Monday, January 16, 2017

Upcoming events

For those who like to keep up with what I'm doing, I've got three big events in the next three months that you might be interested in.  First up, I'll be in Colorado in two weeks for a public creation discussion with Darrel Falk.  We'll be at Front Range Christian School in Littleton, CO on January 27 at 6:30 pm.  The event is open to the public.  For more information, visit the FRCS website:

In February, I'll be in California for the debut of Is Genesis History? and to speak at the 2017 Science Summit at the Master's University.  Is Genesis History? is a documentary film featuring yours truly talking about created kinds, along with a bunch of other creationist researchers talking about their research.  It will be in theaters only on February 23.  Check their website for theater information and tickets.

During the same trip, I'll be speaking at the Master's University for their Science Summit, "God's First Man."  My presentation will focus on Neandertals, but I'll probably throw in some bonus stuff about Homo naledi.  Can't resist.  This year, there are three hundred tickets available, and you can get yours online at their website.

Then in March, I'm off to the Smoky Mountain Creation Retreat in Pigeon Forge. If you don't know what it is, click that link below and check it out.  Tickets are going fast, so if you want to go, you should get your tickets soon.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Heaven help us be humble

Monday, I posted my response to David MacMillan at the Panda's Thumb for his criticism of AIG's peer review of an exchange I had with O'Micks over the finer points of statistical baraminology.  Now I don't really want to get into a stupid argument over the internet, but there have been some responses in the comments to that article that are so perfect that I think we have an opportunity to learn a little more.

So let's learn a little more.

To review: MacMillan wrote his article to criticize Answers Research Journal for editorial shenanigans.  According to MacMillan, "Posting a concurrent rebuttal demonstrates that ARJ’s claims of academic integrity and peer review are pure nonsense."

In my response I pointed out a number of factual errors in MacMillan's article, most awkward of which was that sentence above.  Publishing a critique and rebuttal concurrently is extremely common.  There's absolutely nothing about that singular act that says anything about the editorial quality of ARJ.  It's basically up to the journal editor's discretion.

As I mentioned above, the comments on that Panda's Thumb article that appeared after I posted my response were extremely telling.  Before we go into that, let's encapsulate exactly what happened at PT.  They posted an article with multiple factual errors that criticized creationists for publishing an article with multiple factual errors that reinforced what MacMillan perceived as creationist dogma.  Now, isn't it anticreationist dogma that creationists are always engaging in intellectual and academic nonsense?  So MacMillan's critique with multiple factual errors supports anticreationist dogma that creationists publish nonsense with multiple factual errors to support creationist dogma.  See the irony?  Of course you do.

Now to the comments.  One comment contends that the errors were reasonable assumptions but that the overall message was correct.  Other comments encourage us not to lose sight of the pertinent point that creationists engage in intellectual and academic nonsense.  And finally there is denial.  Supposedly, AIG still shouldn't have published the rebuttal concurrently with my critique (even though that's pretty standard practice).

Frankly, they sound like creationists responding to anticreationist critics.  "Those errors were reasonable assumptions, and we're not wrong about those other statements.  Besides, the important point is the central dogma that the other side are the bad guys."

What to do?  If there are problems with creationist editing, which there certainly are, we cannot hope to improve the situation by responding with exactly the same behavior that we're trying to critique.  The problem of course is that Panda's Thumb has no interest in improving the situation but only in defeating creationists.  So I don't think they care if they get some facts wrong, but a cavalier attitude towards factual errors is precisely the "sin" they decry in us.  Even if they don't want to help us, they still ought not throw stones while living in glass houses.

I think we all have a higher calling, though.  As a Christian, I definitely have a higher calling.  I have a genuine interest in seeing creationists improve the work that they do and the articles that they write.  That's why I publish the critiques that I do.  I know that I've done a lousy job in the past, and I genuinely want to improve that aspect of my work.  Too often, I've let sarcasm and passion take over, and I've burned (nuked, really) bridges that shouldn't have been.  Shame on me.

So I want to learn from the Panda's Thumb.  I want to ponder my writing a lot more.  I want to think carefully about how I respond as much as I think about what I say.  Tactics matter.  That's the lesson I'm learning here.  It's not enough to be on the right side.

