Category ►►► Science - Bad

April 26, 2010

The Religion of Fear Itself, or Why I Despise Modern Liberals (reason 334)

Opinions: Nasty, Brutish, and Shortsighted , Science - Bad , Science Fiction , Space: HEO Or Bust!
Hatched by Dafydd

Rarely do I get such an opportunity to opine on my two favorite topics, politics and science fiction, simultaneously!

Physics idol Stephen Hawking is quite convinced that life -- and intelligent life -- exist elsewhere in our galaxy:

The suggestions come in a new documentary series [beginning Sunday, May 9th, at 9 pm, on the Discovery Channel -- DaH] in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Works for me. The chemical processes that produce the building blocks of life are entirely natural, and indeed many might not even need a planet on which to form; analysis of the data is not conclusive, but some simple amino acids may be able to form spontaneously in space.

The next step will produce a few howls of outrage; but one must accept that much good evidence points to life arising from non-life on this planet due to entirely natural, thus repeatable processes. Indeed, biologists and science writers have written entire books on the subject of abiogenesis, e.g., Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins, by Robert Hazen. There are so many models and hypotheses, so much experimental and observational data, so much creative science being published monthly, that the intelligent, well-read student simply cannot dismiss the possibility without months or years of research. That is, unless one is willing to...

  • Reject virtually all modern science along with the scientific method;
  • Adopt the a priori and unfalsifiable assumption that life requires a "Creator" who is cagey enough to deliberately hide all evidence of his (sorry, His) presence;
  • And insist upon referring to contemporary evolutionary biology as "Darwinism" -- thus smarmily implying that it's just a cult of personality like Stalinism or Scientology.

For the 80% or so who are still with me, as life arose here through natural processes, it's a good bet that there are other planets elsewhere in the galaxy (and in other galaxies) where similar natural processes produced forms of life that we could at least recognize as such.

The penultimate step is that like life itself, intelligence -- that is, animal cunning -- is clearly a biological advantage; thus the chain of life will necessarily produce smarter and more sophisticated animals (shorthand for animated forms of life)... unless freakish local conditions preclude, e.g., the development of multicellular organisms. In any event, some planets with life will evolve cleverer life.

The last step is the one about which we know least. Does self-awareness arise spontaneously? Is it part of the implicate order of cleverness? Or does it require the breath of God to create the spark of a soul? If the former, then clearly we should assume there is intelligent life elsewhere in the void until proven otherwise.

But even if the latter situation obtains, what hubris would we exhibit were we to assert with confidence that God would never strike that spark anywhere but on this particular planet where we happen to live! Who are we to tell He who made Leviathan that Earth is the only planet "zoned" for self-aware, moral beings?

I believe as much as ever before that the odds favor a universe populated with many, many civilized cultures; but of course, nobody can know what civilization, morality, or even communication means to creatures which evolved on a completely different planet... or in a gas cloud or the surface of a somewhat coolish star, for that matter.

Hawking agrees with that point as well:

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

But what's all this about modern liberals? Why should I despise someone with whom I fundamentally agree on such a vital issue? Because in his next breath, Hawking proves himself a coward; and I despise poltroonery:

The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist -- but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

Note that my main dispute with the eminent Hawking stands, even if the reader of this post rejects evolution: Hawking obviously believes in evolution by variation and natural selection, and he believes that will ultimately produce alien civilizations; but he is clearly terrified of the prospect of contact. Contrariwise, all my space-nutter friends and I desperately hope to see human-alien contact during our lifespans. That is one major difference between New-Left liberals and true libertarians: Whether one dreams of alien contact -- or endures an agonizing nightmare about it.

Why is Hawking so frightened? And why does he think should the rest of us be afraid? Because liberal ideology -- and in particular disgust with Western civilization and unthinking acceptance of all the environmenalist myth-making about the unnaturalness of humanity -- leads many liberals into despair and terror.

Such scenes [of imaginative and extraordinary alien life that might exist] are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

So many Eco-Left bugbears bubble up from this ill-considered froth! If only Hawking would apply the same faculty for critical thinking to the potential of alien civilizations as he applies to physics problems.

Resource scarcity

Let's start with the scenarios he himself presents. Why would aliens travel dozens of lightyears (at least!), hundreds of trillions of miles, just to "raid Earth for its resources?" Which resources would those be... hydrogen, the most common element in the galaxy?

Oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, easily obtained from any Earthlike planet much nearer to the aliens than Earth? Pure water, as in the original TV series V -- which can be melted from any water-ice asteroid in our asteroid belt without us ever noticing its "theft?"

Gold, silver, uranium, or any other precious metal -- which can be mined anywhere?

