Thursday, March 3, 2022

#2518: William Basener

William Basener is a professor of data science at the University of Virginia and formerly associate professor of mathematics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Basener is probably most famous for his involvement in William Dembski’s Evolutionary Informatics Lab at Baylor, which was not a lab but a website and – in particular – never did any biology, and its pseudoscientific work in support of Intelligent Design Creationism. Basener is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, and one the relatively few signatories with genuine credentials and a significant and real scientific output.


He does not have any expertise in biology, but has published a couple of papers – many of which are superficially professional-looking – that he claims are relevant to biological evolution. These include an article with John Sanford in Mathematical Biology in 2017, where they argue that R.A. Fisher’s notorious Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection needs additional terms added to account for mutation, and that when these are added, the mean fitness of populations tends to steadily decline. Of course, Basener and Stanford misunderstood the population genetics literature (also here), in particular the extent to which Fisher’s theorem has any bearing on the mathematics of selection versus mutation, and were generally wrong, but that doesn’t seem to deter them. Basener has also been on the editorial team of the journal Bio-Complexity, which is not exactly the kind of place you want your work to be published if you wish it to be taken seriously.


Diagnosis: Something of an authority in the Intelligent Design creationist community, insofar as he is one of the relatively few among them who can produce arguments that superficially look like they have anything to do with science, at least to those who don’t have any expertise in the fields. Though this particular branch of pseudoscience has faded from public view over the last decade (after it turned out that its supporters generally never cared about the “sophisticated science” look anyways but preferred dumb anti-science conspiracy theories), they’re apparently still at it.

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