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Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm back and I feel like nothing has changed.

As you may know, I have been absent for some time on my Misery Journey. It was, as usual, quite miserable and- wait for it- a journey. When I left many of you may recall that the nonsensical "argument" between Andrew Schlafly and Richard Lenski was raging. I even had a brief opportunity from the road to give the latest updates on the situation. As you might guess I was sad that, given my arduous travel plans, I would not be able to watch this situation continue to unfold. And given Conservapedia's penchant for burning the evidence I rather doubted that looking back on the debate after its conclusion would be the same.

It was therefore with a mix of joy and deepest horror that, at this, the conclusion of my journey, I checked in at Conservapedia and made an astounding discovery: despite the utter beatdown unleashed upon Schlafly by Lenski, Schlafly hasn't given up yet.

Even more amazing- the slander continues:



Or, for folks who can't read the picture:

Serious flaws are emerging in Richard Lenski's work, even with his refusal to publicly disclose his data. See Flaws in Lenski Study. Will the PNAS Journal publish a correct or retraction of the much-publicized paper?


Yes, folks, you read that right: Andrew Schlafly believes he has discovered flaws in the work on Richard Lenski. So is he right? Well, judge for yourself:



Or, to quote from the introduction:

Richard Lenski rejected a request to release his bacteria mutation data to the public, but the following serious flaws are emerging about his work even without a full disclosure of the data. Note that the peer review on Lenski's paper took somewhere between 0 (non-existent) and at most 14 days (including administrative time), and Lenski himself does not have any obvious expertise in statistics. In fact, Richard Lenski admits in his paper that he based his statistical conclusions on use of a website called "statistics101".


So, in short, Schlafly is claiming that there are flaws in the paper that even he can see* and is implying that PNAS should retract/correct the paper and that Lenski is statistically incompetent. Hmmmmm... lemme get this straight: an ideologically-motivated lawyer has more statistical expertise than a working scientist and a peer review board? Does this sound reasonable?**

I'm not going to take the time to debunk Schlafly's assertions just at the moment. It would take a lot of back-and-forth between the paper and his clumsily-phrased nonsense and, given my lengthy experience with Schlafly-an logic, I doubt that there is any substance to them. They almost certainly boil down to "Nuh-uh" followed by the statistical equivalent of technobabble. At the moment, I just don't have the time for such a pursuit.

What I will do, however, amidst shaking my head in wonder, is point out a conversation that occurred on the relevant talk page. Particularly, a commenter by the name of Wisdom89 remarks:

I have expertise in research and statistics and I'm just not seeing this shoddiness that you make reference to. You are allowed to have your doubts, but we should get a bunch of people familiar with such fields to examine the paper's statistical analysis.


And then later:

Just for comparative purposes and a frame of reference, a P value that is less than the significance level of 0.05 is considered significant.


To which Schlafly provides this helpful response:

"Wisdom89", your claim that you "have expertise" and don't see the flaws only makes me conclude that you don't really have the expertise that you claim. Judging by your silly user name, perhaps you've tried that approach before. We're not fooled by it here.


You can see the whole exchange in the pic below, preserved for posterity:



Now, here's the thing that just kills me: Schlafly's response boils down to "If you don't agree with me, you must not be an expert." In other words, experts*** are only experts if they think Schlafly is right but, when they disagree with Schlafly, it means that the expert is somehow less reliable, not that Schlafly may be in error. I've known for some time that Schlafly has some peculiar views about openmindedness but I hadn't realized before that Schlafly is- if only in his own mind- infalible.

Maybe Schlafly thinks he's god after all.


* i.e. "This paper must be screwed up if even a half-wit sociopath can find errors in it." Sadly for the half-wit sociopath, however, the paper does not appear to be flawed.

** Answer: No.

*** I do not, of course, have any idea if Wisdom89 has any expertise in statistics but I'm absolutely convinced that Schlafly does not. So, hey, Wisdom89 can't be any worse than his opponent. Regardless of Wisdom89's qualifications, however, Schlafly's justification for dismissing him is inherently flawed.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Hopeful Monster said...

I've been following it with the same sense of awe, horror, and fascination. I thought the exact same thing about the exchange between Schlafly and Wisdom, but I vowed I wouldn't give Schafly more electronic print space... The exchanges between Schlafly and Argon also have a very similar tone--I'm impressed by how much effort Argon is putting into the Sisyphean task of correcting Schlafly.

Thursday, July 17, 2008 3:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Argon said...

