Dr. John Ioannidis and the Reality of Research

I mentioned Dr. John Ioannidis a number of times in Genesis and Genes, as well as in several posts. A reader has kindly referred me to an excellent article about Dr. Ioannidis that appeared in The Atlantic.[1] Below are some pertinent points from the article, interspersed with my comments.

David H. Freedman, who wrote the article in The Atlantic, notes that “Medical research is not especially plagued with wrongness. Other meta-research experts[2] have confirmed that similar issues distort research in all fields of science, from physics to economics (where the highly regarded economists J. Bradford DeLong and Kevin Lang once showed how a remarkably consistent paucity of strong evidence in published economics studies made it unlikely that any of them were right).”

Understanding the factors that can distort research is a crucial step in becoming an informed consumer of science. Below, we look at some issues that are raised in the Atlantic article, and suggest how they may be relevant to other fields of science.

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John Ioannidis may be one of the most influential – and popular – scientists today. In 2005, he published a paper in PLoS [Public Library of Science] Medicine that remains the most downloaded in the journal’s history. He has published papers with 1,328 different co-authors at 538 institutions in 43 countries. In 2009 he received, by his estimate, invitations to speak at 1,000 conferences and institutions around the world. Ioannidis is one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in peer-reviewed published studies – conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fibre or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain – is misleading, exaggerated, and often just wrong. Ioannidis charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed.

In the PLoS Medicine paper, Ioannidis laid out a detailed mathematical proof that, assuming modest levels of researcher bias, typically imperfect research techniques, and the tendency to focus on exciting rather than plausible theories, medical researchers will come up with wrong findings most of the time. His model predicted, in different fields of medical research, rates of wrongness roughly corresponding to the observed rates at which findings were later convincingly refuted: 80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials. [Vioxx, Zelnorm, and Baycol were among the widely prescribed drugs found to be safe and effective in large randomized controlled trials before the drugs were yanked from the market as unsafe or not so effective, or both.] The article articulated Ioannidis’ conclusion that researchers were frequently manipulating data analyses, chasing career-advancing findings rather than good science, and using the peer-review process to suppress unpopular views. These are all phenomena that are well-known to informed consumers of science, but still invisible, to a significant extent, to the general public.

In a seminal paper that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ioannidis zoomed in on 49 of the most highly regarded research findings in medicine over the previous 13 years, as judged by the science community’s two standard measures: the papers had appeared in the journals most widely cited in research articles, and the 49 articles themselves were the most widely cited articles in these journals. These were articles that helped lead to the widespread popularity of treatments such as the use of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, vitamin E to reduce the risk of heart disease, coronary stents to ward off heart attacks, and daily low-dose aspirin to control blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes. Of the 49 articles, 45 claimed to have uncovered effective interventions. Thirty-four of these claims had been retested, and 14 of these, or 41 percent, had been convincingly shown to be wrong or significantly exaggerated. So a large fraction of the most acclaimed research in medicine is untrustworthy.

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There are many reasons for the dismal record of medical research, and we shall only consider a few factors. Ioannidis suggests that the desperate quest for research grants has gone a long way toward weakening the reliability of medical research. Readers of Genesis and Genes will recall the passage from Seed:

Cash-for-science practices between the nutrition and drug companies and the academics that conduct their research may also be playing a role. A survey of published results on beverages earlier this year found that research sponsored by industry is much more likely to report favorable findings than papers with other sources of funding. Although not a direct indication of bias, findings like these feed suspicion that the cherry-picking of data, hindrance of negative results, or adjustment of research is surreptitiously corrupting accuracy. In his essay, Ioannidis wrote, “The greater the financial and other interest and prejudices in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.”[3]

In The Atlantic article, Ioannidis is blunt about one important factor in this situation. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results – and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective and rigorous, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, sometimes unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.” The fact that financial conflicts of interest are a feature of contemporary science is familiar to readers of Genesis and Genes:

I randomly pulled out from my shelf an issue of Scientific American. It happened to be the September 23, 2004 issue. It carried this announcement, made by the Center for Science in the Public Interest: “Some scientists and consumer advocates have called for a re-evaluation of studies that led to lower cholesterol guidelines. Among other concerns: eight of nine authors of the recommendations had ties to firms that make cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.” This is a thoroughly typical news item in science magazines. This particular note was so ordinary that it warranted all of a tiny mention on page 17. Anyone who reads science publications will periodically come across such items.

Ioannidis says that perhaps only a minority of researchers were succumbing to this type of bias, but their distorted findings were having an outsize effect on published research. To get funding and tenured positions, and often merely to stay afloat, researchers have to get their work published in well-regarded journals, where rejection rates can climb above 90 percent. Not surprisingly, the studies that tend to make the grade are those with eye-catching findings. But while coming up with eye-catching theories is relatively easy, getting reality to bear them out is another matter. The great majority collapse under the weight of contradictory data when studied rigorously. Imagine, though, that five different research teams test an interesting theory that’s making the rounds, and four of the groups correctly prove the idea false, while the single less cautious group incorrectly “proves” it true through some combination of error, fluke, and clever selection of data. Guess whose findings your doctor ends up reading about in the journal?

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Another issue discussed by Ioannidis is the process of peer-review. The average member of the public (who is, needless to say, not an informed consumer of science) considers peer-review to be a magic pill. Peer-review is supposed to be an objective process, manned by referees who have no personal stake in the research they are reviewing, and who have all the time in the world to devote to carefully checking other peoples’ results. The real world, alas, is a little less rosy. Biased, erroneous, and even blatantly fraudulent studies easily slip through peer-review. In a 2006 editorial, Nature stated that “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.”

Furthermore, the peer-review process often pressures researchers to shy away from striking out in genuinely new directions, and instead to build on the findings of their colleagues – that is, their potential reviewers – in ways that only seem like breakthroughs. One example is the glut of hyped papers touting gene linkages (autism genes identified!) and nutritional findings (olive oil lowers blood pressure!) that are plain dubious.

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Here is one example of a point made by Ioannidis in the context of medical research which is applicable to palaeontology. Ioannidis says, “Even when the evidence shows that a particular research idea is wrong, if you have thousands of scientists who have invested their careers in it, they’ll continue to publish papers on it. It’s like an epidemic, in the sense that they’re infected with these wrong ideas, and they’re spreading it to other researchers through journals.”

This phenomenon will be familiar to readers of Genesis and Genes. In the section on the alleged evolution of dinosaurs to birds, I discussed the work of researchers like Professor John A. Ruben of Oregon State University, whose work casts heavy doubt on the reigning paradigm. I wrote:

The Science Daily report from which these quotations are taken continues: “The conclusions [of the Oregon State University researchers] add to other… evidence that may finally force many palaeontologists to reconsider their long-held belief that modern birds are the direct descendants of ancient, meat-eating dinosaurs…” Professor Ruben adds, “But old theories die hard, especially when it comes to some of the most distinctive and romanticized animal species in world history.” He continues, “Frankly, there’s a lot of museum politics involved in this, a lot of careers committed to a particular point of view even if new scientific evidence raises questions.”

