Monday Madness: What would an ID research assistant do?

A few weeks ago, the science blogging world was dealt a heavy blow – with the canning of DaveScot at Uncommon Descent, and the blog’s re-birth as The weblog of William Dembski, Denyse O’Leary, and Friends. A heavy blow because, well, DaveScot was so funny. For over half a year, this buffoon managed IDist William Dembski’s blog, which I talked about before on the debut of my own blog. DaveScot yelled at commenters, both Darwinian and not, and continued the bang-up job of censoring dissent that William Dembski started over a year ago.

But with DaveScot given the boot out of there, it seemed that the comic relief that was Uncommon Descent would be gone. We were wrong. In addition to inviting Denyse O’Leary to blog at the site, Dembski appears to have invited the unlikeliest of people to help moderate the site. His research assistant.

Research assistant… I know! Intelligent Design, which has billed itself as a scientific movement, is the first ever “scientific” movement to exist without ever doing any scientific research. That is, unless you count “scientific creationism.” ‘Course, considering that intelligent design is the latest incarnation of the scientific creationism, then it’s really the same movement, so it still is the first “scientific movement” of note that has proceeded to gain popular appeal without having anything vaguely scientific going on behind it. And now we hear that William Dembski has a research assistant who is also a contributor to his blog, making his debut, and announcing the launch of his new blog.

Given the fact that there is no laboratory in the world that has announced that it is working on testing any aspect of intelligent design, one wonders exactly what an ID research assistant would do. I’ve been a research assistant in a couple labs, so let’s compare my duties in a mouse genetics lab to what it seems an ID research assistant would do. (His experience indented, mine not.)


My first research assistant-type position was as an intern in the Barklay-Spearow lab. Every intern had to take care of the mice we used for endocrine-disruptor research, (How does genetics affect their birth rate, and the combination of genetics and environmental estrogens in combination – are we breeding high-litter estrogen-resistant mice to test chemicals on for safety?) in addition to learning techniques in the lab. The work was hard, sometimes sneezy, but it had its rewards. Note to interns: do not get really good at something that isn’t very fun to do at all. For one year I not only collected virtually all of the tail-tip samples for DNA extraction and notched every ear for identification – I had to teach every other intern how to do it. And because I got so good at handling mice, the task of handling the Mus spretus or “wild mouse” cages. Every opened the lid of a pot of popping popcorn on the stove? replace the popcorn kernels flying around with biting mice and you’ll get the idea.

Ah, menial tasks. There should be plenty of these things for an ID research assistant to do. How about cleaning the petri dishes? Okay, um, feeding the mice? How about cleaning the glass plates used for agarose or polyacrylamide gels…? Damn. Maybe they could sweep the floor, take out the paper recycling. That works. Then it’s time to hit the discussion boards on the lab office computer for a break. Call me Super Jew, even though I am a Christian (Probably ethnically jewish). Now, there’s this website called the Internet Infidels, and I have a big problem with them expressing their beliefs and attacking the beliefs of others. I believe in the freedom of speech and religion, so what I’m going to do is send them a snotty email calling for them to take down their site, in the name of freedom of speech! Yeah, take your website off the web! Nyaa nyaa!

When I was done with collecting those tail-tips, I would take them to the lab to extract their DNA. Then, properly diluted, it could be used to test whether or not those mice inherited chromosomal regions of interest. The project focused on crossing one strain (think of it as a highly in-bred breed) with another, and then crossing those mice with one of the parent strains over and over until the resulting mouse inherited all of its DNA, save one little piece, from a parental strain, and the piece came from the other. Run a round of PCR with primers that anneal on either side of the region, making billions of copies of DNA from that region to test what size it is, and thus what parent it came from. The mouse inherited the region you desired? Take that info back to the cages across campus. Sometimes this process took me to the library to look up new reagents, or I spent hours thumbing through primer lists for the reactants I needed.

Nothing to do...Intelligent Design is a scientific meta-movement and fully experimental theory, you see, so there has got to be some real lab tasks to do here. They wouldn’t lie to them about that, would they? Let’s start with extracting some DNA from, uh. How about looking up target sequences on PubMed and designing primers to run a PCR reaction, yeah, if they could just do one of those things that every biologist does nowadays… Nevermind. Okay, what about the bacteriaID-centered research, oh wait, it was all done on computer, and it wasn’t about ID at all. Wait, what was that about stacking the deck against evolution..? Well hey, at least I don’t have to put on a labcoat anymore! What’s that, check the references on Ann Coulter’s new book to prevent an embarrasement? Such a short list shouldn’t take them any time at all! (pass, pass, pass, so easy when the references are Bill.) Then how about hitting the blogs to poke fun at a few churches – they must be freethinkers because they can use puns. I am so bored.

Back in the rooms where we kept the mice, we had to take the newly genotyped mice and set them up with new cage-mates, to, well, mate. There were also a few other projects going. For a while, I had to check the mice in one rack of cages every day to count their litters. I had to catch them early because there was a risk of losing baby mice to cannibalism, and we had to have good litter data. Eventually, the cards I wrote on ended up in a card storage bin, where I sorted them and entered them into a spreadsheet to look for patterns. Sure enough, mice that were selected by the marker-assisted breeding project to have a small chromosomal region from one mouse strain with a genetic background of the other strain had differences in litter size! Somewhere in there was an allele that affected the number of eggs ovulated by the females. Mice such as these then went on to another experiment, where they were fed small amounts of estrogen to see how it affected the number of pups in each litter. The theory being tested was that by selecting for mice with large litter sizes, researchers were inadvertently selecting for estrogen-resistant mice. Thus, the mice bred to be prolific for testing chemicals on them, would be bred also for resistance to some of the very chemicals tested on them, such as environmental estrogens. There was a lot of work involved with the four quarters I worked for Dr. Spearow, and I didn’t understand the whole scope of the research project until my second quarter. However, from working as an intern, assisting with the research, I came to understand what the project was about, the methods used, and what kinds of results we were seeing. Dr. Spearow would be the authority to talk to for the nitty gritty details of the project, but I could still relate the basic idea.

I can’t seem to remember or haven’t told anyone how long I’ve had the priviledge to be William Dembski’s research assistant, but I’m sure that I’ve got a good grasp of the theory of Intelligent Design that must be being tested in some lab somewhere. (Because It sure isn’t being tested here. But that’s ok because we focus on promoting the science that comes out of our amazing ID labswhere were they again?) When Bill invited Denyse O’Leary to moderate his blog, I was invited to join the blog and help moderate it – Bill must think that I am ready to represent ID, with all that he has taught me during my time working for him! I think I am ready, I’ve seen all the inner workings and I fell I am well versed on the argument from ignorance the science to be able to help the movement. All I have to do is be honest and talk about what I have learned, like any research assistant would. Let’s say hello to everyone, announce the start of my own blog, and start telling people what I know.


Joel Barofsky, ID research assistant, proceeded to do just that. He started off by telling everyone about his true hopes and dreams for ID:

My hope is that ID will be taught properly in Kansas. Having been born and raised there I would love to claim to be from the first state to teach ID. There is a lot of movement among science high school teachers to never teach ID, even if it becomes a law because “we don’t know how to teach philosophy.”

It would be nice to see them learn. I worked in a school and grew tired of hearing them speak of how it’s wrong to point out the weaknesses in Darwin’s theory because, “even if it is weak, it’s still the best theory out there.” (Shades of Dawkins anyone?)

He was then asked by another poster, does he think that the situation in Kansas is about teaching ID? Why, yes!

It really is ID in disguise. The entire purpose behind all of this is to shift it into schools…at least that is the hope/fear among some science teachers in the area. The problem is, if you are not going to be dogmatic in Darwinism that means you inevitably have to point out a fault or at least an alternative to Darwinism. So far, the only plausible theory is ID.

If one is to challenge Darwin, then one must use ID. To challenge Darwin is to challenge natural selection/spontaneous first cause…which is what the Kansas board is attempting to do. When you do that, you have to invoke the idea of ID.

Joel Borofsky, ID research assistant, has just told everyone that the “teach the controversy” issue “really is ID in disguise.” A monumental admission, likely uttered because he wasn’t fully aware of the smokescreen that we’ve all been talking about. That is, that ID = criticism of evolution with no testable alternative proposed, “Teach the Controversy” = teach “criticism” of evolution for a “balanced” education, but that somehow, you won’t be teaching ID? Joel knew this was the case, and he spoke his mind, what made sense to him. Read: “When you do that, you have to invoke the idea of ID.”

He went on, after someone named Ms Cogan stated that “Teach the Controversy” is just religion in disguise, to say:

What you, Mrs Cogan, are attempting to do is use rhetoric and the famous, “ID is Creationism is a cheap suit” argument. Unfortunately for you, it is highly unfounded. Creationism teaches that the Judeo/Christian God created the world in seven days for His glory. ID teaches that the world evolved over time but also had some intelligent designer either beginning the process or guiding the process.