Thanks!
I don't consider my exchanges to be "Sysiphean" because my goal is not to change Andrew Schlafly's opinion (That *would* be a task!). I recall his style from his forays into the talk.origins newsgroup when even then it was clear that he was "foaming at the mouth" irrational. No, I just wanted to test Andy to see if he would fulfill the predictions and run true to the observations Richard Lenski made in his second reply to Andy. Here's just a brief rundown.


Lenski wrote in his second letter to Schlafly:
First, it seems that reading might not be your strongest suit given your initial letter, which showed that you had not read our paper, and given subsequent conversations with your followers, in which you wrote that you still had not bothered to read our paper.[...]

Prediction confirmed:
This was demonstrated in Andy's requests for 'missing data' like the glucose concentrations used in the experiment, the numerical values of the P-values reported in the replay experiments, and the fact that contra Andy's claims, Cit+ clones were most definitely not used to start the replay experiments. All that information was present in the paper -- Clearly, Andy skimmed over those sections even weeks after Lenski made this observation.

***** ***** *****
Lenski wrote:
Second, your capacity to misinterpret and/or misrepresent facts is plain in the third request in your first letter,[...]

Prediction confirmed:
Well, that's just made bloody obvious in the exchanges, particularly in Andy's fixing on the red herring about mutation rates not scaling between the second and third replay experiments. Andy frequently jumps to conclusions but refuses to acknowledge or even listen to contrary evidence. Were the replay experiments contaminated by Cit+ cells as Andy claimed? No, clearly not. Had they been contaminated at the beginning, the cultures would have appeared Cit+ after the first generation. If that were contaminated during the experiment, the patterns would have been random and not correlate with cultures grown from cells taken from later generations.

***** ***** *****
Lenski wrote:
Third, it is apparent to me, and many others who have followed this exchange and your on-line discussions of how to proceed, that you are not acting in good faith in requests for data.[...]

Prediction confirmed:
The exchanges reveal how Andy has taken no steps to solicit advice from others more knowledgable in microbiology or even science. His sole claim is that it's in the public's best interest that scientists make their data available. It's a nice principle, but doesn't recognize the effort or cost involved. Given that most scientists investigate claims by attempting to reproduce the experiments (from reagents and cell lines that Lenski offered to amke available), Andy's hesitation to locate a sympathetic scientist to test the strains seems particularly odd.

Other instances: Andy looked at Lenski's online CV and suggested it was strange that Richard didn't list the departments in which he got his degrees. Having made such claims, Andy didn't survey other online CVs to see if this was exceptional (it wasn't) and made no effort to investigate further -- Had Andy done so, he would have easily found Richard's Ph.D. thesis and the department in which his degree was earned. When information about Richard's MacArthur grant, two paper of the year awards and his membership in the National Academy of Science were added to the Conservapedia's biography pages for Lenksi, they were removed several times for 'liberal bias' and because Schlafly doesn't recognize politically motivated awards (see the history for that page). Andy repeatedly comments on the extremely short, 14-day review turnaround for the paper and only did a cursory check to see if that is truly exceptional. What Schladly failed to do was compare the paper against others in the same category (i.e. PNAS Inaugural papers by those newly elected into the Academy). He Andy bothered to do a correct evaluation, he would have found a large number turned around in 20 days or less and in 2007 and 2008, at least three Inaugural papers were returned in 14 days. The Blount et al. paper was hardly an exception.

Overall, I'd have to say that Richard predicted the outcome correctly. I'm just happy to assist in the 'experiment'.

Friday, July 18, 2008 9:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Argon said...

Blocked for a week because of this:

"Although I disagree with most of Andy's conclusion, I am all in favor of Andy signing and submitting his comments to the PNAS on behalf of Conservapedia (and the Eagle Forum , assuming they provide some sponsorship of this site). That is, after all, within his rights and possibly a responsibility as well. Given that Andy outlined most of the pages on the subject and authored most of the core arguments on the pages, I think it would be crazy for Andy to walk away from what has clearly been his leadership role.--[[User:Argon|Argon]] 19:27, 17 July 2008 (EDT)"

Replaced by:
(removed false and baseless claim by Argon about sponsorship of this site) [Aschlafly]

Reason:
16:05, 19 July 2008 Aschlafly blocked Argon with an expiry time of 1 week (account creation disabled) ‎ (violated 90/10 rule against talk, talk, talk; also, false and baseless statement about sponsorship of this site)

Current incarnation of the page:
http://www.conservapedia.com/Talk:Flaws_in_Richard_Lenski_Study

Touchy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008 7:21:00 AM  

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