Nathan Lents: My Experience With Discovery


(JeremiahSixFourteen) #66

Hey everyone,

I’m new here, and I know that this forum is supposed to be devoted to promoting “peace” in the evolution conversation. That’s a great thing, but I am having difficulty reconciling that goal with all of the uncivil rhetoric that Dr. Lents is being allowed to post here attacking Discovery Institute. It seems like Dr. Lents was given a platform here to have an unmoderated bash-fest describing his “experience with Discovery Institute”. For example, on this thread here:

Dr. Lents attacks Discovery’s science/competence:

“amateurish approach to science”
“what they do is nowhere near what we think of as science”
“They have an agenda and a posture, and that is completely antithetical to science”
“DI posted an article from an engineer with absolutely no background in biology”
“It’s not science, it’s religion.”

Dr. Lents attacks Discovery’s motives:

“DI is a conservative political group, first and foremost”
“founded with a particular political agenda”

Dr. Lents attacks Discovery’s moral behavior:

"It’s like a weird mix of arrogance and insecurity expressed as rhetorical foot-stomping’
“they can’t manage to behave in a serious way”
“Ask them what would change their mind and watch them scramble”
“they can’t muster even a modicum of adult conversation about science”
“That community does not read the books and articles they criticize.”
“there is no point taking them seriously”
“Correct it! Remove the article! I’ve made mistakes, some I caught, others someone else caught. I always correct it the best I can. That’s what honest people do.”
On David Klinghoffer: “These are serious scientific conversations and I just want to yell him to ‘SHUT UP, GROWN FOLKS IS TALKING!’”
On Jonathan Wells: “His whole ‘zombie science’ bit is dishonest”
On David Klinghoffer: “Klinghoffer was definitely the nastiest one toward me, and also the most dishonest”

That’s all from this thread on this forum. Dr. Lents is entitled to his opinions of course! But how is allowing him to use make such uncivil bashing of Discovery Institute conducive to bringing peace?

Moreover, doesn’t it seem a tad ironic that Dr. Lent’s complains about Discovery Institute’s “nastiness” and complains that they called him “arrogant”, YET ON THIS VERY THREAD DR. LENTS SPECIFICALLY CALLS DISCOVERY INSTITUTE and its people “arrogant,” “dishonest,” “amateurish,” “insecure” and many other similarly uncivil attacks?! Again please take note of what is taking place here: Dr. Lents complained about Discovery calling him “arrogant” and then HE specifically called them “arrogant”!

But did Discovery Institute really call Dr. Lents “arrogant”? A quick investigation shows that didn’t happen.

Dr. Lents complains that Discovery calls him “ignorant and arrogant” and that quote is a complaint about something that Steve Laufmann wrote on Discovery Institute’s blog Evolution News. But Laufmann DIDN’T CALL Dr. Lents “ignorant and arrogant”. What Laufmann said, in a roundabout way, that is that “the bad design argument almost always results in a bizarre blend of ignorance and arrogance” because such arguments tend to assume that we have a godlike knowledge about the way things ought to work. Maybe Laufmann shouldn’t have put it that way by using the words “ignorance and arrogance” but he wasn’t about attacking Lents specifically or Lents personally.

But then here on this forum, Lents DOES ATTACK LAUFMANN PERSONALLY when he attacks Laufmann’s competence and knowledge by saying that he’s “an engineer with absolutely no background in biology” (how does Lents know that Laufmann has no background in biology?) AND Dr. Lents specifically and directly states that Discovery Institute has “arrogance”.

Is Discovery Institute really so uncivil? Today Discovery Institute has responded to Lents with AN ENTIRELY IRENIC AND CIVIL post that does no namecalling or personal attacks at:

https://evolutionnews.org/2018/09/nathan-lents-is-back-still-wrong-about-sinuses/

The contrast is striking. They’re not attacking Dr. Lents personally. They’re just responding to his arguments. They point out that Dr. Lents was wrong to claim that Michael Egnor wrongly cited the paper on “paranasal sinuses” because the maxillary sinus (which Lents write about) IS ONE OF THE PARANASAL SINUSES! Here’s what they say:

The maxillary sinus and the paranasal sinuses are not “totally different structures.” The maxillary sinus is one of the paranasal sinuses! The paper Egnor cited was discussing the maxillary sinus as well as the other paranasal sinuses.

Lents similarly writes on his blog, “The paranasal and frontal sinuses surround your nose and are in your forehead, respectively. Nothing I write in my book or articles make reference to those sinuses.” Again, that’s not true because, to repeat, the maxillary sinus, which Lents indeeds writes about in his book, is one of the paranasal sinuses, meaning that Lents does write about the paranasal sinuses. He is wrong in his terminology.

