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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Everyone hates the blogosphere and loves peer review, right, but ...

In Open Data Genomics, paleoanthropologist John Hawks offers
I've often found that the best reviews of my work come from blogs and readers, not from peer review itself. With a project like this, the most critical readings will come from the most interested community, which may be a broader public than the scientific community.
Yes, that is precisely what the blogosphere has done. Traditional media told us what our betters thought was news. Which soon meant, if they didn’t think it was news, we shouldn’t. Now anyone can start reporting and commenting.

Suddenly, the news is not what it used to be. For one thing, it’s often real news.

With government plans to control the Internet, this interlude may soon end, so cherish and use it now, and fight for it.


Books in passing: Darwin's post-Civil War fans feast on life

Here, Terrell Clemmons reviews Barry Werth's Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America:
Post Civil War America was looking for a new belief system, says social historian Barry Werth. Across the Atlantic Charles Darwin had proposed a new theory of biology, but had left the popularization of it to others. In Banquet at Delmonico’s, Werth chronicles the spread of Darwinian evolution in America, focusing on the works of English philosopher Herbert Spencer.

Reclusive, never married, and chronically dyspeptic, Spencer introduced the phrase “survival of the fittest” in 1851, eight years before Darwin. That Darwin’s name became associated with the concept, even though Spencer had beaten him to publication, seemed to embitter Spencer and fuel his drive to expand evolutionary theory beyond biology. In 1855 Spencer, an agnostic and former civil engineer, had written and self-published Principles of Psychology, applying evolutionary theory to the human mind and behavior, but by 1860, Spencer had undertaken a re-examination of the whole of human history and thought. Calling it, Synthetic Philosophy, he set out to unify virtually all academic disciplines – philosophy, psychology, sociology, ethics, and politics – under the rubric of evolution.

The title comes from an elaborate farewell dinner held in Spencer’s honor at Delmonico’s, a posh Fifth Avenue restaurant in New York. Marking the momentous occasion, William Evarts, a Boston-born statesman, began his toast by declaring to the assembled who’s who of industrialists, Ivy League professors, government dignitaries, and religious leaders that, “Evolution: once an Hypothesis, [is] now the established Doctrine of the Scientific World.”

Few of the dinner guests, though, including Evarts and Spencer, were actually scientists. In fact, there had been dissenting voices among America’s scientists over the previous decade. Harvard paleontologist Louis Agassiz had tenaciously pointed out that the Darwinists furnished an impressive array of “startling and exciting” information, but not a shred of evidence showing one species changing into another. “Hasty generalizing of observation is Darwin all over,” Agassiz had said. “Darwin’s theory … is thus far merely conjectural.”

- Banquet At Delmonico’s – How Darwinism Came to America
Sure, but once the big boys had bought in, any mediocrity could be a Darwinist. Any big hair news anchor could spout that Darwinism was beyond reasonable doubt - because he himself, after all, never has any reasonable doubts, or reasonable beliefs either. But read the rest; it is fun and enlightening. Look inside the book here.

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A word about the Post-Darwinist ...

Posting here at the Post-Darwinist is time-consuming, but worthwhile and fun. Thanks to generous donors to my PayPal button (right), I can take time from regular work to post.

I will shortly be reactivating Mindful Hack and Colliding Universes, neglected due to the demands of 2010's books. I’ll announce their news stories here. I hope to start offering more services as well.

Why do I do it? Following the story, I guess.

First, you needn’t think that life’s pattern is best accounted for by design in order to give yourself permission to doubt Darwin’s increasingly dubious tale and despise its current function in our society.

Consider: Darwinism is the only “science” most lifestyle editors and their writers will ever know (except, perhaps, dubious environment apocalypses, one-a-month). So an endless stream of rubbish filters through to the public, about how Darwin the liberator has freed us evolved apes to follow our selfish genes.

The fact that there is little evidence for that selfish gene’s very existence hardly matters. Darwinism’s value today is exclusively social: It undergirds nonsense like evolutionary psychology, and more dangerous but popular projects like neurolaw (= it’s neurologically impossible that people could be responsible for their behaviour, so ... ).

Naturally, those who benefit from the Darwin industry cannot tolerate a rational assessment of its fact base. But some of us think evidence matters. You do, and that is why you come to this site. You come for what you won’t read in the Journal of Confirmation Studies or hear on Airhead TV.

No orphans will starve if you read here for free. I am inviting you to invest in what you actually read. And the best of the New Year to kind readers like yourself!

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