Truth in Science - A correspondence with Dr. Buggs
When Truth in Science first broke ground letters were exchanged in the The Times. Amongst one of the correspondents who challenged Dr. Buggs was Chris Preedy.
Chris approached Mark Edon and requested that his experiences with Dr. Buggs and Truth in Science are made public. Chris summarises Dr Buggs' attitude as follows; "During our exchange of letters, he seemed courteous and I genuinely believed that he genuinely believed what he was saying. However, in a less public forum he seems to have had no interest in responding to these points, or in correcting his website where he has conceded it to be in error. Even if I were totally mistaken on all of the following, he might have taken it as feedback showing that his website could be clearer in its explanations. Instead he has chosen to simply ignore my points, not even taking the time to send a one-line email saying he's too busy or uninterested in a dialogue."
Chris has drawn the following conclusion; "I have therefore been forced - reluctantly - to revise my opinion. I no longer believe that anyone at Truth in Science has any interest in promoting either truth or science. It seems that the only way to get any corrections made to their website is to shame them into doing so by pointing out the errors in public. This is not what I consider truthful, scientific or appropriate for teaching to children."
This is indeed strong stuff and Chris backs up his opinion in detail with the full texts and details of the exchange.
For clarity, the sequence of events was as follows:
* Oct 7: Three apparently separate (but actually all written by members of TiS) letters appear in The Times supporting TiS sending materials to schools. In one, Dr Buggs issues an open challenge to find any errors in the materials.
* Oct 11: Chris Preedy's letter appears in The Times.
* Oct 18: Dr Bugg's response appears in The Times, and a separate response is posted on their website.
Chris writes; "The texts of all letters are on TiS website (for once it is useful as a reference source!)"
Here's TiS's response to Chris' letter, which gives the dates:
Here is a quick extract from the TiS article which shows the gloss which they placed upon the exchange so far;
"I am grateful to Chris Preedy for this critique. Many who have accused us of scientific error have not thought it necessary to spend time substantiating their claims, and Chris Preedy is a welcome exception. I would be very grateful if he could inform TiS of the other errors he has found, and any errors which I may have inadvertently included in this response."
Sounds very reasonable doesn't it? What they don't tell you is that this was not the end of the matter. Chris has written to them since on more than one occasion. He did not get the gratitude mentioned above, instead he has had no response at all.
Next we will see Chris' final letter to TiS and Dr Buggs. He has sent this on two separate occasions in late 2006, and has yet to receive any response.
Chris introduces his letter as follows;
I have made slight alterations to the text below. Comments in [square brackets] are later additions, mostly pointing out places where TiS have altered their website since I originally wrote.
Here is the letter itself;
Following on from our dialogue in the Times (and the further response on your blog, which I have just discovered), I am happy to send you a more detailed list of my concerns regarding your website. I understand your difficulty in following exactly where on your website some of these claims appear; I trust you will understand that the letters page of the Times requires brevity, and is not necessarily the best place to debate in depth.
Points from my letter:
1 [Archaeopteryx is the only member of the dinosaur-bird transitional sequence] You have accepted that at least one of my points regarding archaeopteryx was correct, but your article stands unchanged. (I am not totally clear on which of these points you agree with from your letter as published.) Your second paragraph treats archaeopteryx as a single fossil, ignoring the array of dino-bird transitionals discovered during the 1990s. A more accurate representation of the current position would involve pointing out how remarkable this confirmation of Darwin's theory is. Darwin was able to predict not just the existence of transitional forms (never previously discovered), but the order they would appear in the fossil record. This stunning prediction is immediate strong evidence that his reasoning was correct (see my comment below on Popper.) [A new section, 'Did Birds Evolve from Dinosaurs?' has been added to the website since I last saw it. It does now make extensive reference to the Chinese fossil finds. In fact, it doesn't seem to have any problem with bird / therapod common ancestry at all, though they do attempt a case for an earlier common ancestor than most palaeontologists suggest. Sadly, no mention of the predictive power of evolution though. Can we take it that TiS now accepts that birds share common ancestry with dinosaurs?]
2 [Archaeopteryx lived after its theropod ancestors] You then continue to claim that archaeopteryx appeared after its theropod ancestors. Theropods first appeared in the late triassic or early jurassic. Archae did not arrive until the cretaceous. It is certainly true that several of the Chinese 'feathered dinosaurs' are later than archae but show more primitive features. This is no more a problem for evolution than the classic creationist 'if humans evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?' argument. Speciation allows branches to develop separately, and it is entirely possible for one branch to evolve more rapidly than another. [Despite the update to the archae pages, and despite Dr Buggs conceding in The Times that TiS was in error here, this still appears on their website. They persist in ignoring all evidence of early theropods, despite giving much credence to 'protoavis'.]
