Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 28, 2011

Mistakes in Science Apparently Means Creationism Is True


I realize I haven’t posted in a few weeks other than for my podcast. Busy, blah blah blah. Anyway …

The post today centers around yet another Institute for Creation Research (ICR) article, this one by Christine Dao, their assistant editor. I’m not quite sure for what she is the assistant editor, but that’s her title. The article is, “Mistakes and Misconduct in Science.” Peter over at “Eye on the ICR” has already talked about some of the details of this latest piece of young-Earth creationism (YEC) propaganda and I suggest you read it if you’re interested in a detailed picking apart of the article. (He gets up crazy-early to write about these things. Or maybe it’s just ’cause he’s on the other side of the planet from me.)

The reason I’m doing a post on it is that I want to talk more about the process of how science works, how it is conducted, the self-correcting nature, and how this is the opposite of creationism.

Crux of the Nature Report

Ms. Dao’s basic premise is a recent Nature report entitled, “Science Publishing: The Trouble with Retractions” (unlike most articles, this one seems free to the public to read, so go ahead and follow the link to read it).

The report (the point of which the ICR article misses) really talks mostly about attitudes among journals and journal editors with regards to retractions and the reasons for retractions. It also mentioned some numbers — mainly that the number of retractions these days is around 0.02% of all papers published. And that in one week alone, around 27,000 papers are published. That means, if we multiply by about 52, over 1.4 million papers are published in scientific journals each year, and 2,800 of those will eventually be retracted.


Crux of the ICR Article

Ms. Dao seems to make a really big issue of this tiny number. She blows it way out of proportion – as I’ve shown YECs are wont to do – and somehow says that because there are a tiny number of retractions, with a small percentage of those due to fraud, this means that evolution is wrong. I’m serious. Go read her last two paragraphs if you don’t believe me.

Scientific Process

Something that Ms. Dao either does not know or willfully ignores is that scientists know this. We know that not 100% – or 99.98% – of papers published in journals are going to bear the test of time and further research. No scientist thinks that. In my undergraduate education, we would have a weekly seminar in the astronomy department where we read a paper and discussed it and decided whether or not we thought the results were valid.

This is something called critical thinking where you analyze things and decide whether or not they make sense in light of all the other observable evidence. Probably the reason Ms. Dao chooses to ignore this is because YEC does not hold up to critical thinking, but more on that in the next section.

In fact, far from 100% of published papers being “right,” various studies have shown that at least 30-40% of them will later be falsified based upon new data, observations, experiments, and theory. This is not a secret. It’s how science works. It is self-correcting over time because everything is subject to further testing and independent analysis.

Creationism Process


Creationism Process, Expanded

I’ve used this diagram before in a lengthy post on the scientific method, but it bears repeating here:

Flow Cart Showing the Scientific Method

Flow Chart Showing Faith-Based 'Science'

The flow chart shows the basic process that most biblical literalists use to vet new information. They may get an idea, or hear of something. Let’s use a young-Earth creationist mainstay, Earth’s magnetic field (previous blog on this, podcast on this). Data shows that Earth’s field has gone through reversals in polarity at many points in the past. The data is clearly out there for anyone to examine, and it is unambiguous that crustal rocks record a flip-flopping magnetic field.

Now, does it fit in the Bible? Creationists such as Kent Hovind say that it does not. The result is that alternating magnetic fields are simply not possible. To quote him: “That’s simply baloney [that there are magnetic reversals in the rocks]. There are no ‘reversed polarity areas’ unless it’s where rocks flipped over when the fountains of the deep broke open. … This is a lie talking about magnetic ‘reversals.'” (Taken from his Creation Science Evangelism series, DVD 6:1.)

Alternatively, Russell Humphreys, of Answers in Genesis, accepts that there have been magnetic reversals, as he is able to fit it into a reading of the Bible. He explains the field reversals as rapidly taking place during the 40 24-hr days of Noah’s Flood. Hence, because they are able to fit it into the Bible, they accept it as a dogma.

Creationism Retractions?

Ms. Dao makes much ado about almost nothing in terms of retractions in scientific literature. Something she doesn’t tell you are how many retractions there have been in the creationist literature. Obviously the Bible has never been retracted, except for those books that aren’t accepted (like the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, or the Book of Ezekial). But I’m talking things like the articles the ICR, AiG, or CMI puts out that I and many others have picked to shreds over the years. Or perhaps their own journals, like the ARJ (Answers Research Journal) or the Journal of Creation. Any retractions?