Again, the contrast between Dr. Lents’s discourse on this forum, and their discourse is striking. When they found that Dr. Lents committed an error they defended their writer against his attacks but they didn’t attack Dr. Lents personally.

But when Dr. Lents thought that they committed an error he is INVITED HERE TO MAKE all kinds of uncivil personal attacks against them on this forum! How does that bring peace?

So again, I agree with the goal of “peace” and civility, but how committed is this forum to bringing civility to this conversation? It seems like on this thread, Dr. Lents was given an unmoderated platform to go off bashing Discovery Institute with all kinds of vicious and uncivil and nasty personal attacks. Something seems wrong about this thread. It does not seem compatible with the goal of bringing peace.

And now it turns out that Dr. Lent’s was fundamentally wrong in his chief attack on Michael Egnor! And their team of writers have said far fewer uncivil things against Lents than one single person, Nathan Lents, was allowed to say against them here on this thread alone. Yet the civil ID-guys who didn’t make the scientific mistake are the ones being attacked here. What’s wrong with this situation? Something doesn’t seem right…


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #67

Welcome @JeremiahSixFourteen.

There is uncivil rhetoric all over. I do not endorse everything posted here.

We allow for conversation. To be clear, he was not invited here in order to make attacks. Conflict arises when people who disagree are in conversation. That is just how it works and what needs to be worked through.

The goal is to seek peace. Sometimes this is messy. This might be one of those times.

What is wrong? The story is not over yet. Give it time.


(JeremiahSixFourteen) #68

Thanks for your reply about this. It’s very nice to see you saying that you don’t approve of Dr. Lents’s rhetoric. But I’m still not comfortable with the situation here.

I don’t know much about the moderation policy here but why did you not moderate Lents calling Discovery Institute “dishonest”, “arrogant”, “amateurish” etc? This forum seems to have pretty tight moderation policies–which is probably a good thing on the wild internet when evolution is being discussed. But is it your usual policy to give people the unmoderated opportunity to bash people like this?

Also, why has nobody else on this thread pointed out to Lents just how incredibly uncivil his rhetoric is whilst he himself is complaining about Discovery Institute’s tone? Something seems very off and one-sided here…

One other important thing that troubles me: At the link I posted above (https://evolutionnews.org/2018/09/nathan-lents-is-back-still-wrong-about-sinuses/) it seems pretty clear-cut that Dr. Lents was wrong to say that the maxillary and paranasal sinuses are “totally different structures”. Discovery Institute cites quite a few credible medical sources showing that the maxillary sinus is one of the paranasal sinuses I’ve done some of my own googling on this and everything I have found seems to confirm that Discovery Institute and Egnor were right and that Dr. Lents is wrong at least about this question of proper nasal anatomy terminology. Thus, it seems like the paper that Dr. Michael Egnor cited was directly on-topic for this conversation, as Evolution News writes:

What’s clear is that the paper that Egnor cited frequently discusses the maxillary sinus, and the maxillary sinus is one of the four paranasal sinuses . When it states that “Accessory ostia are not only common for the maxillary sinus but also for the entire paranasal sinus system,” it is not, as Lents says, “completely off-topic” but rather directly on-topic.

Yet Lents wrote here on this forum about Egnor’s supposed error:

That’s why there is no point taking them seriously. They made an obvious error, got caught, and then just pretend it didn’t happen.

Look I have no desire to attack Dr. Lents, but it seems pretty clear cut from the evidence that Discovery Institute has cited that Dr. Lents made a basic error of nasal anatomy terminology by claiming that the paranasal and maxillary sinuses are “Totally different structures”. That’s no major sin–as you correctly say everyone makes mistakes and we can forgive it.

But Lents was permitted to completely go off on Discovery Institute because of this supposed error, and now it turns out he is the one who was in error.

You wrote in response to Lents on this supposed error:

This is important to pick apart and be clear on.

So, since you are an MD I would imagine that you know a lot more about anatomy terminology than most of us here do, and I’m interested to know: What is your opinion? Did Dr. Lents make a mistake on this terminology by claiming that the maxillary sinus and the paranasal sinuses are “totally different structures”?

Also, I would imagine that you are in private communication with Dr. Lents. If that is the case, then will you ask him to correct the error, especially since he so forcefully claimed that Discovery Institute should not be “taken seriously” when they refuse to correct their errors?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #69

You do not have to be comfortable with it.

The moderation policy is that this is an unfunded effort. I have a full time job. Do not be demanding of the moderator.