3 [Misquotes] Your quote from Prof. Steve Jones is also highly misleading. Someone reading it is likely to come to the conclusion that Jones does not think there are any fossil transitionals, and therefore to the conclusion that there are no transitionals. Neither of these points is true, as Jones makes abundantly clear on the very next page of his book. Your letter to the Times reads as though you are defending educating students by misrepresenting the views of scientists, which puzzled me somewhat. The generally accepted standard of using quotes is not 'that they should concern only the matter at hand' - it is that they should accurately represent the views of the quotee on the matter at hand. This is doubly important since your entire point is based on Jones' views. [Although several misquotes seem to have been removed from the site, this one remains.]
4 [The fact that asexual bacteria do not form species shows that they do not evolve] Your claim that observed bacterial changes 'have not resulted in the production of a new species' appears in the section on 'Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry'. You specifically equate bacterial 'species' with human species, yet you do not acknowledge that a fundamental alteration to cell chemistry constitutes a species change. I acknowledge your response that you are claiming that this shows a limit to evolution, not that evolution does not occur; however, my point stands. How would you define a bacterial species? If you don't or can't, you have no point to make and this section of your article should be erased.
5 [There is no geological reason to expect Pre-Cambrian transitionals to be rare] Your section on the 'Cambrian explosion' is where you make the claim, cited in my Times letter, that there is no good geological reason to expect precambrian fossils to be rare: "Why such a gap should occur is not clear ... There does not seem to be a good reason why such a massive gap should exist." Since you deny making this claim in your response to me, can I take it that you will alter the offending paragraph? Aside from the extreme age of these rocks - older fossils being rarer than new, for obvious reasons - the Cambrian marks the arrival of hard body parts. The formation of fossils is a rare enough event in itself, but even by these standards the preservation of soft body parts is highly unusual. You correctly point out that such fossils have been found, but neglect to mention how rare they are. You also make no mention of precambrian transitionals here, instead incorrectly stating that none exist. [Despite Dr Buggs apparently denying that TiS makes this claim, it remains unaltered on their website. Do they claim this or not?]
6 [Isomers and abiogenesis] I have already pointed out that your claim that there is no natural method of distinguishing between optical isomers is incorrect. I acknowledge your response, but it seems misguided; there is no reason to assume that the early replicators were as efficient at this as later molecules. Although your response in the Times stated that I was mistaken on this point, your response on your web-site conceeds that I am correct, and disputes only the efficiency of this reaction. Your article still maintains the former, and I suggest it be corrected. [If I could pick one point for a reply, this would be it. TiS seem to be adopting the "Nah nah nah, I can't hear you" school of debate. There is research to show that l forms (those found in living creatures) form preferentially, and that a slight preference for one form of amino acid leads to deracemisation in water (i.e. one form comes to dominate exclusively). Since creationists have predicted so confidently that this cannot happen, and 'evolutionists' have predicted equally confidently that, since it clearly has happened, it must happen now, we have a testable difference. Creationism has been tested. It failed. Why would any website devoted to 'truth' seek to knowingly hide that fact?]
7 [Bacterial flagellum] 'Book Review - Darwin's Black Box'
You neglect to mention that good evolutionary pathways exist for each of the examples Behe cites. You also neglect to mention that Behe conceeded shortly after the publication of this book that evolution can produce systems that meet his definition of 'intelligent design'. His position for the last decade has been that IC 'needs more work' before it can be seen as an objection to evolution. Such work has not been forthcoming, and at the recent Dover trial, Behe was forced to conceed that ID was no more scientific than astrology. None of this would be apparent to readers of your review. You also fail to make clear that Behe accepts that there is overwhelming evidence for universal common descent, including that humans are descended from other apes.
You have responded to this point by criticising Prof. Richard Dawkins latest book [The Ancestors Tale - he has released another book since I wrote]. I am nonplussed. The fact that Dawkins does not present a complete model of flagellar evolution does not remotely mean that no such model exists. In fact, there are several. The difficulty is distinguishing between them; your claim that they do not exist is in error.
Ten more points:
1 'Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry'
Entire page. Creationists would presumably expect different 'created kinds' - sometimes referred to as 'baramins' - to have different biochemistry. Evolution could not explain with this, and predicted (correctly) that all creatures must have similar biochemistries. Creationists have since modified their theory to come up with 'common design'. However, common design by necessity means that a designer uses the same design wherever applicable.