The most I have ever seen is AiG’s list of “Arguments Creationists Should Avoid, which CMI copied and expanded, or when Brian Thomas of the ICR changed his article based, perhaps, on my criticisms (see the post-script in that blog post).

In fact, far from a retraction, Creation Ministries International still has its article by Andrew Snelling entitled, “Solar Neutrinos – the Critical Shortfall Still Elusive” that discusses the solar neutrino “problem.” (For information on this, see my blog post on it.) The article is still in its online index for their Journal of Creation with no indication that it was retracted. The only thing you get is in the HTML version where the editor notes that the argument was valid for the time but “that the shortfall problem seems to have been solved. Therefore creationists should no longer use this as an ‘age’ argument.” If that’s what passes for a retraction, these guys should run for Congress.

Final Thoughts

Yes, maybe half of papers published in journals now will be found later on to not be valid in the light of further study. This is true. This does not mean that evolution is not true. It means that creationists would do better to understand a topic before attempting to criticize it if they care at all about intellectual honesty. But that’s a different blog post …



  1. You’ll find that these articles actually come out at midnight from the point of view of the ICR – 11pm to you, I believe – which currently translates to 7pm for me. Also, it’s now summer holidays here.
    On a related subject, guess what this latest one is about?

    Comment by eyeonicr — November 28, 2011 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, I remember you mentioning that, I just figured some humorous pseudo-rivalry would be … humorous? Christine’s latest article that you link to appears to be milking the Nature report for another ICR article, and it basically says the same thing as the first. The point is slightly different, though. Her point is yet another non-secret: Textbooks suck. The problems with grade-school -level textbooks is reasonably well known in the education community and it has been featured at least twice in the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. She also mentioned museum exhibits, which I actually did one post about before.

      So yeah, that article again basically boils down to, “Look, ‘science’ has made mistakes before, therefore evolution is wrong!”

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 28, 2011 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

      • Speak for your own textbooks 😛
        It’s interesting that she uses the examples that she does, eg that horse quote…

        Comment by eyeonicr — November 28, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

      • Okay, so there is an issue with “USAian” textbooks used in middle and high schools to teach science. Issues of out-dated information, plagiarism, and basic outright mistakes.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 28, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

  2. The ‘made mistakes = wrong’ argument is very much at the heart of much of creationism and I think its almost inevitable that any challenge to creationist assumptions and the evidence of science will end up at this dead end.

    The trouble is, many creationists are so taken in with the argument that there thinking gets all muddled up at this point and the points you make about the self correcting nature of science struggles to be understood. I know that in my YEC past I made those same arguments and when the scientific process was continually explained, I either wouldn’t pay attention or simply couldn’t grasp why what they were saying contradicted what I was saying and that I was wrong.

    It took a long time for the truth of this to sink in, but when that happened my creationism evapourated. I think this could be the reason for my problems, I understood that if I was wrong and they were right, then it meant that so much of what I thought was true, was wrong. That was a very big thing indeed.

    I see this fallacy pushed by YECs and it does my head in. Now I understand why people got so heated with me when I used those same arguments!

    Comment by limey — November 29, 2011 @ 11:31 am | Reply

    • Hey limey, I’m curious if you know a good way to approach this to appeal to more creationists? I realize in this blog that probably 80% of people who read it agree with me, maybe 15% are on the fence, and then 5% read it just for the same reasons I listen to Coast to Coast or read the creationist news sites. I’d like to try to write it in a way that may convince a few more other people of the actual science – is that possible?

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 30, 2011 @ 1:10 am | Reply

      • Hi Stuart,

        Its an obvious question and the answer is probably a blog post in itself. Its probably best summarised with the phrase “don’t be a dick” 😉

        For me, well meaning friends calling me all sorts of shades of stupid when I made the fallacies above was definitely a set back and caused me to entrench in my position. I now understand the frustration that caused the insults, but insults do a not a convincing argument make.

        What worked for me was a personal challenge to increase my scientific understanding, it started with listening to stuff I wanted to listen to, like astronomy podcasts and sceptical podcasts. There was a lot of anti-christian sentiment that I have to shut my mind to, but I did it because I was interested in science. Eventually the understanding came and my faith was lost. It was a three year journey for me.

        My advice when having discussions with creationists is to respect the person first and then discuss the issue with that respect in mind. If they feel respected by you and you are polite and concise, then you will be respected back and they will likely appreciate the discussion all the more for it.

