Adam Becker has published a fluent and interesting article about Inference in the pages of Undark. Our readers and writers have asked that we comment.
Inference is a 501(c)(3) corporation. Its financial structure is a matter of public record. Like Undark, Inference is entirely supported by its donors.
Is this unwholesome? Unavoidably so, Becker suggests.
It is a reasonable point of view. In our own case, our funder is neither a member of our Board of Editors nor a part of our editorial staff. He plays no role in our editorial decisions, which, under law, are entirely in the hands of the corporation’s officers.
2. Corruption at a Distance
Do judgments made about a corporate donor carry implications about the corporation?
We can only speak for ourselves. We have no ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever. Anyone persuaded otherwise should read our journal.
Before suggesting that Inference stands compromised by its financial support, Becker might have profitably considered his own. Undark is supported by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. A look at their public financial records, from which we quote, is instructive:
Approximately 28 percent and 29 percent of the foundation’s total investments at December 31, 2017 and 2016, respectively, were invested in alternative equity investments including private equity, private natural resources and real estate with numerous partnerships, in which the foundation is a limited partner.
Private natural resources is a term with a specific meaning:
Private Natural Resources includes funds that invest in U.S. and international (with the primary focus in the U.S.) upstream oil & gas assets and royalties, midstream energy companies, oilfield service companies, mining and metals companies, power generation assets and companies, and timber and infrastructure assets.
Whatever these investments represent, it would be difficult imagining them bringing about a sustainable green future.
Would we be correct in affirming that Undark stands compromised by its institutional donors?
If not, why is the same indictment considered creditable in the case of Inference?
Becker believes that two of our essays are deserving of censure. They are William Kininmonth’s “Physical Theories and Computer Simulations in Climate Science,” and Michael Denton’s “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis Revisited.”
Both were published in 2014.
Now a secret must be imparted. Sheldon Glashow and Rich Roberts agree with Becker. Richard Lindzen and David Gelernter do not. The editors who worked on these essays thought them deserving of publication. This represents nothing more than the usual give and take of editorial opinion in any vigorous scientific journal.
It cannot be avoided and need not be condemned.
Anyone objecting to essays that we publish is free to criticize them. Our letters section is open. It is wide open.
4. A Conspiracy to Co-Mingle
Becker is not a conspiracy theorist in the sense that he believes in conspiracies. He is a conspiracy theorist in the sense that he is prepared to intimate that they exist. His suggestion that by publishing two essays in 2014, we were engaged in a conspiracy subtly to co-mingle the good with the bad is, if entertaining, also absurd. We have published 151 essays since 2014. Becker disapproves of two—roughly 1.3 percent of the whole. Were any of us minded to engage in conspiracies, we would have found more effective ways in which to carry them out.
5. Arguments by Insinuation
An argument by insinuation is a logical form in which a conclusion is rejected because its author has been impugned. We disdain such arguments. Were the Devil to offer Inference a valid proof of the Riemann Conjecture, we would publish it, no matter our doubts about the Devil’s institutional affiliations. We are prepared to initiate inquiries. Proceeding by insinuation, Becker has thought it profitable to impugn:
- Tyler Hampton, who was, at the time his laboratory review was published, a tennis coach. Hampton is a brilliant young scholar, as even a cursory reading of “The New View of Proteins” might indicate. The Dan S. Tawfik laboratory in Israel—the subject of Hampton’s review—linked to his work from their website. The link is there still.
Hampton has found it difficult to find his footing in the academic world. But so has Becker. He is self-described as a freelance astrophysicist. He has no academic position.
- Frank Tipler, who is a professor of mathematical physics at Tulane University, and well-known among competent physicists for his work on global general relativity. Tipler has published more than seventy articles in peer-reviewed journals; they have elicited more than two thousand six hundred citations. This is a record more substantial than Becker’s own. Tipler has also published books that have been unfavorably reviewed.
His essay in Inference had nothing to do with either global general relativity or the physics of immortality. Entitled “Ptolemy versus Copernicus,” it is a detailed study of astronomical data in the seventeenth century.
- J. Scott Turner, who has been a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University, and is now a Professor of Biology at SUNY. His essay, “Many Little Lives,” deals with the emergence of group intelligence in structures such as termite mounds. Becker’s insinuations are, in this regard, a mystery to us.
6. No Help Needed
Inference commissioned Sheldon Glashow to review Becker’s book in the spring of 2018, well before Becker was known to Inference. The idea that we would require the services of a Nobel Laureate in order to make a fool of Becker is absurd. Becker is capable of doing that quite by himself.
Sheldon Lee Glashow