When the time comes, God help me be humble enough to just say, "I was wrong."  No excuses.  No special pleading.  No "from a certain point of view."  Just get over it and get on with the important stuff.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Defending Creationism

My recent exchange with O'Micks in ARJ has drawn some outside attention at the Panda's Thumb blog.  For those not up to speed on such things, Panda's Thumb is a popular anti-creationist blog.  The author at PT is David MacMillan, who has a degree in physics and writes publicly against creationism.  I was struck first by the title of his article, "Disagreement over Homo naledi offers fascinating peek into creationist peer review."  Before I read the piece, I wasn't sure exactly what our exchange would have to do with peer review.

MacMillan's article doesn't have much to do with peer review.  In fact, the author takes this disagreement as an opportunity to chastise Answers in Genesis (AIG).  He correctly noted that creationists have thus far not espoused any sort of consensus on what Homo naledi is, and he scorned AIG's "knee-jerk response" that H. naledi was not human.  In the interest of fairness, I should clarify here that that response was written by Elizabeth Mitchell, who is a staff writer at AIG.  Her article cited what appears to be a personal communication from David Menton, another AIG staff member who says that he is unconvinced that H. naledi is really human.

MacMillan then continues his article by characterizing O'Micks as "One of AIG's researchers."  In reality, O'Micks does not work for AIG, and as far as I can tell from the AIG website, he's only published three articles in the Answers Research Journal, which accepts unsolicited submissions.  In fact, every paper in ARJ carries a pretty clear disclaimer:
The views expressed are those of the writer(s) and not necessarily those of the Answers Research Journal Editor or of Answers in Genesis.
This was not an encouraging start to MacMillan's commentary.  He continues:
AiG accepted Wood’s submission to ARJ, but only after O’Micks had an opportunity to write a rebuttal. Then, they posted the rebuttal on their website first, ahead of Wood’s article.... Now, I only have minimal experience publishing in scientific journals, but this is highly irregular. A reputable journal would either allow a letter to the editor in a later issue, or they would require a rebuttal to be submitted as a full peer-reviewed research project in a later issue. Posting a concurrent rebuttal demonstrates that ARJ’s claims of academic integrity and peer review are pure nonsense.
Ouch.  No.  Not even close.  First of all, my response was written as a letter to the editor.  I only provided an abstract after the editor, Andrew Snelling, requested it.  Letters to the editor in journals are frequently published simultaneously with a response, and they often do not undergo the same sort of peer review as a full paper would.  See any letter in Science or Nature for example.  That's exactly what happened here.  These papers were posted simultaneously on December 28 with mine first in the queue.  You can even see this in the journal page numbering: My paper is pp. 369-372 and O'Micks's response is pp. 373-375.  MacMillan is just wrong.

MacMillan also said that my paper says "that O’Micks reached this conclusion by excluding inconvenient data."  That's also false.  In my paper I said that
the addition of postcranial characteristics to an otherwise craniodental character matrix necessitated reducing the taxon sample size to a small fraction of the full set of taxa known from craniodental remains. 
Notice the word "necessitated?"  That means O'Micks didn't have a choice.  Skeletal remains for most of the really interesting hominin skulls is very sparse.  Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and all of the Paranthropus species have to be dropped from an analysis of postcranial characteristics because there's just not enough postcranial material known.  O'Micks wasn't trying to hide anything.  The smaller sample size was a legitimate methodological necessity.

After criticizing O'Micks's response as hasty, error-filled, and special pleading, MacMillan concludes that our exchange shows that all creationist journals "lack any actual rigorous peer-review process."  Since MacMillan doesn't seem to have any firsthand experience with creationist peer review, that's a bold claim to make.  Frankly, I've had more hassle from some creationist reviewers at JCTS than I've had publishing in some noncreationist journals.  Creationist journals aren't all one thing, and they definitely aren't created "as a way to legitimize their claims of scientific and doctrinal authority."  That's also nonsense.  JCTS was designed for specialty publications in the area of baraminology and related creation biology that would be of little interest to the broader creationist community.  In my experience, no one is impressed by my articles on carnivorous plants or bootstrapping in baraminology.

MacMillan concludes:
So when another creationist submits a pointed article challenging AiG’s claims, what can they do? Why, they’ll just hurriedly pen a generic rebuttal and post it preemptively, thereby reestablishing authority and insulating themselves from criticism.
That's not at all what happened.  My article made a very narrow methodological point about an article written by a researcher unaffiliated with AIG.  I did not directly critique anything written by AIG staff.  O'Micks's response was not posted "preemptively," and since O'Micks is not AIG staff, that response does nothing to "reestablish" AIG's authority.