        Also, take the long view. No one will ever be convinced to make such a huge mental leap in a single conversation, your conversation might be a small stepping stone on a long road and you may never know if you have helped at all. However, that has got to be better than the satisfaction that you have pissed off another creationist and made no impact on their scientific misunderstanding at all.

        Finally, be specific in conversations, its all too easy to get sidetracked and the conversation to meander away. Keep to the specific topic under discussion and make sure the points are made that they misunderstand. Don;t let the subject move away and distract.

        I hope that is of some use.

        Comment by limey — November 30, 2011 @ 9:14 am

  3. […] DpSU was also by Dao and is again about how, in the words of Dr Robbins, Mistakes in Science Apparently Means Creationism Is True. Her new article is called More Transparency Needed in Science Textbooks, Museums, and applies the […]

    Pingback by Mistakes Were Made, Part 2 « Eye on the ICR — November 30, 2011 @ 1:04 am | Reply

  4. I made just for fun a retraction/publication table where I got number of retractions from Peter “Eye on the ICR” plot. Dont know where that plot comes from though. And got the number of entries in pubmed by year. I get it to less than 0.02% in pubmed

    year retractions publications [retractions/publications( *e-05 )]
    2009 300 864508 34.702 ~ 0.00035%
    2005 75 695113 10.790
    2001 25 542928 46.047
    1997 50 451990 11.062
    1993 25 451990 5.5311
    1989 10 398749 2.5078
    1985 <10 331937 <3.0126
    1981 <10 280798 <3.5613
    1977 <10 260538 <3.8382

    Comment by Sparx — November 30, 2011 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

    • This didn’t line up that well =( sorry

      Comment by Sparx — November 30, 2011 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

    • The graph is from the Nature report that I linked to.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 30, 2011 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  5. Sorry again… I’m really tired… That should be 0.035% i think.

    Comment by Sparx — November 30, 2011 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  6. […] is a short follow-up to my last post, “Mistakes in Science Apparently Means Creationism Is True.” In that fine piece of blogging, I talked some about how science is a process where we […]

    Pingback by A Follow-Up on How Science Works versus Creationism « Exposing PseudoAstronomy — November 30, 2011 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  7. […] have decided to create this post in response to a question asked me by Stuart on his blog here (https://pseudoastro.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/mistakes-in-science-apparently-means-creationism-is-true…).  Stuart’s blog is an excellent resource against pseudo astronomy and his associated podcast is […]

    Pingback by How to argue with a Creationist « Confessions Of A YEC — December 7, 2011 @ 7:42 am | Reply

  8. Let’s say for the sake of argument that we came across something (or a lot of somethings) that discredits evolution. That doesn’t mean that the Christian creation myth (or any creation myth) is suddenly true. It just means that we’re back to “We don’t know. Time to start gathering data and evidence to form a new hypothesis…”

    Comment by KPatterson — December 21, 2011 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

  9. Hey I notice something or other about ‘Climatology’ and, although everybody knows it by now, about 5 of those more famous climatology people got caught. Michael Mann’s statistics were found to be spitting hockey sticks by one of his colleagues who ran 1,000 iterations with calibration noise.

    Also remember: the source of the whole global warming hoax was the very people found now, hiding everything they can shred.

    Al Gore, creationist, is their cheerleader; it’s literally a case of an entire generation of science illiterates, believing a creationist who said a man who couldn’t do college statistics right is one of the smartest men in the world: then, telling everybody they have to stop using fire because the Creationist-in-Chief – Al Gore – told the world civilization’s going to end.

    Turns out there’s a whole constellation pun not intended – of things that never panned out with the Al Gore creationist science expedition into carbon sin apocalypse.

    The tropospheric hotspot still hasn’t appeared, and that’s instant null for Greenhouse Gas Theory: not to be mistaken for the real effect, Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect.

    Another one of those claims that never panned out was that with manmade gases going ever up in volume, the amount of atmospheric infrared downwelling would rise.

    It dropped; at least 3 out of 4 seasons. Someone released a study result from measuring C02-spectrum atmospheric downwelling that had lasted 14 years. It was in the United States Midwest which as everybody knows is ground zero for greenhouse gas theory.

    There were others too. I looked back over it when the second batch of those emails somebody stole and published came out. The infrared astronomy field could verify the greenhouse gas effect in one fell swoop: just show slides of 50 years ago, 25, and today, and show rising infrared in the atmosphere due to earth-spectrum emissions.

    They’ve never said anything which means nothing’s happening either. Yet another group – the group of people who helped Einstein settle relativity – the optical astronomy field – aren’t saying a word about the rising heat in the atmosphere, distorting viewing.