And why would the aliens even need to dig minerals out of the rock? Assuming they're smart enough and technologically sophisticated enough to cross interstellar distances, wouldn't it be likely they could artificially produce such elements in nuclear manufactories in any quantities they needed, and with a fraction of the cost and none of the danger?

There is no vaguely logical reason why a civilization in search of resources would trundle across the vastness of space to tussle with some squalid alien Neanderthals (that would be us by comparison) for what they can obtain or create by lifting their smallest tendrils. "Invasion for resource raiding" is complete nonsense as a plausible reason for violent attack. Christopher Columbus may have stumbled upon the New World and enslaved the natives, but that's because he lived in a universe of scarcity, where mechanization could not yet replace human labor.


What else could aliens want -- territory? But planets that can support life, on which life evolved, where intelligence reached a critical peak, where that bright life awoke into self-awareness, where science was discovered and technology invented, and where practical spaceflight was developed... such planets would be an occasional fleck of diamond in a vast beach of ordinary sand. Why fight for territory when it's all free for the taking, as much as you want?

Psycho-sociological quirks

One can always wave one's hands and warn that the aliens might have some cockamamie religion that requires them to conquer and enslave humans. But it's equally valid to speculate that their cockamamie religion might drive them to help us gain the scientific understanding and technological powers they themselves enjoy. The same Western powers that claimed entire continents in the name of king and country centuries ago have more recently used their blood and treasure to raise up the Third World to First-World status (or tried to do, anyway).

Abstruse and obtuse reasons

When my pal and worthy co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver and I wrote the Doom tetralogy, we wanted (for plot reasons) to have an interstellar war (we were writing a subluminous, Einsteinian space opera, which I think is unique in science-fiction history). My goodness, how we struggled to come up with a reason that was not preposterous on its face, that was vaguely plausible, why alien races would ever go to war!

We finally settled on a long-ago dispute between competing schools of literary theory, the Surrealists and the Post-Modernists, each trying to analyze a fistful of fragments left behind by the first race ever to achieve spaceflight, billions of years earlier. These academic disputes erupted into a war that, due to lightspeed limitations, still continued after thousands of millennia. But that took us days of teleconferences to concoct.

Simply put, logic implies there is simply no reason for beings of one stellar system to attack beings of another. And while it's true that alien logic might be very different, we don't have any to study; so we're stuck with our own logic. To be frightened of the prospect of contacting aliens is to yield to xenophobia and the mortal sin (and bleak helplessness) of despair.

And that brings us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to contemporary eco-nut liberalism. As we have seen, liberalism has metastacized into the philosophy of catastrophe, where every way we live brings about our gruesome death: Eating, drinking, exercising, heating our homes, cooling our heels, and now even exhaling. From the Center for Science in the Public Interest to the IPCC to ELF and ALF, liberals warn that we must fear everything.

Is Hawking a liberal? He tries not to talk about it, but enough has seeped out to make it fairly clear: He was a member of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats when he was at university; he "appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party," according to his Wikipedia biography; and like most scientists who don't specialize in climate-related research, he is a fierce proponent of global-warming hysteria -- "globaloney chic."

He's either an agnostic (if you believe him) or atheist (if you believe his first wife). And of course, he hails from England, where even the so-called Conservatives are far to our left on the political spectrum.

Everything fits; it's all of a pattern. Hawking is clearly a liberal, and he evinces the same terror of the unknown that liberalism propagates as its primary recruiting tool. And for what the wretched ideology of left-liberalism and eco-nuttery has done to such a fine intellect, I despise modern liberals.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 26, 2010, at the time of 3:50 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 30, 2009

Wheels of Fire

Globaloney Sandwich , Science - Bad
Hatched by Dafydd

I love beginning posts with personal anecdotes, which you can deduce from the fact that I never do it. No time like the present to start!

One week in high school, my all-time second-favorite social studies teacher, Lyle Thornton Wolf, presented us with a fascinating unit:

On Monday, he passed out forty-eight distinct high-school and college level American history textbooks (there being 48 students in the class). Each of us got a different textbook, though some were merely later versions of an earlier text that somebody else had. Each of us took his book home with instructions to read and "brief" (like a lawyer would) the factual events -- not interpretations or speculations -- recounted in his book about the Boston Massacre.

Then on Wednesday, Mr. Wolf began going through the incident, student by student, making a "comparison table" on the blackboard using every important fact from each book... e.g., the number of colonists killed by the redcoats, the number wounded, how many lobster-backs and Yankee doodles were present, what provocation (if any) did the colonists give to the soldiers, how long the shooting lasted, who was the first shot, and so forth.

