Monday, September 01, 2008

We're going to have to get a bigger stick


Further to my last post

The reason why I have such a very big problem with Richard Dawkins is not that he is the leading spokesperson for Darwinist Evolutionary Theory. As it happens, I personally have many strong objections to Darwinism. However, some of my best friends are Evolutionists yet I feel absolutely no need to direct abuse at them

Nope, it's not the Darwinism thing that pisses me off about Dawkins

It's the fact that he represents the perversion of what now passes for popular science which has little to do with the idealised scientific method and a lot more to do with advocacy, case-building, lawyers tricks and politics

Science shouldn't be about amassing whatever evidence you can find to support your ideas

It should be about seeking out the material which most strongly challenges your theories

The perfect scientist says to himself every day 'I don't want to be wrong so I'm going to come up with everything I can to prove myself wrong'

Some common clues which suggest that someone posing as a scientist might actually be behaving like a Dawkins-style scientician include...

  • Any reference to 'scientific consensus'
  • Presentation of modelled data as real data
  • Cherry picking of real data and the rejection, or editing, of anomalous data
  • Any attempts to force people into 'you're with us or against us' style false choices
  • Any claims that the science of any subject is 'settled once and for all'
  • Attempts to depict anyone with opposing points of view as a nutter

The problem is, of course, when faced with a fundamentalist pulling these kind of stunts is that it's difficult not to be drawn into a similar pattern of behaviour and respond to foamy-mouthed advocacy with foamy-mouthed counter advocacy




I've had a couple of recent exchanges with some chums on the subject of man made global warming

They believe it's happening. I'm not so sure

They send me links about temperatures going up. I send them links about temperatures going down

They send me links about polar bear numbers shrinking and pictures of cute baby bears stuck on ice floes. I send them links about about polar bear numbers not shrinking and pictures of ice breakers stuck in ice

None of which proves dick

And round and round it goes



But sometimes I can't help myself, even though I know better. So...

My other 1/2's Dad is over from New Zealand for a few weeks and we were chatting about how the winter in New Zealand was panning out

He mentioned that snowfall has been so heavy this year that one ski resort had to go out and buy a bigger measuring stick

I did a few quick web searches and confirmed that was indeed the case. In passing, I couldn't help noticing that Australia's had a pretty special year for snow too



  • and then I remembered a mate spending the night in my place after visiting China with a suitcase full of flip flops and chinos only to walk into the worst snowstorms in fifty years


Here in the UK we've just endured yet another spectacularly shitty summer, with the BBC covering up for that other bunch of propagandist stooges at the Met Office, who fucked-up their summer forecast yet again, by downplaying how bad the summer was and knocking out articles suggesting that there was nothing unusual about this summer at all...


'With another wet weekend ahead, the familiar grumbles about British summers have surfaced. Are we deluding ourselves that they should be any different, asks meteorologist Philip Eden'


Last month was the first sunspot-less month in a century



I can't find any reference to that fact on the State Broadcasting Company's website but I did find an old article bigging up the implications of sunspot activity four years ago (link corrected), when sunspot activity was consistent with the global warming myth. The article ends with the most outstanding horseshit I've seen labeled as science for at least a week...

'This latest analysis shows that the Sun has had a considerable indirect influence on the global climate in the past, causing the Earth to warm or chill, and that mankind is amplifying the Sun's latest attempt to warm the Earth.'


When the language of climate change gets so screwed up that the Sun is referred to as having an 'indirect impact on global climate' (as opposed to the presumably ever so direct impact of that devil gas CO2) you can be pretty sure somebody's trying to sell you a serious lemon


.

46 comments:

The Hinterdoug said...

I keep life cynically simple and use a dictum elegantly expressed by Craig Murray: if the government (by implication the BBC too) want you to know something, then it probably isn't true.

Stef said...

and that's a scientific FACT

the asylum seekere on the Clapham Omnibus s said...

Don't be so down on Dorkins - it is highly unlikley anyone ever finished watching his narcoleptic programs.

paul said...

You ruined the comment I was going to make by shifting into global warming, booooo.

Edo said...

Excellent post Stef.

Shahid said...

One of your best posts in ages. I'd like to print this one out and stick it up all over London.

Wolfie said...

I tried to watch one of his programmes very recently and it was so dull, convoluted and contrived that I gave up and took a snooze instead. Now if I, with my Herculean ability to plough my way through hours of tedious calculus cannot make it to the end of one of his egocentric rants then I very much doubt anyone is really watching.

I suspect this falls into the "emperor's new clothes" event TV criterion. That is people just say they watched/loved it to sound like they are intellectual/thoughtful and modern.

...middle class mockney twunt o-vision ;-)

Stef said...

One of your best posts in ages

I've been dieting - it's a blood sugar thing

Now if I, with my Herculean ability to plough my way through hours of tedious calculus...

my personal vote for the most tedious thing ever, and I mean ever, goes to this

Anonymous said...

Ahh but Stef, evidence against climate change is actually evidence for it! Climate change is anything they want it to be, as long as it's mad made. It's getting hotter - climate change. It's getting colder - climate change. It's getting wetter - climate change. It's getting drier - climate change. It's raining frogs - climate change.

Stef said...

/ slaps forehead

Stef said...

I've yet to encounter a single 'denier' who claims that

- global climate is not changing

- human activities do not have some level of impact on climate

I can't say that I've encountered many who advocate pollution and waste either

I have, however, encountered quite a few man made global warming advocates who are labouring under the impression that there is some kind of 'correct' global climate which humanity has the ability to lock in place

Anonymous said...

That's why climate change was always a very clever and useful catch-all phrase. The one thing the climate never does is stay the same. Hence the natural changes in our climate can now be blamed on C02 and man.

Anonymous said...

"my personal vote for the most tedious thing ever, and I mean ever, goes to this"

But Stef, what would happen to NMR spectroscopy if it weren't for FT? (I suppose Bretthurst sp? may have an answer).

Anyway, FT is cool. He invented/discovered it in something like 1836 and it wasn't 'til computing power increased that it could be of use.

Anonymous said...

Only Convenient Caring Please

C A Fitts on youtube.

Wolfie said...

Fourier transforms may be dull as hell but the guy was a genius and the applications have turned out pretty cool. Mind you I hated them as an student.

Shahid said...

There would be no decent Digital Signal Processing and therefore no modern music without Fast Fourier Transforms.

Hold on a minute...

DE said...

When two scientists want to compare the strength of their similar theories, they should leave it to peer review.

But more likely they will just compare dick size and have done with it. Yes, that also neatly explains the lack of female science Nobel prize winners.

(I think Richard did get his todger out, but the scenes were cut.)

lwtc247 said...

lw "the scientist" smuttily says...
"But more likely they will just compare dick size and have done with it." - LOL.

lwtc247 said...

(thats my scientific contribution to this post). I thank you!

lwtc247 said...

About ones todger being on the loose, it's very possible, Perhaps he was actually checking his e-male?

Aaaah smut. Far better than science.

Anonymous said...

"There would be no decent Digital Signal Processing and therefore no modern music without Fast Fourier Transforms.

Hold on a minute...
"

Stef man, you don't seem to realise the educational background of your readership. As a penance write out Bayes theorem 500 times.

Stef said...

As a 24/7 keyboard monkey I lost the capacity to write a long time ago

I will however link Bayes Theorem 500 times as an alternative penance

but not all at once

Tony said...

New year:
http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080903/full/news.2008.1079.html
Same bullshit:
http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20070830/

Have they set their software to auto-publish in September?

Stef said...

The opening line to one of those articles goes...

"NASA scientists have developed a new climate model that indicates that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth's climate warms."

as it happens, I could develop a new climate model that indicates that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become strawberry flavoured

I'm not sure that it would prove much though

Frank O'Dwyer said...

Stef,

"Any claims that the science of any subject is 'settled once and for all'

I don't think anyone's made any such claim. However some things deserve to be called facts and the notion that apples fall, the earth is more than 6000 years old, and gorillas and humans descended from a common ancestor species, would seem to be a few examples.

I know that you don't have to deny those facts to disagree with evolutionary theory, but those are the sorts of facts that the typical Dawkins opponent denies.

"Attempts to depict anyone with opposing points of view as a nutter "

What if they are nutters, or at least denying basic facts? Sometimes just basic logic.

It's also amusing to note the difference in the attitude that some (not all) of these people bring to different evidence, depending on whether it's favorable to (say) AGW or not. If it's favorable to AGW, they are beyond sceptical - solipsist would be a better word. They would if necessary quibble with 'I think therefore I am' if they thought that statement supported AGW. But no matter how barking the alternative theory or alternative evidence, they accept it like a trusting child. Even if it contradicts something else they claim to accept.

Example: temperature going up for several decades? Let's audit those readings (and ignore any other sources of data that show the same conclusion). temperature going down for a few months? those same readings are now gospel.

I think this charge sticks far better to the average AGW denier or young earth creationists than it does to the likes of Dawkins. Observations are made all the time, any of which could blow away Dawkins main theories. They just don't.

As for global warming, all that stuff about snow in wagga wagga is about weather, not climate. Climate is about the trend in the weather. Granted some pundits on the other side of the aisle use single weather events to 'prove' AGW, but they shouldn't. And the scientists involved don't.

All that said, here's a quote you will like if you haven't come across it before:

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge
- Charles Darwin

Stef said...

"Reality Check
The Global Warming Debate Is Over. It's Real, Inexorable, and Headed Our Way"

Stef said...

"Observations are made all the time, any of which could blow away Dawkins main theories. They just don't"

I'm straying onto well-trodden ground here but one of big problems with Darwinian Evolution is that its predictive power is biff all and therefore not testable in the same way that one could test, and potentially falsify, a physics or a chemistry theory

It's great for whipping up plausible sounding explanations for that which has already happened but so is the work of Nostradamus

For a little fun try coming up with some testable, falsifiable experiments which effectively validate Darwinism

And whilst we're at it, in a related field, see if you can find anyone who's been able to come any where near close to synthesising even a single living cell from scratch - because I hear and read a lot of people who talk as if that's in the bag

Stef said...

Dawkins frequently refers to the 'fact' of evolution and whilst making no apologies for the sins of people on the other side of the debate - behaviour like that, from a scientist, is unforgivable

Stef said...

as for the wagga wagga stuff et al I think I'm quite clear that I agree some 'deniers' play fast and loose with the facts

my contention is that it cuts both ways

Stef said...

as for the nutter thing, again I agree that, yes, some deniers are nutters as are some of the non-deniers

in Dawkins' latest show he distanced himself from, amongst others, the eugenics movement

but, sorry Dick, those eugenicists were Darwinists - some were even related to him


some deniers are nutters and wicked but not all deniers are nutters and wicked

and the tone of the debate wrt to Darwinism and AGW does not make that distinction

as someone who has problems with both paradigms that fucks me off just a tad

Stef said...

here's another one I just came up with over a cup of tea

the fossil record contains heaps of examples of species that persist, unchanged throughout very thick layers of strata

the implication is that those creatures didn't evolve for very long periods of time

Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionist considerably less demented than Dawkins, referred to this as punctuated equilibrium

Dawkins the sophist prefers to talk about variable speed evolution

the usual explanation given by evolutionists is that evolution slows down or stops when a species' environment is stable

the implication is that those creatures are near enough to perfectly evolved to suit their environment and further significant evolutionary progress is not possible until that environment changes

think about the possibility of that ever being the case - and factor in the possibility that no other competing or predatory species turns up to out-compete the incumbent species

what's the probability of all this being total bollocks?

I would say quite high

and not a reference to Genesis in sight

Anonymous said...

"...but one of big problems with Darwinian Evolution is that its predictive power is biff all and therefore not testable in the same way that one could test, and potentially falsify, a physics or a chemistry theory"

Just one point I'd like to contribute to the thread. It seemed convenient to place the note just after Stef's post above hence the quotation.

Anyway, my point is that the argument isn't Darwinism vs Creationism.

It is Darwinism vs nonDarwinism

The question is ... is Darwinism more probable than not.

For all the law bores out there ... this was the point in the Rhesa Shipping Co SA v. Edmunds [1985] 1 WLR 948. In the case they ended up arguing whether or not a ship was holed by a submarine or just fell apart due to poor maintenance. The submarine collision was improbable and hence the discussion was futile. However, the case went to the House of Lords before sanity prevailed.

Anonymous said...

"and not a reference to Genesis in sight"

The argument isn't Darwinism vs Creationism

It is Darwinism vs Non-Darwinism.

Just 'cos Darwinism is being attacked doesn't mean that Creationism is supported. Reasoning like that should be left to monkey trials.

ps I'm sure you appreciate that Stef but I wanted to spell it out for others.

Stef said...

on the AGW deniers accepting temperature data only when it suits them

Personally, provided the data comes from a consistent source and is handled consistently whether the temperature goes up or down is irrelevant to my personal position

my doubts reside with the proposed mechanism behind those temperature changes

there's an analogue in Darwinism in that I've encountered few deniers who reject the idea of some form of natural selection going on in the world

the crunch questions are to do with the possibility of random mutations being beneficial and the rate of beneficial mutation required to power Darwin's proposed mechanism

Stef said...

It is Darwinism vs Non-Darwinism

yup

Stef said...

something for my christmas list

Frank O'Dwyer said...

"It is Darwinism vs Non-Darwinism"

I agree, but I deliberately chose young earth creationism just to make the point that it is in fact OK to say the science is settled on the point that the earth is more than 6000 years old - in so far as any science is settled.

To deny this is to take a position so sceptical that you may as well deny that we have the slightest inkling about anything at all. Not saying that you do , but a lot of people do and they are the vast majority of the opposition.

"those eugenicists were Darwinists"

So what. The Nazis also believed in the germ theory of disease - Hitler quoted people such as Pasteur more than he did Darwin - doesn't mean the germ theory of disease is made up. The Nazis also compared the Jews to rats etc..that doesn't mean the theory that there is such a thing as a rat is wrong. Moreover eugenicists failed to grasp that everything that is alive in a given environment is exactly as evolved as anything else.

"think about the possibility of that ever being the case - and factor in the possibility that no other competing or predatory species turns up to out-compete the incumbent species"

That would follow from the fact that the environment was stable and evolution had slowed or stopped.

As to the 'fact of evolution', I understand this to mean macroevolution - which is that gorillas and humans have a common ancestor. This is so irrespective of how it happened. You don't need to show that natural selection had anything to do with it in order to accept it. There's evidence in both the fossil record and molecular biology to show that. Falsifiable? Yes. If any organism showed up with DNA that didn't fit that model it would be game over. Such observations are made all the time and it hasn't happened yet.

I agree that Darwinism (natural selection) could in principle be the wrong explanation for how that happened - and in fact Darwin got it wrong because natural selection is just part of the mechanism - but it's still true that there is so much evidence for it that it would be silly to deny it.

One example, go look at this on the TED talk site:
http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/paul_ewald.html

There is a guy making the assumption that evolution works and getting results from that assumption in the real world. When a theory starts being applied and it works, that's pretty suggestive that it's true.

Stef said...

"those eugenicists were Darwinists"

So what.


The point I'm trying to make is that a idea is not discredited just because some dicks adhere to it

Dawkins, for example, is scrupulous about presenting opposition to Darwinism as being exclusively a fundamentalist religious concern and a position taken by the ignorant

I am neither and don't flatter myself in thinking that I am the only educated agnostic out there who has doubts about Darwinism

That would follow from the fact that the environment was stable and evolution had slowed or stopped.

Have you really thought that through? Do you honestly think that species routinuely, and there really are a lot, evolve to a state of such perfect equilibrium with their environment that no further significant evolution is possible?

How about if I said that one of my old lecturers made a successful career off the fact that his favourite beetle species hadn't evolved at all in the last few hundred thousand years - and simply migrated from place to place as their environment changed?

That's the common experience of the here and now of the natural world - species move or die when things change. They don't hold their breath and hang on and wait to evolve into something more adapted in a few hundred thousand generations.

(at this point evolutionists would traditionally point to the classic peppered moths fairy tale but it's bunk and the fact that it was such an oft-quoted story, like sickle cells in humans, says a lot about the dearth of decent supporting material)

Some folk have postulated that 'environmental stress' somehow speeds up the rate of evolution but I'm unaware of anyone coming up with an actual mechanism

As to the 'fact of evolution', I understand this to mean macroevolution - which is that gorillas and humans have a common ancestor. This is so irrespective of how it happened. You don't need to show that natural selection had anything to do with it in order to accept it. There's evidence in both the fossil record and molecular biology to show that. Falsifiable? Yes. If any organism showed up with DNA that didn't fit that model it would be game over. Such observations are made all the time and it hasn't happened yet.

It would help if you were a bit more specific than that - in what way would an organism have to not fit to falsify Darwinism?

And I've yet to see a fossil which proves random beneficial mutation as a viable mechanism for evolutionary change

I'll read your recommend link when I'm back on line in a few days

Anonymous said...

"When a theory starts being applied and it works, that's pretty suggestive that it's true."

It may well be but it isn't scientific. What demarcates science from non-Science is falsifiability. This is according to Karl Popper who wrote this in the 1930s.

The problem with the 'when applied it works' scenario is that it isn't possible to say how far to take it. When will it not apply? And, when it doesn't apply, does this mean that the theory has to be chucked out of the window or does it mean that under the particular circumstances when the theory doesn't work, the theory doesn't work (eg see gas laws and non-perfect gases)?

ps Can we have a precis of this Darwin debate with refs at some point (a month or so); it is quite compelling. Stef, perhaps you could cancel all of your holidays between now and X-mas to make the time for it?

pps Consider Black and Gold.

Anonymous said...

ppps following on from above ... what's with all this uber philosophy hitting the mainstream? eg The Matrix, Black and Gold?

Anonymous said...

pppps Just clicked onto the link in your, "something for my christmas list" note above. Very funny. Of course, to get the joke one has to understand what that French number theorist chap (can never remember his name, Shutzemberger/Smitzenburg???) had to say about it all, viz functional complexity.

Frank O'Dwyer said...

Stef,

"The point I'm trying to make is that a idea is not discredited just because some dicks adhere to it"

Yes, true. But in the case of young earth creationism that's not how the argument goes. They are dicks because they adhere to a discredited idea, not the other way round.

Again this is a charge that sticks more to non-Darwinists, because you'll far more often find them using the argument you suggest, i.e. that Darwinism must be wrong because eugenecists believed it.

"Do you honestly think that species routinuely, and there really are a lot, evolve to a state of such perfect equilibrium with their environment that no further significant evolution is possible?"

It depends whether the environment is changing or not - If the environment isn't changing or is changing slowly then it sounds reasonable that there is no further need to adapt to it and so evolution would slow or stop..like a ball that had rolled to the bottom of a valley. No need for it to roll unless something changes - which could include some mutation, or even the arrival of a new species in that location, as everything is part of the environment of everything else. And of course as you say this might simply result in extinction.

"species move or die when things change."

Yes and then other species can move in and fill that niche. If species get geographically separated they can also evolve in different directions and you can get new species.

So if the argument is just 'this is not plausible', i do find it plausible...especially when we know how disparate species are related to each other genetically and that genes are passed on through reproduction. Of course it's not enough to find it plausible, but 'i don't believe it' isn't an argument either.

"in what way would an organism have to not fit to falsify Darwinism?"

I wasn't talking about Darwinism there but just the macroevolution part, i.e. how molecular biology shows which species are 'cousins', descended from a common ancestor - I'll see if I can dig out some examples of how this would be falsified. But this shouldn't be controversial anyway because it is true whether or not Darwinism (natural selection) is.

Anyway, to be continued. Have a look at the link, I think you'd enjoy it anyway. Quite a lot of good talks on there.

Anon,

"What demarcates science from non-Science is falsifiability. "

Right, but if a theory doesn't work in practice then it is falsified.

Evolutionary assumptions are used all over the place, and they do work.

Anonymous said...

Freeman Dyson on the debate about global warming.

"They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important."

"heretics who question the dogmas are needed... I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies."

"The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests..."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson#Criticism_of_global_warming_studies

Anonymous said...

Finally! A list of things caused by AGW!

Anonymous said...

http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

Parabellum said...

Imagine an unpopular, impotent, and fragile UK Government, trying to make political capital out of a looming crisis. To avoid being embarrassed by criticism of its shallow policies, it appoints an independent panel of experts, to which it defers controversial decisions. Now imagine that the panel proposes measures from which its members and their associates will directly benefit.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/03/climate_change_committee_double_standards/