Discovery Institute says Matzke can’t read, misuses cladistics

paul_book_-1Yes, that is a deliberately ambiguous heading. Discovery Institute really does say that Matzke misuses cladistics. But the most prominent example that I can find of that particular misuse comes from a fellow of the DI itself.

Nick Matzke’s “hopeless monster” review of Darwin’s Doubt must have really got to the Discovery Institute. Evolution News and Views, one of their many glossy web publications dedicated to denying evolution, has singled it out for extensive criticism twice in three days.

On July 16, we had that well-known expert on the palaeontological literature, Casey Luskin (MS Earth Sciences), telling us that Matzke actually used to be paid money by the National Center for Science Education to present the arguments in favour of evolution, so obviously his opinion in its favour is biased. An interesting argument. I seem to remember being paid money myself, by four separate universities over the course of my career, to present the arguments in favour of the reality of atoms. Roll over Darwin, roll over Dalton. Worse, Nick is only a graduate student, so how dare he criticise a full-fledged PhD like Stephen Meyer (BS Physics/Earth Science, PhD Philosophy)?

By the way, congratulations, Nick, on your paper making the front cover of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. An elegant use of duplicated genes to reduce the error bars on the dating of nodes in phylogenetic trees.

DB 3.png

Two days later, David Berlinski (PhD Philosophy) criticises Nick for saying Meyer should have used cladistics. Berlinski thinks these are worthless. Why? Because (true enough) we can twiddle a clade about its root node and this changes the order in which we list the termini. Which Berlinski thinks means that we are changing the meaning of the cladogram (utter bollocks). Check out his actual posting which includes the above diagram, meant to expose the stupidity of any one using cladistics.

One small irony is that I have only once seen cladistic reasoning misused in the way that Berlinski suggests. I refer to Of Pandas and People, which claims ( on p. 37) that molecular biology “contradicts the Darwinian expectation”, because it places all vertebrates at the same distance from arthropods, whereas (present-day) fish ought to be closer to them than reptiles are. Joint author of this piece of garbage, Dean Kenyon, fellow of the Discovery Institute.

To conclude, DI’s criticism of Matzke and his credentials reminds me of an old definition of Chutzpah; an ant climbing an elephants leg with intent to rape.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on July 26, 2013, in Creationism, Philosophy, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Casey Luskin was and to my best knowledge is currently paid by the Discovery Institute. Seemingly, to not present the arguments in favour of ID-Creationism, so obviously his opinion in its favour is not biased. Even better, Casey is not even a PhD student. That’s how dare he criticise a full-fledged PhD candidate like Nick.


    • Casey Luskin is Program Officer of the DI’s Center for Science and Culture, of which Meyer is director, Berlinksi a Senior Fellow, and Kenon a Fellow. According to his bio on the CSC website, he ‘is co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, a non-profit helping students to investigate evolution by starting “IDEA Clubs” on college and high school campuses across the country.’ His 5 year stint with Scripps Institute of Oceanography produced one publication; he was one of several junior authors on a study of paleaomagnetic dating of sediments. No life science qualifications or experience.

      David Berlinski is a Senior Fellow of the CSC, mathematician and philosopher, and has written serious works in his own area, including a 1972 article on the philosophy of molecular biology. As the review I cite shows, he writes powerfully and amusingly, even when (as here) he is attacking a fictional straw man.

      Dean Kenyon is a CSC Fellow. He was at one time a respected biologist, but in the 1970s was converted by Morris’s Genesis Flood to Young Earth Creationism.

      Nick Matzke is just finishing the formalities of his PhD at Berkeley,and will be moving to a postdoc at NIMBioS at U. Tennessee Knoxville in September. Wreb of Knowledge lists him as author of 19 publications, with a total of 330 literature citations.


  1. Pingback: The evolution of creationism; Kitzmiller 10 years on | Primate's Progress

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