As a court trial followed the shootings, and that trial took eyewitness and forensic evidence (future President John Adams defended the soldiers), one would expect nearly all the facts to be reported the same way in every textbook. Not so; there was significant variation in the details taught to students about that infamous eruption of anti-democratic violence.

But Mr. Wolf didn't stop there, and this was his genius; he was more interested in teaching us good researching skills than specific numbers of people killed in the Boston Massacre. Thus he also made each of us read the footnotes, endnotes, and any other errata indicating the source of the supposed facts reported in his assigned book; he then put up a posterboard list of all the textbook titles arranged like a matrix.

As we reported the sources for each book, Mr. Wolf drew an arrow from the source to the book that cited it. After about ten books, we quickly realized that not a single one of the 48 textbooks cited any primary document or original source material; each cited only other high-school or college textbooks. In fact, only a couple of them cited texts not already in our hands (both times older editions of books we did have).

Worse, the entire set of citations was a snarl of textbook "daisy chains": Textbook A (let's say it was the 1962 edition) would have an arrow pointing to B (1964); B pointed to C (1965), which pointed to D (1968)... but D then pointed to a later version of textbook A, say the 1970 edition.

In other words, there was no "ultimate source": The books just referenced and reinforced each other.

Thus it was hardly a surprise that, variations aside, all the books agreed on the core issues: The colonists were disorderly but didn't provoke the shooting; no colonist used a firearm; the British were almost entirely to blame; and they only got off because of the eloquence of Adams. The issue was closed; no need to rethink any basic premise. After all, if that interpretation of the data wasn't perfectly true, what are the odds that all those textbooks would just happen to agree with each other?


On Saturday, as Climategate really began to heat up, the princes of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) started to get their backs up. They were driven to agree, at long last, to release the raw data behind their predictions... or as much of it remained after they deliberately destroyed most of it in the 1980s.

Faced with the charge that the data they destroyed could have shown that globaloney theory was built on sand (and fabricated sand at that), one of the university's vice chancellors concocted a novel counterargument:

Professor Trevor Davies, the university's Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research Enterprise and Engagement, said yesterday: "CRU's full data will be published in the interests of research transparency when we have the necessary agreements. It is worth reiterating that our conclusions correlate well to those of other scientists based on the separate data sets held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies."

Like a speech by Barack H. Obama's teleprompter, it sounds good out of the corner of your ear; but in reality, this argument is a complete non-sequitur. And the inability of Professor Davies to apprehend his own paralogia speaks volumes about the real failure of the anthropogenic global climate-change (AGCC) cabal.

The charge against the CRU is not that they know their theory is unfounded, nor yet that they deliberately and with malice aforethought suppress the opposing view, nor that they do so for sinister, political reasons. Not a bit of it.

The real charge is that certain scientists have utterly bought into AGCC; they consider themselves the "anointed," and they're so adamant in their cosmic certainty that they reject any contrary claims or findings as so much nonsense, unworthy even of an answer. The anointed treat AGCC heresy as they would treat Holocaust denial or creationism.

But while no reputable scientist denies the Nazi mass murders or rejects evolution by natural selection, AGCC hardly enjoys such universal acceptance. In fact, it is quite controversial, with reputable, published, peer reviewed scientists in relevant fields on both sides of the issue.

AGCC proponents insist that they are more numerous than AGCC critics; but scientific consensus is not settled by voice vote. In order for a "consensus position" to form on man-made climate change, it's not enough to have 75% of scientists agree, or 80%, or even 95%. Rather, every respected scientist in a relevant field must agree; and every objection or demur lodged by such a respected scientist in the atmospheric sciences must be fully and completely answered to the satisfaction of the entire field. So long as that remains undone, the hypothesis remains controversial, and there is no consensus.

Scientific consensus is very different than, say, political consensus, which can mean at little as a two-to-one majority; mistaking the one for the other is scientific malpractice.

But that is precisely what to call a process where supposed "consensus" is achieved by patently unscientific means -- by extorting scientists into pledging undying support for the AGCC thesis and renouncing all dissenters as unscientists, on pain of never getting another grant, publication, or university position if they refuse.

This isn't a scientific argument, it's a street brawl!

To the anointed (I deliberately use the Thomas Sowell term from his seminal book, the Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy), denying the obvious cosmic truth of AGCC brands the denier as a pseudo-scientist; since pseudo-scientists are just quacks and charlatans, there is no need to answer any of his objections, conveniently enough.

Ergo, all respected scientists agree with AGCC theory... because by definition, if you don't agree, you're not a respected scientist.

