Thursday, November 02, 2006

What ID wasn't

A comment at a blog I frequent just gave me reason to search back through history to find a mock journal I once produced. The subject: what an actual mathematical discovery of Intelligent Design would have looked like. On rereading, it's mostly still good, so I'm copying it here for safe keeping.

January 2006: First draft of paper completed.

February 2006: Paper discussed with supervisor in depth. Minor alterations made to strengthen the argument with respect to some pathological cases. Supervisor points out that one section is irrelevant, so it's removed. Extra section added to eliminate previously unconsidered option.

March 2006: Paper now 100% ready. Submitted it to prestigious mathematics journal.

May 2006: Finally heard back from journal. Paper rejected by reviewer with a snarky comment about an error in section 3. Will get back to this once I've finished grading exam scripts.

June 2006: Paper corrected and resubmitted.

July 2006: Paper accepted.

August 2006: Paper finally published. Almost immediately am contacted by three people who think I'm badly wrong, but it turns out to be a result of printer's error. Another objection comes in, this one valid. Get contacted by rather confused-sounding journalist - local newspaper prints short article. Remaining mail is mainly positive, includes compliments on novel use of Zorn's Lemma and a request that I give a seminar.

September 2006: Figure out how to bypass the valid objection, write up as paper, submit to journal. This one gets in without much trouble - the reviewer responded impressively quickly. Give seminar, attendees seem bored but perk up quickly when I mention the implications for bioinformatics. Much use of photocopier afterwards.

November 2006: New paper published, get mildly snowed under with email. Minor mention on BBC website. Start getting crank calls complaining about inferred attempt to "know the mind of God".

December 2006: Paper discussed on popular evolutionary biology forum, attempted rebuttal by resident mathematician. Engage in short debate about Axiom of Choice, opponent concedes defeat. Asked to give rundown on implications for biology. Asked to comment on genetic algorithms and evolutionary simulations, explain why result doesn't apply to these. Asked about falsifiability, explain how the approach used permits "interventions" to be pinned down and analysed. Implication is that detailed hypotheses can be developed - no "big tent" for us!

January 2007: Story picked up by New Scientist (they misspelled my name of course). Crank calls increase in volume. Am forced to get new email address. Research group formed to discuss results, seems promising. Story picked up by Guardian and Sun ("Egghead Explodes Evolution").

Two vitriolic attempted rebuttals, one on a biology blog claiming I'm wrong and one from the Design Institute complaining I'm stealing their idea. One of my new postgrads does a detailed rebuttal of the biology blog one, then writes the central thesis up as a formal paper. He'll go far, if he doesn't waste too much time on the internet.

Asked to speak in Cambridge, Oxford, Hull. Accept the Cambridge and Hull offers.

Accept offer to speak at local evangelical event. Get booed off stage after using phrases "outmoded superstition" and "put the Designer under the microscope".

March 2007: Research group expanded, having to turn away applicants. Promoted. Awarded three honorary doctorates. Still getting the crank calls, but not so much email. Postgrad figures out chemical signature apparently associated with "interventions". MIT researcher uses modified cladistic technique to pinpoint exact dates of interventions, turns out there are 6 detectable ones.

April 2007: Am contacted by geologist specialising in trace mineral concentrations of post-Cambrian strata, with comment about a strange hydrocarbon found at approximate dates of interventions. Do joint paper for Nature - accepted almost immediately.

June 2007: Contacted by NASA - apparently the trace hydrocarbon appears as a byproduct of an experimental low-orbit propulsion system they've been working on for two years. Asked to keep things under wraps for a couple of weeks til they can get the patent application sorted out.

Two new research groups formed to work parallel to our group. Friendly rivalry emerges, regular collaboration on papers defuses possible tension. Particular focus on what exact biological structures are results of intervention. Am happy to say that we regularly steal their best postgrads.

July 2007: Propulsion story leaked to Sun ("Alien Conspiracy!"). Seems everyone is talking about our research. Minor riots in several areas, university burned down in Iran (quote of the day: "they will either contradict the Quran, so they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous"). Research endorsed by Raelians, criticised by Scientologists (their objection is something about Xenu and volcanoes).

August 2007: Richard Dawkins sends me heartfelt gratitude for "proving me wrong all these years", plus early draft of new book "Of Alleles And Astronauts". Am apparently the subject of a fatwa by prominent Saudi cleric. More crank calls, death threats etc (much repetition of "I ain't no alien experiment").

Nominated for Fields Medal, Nobel Prize.

Early 2008: NASA funding increased, ESA funding increased, competition to be first in locating a Designer artifact heats up. International conference of biochemistry convened to discuss plausible techniques used by Designers. Conference a great success - "design signature" chemical turns out to effectively immobilise DNA, allowing for detailed biomolecular surgery. Nanoengineers gatecrash, start discussing applications for solar panels.

Mid 2008: Awarded professorship at Cambridge. Best part: no bloody undergrads to deal with. Take sabbatical before accepting position, work on book (no doubt it'll be outsold by Dawkins, but a man's gotta try). Title: "A Brief History of Slime". Give guest lectures in Japan, Russia, America, New Zealand. Disney attempts to buy movie rights, but I cut them off when they mention changing the name to "The Eternal Triangle".

Now have three full-time bodyguards to guard against:
a) pissed-off religious folk
b) freaked-out nonreligious folk
c) alien-related death cults

Late 2008: Alien structure discovered on Mars. Martial law declared in South Carolina in aftermath. Rush by world's engineers to examine the finds is intense. One engineer attempts to shorten the waiting list by judicious assassination.

One of the artifacts turns out to be some sort of faster-than-light conveyance. This is going to be interesting...


I think I'll end there, given that it's getting quite long enough. I guess the moral of the story is that, if you prove that evolution didn't happen, it doesn't stop there. Saying "we've disproved evolution, yet we have absolutely no interest in trying to find out what did actually happen" is a fairly reprehensible attitude from anyone claiming to be a scientist.

Quite apart from anything else, this was extremely fun to write. There may be a science fiction story in it somewhere. Thanks to Andrew Rowell for the inspiration.

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