Furthermore, Ioannidis found that even when a research error is publicised, it typically persists for years or even decades. He looked at three prominent health studies from the 1980s and 1990s that were each later soundly refuted, and discovered that researchers continued to cite the original results as correct more often than as flawed – in one case for at least 12 years after the results were discredited.

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Early in his career, Ioannidis was disabused of the notion that mechanisms like randomized trials and double-blind studies were magic wands that ensure infallibility. In poring over medical journals, Ioannidis was struck by how many findings of all types were refuted by later findings. This is particularly visible in medical research. One month ago, TIME Magazine published an article entitled Spin Doctors.[4] The article states:

Mammograms help you live longer. Or wait; they may not… In the medical world, this kind of uncertainty is increasingly common… Enter the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a panel of independent experts charged by Congress with sifting through all the studies about health procedures…

In a side-bar entitled Four Surprising Recommendations, TIME highlights four prominent turnabouts:

  • What you may have heard: Taking estrogen and progestin after menopause can lower the risk of heart disease and bone fractures. What you may not have: The USPSTF says supplemental estrogen can increase the risk of breast cancer and does not protect against heart disease, as earlier studies suggested.
  • What you may have heard: All men over age 50 should get regular blood tests for prostate cancer. What you may not have: Those blood tests, which detect many growths that are not cancerous, can lead to risky interventions. Plus, many prostate tumors are slow-growing and don’t need to be removed, even if they are cancerous.
  • What you may have heard: Women should start annual screening for breast cancer at age 40. What you may not have: Women in their 40s have lower cancer rates than older women and higher rates of false positives that lead to additional tests and procedures that may come with complications.
  • What you may have heard: Vitamin D and calcium can strengthen bones and lower the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women. What you may not have: They may slow bone loss, but recommended doses may not be high enough to lower the risk of fractures. And too much calcium can increase the risk of heart disease.

The article in The Atlantic makes much the same point: mammograms, colonoscopies, and PSA tests are far less useful cancer-detection tools than we had been told; widely prescribed antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil have been revealed to be no more effective than a placebo for most cases of depression; staying out of the sun entirely can actually increase cancer risks; taking fish oil, exercising, and doing puzzles doesn’t really help fend off Alzheimer’s disease; and peer-reviewed studies have come to opposite conclusions on whether taking aspirin every day is more likely to save your life or cut it short, and whether routine angioplasty works better than pills to unclog heart arteries.

One important reason for this see-sawing is that most studies involve a relatively small number of participants and run for a relatively short time, perhaps five years. The reason for this is straightforward – it’s expensive and cumbersome to run experiments for thirty or forty years. But the price paid for these short-term savings is that the results of clinical trials are more often than not incorrect. Let’s see why.

Randomized controlled trials constitute the gold standard in medical research. These studies compare how one group responds to a treatment against how an identical group fares without the treatment. Various checks and balances are used to try to shield the researchers from bias, and, consequently, these trials had long been considered nearly unshakable evidence. But these trials, too, are sometimes wrong. “I realized even our gold-standard research had a lot of problems,” Ioannidis says. Before long he discovered that the range of errors being committed was astonishing: from what questions researchers posed, to how they set up the studies, to which patients they recruited for the studies, to which measurements they took, to how they analyzed the data, to how they presented their results, to how particular studies came to be published in medical journals.

In a typical nutrition or drug study, researchers follow a few thousand people for a number of years, tracking what they eat and what supplements they take, and how their health changes over the course of the study. Then they ask, ‘What did vitamin E do? What did vitamin C or D or A do? What changed with calorie intake, or protein or fat intake? What happened to cholesterol levels? Who got what type of cancer?’

After this, complex statistical models are used to find all sorts of correlations between, say, Vitamin X and cancer Y. When a five-year study of 10,000 people finds that those who take more vitamin X are less likely to get cancer Y, you’d think you have good reason to take more vitamin X, and physicians routinely pass these recommendations on to patients. But these studies often sharply conflict with one another. Studies have gone back and forth on the cancer-preventing powers of vitamins A, D, and E; on the heart-health benefits of eating fat and carbohydrates; and even on the question of whether being overweight is more likely to extend or shorten your life. Ioannidis suggests a simple approach to these studies: ignore them all.

For starters, he explains, the odds are that in any large database of many nutritional and health factors, there will be a few apparent connections that are in fact merely flukes, not real health effects. But even if a study managed to highlight a genuine health connection to some nutrient, a given individual is unlikely to benefit much from taking more of it, because we consume thousands of nutrients that act in concert, and changing the intake of any one nutrient is bound to cause ripples throughout the network that are far too complex for these studies to detect, and that may be as likely to harm you as help you [this is why I explained in Genesis and Genes that science is strongest when it deals with observable, repeatable and limited phenomena.] Even if changing that one factor does bring on the claimed improvement, there’s still a good chance that it won’t do you much good in the long run, because these studies rarely go on long enough to track the decades-long course of disease and ultimately death. Instead, they track easily measurable health ‘markers’ such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood-sugar levels, and meta-experts have shown that changes in these markers often don’t correlate as well with long-term health as we have been led to believe.

On the relatively rare occasions when a study does go on long enough to track mortality, the findings frequently upend those of the shorter studies. (For example, though the vast majority of studies of overweight individuals link excess weight to ill health, the longest of them have not convincingly shown that overweight people are likely to die sooner, and a few of them have seemingly demonstrated that moderately overweight people are likely to live longer.) Now add to the above ubiquitous measurement errors (for example, people habitually misreport their diets in studies) and routine misanalysis (researchers rely on complex software capable of juggling results in ways they do not always understand).

If a study somehow avoids every one of these pitfalls and finds a real connection to long-term changes in health, you’re still not guaranteed to benefit, because studies report average results that typically represent a vast range of individual outcomes. Should you be among the lucky minority that stands to benefit, don’t expect a noticeable improvement in your health, because studies usually detect only modest effects that merely tend to whittle your chances of succumbing to a particular disease from small to somewhat smaller. “The odds that anything useful will survive from any of these studies are poor,” says Ioannidis – dismissing in a breath a good chunk of the research into which $100 billion a year in the United States is sunk.

I have pointed out before (see the post Blowing Hot and Cold, for example), that the problem of tackling research that is diffuse – the opposite of limited – is by no means restricted to medical research. Take the climate. It is affected by many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of factors. In the context of human health, we know that there can be a huge difference between what is detected over a 5-year study as opposed to what ultimately transpires when subjects die fifty years later. In climate studies, too, there may be enormous differences between what is measured over a few decades and what happens over millennia.

