner emotional sentiment against people without rational argument is a bit beyond the line. Throwing around headlines to create emotional associations is a bit beyond the line. Discussing the facts is good.

and meanwhile plenty of skeptics believe mainstream science is ridiculous.

There are some far left progressives who would deny all evolutionary biology in order to completely deny biological sex differences, primarily on ideological grounds. I find that just as bad as denying evolution on ideological grounds.

You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't support criticism and not expect criticism in return.

Criticism is fine. Engaging in that in good faith is supporting Free Speech. Deplatforming and tactics for silencing argument aren't fine. Those go against the spirit of Free Speech.


I am enjoying the ludicrous idea that climate-change deniers could possibly be deplatformed, when there a literally billionaires lining up to ensure that any hint of confusion about climate science is amplified.

No-one can stop Thiel from funding whoever he likes; they would just like to be sure that it doesn't go unnoticed that this journal reads more like "Peter Thiel's Journal Of Collected Contrarianism That He Personally Paid For Due To Some Probably Totally Legitimate Reason" and less like "Inference: International Review of Science.”


I am enjoying the ludicrous idea that climate-change deniers could possibly be deplatformed

Even if we could, we shouldn't. It's important that everyone feels they have a voice. Even people who are wrong should get to participate in society and have rights.

No-one can stop Thiel from funding whoever he likes; they would just like to be sure that it doesn't go unnoticed that this journal reads more like "Peter Thiel's Journal Of Collected Contrarianism That He Personally Paid For Due To Some Probably Totally Legitimate Reason"

That's fine. Un-personing to silence isn't.


I'm glad people like you exist here on HN. I'm shocked that this kind of simple reasoning is somehow rejected by otherwise rational people these days..


I think it's fair enough to accurately label this as a high-end disinformation campaign

That is very apt.

Thiel's thumb on the scale is something that should be disclosed, but I don't think anyone is calling for censorship.

Likewise, we don't want to encourage the habit of not thinking, not reading, and just going by emotional name association. To quote one of Frank Miller's more popular characters, "These of the tools of the enemy. We do not need them. We will not use them."


There's only so many hours in the day. If you were genuinely curious about climate science, do you think your understanding will be improved by reading people who have been carefully selected by a billionaire with no background in the field, or by reading from within the world of peer-reviewed climate science papers (which are by no means monolithic).

In theory we should never have the habit of not thinking/ not reading... it's worthy. But with finite resources - and being mindful of the prospect of swallowing stuff that's just out there to shift the window of acceptable dialogue - you might do well to be selective. If you were reading about racial justice in the USA, you might read both left/liberal/libertarian/conservative thinkers, but would you feel the need to make sure you give perspective from Stormfront a good evaluation too?


do you think your understanding will be improved by reading people who have been carefully selected by a billionaire with no background in the field

When I first got to the Bay Area, I met a Thiel fellow. It was interesting, let me say that. Don't think I don't roll my eyes at some of what Peter Thiel spends his money on. That said, contrarians need to be able to have a voice. This is the only way they might eventually be convinced.

If you were reading about racial justice in the USA, you might read both left/liberal/libertarian/conservative thinkers, but would you feel the need to make sure you give perspective from Stormfront a good evaluation too?

I'd prefer not to read the last source. The few times I've tried, I've only lasted about 2 paragraphs and half a minute. However, understanding why the extreme fringe thinks as they do, and how they fit into the larger historical perspective is important. Extremists get a foothold when experts stop explaining, when discourse breaks down, and silencing is practiced instead. Extremists especially should get freedom of speech. It's quite instructive how both far extremes manage to resemble each other.


"Propaganda and asymmetric warfare"

Is it possible to have a discussion in public without something being labelled as 'propaganda' because it's not perfectly consistent with the current popular orthodoxy?

Maybe we should just let these guys meander through a few ideas on their little site before getting into Nazis, Communists and World Wars. :)


Maybe we should just let these guys meander through a few ideas on their little site before getting into Nazis, Communists and World Wars. :)

I think the world would be much better off if we could have functional, substantive discussions about Nazis, Communists and World Wars. Those are all harsh outliers of where groupthink can lead entire countries. As groupthink is one of the hardest things to remain aware of and truly think about, these outliers are something we should be able to talk dispassionately about. (Much as the educated portion of the population has embraced the utility of being able to think and talk calmly and rationally about sex and sex education.)


I agree, we should!


> What is there to be afraid of? Put it out there so it is open to criticism. Why suppress it?

