Dembski Stoops Even Lower: Legal Threats to Silence a Critic

Nov 16 2009 Published by under Debunking Creationism, Intelligent Design

For those who have slightly better memory of recent events than an average
gerbil, you'll surely remember that not too long ago, the Intelligent Design
folks, with the help of Ben Stein, put together a whole movie about how
evilutionists are all a bunch of evil fascists, out to silence the poor,
hard-working IDers.

You'll also remember that Bill Dembski has been talking up the fact that
he's got two peer reviewed papers allegedly about intelligent design. So,
you'd think that after complaining about being locked out of the debate,
now that he has some actual papers to talk about, he'd be eager to, well,
talk about them!

Yeah, right. As it turns out, debate is the last thing that Bill
wants. When someone took a good look at one of his papers, and
posted a critique, Bill's response was the threaten to sue them for
copyright violation. Knowing how utterly trustworthy the Disco gang
is, I've got a screen-capture of the post with the threat below the fold, in
case they try to change history by deleting it.


The story in more detail: Deitmar Eben wrote an
article at rationalwiki
which provides a thorough critique of Dembski and
Mark's paper "The Search for a Search - Measuring the Information Cost of
Higher Level Search". It's a pretty good refutation - Deitmar checked
D&M's references, and found that they didn't say what D&M said they
did; he provides detailed mathematical critiques of various stages of their
argument; and he presents a complete counterexample to their proof. (Dietmar
is critiquing a later version of the one that I looked at here.)

What does a real, serious scholar do when he's confronted with
criticisms of his work? As someone who has all-too-frequently been
in that situation myself, I feel very qualified to explain the proper
response. (I'm pretty good at the informal writing style that I use
here on the blog; I'm much less good at the very proper formal style
that you use in technical papers. Combine that with my tendency to
be interested in less trendy research areas like software configuration
management, and I've gotten quite a lot of rejections, complete with
detailed criticisms.)

A real scientist, scholar, or researcher welcomes critism. That
doesn't mean that we're happy to be criticized - we're not. But
criticism is a sign that the critic is engaged, interested
in your work. And by listening, talking, and debating with him/her, you can
find problems in your work, refine your presentation, get new ideas,
and maybe convince them or be convinced by them. It's the key
process of science. Peer reviewed publications aren't the most important
thing: the engagement with other researchers is. The publications
get your work out there, where other interested people can see it. Then
the good part starts - the part where you get feedback, both positive
and negative, from other people.

But Bill Debski isn't really a scholar or a researcher. He's a polemicist.
He's not interested in doing research, or in learning, or in engaging in
actual discussions with other researchers. His papers aren't written to share
his work with fellow scholars. They're written so that he can say "Nyah, Nyah,
I got a paper published", and to use that the fool the rubes into thinking
that Dembski's work actually has some scientific credibility.

35 responses so far

  • Brian says:

    Go to UD now. Someone from rationalwiki has already stepped up and given Bill his contact info and asked why he wants to shut them down. He also gave him a basic primer on fair use. 🙂

  • MarkW says:

    To add to the irony: is that video in the side-bar ("Journey Inside The Cell") at all related to the plagiarised video-clip in "Expelled"?

  • khan says:

    The cretins don't mind stealing other folk's stuff.

  • Nate says:

    I'm surprised at the push for ID by "forward-thinking" Christians. For the followers, ID is another dilution in the watering-down of the faith. There's a reason religions torture and kill heretics during their heydays: it works; fear begets belief.
    Allowing believers to mix with science is like the Amish allowing their young men and women to experience the modern world before choosing a path. Sure, the first few generations come back to the farm, but then it's a trip to the grocer one day, enrollment in the city college the next, and soon Mathias has a car parked behind the barn.

  • RobC says:

    This is especially curious, since they routinely post (or link to downloaded .pdf's on private servers) full articles without any commentary.
    Even worse, is when they insert their own language, literally putting words in other authors' mouths:

  • Ames says:

    This isn't new. It's a fairly common creationist tactic: see here.

  • J-Dog says:

    Dembski and his minions are such lifeless, boring kill-joys, they even stooped to ban and eliminate the comments of Hugh Jass and Jack Inhofe. Bastards.

  • Susannah says:

    Deitmar checked D&M's references, and found that they didn't say what D&M said they did;...

    That is as common a tactic as quote mining. I wonder, as usual; did Dembski read only the titles, or maybe the abstracts, or was he lying outright?

  • RBH says:

    And consistent with UD's commitment to open discussion and debate, comments and pings to that post are closed.

  • 'Tis Himself, OM says:

    Shorter Dembski: "Wah! Eben critiqued my paper. I'LL SUE!!"