The real irony here is that MacMillan lists several genuine errors in O'Micks's response, all the while filling his own article with careless errors.  Last week, I wrote
We need to try harder to really hear those who disagree with us, not just nitpick the logic of their complaints.  For every argument, there's much more going on than just the issue at hand.  That's what we need to discover.
If being nice to people isn't enough reason for you to really listen to your enemies, maybe avoiding the public embarrassment of error-riddled "rebuttals" will be.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Demonizing the enemy

On New Year's Eve, anthropologist John Hawks asked, "What questions should paleoanthropologists be focusing on in the upcoming year?" on Twitter and Facebook.  Based on 40 responses, he quickly posted his own thoughts on New Year's Day, Can we build a science of human evolution that people can trust?

What struck me most about this exchange was one of the questions that he addresses towards the end of his post:  Why should taxpayers continue to fund our research?  Part of his response:
Our field ignores the voices of the broader public. In the United States, human evolutionary scientists have been treating the voices of more than half the country with derision. If more than half the taxpayers no longer want to fund our science, it is because of our history. People don’t trust us.
Wow, I think he's right.  I'm unfortunately not really accustomed to seeing such self-reflection from the scientific world.  I don't want to overgeneralize, but there is definitely an attitude from scientists that we are correct (because of the science), and therefore self-evidently moral, and therefore any opposition is self-evidently evil.  Some might even claim that that superior attitude pervades all of academia.  It's the good-vs-evil bit that makes disagreement dangerous.

But let's not forget that it goes both ways.  It seems like every divide in the developed world has become a moral issue, where the other side is just wicked, no matter what the position is.  In creationism, I've seen this emerge over my lifetime, where political and legal arguments of the eighties turned into moral crusades in the nineties.  Today, "evil-utionist" isn't really a joke any more.  Plenty of people believe it.  On the other side, perceptions of creationists have changed from simpletons and rubes to liars, frauds, and cheats.  In 2007, the Council of Europe declared that creationism could become a "threat to human rights."

As long as we stay in our ideological ghettos, wallowing in confirmation bias, I suspect things are only going to get worse.  Even venturing out to interact with someone on the other side won't fix things though.  I can think of plenty of people on both sides that regularly harass their opponents and then brag about how they really got to "know" the enemy, even though they still don't have a clue.  If you only listen long enough to compose your rebuttal, you're not really listening.

What we need are people willing to listen, understand, and then ponder their own shortcomings.  Self-reflection is probably the most important ingredient.  How is my own position weak?  What can I do about it?  What can I do about people on my own "team" that are promoting dubious ideas and claims?  How is my own position ignoring the values (not arguments) of the other side?  This self-reflective attitude requires changing your thought patterns from tribalistic self-preservation to something more concerned with all the tribes.  It might even be described as loving your enemy.  Where have I heard that before?

As we begin the new year, that's a good challenge for us all.  We need to try harder to really hear those who disagree with us, not just nitpick the logic of their complaints.  For every argument, there's much more going on than just the issue at hand.  That's what we need to discover.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Get your tickets for the 2017 Smoky Mountain Creation Retreat!

The time for Core Academy's Smoky Mountain Creation Retreat is soon upon us again, and we've set March 17-19, 2017 as the date for our annual retreat.   I've asked Marcus Ross to lead our discussions this year on the theme of "The Fossil Record."  What will we talk about?  Beats me.  It's a big topic, but it will be fun as always.

This year, we had to move the venue.  For the past two retreats, we went to a really nice house in Beech Mountain, NC, but it was already booked when I tried to reserve it.  In fact, it's pretty much booked solid for the entire spring (popular place).  After looking around a bit, I think I found a suitable replacement in Pigeon Forge, TN.  It will be more accessible by highway, but it won't have quite the same mountain charm as Beech Mountain.  Most importantly, though, the new place has TEN bathrooms instead of two.  We've had some complaints about the line for the bathroom in past years, so this should help a lot!

Don't forget the GIFT BAGS!  Last year, we handed out free books and an exclusive poster, along with a nice tote bag.  This year, we're cooking up something similar.  (If you'd like to donate something fossiliferous for the gift bags, let me know!)

We did adjust the price a little this year to help cover expenses, but tickets are still only $45.  Where else can you get two nights and five meals and a GIFT BAG for only $45?  Only the Smoky Mountain Creation Retreat!

There are 27 total tickets available this year, so you probably want to grab your tickets while you still can.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.