Wasting time and money that would be better served publishing better science. Not sure if these articles qualify, but it's a legitimate concern.


Better science? Better to whom? Better based off of what criteria? While I admire your bravery for supporting popular opinion, I think we could all benefit from being more open minded


Better based off of what criteria? Are you serious? There exist criteria for evaluating he robustness scientific results that we've developed over centuries.

And points off for not being uncharitable and flippant. If this is the quality of discourse I can expect from you, this will be my last reply.


I mean, with climate change the thing to be afraid of is that the populace remains complacent and human beings fail to address and properly respond to an existential threat.


If their assertions fall apart under scrutiny then that is a misplaced fear because nobody will take it seriously.

If not, and other researchers can back it up - then you don't have to be afraid of an existential threat! win-win

Being a scientist means you have to adopt a mentality of passive observation and openness to being wrong, otherwise you'll just fall into the trap of confirmation bias which necessarily results in bad science.


That's a wonderfully optimistic view to take, unfortunately most of the population of America doesn't subject information placed in front of them to close scrutiny, in part because we're all bombarded with some much information that we simply can't try and make expert assessments on it.

Additionally, click-bait is a thing, just pushing a headline with "based on a scientific paper" out there can be dangerous - there is the old adage that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.


I mean, with climate change the thing to be afraid of is that the populace remains complacent and human beings fail to address and properly respond to an existential threat.

If you want persuasive arguments, check out potholer54's channel on YouTube. He's demolished just about the entire corpus of anti-climate change propaganda.


Absolutely. Similar The Tenth Man rule that I got from one of the Erik Meijer's talks, who got it from World War Z novel, which probably took it from Argumentative Theory:

> if nine people agree on a particular course of action, the tenth person must, in the context of the strategy, take a contrary approach so that all alternatives can be considered


Come on..., Evolution is not settled science? That's refreshing?


This sounds like a no-win situation. If Thiel doesn't influence the papers published in the journal you get headlines like this ("journal publishes insane article"), and if he does influence the articles then you would have the even worse headline, "billionaire censors academic publications in journal he funds." The apparent solution would be to appoint a board of censors that aren't you but agree with all of your beliefs, but let's be honest that's not any better.


The win would be a scientific publication that takes science seriously.

You can't just go around making assertions of truth and then deny any attempt to discuss their merits by claiming that it's just a belief or an opinion whose truth value is irrelevant. That's basically how we ended up in this godawful post-truth world we now live in, and there certainly shouldn't be any room for it in a scientific publication.


"The win would be a scientific publication that takes science seriously."

The articles in question are editorials, there are quite a number of them on Inference.

So this is not a situation of Journal passing of pseudoscientific research as science i.e. publishing crazy papers. It's really a fuss about some lengthy and interesting bits of logical diatribes that possibly only a few have read in the first place.

Thanks to the commenter below, here is the offending article: [1]

Have a quick gander.

And now you might wonder what all the fuss is about and that the 'real story' seems this might be some tawdry logic by motherjones trying to take a piece out of Thiel?

The author of the article seems to be making a genuinely thoughtful case, for god's sake man if this kind of discussion cannot be had the world will end. Most science comes from meandering and most of our meandering is wrong.

It doesn't seem to me there is any 'anti science' here really (I don't have enough background in this area to be fully certain), this whole thing could be ridiculous. Nobody is claiming 'flat earth' or pushing crazy propaganda. Frankly, it's enjoyable to read left-field ideas, so long as they are not passed of as 'truth', and I don't think they are in this case, it'll be fine.

[1] https://inference-review.com/article/evolution-a-theory-in-c...


Actually I don't wonder what all the fuss is about, and for a reason you seem not to have considered. The history of science with a non-scientific agenda is by no means limited to questionable methods and questionable inferences drawn improperly from otherwise "good science." At least as often (if not most of the time), the goal of junk and pseudo science is not actually to assert a truth but to act as if there some reasonable question regarding a thing about which there actually isn't. For example, tobacco companies benefitted from and were primarily interested in perpetuating the idea that there was some genuine debate about whether cigarettes cause lung cancer, in the same way that certain capitalists benefit from the idea that there's a real question about whether burning fossil fuels causes the earth to warm and creationists benefit from a "debate" about whether evolution is real. To say that they're merely asking a question or asserting a point would be disingenuous in light of the historical record.

