Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Cambrian Explosion, the Discovery Institute, and Prof Paul Chien

I intend to write a set of blog posts addressing the comments and thoughts on Darwin’s Dilemma from people who have seen the film. This is useful because people who do not have a background in the Cambrian Explosion or palaeontology are the people that the Discovery Institute is hoping to mislead. So what such people are taking away from the film, the messages that the Discovery Institute is hoping to instill, the questions raised in people’s minds, etc., are worth addressing.

Previous posts can be found here, here, and here.

This post is in response to Ian’s comments here, and addresses the presence of Prof Paul Chien as a 'spokesperson' for the Early Cambrian Chinese fossils.

Ian Writes:
Paul Chien is a marine biologist at the University of San Francisco and Discovery Institute fellow. According to the USF website, “Prof. Chien is interested in the physiology and ecology of inter-tidal organisms. His research has involved the transport of amino acids and metal ions across cell membranes and the detoxification mechanisms of metal ions”. While the movie presents him as someone who has “done research in the renowned fossil beds of Chengjiang, China”, there’s no evidence to suggest that Chien is a palaeontologist or that he has published any of this findings (outside of Discovery Institute publications). In the movie, Chien is shown visiting the Chengjiang site. If you listen carefully to the what is said, it appears that he did so simply as an interested member of the public, not as an involved researcher. But the viewer is left with the distinct impression that he worked at the site. The movie’s website goes further, claiming that “Dr. Chien has done research in the renowned fossil beds of Chengjiang, China”. While this is possible, I saw nothing in the movie that actually supports this assertion.
Ian's not alone. I couldn't find any publications in peer-reviewed science journals by Prof Chien on the Chengjiang fauna. However, I'd be pleased to list them here if anyone knows of any.

It appears that Prof Chien is not a palaeontologist, he has no palaeontology experience, he has done no palaeontological research. Prof Chien is not an evolutionary biologist, nor a paleobiologist.
And Nigel Hughes says, “As far as I know, P.K. Chien is not a paleontologist and has published no peer-reviewed papers in paleontology. He is not a ‘player’ in scientific issues related to the Cambrian radiation”. David Bottjer observed that “Chien has tried to produce straight science papers on the Chengjiang fossils, but so far I don’t believe that there have been any publications. He has a Chengjiang fossil collection . . . but even if he does have a lot of specimens, that is not proof that he has or can do anything scientific with them; lots of amateurs (non-scientist) individuals have large fossil collections. From my interactions with him in China I can say that Chien knows nothing about the science. He is interested in creationist goals. (Forrest and Gross 2005 p. 56)
So why is Prof Chien used?
According to Kevin Padian, curator of the Museum of Paleontology and professor of paleontology and evolutionary biology at the University of California-Berkeley “Dr Chien admits that he has no expertise or training in paleontology. He admits in interviews that he came into the issue believing that evolution is not true (Forrest and Gross 2005 p. 56)
Prof Chien is also a CSC Fellow of the Discovery Institute, and has translated Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial into Chinese. Prof Chien is the Discovery Institute's spokesperson for Early Cambrian Chinese fossils because noone with actual experience would associate with the Institute and Intelligent Design

Hmm. So having Prof Chien as a spokesperson for Early Cambrian Chinese fossils is kind of like having Orly Taitz as a spokesperson for the legality of the Obama Presidency. No, that’s not fair, at least Orly has legal qualifications, but this is the Discovery Institute.

Forrest, B. and Gross, P.R. (2005) Creationism's Trojan horse: the wedge of intelligent design. Oxford University Press.


  1. Isn't this just an ad hominem/genetic fallacy argument? Has anyone actually addressed the scientific statements in the film and discussed the merits/lack of those statements?

    Also, without proposing an ad hominem of my own, the Republican bias at the end certainly doesn't offer much credence...

    Don't get me wrong, the Discovery Institute has a clear agenda and a non-science to "back them up," but why stoop to their level by using fallacious arguments? Why not simply state the scientific truth and be done with it? This blag post makes our job more difficult.

    1. Jeff,

      I do not consider this to be ad hominem, as it is a series of factual statements. The fact is the the Discovery Institute is using someone with no background in palaeontology. Why? Why, especially when two well known palaeontologists appear in the film?

      I have addressed other issues in other posts, as have others.


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