Furthermore, as we saw above, most medical studies do not actually track the individual’s health as a whole; rather, they measure ‘markers’ which are taken as proxies for overall health. The assumption that markers are good proxies for overall health is, at best, dubious. In climate science too, it is often ‘markers’ that are used to indicate the overall ‘health’ of the climate, and this may well lead to erroneous conclusions. Consider glaciers.[5]

In 1895, geologists thought the world was freezing up due to the ‘great masses of ice’ that were frequently seen farther south than before. The New York Times reported that icebergs were so bad, and that they decreased the temperature of Iceland so much, that inhabitants fearing a famine were ‘emigrating to North America.’ But in 1902 the Los Angeles Times, in a story on disappearing glaciers in the Alps said the glaciers were not ‘running away,’ but rather ‘deteriorating slowly, with a persistency that means their final annihilation.’ The melting led to alpine hotel owners having trouble keeping patrons. It was established that it was a ‘scientific fact’ that the glaciers were ‘surely disappearing.’ But the glaciers instead grew once more.

The Boston Daily Globe reported in 1923 that the purpose of an Arctic expedition it was covering was to determine the beginning of the next ice age, ‘as the advance of glaciers in the last 70 years would indicate.’ When that era of ice-age reports melted away, retreating glaciers were again highlighted. In 1953’s Today’s Revolution in Weather, William Baxter wrote that ‘the recession of glaciers over the whole earth affords the best proof that climate is warming’. He gave examples of glaciers melting in Lapland, the Alps, and Antarctica. In 1952, the New York Times reported on the global warming studies of climatologist Dr. Hans W. Ahlmann, whose ‘trump card’ ‘has been the melting glaciers.’ The next year the paper said that ‘nearly all the great ice sheets are in retreat.’ U.S. News and World Report agreed, noting on January 8, 1954 that ‘winters are getting milder, summers drier. Glaciers are receding, deserts growing.’

But in the 1970s, glaciers did an about face. Lowell Ponte, in his 1976 book The Cooling, warned that ‘The rapid advance of some glaciers has threatened human settlements in Alaska, Iceland, Canada, China, and the Soviet Union.’

In 1951, TIME magazine noted that permafrost in Russia was receding northward at up to 100 yards per year. But in a June 24, 1974, article, TIME stated that the cooling trend was here to stay. The report was based on ‘telltale signs’ such as the ‘unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland.’ The Christian Science Monitor in the same year noted ‘glaciers which had been retreating until 1940 have begun to advance.’ The article continued, ‘the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool.’ And the New York Times noted that in 1972 the ‘mantle of polar ice increased by 12 percent’ and had not returned to ‘normal’ size. North Atlantic sea temperatures declined, and shipping routes were ‘cluttered with abnormal amounts of ice.’ Furthermore, the permafrost in Russia and Canada was advancing southward, according to the December 29 article that closed out 1974.

Two points are crucial. Markers for ultra-complex entities such as human health or the climate may or may not be useful indicators of overall health. Secondly, it may well be that studies of ‘markers’ – whether of human health or the climate – may require a lifetime (in the case of humans) or several centuries (in the case of global climate) to teach us anything significant. Shorter studies may well be misleading, as is certainly the case in many clinical studies.

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In a nutshell, becoming an informed consumer of science involves the realization that science is a human endeavour. It is subject to a galaxy of factors beyond the nuts and bolts of the laboratory work, from political considerations that determine how much funding is funneled to particular fields to the interpretation of complex statistical analyses of murky results. As the physicist and philosopher John Polkinghorne has written,

Many people have in their minds a picture of how science proceeds which is altogether too simple. This misleading caricature portrays scientific discovery as resulting from the confrontation of clear and inescapable theoretical predictions by the results of unambiguous and decisive experiments… In actual fact… the reality is more complex and more interesting than that.

To its credit, the medical community seems to have embraced the work done by Ioannidis and its implications. The Atlantic reports that:

Ioannidis initially thought the community might come out fighting. Instead, it seemed relieved, as if it had been guiltily waiting for someone to blow the whistle, and eager to hear more. David Gorski, a surgeon and researcher at Detroit’s Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, noted in his prominent medical blog that when he presented Ioannidis’ paper on highly cited research at a professional meeting, “not a single one of my surgical colleagues was the least bit surprised or disturbed by its findings.”

But Ioannidis is pessimistic about anything changing soon:

His bigger worry, he says, is that while his fellow researchers seem to be getting the message, he hasn’t necessarily forced anyone to do a better job. He fears he won’t in the end have done much to improve anyone’s health. “There may not be fierce objections to what I’m saying,” he explains. “But it’s difficult to change the way that everyday doctors, patients, and healthy people think and behave.”

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Dr. John Ioannidis’ work deals with medical research, which is – at least theoretically – readily amenable to the tools of science. Even here, it is obvious that science consumers should ration out credibility carefully. The fact that you read about evidence-based medicine or peer-reviewed studies or randomized trials is by no means a guarantee that you’ve been touched by Truth. And this is all in the realm of the here and now. Contemporary science is vastly overrated when it deals with issues that go beyond those that affect medical research, and involve huge extrapolations, chains of reasoning and assumptions and numerous ideological commitments.

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See also: the post Dr. Ben Goldacre and the Reproducibility of Research:

https://torahexplorer.com/2013/04/10/dr-ben-goldacre-and-the-reproducibility-of-research/

The post Blowing Hot and Cold:

https://torahexplorer.com/2013/03/11/blowing-hot-and-cold-2/

References:

[1] See http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/308269/.

Retrieved 5th May 2013.

[2] Meta-research involves the analysis – often with advanced statistical tools – of a large number of primary studies performed by other researchers.

[3] See http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/dirty_little_secret/. Retrieved 5th June 2011.

[4] See http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2139710,00.html

Retrieved 4th May 2013.

[5] The information on the media coverage of glaciers comes from a report by the Media Research Council entitled Fire and Ice:

http://www.mrc.org/special-reports/fire-and-ice

Retrieved 5th May 2013.

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20 Responses to “Dr. John Ioannidis and the Reality of Research”

  1. Menachem Mevashir Says:

    Superb article Yoram! As a great rabbi once said: “You cannot love both mammon and God.” And to those who protest that he only condemns love of money and not money itself, I retort: “How much money does a person need just to prove s/he doesn’t really love it?”

    • Menachem Mevashir Says:

      The desperation for money has resulted in the deterioration of ethics and morality across the entire spectrum of American life and society. The mega rich are sucking up ever greater percentages of national wealth while the 99% are deteriorating steadily. But what really is amazing is that no matter how much money the mega rich have, they are like sharks in a feeding frenzy always seeking greater levels of remuneration. Like pigs, who are never satiated and can happily eat themselves to death. I believe that the usurious banking system is ultimately responsible for this sad state of affairs. You do not have to be a PhD student of economics to recognize that when national banks monetize the economy on interest (essentially lend governments the right to use their own national currency), then virtually the entire annual economic growth is consumed by the financial class leaving nothing for the citizenry. And with compounded interest, the working classes find their positions constantly deteriorating. I realize this is slightly off topic but since you mentioned the corrupting influence of money on research, I thought it is germane.

