Beginnings Reporting on science and intelligent design

Weighed in Wikipedia’s balances and found wanting

Intelligent Design | Internet encyclopedia erases entry for notable paleontologist after he advocates intelligent design
by Julie Borg
Posted 11/22/17, 03:35 pm

Wikipedia has deleted a paleontologist’s page because he weighed Darwinism in the balances and found it wanting.

In 2009, Günter Bechly, a highly respected and well-known paleontologist, devised a clever plan to show the public that scientific evidence clearly weighs heavily in Charles Darwin's favor. In preparation for a worldwide celebration commemorating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Bechly carefully designed an exhibit in which he placed a balance scale piled high on one side with books advocating creationism and intelligent design. The other side held only a lone copy of Darwin’s book. Of course he rigged the scale so Darwin’s manual weighed its side down while the books on the other side appeared featherlight. The message was clear: Darwin’s scientific evidence far outweighed any arguments skeptics could pose. 

But then, a funny thing happened on Bechly’s way to the celebration. He read some of the books he had placed on the light side of the scale, and they opened his eyes to the incongruencies and impossibilities of Darwinian theory.

Nine years later, Bechly committed an unforgivable sin in the world of secular academia: He publicly criticized neo-Darwinism and proclaimed his support for intelligent design. Soon after, the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, pushed him out of his job as curator. Bechly then became a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, but that wasn’t the end of his censorship story.

Despite Bechly’s numerous professional accomplishments, including a sizable list of scientific publications and the notoriety of having numerous species named after him, a group of anonymous editors at Wikipedia decided to erase his page from the internet encyclopedia because he is not “notable” enough. 

“His turn to fringe creationist views does not seem to be notable at all, and cannot be covered without mainstream sources giving it an adequately neutral point of view,” one of the editors wrote on a Wikipedia discussion page. Other editors who tried to defend Bechly clearly understood the maneuver as censorship, noting “if he hadn’t changed his stance this wouldn’t even be an issue. The ones shouting ‘delete’ are just out to censor anyone who thinks differently.”

David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, noted that people commonly think Wikipedia disseminates objective information, but the expertise and fairness of the anonymous editors remains questionable. For example, one of the editors most influential in the decision to erase Bechly’s page identifies himself as 24-year-old Jo-Jo Eumerus, who also goes by “Septimus Heap,” after the popular juvenile fantasy series.

“It’s a mad world, a funhouse world, where the notability of a paleontologist of Günter Bechly’s stature is uncontested one day but, following his admission of finding ID persuasive, suddenly and furiously contested,” Klinghoffer wrote. “Such is the alternative reality of Wikipedia.”

Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg Brian Madeux receives a gene editing treatment at Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, Calif.

Scientists edit genes inside the body for the first time

Scientists have used a new method to edit genes inside the body for the first time. Until now, doctors performed gene editing in the lab and then injected the modified genes back into the patient. But the results of such procedures may not last, and the technique is not specific: Scientists cannot control exactly where the modified gene will nestle into the patient’s DNA. The lack of specificity can cause unintended results like cancer.

Using the new editing procedure, researchers inserted DNA instructions into a virus that they then injected into a 44-year-old patient suffering from Hunter syndrome, a serious metabolic disease in which a gene that produces an enzyme to break down carbohydrates is missing. The virus carried the DNA instructions to the patient’s liver, where cells used them to make proteins that acted like genetic scissors and cut the DNA, allowing the new gene to slip in. The procedure only needs to correct 1 percent of the liver cells to cure the disease, the researchers said in a statement. 

The technique is precise and the DNA modification is permanent. The virus will not invade eggs and sperm or alter future generations because the researchers built in safeguards to prevent it from working anywhere but in the liver. Even so, the procedure is not without risks: Some experts fear the virus could provoke an immune system attack or the modified gene might cause unforeseen effects on other genes, such as accidentally activating a cancer gene. And researchers have no way to reverse any unintended consequences. “You’re really toying with Mother Nature,” said Eric Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego, adding that the risks can’t be fully known. —J.B.

YouTube YouTube Dr. Chris Berry holds a section of the ancient tree.

Darwinian evolution can’t explain ancient tree

According to Darwinian evolution, living things should get more complex as they evolve, making it difficult for evolutionary scientists to explain early complexity. Case in point: Researchers just found an ancient fossilized tree in China with a surprisingly complex vascular system. The trunk contained a complicated web of interconnected woody strands much more intricate than those of any other trees ever grown on Earth, the researchers said in a statement. The tree did not grow one new ring under the bark every year, as most modern trees do, but instead each of the hundreds of individual strands inside the tree grew their own rings, somewhat like a large collection of mini trees growing within the trunk.

Lead researcher Chris Berry marveled that the tree appeared to simultaneously rip its own skeleton apart and collapse under its own weight but still continued to grow upward and outward, a feat he said no other tree in the history of Earth has achieved. “This raises a provoking question: Why are the very oldest trees the most complicated?” he wrote.

Unfortunately for Darwinian scientists, natural selection and evolutionary processes can’t answer that question. —J.B.

New electronic nose sniffs out pancreatic cancer

No screening tool currently exists for pancreatic cancer, a common and deadly disease. But researchers recently invented an electronic nose that uses sensors to sniff out pancreatic cancer odors in urine with about 80 percent accuracy. Although testing everyone for pancreatic cancer is not feasible, the researchers said the technique might provide a screening tool for high-risk groups. They hope to tweak the test to achieve 90 percent accuracy. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She reports on science and intelligent design for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.

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  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 11/24/2017 12:05 pm

    What gets me is that a person hiding behind false names like "Jo-Jo" or fantasy character like “Septimus Heap”, has the power to silence a real scientist who changes his view on Darwinism based on science!  Hey Wikipedia, if you are going to censor Günter Bechly I will just censor you. (PS. This also will make your fund raising efforts more difficult as well.)     

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 11/24/2017 06:41 pm

    Here's the thing, though. I think that Wikipedia often has a more fair presentation of the facts than various mainstream news outlets, etc. (There are some built-in mechanisms to try to get to a balanced presentation, and overall they seem to be working.) And once you get away from the most controversial topics, it's actually pretty good. So if everyone who disagrees with the editors' treatment of those controversial articles stays away from it, then who do you think the next set of editors are going to be?

  • Postmodern Redneck
    Posted: Sat, 11/25/2017 07:41 pm

    On matters that are not controversial or political, Wikipedia is generally adequate.  But they have a history of putting their thumbs on the scales on some issues and some personalities.  There is an effort to establish an alternate--it is called Infogalactic.  I haven't used it much, because when I'm searching for a topic it almost never comes up in the search engine.  But sooner or later, this is going to have to change.  The chosen slant of many of the technology companies may yet come back to damage them.

  • RC
    Posted: Mon, 11/27/2017 02:25 pm

    Thanks, I will check out Infogalactic.

  • RC
    Posted: Mon, 11/27/2017 02:23 pm

    Laura W - I do agree that many times Wikipedia provides reasonable fair presentation of the facts, but I don’t think a 24 year old who is hiding behind a fictional character is qualified to be an editor of anything.  It is a crime with an obvious smoking gun to eliminate a source simply because they changed their view based on the facts.  I would hope Wikipedia would take some responsibility on this issue.