Re: [asa] ICR's GENE project

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Jun 30 2007 - 11:18:35 EDT

The tendency to think of confirming accepted ideas as the purpose of an experiment is, of course, very common for beginning & intermediate science students. Sometimes that's even legitimate because the point of a lab exercise is to learn techniques, & the results are in a sense secondary. But there are severe limitations to such an approach. The 1st "experiment" we used to have students in general physics do at Luther when I taught there was "Galileo and the pendulum" - it's set out in Leonard H. Greenberg's Discoveries in Physics for Scientists and Engineers (W.B. Saunders, 1975). Students are told briefly about Galileo's observations of a simple pendulum & his conclusion that the period is the same for all amplitudes. Then they are told to "check Galileo's statements" by measuring the period at different amplitudes - a fairly simple task.

Almost without fail students "confirmed" Galileo's conclusion - in spite of the fact that it's wrong, & that period is independent of amplitude only for small oscillations. (This is not surprising when one considers the relatively crude means he had for measuring time.) Some students would be troubled by the fact that the period for amplitudes approaching 90 degrees was obviously & consistently larger than for small amplitudes, but they generally convinced themselves that that was the fault of either their observations or the equipment.

Naturally the hope was that students learned the difference between "check" and "confirm."

On the general issue of "messing" with ICR's project. I agree that it requires some casuistry to justify that ethically & in fact I don't plan to be involved in any such intervention. But I think it's also appropriate to say "Lighten up!" I.e., we've been discussing this as if it were a serious scientific research project instead of what it is, a big, albeit unintentional, joke. Maybe the best response would be to announce a geophysical research project called FLAT to refute the satanic concept of a round earth.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Carol or John Burgeson
  Sent: Saturday, June 30, 2007 10:25 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] ICR's GENE project

>>Also, doesn't ICR remember the scientific method? After reading their article, I felt like reminding them that you generally make your conclusions after you have looked at the data, not before. ICR is basically saying "we're going to do the GENE project, and we're going to find out that evolution is wrong!" Nice little inversion of the scientific method :-)>>

  I'm not sure it is really an inversion, IF the researchers are prepared to toss out their expected answers when those answers don't match up. It is proper, I think, given ICR's past history, to think they will not do this, but one can always hope!

  I performed a series of experiments in graduate school looking to refine data on the resilience coefficient done by Raman in -- I think -- 1919. There was a result I was looking for (and quite confident of finding). As the work progressed, I found an effect that was wholly unexpected. Raman's original data, reported in the Physical Review, showed a trace of this effect, but with cruder instruments, the data was smoothed out.

  It was a minor thing to find, but for awhile I could think I was the only human on the face of the globe to know about this "new thing." Intoxicating!

  Perhaps ICR will also find a "new thing." On that basis alone, ethical considerations aside, I would not "mess" with the work.


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Received on Sat Jun 30 11:19:09 2007

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