The Discovery Institute versus Nick Matzke

Earlier this week, Nick Matzke published an article at Science that uses modern phylogenetics techniques to analyze how creationist (or antievolution, if you prefer) legislation has evolved in the post-Dover era (note: I have not read the paper yet).  This seems to have struck a pretty sensitive nerve over at the Discovery Institute.  On the Evolution News and Views blog, the DI’s John West published an article that all but accuses Matzke of misappropriation of taxpayer funding because he acknowledges funding support from an NSF grant that doesn’t appear to be obviously connected to the content of this particular piece of research.

Needless to say, that accusation is as silly as it is groundless, which Matzke explains here.  Regardless of the merits (or obvious lack thereof) of the allegation, I’m rather curious regarding West’s motivations for making such a claim.  It seems ugly,  intemperate and ill-advised even by the DI’s standards.  Are they upset that creationists are once again getting a black eye in a prominent and respected scientific journal?  Is the fact that the article was written by somebody who was instrumental in the ID movement’s failure during the Dover trial what’s driving this response?  Something else entirely?

Whatever the reason, I view this accusation by West as a particularly egregious example of bad behavior on the part of the DI, and I wanted to bring it up for discussion here.

 

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83 thoughts on “The Discovery Institute versus Nick Matzke

  1. Donations.

    I suspect that the DI is seen as irrelevant to much of creationism, especially since it hasn’t delivered the cultural wins that it promised

    The attack does seem desperate and not particularly helpful to the DI over the long run, but I expect that the short run is dominating their concerns now. Defensiveness (like Barry quoted as saying that they are “losing badly”), plus the desire to be seen as having fire in the belly to other creationists, seems to be enough reason, in my view.

    Glen Davidson

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  2. Congratulations on your first OP, but motive mongering in an OP is against the rules.

    Giving an OP a title like “The Discovery Institute versus Nick Matzke” or “The War Against Barry A.” is also against the rules.

    In the spirit of this site, I encourage you to discuss the actual content of the post at ENV rather than the perceived failings of the author of that article.

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  3. GlenDavidson: Defensiveness (like Barry quoted as saying that they are “losing badly”), plus the desire to be seen as having fire in the belly to other creationists, seems to be enough reason, in my view.

    It would not be a nice thing to cause Dave’s first thread to be censored closed to comments just because people can’t avoid talking about Barry A.

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  4. OK Mung.

    From John West’s article;

    A more serious issue is whether Matzke misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to write his article. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.

    Indeed, NSF Grant 0919124 is a 422,000 dollar grant intended to “develop bivalve molluscs as a preeminent model for evolutionary studies….” And NSF Grant DBI-1300426 is a 12 million+ dollar grant for the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, which told the NSF it would “provide scientific insights into problems such as the control of invasive species, limiting impacts of infectious diseases, and suggesting new methods for drug design.”

    Perhaps Matzke claims academic freedom bills are an “infectious disease,” but I doubt most taxpayers who paid for the grant would agree. And I have no idea how he might connect his writing on academic freedom legislation to research about molluscs.

    If Matzke used taxpayer funds intended to underwrite serious scientific research to produce this silly piece about the politics of the evolution debate, then the National Science Foundation should consider asking for some of its grant money back.

    Do you think West is right to allege that Nick Matzke was personally awarded this money?

    ETA oops dollar signs activate LaTeX

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  5. Mung:
    Congratulations on your first OP, but motive mongering in an OP is against the rules.

    Giving an OP a title like “The Discovery Institute versus Nick Matzke” or “The War Against Barry A.” is also against the rules.

    In the spirit of this site, I encourage you to discuss the actual content of the post at ENV rather than the perceived failings of the author of that article.

    If my post is actually in violation of the rules, then I will of course change or delete it in order to comply. However, I have just read over the rules once again, and I have failed to spot which ones specifically my post violates. Can you be more specific?

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  6. Alan Fox: Do you think West is right to allege that Nick Matzke was personally awarded this money?

    How is that different than debating whether or not Barry was right to ban you from UD? The way I see it, that is still engaging in judging individual motives rather than content.

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  7. Mung: It would not be a nice thing to cause Dave’s first thread to be censored closed to comments just because people can’t avoid talking about Barry A.

    Oh wow, a parenthetical to example defensiveness, and you’re blithering about the thread being shut down for a trivial mention.

    That won’t succeed, but you’ll probably manage to derail the thread anyhow.

