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.
- Isaac Asimov
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.
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.
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.
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 .)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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."
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?
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.
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. :)
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.)
Wasting time and money that would be better served publishing better science. Not sure if these articles qualify, but it's a legitimate concern.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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
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 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: 
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
The relevant analog of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection would be the Greenhouse Theory of Climate Change.
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.
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 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.