  2. Menachem Mevashir Says:

    Just heard about this author:

    Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist by Rabbi Moshe Averick (Jan 11, 2011)

    http://www.amazon.com/Nonsense-High-Order-Confused-Illusory/dp/1456445944/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367805887&sr=1-1

    http://mosheaverick.com/about-rabbi-averick

    Rabbi Moshe Averick is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi who has taught theology, spirituality, and religious philosophy for nearly 30 years. Many of his students have gone on to become educators and rabbinic leaders in North America, England, and Israel. He is known for his singular ability to explain complex topics in clear, understandable language and – to borrow the description of one University of Chicago-trained philosopher of science – his “wicked” sense of humor.

    After completing an advanced Rabbinics degree in Jerusalem in 1980, he ran extensive educational programs at UCLA and Northridge University on behalf of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles under the auspices of the renowned Simon Wiesenthal Center.

    In Toronto, Ontario, he was among the founding faculty members of what is now one of North America’s largest Jewish adult education centers, Aish Hatorah of Toronto. His lectures in religious philosophy at the prestigious Shaalvim Rabbinical Seminary in Israel were enthusiastically received for 12 years before he moved back to Chicago in 2007.

    Besides his extensive career as an educator, Rabbi Averick was a floor trader in the S&P pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and wrote and produced an album of spiritual acoustic rock, Feet on the Ground, which was described by Jerusalem Post music critic David Brinn as, ” superb, country-tinged acoustic rock…in the great tradition of such seminal artists as Tom Rush and John Prine…a real find in our own backyard!” He is the proud father and grandfather of eight children and six grandchildren.

    Rabbi Averick recently completed a book entitled, Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. He has lectured on the subject of atheism and belief in God at universities and colleges for both secular and religious student organizations. (See Rabbi Averick on Campus )

  3. Matt Says:

    Yoram, I am truly baffled that in an article that purports to present informed skepticism you would, without a trace of irony, post (and re-post) a *political blog* as your “source” for a history of climate science. Let’s take as a given that the peer review process is not perfect. Let’s even assume that, in your medical science example, there are some serious problems. Does that, in your mind, make scientific research no better than politically motivated nonsense taken from a blog? What sort of “review process” was the NRC climate article subject? What sort of scrutiny? Above all, where was your skepticism when you accepted it as the gospel truth? Did you check it at all? If not, I provided (in “Hot and Cold Air”) links to several actually credible sources against which you can check it.

    Yet again, you present the same example of problems in the area of drug-related research. You try to argue by assertion that this example somehow applies equally well to all fields of science. Let me again clarify why your innuendo is nonsensical: no two fields of science are the same and in fact they vary wildly in terms of experimental techniques, culture, organization, etc. Your example in medicine is an extreme example: the number of publications is staggering large (much larger than in my field) making it harder to keep up. With the exception of rare meta-studies, the sample-sizes are miniscule. Above all, the subject matter is highly multifactorial, making it hard to isolate cause-and-effect relationships. The opposite is true in my field and I have now offered many counter examples. But, I don’t believe that my field is unique in this regard. Experimental physics as a whole is a completely different beast than medicine. That you indiscriminately generalize your above medical research example to other fields speaks volumes about your intentions and about your concern for accuracy. Every field of science has its pitfalls and its problems, but your insistence that all of science if broken beyond all hope is cynical and ill-informed.

    • Menachem Mevashir Says:

      Matt,

      Do you have any response to the posts of David Pogge about the supposed inadequacies of all forms of radioactive dating techniques?

      http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v15i5e.htm
      http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/vol12-8.pdf
      http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v12i8f.htm

      http://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=A0oG7iWDlYJRu2sAnuNXNyoA;_ylc=X1MDMjc2NjY3OQRfcgMyBGFvA2FvBGNzcmNwdmlkA0tpUUVZa2dldXJCMUd6M2xVUm5jeWdUb1IuMVFSVkdDbFk0QUEwWnQEZnIDeWZwLXQtNzAxBGZyMgNzYnRuBG5fZ3BzAzYEb3JpZ2luA3NycARwcXN0cgNpc29jaHJvbnMEcXVlcnkDaXNvY2hyb25zBHNhbwMzBHZ0ZXN0aWQDQUNCWTAx?p=isochrons&fr2=sb-top&fr=yfp-t-701&vf=all&vs=www.scienceagainstevolution.org&pqstr=isochrons

      • Matt Says:

        Hi Menachem,

        I have recently embarked on a blog of my own (we’ll see how it goes) called http://artofuncertainty.wordpress.com

        My second post coincidentally happens to deal with the question of radiometric dating. There is too much to cover, but this is at least an interesting part:

        http://artofuncertainty.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/coherence-between-many-lines-of-evidence/

        In the follow-up post I talk about some of the faux skepticism demonstrated in your above links:

        http://artofuncertainty.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/coherence-between-many-lines-of-evidence-part-ii/

        I wish I had time to address all of the material in the Pogge articles (too many things to debunk). If you pick a particular point, we could fact-check it together. Looking at his material on isochron dating, I don’t think it will be hard to find fundamental problems with any one of his claims.

      • Menachem Mevashir Says:

        Thanks for feedback. Hope to look at your blog soon.

        Meanwhile I have received Yoram’s book Genesis and Genes and read parts carefully and other parts I perused. I found the last three chapters (7-9) pretty gripping, but the first six chapters way too tedious and I felt bogged down and drowning in scientific jargon.

        I thought chapter 8’s dialogue with Jonathan was extremely edifying. LIke a greatest hits of Credible Darwinist Dissent. The challenges of people like Pauli and Oxford’s desperation to find a mathematician who could bring population genetics into line with Darwinist ideology seem very weighty. Surely you do not easily discount them!

        I thought the earlier chapters are too tentative, though, as if Yoram was sparring with these folks at a scientific conference and I did not enjoy reading them.

        I found the book Evolution Facts much more forceful and systematic in its refutation of Darwinism:
        http://evolutionfacts.com/Handbook%20TOC.htm

        My only significant disappointment was to find instances of gross prejudice against non-Jews in Yoram’s book. This really shocked me since so many of the anti-Darwinist scientific authorities he cites are “goyim” for whom he seems to manifest great respect. I hope to explain this in greater detail in a later posting.

      • Matt Says:

        Hey Menachem, I decided to read and address one of the linked articles: http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/vol12-8.pdf – The Timeless Isochrons

        What baffles me about this is that Pogge clearly misunderstands how isochrons work. For your own benefit, I highly recommend that you read about the method and really try to understand how it works (to the point of being able to calculate things) so that you can fact-check these guys yourself. Some good resources: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/isochron-dating.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isochron_dating.

        OK let’s discuss the article:

        Pogge: “In other words, the assumption is that when the moon rocks solidified (“chemical closure”), the amount of strontium 87 (the “uniform initial 87Sr/86Sr ratio”) was 0.69784 ± 0.00012 regardless of how much rubidium 87 there was in the rock.”

        This statement is incorrect. Pogge misread the paper. The researchers in the paper say very clearly that they assume a uniform initial ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86. They *do not* say that they assume the ratio to be 0.69784. This number is calculated based on the slope of the isochron. It is derived, not assumed. The beauty of the isochron method is that you do not need to make any assumptions about how much the original ratio was. Your only assumption is that if all eight rocks were produced at the same time, they should have the same initial isotope ratio. Then you can calculate what that ratio was.

        So why should the initial Sr-87/Sr-86 ratio be the same in all eight rocks? The answer to this question gets at the heart of Pogge’s failure to understand radiometric dating. You will notice that throughout this article Pogge talks interchangeably about the ratio of different elements and the ratio of different isotopes. These are two very different things.

        Chemistry is about how electrons are shared and exchanged between elements. Elements are pure materials consisting of atoms with a certain number of protons (and an equal number of electrons). Isotopes are atoms of the *same element* with different numbers of neutrons (neutral particles). Because the number of protons and electrons is the same, ***isotopes are chemically indistinguishable from each other*** to an extremely high degree of accuracy. This is a testable fact. Rocks form by chemical processes. Since isotopes are chemically indistinguishable, there is no mechanism why rocks formed at the same time will have different isotopic ratios. Again, we observe this directly in nature. It is repeatable.

        The assumption underlying isochrons is that 8 different rocks with the same origin must have the same isotopic starting ratio Sr-87/Sr-86 and, regardless of what that ratio is, the only way for them to have different isotope ratios is for the Rubidium-87 to decay into Sr-87. Furthermore, even if they had different Sr starting ratios, there is no reason why these isotopic ratios would be proportional to elemental abundance of Rubidium except that nuclear decays of Rubidium-87 to Sr-87 would precisely predict such a linear relationship!

        The reason why the moon-rock paper discusses elemental composition of the rocks is merely to establish, by chemical arguments, that these rocks were produced from the same lava flow. Once that is established, the elemental composition is irrelevant and the isotopic ratios are what matter for dating.

        Pogge: “The data also tells us that the rocks that are richer in rubidium are richer in potassium. The data doesn’t tell us why that is true—it simply tells us that it is true.”

        Actually the data *does* tell us why its true: the chemical reactions that formed these rocks drive the ratio of rubidium to potassium. Rubidium and Potassium, being alkali metals, behave very similarly in chemical reactions (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubidium, for example).

        Pogge: “The isochron dating method rests entirely on the unsubstantiated assumption that the amount of strontium 87 was entirely independent of the amount of rubidium 87 when the moon rocks solidified.”

        No!!! The isochron method rests on the very substantiated observation that the initial ISOTOPIC ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86 should be independent of the ELEMENTAL abundance of Rubidium.

        Pogge: “We know that the amount of potassium wasn’t independent of the amount of rubidium with the moon rocks solidified. We know that the amount of barium wasn’t independent of the amount of rubidium when the moon rocks solidified. Why should we assume that the strontium 87 was independent?”

        Because (1) the ratio of potassium/rubidium and barium/rubidium is driven by chemical processes and (2) since strontium 87 and strontium 86 are chemically indistinguishable, they will not vary according to chemical processes. Again, Pogge doesn’t understand the difference between isotopes and elements.

        Hope that helps answer your question. It was fun reading that moon-rock paper, BTW :).

      • Menachem Mevashir Says:

        Thanks Matt.

        When I was younger I was pretty good at chemistry and biology, but too much Talmudic study has turned me into a linguist. (You know what they say about cunning linguists?)

        So your explanation is hard for me to grasp. But I appreciate what you have put into it and I shall forward your comments to D. Pogge.

        Shabbat Shalom

        PS I read Genesis and Genes and sent Yoram some comments to it. I found some of it very thoughtful, but I also felt it manifested a gratuitously hostile attitude against “goyim” which term it uses to castigate Jewish apologists for Darwin (like you I guess). This is a cheap polemical shot, I feel, since Yoram admits that the best critics of Darwinism are gentile scientists who often are Christians.

        Here’s what I wrote to Yoram about this:

        re page 359 “It’s the good old tendency among Jews to be more goyish than the goyim.” This comment really disappointed me. It seems totally gratuitous and even dishonest. Throughout your book you praise scientists who have the courage to question Darwinism. Most of these people are non Jews and/or Christians. They have led the way in the counterattack against Darwinism. And on the contrary the overwhelming numbers of Jews in higher academia (estimated in the USA as: 50% of medical school faculty, 40% of law school, 30% of business school, and 20% of college faculty) are either active proponents of or passively acquiescing to Darwinist concepts.

        I do not think it is because they wish to be “like goyim” either. It is a very simple matter of craving respect, status, and money. They place their careers above the call of God. Yet I don’t think you can really blame them. Where in Judaism have they ever been taught the importance of martyrdom? Yes, the rabbis pay lip service to Talmudic statements that one must forfeit all of one’s money to avoid transgressing the law, particularly something as heinous as totally denying the Creator as Darwinism does; but practically speaking the rabbis today exhort their followers to strive for the highest levels of achievement, money, and success. You do not teach what Jesus said about laying down one’s life for the Truth or losing one’s life for His sake in order to find it. So I think it is really unfair to criticize these Jews who accomodate themselves to Darwinism.

        Even worse, the “goyim” you demean have established organizations like Discovery Institute to protect academics who do lose their jobs when they openly criticize Darwinism. Judaism has no such mechanism so far as I know, unless the person can manage to get hired to teach at a yeshiva like Drs. Schroeder and Taitz. So Yoram this snipe at “goyim” is ungracious and enough to make me NOT recommend your book to the Jewish and Christian people I know. And that is unfortunate, because your book does contain a goldmine of good information, especially chapter 8.

        I also think your idea of making Jews “informed consumers of science” is pretty naive. You seem to overlook the onslaught of the nexus of corporate control over research with mass media indoctrination. Unless people write books like yours, no one will ever realize the truth. And even when books like yours emerge, they cannot hope to keep pace with the onslaught of corporate managed mass media disinformation.

        And furthermore there are many more issues of which Jews are largely ignorant about the twisted science, and the rabbis rarely if ever speak out since they are masters of political correctness and not rocking the boat. What good will it be to overthrow Darwinism only to wake up and realize that our world has been poisoned by radioactive fallout and GMOs, all produced by technology divorced from ethics? Or the economic apologetic for what I call cancer capitalism, where we are told it’s good that our lives are owned and managed by Wall Street financiers?

        I well recall during my 18 years as a Charedi Jew my growing horror at the poor quality of diet in Israel, at the enormous generation of trash and waste with zero environmental consciousness, etc. I once calculated that charedim waste 10 million liters of water PER DAY on useless netilat yadayim in a water-starved country. About all these things and many more Jews are woefully ignorant and the rabbis seem to care less. So long as the Madoffs and Adelsons of the world ante up their filthy lucre to the Jewish and Zionist organizations, who wants to make noise?

