Custom Search

Monday, April 21, 2008

Somebody else's turn: Chris Mooney tries to reason with the Darwin trolls

In the wake of Expelled, the Darwin fans on the Science Blogs are eviscerating former pal Chris Mooney (you know, The Republican War on Science guy) for pointing out the obvious - that Expelled is doing okay at the box office.

J'ever think that's because Expelled is more sophisticated fun than a fetid weekend in the Troll City trailer park? Oops, that's a typo for the "Science Blogs." Read Chris's fan mail here.

Labels: ,

Peer review: What if your peers would have to be other conspiracy theorists?

A couple of years ago, I wrote an underappreciated article on the growing scandal of peer review. Now, according to historian Max Holland, Harvard University's Bellknap Press seems to be getting in on the act of publishing peer reviewed conspiracy literature:
The scholarly sheen given The Road to Dallas is not wholly unprecedented, to be sure. A few other fallacious books about the assassination have received the academic stamp of approval.[3] Still, that begs the question: How did The Road to Dallas ever survive the gauntlet of peer-review at the august Harvard University Press, which is part of an industry that likes to think of itself as “a bulwark against the confusions of error and unsupported opinion, of ideology masquerading as fact, magic as science, and prejudice as theory.”[4]

Neither Kaiser nor HUP was willing to answer questions about the editorial vetting The Road to Dallas underwent. “Any such questions would have to be addressed to the Press,” Kaiser responded when asked, and HUP refused to disclose information about its editorial process in general, or as it pertained to Kaiser’s book specifically.[5] Indeed, insofar as HUP is concerned, the rotating membership on its Board of Syndics—or what other university presses call their editorial or publications committee, and readily make public—is top secret.
Holland engagingly quotes:
As Thomas Jones, a contributing editor at the London Review of Books observed in 2005, "The first rule when concocting a conspiracy theory is not to make any claims that can be proved not to be true . . . . A decent conspiracy theory is made up of hard facts; the invention lies in drawing the connections."

Regular readers of this space will know that I regard all conspiracy theory as presumptive evidence that the author is a crank. Most people simply cannot keep a secret whose disclosure would enhance their social importance. And most of what goes on in the world is a mystery only to those who do not pay close attention.

Hat tip Five Feet of Fury


Biologic Institute Web site now on line

In the middle of the huge Expelled flap, the ID-friendly Biologic Institute of Redmond, Washington, put up its Web page. A list of the personnel is here and research interests are here , for the convenience of reasonable persons and inconvenience of mindless detractors.

For the convenience of reasonable persons only, there is this:
We are not the only ones expecting big things to come from the connection of engineering to biology. Biomimetics, the growing field that emulates engineering principles found in biology, has similar expectations. What distinguishes us from most scientists, though, is our interest in turning this around—allowing what we know as engineers and designers to inform our understanding of biology.

and an elegant essay by the Institute's Doug Axe, explaining problems with how unguided evolution is supposed to work:
For a succession of changes to illustrate an adaptive process, each one has to provide not just function but function that is helpful in the sense of advancing a principal objective ... New functions are only adaptive if they advance that objective. Language has communication as a principal objective. While these objectives are very different, both imply that functions are very unlikely to be helpful simply by virtue of being new.
For example, imagine needing to communicate something with a vocabulary restricted to four-letter English words. “NEED HELP CALL COPS”, might be the desired message. As a further restriction, suppose you’re granted your first word but have to construct the rest of your message from single-letter variants of that word or subsequent ones. Suppose also that adding a word is permissible only if it advances your communication objective as is. It becomes apparent that your objective needs to be met with your first word—the one given to you—because these constraints virtually preclude adding anything to it. “HELP” on its own is much better than “HELP KELP” or “HEAP HELP”.

Well, I will watch this with interest.

Labels: ,

Just up at The Design of Life blog: Tuatara creeps into limelight ... faster than hardened cement!

"Living fossil" tuatara surprises scientists: Evolves quickly without ever changing.

Excerpt: "In short, the tuatara's sluggish exterior conceals a swiftly changing genome that never got around to doing anything for two hundred million years. That in turn raises the question of just what influence the genome does have on animal form (morphology) or evolution."

It also raises questions about the usefulness of the "molecular clock." Is it right only twice a day?

Who links to me?