Home » Evolution, Intelligent Design » Troll-of-the-month award

Troll-of-the-month award

Here is an email I received from a troll just after I started posting Jim Downard’s asinine emails to me. Presumably the troll wanted me to post the email as is. I am posting it, but without incriminating a prominent anti-ID proponent, whose career I was supposed to place in jeopardy, but which would have backfired on me. Note that I emailed “Concerned Scientist” twice (never a reply):

Email 1 (7.12.06): “I’m not sure what to believe. In this age of computers and hard drives it makes no sense to me that you didn’t keep a back-up of your project. Absent that, you need to reconstruct it and show it to me before we can take a next step. –WmAD”

Email 2 (7.14.06): “Unless I hear back from you in short order with some solid evidence that the story you gave below is true (e.g., transcript with “F” for course from [snip--prominent anti-ID proponent], I’m going to conclude that you are a troll and will use your letter any way I see fit. –WmAD”

Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 12:32:06 -0700 (PDT)
From: Concerned Scientist < [email protected]>
Subject: Supression of an ID Experiment
To: [snip]@designinference.com

Dr. Dembski,

I recently graduated from the University of [snip],
with a major in computer science and a minor
in economics.  I originally planned to minor in
biology, and it is the disgraceful events that led me
to change this that I wish to share with you.  The
events I describe here took place between the early
fall of 2004 and fall of 2005, however I had feared
repercussions from the University if I had stepped
forward.  I have now graduated and been accepted into
a graduate program in another state, so I have come up
with the courage to speak.

In my sophomore year, I was undecided between majoring
in computer science or biology, with the possibility
of pursuing both.  I took a course offered by a
Professor [snip] on Developmental Biology.  In it,
considerable attention was paid to the evolution of
transcriptional regulatory networks, and the structure
of cis-regulatory elements was mentioned briefly.  I
immediately took an interest in these, as I had been
working on computer modeling a similar system not long
before and saw some obvious models I could build. 

Over the next six months, I created a model of the
regulatory elements of the model organism Xenopus
tropicalis, in which I took a took all known
cis-regulatory elements at the time (there are now
many more, but at the time it was a tractable project)
along with their consensus sequences and created a
model involving all genes known to have a lethal
effect – that is, genes for which dysregulation would
likely result in death at some point, specifically
before “birth” or “hatching” from their eggs.  Since
the eggs are large, visible and produced from maternal
DNA, defects in the eggs or sperm would still allow an
egg to form and be tallied but not to fully develop.
My hypothesis was that the rate of non-development
predicted by my model would be below the total rate of
non-development (as mutations directly affecting
protein structure instead of regulation could also be
lethal and were not included in my model).  The
survival rate of Xenopus embryos had, fortunately,
been conclusively determined in the lab and the wild,
leaving this project completely in silico.

I was, understandably, surprised when my model
predicted that the majority (>97% using the most
conservative estimates for several variables) of the
eggs should not have fully developed.  I assumed there
was a problem with my model, and spent two months
trying to fine-tune it to give me the correct
response.  I played with various revisions of the
model and ultimately shelved it.  In a later CS
course, however, I was working on a simple program to
perform reiterative modeling and, since I had a
working program handy, I used my cis-regulatory model
to test the script.  Amazingly, when the program
repeated itself (two total iterations) the frequency
of non-development was between 15% and 55% of the
published value using conservative variable estimates
(95% confidence interval).

I was, at this point, enrolled with Professor [snip]
again in Evolutionary Developmental Biology and chose
to make this into my end of term project.  When I
informed him of my model, he was very enthusiastic and
supportive.  I e-mailed him a rough draft, in which I
drew the following (apparently wrong) conclusion:

“The results of over 3000 runs of this model suggest
some sort of “Predictive Agency” in the mutation of
cis-regulatory elements – that is, if the mutation of
these elements was completely random, virtually no
Xenopus embryos would develop.  A reiterative model,
and none of the other models applied, fits the
published data on Xenopus survival.  This is contrary
to the accepted position, as this suggests that the
embryo was somehow able to predict failure and re-roll
the dice, so to speak.  There is no known embryonic or
cellular mechanism for this, leading me to tentatively
put forth the models of Intelligent Design.”

I described my results to a friend proof-reading the
paper as follows:

“Imagine being presented with a deck of cards and
dying if you picked anything but a heart.  You would
probably not survive the pick.  Imagine, then, if you
were allowed to redraw in the event of a club, spade
or diamond.  Your odds would go up quite a bit, and
that is precisely the pattern I observe in the
survival rates of these Xenopus eggs.”

Professor [snip] replied by e-mail that night telling
me I had done excellent work and asking if I would be
interested in developing the model further under his
supervision and, potentially, publishing.  I was
thrilled, as a publication would guarantee me the grad
school of my choice, and agreed.  He mentioned some
statistical errors that he would help me with, but
agreed with my overall method.  He then asked me where
the model had been developed and where all the copies
were.  I informed him that I had developed it in a CS
lab on campus and that all the code was there.  The
next day he told me that the University had strict
regulations about how material awaiting publication
should be stored, and told me to move a copy of the
model (several thousand lines long) and the results I
had collected onto a computer in his laboratory under
password protection and to delete the copy in the CS
department.  I was so pleased with the thought of
publishing that I immediately complied with this, in
retrospect ominous, request.

I submitted my final paper to Professor [snip] for
evodevo, and went off on summer break very pleased
with myself.  I was shocked, then, to see that I had
been given an F in that class.  I e-mailed Professor
[snip] several times, but he did not respond.  I went
to his office two months later when Fall term opened,
and he denied ever speaking of publication and said my
work was plagiarized and that he was doing me a favor
by only giving me an F instead of reporting me to the
administration, upon which I would surely be suspended
or expelled.  I asked for my model back, at which
point he denied having it.  He then said that
creationists and Christian “fundies” like myself were
like a cancer in biology that had to be removed.  This
took me aback, as I am an agnostic and am very
strongly in favor of evolution as an explanation for
the development of life.  He then threatened to call
campus security if I did not leave his office
immediately or if I ever returned.

I took his threat seriously, as the word of a
professor in a matter of plagiarism always trumps that
of a student.  I fortunately had enough credits to
finish a minor in economics.  To be honest, I have
started and stopped this letter many times as I have
feared some repercussions from the University, but I
feel that as a scientist, my first duty is to the
truth and to follow the data.  I have followed your
work for some time since then, Dr. Dembski, and
believe you hold the same principles.  I do not know
if you might be able to use the description of my
cis-regulatory model or my account of the encounter
with Professor [snip], but you may feel free to do so
in whole or in part.  I wish I could send you the code
for the model or my e-mail exchange with Professor
[snip], but as I said the only copy of the model is in
his hands and my university e-mail account was purged
over the summer (highly unusual and suspect).  The
model took me months to create, and to be honest I was
so traumatized by the event that I don’t feel I can
recreate it.  There may have been flaws in my model
and it may not have survived the scrutiny of the
scientific community, but it was suppressed before it
was even presented and it deserves a chance to be
heard.  I have chosen to post this letter anonymously,
under the pseudonym Lagileo, an anagram of Galileo,
another scientist whose work was suppressed when it
did not agree with the prevailing dogma.  I would ask
you to please respect that anonymity.

Lagileo

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32 Responses to Troll-of-the-month award

  1. Interesting. I wonder if it is true. Could be the case, it would be disappointing if it was, but of course without more evidence no conclusion could safely be drawn as to the validity of the charge.

  2. If this whole story were true (and I place myself in this students shoes) I would make sure that I handed over every shred of evidence forthwith to dear Dr. Bill to make certain this villainous ‘professor’ paid with his career after his alleged despicable behavior. Imagine months of pain-staking work dismissed and then you accused of fraud?? I can’t see anyone just brushing it off. His non-replies and failure to produce anything concrete prove his own duplicitous behavior.

    Well spotted Bill, you never can be too careful these days! Sneaky one this.

  3. My, the lengths some people will go for the sake of Darwin.

  4. This is Darwinism at it’s best; A butch of story telling without any mechanism to back the huge claim. He will surely fit right in with other Darwinists.

  5. 5

    The fact that he mentions starting and stopping the letter several times, lends some element of truth to the story. Many years ago when placed in a similar situation (not regarding Darwinisn), I wrote then destroyed several such letters, before deciding to bury the entire episode, and move on. Fear was the primary motivating factor in my case.

  6. Bill, as the original message provides some specific details about the course and the work the student supposedly did, it shouldn’t be much difficult to verify some points

  7. As I indicated, this person never got back to me, despite two emails prodding him to do so.

  8. Maybe the professor thought he’d leave nothing to chance and prehaps had him assassinated…to permanetly silence the issue????

    (reads like a evolution article straight out of Nature magazine with ‘Maybe’ and ‘prehaps’ being keywords)

  9. #8 “Maybe the professor thought he’d leave nothing to chance and prehaps had him assassinated…to permanetly silence the issue????”

    LOL!

  10. It could have been an attempt to get you sued, and even if it wasn’t you could still get sued if Lagileo wasn’t willing to back you up.

    And a Yahoo account isn’t exactly reliable evidence of one’s claims of who one is.

    OTOH, if this kid really is afraid and wants to be anonymous that’s what he would do. Hopefully, if he is for real, you have provoked him enough to get in touch with you.

  11. Here\’s all the info for delivering \”Concerned Scientist\’s\” email to me. Perhaps someone can use this to track him down and determine whether he\’s indeed been assassinated.

    X-Persona:
    Return-path:
    Envelope-to: [snip]@designinference.com
    Delivery-date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 15:32:13 -0400
    Received: from wad by freedom2.myhostdns.com with local-bsmtp (Exim 4.52)
    id 1G0Nxq-0003bc-U8
    for [snip]@designinference.com; Tue, 11 Jul 2006 15:32:13 -0400
    X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.1.3 (2006-06-01) on
    freedom2.myhostdns.com
    X-Spam-Level:
    X-Spam-Status: No, score=-1.0 required=5.0 tests=BAYES_00,
    RCVD_IN_BL_SPAMCOP_NET autolearn=no version=3.1.3
    Received: from [216.252.110.68] (port=28817 helo=web55907.mail.re3.yahoo.com)
    by freedom2.myhostdns.com with smtp (Exim 4.52)
    id 1G0Nxq-0003bP-G6
    for [snip]@designinference.com; Tue, 11 Jul 2006 15:32:10 -0400
    Received: (qmail 87665 invoked by uid 60001); 11 Jul 2006 19:32:06 -0000
    DomainKey-Signature: a=rsa-sha1; q=dns; c=nofws;
    s=s1024; d=yahoo.com;
    h=Message-ID:Received:Date:From:Subject:To:MIME-Version:Content-Type:Content-Transfer-Encoding;
    b=yKQXlW4ooF9GsFkktcF9103rfp2r1SIVeVY5dLhyu2Mz0uNbd3jJesccYukiRKKGm6lVkC8CeRL8+1/Rho6L8Rh9S307/e/JRUyssmCb3skOQjzWOUdNp5YEPETqfGAP0QwdaqTfzdmJUf2jX5ciAo7QJcT91oEzS0hcJBVsSYs= ;
    Message-ID: <[email protected]>
    Received: from [154.35.47.59] by web55907.mail.re3.yahoo.com via HTTP; Tue, 11 Jul 2006 12:32:06 PDT
    Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 12:32:06 -0700 (PDT)
    From: Concerned Scientist
    Subject: Supression of an ID Experiment
    To: [snip]@designinference.com
    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
    X-Antivirus-Scanner: Clean mail though you should still use an Antivirus

  12. Teh DRAMA!

  13. I don’t believe it. And here’s why. This guy has very little to lose from speaking up about this. He’s young. No wife. No kids. No house. No responsibilities, really. In other words, he’s got nothing to lose by taking these guys on. When I was his age, something like this would be a hoot. I certainly wouldn’t sneak around writing obtuse letters about my predicament. I would scream it from rooftops. The whole plagiarism angle is a fiction plot technique. He isn’t simply at the mercy of the professor in these matters. Get real.

    I think this whole notion of the university as a cult of Darwinist worshippers is completely overblown and damaging to the ID movement. It’s often a convenient excuse for poor scholarship and casts us as victims of “the man.” Like Godel, our theory needs to be laid out as nearly indisputable to topple the reigning paradigm. And yes, that means being held to a higher standard than the Darwinists. It’s like boxing and all of life for that matter. Frankly, I like Davison’s approach. He doesn’t complain about the man keeping him down or worse, spend time complaining about holes in the Darwin theory. At least he’s laid out an alternative and he’s no victim.

  14. Barrett1: What have you experienced at the hands of scientific materialists? Are you aware of the Sternberg case? The pressures directed against frontline ID proponents are real. From your armchair, it is easy enough to say that we need simply to get to work. But families and livelihoods really are under threat by Darwinian enforcers, and when our days are spent trying to shore up the latter, the former gets short shrift. Of course, that is only as long as the persecution lasts. My persecution at Baylor lasted just a few months, after which I had essentially a 5-year sabbatical, in which I was highly productive.

  15. If he created the model once, he can do it again. He can submit it to peer review. If it fails there, he can put it on the web and show that peer review is biased. But, I don’t think he will. Someone is pulling your leg, Bill.

    To me this sounds more like a “Timmy is sick and needs your help” chain letter.

  16. Dr. Dembski, I appreciate that you are careful not to accuse your opponents without first obtaining real evidence. It reminds me of a recent post on telicthoughts.com entitled “Karen Armstrong and the fabricated quote.” In this case it was ID critic Nick Matzke who refused to accept an accusation on face value.

