The blogodome has been all in a kerfluffle over the latest Perfunctory Institute episode involving Casey Luskin and his crow-eating behavior concerning copyright infringement. Specifically, Luskie apparently took an image off of ResearchBlogging (or his “friend gave it to him”) without permission and he used it to “web log” about some essay in some biology journal (DI people don’t blog, they “web log”–it’s like blogging, only in the style of ten years ago. Y’know, without all the nifty commenting and RSS feeding and whatnot.. all the products of blogging modernity and so forth. Although they do have trackbacks–which speaks to the media whority of the DI. Digressions!).
Here’s an obvious admission: I don’t understand copyright law (who does?). I pirate crap fairly frequently (mostly in the form of thousand dollar suites which I almost never use). I’m a ‘try before you buy’ kind of guy. And a ‘that software costs more than my computer; I’ll just buy another computer instead’ kind of guy. So I might not surprise you by saying, I don’t care that Casey Kasem stole the image.
First of all, the URL of the site is clearly displayed on the image (more on that later). It’s a rather giant leap to argue that by putting that image on the site that the DI is benefiting financially. It’s also a leap to argue that Casey is benefiting in any way from putting the image there, except among ID people perhaps. And honestly, they’re likely to remain unpersuaded about the stupidity of ID no matter what you do. And people who don’t know anything one way or the other about evolution or ID will probably not know anything about the icon anyway. So even though he probably did put it up there to appear more credible, it probably wouldn’t work.
So I have two real problems with this whole affair, and they have nothing to do with copyright. The first is that it appears Cassidy Luskin is lying. I mean other than about ID. He claims that he “didn’t know” it was from ResearchBlogging, or that he “didn’t know” what ResearchBlogging was. That can only mean, assuming rather gratuitously that he’s telling the truth, that he didn’t see the 16-point font ResearchBlogging.org displayed prominently on the bottom of the image. Or, if he did, he didn’t bother to look up what this “ResearchBlogging” mysticism was all about. Well, that’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario, isn’t it? Either he’s a liar or he’s stupid. (That’s an inclusive “or”, mind you.) This is the classic Monica offense: the lie be worse than the deed. And his track record isn’t so good on the lying front.
The other problem is that Ceecee Luskin simply isn’t qualified to even be discussing this stuff. Even if it was written in plain, non-technical language, he wouldn’t be qualified. He’s not qualified to even know if it’s right or wrong. Pointing to the eminence of the author doesn’t suffice. He’s reading about this stuff for the first time and acting like he can comment on it. Mr. Super-Gud-Lawyer/Geologist doesn’t have the credentials to have an informed discussion of the content of an essay about biochemistry. Period. Whether it’s from Leslie Orgel (whom I’d never heard of–and I somehow doubt Luskie had either until reading the article and looking him up on Wikipedia) or from Barney.
Is ineptness technically against the ResearchBlogging rules? No. But it coincides with some of them implicitly. It’s clear that Luskifer doesn’t understand the material, and it’s clear that he’s misrepresenting the intent of the material. Which is why it’s not surprising that ResearchBlogging rejected DI’s application for membership into the community.
The ID people seem to have a recurring problem. They think that aesthetics are more important than substance. They think that a pretty-looking site, and calling themselves “Fellows”, and calling themselves an Institute, and having a lot of money, and putting out a bunch of books, and using a lot of technical language makes them a professional science organization. What they don’t seem to realize is that most people view them as professional bullshitters, if that. The DI is a used car salesman with a bright white smile and an Armani suit and a Rolex, paid by a rich 1980 Pinto enthusiast to sell a bunch of 1980 Pintos. What they’re selling sucks, and it’s old, and it doesn’t work. And it smells.