        Perhaps these thoughts will help you if this book ever is reprinted.

        Shalom baShem Yeshua,
        Michael Korn
        Ohr Samayach 1983-1986
        Toras Yisrael 1987
        Bostoner Kollel 1988-1990
        Jesus of Nazareth 20 June 2000

      • Menachem Mevashir Says:

        Matt,

        Here is David Pogge’s initial response to you:

        You write:

        “The isochron method rests on the very substantiated observation that the initial ISOTOPIC ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86 should be independent of the ELEMENTAL abundance of Rubidium.”

        He answers:

        The initial ratio was not observed; but he thinks it SHOULD be independent.

        In all honesty, I don’t know what either of you is talking about. My problem as a non-scientist, not yours, though.

        Shabbat Shalom

      • Matt Says:

        Menachem,

        I don’t get what Pogge is trying to say. Is he admitting that he was wrong? From your statement, at least, it sounds like he agrees with me that (1) the initial Sr ratio is not assumed (even though he falsely makes this claim in the article) and (2) that the chemical processes that determine the ratio of Rubium to Potassium have no bearing on the isotopic abundance of Sr-87 (as he incorrectly implied with his rhetorical questions).

      • Menachem Mevashir Says:

        Matt,

        I think he means that your assumption “that the initial ISOTOPIC ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86 should be independent of the ELEMENTAL abundance of Rubidium” is an unverifiable assumption. In other words pure opinion without any necessary scientific veracity.

      • Matt Says:

        “I think he means that your assumption’that the initial ISOTOPIC ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86 should be independent of the ELEMENTAL abundance of Rubidium’ is an unverifiable assumption.”

        Then he is either ignorant or dishonest. I cannot understate how well tested that above statement is. Separation of isotopes is the single critical step in producing material for nuclear reactors, medical radiology, nuclear weapons, and a good number of experiments in particle physics. There is a 60+ year history on the subject. In short: it is extremely difficult to separate isotopes, and it doesn’t happen spontaneously in nature (except on a small fraction of a percent level). Just read the wikipedia article on isotope separation: “While in general chemical elements can be purified through chemical processes, isotopes of the same element have nearly identical chemical properties, which makes this type of separation impractical, except for separation of deuterium.”

        Not only has the subject been thoroughly studied in general. But, it is extensively looked at for the case of Sr-87/Sr-86. I found a key source cited by other papers on this subject is Faure and Powell’s book “Strontium Isotope Geology”. Haven’t been able to track down a copy so I will try to find a more easily accessible book or article.

        One caveat: it is indeed possible in some cases for strontium mixtures from one source to contaminate another source. But, these contamination mechanisms are also carefully studied. Moreover, you cannot necessarily come up with a contamination mechanism that gives you a straight line isochron consistent with the radioactive decays. Instead you would just get noise (no correlation with Ru-87).

        Pogge’s implication that isotopic ratios could depend strongly
        on the chemical reactions that control elemental abundance defies basic chemistry and physics. For such a correlation to coincidentally match the abundance of Rubidium in a way that looks exactly the same as radioactive decay is even more outlandish. He has a burden of proof to establish some defensible argument for that speculation. He’s the one making the outlandish claim that needs some supporting basis in theory or experiment.

      • Menachem Mevashir Says:

        “Then he is either ignorant or dishonest. I cannot understate how well tested that above statement is.”

        Do you perhaps mean “I cannot overstate how well tested that above statement is”?

        Although I appreciate the effort you are investing to educate me, I really cannot fathom the argument of either one of you.

        I will forward your comments to Pogge to see if he replies.

        His email if you wish to write to him yourself is;
        Pogge@ScienceAgainstEvolution.info

        Yoram’s book mentions the great physicist Wolfgang Pauli as someone who strongly questioned Darwinist assumptions. Do you not find his critique compelling?
        http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1945/pauli-bio.html

      • Menachem Mevashir Says:

        @Matt and others:

        Here are some quotes from Wolfgang Pauli expressing profound skepticism about Darwinism, something Yoram’s Genesis and Genes alludes to:

        1. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/02/nobel_prize-win056771.html

        Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Wolfgang Pauli on the Empirical Problems with Neo-Darwinism
        Casey Luskin February 27, 2012 11:37 AM | Permalink

        Physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945, was a staunch critic of neo-Darwinism. Here’s an article of an interest, “Pauli’s ideas on mind and matter in the context of contemporary science,” that documents his prescient criticisms. For example:

        “As a physicist, I should like to critically object that this model has not been supported by an affirmative estimate of probabilities so far. Such an estimate of the theoretical time scale of evolution as implied by the model should be compared with the empirical time scale. One would need to show that, according to the assumed model, the probability of de facto existing purposeful features to evolve was sufficiently high on the empirically known time scale. Such an estimate has nowhere been attempted though.” (p. 27)

        “In discussions with biologists I met large difficulties when they apply the concept of ‘natural selection’ in a rather wide field, without being able to estimate the probability of the occurrence in a empirically given time of just those events, which have been important for the biological evolution. Treating the empirical time scale of the evolution theoretically as infinity they have then an easy game, apparently to avoid the concept of purposesiveness. While they pretend to stay in this way completely ‘scientific’ and ‘rational,’ they become actually very irrational, particularly because they use the word ‘chance’, not any longer combined with estimations of a mathematically defined probability, in its application to very rare single events more or less synonymous with the old word ‘miracle.'” (pp. 27-28)

        Pauli died in 1958 — but he was far ahead of his time in seeing the fundamental scientific problems with neo-Darwinism.

        2. http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2009/07/not-even-wrong.html

        Not Even Wrong
        The great physicist Wolfgang Pauli once criticized a scientific paper as so bad that it was “not even wrong.” It was so sloppy and ill conceived, thought Pauli, that to call it merely wrong would be to give it too much credit–it wasn’t even wrong. Today such a condemnation applies well to the theory of evolution which relies on religious convictions to prop up bad science. It seems that every argument for evolution wilts under scrutiny. Here is a classic example.

        Evolutionary thinking has always appealed to the patterns found in nature’s designs as powerful mandates for a naturalistic origin. For instance, in the eighteenth century Daniel Bernoulli, Immanuel Kant and Pierre Laplace all argued that the patterns of the solar system revealed that it must have evolved via a naturalistic process. Different processes were hypothesized and no one knew exactly how it happened, but these Enlightenment thinkers considered it to be a fact that, one way or another, the solar system evolved strictly via natural law (sound familiar?).

        Exactly why did the patterns of the solar system mandate such a narrative? Because if God had designed the solar system it would not have the patterns we observe. As Kant explained:

        It is clear that there is no reason why the celestial bodies must organize their orbits in one single direction. … Thus, God’s choice, not having the slightest motive for tying them to one single arrangement, would reveal itself with a greater freedom in all sorts of deviations and differences.