Given that explosive charge -- that AGCC theory has become a scientific cult -- it's immediately apparent that if the charge is true, we would expect to find the identical problem rampant at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Indeed, Goddard is in fact run by James Hansen, who was one of the first major scientists to sound the globaloney alarmism klaxton, even before the Kyoto Protocol, and has been perhaps the biggest booster of the idea that there is a scientific "consensus" on AGCC (and that anybody who disagrees is not a real scientist).

But if the NOAA and ISS are completely controlled by the anointed, just as the CRU appears to be, then it's hardly surprising that they come up with similar global temperature timelines; more than likely, they all link to and cite each other.

Such a "consensus," based upon shared computation, methodology, and analysis, is purely artifactual... just like the "consensus" of the core story of the Boston Massacre: an artifactual consensus forced by incestuous linkages between ostensibly independent publications.

With such deep links of people, methods, and funding between all three groups, it would be astonishing were they not completely in synch with each other.

What is needed to make the argument that Professor Davies evidently wants to make is the following:

  • AGCC supporters within the community should push for full funding of respected atmospheric scientists who are AGCC skeptics.
  • Skeptics must be given access to all raw data used by supporters to make their case.
  • Skeptics must be allowed to pursue different methodologies and new data streams beyond those used again and again (changelessly) by supporters.
  • Results discovered by skeptics must be treated fairly in the scientific literature, not rejected as "pseudo-science" merely because they come to a different conclusion on a controversial, cutting-edge topic.

There are of course limits and caveats; let's take a small detour into another field of science to see the right way to answer skeptics. Recently a new attempt is underway to destroy the edifice of evolution by natural selection; its supporters call it "intelligent design" (ID). Its thesis is that some biological processes are too complex to arise naturally, so they must have been consciously designed by an intelligent being.

The alert reader will immediately realize that, window dressing aside, the "intelligent being" must exist outside the normal confines of physical law -- else how could it manipulate the biology of an entire planet -- and outside the timeline of the universe... else where did the intelligent being itself come from? Thus, whether IDers are willing to admit it or not, they're talking about God, and this is a variation on Creationism tarted up as science this time.

The same reader will also recognize that such a thesis is literally untestable:

  1. Just because we cannot explain how a particular biological system evolved doesn't mean it's inexplicable, nor that it's too complex to have evolved naturally. It just means we can't explain it today. No system can ever unambiguously satisfy Michael Behe's requirement of "irreducible complexity," so no evidence can ever be produced to prove ID;
  2. No claim of ID can ever be falsified, even in theory; if a designer is so intelligent, so powerful, and so remote as to be invisible that it can manipulate the entire biological spectrum of life on Earth, then it's also clever enough to be able to hide its own tracks. So there is no possible experiment that can disprove it, either.

Logically, then, since Intelligent Design can neither be proven nor disproven, it is not science. But wait, what about everything I said about consensus above? Very well: Despite the logical problems of ID, evolutionary biologists have answered ID's questions anyway. Behe presented numerous examples of what he called "irreducible complexity" -- a system so complex that its individual components would have no function, hence confer no evolutionary advantage, hence the system itself -- the sum of the components -- could not have evolved.

But scientists have in fact broken down each of these systems (e.g., the eye, the bacterial flagella) into components and shown how each really did have a function... albeit a different function than what the system eventually evolved to perform. They have answered all of Behe's questions, and he has not responded to any of their counterarguments.

Thus at some point, the field of biology must cease considering Behe and his fellow IDers to be "respected scientists"... not out of prejudice or because the biology mainstream disagrees with them, but rather because the IDers refuse to play by the rules of science everyone else must follow. Their own actions (and inaction) brands them pseudoscientists.

By contrast, while some AGCC supporting scientists make an effort to respond to the arguments of the skeptics -- for example, about the role sun activity plays in forcing temperature changes -- very few of the skeptical counterarguments have been answered satisfactorally, even to scientists who more or less support AGCC: They agree that skeptics are playing by the rules of science, using proper methodology, taking all previous results into account, and so forth; they admit the counter-argument is powerful and must be answered; they agree it hasn't been so far; but they have confidence that it will eventually be shown to be in error.

(Note, I'm not saying the skeptics have "proven" that AGCC is wrong; only that supporters have not proven it is right... and the supporters have the burden.)

That is not the sign of scientific consensus; that is the sign of scientific controversy. And that is the difference between those scientists skeptical of AGCC and those contrarians who refuse to accept evolution by natural selection.

There is no requirement to respond to ill-performed experiments that purport to overturn long-settled science without any willingness on the part of the contrarians to engage in scientific debate. There simply isn't enough time to debunk them every time they bubble up again, lest we be dragged into a creationism-like endless loop of demanding an infinite number of "missing links." But honestly performed experiments by scientists ready and willing to engage in proper debate, using data not denunciations, must be answered; that is the scientific method in action.

Similarly, nobody outside a particular journal can mandate that it publish submitted paper. But journals need to be forcefully reminded that their mission is to discover reality -- not mold it into a congenial shape.

Finally, it's important to bear in mind that there are "anointed" on the anti-AGCC side as well; it's entirely possible that a "skeptical" inquirer may actually be a true believer in the opposite of AGCC. He might reflexively reject pro-AGCC evidence, even from his own experiment, because he "knows" it's a crockobaloney. Such charlatans who have ceased being scientists (on both sides) should be shunted aside; but we mustn't throw out honestly interpreted experimental results that produce alternative, natural explanations for recent temperature rises (or deny such rises altogether).

Only after skeptics get their day at bat can the scientific community truly get its mits around what is really happening to the Earth's temperature, what effects (bad and good) that might have, and what, if anything, we can do about it -- and whether we should if we could.

I am quite disappointed that a vice chancellor at such a highly respected venue as the University of East Anglia would be unable to reason through to a scientific solution... and would lunge instead for the classic "teen logic" argument: "But Mom, all my friends are doing the same thing!"

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 30, 2009, at the time of 4:11 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 18, 2008

I appear to have become a Nazi...

Confusticated Conservatives , Evolutionary Elucidations , Science - Bad , Science - Bogus , Science - Good
Hatched by Dafydd

...Along with everyone else who accepts the modern theory of evolution by variation and natural selection.

I was just listening to Ben Stein on the Michael Medved show. Stein has a new documentary out, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argues that "Big Science" has systematically suppressed all the evidence showing that God exists, that He specially created all live on the planet, and that Darwinism is the great hoax of the 19th century.

One paragraph in, and already I'm getting sidetracked! This reminds me of a story Fred Pohl tells. When he was hosting the Long John Neville show, during one of his frequent episodes debunking UFOlogy, an angry believer in alien abductions demanded of Pohl, "How much evidence do we have to present before you admit They're here?"

Pohl's response was brilliant, though I must paraphrase: "A million pieces wouldn't be enough, because you and I have completely different ideas of what constitutes 'evidence.'"

Alas, just a few minutes into Stein's stint on Medved, I discover something unsavory about myself: Stein and Medved, both of whom reject evolutionary theo-- excuse me, "Darwinism" -- spent some time reassuring each other that the entire Nazi movement was founded on Darwinism, and that Hitler saw Darwinism as an integral part of Naziism. Ergo, I appear to have become a "Nazi" as well as an "atheist" "Darwinist".

Now a purist might note that Hitler was far more interested in "social Darwinism" -- by which he meant his prepenultimate bête noire Capitalism, rather than biological "Darwinism" -- and that Hitler railed against Capitalism for its social Darwinism, among other reasons... what fascists call inefficient and unjust competition. Even today, the term "social Darwinism" generally means Capitalism to everyone but Ben Stein. (Hitler's three biggest bugbears were, in reverse order, Capitalism, Communism, and Jews.)

Think I'm exaggerating about Stein's argumentum? From Ben Stein's own blog, here is his conflation of "Darwinism" (he never calls evolution by its actual name) with imperialism (if the first link doesn't resolve, try this one):

Let’s make this short and sweet. It would be taken for granted by any serious historian that any ideology or worldview would partake of the culture in which it grew up and would also be largely influenced by the personality of the writer of the theory....

In other words, major theories do not arise out of thin air. They come from the era in which they arose and are influenced greatly by the personality and background of the writer.

The Stein thesis is already misleading and boorish. Evolutionary theory is not an "ideology or worldview;" it is a scientific theory. And science uses the word "theory" differently than do other disciplines.

As Stein understands the word, it means any supposition, no matter how airy: the theory of Progressivist economics, the theory of deconstructionism. But in science, a theory is a hypothesis that has been thoroughly vetted, for which a tremendous amount of favorable evidence has been produced, and against which there is no significant contradictory evidence... a hypothesis or model doesn't become a theory until there is a consensus of well-respected scientists in relevant fields -- including previous dissenters -- who now support it.

Of course scientific ideas are affected by the cultures in which they arise, but primarily because different cultures generate different problems to solve and produce different technologies by which to measure the real world. Science itself, however derived, works equally well in every culture, every country, every continent, and (we presume) on every planet in the universe.

It is thus truly universal in a way that faith, morals, and philosophy can only dream about. But the price paid is that science is strictly limited to explaining how the natural world works; it cannot, even in theory (there's that pesky word again), be used to prove or disprove the existence of a being outside the natural world, such as God -- Richard Dawkins notwithstanding.

Stein is already off on the wrong track, through a combination of half-grasped science and misappropriation of terms. We continue:

Darwinism, the notion that the history of organisms was the story of the survival of the fittest and most hardy, and that organisms evolve because they are stronger and more dominant than others, is a perfect example of the age from which it came: the age of Imperialism. [This is a bizarre misapprehension of the theory even when the Origin of Species was published in 1859, let alone today. How "dominant" is a shrew or a sponge? "Fittest" means best able to survive and reproduce in that environment.] When Darwin wrote, it was received wisdom that the white, northern European man was destined to rule the world. This could have been rationalized as greed -- i.e., Europeans simply taking the resources of nations and tribes less well organized than they were. It could have been worked out as a form of amusement of the upper classes and a place for them to realize their martial fantasies. (Was it Shaw who called Imperialism “…outdoor relief for the upper classes?”) [I don't know. Was it? What makes Mr. Stein believe Shaw said or wrote that? I certainly can't find it in any standard book of quotations or on the internet.]

But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was “owned” (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism. [And this is nonsense on stilts; evolutionary theory has nothing whatever to do with "imperialism" or racism or Naziism; this is cotton-candy reasoning that dissolves upon contact into nothing but a bad aftertaste.] By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out, Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. [Wrong again; the better-reproducing weak will wipe out the less-reproducing strong.] It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.

This is so wrong, it's maddening. Charles Darwin never used his evolutionary theory to pitch or even justify imperialism; nor did he ever agitate for eugenics programs. His cousin, Francis Galton, invented the idea of eugenics by applying Darwinian ideas to societies... but even he never proposed the government eugenics programs that riddled fascist, Marxist, Nazi, and Progressivist societies. And Darwin himself was skeptical of the expansion.

The philosophy (not science!) of "social Darwinism" was created after Darwin's death by Progressivists, as our hypothetical purist noted; liberals appropriated the term during FDR's administration to attack Capitalism, conflating it with racism and imperialism. Darwin himself was not an imperialist, certainly not in the mold of, say, Rudyard Kipling or Winston Churchill.

But to Ben Stein and Michael Medved, evolutionary theory equals "Darwinism" (similarly, one must presume that quantum mechanics and special relativity are aspects of Newtonism, and I got my graduate degree in Euclidism); Darwinism equals social Darwinism; and social Darwinism is Naziism; ergo... Seig heil!

Evolution by natural selection is the most maligned theory in history; every political hack or philosophy monger twists the science to suit his own prejudices: The lefties twist it to indict Capitalism and individualism; Stein twists it to indict scientific "imperialism" that stands in the way of teaching Judeo-Christian religious precepts as science in the public schools. This saddens me, because I love so many other aspects of Ben Stein's conservatism.

An even purer purist than our previous purists might note -- as Jonah Goldberg did -- that socialists in general, including Progressivists and liberals but not Capitalists, were the real "social Darwinists;" they believed in abortion or sterilization of "defectives" and euthanasia for the handicapped, and suchlike examples of eugenics programs. You can hardly get more "socially Darwinist" than that.

Said purer purists would also argue that the Third Reich in general and Adolf Hitler in particular were not noted for their comprehensive understanding of basic science... you know, that whole "the earth is a hollow sphere and we live on the inside of it" thingie, and the moon being made of ice, and all that "race-science" stuff with its heirarchy of superior to inferior races, and their weird idea that any scientific theory that had a Jew anywhere among its developers was "Jew science" and must be banned. Therefore they could not possibly be exemplars of biological evolutionary theory. Nazis had no more idea of what evolutionary biology actually held than does my dog Scrimshaw... and he's been dead for twenty years.

Fascists, Communists, Progressivists, socialists, and liberals (and conservatives like Ben Stein) have utterly misunderstood Darwin's original, long supplemented if not supplanted thesis; and they are not even aware of the decades of refinement (even by the 1920s) that reshaped it. When you point it out to them, they see this constant refinement of the model as inconstancy; they contrast it negatively to the constancy of Biblical values and use that as another club to bash evolution: If the theory keeps changing, it's an admission that it was wrong; and there's no reason to believe that the current version is any better! But the Bible never changes (heh); it's very permanence proves its value and truth.

The absolute purest of the pure would point out that the entire Steinian argument on this point boils down to:

  1. Nazis were social Darwinists;
  2. Social Darwinism sounds superficially similar to Darwinism, our misleading pet name for modern evolutionary theory;
  3. Therefore, evolutionary theory has a disturbing link to Naziism, and those who believe in it are akin to Nazis.

Here, try this one:

  1. Supporters of Intelligent Design eat carbohydrates;
  2. Carbohydrates sound superficially similar to hydrocarbons, the principal constituents of petroleum (oil) and natural gas;
  3. Oil sometimes leaks, producing oil slicks;
  4. Oil slicks kill baby seals;
  5. Vicious fur hunters also kill baby seals;
  6. Therefore, supporters of Intelligent Design have a disturbing link to evil baby-seal clubbers.

I suppose I'll have to see the movie, but I'll tell you in advance what I predict it will show: endless sequences of "atheists" and "secular humanists" being asked rude and scientifically ignorant questions in a querulous, argumentative, and incoherent manner. And when those atheists (meaning anyone who believes in modern evolutionary theory, since Stein appears to believe that faith and mainstream science are fundamentally at odds) and secular humanists (meaning "generic badthing") can't answer the paralogical question, the IDer will proclaim victory and do a triumphant dance.

But just in case I'm wrong, I'll go see the movie. Just in case all the ID books and articles and pamphlets I've read just didn't have the proper killer argument, I'll go. I'll go just so that no one can say I didn't give ID a fair shake -- which, by the way, ID has never given evolutionary theory; I've yet to encounter an IDer who actually understands the (fairly low-level) science behind the basic concepts of modern evolutionary theory and statistical mathematics... and without that background, it's no wonder "Darwinism" sounds weird and implausible. It's like trying to explain viral infection to someone who believes disease is caused by the evil spells of witches. Here, again, is the man himself (Stein, not Darwin):

Darwinism is still very much alive, utterly dominating biology. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove [to the satisfaction of those who reject evolution for religious reasons] the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. Darwinism also has not one meaningful word to say on the origins of organic life, a striking lacuna in a theory supposedly explaining life. [But not so striking in a theory explaining how contemporary species of life evolved from earlier species of life. Evolutionary theory makes no claim to explain the ultimate origin of life; that is left for other theories and hypotheses -- as it should be.]

Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than Imperialism. [Imperialism killed tens of thousands during the crusades and the Inquisition, hundreds of thousands in the British, Spanish, and Belgian empires, and millions under Communist imperialism. How many people have been killed by rampaging biologists?] Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process. [Either Stein argues that Darwin approved of such a use -- which would be a complete fabrication -- or Stein must admit that he is deliberately trying to make fools of us all.]

Now, a few scientists are questioning Darwinism on many fronts. I wonder how long Darwinism’s life span will be.

Considering that "Darwinism" (evolutionary biology) has already withstood 149 years of hostile questioning by real scientists, I doubt that a few months of interrogation by religiously motivated ID zealots is going to shake the theory's foundations.

The central confusion, as always, is the one so thoroughly refuted by geneticist and staunch Christian believer Francis Collins in his seminal work, the Language of God: Stein and Medved both clearly believe that faith in God is incompatible with belief in evolution... as if God could not have created human beings by the mechanism of evolution. Collins shows the nonsensical theology behind this "argument by personal incredulity," as well as debunking the numerous examples of "well, Darwinism can't explain the evolution of this specific organ or organelle," upon which ID depends for its smattering of vaguely scientific arguments.

Until both conservatives and socialist atheists drop that absurd, self-created dichotomy, which does not exist in reality, we will continue to be subjected to such offensive claptrap as both Intelligent Design -- and books like Richard Dawkins' the God Delusion.

More's the pity.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 18, 2008, at the time of 5:23 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

A Tale of Two Whistles

Crime and Punishment , Politics - Internationalia , Science - Bad
Hatched by Dafydd

The first whistle we all remember: Joseph Wilson, the proven serial liar who was sent by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq attempted to purchase yellowcake Uranium from Niger, returned to report that indeed this was likely true -- but then wrote a completely fabricated article for the New York Times on July 6th, 2003, in which, in order to politically damage President Bush, Wilson flatly lied about his own findings.

Yet despite the exposure of these lies by a unanimous, bipartisan Senate committee investigation, Wilson continues to be lionized by the press and by the Michael Moore/MoveOn mob; more to the point, he remains free to wander about, instead of sitting in solemn silence in a dull, dank dock -- and wasn't even fined.

But turn now to a different whistle which blew its tune in a very different concert hall.

According to the Telegraph, a whistleblower who warned of a serious (potentially deadly) cabin-pressure design flaw in the new Airbus A380 now faces not only financial ruin but possible jail time, first because of a criminal lawsuit filed against him by his former employer and also for violating a gag order by talking about his own criminal case.

Joseph Mangan thought he was doing Airbus a favour when he warned of a small but potentially lethal fault in the new A380 super-jumbo, the biggest and most costly passenger jet ever built.

Instead, Europe's aviation giant rubbished his claims, and now he faces ruin, a morass of legal problems, and - soon - an Austrian prison. Mr Mangan is counting the days at his Vienna flat across the street from Schonbrünn Palace, wondering whether the bailiffs or the police will knock first.

Mangan, an American aerospace engineer, was brought in to head up the aerospace team at TTTech Computertechnik, an Austrian company that makes some of the components used in the A380. The A380 is the pride of Europe. It is intended to carry more than 850 passengers and fly at altitudes of 42,000 (flight level 420) -- the Boeing 747, by contrast, carries up to 524 passengers, typically at FL 350 with similar range and speed. Much is riding on the success of the A380, "the symbol of what Europe can achieve," according to French President Jacques Chirac; not only the pride of the EU but also its economic prospects depend upon a successful and timely launch of the huge airliner.

Mangan claims that his team was under tremendous pressure to meet deadline when they decided to change the specifications for the outflow valve control system. Rather than the more usual arrangement of three different systems for safety redundancy, they chose to use four identical valves.

The problem is that if an event occurs that causes one of the valves to fail, the other three may simultaneously fail for the same reason. In that case, the cabin would experience sudden catastrophic loss of air pressure. Since irreparable brain damage can occur after four minutes without oxygen, and since it takes two and a half minutes to descend from 420 to 250 (where ambient air is breathable), the flight crew would have to notice the problem and begin the descent within ninety seconds -- and among the first symptoms are inattentiveness, poor judgment, and loss of motor coordination (as I can attest from personal experience).

Any delay could result in neural damage or even death among hundreds of passengers and crew... and could even result in the aircraft crashing, if the pilots pass out: loss of cabin air pressure is considered a primary cause of a crash of a Boeing 737 over Greece this last August.

Once TTTech changed to the new valve design, they were obliged to report that change to the testing agencies, who might have to begin certification all over again. Mangan charges that the team failed to get the new design recertified, which could have taken as long as two years; the A380 was already six months behind schedule and $1.8 billion over budget. Instead, Mangan alleges,

TTTech falsely classified its micro-chip as a simple "off-the-shelf" product already used in car valves in order to except it from elaborate testing rules, he claimed. This would breach both EU and US law on aircraft regulation. "I refused to sign off on the test results, but TTTech went ahead anyway," he claimed. The key papers relate to the TTPOS operating system and were allegedly dated August 24 2004.

A number of agencies appear to have accepted or seriously considered Mangan's charge, which he first made in September 2004; he first raised the issue with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the EU equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration here in the United States.

[O]fficials at the air safety watchdog EASA said they took the concerns "extremely seriously". An EASA source told the Telegraph that the agency was "able to confirm certain statements by Mr Mangan".

A probe - conducted by the French authorities for EASA - allegedly found that TTTech was "not in conformity" with safety rules and had failed to carry out the proper tests. The key microchip was deemed "not acceptable". EASA instructed Airbus to sort out the problem before the final certification of the A380 next year. It is unclear whether this has now been done. EASA has refused to comment publicly on the details of the dispute, prompting concerns at the European Parliament. Eva Lichtenberger, an Austrian Green MEP, wrote an "urgent" letter to the agency last month demanding "prompt and extensive information on the matter".

Had this chain of events happened in the U.S., the FAA would immediately have frozen deployment of the aircraft until the issue was investigated. Several agencies would have gotten themselves involved and there might even have been hearings in the Aviation subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. (In fact, such hearings might still be a good idea before A380s are allowed to fly in the United States.)

Instead, the response in the European Union was markedly different. TTTech filed a lawsuit alleging both civil and criminal defamation under Austrian law, and the judge in the case issued a gag order, which Mangan says prohibited him from talking even to the EASA or other aviation safety officials. While the trial drags on, the A380 is nearing debut -- without any changes, corrections, or retesting done on the valve system, Mangan says.

This violates my duty to the public. People could die on that plane if they don't fix the problem," he said.

TTTech denies that there is any problem and denies that any of its elements covered up or failed to disclose any significant design changes. They say that Mangan has inflicted "severe damage" to their corporate reputation by making unsubstantiated claims about safety problems. They refer to him as disgruntled, say he never fit into the team, and that he is motivated by revenge.

There seems little interest within the European political community in helping Mangan defend against the criminal charge or even to evaluate his claims, despite support from the EASA. He is bankrupt, was fined $180,000 (which he could not pay) for violating the gag order, faces a year in jail for that violation -- and still faces the possibility of even more time in jail or prison for speaking out in the first place, even before the gag order.

Too bad. If only he had thought to embed his charges inside a diatribe against George Bush, as Joe Wilson did, the EU would hail him as a Hero of the People.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 17, 2005, at the time of 5:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

© 2005-2013 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved