RE: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Mon Sep 12 2005 - 12:46:03 EDT

Whether a virus is alive or not is still an open-ended question since we do not know how to characterize the essence of living entities. Accordingly, viruses can be studied as being little more than strands of DNA or RNA covered by a protein coating and thus fall clearly on the side of being assemblies of atoms and molecules




From: George Murphy []
Sent: Mon 9/12/2005 12:10 PM
To: Alexanian, Moorad; Terry M. Gray;
Subject: Re: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

Moorad et al -
Your distinction assumes that biologists have a great deal invested in a definition of "life." They don't. There is still some debate wbout whether or not viruses are "alive" (see, e.g., the cover story in the Dec. '04 Sci.Am.) but virologists don't have to make a decision about the matter in order to learn a lot about them.
Which of course doesn't mean that the concept of life is unimportant, but it's notably hard to pin down.

        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
        To: Terry M. Gray <> ;
        Sent: Monday, September 12, 2005 11:11 AM
        Subject: RE: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

        The drastic difference between biology and physics is that the notion of life enters the former while is totally foreign in the latter. The real question is how much of biology can be reduced to atoms and molecules without tackling the question of what life is. However, I believe that life cannot be defined in terms of purely physical concepts. Of course, people still talk of complex molecules like DNA as describing much of what humans and animals are. Needless to say, the question of human rationality and consciousness presupposes life but must represent an astronomical jump in complexity, whichever way the problem is tackled.





        From: [] On Behalf Of Terry M. Gray
        Sent: Sunday, September 11, 2005 5:49 PM
        Subject: Re: Public perceptions of science: was Why Most Published Research Findings Are False


        Hi everyone,


        I'd like to suggest a more conciliatory approach to moderate the recent rancor on these two threads.


        Loren Haarsma from Calvin presented to following paper at the ASA meeting this summer as part of the ID "vs" TE symposium:



        Loren, I think, masterfully set the right tone for a productive debate. Dembski followed him prepared, of course, to argue that ID is "scientific" and when Loren didn't come loaded with that particular critique was surprisingly, in my experience, conciliatory himself. He even admitted that theistic evolution is a plausible Christian position.


        I created a web version of Loren's handout and paper and he gave me permission to put it on the ASA web site. If you would like a Word document version, you can get it directly from Loren's web site at Calvin at


        I am in Loren's "explainable" or "partially explainable" camps when it comes to most of the ID examples from biology (flagella, origin of life, other irreducibly complex systems). I'm quite content to argue against ID on the basis of plausible scenarios rather than demarcationist arguments.


        For what it's worth, in my opinion as a biologist (and otherwise), the recent arguments that biology is not science are just pompous physical science arrogance. From the information about joining the ASA: "Science is interpreted broadly to include anthropology, archeology, economics, engineering, history, mathematics, medicine, political science, psychology, and sociology as well as the generally recognized science disciplines." I've long disagreed with Moorad on this and it's just putting your head in the sand to say otherwise. Most people say that biology is not a physical science, but a unique, autonomous scientific discipline, biological science. Most people will, however, categorize biology as a natural science (notice that natural does NOT equal physical in these characterizations). Natural science is conventionally contrasted with human or social sciences (please, don't make the joke about, if science is in your discipline's name, it's not science). We really must ab!
andon these demarcationist arguments and be willing get to more substantive discussions asking whether or not the claims are correct not whether or not they match up with someone's rules of the game.







        Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.

        Computer Support Scientist

        Chemistry Department

        Colorado State University

        Fort Collins, CO 80523

        (o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801


Received on Mon Sep 12 12:48:09 2005

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