  • Brian says:

    So does this demonstrate that Dembski is really in the same class as folks like Stuart Pivar? If so, how did he ever manage to keep his act together enough to get a degree?

  • deadman_932 says:

    It's in the details that further lulz are found:
    Mr. Eben usually posts at AtBC early in the A.M. relative to the U.S. Within hours of a post stating that his refutation was completed, links to Dembski and Marks' "Search For A Search" .PDF had been killed/altered.
    This *seems* to indicate that someone (Marks?) had been monitoring the progress of Mr. Eben's refutation, early in the morning, when the .PDF was "disappeared."
    A couple of days pass in which I envision Marks and Dembski deciding what to do -- and then Silly Billy decides that the only rational response to criticism is to cry and wail about copyright abuse.
    It's so precious.

  • Pat Cahalan says:

    Dembski directly compares this "unfair copying" of his "academic work" to **piracy of a work of fiction**.
    The irony brick hurt my head.

  • SWT says:

    I'm not sure Dembski has standing to make an infringement claim. If the IEEE journal he published in uses the standard IEEE copyright form, I think IEEE holds the copyright, not Dembski and Marks.

  • Scott Hanley says:

    SWT is right: IEEE's copyright policies here.

    7) Prior to publication by the IEEE, all authors or their employers shall transfer to the IEEE in writing any copyright they hold for their individual papers. Such transfer shall be a necessary requirement for publication, except for material in the public domain or which is reprinted with permission from a copyrighted publication.

    To be honest, it doesn't sound like Dembski knows copyright law well enough to even understand what he was signing away ....

  • While they haven't yet put the thread down the memory hole, comments on the thread are closed. I just checked. I get a comment option on the other threads but not with that one.
    Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if Dembski is getting legal advice on this. Casey Luskin's legal advice would likely look as at odds with reality as Dembski's own ignorant buffoonery.

  • Brian says:

    For maximum confusion Brian responding to a different Brian @11.
    My best guess is because he had to. When he was a grad student, he didn't have a job, or one that paid well, probably had, and maybe was accruing, more student loans, and needed a way to be able to get paid later.
    Once he found a lucrative gig in the ID movement -- check his wikipedia entry where he talks about being a recipient of DI largess -- he stopped being at all productive. Err, should I say any pretense of trying to be productive. Because he didn't have to.

  • Stuart says:

    I like how they've turned off comments on that post. I wanted to make one. Basically, Dembski doesn't OWN the copyright anymore. When you publish a paper in a journal, you sign over all copyrights to them. Technically, unless he's been given explicit permission from the journal, even he can't post copies of the article.
    And yeah, I like how the guy in the comments section who did get through pointed out that Dembski completely copied a (near?) complete article from Nature in the blog with no apparent concern for copyrights.

  • Lassi Hippeläinen says:

    "But Bill Debski isn't really a scholar or a researcher. He's a polemicist."
    No. He's a preacher. He expects that the congretation responds with either amen or hallelujah. Anything else leads to holocaust.

  • abb3w says:

    Mark C. Chu-Carroll: But Bill Debski isn't really a scholar or a researcher. He's a polemicist.
    What most distinguishes a cargo-cult scientist from a real scientist? Adoption of some of the forms of the anthropological practice of science, but not the underlying philosophical principles.
    Exhibit A....

  • ChicagoMolly says:

    @Nate, #4:
    "Allowing believers to mix with science is like the Amish allowing their young men and women to experience the modern world before choosing a path."
    Amazingly enough, the Amish do that. They call it Rumspringa: older Amish teenagers get a chance to spend a summer exploring Worldly life with the blessing of their parents. Before they leave home their parents tell them, "We know you must be curious about life out there. You know we believe our way of life is far better than theirs, and we feel once you've seen life out there you'll want to come back home. But if after your journey you do feel you want to live in the World, we accept your choice and give you our blessing. But you'll always be welcome here because we will always love you."
    Maybe religion doesn't always poison everything.

  • Chicago, yes they do. But there's some evidence that it really doesn't work very well because the people have no experience with the outside world and don't know normal cultural norms. Thus, they often have a fairly traumatic experience and then just go back never to think about it again. (I have no idea if this is deliberate or not and my evidence for this is purely anecdotal)

  • DiEb says:

    Thanks for your support! BTW, there are two articles by team Dembski/Marks:
    1. Conservation of Information in Search - Measuring the Cost of Success: This one got published in Sep 2009, and was discussed by you. The problem in this paper is mainly the abuse of the WEASEL-algorithm.
    2. The Search for a Search - Measuring the Information Cost of Higher Level Search This one isn't published yet: Dembski claimed in an interview with Casey Luskin on Oct 15, 2009, that it would be published soon. This is the paper I discussed, using a draft which was available via R. Marks homepage
    I can't imagine how the second paper could pass peer-review - there are serious mathematical inconsistencies:
    1. their model of a search just models a single guess
    2. the integral they use in Theorem IV.1 Conservation of Uniformity seems to be ill formed, as the integrand doesn't take values in a Banach space, but only in a metric space - without a vector space structure...