    Glen Davidson

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  8. Dave Carlson,

    If Mung has a moderation complaint he should make it in the moderation issues thread. Lizzie has said

    I am more than happy for people to discuss here views expressed in OP’s at Uncommon Descent…

    and I think we can extend that to the DI’s site by extension, especially as there is no opportunity to object to the article there.

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  9. Dave, we’re still waiting for Elizabeth to publish the updated rules. Just because they are not in writing yet doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

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  10. Mung:
    Dave, we’re still waiting for Elizabeth to publish the updated rules. Just because they are not in writing yet doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    If they don’t exist in writing, how could I or anybody else possibly know what they are or how to comply with them?

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  11. Mung: How is that different than debating whether or not Barry was right to ban you from UD? The way I see it, that is still engaging in judging individual motives rather than content.

    Nonsense. It’s a matter of fact. Neither grant was awarded to Nick personally.

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  12. Alan Fox: If Mung has a moderation complaint he should make it in the moderation issues thread.

    If I have a moderation complaint I’ll make it in the moderation thread.

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  13. Meta-issues are dealt with in the moderation issues thread, Mung. Please don’t continue to derail here.

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  14. Dave Carlson: If they don’t exist in writing, how could I or anybody else possibly know what they are or how to comply with them?

    There you go Alan. That looks like a moderation complaint to me.

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  15. Mung: There you go Alan. That looks like a moderation complaint to me.

    It was certainly not my intent to issue a moderation complaint. I feel like I walked in on a conversation already in progress…

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  16. I am more than happy for people to discuss here views expressed in OP’s at Uncommon Descent…

    Me too. What is the view that was expressed in the article at ENV that people want to discuss?

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  17. Anyway, does anybody actually think that Matkze inappropriately used public funding? If so, I’d be happy to discuss that issue, especially if it would avoid questions regarding the site’s rules.

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  18. Mung: Me too. What is the view that was expressed in the article at ENV that people want to discuss?

    The unfounded accusation that Nick Matzke misappropriated grant money.

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  19. Dave Carlson:
    Anyway, does anybody actually think that Matkze inappropriately used public funding?If so, I’d be happy to discuss that issue, especially if it would avoid questions regarding the site’s rules.

    I’d be surprised if John West really believes it.

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  20. Dave Carlson,

    Anyway, does anybody actually think that Matkze inappropriately used public funding? If so, I’d be happy to discuss that issue, especially if it would avoid questions regarding the site’s rules.

    I think Matkze made it very clear that he didn’t in the post you referenced from The Pandas’s Thumb: “It is customary to gratefully cite grants that supported your work, including software….” He cited those grants not because they paid for his work but because they paid for the software that he used in his work.

    PS: Welcome to the site and feel free to ignore the distractions — nothing in your post violates Lizzie’s rules.

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  21. Alan Fox: Meta-issues are dealt with in the moderation issues thread, Mung.

    Well, now I’m as confused as Dave. I don’t see anything in the rules that says any such thing. If you can point to the rules where “meta-issues” are defined and that they are to be raised only the Moderation Issues thread I will gladly comply.

    Please don’t continue to derail here.

    I resent the accusation that I am trying to derail the thread and I believe it violates the good faith rule. That said, I will restrict further comments in this thread to discussion of the content of the article at ENV (assuming any such discussion actually arises.)

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  22. Alan Fox,

    I’m not currently on a grant, but I’m at least mildly familiar with how the process goes. I won’t offer an opinion as to whether or not West believes what he wrote, but I don’t see how somebody familiar with the grant process could have written that article.

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  23. Alan Fox: Do you think West is right to allege that Nick Matzke was personally awarded this money?

    Where does West make such an allegation? I just don’t see it.

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  24. Mung,

    I’m happy to discuss moderation issues (forgive the alternative “meta-issues” it’s WordPress speak, I think) in the appropriate thread. This isn’t yet an explicit rule (it’s a guideline) – but it should be – to avoid cluttering other threads with off-topic stuff.

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  25. Alan Fox: It’s a matter of fact. Neither grant was awarded to Nick personally.

    So?

    Where does West claim that either grant was awarded to Nick personally?

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  26. Mung: Where does West make such an allegation? I just don’t see it.

    Well, he writes:

    A more serious issue is whether Matzke misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to write his article. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.

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  27. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.

    Alan, are you saying this is false? I don’t have access to the article. Have you read it?

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  28. Another point: antievolution bills seem to evolve rather like pathogens – when one strategy is shut down, more stealthy strategies begin to propagate.

    Does anyone else think it rather odd for Matzke to think that anti-evolution bills, or even pathogens, evolve vertically?

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  29. Dave Carlson: “N.J.M. was supported by NSF Awards 0919124, DBI1300426 and Australian Research Council DE15010177.”

    Well there you have it Alan, from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

    Maybe Nick didn’t actually mean he was personally supported.

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  30. Mung: Alan, are you saying this is false? I don’t have access to the article. Have you read it?

    I’ve requested Nick let me have a copy of his paper as I can’t access the full text. I have no doubt that Nick has behaved with all propriety.

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  31. Alan Fox: Do you think West is right to allege that Nick Matzke was personally awarded this money?

    This question now appears to be moot.

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  32. Mung: Well there you have it Alan, from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

    Maybe Nick didn’t actually mean he was personally supported.

    There is a big difference between being awarded a grant and being supported by a grant. You can look up who the grants were awarded to (and the publications produced under them) with a google search. Just type “NSF” and the grant number.

    In any case, the more pertinent point is that just because a person receives grant money, that doesn’t mean they they are only allowed to do research on that topic. But if somebody publishes research, whatever the topic, it is customary to acknowledge whatever grants are allowing that person to pay their bills.

    Moreover, it sounds like some of the code Matzke developed that he then used for this recent Science publication was entirely relevant to the topics of those grants.

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  33. Alan Fox: The unfounded accusation that Nick Matzke misappropriated grant money.

    I don’t see where an accusation that Nick Matzke misappropriated grant money appears in the article.

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  34. Dave Carlson,

    Yes, and thanks for that, I was typing mine when you commented and we must have cross-posted. Maybe Nick will have time for a comment or two here.

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  35. Dave Carlson: There is a big difference between being awarded a grant and being supported by a grant.

    The ENV article does not allege that the grant money was awarded to Nick.

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  36. Mung,

    I don’t see where an accusation that Nick Matzke misappropriated grant money appears in the article.

    It’s the bulk of the ENV article:

    A more serious issue is whether Matzke misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to write his article. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.

    Indeed, NSF Grant 0919124 is a $422,000 grant intended to “develop bivalve molluscs as a preeminent model for evolutionary studies….” And NSF Grant DBI-1300426 is a $12 million+ grant for the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, which told the NSF it would “provide scientific insights into problems such as the control of invasive species, limiting impacts of infectious diseases, and suggesting new methods for drug design.”

    Perhaps Matzke claims academic freedom bills are an “infectious disease,” but I doubt most taxpayers who paid for the grant would agree. And I have no idea how he might connect his writing on academic freedom legislation to research about molluscs.

    If Matzke used taxpayer funds intended to underwrite serious scientific research to produce this silly piece about the politics of the evolution debate, then the National Science Foundation should consider asking for some of its grant money back.

    The Supplemental Acknowledgements section of Matzo’s paper makes it more clear:

    Portions of this work (including BEASTmasteR and BioGeoBEARS development) were supported by NSF Award 0919124, and by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), an Institute sponsored by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426 with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Work was also funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award #DE150101773, and by The Australian National University.

    As Dave Carlson has pointed out, Nick is acknowledging that he used software, some of which he wrote, that was funded by those grants. He is simply reusing it in a different problem domain.

    [NR: I changed “$” to “$” to avoid latex misinterpretating the “$”.]

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  37. Perhaps mung would be willing to tell us what John West was getting at.

    Was West’s article designed, or just random words?

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  38. Mung,

    Fair enough. I think I may have gotten a bit lost in the back and forth between you an Alan. My bad.

    I’m curious why you think an attorney would advise Matzke to remain silent. Do you expect him to file a libel suit against West?

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  39. Mung:
    If I were Nick’s attorney I’d advise him to remain silent.

    West wrote

    If Matzke used taxpayer funds intended to underwrite serious scientific research to produce this silly piece about the politics of the evolution debate, then the National Science Foundation should consider asking for some of its grant money back.

    My understanding is some money from the grants mentioned by West went to pay for software used in phyogenetic analysis. And that is what the paper involved. As Nick says at PT

    Bayesian phylogenetic dating methods are important for studying the history of life, from fossils to ongoing disease outbreaks. By pushing the methods with novel datasets and applications, we learn more about the capabilities of the methods. This was part of the point of my phylogenetic study of antievolution bills. Another point: antievolution bills seem to evolve rather like pathogens – when one strategy is shut down, more stealthy strategies begin to propagate. It’s a shame that, in a world where phylogenetic methods have life-and-death relevance, the Discovery Institute continues to promote legislation with the purpose of convincing students that all this evolution stuff is just made up.

    And we should expect more from Nick.

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