        In other words, we observe certain patterns, but they seem to be gratuitous and god would not so limit his designs. In the following centuries this argument became a cornerstone of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Here is one of Darwin’s many arguments that his theory must be true because god would never have created the patterns we observe in biology:

        How inexplicable are the cases of serial homologies on the ordinary view of creation! Why should the brain be enclosed in a box composed of such numerous and such extraordinary shaped pieces of bone, apparently representing vertebrae? … Why should similar bones have been created to form the wing and the leg of a bat, used as they are for such totally different purposes, namely flying and walking? Why should one crustacean, which has an extremely complex mouth formed of many parts, consequently always have fewer legs; or conversely, those with many legs have simpler mouths? Why should the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils, in each flower, though fitted for such distinct purposes, be all constructed on the same pattern?

        Today this argument is rampant in evolutionary thought. It runs throughout the literature and evolutionists invoke it when their theory is questioned. There are so many contradictions and absurdities in this evolutionary argument it is hard to know where to begin. Here are a few of its more egregious failures.

        1. First, the argument obviates huge problems with evolution. The patterns we find in biology do not fit evolution, but this minor detail is glossed over by using this counter argument. Instead of demonstrating that evolution is a compelling story, evolutionists argue that god certainly did not design what we find in biology, so it must have evolved. No wonder they say evolution is a fact. We don’t know how it happened, but it must have happened. Consequently the bar is substantially lowered for naturalistic explanations. Speculative, untestable, and downright silly explanations are routinely contemplated.

        2. Similarly, another problem is that conflicting data are not viewed as problematic because, after all, they are not random. There certainly is a pattern of sorts, and so evolutionists take this as profound support for their theory, even when the data are contradictory, under evolution. Evolution’s epistemological bar is lowered so far it is hitting the ground, as all kinds of observables become powerful supporting evidence. The massive convergence found in biology (profound similarities in otherwise distant species) become a non issue for evolutionists. I debated one professor who claimed that both similarities and differences between species are evidence for evolution. Talk about having your cake and eat it too. But it all makes perfect sense if you’re an evolutionist.

        3. This leads to the next problem, which is that this argument is a science stopper. By removing the possibility that evolution may be false, a whole set of questions and research avenues are automatically eliminated. And of course, it makes evolution unfalsifiable. Different hypotheses within evolution can be tested, but evolution itself cannot be.

        4. Indeed another problem, in addition to the sanctioning of raw speculation, is the massive data interpretation and filtering bias. Biological data are interpreted and filtered according to evolution. Contradictory data are usually filtered out long before the analysis step, thus improving the fit. Evolutionists make all kinds of erroneous claims about how astronomically well the data fit their theory.

        5. Of course another problem is the argument is religious. It is a problem because evolutionists claim their theory is certainly not religious. Indeed, they argue strenuously that religion must absolutely be cleansed from science. Religion and science, they say, do not mix. But in fact they do mix, and quite well it seems.

        A common canard is that any such religious claims do not reflect the beliefs of evolutionists; rather, it is merely a test of opposing ideas. That is, of course, irrelevant. When evaluating theories, personal beliefs are not part of the equation. When religious premises are used to prove a theory, then the theory is relying on the religious premises, period. Who actually believes or doesn’t believe in the premise is a separate matter.

        6. But is it not reasonable to test opposing ideas? Can we not look for patterns as a means of rejecting the design hypothesis? Sure, but why do patterns refute design? Is there anyone (aside from the evolutionist) who says that a designer would not use patterns? A far more significant test would be to show that evolution is compelling. If naturalistic processes do the job, then design is superfluous. But evolution repeatedly fails.

        7. The use of patterns to reject design reveals how arbitrary is the evolutionary criteria. Kant, for instance, realizing the data did not fit the patterns very well (and thus potentially raising problems for strictly naturalistic explanations), amended his “god wouldn’t use patterns” argument, with the additional argument that “and, oh by the way, if god were to use patterns, he would do it precisely.” So patterns prove evolution, and deviations from patterns do to.

        Evolutionists can, in fact, contrive various criteria to refute opposing ideas. Imagine if nature really did consist of a series of random designs. Evolutionists could just as easily claim it as a powerful sign of natural processes. After all, a designer certainly would create according to patterns, whereas the unguided, blind forces of nature easily explain the randomness we observe.

        The metaphysics in evolution run deep. It is one long religious argument, filled with non scientific claims and speculation. But it recognizes none of this in itself, and instead projects it onto opposing ideas. In the height of hypocrisy, evolutionists locate these problems in their neighbor’s eye. Opposing ideas, they say, don’t fit the evidence very well, are non falsifiable, are science stoppers, and are religious. All of this in defense of a theory that isn’t even wrong. Religion drives science and it matters.

      • Menachem Says:

        Matt,

        David Pogge has replied to you on his website.

        See page 3 at this site:
        http://scienceagainstevolution.info/vol17-9.pdf

      • Menachem Says:

        Also at this site:

        http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v17i9f.htm

        Matt’s Complaint

        The second email came to us from Matt via Michael. Matt wrote it to Michael to tell him what an idiot I am, and why he should not pay any attention to me. He begins by saying,

        What baffles me about this is that Pogge clearly misunderstands how isochrons work. For your own benefit, I highly recommend that you read about the method and really try to understand how it works (to the point of being able to calculate things) so that you can fact-check these guys yourself. Some good resources: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/isochron-dating.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isochron_dating.

        Matt thinks TalkOrigins and Wikipedia are “good resources.” Let’s just leave it at that.

        Matt then says,

        OK let’s discuss the article:

        Pogge: “In other words, the assumption is that when the moon rocks solidified (“chemical closure”), the amount of strontium 87 (the “uniform initial 87Sr/86Sr ratio”) was 0.69784 ± 0.00012 regardless of how much rubidium 87 there was in the rock.”

        This statement is incorrect. Pogge misread the paper. The researchers in the paper say very clearly that they assume a uniform initial ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86. They *do not* say that they assume the ratio to be 0.69784. This number is calculated based on the slope of the isochron. It is derived, not assumed. The beauty of the isochron method is that you do not need to make any assumptions about how much the original ratio was. Your only assumption is that if all eight rocks were produced at the same time, they should have the same initial isotope ratio. Then you can calculate what that ratio was.

        The “derivation” is actually the result of a collection of assumptions. First, it is assumed that if all eight rocks were produced at the same time they should have the same initial isotope ratio. Observation of rocks quickly reveals that they generally aren’t homogenous. The minerals in a single rock aren’t even distributed equally. There is no reason to believe that isotopes will be evenly distributed in an individual rock, let alone different rocks created at the same time. The second assumption is that there has been sufficient time for the isotope ratio to change.

