October 29, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Georgia Tech “Bioneers” Plagiarize Mother Nature to Advance Science

“Copying the ideas of others is usually frowned upon, but when it comes to the work of Mother Nature, scientists are finding they can use nature as a template.”  That’s how an interesting press release from Georgia Tech begins (reproduced on EurekAlert) about a new center on campus called the Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID).  This new multidisciplinary research center (see a similar story about Caltech, 06/25/2005) seeks to explore natural solutions to physical problems and apply them to human engineering projects.  This approach is often called biomimetics, or the imitation of nature (for examples, see 07/16/2005 on sharks and beavers, 10/05/2004 on pine cones, 09/21/2004 on termites, 08/27/2002 on geckos, and many others in the “Amazing” category of Chain Links).  A well-known example is the invention of Velcro® by someone who became intrigued by the sticking ability of cockleburs (see Wayne’s Word for a popular account).  The press release describes the origin and purpose of the CBID:

An interdisciplinary group of scientists and engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently formed the Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID) with the goal of capitalizing on the rich source of design solutions present in biological processes.  The researchers believe nature can inspire design and engineering solutions that are efficient, practical and sustainable and thus have the potential to greatly enhance new technologies, materials and processes.
    “Biology can be a powerful guide to understanding problems in design and engineering,” said Associate Professor of Biology Marc Weissburg, CBID co-director.  “In comparative physiology, we teach that every animal has to solve a particular problem to survive, so every animal is a design solution for a particular problem.
    “They can provide solutions for more efficient manufacturing and design of materials with new capabilities, for example.  These are things the biological world has solved, and if you study them, you have the opportunity to apply that knowledge in the human sector.  You can also extend that reasoning to ecological processes.  These are guiding principles behind the Georgia Tech Center for Biologically Inspired Design.”
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

The center has 17 initial members, but expects to grow.  One of its goals is to extend its discoveries for public benefit: “CBID researchers also want to communicate to government and industry officials that nature can provide unique design solutions to the problems they must address.”
    The center also reaches beyond to a “network of citizens, scientists and entrepreneurs that explores practical solutions adapted from natural systems and native cultures and then applies these solutions to fundamental environmental, economic and social challenges.”  The name for this network is: “Bioneers.”  An invited talk by the “Bioneers Southeast Forum” is being held today at the Atlanta campus of Savannah College of Art and Design
    Any examples from this new research approach?  Sure: learning navigation from honeybees (02/15/2005), studying orienteering in lobsters (01/06/2003), imitating materials manufacture by diatoms 10/01/2004), and studying neuromechanical principles of animals (02/09/2005) to build better robots and prosthetics – for a few.  The sky’s the limit.  Subjects for investigation abound: the gathering and transporting of energy, remote sensing, locomotion, system organization, and eco-friendly technology.  One professor is studying fish ears to build an “auditory retina.”
    Another ancillary benefit will ensue from this approach, according to one of the CBID biology professors: “biomimetry even offers inspiration for the way students – and faculty – learn.

OK, Intelligent Design community, charge again!  (See 06/25/2005 commentary.)  This is exactly the kind of new infusion of creative energy and practical benefit that a design perspective can bring to science and technology.  Despite the humorous reference to Mother Nature, this approach does not need to focus on the identity of the Designer to parlay design detection (a fundamental principle of intelligent design) into fruitful scientific research.  This is not to say that knowing the Designer personally would be a hindrance, obviously – but it demonstrates that design science can produce a cooperative enterprise among diverse people regardless of their religion.  Maybe someday the plagiarism will be rectified by appropriate attribution.  For now, though, the ACLU and other religion-hating groups would not be able to get their bony fingers on the CBID, because members only need good observational and engineering skills.  Simultaneously, the ability to tell spooky Darwinian stories would drop off the list of qualifications.  Are Georgia Tech and Caltech’s new multidisciplinary centers for biological design indicating that a major shift in scientific research is underway?  Is there a promised land beyond the crumbling, haunted remains of Down House?  Bioneers!  O Bioneers!  The fruitful land, the frontier of discovery and happiness, belongs to you.
    There was no mention of evolution in the press release, demonstrating again that Darwinism has no necessary or pragmatic connection to the new wave of institutions like the CBID.  Unlike the founders of science who, like Francis Bacon, put a high priority on applying science to improve the human condition, the Darwinists, like the later scholastics, waste their time looking for confirming evidence for the outworn philosophy of their Victorian Aristotle.  It’s time to question the presumptive authority of the past 146 years, and look to the future, where the Bioneers of design science are taking their inspiration from the exquisite contrivances of observable nature.  A Darwinist Bioneer is almost a contradiction in terms.  Any Darwinists on the CBID faculty must certainly be Darwinists in Name Only (DINOs), because whether or not they bow at the shrine of Charlie, pitch the obligatory incense and repeat the mantra “Evolution is a fact, like gravity,” such exercises contribute nothing to their actual research.  DINOs should be distinguished from DODOs (those who squawk “Darwin Only!  Darwin Only!), but it doesn’t matter, since both clades are rapidly going extinct.

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