Friday, February 24, 2006

Intelligent Funding

Some time ago I remember an article (or editorial I think) in Scientific American which asked why The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was funding the Discovery Institute-a group that wants to forward the cause of intelligent design by introducing false information and rhetorical mumbo jumbo into public education systems to make it seem that:

  1. More and more scientists are fed up with evolution and are starting to work on intelligent design.
  2. The reason that no scientists are fed up with evolution and are starting to work on intelligent design is because they are orthodox closed-minded neo-Darwinian priests who are afraid of speaking out against other closed-minded neo-Darwinist priests.
  3. Intelligent design has nothing to do with religion.
  4. Those who oppose intelligent design are all atheists with a radical anti-religious agenda (my ears are burning).
From what I have learned about the Discovery Institute, they don't always seem to be singing from the same song sheet, such as on the issue of common descent verses special creation, the age of the earth etc. and it seems that what they tell people depends on the audience. Another harmony issue is when they admit that intelligent design is not ready to be taught in schools and that they are not trying to get it taught in schools yet spend quite a bit of time testifying on behalf of education systems which are trying to include intelligent design in their curriculum.

Well, the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seems to have claimed that their donation has nothing to do with the intelligent design. The Discovery Institute does, after all, have a couple other interests to make them look like an institute and not the single interest lobbyist organization that it was set up to be. One of which is a mass transportation.
The Gates Foundation responds that it hasn't abandoned science to back intelligent design. Greg Shaw, Pacific Northwest director, explains that the grant to Discovery underwrites the institute's "Cascadia Project," which strictly focuses on transportation in the Northwest.
As the article shows, the line between the transportation project and the anti-evolution lobbying is hard to draw when part of the money goes to the founder and president of the institute, Bruce Chapman. But I had considered it a possibility that the Gates' foundation was not intentionally funding the Discovery Institute. Then I saw this link at EurekAlert! :

Public Release: 23-Feb-2006
At Berkeley: Intelligently designed molecular evolution
Evolutionary paths to new therapeutic drugs, as well as a wide assortment of other enzyme products, have been created through, of all things, intelligent design. A team of researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley have developed a technique in which the evolution of an important class of proteins is steered towards a desired outcome.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The sun symbol designates the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as the source of the funding.

Now at first I thought they were using the term "intelligent design" as a joke because that is really how the use of the term reads. In addition, while the article seeming to be about real research of scientific value it is obvious that the work in no way supports the intelligent design movement. The research shows is that you can change an enzyme into another by specifically inducing certain mutations in that enzyme (there is some more to it than that but I recommending reading the article). Yes, intelligence was used to decide which mutations would be enacted but we can use intelligence and some nifty instruments to move atoms around to where we want them, this does not mean that that is how a local mountain got to where it is.

But then I saw the funding source and remembered that they had this involvement in the Discovery Institute. The most [pun]charitable[/pun] hypothesis I can come up with is that the foundation did not make sure that the money they gave would be used only for the transportation project and now the Discovery Institute is using the grant money to fund research with the term "intelligent design" in the description. It is also possible that the Discovery Institute is not involved and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is just interested in funding anything with the words "intelligent design" in the description.

Many have noted that with all the time and money the Discovery Institute has expended to campaign against evolution it could have funded a lot of research into their "theory". Since they don't actually have a theory, more of an exclamation really, I wonder if the use of the term is less of a joke by researchers on the intelligent design movement, as I originally thought, than an attempt by someone to describe actual but irrelevant research with the term of intelligent design. When one looks at the Disco Institute and their history of using quotes out of context, I doubt they would look a gift horse in the mouth. Whether it is a joke, a mistake or a scheme it makes me chuckle.


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