  • Dave Gregoire says:

    This is I guess, a response to Joshua in comment 22.
    Every once in a while I get sick of the across the board condemnation of religion. It IS understandable since the only people making news are the nut cases. But please keep in mind that if they weren't religious nut cases they'd be some other kind of nut cases. I'd recommend the following link for an examination of the authoritarian mind:
    As a counter example, and I suspect it is not as rare as the intellectual community believes, I had 13 years of Catholic education (K through high school). In natural history classes, in undifferentiated science classes and specifically in biology, evolution was presented as a scientific fact. Period. No ID doodles of any sort. Creation as a religious event was taught in religion classes and while religion classes were mandatory, they were "religiously" kept separate from science.
    Of course all of this happened in what the religious right seems to think were the dark ages immediately following Vatican II which never came to fruition as conceived and which the right has been diligently working to roll back ever since.
    In the end, this educational schizophrenia left me with one abiding core belief: everything we think we know has limits and is subject to correction at all times therefore don't turn science into religion and don't try to reconcile religion with science. Mythic truths are nonetheless truths, but they are not history.

  • william e emba says:

    In the humanities, copyright infringement has been used to suppress criticism for some decades now. Perhaps the most notorious abuser is Stephen Joyce, grandson of James Joyce.

  • Dave, I'm confused. What does that have at all to do with my original comment? The comment in question was in regards to Amish practicies. I fail to see how this constitutes an across the board condemnation of religion or anything else like that.

  • Kristine says:

    It's all DaveScot's fault! Didn't he promise to put a big copyright message on every page at UD to protect them from such infringement? *snigger* It was serendipitous that that all happened at the same time that we were discussing copyright and fair use in class! Holy crap, did the whole class laugh when I had them check out UD's website rant about the Google delisting!
    More fun, fun, fun from the Disco Boys. I scream, you scream, we all scream for Dembskream.

  • complex field says:

    My favorite part of the thread, Dembski writes to a commenter:
    johnnyb: Where are you getting that adding commentary somehow absolves people from copying vast portions of text? If I tried that with C. S. Lewis’s writings, his estate would be on me in a heartbeat. Do you have a reference to copyright law?
    Ummm....Section 107 of the copyright law, which states:
    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a
    copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords
    or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism,
    comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use),
    scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
    Dembski Fail.

  • Brian says:

    I liked this part: "A real scientist, scholar, or researcher welcomes critism."
    Because I have to say, it doesn't get any worse than giving a talk that you put hours into preparing and getting absolutely *no* questions.

  • Zack Ross says:

    Aren’t we all polemicists? Our purpose may be for scholar, but honestly don’t we all want to be right? If it is something we truly believe in then it will push us to do whatever it takes for others to know and understand what we believe. Don’t call the man a polemicist, he believes he has a valuable opinion that others strongly disagree with. He is like a lamb in a lion’s den. I’m thankful because many people in ID community are uneducated people who hold to their claims blindly. Dembski has explored and researched the claims he makes. People may strongly disagree with his claims, but at least he’s doing his homework and causing people to talk about them.
    I like Pascal’s wager at the end of the day. If you are right concerning ID then I have nothing to lose. I’ve lived my life in a way to put others first and help those in need. I believe that a designer has placed his design in motion here on this earth and I’ve found a purpose for enjoying my part in his design. For some they will say that promoting and pursuing science has given them a purpose and reason for living, but my concern in believing what I do is there are many people who are pursuing things that have only an earthly existence and I believe I’m living for something eternal. The greatest peace and hope I’ve ever known is modeling my life after Christ and making him known. The world calls me crazy, but I’ve not been called to the wisdom of this world.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    No. Some of us are scientists.
    Dembski is a liar. He doesn't have an "opinion" that he tries to support. He has a religious belief, and he deliberately lies in order to convince people to accept his religion. He may have nothing but the purest motives for doing it - but he's still a liar.
    As I've said plenty of times on this blog: I'm a religious Jew. I'm not opposed to Dembski because he advocates theism. That's a perfectly legitimate thing to do. It's not something that I think is worth doing, but if it's what he wants to do, that's fine.
    What's not fine is lying. What's not fine is representing your work as proving something that you know it doesn't prove. Look at what Dembski said about the infamous "weasel" thing. First, he has for years misrepresented it. He knows he's misrepresenting it. But he insists on continuing to do it, because it gives him the appearance of being able to make a more compelling critique of Dawkins than he would otherwise. He knows he wrong. He knows his critique is rubbish. He knows that he's telling a lies. But he doesn't care.
    What's not fine is suing someone to silence them, because they're exposing the errors that you made. Dembski and Marks put together a remarkably sloppy paper - and when someone did an honest critique showing them their errors, how did they respond?
    A scientist would respond by looking to see if the critique was correct. If it was, they would correct their work. If the critique was wrong, they would respond to it, showing the errors in the critique. That's how scientists work. Sometimes the arguments get heated - but they remain scientific arguments. D&M didn't do that. They completely ignored the critique of their errors. What they did was try to use the legal system to erase the critique, so that they could continue to pretend that their work had no errors.
    That's disgraceful.
    Let me give you two personal examples of how I've responded to criticisms - one from my professional work, and one from this blog.
    When I first started working at IBM, my first project was an interesting attempt at doing a kind of type analysis of declarations in programming languages to identify equivalent declarations in different languages, and then generate distributed systems code to allow programs written in different languages to communicate. When we had some nice results, we wrote a paper, and submitted it to a distributed systems conference. When the reviews came back, it turned out that we'd missed a bunch of related work done by people in the type theory community. How did we handle it? We got in touch with some of the type theory people, learned about what they were doing, modified our approach based on what we learned from them, and rewrote the paper. The rewritten paper got published about a year later. And we got some negative feedback on it, because some readers thought that our approach was incorrect - we would often end up concluding equivalence for structures that looked similar, but were semantically very different. Some of the criticism was very harsh. How did we respond? By explaining that they were absolutely correct, but that we deliberately opted for the weak form of equivalence, because our starting point was always a programmers assertion that the types were equivalent; we were just verifying what they said. The cases of erroneous equivalence were cases where programmers wouldn't assert equivalence. (The point of this long story is: we got multiple rounds of criticism, some of it quite harsh. When we made mistakes, we admitted it, and corrected them. When we thought that the critics were wrong, we responded by explaining why. Not by suing them, ignoring them, or mocking them.)
    On this blog, I've made tons of mistakes. My worst one involved the infamous "downwind faster than the wind". I viciously mocked the guys who claimed to have demonstrated a DWFTW vehicle. How did they respond? Did they sue me for calling them idiots? Nope - they presented a reasoned argument for why I was wrong, and convinced me. So I publicly apologized to them.
    That's how scientists work. We don't like to be wrong. But when we are criticized, we look at the criticism in an honest way, and if it's correct, we admit it. If it's wrong, we explain why. We don't ignore it; and we don't try to use the legal system to silence it.

  • His remarks are entirely directed to the prospect of having his work edited without his knowledge. That isn't the same as refuting or responding to refutes of his work. He simply wants them to use what he wrote or give him a way to remove it entirely.

  • No, wait! I'm wrong! He doesn't like the way the person doing the refuting used huge quotes from his paper in the refutation and wants to remove his article entirely, but can't find any contact information to do so.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    If he was concerned that they'd edited his work, he could have pointed to where they changed it. But they didn't - they presented his words, verbatim, with their commentary clearly separated from his. And his original complaint threatening the suit said nothing about their editing his work.
    In addition, he doesn't even have the legal right to threaten that suit! Standard practice for scientific journals - including the journal that published the paper in question - is that the author signs over his copyright to the publisher.
    I can't even give people copies of some of the papers that I wrote - because the publisher holds the copyright, and they won't allow me to.
    Dembski signed over his copyright; he no longer has any legal right to complain about unauthorized reproduction; only the legal copyright holder has that right. And they haven't complained.
    As usual, Dembski is talking out his ass. He got called on his incredibly sleazy behavior in trying to silence critics, and now he's trying to cover up for that.

  • James Sweet says:

    Dunno why the long response to @30, Mark. Anybody who evokes Pascal's Wager with a straight face has had his or her critical thinking circuits vaporized.
    I like to respond with PayPal's Wager: I assert that it is true that there is a very strange God who will send everyone to burn in hell for all eternity, except those who deposit ten bucks in my PayPal account. Now, if you comply, but I turn out to be wrong, then you're only out a measly ten bucks. So what, right? But if you refuse to comply and it turns out that I am right, then it's lake o' fire time for you.
    Therefore, by logic parallel to that of Pascal's Wager, you must deposit $10 in my PayPal account. I'll be waiting.

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