I understand and sympathize with your position. However, please keep in mind that Lents is being far more gentle in his opinions about ID than most scientists I know. If you want to know why scientists are angry with ID, that will take some time. You don’t have to like his perspective, but it is out of bounds to blame me for it.

If we turn this in to an incivility battle, it will not look good for ID. We are not going to do that. Rather, let us see what happens. Give it some time to work out.

Stop being troubled. It is already being addressed elsewhere. Who is Right About Sinuses? Rather than being outraged, just be patient. This will work out in time.

I wrote my opinion on the other thread, before you even showed up. Rather than post the same link two times, just pause and pay attention to what is going on. We already engaged that link.

@JeremiahSixFourteen, please pause and remember that this is a two-sided conflict. If you want the conversation to become civil, understand the other side. You are getting a rare opportunity to see how most scientists view ID. Rather than raising the temperature, see what you can learn here.

You and your perspective are welcome here, but realize that I have a full time job that does not include this.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #70

If this is true, and it might be, I’m not sure why you are so bothered. Who do you think looks good in the end if that is the case? Just be patient and see what happens.


(JeremiahSixFourteen) #71

Thank you for pointing me to that other thread! I had not seen it yet and I am very glad to see that you wrote:

In this case, it does appear that the maxillary science is one of the paranasal sinuses. In this case, Egnor does appear to be correct. It does not appear he was caught in a mistake, unless I am missing something here.

That is very gratifying to see. Thank you! Here is Lents’s reply on that thread:

I am 100% done going back and forth with the DI. As I learned in little league, never swing at a pitch in the dirt.

Well, this is really unfortunate that he is not going to dialogue further and retract something that you, an MD, agree was an error–especially when he was so forceful about not taking Discovery Institute seriously when they (supposedly) refuse to correct errors.

Also, I appreciate that you have a full time job and that you run this site on a volunteer basis. And I’m not blaming you for Lents’s perspective. That’s all very praiseworthy and that’s not why I am concerned.

What concerns me is that when moderation does take place, it seems very one-sided. For example, you are now accusing me of “raising the temperature”. So clearly you have enough time to accuse someone of “raising the temperature.”

But yet when Lents:

attacks Discovery’s science/competence:

“amateurish approach to science”
“what they do is nowhere near what we think of as science”
“They have an agenda and a posture, and that is completely antithetical to science”
“DI posted an article from an engineer with absolutely no background in biology”
“It’s not science, it’s religion.”

attacks Discovery’s motives:

“DI is a conservative political group, first and foremost”
“founded with a particular political agenda”

and attacks Discovery’s moral behavior:

"It’s like a weird mix of arrogance and insecurity expressed as rhetorical foot-stomping’
“they can’t manage to behave in a serious way”
“Ask them what would change their mind and watch them scramble”
“they can’t muster even a modicum of adult conversation about science”
“That community does not read the books and articles they criticize.”
“there is no point taking them seriously”
“Correct it! Remove the article! I’ve made mistakes, some I caught, others someone else caught. I always correct it the best I can. That’s what honest people do.”
On David Klinghoffer: “These are serious scientific conversations and I just want to yell him to ‘SHUT UP, GROWN FOLKS IS TALKING!’”
On Jonathan Wells: “His whole ‘zombie science’ bit is dishonest”
On David Klinghoffer: “Klinghoffer was definitely the nastiest one toward me, and also the most dishonest”

…he’s not accused of “raising the temperature.” Seriously? In fact, unless I missed it, I see no warnings issued to Lents that his rhetoric is inappropriate.

But when an ID guy comes in and point out Lents’s incivility and it has taken just a couple posts before I am accused of “raising the temperature.” Lents goes off on Discovery Institute for a long time and nothing is said.

I appreciate that moderation is a tough job. But so far the moderation I’m seeing on this thread seems fairly one-sided and biased against ID, and I see you attacking the civility of ID proponents (“If we turn this in to an incivility battle, it will not look good for ID”), which isn’t a problem on this thread, and saying very little if not nothing about the civility of ID-critics.

I’m not trying to turn this into an “incivility battle” but this matters because I want to know if this is a safe place for ID proponents to participate?

I’m happy to wait and see what happens. But just as you ask me to try to “understand the other side” (which I’m very happy to do, and believe me, I am learning a few things very quickly here), I would exhort you, my civil brother, to try to “understand the ID perspective.” An IDist would be probably intimidated from posting in a forum where Lents is allowed to say things like this…

So when one person on that other thread asks “Why couldn’t they come here and discuss it?” I think the answer is clear: Is this a safe place for Discovery Institute people to have peaceful dialogue? This thread doesn’t feel like it.