    There are things about this story that very much don’t add up, even if you consider that a professor could be as villanous as this story implies. The greatest single non seqitur is the idea that “the program is lost”. I develop software. When I produce an algorithm, I know what I did. If the code is lost, it may take coding time but I can reproduce the algorithm. The second glaring non seqitur is that Lagileo is not contactable to defend his/her accusation.

    I am quite happy to place this one in the dumpster. If we are going to accuse our opponents of misbehavior, we will want a much stronger case than this.

  17. Hello Dr. Dembski,

    Here is some information you might find useful:

    The e-mail address ([email protected]) came from this computer: 154.35.47.59 (or tor-proxy.carnabyhosts.co.uk) from the following location:

    Performance Systems International
    1015 31st St
    NW Washington DC, 20007
    +1-877-875-4311
    [email protected]

    Newtwork owner info:

    OrgName: Performance Systems International
    OrgID: PSI-2
    Address: 1015 31st St NW
    City: Washington
    StateProv: DC
    PostalCode: 20007
    Country: US

    NetRange: 154.35.0.0 – 154.35.255.255
    CIDR: 154.35.0.0/16
    NetName: PSINET-B2-35
    NetHandle: NET-154-35-0-0-1
    Parent: NET-154-0-0-0-0
    NetType: Direct Assignment
    NameServer: NS.PSI.NET
    NameServer: NS2.PSI.NET
    Comment:
    RegDate: 1992-02-05
    Updated: 1992-02-06

    OrgAbuseHandle: COGEN-ARIN
    OrgAbuseName: Cogent Abuse
    OrgAbusePhone: +1-877-875-4311
    OrgAbuseEmail: [email protected]

    OrgNOCHandle: ZC108-ARIN
    OrgNOCName: Cogent Communications
    OrgNOCPhone: +1-877-875-4311
    OrgNOCEmail: [email protected]

    OrgTechHandle: IPALL-ARIN
    OrgTechName: IP Allocation
    OrgTechPhone: +1-877-875-4311
    OrgTechEmail: [email protected]

    Domain Owner Info.

    Domain name:
    carnabyhosts.co.uk

    Registrant:
    NO FIRST NAME NO LAST NAME

    Registrant type:
    Not supplied

    Registrant’s address:
    ATTN insert domainname here
    care of Network Solutions
    PO Box 447
    Herndon
    VA
    20172
    US

    Registrant’s agent:
    Global Registration Services Ltd [Tag = GRS]
    URL: http://www.globalregistrationservices.com

    Relevant dates:
    Registered on: 06-Jun-2006
    Renewal date: 06-Jun-2008
    Last updated: 26-Jul-2006

    Registration status:
    Registration request being processed.

    Name servers:
    udns1.ultradns.net
    udns2.ultradns.net

    WHOIS lookup made at 18:15:19 02-Aug-2006


    This WHOIS information is provided for free by Nominet UK the central registry
    for .uk domain names. This information and the .uk WHOIS are:

    Copyright Nominet UK 1996 – 2006.

    You may not access the .uk WHOIS or use any data from it except as permitted
    by the terms of use available in full at http://www.nominet.org.uk/whois, which
    includes restrictions on: (A) use of the data for advertising, or its
    repackaging, recompilation, redistribution or reuse (B) obscuring, removing
    or hiding any or all of this notice and (C) exceeding query rate or volume
    limits. The data is provided on an ‘as-is’ basis and may lag behind the
    register. Access may be withdrawn or restricted at any time.

    I hope this is helpful. Looks like the person e-mailed you from his/her job.

    Good Luck,
    —Mario

  18. Whoa!

    No one ever tick-off Mario Lopez.

  19. antg says:
    My, the lengths some people will go for the sake of Darwin.

    The student could have avoided this confusion and blog thesis simply by reading some good essays/books on ID.

    “The occupational pathology of the philosopher is that of oversimplification”
    from “Teachers and Philosophers” in College English publication 1993? (an OhioU professor, who also wrote on the pragmatist calculus “If you want X, do Y)

  20. 20
    sagebrush gardener

    IP address 154.35.47.59 is an open proxy and part of the Tor network, a system that is intended for anonymous communication on the Internet.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.....4.35.47.59

    Whoever sent the email was being very careful to cover their tracks.

  21. The address given by the whois search was this:

    Performance Systems International
    1015 31st St
    NW Washington DC, 20007
    +1-877-875-4311

    However, I just did some searching around. That street address and phone number actually belong to Cogent Communications, the OrgNOCName listed here. Performance Systems International (http://www.psilimited.com/main_frameset.htm) is actually headquartered in Oxford, UK and in San Diego. From the looks of things, this email came from the UK.

  22. 22
    sagebrush gardener

    It is highly unlikely that this email came from anyone at Performance Systems International. PSI operates the computer at 154.35.47.59 as an open proxy on the Tor network. This is an anonymizing network whose purpose is to conceal the true location and identity of its users.

  23. Oh, it’s an open proxy. I guess it could have come from literally anywhere. Will the Tor network even route a packet through a different continent?

  24. 24
    sagebrush gardener

    Will the Tor network even route a packet through a different continent?

    I don’t know of any reason it wouldn’t. There are no continents on the internet — only IP addresses.

  25. # 13 Barrett1 said: “It’s often a convenient excuse for poor scholarship and casts us as victims of “the man.” Psycholinquistics Dept.s at your local university is an excise for poor scholarship? so this notion of information content of DNA is utterly false? I have one more thing to say– “inter” & “lego”
    is at work.

  26. “I informed him that I had developed it in a CS
    lab on campus and that all the code was there. The
    next day he told me that the University had strict
    regulations about how material awaiting publication
    should be stored, and told me to move a copy of the
    model (several thousand lines long) and the results I
    had collected onto a computer in his laboratory under
    password protection and to delete the copy in the CS
    department.”

    If he is a coder then it’s hard to believe that the whole project is done in just one PC. I don’t believe this guy does not own a PC at home. When a coder is busy with a sophisticated job it’s very likley for him to continue the work at home overnight. With USB disks making a backup is extremely easy and since he’s telling that he has moved his work from his lab to professor’s PC, there must an external media like a USB flash disk that he used to carry the source code. Even if you delete files from a HDD, there are some tools to partially or fully recover the deleted files. Moreover, he doesn’t say anything about the programming tool or the computer language he used to code his model.

  27. Dr. John Lynch is under the impression that Dr. Dembski used the words “Darwinian fascists” rather than “Darwinian enforcers” in his response to Barrett1 (see posts #13 and #14). Dr. Lynch’s response to Dembski’s thread is here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/strang.....scists.php

    Best regards,
    apollo230

  28. Is Lynch incapable of comprehending English?

    He claims:

    What’s interesting here is that, despite not being able to confirm anything in the e-mail, Dembski posts it, albeit with the name of the university and professor removed.

    So?

    While he cant prove anything specific, Dembski obviously feels that hints of bad actions by “scientific materialists” are useful for the cause. On the other hand, if the e-mail is a fake and a setup to get Dembski in trouble, it’s also a plot by the “scientific materialists”!

    Well, it’s either one or the other.

    The shills at echo chamber that is Uncommon Descent seem to think it’s real and are engaging in some amateur detective work. Dembski is unsure.

    Actually the consensus here is that it is likely a setup albeit nobody’s claiming certain knowledge. Maybe that’s the difference between us and the Darwinists. When we don’t know something we don’t pretend we do. ;-)

  29. I must ask a question that occured to me.

    Is there any merit to the idea he mentioned ? Even if the guy is a troll and the whole thing is a stunt, perhaps there is something to the idea being advanced.

  30. Bill’s right. The story is probably a crock.

    I am impressed by the high-tech expertise employed in tracing the origin of this tale.

    For those of us who cannot reliably debug their own computers, there is another system that works reasonably well and can be used in a pinch:

    “Never believe anyone who gives you no real information to validate.”

    Their story may be true or false, … but who knows? You have nothing to go on.

    ALWAYS red flag a story where all the relevant information has conveniently disappeared. Doesn’t matter how or why. There is no non-fiction story! That’s all you need to know.

    Compare this distressing tale with, say, Richard Sternberg, Guillermo Gonzalez, Bill Dembski, John Davison, and such, who can point to actual people, correspondence, attacks in the media, et cetera, that peg a narrative to verifiable events to a timebound reality.

    Interpretations may differ, but the fact that SOMETHING happened is not in dispute.

    We don’t have that here, so let’s turn to other, verifiable matters.

  31. Is there any merit to the idea he mentioned ?

    No. It smelled of someone thinking that Bill and other IDers wouldn’t see it as fraudulent.

    If there are high mutation rates in observed living organisms yet high survival rates, an IDer would presume error correction first, not some sort of intelligent intervention at every step of the way.

    What was proposed was a mockery of ID theory. I posits intelligence is intervening in each step of life. Pretty insulting.

  32. How can anyone believe that such a smart student would not keep safely at least one copy of his hard work? I think his story is clearly not entirely true, to say the least!

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