Amazingly, in this comment, which was one day and two minutes after the previous one, he says that ID does not equal creationism in disguise, where he just said that “Teach the Controversy” is ID in disguise. Actually, to correct you, Joel, ID does not make specific claims about whether life evolved and a designer was just guiding the process. ID is a “big tent” that includes everyone from literal six-day, 6000-year-old-Earth creationism to people who are almost theistic evolutionists. Theistic evolution is basically where you accept the scientific evidence for evolution, and you believe, religiously, that this was the process that gOD used to create humans. IDers commonly try to suggest that Theistic evolutionists such as Ken Miller at Brown University are really closet IDers, but no avail. ID includes everyone that rejects evolution, and insist that gOD must have designed humans directly, like a cosmic genetic engineer. Joel got the distortion of reality correct, right in line with the rest of the IDers, so he’s on target as far they are concerned.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere lit up with the news. Here is a list of the attention that Joel’s gaffe earned him:

Joel fired back, saying “Am I that important?” He decided to backtrack, denying that he is even a part of the ID movement.

I am proud to say that I am very insignificant in this movement, so much so I really am not part of the movement.

He went on to say that his statement of fact was not a statement of fact but a personal opinion.

I was voicing a personal opinion about what I wish would occur.

Of course! Well, no. As Ed Brayton at Dispatches points out, he first declared an opinion, that he wishes that ID would be taught, yes. But then in his second comment, as you can very evidently see, he made a clear, unequivocal statement that the Kansas “science” standard issue “really is ID in disguise.” That’s not a statement of opinion, it is a statement of fact. He then misquotes himself, trying to brush it off as nothing, really nothing at all. And he’s not really an ID research assistant, no he’s not part of the ID movement at all, he just helps William Dembski with theological matters. I have just one question, then.


There’s another post at Clever Beyond Measure responding to Joel’s defense.

Joel Borofsky ended his post with something interesting. After declaring that he is not part of the ID movement in any way, shape or form, he said:

It should also be noted that I am his assistant on theological work, not necessarily the ID movement. (emphasis mine)

After all the denial, he couldn’t come out and say that he was NOT working on something for the ID movement, he said he was not necessarily working on ID movement stuff. Just theological stuff. Like moderating Dembski’s ID blog, for example. I really can’t fault him on this, because the ID movement IS theological (and cultural, political), it’s not scientific at all. So he just said he is working on Dembski’s theological work, just not necessarily this particular theological work. But he can’t come out and say no, because he probably is and doesn’t want to lie. On the other hand, maybe he doesn’t know because he can’t tell the difference between ID and theology.

One day later, Joel’s last post at UD poked fun at celebrities. I have not seen Joel comment or post since then. Perhaps he is busy and will be back soon, or perhaps, knowing what he knows, Dembski didn’t think it was a good idea to have him represent ID anymore? A google search confirms this. Fizzle.

Joel Borofsky, although many people have teased you for your big mouth, on the other hand I would like to thank you for being William Dembski’s research assistant, and for speaking your mind. It probably didn’t take you very long to realize that the terms being tossed around such as “Teach the Controversy” really are Intelligent Design in disguise, and it took courage to say that. In contrast to the fun I have poked at what an ID research assistant would do, I believe that you have the capacity to do good, well thought-out research, and even though you have evaded a few things in so short a time, you have demonstrated that you can speak to the truth as someone within the ID crowd. You have confirmed what the scientists and science bloggers have been saying, that all the rhetoric spewed by the Disco institute is a cover for trying to teach an unscientific idea without doing any actual scientific research on it. Even though you believe that it is scientific, you may come to understand its utter vacuity. On your blog, Stop Lying to Us, you took a lesson from Ron Burgandy:

Third, don’t stoop to their level. If someone makes an argument from rhetoric, don’t debate the rhetoric, point out there is no evidence backing it up. Make them prove their point, and if they can’t, ask them how they can truly know what they are teaching is evidence is really true.
Don’t become Ron Burgundy and don’t succumb to such tactics. Look past the smoke screen and instead look to the truth.

As we have pointed out many times before, there is no evidence backing up ID. look beyond the rhetoric, make them prove their point to you. I know you want to believe that your deity was actively involved in the creation evolution design of life on this planet, but you need to find evidence of that, and you want it to be taught in school without such evidence?

On purpose or not, you’ve become a part of the history of Intelligent Design, and are quoted in this Wikipedia article. This is what an ID research assistant does, you research intelligent design, from the inside, and reveal the truth as you see it to everyone else. Ironically, as there’s nothing to research for ID, there’s plenty you can research about ID. Good luck.

UPDATE: Joel puts another post on UD, so he’s still part of the blog, but I would like to note that yes, many ideas start out as intuitions, but what becomes science versus what becomes pseudoscience is the presence or absence of scientific research. Darwin did it, and thousands of biologists after him did it, but IDers can’t seem to do any of it to support their ideas. Indeed, the point of the article he criticizes is that IDers use that intuition for marketing, not to start an actual scientific program. Also, I’d like to note, one of the commenters asked if Shermer headed up Skeptical Inquirer, no, he started Skeptic.

Read the comments below, where Joel changes his story.


Published by

Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

15 thoughts on “Monday Madness: What would an ID research assistant do?”

  1. It should be noted that half of what you quoted me on was done years ago…some as old as when I was 16 years old. Look at the dates before you mock anything. 🙂


  2. Hi Joel, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I know the comments were made almost 2 years ago. The blog comments are really no big deal, but the one from 2000 about the internet infidels is pretty bad. If you no longer agree with your statement, let us know.

    Actually, it would be good if you cleared up for everyone what it is you do as a research assistant. And also, you said that you don’t necessarily do work on ID, do you or don’t you?


  3. Your blog format is irritating. White on black is hard to read, especially with a distracting blue streak behind part of it and 3 pt text is infuriating. Maybe you should consider a change. In the meantime, I’ll continue to copy and paste the text elsewhere to read, but with all the other worthwhile sites that don’t demand anything so challenging I might just abandon the effort and go someplace else.

    At first the white on black format seemed fun, but I have noticed that it doesn’t make it too comfortable to read. I am considering re-doing the look of the site. Actually, you can change the look of the font with your browser. I noticed that when viewing other people’s sites, the text was often very small, and I complained only to find out that I had the power to change it.

    I’m considering changing to a white background, with softer colors, and a ghostly brain picture rather than the bold one. I’ll do some looking around and make a post about it in the coming weeks. -KJM


  4. Hey Joel, as a RA for Dr. Buffalo Bill, could you please tell us, is Dr. Buffalo Bill he as greasy as he appears, or greasier?


  5. If you read Joel’s melodramatically titled blog, you’ll see that he’s just a young, programmed right-winger. His opinions are still 95% those of his parents or whoever home-schooled him. If he has any brains at all, he’ll eventually see Dembski for the fraud he is.


  6. I always have a hard time reading your site. The white letters on black background are hard to read. If I find something very intersting, I have to cut and paste into word. Please change your format to a friendly reading method.


  7. So is it now “The weblog of William Dembski, Denyse O’Leary, and One Less Friend”?

    I figured that the justification of Joel’s existence was so that Dembski could say, “I am too a scientist – see, I have a Research Assistant”. However, Joel ruined this theory by saying “it should also be noted that I am his assistant on theological work”. However, the silver lining for me is that that explanation apparently confirms that blogging on ID is an extension of Dembski’s theological work.


  8. Poor Joel, I just visited your blog. The Aug. 15 entry is about a parody of Christianity that you comment on, ending with:

    “As we can see, if you can belittle someone’s idea before truly examining it, it never really gains any strength.”

    That entry is just before the one for Aug. 14 “Join the Darwin Youth!”. A parody on scientists who study evolution.

    If there’s one thing about ID supporters, apart from their hypocritical nature, it is there consistent inconsistency.


  9. Being as how you are still engaging in the same odd online behavior now as you were then, why should it matter if you were only 16 then? If anything, pointing that out simply shows how you haven’t matured any since then.

    BTW, what DOES a “research assistant” do all day if the target of their research is fictitious?


  10. That one from 2000 was made when I was 16 years old as well. It’s one of those things I look at and laugh because it shows where I’ve come from. I certainly think it’s a very weak argument and wouldn’t ascribe to the structure at all.

    When Bill defines me as a research assistant, it is that I help with his work at the seminary and sometimes with his work on ID. However, since I am not a scientist nor have any desires of becoming one, this translates to editing books, critiquing the philosophy of naturalism, etc.


  11. So “Not necessarily” = “Sometimes”? What sort of work on his ID stuff do you do, is it stuff like fact-checking, graphics, or..? I know there’s no lab work involved.


  12. Joel,

    Dembski isn’t a scientist either. He obviously doesn’t feel fettered by his lack of science knowledge, so why should you? You at least have youthful ignorance to fall back on when someone points out your errors.

    BTW, Karl–thanks for the links.


  13. Your type size and colors make your otherwise super duper blog insufferable. Something a little more professional, adult even would be a huge improvement. The bolded type makes it even more unreadable.

    I’d love to hand around here more often but it is not worth the effort. My eyes hurt.

    Most people have their IE browser text size set to mdeium (default setting). Try that on yours and tell me you’re blog isn’t formatted on the nutty side (unreadable).



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