But I’m happy to wait and see what happens!

and learning as we go.


(Nathan H. Lents) #72

Josh, this is thread is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the ID folks. They’re incensed about something, sound off about it, you respond, they repeat their complaint, you respond again and explain more, they repeat their complaint, you explain yet again and implore them to be patient and let the debate take its course, they repeat their complaint again… you see the pattern - they do not accept your thoughtful and measured response, they just keep repeating their complaint over and over. This is also how they approach science and it’s why arguing with them is a complete waste of time. I am kicking myself for wasting my time responding to them earlier in the summer. My pride (which I freely admit is overdeveloped) got the better of me, but I’m not making the same mistake again, especially during the academic year, when I barely have time for things that are important to me.


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #73

DI is a politically conservative non-profit think tank that advocates the pseudoscience of intelligent design (ID). Its “Teach the Controversy” campaign aims to permit teaching of anti-evolution, intelligent-design beliefs in United States public high school science courses in place of accepted scientific theories, positing that a scientific controversy exists over these subjects

My opinion of DI as an institution is that they are floundering without purpose, or meaning, or reason to exist as an institution. They are not an academic think tank, not a scientific organization, not a theological Christian organization, not an organization that is doing something to improve people’s lives, not a social cause organization, not even much of a political organization. Not much of anything.

@JeremiahSixFourteen Why do you hold DI in such high regard? Do you work for DI?


(Nathan H. Lents) #74

Exactly. And this is not a trivial issue. Remember Chomsky’s work on associations having properties and motives different than those of the individuals in them (e.g., “the corporation”). This DI has an idealogical agenda as its organizing backbone. It’s who they are, roots and stems. Having that posture and theme makes it nearly impossible for them to be objective or unbiased on issues pertaining to that theme. This is what I mean when I say they have the very opposite orientation than a real scientific organization would. In science, we gather data in an effort to illuminate reality, wherever that leads. The only agenda is truth-seeking. There is no vested interest that things turn out a specific way, despite the fact that individuals may be biased, limited, and even agenda-driven. Again, the association has different properties than the individuals. In science, our organizing principle is objectivity and dispassionate pursuit of knowledge, which mitigates the mistakes of individuals. That doesn’t make us perfect, but it does make us, as a group, far more reliable than a group that has a specific ideology right from the outset. This is why DI can’t seem to admit mistakes - because they can’t even see them. To acknowledge mistakes, even privately, would be to threaten the validity of your whole effort and the purpose and value of your organization. Our brains have psychological defense mechanisms against that kind of existential crisis, i.e. denial.


(Nathan H. Lents) #75

I don’t agree with most of this, actually. I think they are driven by a very strong social purpose, and they are a think tank of sorts. Many think tanks on both the right and the left are very biased and used to make sophisticated arguments for things they are think are true or desirable - many don’t even purport to be objective. The DI is very much in that vein. They are well organized and well-funded but the rather glaring lack of scientific credentials among their staff and contributors underscores how outside of the mainstream they are. A few have an education in science, but that’s different than having credentials, which I would define as a record of discovery and contribution. There is a big difference between being an adjunct professor and being a tenured full professor. The former need only complete a degree, not always a doctorate, while the latter must establish a decades-long record of published research. Unsound science is very hard to publish in solid journals and so that’s why so many of their supposed scientists (Wells, etc.) are rather “unlettered” in terms of their scientific CV.


(T J Runyon) #76

What do you think of Denton? I think he does good work. Has published in mainstream journals. Some letters in Nature. Now he isn’t really Paleyesque like most at the DI and he accepts evolution by natural means, but he is at the DI. I don’t think they are all bad there. It’s more their journalistic cheerleaders than anyone else. @NLENTS


(Nathan H. Lents) #77

Never heard of him, though now I remember his book. So if I spot them Denton, is that one, then? I never said they have no one at all. Behe has published solid science, too. But the fact that we can name and count the number of published research scientist associated with DI is my point. It’s a very small number.


(Neil Rickert) #78

I really don’t understand your criticism.

DI have their own blog. They do not open it up to comments. It is a very one-sided blog. They frequently attack science on that blog.

Why are you not riled up about the one-sidedness of the ENV blog?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #79

Without wading into the assessment of DI, I want to explain to any skeptics that @NLENTS is restating the standards applied through out standards. Having PhD does not make one a scientist in the view of my colleagues. The record of contributions is more important and most PhDs never get a record worth speaking to.

How this relates to DI and ID is another question, but this is just a fact of the scientific community that is surprising to many.