Much work has been done on many biochemicals. Cytochrome C is the classic example, since it is almost universal and was one of the earliest studied. Cyt. c is functionally identical in all known animals (it fulfils the same function, and experimental evidence shows that bacteria that have their cyt. c replaced by that from other organisms suffer no impairment to their function), but its formula varies from animal to animal. Furthermore, that difference corresponds closely to the relatedness already deduced from the fossil record and morphology - so, for example, chimp cyt. c is identical to human cyt. c, but both are markedly different from sea anemone cyt. c and nearly identical to gorilla cyt. c. This is exactly as predicted by evolution, and has never been adequately explained by creationists to my knowledge.
Combined with the similar data from dozens of other such biomolecules, this prediction is perhaps the most resounding confirmation of universal common descent. It allows us to calculate 'family trees' of relatedness among multiple species, and those trees match our previous deductions in almost every detail. While you correctly point out that there are differences, I am concerned that your non-quantative emphasis on this point may leave readers with the impression that this is something other than minor differences - 'twigs' on the 'tree of life', to steal a metaphor. Your claim that similarity and difference at the molecular level cannot both be used as evidence for evolution entirely misses the point that it is the pattern of similarities that shows relatedness.
Your analogies to Foster and van Gogh simply highlight that the same does not apply to human design. I am also concerned that your comments on the non-universality of the genetic code might lead some to think that radically different genetic codes that could not have evolved naturally have been discovered. In particular, you have used the phrase 'many scientists', when it seems that 'few scientists' would be more accurate (considerably less than 1% of biochemists).
I am unsure how you have come to the conclusion that because beak sizes varied only temporarily during the Galapagos drought, they cannot change permanantly (which is certainly how your article reads). Surely, unless someone can manage to breed Galapagos finches back to their mainland population morphology, they are and remain evidence that evolution by natural selection can produce permanant change in a population, and your article should make that clear.
If your only objection is that the changes are small scale, perhaps you should point your readers to evidence for large-scale change, rather than conclude that if this example doesn't show it, it does not happen.
3 'Development of Biological Resistance
You declare that antibiotic resistance is temporary, and lasts only so long as the bacteria are exposed to that antibiotic. This may sometimes be true, but if there is no disadvantage to resistance, it is not the case.
Furthermore, since experimenters usually go to some lengths to ensure that all bacteria in a sample are from a single strain, your description of DNA transfer mechanisms between bacteria is irrelevant to this discussion - mutation is the only known mechanism by which new genes can arise.
Do you have any evidence to back up your assertion that 'most types of antibiotic resistance were in existence before antibiotics were developed'?
4 'Hominid Fossils'
You must be aware that neither of the sources you quote disputes the fact that humans have evolved. One is a non-scientist. Is this really the level that you think schoolchildren should be educated to? If you have no dispute with the mountain of fossil evidence that demonstrates a fine-grained evolutionary sequence leading to modern humans, why not make this clear?
If your intention is to get textbooks to use photos of embryos - or at least better diagrams - then I fully support you. However, you go further and repeatedly claim or imply that the similarities Haeckel saw were almost totally fictitious. When you move from directly from criticising Haeckel's drawings to the Kent quotation which - correctly and without reference to Haeckel - points out the similarities between echinoderms and chordates, and then back to errors in Haeckel, the reader can hardly help but conclude that Kent's opinion is based on Haeckel's errors. Unless you are claiming this is the case, you should make clear that embryology supports evolution, irrespective of problems with Haeckel's work.
You also complain about the use of the term 'structures resembling gills'. Your point that embryos do not have gills is incorrect, but assuming you meant human or general mammalian embryos, that is why your source specifically describes them as 'structures resembling gills'. If you want to give your readers a clear idea of whether or not this is evidence for evolution you should, in my opinion, include the following points:
1) All vertebrate embryos have structures known as pharyngeal arches
2) In fish, these remain almost unchanged and become gill pouches
3) In mammals, these alter dramatically as the foetus develops and become part of the jaw and ear
4) In reptiles, these embryonic structures become the jaw
5) This ties in remarkably with the fossil record, which shows how reptilian jaw bones altered to form mammalian jaw and ear bones
6) (Optionally) No theory other than universal common descent has so far been proposed to explain this
As a minimum, you should note that many textbooks have now replaced these drawings with photos, and that the accompanying text has had little if any change, since Haeckel's errors were not primarily to do with the embryological structures under question. Indeed, if you insist on discussing Haeckel's errors (rather than the genuine evidence), you might at least make clear what these errors were - largely concerned with scale, the presence / absence of a yolk sac, and sloppy labelling (by higher taxon rather than species and the outrageous labelling of a pig embryo as human).''
6 'The Fossil Record'
Throughout this page, you repeat that there are no fossil transitionals and that fossils are a problem for evolution. Neither of these points is correct at any of the places you make them.
7 Your claim that a platypus has a bill 'like a duck' is also incorrect. A platypus' nose, although shaped like a bill, is fleshy, flexible and highly sensitive. It is not considered to be homologous to a duck's bill for the simple reason that it has nothing whatsoever in common with a duck's bill other than streamlining. [This claim has been removed during a complete rewrite of the 'Homology in Vertebrate Limbs' page, for which I thank TiS. Sadly, it has been replaced by an almost identical claim about a different taxon, gnetum. It's almost as if too many people recognise the platypus argument for the bunk it is, so TiS have replaced it with a more obscure example. It is also unfortunate for TiS that its new 'Homology in Vertebrate Limbs' page makes virtually no reference to vertebrate limbs, and seems unaware of the concept of 'statistical significance'.]
8 'The Miller-Urey Experiment'
Your section on 'Irrelevant atmosphere' erroneously gives the impression that most geologists do not think that the prebiotic atmosphere was reducing. You neglect to mention either the presence of minerals that cannot form under oxidising conditions prior to 3Mya (e.g. uraninite, 'red beds', banded iron formations, pyrite and unoxidised cerium), or the absence of minerals that require oxidising conditions to form. Exactly how oxidising [should read 'reducing', obviously] the atmosphere was is still debated, and this has a knock-on effect on the rate of production of simple biomolecules. However, your claim that evidence for a reducing atmosphere is 'tenuous' and that there is mounting evidence for an oxidising atmosphere are both in error.
9 You state that 'imformation is required' for certain chemical reactions to take place. This is untrue. What definition of 'information' are you using? How does chlorophyl (the example you use) contain information that non-biological molecules do not? Unless you can form this into a coherent argument (rather than an unsupported assertion), I suggest you remove this section.
10 Your section on the presence of gasses such as ammonia in the atmosphere gives the impression that they cannot be replaced (or that they can only be replaced by biological sources). This is not the case; volcanic sources can produce such gasses. Your figure of 30,000 years for methane is thus out of date and based on a false assumption. You also fail to mention that biological precursors are found in extraterrestrial sources as well, clearly demonstrating that they can be formed naturally.
Chris has been checking his records and informs me that the first version of his letter to TIS did not have these last three points in it, although he did add hem when he sent his letter in again, having been ignored the first time.
Some points for you to consider:
1 Although our discussion has been limited to errors appearing on your website, errors of ommission on your site can be just as serious. No discussion of 'truth in science' should lack a reference to what defines good science, such as the work of Karl Popper.
2 To my mind, however, the two greatest errors on your website appear in the first two sentences of your home page. I cannot demonstrate the falsity of these, so I will simply have to ask you to reply honestly. [Much good that did me, obviously] Is your intent really 'to promote good science education', or is it in fact primarily religious? And is biological evolution really to be your 'initial focus' or your only target? If the former, could you let me know when you anticipate attacking the theory of electromagnetism, the germ theory of disease, or Newton's theory of gravity? Or, for that matter, the Bohr atom which forms your logo? I would look forward to looking through your material on these subjects.
3 I would strongly encourage you to rethink your response to my letter on the ethics of quoting. There are themes throughout my concerns expressed above; you regularly present only part of the information in such a way as to give your readers an inaccurate impression.
[There are many, many more errors and misleading statements on the TiS website. It was my original intention to deal with the small number above and move on to the rest at a later date. Obviously, the 'discussion' never got that far.]
Lets try to sum up. What have we learned about TiS from this?
- Well for a start various members of TiS write to the Times supporting their own materials and not admitting or mentioning the fact they are their own materials, thereby accidentally giving the impression of some kind of wide-spread level of support for their actions.
- Richard Buggs says one thing in public and does another in private.
- Richard Buggs was not being truthful when he said he would correct errors on their pages.
- Wow TiS do like to spin.
I would like to sincerely thank Chris Preedy for his contribution, particularly because it shines a light on the deceptive nature of this group. I, for one, am very pleased to know that people like Chris are prepared to stand up to TiS and try to protect our kids from the influence of such a group.
If anyone else has further information please get in touch.
An email sent by Mark Edon to TiS drawing their attention to the posting of this material on the net and asking for them to respond in detail to Chris' letter, has been ignored. I also suggested that they have a word with their ISP to find out why so much of their mail seems to be going missing ;-)