In any event I read the article. It's an interesting history lesson but a number of the author's points suggest to me that he either doesn't totally understand what he's arguing against or is deliberately misrepresenting it. I say that as someone who's done hard science research in the field.


>The win would be a scientific publication that takes science seriously.

I agree that there is a winning option for the editors (to do a good job), there just isn't one for Thiel after the editors have done a bad job.

I think Thiel purposely set out to fund a "maverick" journal that published things that other people weren't. If you're doing that you can't just pick whoever is the most successful today to edit it - so, you will probably have a few nutters in the system. The no-win situation arises once the nutters get together and make a bad decision. Do you let them make a bad decision, or break the veil of independence?

If the financial backers were allowed to decide what is serious science and what isn't, I'm willing to bet that their version of "tobacco cures heart disease" will be the serious science while "leaded gasoline is a public health crisis" will be pushed aside.


Enforcing standards of scientific integrity is not censorship insofar as the rejection of a submission is based upon its failure to meet those standards and not because it contains an unpalatable but well-founded assertion. Accordingly, it's not a "lose" for anyone involved in the publication, including Thiel, to support the rejection of junk or pseudo science.

When you say "once the nutters get together and make a bad decision," you're treating it as if it was a single thing or collection of things that happened at a single point in time, but that's not the case here. It's an ongoing thing, which naturally raises the prospect of a pattern. Taken together with what appears to be solicitation of submissions from people known to traffic in junk and pseudo science, I think it would be naive to not suspect an agenda on someone's part.


What I'm trying to emphasize here is that sure, it can be fixed, but Thiel can't be the one to fix it. Any funding source is going to look bad if they start messing with editorial authority. It's not the funding source that is supposed to be maintaining that.


Perhaps he should stop funding it then.


"Censorship"? Que?

Deciding what to include in your journal makes up the character of the journal. It's not censorship, it's the editors' jobs to include some things and exclude others.

> board of censors that aren't you but agree with all of your beliefs

Beliefs shouldn't really play a role. Pseudoscience is not science because it doesn't adhere to scientific methods. The editors' beliefs are orthogonal to the topics included.


He could require scientific process to be followed by the journal. I didn't read the offending articles, but my guess would be that they didn't follow the process correctly.


Lumping climate change skeptics in with creationists is a bit much. I know that the evidence for human-caused climate change is strong enough that the skeptics are very likely wrong, but people who refuse to accept the theory of evolution are on another level of willful ignorance.


> Lumping climate change skeptics in with creationists is a bit much.

They are serving the same political interests with their advocacy, using similar dishonest techniques, and are often even literally the same people. They effectively have lumped themselves together.


I seem to remember a community much like this one, ca 15 years ago (slashdot) where threads regularly devolved into flame wars between creationists and scientists.

Each sides’ side hustles (“mens’ rights“, income inequality) has remained the same, so I’m confident to say we’re seeing the same old war on a new green field.

(But at least creationism seems mostly dead these days, this article nonewithstanding)


These groups frequently overlap, however, and their attacks on the mainstream scientific community sound awfully similar.


Yes, the Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory. There is no scientific theory for climate change that I am aware of -- just many/most scientists who think the evidence for climate change is significant.


> There is no scientific theory for climate change that I am aware of

The relevant analog of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection would be the Greenhouse Theory of Climate Change.


Agreed. I was a regular contributor to NCSE until they started doing this.

We may still wake up one day and realize that all our climate models are hopelessly wrong, in one direction or the other. We are not going to wake up one day and realize that the core tenets of evolutionary biology are wrong. It does no favor to either of these sciences to place them on the same footing of certainty.


Some healthy skepticism is definitely required here, but I think the title of the MJ article was a little misleading. This publication looks more like NYRB or a similar high-brow literary magazine - far from what I think of when I see the phrase "science journal". Could still be nonsense and propaganda, but at least it's not pretending to be peer-reviewed original research.



Maybe if one wants to exploit a certain type of people, one has to build a corresponding infrastructure/outlet to be in control?


He’s right.


>A Science Journal Funded by Peter Thiel Dismisses Climate Change and Evolution

Look out the window, this planet is intelligent design.

So is mars and the rest of the solar system with signs of life, the rest is possibly empty.

Sure the actual article on evolution[1] is just plain wrong, but so are the idiots who worship evolution unquestionably.

Can we instead start talking about why specific alternatives to evolution are wrong, rather than the religious fundamentalism of believing evolution this title implies.

[1] https://inference-review.com/article/evolution-a-theory-in-c...




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: