Felsenstein presents the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture

Joe Felsenstein, who posts and comments in The Skeptical Zone, presented the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture on January 4, 2018. The video recording of his lecture is now available. I’d say that the cover frame, at the very least, was well worth the wait.

Rooting out confusion is much harder than sowing it

Excuse me for attaching to this post a brief rejoinder to a pathetic response to the lecture. Andrew Jones’s “The Law of Zero Magic” appeared in the flagship publication of the intelligent design (ID) movement, Evolution News & Science Today. The title is hugely ironic, inasmuch as the movement conceives of intelligent design as violation of a law of nature, and struggles to devise the law that is violated. The name of the violable law, whatever it might turn out to be, is the Law of Conservation of Information (LCI). That is inviolable dogma. When it comes to the meaning of information, however, ID is absurdly flexible. In 1997, William Dembski proclaimed that complex specified information (a.k.a. specified complexity) is conserved. In 2008, he and Robert Marks proclaimed that active information is conserved, and said nary a word about complex specified information. The gist is that Dembski had gotten things backwards: active information is loosely the opposite of complex specified information. No one in the ID movement has ever acknowledged his error.

Now we have Andrew Jones arguing that Dembski was right, and that Joe Felsenstein, who touched on the “Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information” in his lecture, has gotten Dembski wrong. He not only neglects to quote the full term that Joe used, but also plays mix-and-match with sources addressing the different LCIs. After opening with a link to Dembski’s “Conservation of Information Made Simple” (2012), which addresses active information instead of complex specified information, Jones proceeds to garb his ignorance in affectations of expertise:

[LCI] has been used to argue that evolution cannot create information, and I think that is true, so long as you properly understand what we are saying. But a lot of critics have not understood it yet.

It has been critiqued from a number of directions; a suspiciously large number of directions in fact: usually if an idea is wrong there is just one main thing wrong with it, so I am always suspicious when any idea is portrayed as “wrong in every way” or gets attacked in a scattergun way. You should be suspicious, too. But that is a topic for another day.

The reason that Jones attempts to dismiss, with a wave of the hand and a puffing-out of the chest, the work of conscientious scholars like Joe is that he has not studied the technical details. His article is merely the latest regurgitation of ill-digested ID rhetoric. Had he bothered to scan Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (2017), which I have read twice, and soon will read again, then he would have known that Marks, Dembski, and Ewert have rebranded specified complexity as a measure of meaningful information, and have attached “conservation of information” to active information. The long and the short of it is that Jones is holding forth in gross ignorance of the subject matter. No one in the know takes him the least bit seriously. And neither should you. I will not return to this topic on another day. It makes my back hurt.

61 thoughts on “Felsenstein presents the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture

  1. So when organisms gain adaptive information (or is it the population that gains adaptive information) there is a corresponding decrease in adaptive entropy?

    Is it the decrease in entropy that causes (results in) the increase in adaptive information or is it the increase in adaptive information that causes (results in) the reduction in adaptive entropy?

  2. Populations would gain information, but it is not clear in this model how to connect the entropy of the system, which is based on the distribution of the energy, to an entropy for the population. The energy in the population is distributed in different genotypes, but they are all at the same temperature.

    This is a “toy model” — the hope is to make one for which ione can connect all of these concepts. We’re not there yet.

  3. So when you say entropy you are referring to thermodynamic entropy and not to “configurational entropy” or “shannon entropy” or any of the various other “entropies”?

  4. Joe Felsenstein: Joe Felsenstein

    Erik: Of course it’s the latter, because you start off with the complete package (Sun, flow of energy, biosphere), not saying how biosphere came about or even why it should transform the way it does – you simply assume that it does and always did. In the end of the talk (at one hour point) you list a bunch of really interesting points and leave them unanswered.
    I’d say those are interesting phenomena (recombination, genetic drift etc). But Erik is being inconsistent. He’s supposed to say that they are not interesting, just as he says that for natural selection. And off we go to the origin of the universe. Sorry, I don”t study that. Silly me.

    What are you talking about Erik?
    Joe wouldn’t make claims like that unless he has tested his claims in the laboratory experiments…You see, population genetics is easily attainable because there is the technology that evolutionary scientists use all the time…
    Joe is one of those scientists…He wouldn’t deliberately deceive his Darwin’s followers if he knew that truth contradicted his beliefs… He would report the errors to the Darwin’s headquarters right away…
    That’s is what Joe Felsenstaine stand for; the seeker of truth…why else would someone like him became a scientist? To deceive himself and other and feel good about it?

  5. It seems Joe Felsenstein hopes for the so called “Einstein Legacy”…He wants people to use his name the way they use Fisher’s when they refer to evolution.

    Let me give you the reality check Joe: As long as I’m alive, and my kids, your name will ALWAYS be associated with science fiction called population genetics unfounded assumptions.. The day you ever walk into the lab, preferably with Larry Moran, I will try to hear you…
    The 3 of us know that it will never happen because you feel more comfortable criticizing others than doing the experimental work. Is my statement true Joe?

  6. J-Mac,

    The saddest thing about your comments is how proudly you declare that you’ve succeeded in making mindless idiots out of your kids. I think, however, that they will grow out of your nasty influence.

  7. I am not without excess ego, but I do think that telling someone that their name will be associated with (gasp) population genetics theory is a rather odd way of insulting them! Color me Amused.

  8. Joe Felsenstein:
    I am not without excess ego, but I do think that telling someone that their name will be associated with (gasp) population genetics theory is a rather odd way of insulting them!Color me Amused.

    So THAT’s why J-Mac is still tolerated here. He keeps scoring points for the other side. Now I get it.

Leave a Reply