    Again: all these are mandatories for the Al Gore Creationist Science Circus. So unless there really IS a magical force from a mystical dimension steering the weather which I have no doubt is NOT happening –

    global warming’s a scam whose time has come. If you don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of the tracks, it’ll do you some good – whomever the reader, not addressing the author above – to get yourself on the correct side of the scientific tracks; because it’s not going to be 10 more years before these guys find themselves being out-written by the people they’ve been, apparently, bullying with their government job pulpits.

    I came here looking for information on evolutionary theory vs creationism; nice place you’ve got here I like the general tone of separating dogma from actual science, I’m a two-way telecommunications repair technician and have been since 1989. I finished two private vocational schools and wound up with about three years’ electronic engineering centered around wireless (that’s electromagnetic energy transmission, capture, a term called ‘detection’ which is picking the signal out of the noise, and analysis, and around instrumentation associated with the control of various things, mostly for government.

    There’s no question Al Gore scored a bad miss when he got himself into the science field, so – for all of you who are interested in politics, and ‘consensus’ becoming the modern creationism: people simply creating myth out of thin air –

    it will be very enlightening for you to see how Al Gore, trying to recoup some losses in cash and prestige, simply going on an environmental movie tour to re-finance himself and stay busy, accidentally shined a very bright light on what had been a rather mediocre funding scam and, eventually bringing himself and the people who he made temporarily famous, down.

    Anyway; love your site, I have had many of these creationism vs science arguments with people through the years myself.

    Comment by Digitapolis — December 24, 2011 @ 5:49 pm | Reply

  10. Wall Street Journal (and I do not believe WSJ is a Creationist organization) was one of the first to carry the article pointing out that a lot of scientific studies in the last few years has contained mistakes. It’s a little dishonest to pass this off as some kind of Creationist attempt at debunking evolution or whatnot. Science is not always right about every thing all the time.

    Comment by Daisy — October 19, 2013 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

    • Daisy, perhaps you did not understand the purpose of my post. Please re-read it. I was responding to a particular article on a young-Earth creationist website, not saying that only people who point out problems with science are creationists.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — October 20, 2013 @ 9:04 am | Reply

  11. Dr. Robbins, I’ve read a few of your posts, and I think I see one of the problems you have in reading and responding to the ICR and AiG posts. You fundamentally misunderstand their nature, and therefore judge them by an inappropriate standard. This is not because you are dumb (you clearly are not), but because you are not in their target audience and apparently haven’t considered who *is*, so the purpose is opaque to you.

    These articles are written to readers who ARE believers but who ARE NOT scientists, or at least are not experts in the field being covered. Since you fit neither description, you are coming at them from the exact opposite perspective, and you therefore miss the import. Not only do they lack the detail and rigor that you would enjoy, they are not written to convince either the undecided or opponents of their worldview. They do not purport to prove creation true, but to demonstrate it to be defensible.

    No one has time to become expert in everything, so we all have to trust other people to do our thinking for us in many areas of life. And the fewer entities one has to trust, the easier life is (the less checking one has to do). For many people in the past, the Church and/or the king served that role. In modern times, Science(tm) does that for many people. They do not realize that science is always tentative, since their knowledge of current scientific developments comes mainly from headlines (which lack nuance). So, the point of many of these posts is not, as you claim, “Science makes mistakes, therefore you should believe Creation” (going on offense), but something more like, “Science makes mistakes, so their popular pronouncements should not be taken as gospel truth, therefore we can still believe in Creation” (a very defensive stance).

    I think if you evaluate these articles on their own terms, rather than by what you assume them to be trying to accomplish, you’ll find them more understandable and less frustrating.

    Comment by Webster — August 25, 2015 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

    • Hi Webster— I think that you miss the point of this post (and potentially others). While some of my original posts were to really figure out what I’m doing on this blog, this one follows along the lines of “How can I use an example of Where Thinking Went Wrong to illustrate the real way we do things in science?” This provided an excellent example of that to show how science works versus non-science, and also to explain to the lay public who may get caught up in a sensational headline about retractions that this does not mean all of science is flawed.

      In these, I’m almost never addressing the claimants themselves, for they will never be convinced (i.e., I do not expect to convince any YECs that science shows they are wrong). I’m trying to speak to fence-sitters who are genuinely trying to understand both sides, and I’m speaking to those who already don’t believe the YEC but are not scientists and don’t understand retraction and other things about the process.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 25, 2015 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

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