        Ironically, after saying, “The beauty of the isochron method is that you do not need to make any assumptions about how much the original ratio was,” Matt makes this statement later in his email:

        The assumption underlying isochrons is that 8 different rocks with the same origin must have the same isotopic starting ratio Sr-87/Sr-86 and, regardless of what that ratio is, the only way for them to have different isotope ratios is for the Rubidium-87 to decay into Sr-87.

        After saying there are no assumptions, he said what the assumptions are. Did he even read what he wrote?

        Furthermore, even if they had different Sr starting ratios, there is no reason why these isotopic ratios would be proportional to elemental abundance of Rubidium except that nuclear decays of Rubidium-87 to Sr-87 would precisely predict such a linear relationship!

        No, the nuclear decay explanation depends on equal starting ratios.

        Matt says,

        So why should the initial Sr-87/Sr-86 ratio be the same in all eight rocks? The answer to this question gets at the heart of Pogge’s failure to understand radiometric dating. You will notice that throughout this article Pogge talks interchangeably about the ratio of different elements and the ratio of different isotopes. These are two very different things.

        Chemistry is about how electrons are shared and exchanged between elements. Elements are pure materials consisting of atoms with a certain number of protons (and an equal number of electrons). Isotopes are atoms of the *same element* with different numbers of neutrons (neutral particles). Because the number of protons and electrons is the same, ***isotopes are chemically indistinguishable from each other*** to an extremely high degree of accuracy. This is a testable fact. Rocks form by chemical processes. Since isotopes are chemically indistinguishable, there is no mechanism why rocks formed at the same time will have different isotopic ratios. Again, we observe this directly in nature. It is repeatable.

        It is true that “Isotopes are atoms of the *same element* with different numbers of neutrons (neutral particles). Because the number of protons and electrons is the same, ***isotopes are chemically indistinguishable from each other*** to an extremely high degree of accuracy.” Unfortunately Matt fails to recognize that what he says is irrelevant.

        Carbon 12 combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide equally as well as carbon 14 combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. The two extra neutrons in carbon 14 do not affect the ability of the carbon to combine with oxygen. The vast majority of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere contains carbon 12. Very little contains carbon 14. That’s simply because there is a whole lot more carbon 12 than there is carbon 14 in the atmosphere. The fact that both isotopes react identically doesn’t have anything to do with the relative amounts of carbon 12 and carbon 14 in CO2 gas. There should not be equal amounts of carbon 12 and carbon 14 in CO2 gas just because they react identically.

        Strontium 87 and strontium 86 will react equally well with other elements in rocks; but that’s irrelevant to the ratios of those isotopes in rocks. How much of each isotope reacts depends upon how much of each isotope is present.
        Strontium Ratios

        The cover story in the June 2013 issue of Scientific American is titled, “Tiny Engines of Evolution.” The cover proclaims, “Millions of years ago phytoplankton powered the explosion of life.” We were going to review it; but it turned out not to be worth writing about. The article just claimed that abundance of nutrients caused accelerated evolution. It was all speculation.

        Ironically, the article contained the graph below which is relevant to our discussion of strontium isotope ratios.

        (This picture is best viewed if you set your screen to 800 x 600 resolution.)

        We know the whole chart is based on bogus assumptions; but all we care about is the time scale at the top and the graph at the bottom. According to this chart, the 87Sr/86Sr ratio does not increase linearly with time over 500 million years as rubidium 87 decays to strontium 87, as Matt says it should.

        Scientific American’s chart claims to show the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of fossils of different ages. The truth is that it shows the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of fossils found in different places. The erroneous assumption is that the rocks in certain places are hundreds of millions of years older than rocks in other places, so the age is naïvely inferred from the place where the fossils were found. What the data really shows is that the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of fossils found in a variety of places is typically 0.708 +/- 0.14%.

        By comparison, the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of the Apollo 11 moon rocks ranged from 0.69876 to 0.70704 (which is 0.7029 +/- 0.6%). All this really means is that the natural abundance of strontium 87 is about 70 percent of the abundance of strontium 86 both on the Earth and on the Moon. No other conclusion can really be reached.

        In our article 1 that Matt found objectionable, we plotted Apollo 11 data showing that the correlation between potassium and rubidium is much stronger than the correlation between strontium 87 and rubidium. Matt’s reaction was,

        Pogge: “The data also tells us that the rocks that are richer in rubidium are richer in potassium. The data doesn’t tell us why that is true—it simply tells us that it is true.”

        Actually the data *does* tell us why its [sic] true: the chemical reactions that formed these rocks drive the ratio of rubidium to potassium. Rubidium and Potassium, being alkali metals, behave very similarly in chemical reactions (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubidium, for example).

        Matt is wrong. The data does not give a reason. The reason is supplied by scientists who interpret the data. The data shows a correlation between rubidium and strontium, and Matt thinks it is a result of radioactive decay. The data shows a correlation between rubidium and potassium and Matt thinks it is because of a chemical reaction. The data shows similar correlations, but Matt thinks it shows different reasons.

        Matt reacted rather emotionally to our criticism of the isochron dating method.

        Pogge: “The isochron dating method rests entirely on the unsubstantiated assumption that the amount of strontium 87 was entirely independent of the amount of rubidium 87 when the moon rocks solidified.”

        No!!! The isochron method rests on the very substantiated observation that the initial ISOTOPIC ratio of Sr-87/Sr-86 should be independent of the ELEMENTAL abundance of Rubidium.

        The initial isotopic ratio was not very substantially “observed.” Nobody was on the Moon measuring isotopes when the Moon was formed. The initial ratio was not observed then. Matt thinks it “should be independent,” but he has absolutely no way of knowing that it was. It is just his opinion, based on his unverifiable (and questionable) assumptions.

        Matt’s conclusion is,

        Pogge: “We know that the amount of potassium wasn’t independent of the amount of rubidium when the moon rocks solidified. We know that the amount of barium wasn’t independent of the amount of rubidium when the moon rocks solidified. Why should we assume that the strontium 87 was independent?”

        Because (1) the ratio of potassium/rubidium and barium/rubidium is driven by chemical processes and (2) since strontium 87 and strontium 86 are chemically indistinguishable, they will not vary according to chemical processes. Again, Pogge doesn’t understand the difference between isotopes and elements.

        I certainly do understand the difference between isotopes and elements. What Matt doesn’t understand is that the amount of material (isotopes or elements) now in a rock depends upon how much of that material was available to be incorporated in the rock when it was formed.

  4. Menachem Mevashir Says:

    Yoram,

    Your book arrived today and looks very well done. I look forward to reading it.

    I would like to compliment your efforts to deal with this most emotional topic of the interface between religion and science. I come from a family of scientists, and their reluctance to consider religious claims is painfully obvious. I think you are remarkably gifted as a vital instrument of God to bridge this divide in a gracious and compelling manner.

    Toda Rabba waShalom,
    Michael Korn

  5. Science as a Self-Correcting Mechanism | Torah Explorer Says:

    […] https://torahexplorer.com/2013/05/05/dr-john-ioannidis-and-the-reality-of-research/ […]

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