Friends Don’t Let Friends Abuse Science — A guest post by Kate Paulk

Friends Don’t Let Friends Abuse Science — A guest post by Kate Paulk

The weekend before last was Lunacon, where one of my panels was about science, ignorance and power. It turned into a fascinating discussion of the issues raised by the often breathtaking ignorance of science in this country (the USA if anyone is asking) as well as suggestions on improving the situation. The latter were few and far between because, well… it’s systemic.


Some of the problems include teachers who know next to nothing about how science works, a near-complete lack of a requirement for teacher trainees to learn science, journalists who are equally misinformed so any reporting reads more like the Hollywood version (and the ignorance there is equally impressive), politicians who are damn near universally lawyers and have no problems lying to their constituents to keep getting elected and of course bureaucrats who are much more concerned with keeping their position than with anything related to science. Not that this is a complete list. There isn’t space for that in a single post.


As for solutions, well, buggered if I know. And I am a scientist, if rather out of practice (geologist, if you’re wondering, although technically my software engineering degree also counts. I’ve had an… interesting worklife).


See, possibly the biggest problem isn’t the obvious one. It’s that scientist use words everyone else uses, but they have their own special meanings for them. Or – and this is more common – the scientific meanings got broadened into other things when they leaked out into general use. This isn’t a bad thing per se. It’s going to happen in a living language. But it means that people have to be taught how to translate between science-speak and regular-speak.


Simple, yes?


Well, no. See, there’s a hell of a lot of people claiming to be scientists who don’t act like it, because underneath everything else, science isn’t a body of knowledge or a set of defined facts and rules (although of course science has plenty of those and they’re important). It’s a way of thinking and one which both heads of the power-hungry hydra that is the modern American two party system abuse shamelessly.


The first important thing is that science is never “settled”. Science is about observing facts, searching for patterns, making predictions from those patterns and then trying to disprove the predictions. If – to take an example – the pro-Global Warming faction was actually engaging in science, they would be searching for data that disproved their theories.


Oh, and a “theory” in science does not mean the same thing as a theory in general discourse. To be a scientific theory, it has to be mathematically rigorous and disprovable. Otherwise it’s a hypothesis (aka educated guess). Scientific laws describe behavior that is sufficiently well understood nobody expects to ever see it disproved – although since Einstein published the Theory of Relativity, it’s become clear that laws need to also specify the environment in which they apply, since Newton’s laws break down under conditions that you won’t find in normal life.


Of course, this is an idealized view, but it’s the ideal that all scientists should be aiming for. Government money – particularly large amounts of Government money – tends to shut down the desire to reach the ideals. So does corporate money, but corporate entities usually don’t have the amount of power a government wields. At the same time, this stuff is expensive, but without it you don’t have things like antibiotics, flushing toilets, internets and so on. It’s not particularly glamorous either, and usually doesn’t look at all like you see on TV. It’s more like Dirty Jobs visiting Mythbusters (the Mythbusters team does good, sound science, but they don’t show the hours of tedium that goes behind what they do screen).


So… some of the science abuse I’ve seen from politicians of all stripes:


  • cherrypicking while claiming to be “reality-based”. This happens a lot and all of them do it. There are leftist politics who mock conservatives who deny that evolution is possible while ignoring the very real biological differences between male and female and between various ethnic groups. There are rightist politics who have no problems with antibiotics and flu shots while claiming that evolution is impossible. And a whole range of equally ignorant nonsense.
  • ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the favored theory/ideology. Again, all the bastards do it. Repeatedly. Of course, they do it with everything else, not just science – probably because they’re mostly lawyers, and that’s part of what lawyers are supposed to do. Unfortunately, it means that instead of any kind of sensible behavior our political wannabe masters lurch erratically from idiot position to idiot position making total asses of themselves. Not that they care as long as they get reelected.
  • faking the evidence. Of course this is another traditional lawyerly activity, since the goal is to win without getting caught (yes, I’m a little bit cynical. Deal.)
  • mathematical illiteracy. Dear god the mathematical illiteracy. We have a Congress, a Senate, an Executive, and a Judiciary stuffed to the gills with people who do not /do/ math. Is it any wonder they can’t tell the difference between debt and deficit? And of course, with all the branches of science, math underlies it somewhere. The relationship is pretty clear with physics, but there’s plenty to be found in geology, chemistry, biology, and such. You just need to know where to look. (Here’s a clue. If it gets called a science and the most important parts don’t have any math? It’s not a science no matter what it calls itself. Ditto if there’s no observation or extrapolation and testing against predictions from observations.).
  • selective blindness. This isn’t quite the same as cherrypicking – it’s more ignoring certain areas because they’ll be too controversial. This is, for instance, why there is buggerall real research into ethnic group IQ score differentials. Those concerned (and again, all sides of politics have failures here) are terrified that they might find something biological in the difference and that would be raaaaaaacist (no it wouldn’t. Facts are not biased. They are what they are. If there is an ethnicity based component to intelligence, then that’s how it works). This particular example is a long and controversial post all by itself, so I’ll leave the matter there, but remember, that’s just one area of selective blindness. There are many, many others.


So. What to do? The politicians and their media friends need to be called out on their ignorance and abuse of science every time. No matter what. Mock them. Show them facts. Hell, shove the facts up their noses and down their throats. If they choke, so much the better (metaphorically speaking. I don’t advocate actually choking the bastards. You might get a worse one as a replacement).

563 thoughts on “Friends Don’t Let Friends Abuse Science — A guest post by Kate Paulk

  1. “journalists who are equally misinformed so any reporting reads more like the Hollywood version (and the ignorance there is equally impressive),”

    That’s not a science problem, that’s a journalism problem. Because they are bone-headed about EVERYTHING.

    Religion, for instance. Any article about religion, assume that the report lost 50 IQ points before writing.

    1. There’s a cure for those who believe what journalists say: have a news-worthy event happen near you, then read what the papers print about it. (Won’t cure everyone—but it’s really unlikely to make any trust the news more, anyway.)

      In matters of science (or religion), it’s even simpler: just read any article about a field you’re familiar with. Chances are the article won’t even be wrong. (Honorable exception: The IEEE’s Spectrum magazine. Readable by laymen, but aimed at engineers, and many of the writers are engineers as well, so their description of scientific topics is mostly right, even if it is a bit superficial at times. It really is what Scientific American claims to be [and, I’m told, used to be]. But that only holds when they’re discussing matters near their field of expertise; anything else and they’re just journalists again.)

      It’s not a one-dose cure though, and you may need to keep reminding yourself that you’ve taken it.

      1. Thank you for that suggestion. I have been mourning the loss of a fun magazine. SciAm was a good magazine, mostly, up through the early 90’s. And the back copies I saw from the 70’s and 80’s had great stuff in it. Then it turned into all cosmology and global warming, and went downhill from there. Once again, I don’t know if that creep was because of co-option, collusion or pressure. Probably all three.

          1. It was fine when I was a kid in the 70s.

            I couldn’t agree more about the journalism cure: read any article on a subject with which you’re familiar. It’s like watching a Hollywood production about Texas (where in the world did they film this? Do they think East Texas is a couple of hours in a car from West Texas? Why do the people sound like Scarlett O’Hara?).

          2. PS, “Wired” Magazine seems to have good articles. I’d be interested to hear from anyone here who’s more familiar with their subject matter.

            1. I found Wired to be more, “yay, cool tech!”, but without any real explanation as to why something was cool. I had a subscription a few years ago, but before it ended I had signed up with the IEEE and got a subscription to Spectrum as well, and found the latter far superior. (And for non-members, Spectrum’s subscription price is the same as Wired’s.) There’s plenty not behind the paywall at ‹›; take a look.

              Note that both Wired and Spectrum have a somewhat narrower scope than Scientific American. SciAm might run an article on quasars; Spectrum will mention them in an article about the technology used to study them.

              1. I’ll second the reccomendation for IEEE Spectrum. I linked to an article in the latest issue the other day here on Hollywood’s troubles preserving movies originated in the digital domain. Spectrum covers topics all across the technical world in a technical yet accessible writing style, and the articles always give you the science underneath the engineering. And when they’ve covered technical topics I have direct knowledge of, they’ve gotten it right.

                As one more data point, my wife, a professional classical musician who is not technical at all, reads and enjoys articles in Spectrum.

          3. In the 80s I was working with a physicist who had earlier in his life worked on.. things he could never speak about. His comment on a (pro) nuclear disarmament article by MIT’s Kostas Tsipis was
            “he’s lying, and he knows he’s lying”. Which was borderline quite naughty, I suppose. But completed for me the trajectory of SciAm from beloved window on the universe to lefty political rag, pretending.

        1. Nothing wrong with cosmology – I flippin’ love hearing about exoplanets and new ways to find them – and a lot of their reporting on things like the Internet and computing was very well written.

          But once AGW came along? They forcefully ejected any sort of ‘science-based’ reporting on the issue. (“Cap’n, the Reasoning Core is overheating and the Stupidity filters have clogged! We can either shut down and reassess, or eject the Reasoning Core and continue on Emotional Drive! The lousy assumptions that clogged the Stupidity Filters won’t affect that – it’ll even improve the output!” “It’s clear then – eject the Reasoning Core and crank the Emo Drive up to 11!”)

          I dropped my subscription. Occasionally I’ll look at an issue at the grocery store – but there’s little coverage of anything science-based any more. It almost seems like if it can’t be covered in two pages and a large graphic, they’re not interested.

      2. You forget the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.

        “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
        In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”― Michael Crichton

        1. Thank you for pointing me in that direction. Crichton’s entire talk is worth reading, but they’ve taken it down from his site. Internet Archive to the rescue: [link].

        2. I remember a front-page story about gold buying in World of Warcraft that talked about buying castles and dragons, only had a guy who sells accounts and his employee as the interview subjects, and otherwise made you want to bang your head and wonder if they had ANY familiarity with the game. (There were not even dragon mounts at the time, you don’t have houses, and selling your account is illegal.) It was either the San Diego or LA main newspaper.

        1. Problem is, they do have an area they’re familiar with – it’s just not subject-matter-related. For journalists: expertise in assembling words into a story they can sell to their editor, within the allotted time. For teachers: class control and the proper formalisms of teaching plans.

          Neither requires subject matter expertise in anything the targets of their work would want to know. Editors and school administrators tend to regard their inferiors as interchangeable widgets, so there’s neither chance nor motivation to become more than mediocre in knowledge about any field of knowledge.

          1. I was referring to Joel Salomon’s “cure for believing what journalists say”, which was to pick an article about something in an area you are familiar with in matters of science or religion. Far too many people today don’t have an area they are familiar with in either.

            1. That’s the beauty of the internet. With a little research you can usually find someone (usually several someones) who truly understands, in the Feynman sense, the subject.

              The only downside is that it takes a little bit more effort. But you learn so much more.

        2. I’m sorry, but it’s not “needing an area they’re familiar with,” at least with religion. I bought the first in a series of books about things happening at conventions. Sigh. The description read like InConJunction 1 & 2 (1981 & ’82). I knew those well, because they were my first conventions, and I had to run security at 2. However, that’s another hobby horse, for another time.
          It was made worse, by reading a Sherrilyn Kenyon omnibus, with a really good description of a con. It’ wasn’t like they didn’t know to research, I *think* it was “early in career.” I’ll buy another, to see if it’s better. The problem with religion _*seems*_ to be (is that enough emphasis?) lack of respect for the subject. In this case, respect means both respect as usually defined, and utter lack of knowledge about the subject. I couldn’t/wouldn’t write about an accountant at their job, because most of it is impenetrable to me. So is Electrical engineering, in large part. Despite 2 years of various classes on the subject.
          Sort of like a truly altruistic politician, being a character., and _not_ insane. Or, a rabbit really being a Lion in disguise. Certain creatures, cannot act in opposition to their intrinsic nature. Like a gun, suddenly functioning as a flame thrower. Yes, I know that there are some “people”, who can’t think that clearly, and believe they are the same. Most of them work in Hollyweird. Fandom is big enough that you _can_ find someone who knows the answer. As Wendy Z. said (in my hearing, at least once.). “Fans know entirely too much about at least two subjects.”
          My point is that reporters, writers, etc., if they don’t know an exert in that subject, should ask around, and try to find one. I know that they, apparently, teach basic research in journalism any longer; However, authors need to do better. Please don’t make mistakes at a basic level. I stopped watching Helix, after the firs episode. *4* major errors in less than 40 minutes, caused me to leave in disgust.

      3. I gave up on Spectrum and the IEEE when it became clear their solution to everything was “government money”. Oh, and when they began to concern themselves with engineers’ genitals more than their product.

  2. If it’s an educated guess (or un-edumacated, mis-eddified, or otherwise) supported only by belief, it is more likely an article of faith than anything found in science. If it’s faith-based belief, arguments based on theology would be more like to succeed than those based on testable theory/hypothesis.

    I wonder though, if the change in technology and accessibility thereof isn’t part of the shift away from a general interest in and knowledge of science and the scientific method. Forex., food- scratch cooking isn’t the norm anymore, and I doubt many of us know how to make, oh, a substitute for baking powder if they needed it for a recipe (2:1 crème of tartar to baking soda, if you’re wondering). Or practical distillation.

    The old adage “knowledge is power” holds true. I could see a scenario where scientific knowledge was suppressed (consciously or un-) because it could be a threat to those already in power. Y’know. Homemade powder and mill-grade steel tubes, that sort of thing (and more).

    But I believe laziness is more likely. Or convenience, if you prefer. *grin* “It sounds plausible” is much faster than “let’s search the source material.” In classic s/f, science was accessible to the average guy or gal with some effort. Rocketry wasn’t beyond the realm of disbelief, it was mostly math and materials sciences. And that’s not even getting into the debacle of “safe” everything (especially education) nowadays.

    1. Has anybody ever used wood ashes as a substitute for baking powder? You read that in numerous novels, but I have never known anyone to actually try it, and was curious how well it worked.

      1. Do you mean potash? Geeze, that’s been years ago… err, decades. Yes, and I actually know why, sort of.

        Potash or plant-based ashes creates an acid, potassium bicarbonate, I think. Water, acid, and heat produces carbon dioxide (fermentation) which causes the dough to rise. It’s a leavening agent.

        Result will vary based on the amount of acid you get from the plant material. Homemade potash ain’t the best leavening agent by far (in most cases), so you get very little rise out of it. Makes for flat biscuits, little better than unleavened.

  3. Then there’s the “Cult of Science”. Believers in it think Religion is wrong/nonsense because Science. Believers in it think everything they are for is true because Science.

    I’d note that the “Cult of Science” rarely is supported by real scientists or real science.

    1. It’s similar to Reason. A wise blogger once observed that modern society is divided between those who worship Reason — and those who use it.

      1. Yep, it’s “interesting” to listen to people who think that prior to the “Age Of Reason” people didn’t think, they just “listened to the priests”. [Frown]

        1. That’s why all those Latin names of logical fallacies were invented. by people who didn’t use Logic.

        2. Not necessarily just listening to the priests, they seem to have believed some odd stuff from other authorities too. Heavy objects falling faster is sort of in the right direction to explain observations (given the conditions a casual experimenter will encounter, with air resistance slowing light objects by a lot). But it’s not really right, the closer you look at it the worse it tends to work. And AFAIK the first person to point out a thought experiment experiment that I particularly like (so… drop two cannonballs connected by an exceedingly fine thread, do they fall faster than unconnected cannonballs?) was more than 1000 years after Aristotle wrote. That’s a long time to be painstakingly copied and cited uncritically as an authority.

          Formal prestige institutional knowledge and thought wasn’t completely dead, but it seems to have been pretty dormant compared to the later scientific revolution, and compared to contemperaneous informal spread of knowledge and technology. (Knitting, “Arabic” numerals, various innovations in agriculture, in sailing and navigation, etc.)

          1. Meh. No. That’s just the way people tend to be. Look what they’re doing now. “authorities” and “Credentials.” and wanting to sound smart and be part of the in-crowd.

            1. And they had the excuse that they didn’t have a way to support enough layabouts not working in the fields to conduct the necessary experiments. Food beats science any day.

    2. But invoking Popper will piss the right people off.
      (Though they’ll take it as an excuse to disregard everything you’ve said. Naturally.)

        1. Especially as I don’t know what this Popper said and how it relates to what I said.

          1. Karl Popper.
            Partial citation :”He is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. Popper is known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favour of empirical falsification”

          2. I think they mean Karl Popper, a philosopher of some sort. He’s famous for something which I can’t remember.

                1. *claps* Well played sir. I still think of the book when I see penguins.

                  I’ve heard of Karl Popper and his work. And the Poppers of Rutgers and the “buffalo commons” hypothesis.

              1. “Not that famous, almost nobody here has ever heard of him, and this is odd group of knowledgeables.”

                Now that’s as depressing a thought as I expect to encounter all day. All the more so given the post that tops this thread.

                There’s a QED about abusing science hidden in there someplace.

                I hope never to hear that folks here talk about socialism as a mass movement but have never heard of Eric Hoffer.

                1. The nice thing about science of any sort is that you don’t have to know the people, you just have to know the information.

                  Like with logic, it doesn’t matter who says it if it holds together.

                2. After reading up on him I fail to see why he should be famous at all, it’s not like he really did anything to be famous for. I suspect if his name is mentioned in a couple years I will again not remember who the heck he is.

            1. Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. He was also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature, a self-professed critical-rationalist, a dedicated opponent of all forms of scepticism, conventionalism, and relativism in science and in human affairs generally and a committed advocate and staunch defender of the ‘Open Society’. One of the many remarkable features of Popper’s thought is the scope of his intellectual influence: he was lauded by Bertrand Russell, taught Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend and the future billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros at the London School of Economics, numbered David Miller, Joseph Agassi and Jeremy Shearmur amongst his research assistants there and had reciprocally beneficial friendships with the economist Friedrich Hayek and the art historian Ernst Gombrich. Additionally, Peter Medawar, John Eccles and Hermann Bondi are amongst the distinguished scientists who have acknowledged their intellectual indebtedness to his work, the latter declaring that ‘There is no more to science than its method, and there is no more to its method than Popper has said.


  4. “To be a scientific theory, it has to be mathematically rigorous and disprovable. Otherwise it’s a hypothesis (aka educated guess). ”

    You left out the part where it has to make predictions that pan out.

    One scientist had a hypothesis that insects were able to evolve wings because before they were useful for lift, the wings were useful for heat regulations. He carefully measured insects wings to determine what portions were useful for that and which for lift, and for most sizes, there was some space between those regions, but not all. He predicted that the first fossils of winged insects would be about that size, then, and it was right. Theory.

    Some scientists had a hypothesis about carbon dioxide and the earth warming. They built up a model and made predictions about how the climate would change in the next years. They were wrong. They went back and tinkered. More predictions, also wrong. Loop repeats. . .. Not theory.

    1. One of my Cult of Global Warming friends tried to tell me that the models have predicted accurately. I didn’t even bother to disagree. I just ignored it.

      1. The best way to get your predictions right is to wait until after the fact and then backdate the predictions. A distant second choice is to massage the data to make it appear to agree with your predictions.

  5. “There are leftist politics who mock conservatives who deny that evolution is possible while ignoring the very real biological differences between male and female and between various ethnic groups.”

    It has been my experience that where evolution has practical consequences, those who want evolution taught in schools don’t believe in it, and those don’t, do.

    1. Belief is the realm of religion imho. Evolution just makes sense. That is why I have a problem with the comparison of creationism and evolution. Some people want to turn it into a religious debate and I think it is like comparing apples and oranges.

      1. Not necessarily. Belief can also mean acting on the presumption something is true. If I believe it is likely to rain on the weekend, I may not put off planting the flowers I bought after work — that’s not a religious belief.

        You can see it most plainly in works of the sort that go to undermine the default gender binary and the like. The sort that project more and more of the population will consist of those who do not reproduce or have fewer children instead of those who have lots of children.

          1. Huh? In what way is my belief that it will or will not rain on the weekend — based on reading the weather report — “constructed to tap into the religious impulse”?

            Similarly, the belief in evolution I was referring to is a practical belief in the effects of differential fertility on future generations.

            1. I tried to answer you and it didn’t post. *sigh It seems that belief (like love) has so many meanings that it has become useless without an adjective i.e. faith-based, practical belief, etc. Your practical belief is based on data. Many people’s beliefs are based on feelings. So I think that I would like a new word to replace extrapolation through good data versus feelings.

            2. There’s a lot of parts to evolution. There’s a part of evolution where teachers says there’s no G-d and we evolved from blobs millions of years ago. They say that there was no Creator and that everyone who believes in G-d is an idiot. If it’s a difference between believing in G-d and believing in Evolution; I’ll believe in G-d.

              If you can show me a way to understand evolution without saying that there is no Creator, I’ll go with it.

              I think that Intelligent Design is a way to ease the cognitive dissonance.

              Would someone please explain what differential fertility is? I understand the words but not the phrase.

              1. Well – I like the Intelligent Design idea as well (at least a guiding hand). But that is a personal belief.

                As for the teachers, I think they have no proof that there is or is not a G-d. So they are going by their feelings and beliefs into a religious area, which is not their domain imho.

              2. There’s a part of evolution where teachers says there’s no G-d and we evolved from blobs millions of years ago.

                Well, THERE’s the problem. The two halves of that sentence have nothing to do with each other. No scientist with any credibility has ever made a statement that showed that God could not have created a Universe in which Evolution was the method by which we were produced.

                1. Nod. Some of the worst examples of the “Cult Of Religion” are from people who aren’t scientists or don’t know science.

                2. I guess I’ll jump in here, too.
                  I’ll sometimes point out that “evolution” is a word that means a lot of different things. In fact, I went in to that in some depth in this post: The Fallacy of Equivocation.

                  It should further be noted that under definition 4b (a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations), we have a multitude of variations, including the notion that Darwin (or the oversimplified version Darwin) was right in every detail and anything that hints at some variance from that disproves “Darwinism”.

                  There is also the belief that a scientific explanation means God is no longer necessary in the system.

              3. Would someone please explain what differential fertility is? I understand the words but not the phrase.

                The folks who are being “scientific” and claiming that anybody who believes in Himself is denying evolution tend to have very, very few people; the people who think that however it happened, He was in control tend to have a lot.

              4. Never understood the IMHO manufactured conflict between religion and science. A scientist deals in facts and observations of the real world with the best tools he has available. He studies the physical properties of matter and energy, how they interact with one another, and forms theories to explain those relationships and develop the tools to dependably predict the future results of new interactions.
                A religious scientist, which is not IMO an oxymoron, is simply trying to better understand the nuts and bolts of the universe God created. An ongoing “Eureka! So that’s how He managed to do that” if you will.
                What I cannot accept is the insistence by a fervent few that a collection of parables filled with allegory and metaphor, translated through dozens of languages, over the course of thousands of years must be considered the perfect and literal Word of God. As inspiration and a guide to form your own personal beliefs, absolutely. As a literal recording of events, not so much. It also seems to me that those same individuals who take the literal position will with their next breath insist that they must explain to you what the Bible really means since you cannot possibly understand your own self.

                1. In my personal experience, the conflict comes when a bunch of Biblical literalists scream that science is hostile/evil/Satanic because it contradicts a strict literal interpretation of Genesis, or a bunch of anti-religious atheists proclaim that God must not exist because science contradicts a strict literal interpretation of Genesis. Most people I’ve met aren’t like either of those two, but its always the loudest who seem to draw attention.

                2. It is an article of the Orthodox Jewish Faith that the Torah is literally word for word what came down from Mt Sinai.

                  It is as central to Orthodox Judaism as the Trinity is to Catholic Christianity.

                  1. In that regard I and they shall have to disagree.
                    OTOH, one of the things I most admire and respect about Judaism is the complete lack of interest in proselytizing their faith. Rather than aggressively attempting to capture every warm body that isn’t fast enough to escape, they make entry for newcomers extremely difficult. I tend to respect that in a faith.

                  2. … but not that every word means its literal implication.

                    (For example, God literally dictated the words commonly translated as “An eye for an eye,” but also—and also literally—explained that what He meant by that phrase was monetary reparations.)

                    1. True. The Oral Law informs the Written Law. You have the Talmud and then the Shulchan Aruch. There is interpretation within the context of the Divine Origin of the Torah.

                    2. it also doesn’t mean that the only injuries for which compensation is due are eyes, teeth, and lives. (I have literally heard people argue that babies don’t have teeth, so any passage using the full phrase is obviously not referring to the baby.)

                3. Exactly, Lar. See my other comment on this thread. It’s kind of the difference between an architect that designs a house and a builder who builds it. Which was the “creator”? IMHO, God created the universe. He didn’t form each atom, but created a system that created everything, the laws that controlled what He had created, and the fundamentals that guide everything that happens. That’s one of the reasons I expect to meet aliens: God is not wasteful. The universe He created resulted in the formation of stars, planets, and life. That life exists beyond Earth is inherent in the fact that life exists ON Earth. The same “laws of nature” that resulted in life appearing on Earth also apply to every other planet, both in our solar system and in the entire universe. Some of that “life” may be totally different from us physically, but the same basic laws of nature will work for them as they do for us. The “fundamentalists” who insist the Earth is only 6000 years old aren’t basing that on the definitive word of God, but upon the calculations of one man, an otherwise obscure Irish Bishop named James Ussher. Ussher tried to bridge the gap between religious affairs and secular affairs, but failed to take into consideration one major tenet of religious faith — “Before the world was, I AM”. Time as we measure it is a human construct, based upon human observations of one small planet. An eternal Being may observe time quite differently. God is saying that He existed before the universe, and time — a construct of the universe — would have no meaning to Him. The other problem is that the early Bible (according to tradition) was first codified by Moses about 5000 years ago. I challenge anyone to explain particle physics to anyone with the level of knowledge Moses had at that time. It can’t be done. There’s too much else that would have to be explained before such a person could ever understand. Considering that the words Moses recorded could have been passed down by word of mouth for a thousand years before that, the gulf is surprisingly small between what’s written and what we’ve learned in the last 200 years. Personally, the more science I learn, the more I believe in a universal God, not less. My God created this universe. Many other people profess to believe in a universal god, then start immediately trying to set limits upon Him.

              5. ‘Would someone please explain what differential fertility is? I understand the words but not the phrase.”

                Evolution is driven by the way some beings have more children than others. For instance, an albino member of a race is much more likely to be killed and eaten before reproducing, which produces a difference in fertility between it and its normally colored relatives, which is differential fertility.

              6. Emily writes, “If you can show me a way to understand evolution without saying that there is no Creator, I’ll go with it.”

                From Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s 1873 essay The Educational Value of Judaism:

                Whether or not man is able to find an adequate or correct explanation for the natural laws governing any phenomenon of nature does not alter his moral calling. […] This will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multitude of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single, most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact. Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that notion, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures.

                For comparison, The Descent of Man had only been published two years earlier. Already Huxley (whom Rav Hirsch refers to as “the high priest of that notion”) was trying to use this scientific theory to attack religion, but showed only that he did not understand what he was attacking.

                (Of course, plenty people I’ve seen attacking religion with evolution don’t understand evolution either…)

              7. “If you can show me a way to understand evolution without saying that there is no Creator, I’ll go with it.”

                As I understand it, the Catholic Church has no issue with evolution, the Big Bang, or any real science.

                And, frankly, I’d be suspicious of an “omnipotent, omniscient” deity who couldn’t pull off such an act of combined subtlety and majesty.

              8. If you can show me a way to understand evolution without saying that there is no Creator, I’ll go with it.

                How about, “God created evolution, which works about the way Darwin and his successors think it does.”

              9. “If you can show me a way to understand evolution without saying that there is no Creator, I’ll go with it. ”

                See the quote elsewhere from Thomas Aquinas. You will have to drop the part about “putrefaction” which was the science of his day and replace with the more modern science.

              10. I would have no major problems with the idea of God creating humans, our whole evolutionary history and maybe time itself at the same moment. I presume he exists outside of time, and as the creator can play with that too any way he wants. 🙂

                (Not saying I believe that, just that it would make sense, and that this would be one way having both evolution and humans being created as fully finished humans would be believable.)

                1. Not saying I believe that,

                  Don’t know about you, but I annoy a lot of folks because I really don’t have a specific view of how we got here. I’m OK with that, too. I don’t have to know who exactly each of my ancestors were, and I don’t have a burning need to have a definitive answer to “were humans made in modern form or were they grown out of a warm puddle.” (or whatever the most popular theory is now)

                  I’m still going to point out when someone’s claims aren’t as strong as they want to claim, but I really don’t need to defend my non-existent pet theory any more than I have to have a preferred car to point out that a Kia Rio (small budget car) isn’t the absolute best vehicle for hauling a seven person family around.

                2. I would have no major problems with the idea of God creating humans, our whole evolutionary history and maybe time itself at the same moment. I presume he exists outside of time, and as the creator can play with that too any way he wants.

                  There is a direct contradiction between creating the whole of time and history and all the artifacts &&etc etc. and the 8th commandment.

                  1. The Eighth Commandment is the representation in time of something we can only understand metaphorically.

                    1. I have the 8th commandment being “thou shall not bear false witness”.

                      If, when the Great Green Arkleseizure sneezed, his creation contained significant evidence of a past that did not really happen, then he is, every real way, bearing false witness.

                      One does not create what is largely a consistent historical narrative stretching back a billion or so years to “test the faith”. So either (a) Genesis is best thought of as a parable, or (b) God, to quote the Philosophers Depeche Mode, “Has a sick sense of humor”.

                    2. If, when the Great Green Arkleseizure sneezed, his creation contained significant evidence of a past that did not really happen, then he is, every real way, bearing false witness.

                      Or people are misinterpreting a guide to “how to figure out what I built” as a literal history. You can’t accuse a teacher of false witness because you find out there wasn’t REALLY a pair of trains leaving Smithtown and Jones City going 25 and 45 miles per hour, respectively…..

                      That’s before we get into things like “because it’s pretty.” What kind of crazy would accuse an artist of bearing false witness because this lady doesn’t really have horns?

                    3. One does not create what is largely a consistent historical narrative stretching back a billion or so years

                      *evil grin* Are you familiar with the Unified Pixar Theory?

                      It’s pretty popular, and holds that all of the Pixar movies are in the same reality.

                      Yes, that includes Cars, Toy Story and The Incredibles…..

              11. Well, from a theological standpoint, there are some interesting issues with the language involved. I gather the verb used for creating the world and stuff is the verb for directly creating, but I am told in the old Hebrew the word use for making mankind translates more as “called forth from the muck”. The implication being that man was not directly created, but rather called forth from the things God had created, and then infused.

              12. “There’s a part of evolution where teachers says there’s no G-d”

                Care to point out where?
                Aside from some atheists claiming that (how kind of you to help them by accepting their false premise) I’ve read through some textbooks and such on the subject and they seem to be focused on biological topics and not the existence or non-existence of any sort of deity.

                  1. Plus, it’s not what’s in the science books. It’s what the teachers tell the students.

                    1. Well, mine didn’t. In fact, he was a religious man, though not a literalist. (He attended the same church my host family went through) but, yes, some teachers are stupid. Eh. My kid’s 9th grade bio teacher tried to get them to sign non-reproduction forms…

                    2. Well, from 9th grade, up until they’re old enough to realize how stupid and (I hope!) unenforceable this form is—they really shouldn’t be reproducing… 🙂

                    3. LOL. Yeah, except you get the kids who are “honorable” and think they “promised” — no, not mine. They said “a) I’m not signing. b) you have no legal authority. c) I’m calling mom.” (The last was the threat that people ran screaming from.

                    4. I don’t recall ever seeing a science textbook once I hit high school, much less actually having them handed out to the students to teach out of. And yes I do recall getting in some rather loud and vocal arguments with a science teacher who was an atheist and was trying to claim that science proved no god existed. (Seriously, when asked to show her proof the best she could come up with is to claim that there was no scientific proof that God existed, therefore he couldn’t exist). Interestingly enough this was not a biology teacher. Our biology teacher never brought up religion, but was I believe a Christian.

                    5. Sadly this is where we find many folks peripheral to science (and no few scientists), using science as a talisman to justify opinions unsupported (perhaps unsupportable) by the evidence. That science has not proved something does not disprove it.

                      A portion of blame rests on some religious folks who try to use the mantle of science to justify religious information. Often using bad science in the process. This is simply an invitation to refutation perfectly consistent with the scientific method.

                      Science and theology may share some mechanisms, but rightly (I believe) should stick to their respective spheres and not invite criticism one from the other.

                  2. I should have specified where in the theory of evolution does it say that.

                    (Problem when working night and trying to make a comment that gets interrupted by calls. Feh.)

                    1. It doesn’t but too many people talk as if it does. Including some school teachers.

                    2. Let’s go back to the sentence you quoted:

                      “There’s a part of evolution where teachers says there’s no G-d”

                      it may be a little muddled, but it explicitly says, “teachers” say this.

                    3. I wanted to know where in the theory of evolution did it say there was no God. Since if a teacher claims it and it doesn’t actually say that, then that teacher is lying.

                      If the first comment was unclear, read the part in between the “(” and “)” symbols in my second comment.

                    4. Oh, no. Of course it doesn’t. BUT atheists have claimed it about it forever. I’m of two minds on whether Darwin ever hinted it, either, because it’s years since I read HIM (I was a teenager, in Portugal) and the reports I read on it are contradictory. I should ask younger son because he was, for a while, fascinated by Charles Darwin.

                    5. I should have specified where in the theory of evolution does it say that.

                      Ask the guys who insist that evolution disproves God, not the folks saying “uh… no.”

                      “Evolution” is commonly used to refer to a theory of at best a purely physical universe with an unknown origin; at worse, it insists on a purely mechanical universe with no outside influence at all.

                      Look for the guys yelling about “creationism” the way a movie version of McCarthy and you’ll most likely find ’em. (I’ve had to stop listening to some of my cryptozoology podcasts because anybody they disagree with is suddenly “a creationist.” Monstercast, I think the last one was?)

          2. Like “How did life begin”? or “What was the Prime Mover in the creation of the Universe?” The answers are unknowable to science.
            But they are a nice piece of untestable dogma.

              1. Nah, you can work some things out about them by reasoning. But they’re not science.

                1. It depends, if you come up with a version of String Theory (or whatever) that explains the Big Bang and allows you to make testable predictions, that’s science.

                  The biggest problem facing cosmogenesis is that all the theories we have can only be tested in particle accelerators about the size of Earth’s orbit. That doesn’t make the theories any less scientific. After all, we couldn’t test time dilation in 1920, that didn’t make Relativity unscientific.

                    1. Well, considering we’re discussing the origins of time, the word “move” is somewhat misplaced. And I’m not quite sure I understand why the faithful get to use the cop-out that G-d is eternal, but scientists can’t say that M-branes (or whatever the answer may be) are eternal structures that create universes due to their essential nature.

                      On the other hand, I’m not sure I would want a final answer. I kind of pity the faithful having an answer to everything, even if that answer is as unsatisfying as “because that’s the way G-d wants it.” To paraphrase a wise man, I’m glad to be confused at a much higher level about much more important things.

                    2. Actually, no, the claim is that not that He is eternal but that He is necessary, in the absolute sense.

                      If you produce something that necessarily exists and produces the universe by its essential nature, congratulations, you’ve just vindicated the cosmological argument by establishing we were right to say that a necessary being must exist.

            1. “Unknown” != “unknowable”. The latter question might not even be meaningful, we don’t know enough yet. Doesn’t mean we never will.

        1. You can see it most plainly in works of the sort that go to undermine the default gender binary and the like. The sort that project more and more of the population will consist of those who do not reproduce or have fewer children instead of those who have lots of children.


          Which would, of course, be directly contrary to what most evolutionary theories would predict, save under very odd circumstances (if the few-children people were devoting a LOT more attention to each of their children than the many-children people, even in proportion to their numbers). But among most humans, the k-factors don’t vary THAT wildly, and there’s also chance to consider (your very high-k child may die in an accident or become completely opposed to reproduction) so I don’t think that’ll fly.

      2. Actually it can be surprisingly puzzling looking at the world and deciding how much sense evolution makes. For example, setting aside any question of origin of the species, how many people have a good enough ecological understanding to decide whether to believe in flying fish (if they weren’t so easy to observe)? If you put flying fish in an sf story, wouldn’t most readers scoff, believing that it’s such a pointless screwed-up design compromise that the species would die out within a few generations?

        (similarly though less extremely: kangaroos, giant squids, armadillos, and various molluscs with ridiculously baroque shells; and heck, maybe web-spinning spiders too, if we didn’t already have everyday evidence that their lifestyle is a huge practical success)

        If people can’t accurately assess how likely it is for a given style of organism to flourish in an ecological niche, it’s not a good foundation for reasoning about various important aspects of evolutionary plausibility.

        1. I look at platypusses (platypodes? several platypus), coelacanths, armadillos, and certain plants as proof that G-d has a sense of humor. And that He enjoys watching us try and sort out “what does it do?” and “why does it do that?” as we wonder “What was He thinking?”

          1. Sometimes I think he is an ingenius, overactive, teenager. You look at things like platypuses (according to autocorrect that is the right plural form) and can just see him rubbing his chin with a big grin and saying, “You know what? I think I can make this work!”

          2. I thought the definitive proof that God has a sense of humor is found in the place where it said he created them male & female????

        2. What scares me is we’re making all these pronouncements and we don’t really understand genetics. Never mind reducing everything down to genetics– we don’t even understand that part!

          First I have “the experts” tell me that coyotes and wolves can’t cross. It’s now well known that not only do they, that’s what red wolves ARE. Then I learn that a lot of the time, the “such and such are different species because they never cross” is only true because they are thousands of miles apart and if they’re kept in the same area, they cross with no problem at all. It was only noticed in the first place because they LOOK different.

          1. In biology, the term “species” never really has a strict definition.

            This is a catastrophe politically, because the Endangered Species Act pretends that there is in fact a scientific and strict definition of “species”.

            1. It took me two decades of actually being interested in the subject to find that out, and I’ve still had arguments about it.

              Now, if I were gonna fix it, I’d say we should be honest about applying the “new species don’t have viable offspring with existing species” rule I was always taught, with an HONEST grandfathering in of existing species.

              Don’t get me started on re-writing the species layout based on DNA. Make your own dang organization, I like the one that gives useful information even if we don’t have a full genetic profile.

            2. Oh, absolutely. You put two evolutionary biologists in a room and ask them what a “species” is, and you’ll get ten different answers. Ask them if dogs have speciated and you’ll get a fight to the death.

            3. In biology, the term “species” never really has a strict definition.

              Yah. What you see is more a fade-out of fertility with genetic distance, with sharp drop-offs as you get changes in chromosome numbers or other aspects of physical compatibility. But because of the way sexual recombination works, one or both of the half-codes may split up unpredictably before combining with the other half-code, which can result in highly-improbable crosses occasionally happening.

              Generally speaking, one can assume that there is a good possibility of hybridization between two different species of the same genus, with a slight chance of producing an offspring fertile with one of the two species involved. Sometimes you’ll get a more extremely-distant cross (two different genera of the same family), but this is extremely rare, and mostly observed only in plants.

              The reason this is possible, of course, is that any two species of the same genus once used to be the same species, and not that long ago in geological times. The same is true of any two species of the same family, but now we’re going back much further.

              1. The only theory of breeding I’ve seen that predicts some other things I’ve seen is that life will out. There’s a little bit of unavoidable circularity in assigning family and genus. Forex the Siabon hybrids once at Yerkes which begin with parents having a different count of chromosome pairs and the hybrid has an intermediate number.

      3. My personal take on things is that the Bible teaches us WHO and WHY, and science teaches us WHAT and HOW. The two or not mutually exclusive.

        1. But the WHAT is not the WHO and the WHY is not the HOW 😉 when I am dealing with others I do the separation dance– otherwise yes

  6. “mathematical illiteracy. Dear god the mathematical illiteracy. We have a Congress, a Senate, an Executive, and a Judiciary stuffed to the gills with people who do not /do/ math. ”

    Personally, were I dictator for a day, and knew that all my rules could not revoked after the day was up, I would lay down a law that no one could serve in any of those posts, or their state equivalents, or as a lawyer, without having passed Statistics 101.

    1. I would add an Experimental Design course to that requirement, just so they could get more grounding in how what looks oh-so-scientific can be so very easily corrupted … that was one of my favorite classes in school.

      1. I would add a tech class, so they have some grounding in the real world, wood shop, metal shop, accounting, Ag, etc. Something where you have to deal with facts and no matter how you twist your reasoning and argument the facts are still the facts. If you need a 24″ board, and you start out with a 23″ board, I don’t care how many times you cut it, or how little you shave off it, it is still going to be too short.

        1. Does it have to be a lab course? I have really poor hand eye co-ordination. Sewing or cooking or …I’ve taken 2 semesters of college stats. I’ve taken a semester of logic which I’ve mostly forgotten. Also 2 semesters of accounting and econ–micro and macro. I was given a B in my 2d semester of accounting on the promise that it was my last class in it. I got a grounding in reality while I was working retail. It was amazing how many people couldn’t figure out fractions or %s. 25%=1/4.

        2. eh, I would also have a requirement that they work for a for-profit private business for some period — actual requirement to vary with post — or possibly for the military during time of war.

          Wouldn’t remove all the chaff, but it would remove some.

        3. Haha or make them build shelves in the garage … shelves that have to be usable at the end of the day …

      1. I believe it went, “Any person who cannot understand mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to tie his shoes and not make messes in the house.”

        One of the Math professors when I was in college had that taped to the door of his office.

          1. I don’t know. I never saw a cloud of blurry little men carrying tiny tools around his office…

            Really, I am not sure what you mean by your question. I AM pretty sure that Heinlein’s quote was only intended to refer to mathematics up to and including basic Algebra. But it may have been more inclusive, which would mean that his understanding of the variables of mental mechanics was lacking in that area.

    2. Amen. And if not then at the very least pols and bureaucrats need to understand the worthlessness of most “science” that involves “statistics”.

      As I have written at various times, any scientific paper that mentions statistical terms (such as 95% confidence), should either have a statistician (or closely related field e.g. econometrician) as a co-author or be ignored. There’s a Stanford prof who did a study on this in the medical field and found:
      80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials.

      (from )

      1. One of my friends scares me when she talks about the research studies she has participated in, and the ways she has used the statistical software package she uses on them.

        1. At least one published paper made its authors infamous for small values of infamous because they used then new PC spreadsheet software (Lotus?) without even noticing the distinction between N and N-1 in the program functions let alone making a proper choice in the proper place.

  7. Last week’s example: A reporter wondering if the Malaysian airliner had been swallowed by a small black hole. And an ex-Director of Transportation coming back with, ‘even a small black hole would swallow the Universe.’ Seemed like both of them got their concept of black holes from a Scyfy channel movie. Just unbelievable ignorance. And don’t even get me going about Hollywood. Not just science, but the military, history, you name it. Great post.

    1. Or the CNN reporter who thought the Russian meteor may have been caused by global warming. But remember: it’s those cretins on Fox who are the morons, while CNN is part of the “reality-based community”. (Not sure what reality they’re based in, though)

      1. 51% of all Democrats don’t know the Earth goes round the Sun in a year.

        They don’t break down the questions by affiliation, but only 75% of the general population know that the Earth goes round the Sun, and then a bare majority knew it took a year to do so:

        On the other hand, it was only 38% of Republicans who didn’t know the Earth goes round the Sun in a year.

        1. And so you have your statistical fallacy, or in this case badly formulated questionnaire. I could not in good conscience answer that question. In actuality the earth and sun both revolve around the solar system’s center of gravity which lies somewhere inside, but not at the center of, the sun, and of course they also both revolve around the presumed black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and so on, and so on.

          I saw that questionnaire, and it had several other poorly worded false dichotomy questions. That survey is useless and should be disregarded by any competent truth seeker.

          1. Bah. You’re overthinking it, and not particularly well to boot. The question asks if the Earth revolves around the Sun or if the Sun revolves around the Earth. The most correct answer (and, given the relative masses involved the correct answer to 4 or 5 decimal places) is that the Earth revolves around the Sun. To claim that both answers are incorrect is to show a deep misunderstanding of the scale of the solar system and the underlying physics. And more than a bit of epistemological wankery.

        2. Besides the problems that Frank mentioned, I’ve also become very skeptical of all “most people on the street don’t know this particular fact” surveys. Nobody seems to take into account the “let’s have fun lying to the surveyor” factor, which (for example) is what got Margaret Mead into trouble. It’s obviously very hard to know how many survey respondents were lying to the surveyor, but from anecdotal evidence I believe it’s significant. For any given fact X (it takes a year for the Earth to go round the Sun, WW2 ended in 1945, whatever), are there some people who don’t know fact X? Sure. Way too many. But is it as many as the survey claims? Probably not.

  8. Every field of effort has its own language and meanings. It can be language is inadequate (science uses numbers when language breaks down) or it can be a way to exclude other people, or both.

    As for schoolteachers, I have been advocating for years that schoolteachers should have a field of expertise instead of degrees in education. We are seeing the result of teachers who can’t teach because they don’t know and don’t want to know. I think of Peggy in King of the Hill.

    So yea– English language is being abused, Science is being abused, Mathematics is being abused, and so is common sense.

        1. School has really changed a lot since it became “free” instead of something that was paid for by the people with an ostensible interest in making sure the kids learned something, i.e., their parents. I don’t think we need better rules about, for instance, whether teachers get degrees in the fields they’re going to teach. We just need to return to a connection between happy customers and the survival of the institution. All protected monopolies give horrible service.

          1. I have no problem with mandating some education if you’re going to mandate universal franchise. I don’t even have a problem with government helping make a good education available to the poorest citizens.

            Let me know when they start.

            More seriously, there is a huge conflict of interest when governmetn is both the provider, the customer, and the regulator of education. Yes, they’re the customer; they’re the ones paying for it.

            1. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with universal education – not that it isn’t a wonderful idea, but – how on Earth do you come up with that many people with a talent & interest in teaching? Absent which, you get what we’ve got: the products of a fall-back choice of major course of study for a lot of kids who probably shouldn’t have gone to college, plus a few good teachers who perhaps don’t get corrupted by the classes taught for the Ed. degree.
              Maybe technology is beginning to catch up with the problem – MOOCs, home-schooling resources, etc.

          2. I agree. This is why I think charter schools are important. It’s good that people who can’t afford private schools have a way to get their kids a better education than they can get at their local school and it gives public schools a reason to improve. Students that leave are students that they no longer get paid for.

        2. Wouldn’t teaching work best as an apprenticeship? These days you can’t teach without a degree in education. You can’t get a degree in ed unless you show that you are properly indoctrinated.

          1. My great-grandfather taught teachers — after 1860. He was better educated better (spoke and wrote three languages) than teachers of today. I find that really sad that our educational system has fallen that far.

                    1. Of course it is possible to get better butter! It is called “garlic butter” and smothered on bread, mixed with pasta, tossed atop steak, etc. it is the cat’s meow. (But don’t smother the cat in it.)

                    2. Joel Salomon, by mentioning Betty Botter, you have Won the Discussion. Further activity in this thread will not be counted towards anyone’s score. I award you 1.5 internets, and may God have mercy on us all.

            1. Should be a justifiable confidence. (A con-man inspires confidence, if nothing else.) Might also be good to inspire parents to care whether the kids are being well-educated, according to whatever values they have when they’re being thoughtful about it.

              1. I’d cheerfully support fraud cases against teachers who lack the knowledge they are being paid to impart. That should just about shut down the public school system.

      1. Originally in Oregon the teachers were taught in a “normal” school, that is they would go to school for what we would call a 2-year associates degree, go teach for a year or two in the lower grades, and then have to go back to finish a bachelors to get a permanent position or teach higher grades. It meant would-be teachers could try out their career and not plunge all the way into a degree at one go, with the added benefit that the smaller districts and way-back-beyond communities would have a chance at getting new talented teachers.

        1. My great-aunt went to the University of Southern Connecticut not only before it was that, but before it was Southern Connecticut State College, back in the days of New Britain Normal School.

          She said it was a better school then.

          1. It probably was. Once faculty have tenure, they can engage in political infighting, suing each other, and generally getting nothing concrete accomplished. Even if administrators and accrediting bodies repeatedly warn them of problems, they’ll sit around and do nothing. Case in point:


            I blame it largely on tenure. Without tenure, weeding out any rotten apples is easier. With tenure, and the union grievance process, if troublemakers get in, getting rid of them becomes difficult.

    1. “I think of Peggy in King of the Hill.”

      I think of her a lot. About 10 years ago, the public school system that employs me used to require teachers to pass an annual proficiency test with their laptops. It was nothing special; save a document to a network handouts folder, download a file from a site on the intranet, etc. The problem was, anyone who failed the test would have to turn in their school-issued laptop until they passed the test on a school desktop. A lot of the teachers were failing the test, and there was some sort of mandate (state or federal, I don’t know which) that said a minimum number of teachers had to have laptops. To keep from violating that mandate, we had to discontinue the proficiency test.

      Things have gotten slightly better, but only slightly. There are no computer proficiency requirements for a teaching position here. Given that nearly everything, from recording grades to taking attendance, is now network-based, the resistance of the teachers to learning anything about their equipment beyond how to turn it on and start MS Office boggles my mind. I can only attribute it to pride — it’s a running joke among the school computer techs that an education major would sooner be fired than risk being seen in public with a book that has “For Dummies” or “Idiot’s Guide” in the title.

        1. Exactly. A supervisor, years ago, had been educated in a small 3-room school: The testing regime was that every student passed with 100%. I.e., however many times they had to re-study and re-take the test, the material WOULD be learned!
          Should we expect any less from teachers?

          1. We tried to help the teachers who were having trouble with the test. I recall the session I tried to teach. I say “tried” because 45 minutes of the hour I was given were taken up by two (both leads for their respective departments) of the five teachers loudly complaining that the training was taking up time they could be using to plan lessons and why did they need to know this stuff when there were computer support staff who obviously weren’t doing their jobs or this issue wouldn’t have come up in the first place.

            1. Did you explain to them that the computers were supported just fine, so obviously those weren’t the staffers that weren’t doing their jobs?

  9. There’s few things as disheartening as finding those two little bits of data that disprove your beautifully crafted hypothesis. *rueful grin* I was working on my master’s thesis and had everything neatly sorted out and was feeling pretty good when I turned one more page in the archival clipping file at County Library . . . and found out that real-life had not cooperated with my lovely hypothesis. So the obvious solution is to stop your research/testing/experimentation while you still have favorable results. 😉

  10. A small protest from a reviled minority: lawyers are no more given to lying than members of any other profession, including scientists. Yes, some lawyers (and some scientists, and some plumbers) are willing to fake evidence, but you might be surprised how severe the professional penalties are for lawyers who get caught at it, and how unusual it is to find a lawyer who gives into the ever-present temptation. We spend more time finding ways to keep our clients from lying; if they don’t understand why it’s a bad idea morally, or in terms of their reputation, we have to try to explain the legal pitfalls. Sometimes we have to fire them.

    Meanwhile, there seems to be a perfect epidemic of scientists lying to get grant money or political prestige. I imagine sometimes they’re lying to themselves rather than deliberately lying to others, but, again, the same goes for dishonest lawyers and plumbers.

    1. I’ll rephrase that for Kate; it is a lawyers profession to twist the truth, lie by omission, and implication, without actually stating a falsehood.

      1. Stuff and nonsense. You may be confusing the adversarial system with twisting the truth. People coming at the issue from many opposing sides are supposed to marshall the best evidence and arguments for their own position, with a neutral party to listen to it all and find the best answer somewhere among them. Presenting the best support for your position is a far cry from lying openly, by omission, by implication, or in any other way, which will get you in serious trouble with any judge who catches you at it. It will also ruin your credibility permanently, which, regardless of what they say on TV, is a huge problem that will multiply your burden of proof in all future encounters and make even simple interactions impossibly complicated.

        I encountered tremendous pressure to lie from some clients, but rarely any from a colleague. (What a pleasure it is to have an honest client.)

        This is a perfect example of what happens when you know about a subject and hear it described by people who don’t.

        1. If you omit anything true that’s bad for your side, it’s lying by omission.

          1. Again, pooh. If you refuse to produce the evidence when it’s asked for (and it’s not privileged), that can be lying by omission. (It’s also grounds for severe sanctions, and done far less often than you might suppose by listening to idle talk about evil lawyers.) But it’s the other side’s job to highlight whatever proves his point, and you do the same, which is a far cry from lying by omission. In the adversarial system, neither side is supposed to be making the case for the other. It’s true that competent lawyers, knowing the other side will highlight a harmful fact, will often pre-empt the effort by discussing the evidence up front. Nevertheless, it’s often equally appropriate to wait for the other side to raise the troubling fact, and address it in response. In contrast, a lawyer who fails to cite law he knows to be on point, even if it’s harmful to his case, will find himself in big trouble with the judge, and we very carefully avoid doing that.

            An exception to this rule is that the prosecution has an affirmative obligation to volunteer some kinds of exculpatory evidence to the defense. That’s because the prosecution is supposed to have as compelling an interest in avoiding the conviction of a guilty person as the defense has. Even so, the prosecution simply turns the information over to the defense: he’s not obligated to make it a centerpiece of his own case.

            1. This is a perfect example of what happens when you know about a subject and hear it described by people who don’t.

              This is key, I think. Legal argument is a very specific art, bordered by strict ethics and surrounded by landmines. That the process is largely obscure and somewhat counter-intuitive does not improve understanding. I don’t think it would be unfair to say the understanding of legal procedure is on par with the understanding of scientific method on average.

              Added to this that it is an adversarial system, and there’s always somebody unhappy with the results and willing to cast aspersions. Privilege, ethics and occasional directives from the bench serve to prevent a full airing of the situation and clarity for the casual observer.

              When prosecutorial politics or private equivalents enter the scenario, uninformed passion if further inflamed, without being further informed.

              That lawyers are human, and thus humanly fallible (intentionally and not) during the terribly vulnerable moments of people’s lives complicates the public’s feelings.

            2. It’s lying by omission even if they don’t ask for it. It is the pith and essence of lying by omission when you omit anything material to the matter to alter someone’s impression of it.

              1. I’m unaware of a number of things about you that you probably consider private. Are you lying to me by omission?

                The way discovery works in a lawsuit is that you are entitled to retain as private anything the other side hasn’t identified and asked for, and even if they ask for it, you don’t have to supply privileged information. It’s pretty obvious from the pleadings what’s relevant, and it’s up to the other side to make the request. As for the trial itself, if you think it’s lying by omission for one side to present its case to the judge or jury and trust the other to present its own idea of what’s relevant, there’s probably no hope for our discussion! (But you would make a fascinating defendant in a criminal trial.)

                1. Maybe you guys should define terms?

                  I’m pretty sure you’d both agree that, say, the folks whose “children killed by legal hand guns” stats include 19 year old drug dealers who are shot when they walk into the coffee shop that has a dozen cops in it, holding a shotgun, and yelling “y’all are gonna die!”

                  On the other hand, not mentioning that a researcher’s name was spelled “Mary” rather than “Marie,” even though you think the person making a decision might be more sympathetic to a French name is not lying by omission.

                  1. I’m trying to imagine a job interview, or a first date, conducted by the rarified standard proposed above. It certainly would give us all grounds to look down our noses at our neighbors’ habit of lying by omission!

                    1. Basically, I think she’s got an assumption of INTENDING to mislead by omitting RELEVANT information (like in my example) and you’re looking at it as something like “absolutely anything that might change their mind, even if it’s not relevant.”

                      I didn’t want to rephrase it because
                      1) I’m not sure I’m right,
                      2) I don’t think I’ll phrase it in a way that will make sense to both of you, even if the way I understand it IS right.

                    2. If the other side in a lawsuit doesn’t ask for relevant information, counsel is not free (legally or ethically) to volunteer to send it over. The client certainly can volunteer to sent it over–either by instructing counsel or simply by putting it in an envelope and mailing it direct. It might therefore be more accurate to suggest that clients who fail to instruct their counsel to volunteer relevant (but not legally required) information are lying by omission, because the impetus and the authority remains with the client at all times.

                      I’d hesitate to characterize it that way in most cases, though. From a legal point of view, at least, withholding information is not wrongful unless there is a duty to disclose. I don’t think most people (lawyers or not) are eager to find in themselves an independent duty to send damaging information to their adversaries in disputes. If nothing else, they are quick to persuade themselves that the damaging information is not truly relevant, and therefore there is no duty to disclose. Nevertheless, it does sometimes happen that clients know very well that they are withholding damaging information, and that it is wrongful, and that they are lying by omission, and sometimes their lawyers (shame on them) go along.

                      I can tell you that I have never encountered a client who was champing at the bit to spend a lot of time and money combing through his files, copying them, and sending them off to his adversaries, and needed to have his lawyer dissuade him. At most, the lawyer normally would point out the practical consequences of volunteering information, so as not to hear complaints later. The far more usual dynamic is that the client demands of his lawyer an attempt to construct a defense to discovery, and the lawyer spends a lot of time trying to persuade the client that he’s got to cough up the documents, while combatting the client’s more or less overt attempts to shame the lawyer into silence by accusing him of disloyalty and threatening to replace him. Lawyers spend a lot of time trying to win their clients’ trust and confidence so that the clients will quit arguing and submit to the huge risk and inconvenience of opening up their files, which are properly viewed as the unavoidable consequence of getting embroiled in litigation.

                    3. The legality of it (and what a sensible lawyer does in most cases) doesn’t have anything to do with if willfully withholding information is lying by omission or not, and in what cases that is so.

                    4. Rarefied? With the proviso of “material information,” what’s so rarefied about it?

                    5. “If the other side in a lawsuit doesn’t ask for relevant information, counsel is not free (legally or ethically) to volunteer to send it over.”

                      Legally? So what? You lawyers set up those rules. You do not get to invoke them as some kind of standard.

                      As for your claim that it’s thereby ethical — this is why people think lawyers are slippery and dishonest.

                    6. Um…legal requirements are the standard. How could it be different?

                      Anyroad, this feels like it’s going to go sideways and I’m peripheral to the whole thing, so I’m going to retire with no malice.

                    7. And should your doctor, or your priest, or your spouse, also violate your confidences? The privilege rules are there, not because lawyers are slippery, but because society judged that encouraging unrestrained confidences between people and their closest advisors or intimates is more important than society’s interest in ferreting out private information.

                      This is a good opportunity to apply Chesterton’s parable of the fence. If legal principles seem too obscure to you, it would be important to understand them better before you suggest casting them aside.

                      Nevertheless, I would agree with you completely that people should freely disclose all information about themselves that would help resolve a dispute they have embroiled themselves in, even if the information would expose them to liability and loss–including admissions they have made to counsel, to priests, to doctors, or to husbands or wives. It would save a great deal of litigation and promote justice. Unfortunately the temptation is very great to try to escape responsibility by not speaking up. All of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, have felt the temptation, and few have resisted it with 100% success.

                    8. I’m thinking what we’re missing here is in a scientific field, the researcher is expected to find everything that could possibly disprove his case. The defendant prosecutes himself, as it were.

                    9. Exactly. Scientific research should not operate on an advocacy system, though sadly it often does. The essence of the scientific method is that the theorist should be “prosecuting” himself rather than trying to put his case in the best possible light–because there’s no one out there with equal access to his data that can usefully serve as an opposing advocate to balance his viewpoint out. Also because, unlike a party in a lawsuit, he’s not supposed to have a personal stake in how the experiment comes out. He’s more like a judge; we expect strict impartiality from him until he’s heard all “sides.”

                    10. The scientist as prosecutor of his own theories is a splendid idea. It is how it ought to work.

                      But I can tell you as a lifelong research scientist (albeit one who has not published much in the open literature in a while) that it rarely works this way. Perhaps with the best scientists, working the most important problems, in some cases; the discovery of Higgs by LHC, for example, merely told everyone what they already believed, while a non-discovery would have been very big news indeed and its possibility was the whole point of the incredibly expensive exercise.

                      But most scientists, I’m afraid, are practicing advocacy.

                    11. As a curious aside: you’ve noted a couple of times that you haven’t published much in the open literature. This would seem to indicate you’ve published but not for general consumption. Would this be fair to say?

                    12. “Um…legal requirements are the standard. How could it be different?”

                      We established at Nuremberg that they are not.

                    13. “And should your doctor, or your priest, or your spouse, also violate your confidences? The privilege rules are there, not because lawyers are slippery, but because society judged that encouraging unrestrained confidences between people and their closest advisors or intimates is more important than society’s interest in ferreting out private information.”

                      Changing the topic, I see. Your original complaint was that lawyers are not more prone to lying than anyone else. To hold forth on whether it is good to allow you to lie by omission does not mean that you don’t thus lie. Since the rest of the world has to live with the resulting miscarriages of justice, your occupation can live with the reputation.

                      I also must point out that society judged no such things. You lawyers judged that, despite your obvious conflict of interest.

                    14. What I was trying to get you to see is that you can make a real mess of an ethical analysis by assuming that silence is lying by omission, unless you think carefully about what obligation may be imposing the silence. It’s not only lawyers but priests, psychiatrists, and many others who are strictly bound to honor the confidences they receive. This is not a legal quibble dreamed up by all-powerful or unsupervised lawyers, but a tradition that society has enshrined in law because it’s been considered of enormous importance for a very long time.

                      The lawyer (or doctor or priest) might personally prefer to shout confidential information to anyone who’ll listen, but society says it’s not up to him, because if it were, clients and patients and penitents would not confide in lawyers, doctors, or priests, and we all judge it important that they should be able to. That does not mean that lawyers, doctors, or priests are all lying by omission when they preserve confidences. If there is someone who is wrongfully withholding the information from the public, it makes more sense to say it is the person who originally disclosed it to the priest, lawyer, doctor, etc.–i.e., the penitent, client, or patient. They’re always free to waive their privileges and free their confidential advisors to speak.

                2. I think this sounds ridiculous.

                  It may well be acceptable practice to require the other side make a request, but you admit you know quite well what is relevant or not and what is irrelevant and need not be discussed.

                  Anyone *but* a lawyer would consider withholding relevant information lying by omission. It’s sort of like saying… if I’m lucky enough that my opponent has a bad day or isn’t very smart, I don’t care about the truth or justice, because I’m gonna win.

                  And there may be reasons to do it that way in law, but it is what it is.

                  1. I think there’s an assumption in the dispute: An absolute and knowable Truth, with two parties on either side. One side aims to reveal and the other hopes to obfuscate.

                    But, the vast majority of legal cases do not fit neatly (or at all) on this framework. In fact, in many cases both sides can be “right” and speaking only “truth” but there is still conflict that must be resolved. From this a framework for making legal arguments has been erected, with ethical and legal constraints on the participants to ensure the relevant parties are fairly represented before the arbiter.

                    Following, it is not possible (or responsible) for one advocate to assume what is relevant to the other advocate’s argument and therefore seek to disclose that ‘relevant’ information. So they set out to argue their case from the best possible stance and in the best possible light.

                    I suspect negative assumptions about legal arguments are a result of the bias in our culture and a tendency to paint lawyering in the worst possible light. While there are justifications for this, it does not follow that all members of the bar meet the criteria for scoundrels.

                    But, IANAL, so if I’m way off please feel free to toss tomatoes. Paul has some big ones.

                3. “I’m unaware of a number of things about you that you probably consider private. Are you lying to me by omission?”

                  What thing that are material could I possibly omit? About me? That’s argumentum ad hominem and nothing else.

                  As for “The way discovery works ” — did no one ever tell you that when you are in a hole, stop digging? You make it very clear that according to the rule you set up, a lawyer who plays the rules right doesn’t follow afoul of the law by lying by omission. That doesn’t change the facts.

                  1. An argument ad hominum is an attack on someone’s character that’s irrelevant to the logic of his argument. What I’m suggesting is that you try to imagine how the rule you’re setting up would apply to yourself, as a means of testing its practicality and justice. The Golden Rule demands that as an ordinary check on instincts that may not hold up to examination after we’ve learned more about a situation we’re passing judgment on.

                    We agree that, when a proper discovery request is made, it’s wrong to refuse to answer it. The question is whether a participant in a lawsuit should volunteer information that hasn’t been requested. A client is free to volunteer what he likes, but no one can force him to do it. His lawyer certainly is not entitled to volunteer it on his behalf without his consent. Calling it lying by omission on the lawyer’s part is a gratuitous insult, not a careful or reasonable judgment.

                    1. Reading all your posts on this I would say you are doing a good lawyerly job of dancing around the truth and twisting it like a pretzel. You have stated a dozen different ways that it is your job to omit anything the opposing party doesn’t specifically request. You argue that you can’t possibly tell them everything, and besides most of it is irrelevant, and it isn’t your job to reveal anything that isn’t relevant, IMPLYING that everything you are omitting is irrelevant. You state that is your job as a lawyer to not reveal anything that either your client hasn’t asked you to reveal, or that the opposing party hasn’t issued a discovery request for (I agree this is your job). But you’re skating dang close to the edge of making a flat out false statement that not revealing anything that you are required by law to reveal (which again is your job) is not lying by omission.

                      We agree on what a lawyer’s job is (I’m sure there are minor points where we would disagree, but for the most part what you describe is exactly what I would describe as a lawyers job) where we disagree is when you claim this isn’t twisting the truth or implying something other than the truth, and lying by omission.

                    2. Your comment tells me that you don’t understand a lawyer’s job in the least. In my considerable experience, if things are hidden in trials, it’s clients that are behind the effort, not lawyers. I’ve had to let clients go who wouldn’t let me do my job, and I’m familiar enough with the experience of many other lawyers to know my experience isn’t unusual.

                      But as I said to Mary, I do agree that people have an obligation to reveal the uncomfortable facts about their actions, even if it exposes them to liability, and that there would be far fewer lawsuits to begin with if they’d live up to that obligation. It shouldn’t be necessary to sue people to get them to shoulder their duties, whether that’s paying their debts, performing their contracts, or making good when they’ve caused damage. I’ve never sued anyone on my own behalf, and no one has ever had to sue me to get me to step up. Where we disagree is in your conviction that it’s lawyers who are causing the problem here, whereas my experience tells me that lawyers are no more likely than any other people, and perhaps less (in the case of reputable lawyers), to mislead, by omission or otherwise. Take it for what it’s worth, but I probably know a lot more lawyers than you do.

                    3. I’m not blaming lawyers and saying they are the problem. That would be like blaming soldiers for there being wars. I’m saying that it is a lawyers job to present their clients case in the best light possible without breaking the letter of the law. You keep insisting the same thing, except you claim that if they aren’t breaking the law they aren’t misleading, by omission or otherwise.

                      I’m just going to agree to disagree with you and end this argument, because at this point we are both just restating the same thing over and over.

                    4. “I’m ending this argument” is an interesting way of putting things!

                      It’s definitely sometimes a good idea to leave off arguing a position.

                    5. Unfortunately for you, you suggested not its application to my life, but in the specific context of this discussion — whether I was lying to you personally by omitting information not material. That’s an ad hominem by your own definition.

                      And you keep regurgitating the line about how you don’t have do it by legal regulation as if it had the slightest relevance to the case. It is only an evasion — which is, come to think of it, another form of lying by omission. The only gratuitous insult involved is yours in the line “a gratuitous insult, not a careful or reasonable judgment” when it is obviously a careful or reasonable judgment, not a gratuitous insult.

                    6. “Your comment tells me that you don’t understand a lawyer’s job in the least”

                      We understand your job perfectly. It’s you who don’t understand that “it’s my job” and “you are lying by omission” have nothing to do with each other and therefore one can not refute the other.

              2. You’re weighting the issue too heavily. It is not lying by omission to defer presenting prejudicial but irrelevant information. There is a great body of information that never comes to light in any given case, because neither side believes it to be pertinent. Is this lying?

                1. What has this to do with Texan99’s actual contention, that if a lawyer deceives people by suppressing material information — by definition relevant — the important thing is whether he jumps through the right legal hoops?

                  1. I’ve scanned back through the thread and I haven’t found where he made this contention. Please highlight.

                    To forestall anger, I’m not saying it isn’t there, I’m saying I missed it if it is.

                1. 🙂

                  We are going to flat disagree on this point. Because we agree on a lawyers job, you just claim that lying by omission is legal, therefore it isn’t lying by omission.

        2. Seems to me the adversarial process differs from the old battle by champions only in that the weapons are carefully selected facts & words, and that there’s a charmingly naive belief that the process will arrive at some truth other than than one party is more powerful (or has a better lawyer) than the other.
          (Pardon the skepticism – I’d like to believe, but I’ve been on juries).

          1. I’ve been on juries too, but I don’t recall anyone being even impressed, let alone swayed, by which side had the richer or more powerful lawyers. Juries seem to go with whatever makes the most sense to them. They don’t like bullies, and are often distrustful of power. Appearing too rich or powerful to a jury is a good way to arouse their “Fairy Godmother” instincts.

            On the other hand, they’re forbidden to go get the facts for themselves, so they’re dependent on each side’s doing its job and bringing forth whatever is most convincing for his case.

            1. ” Appearing too rich or powerful to a jury is a good way to arouse their “Fairy Godmother” instincts.”

              Not anything my friend said, but this is the best explanation I’ve come up with for the McDonald’s coffee decision.

    2. Texan, I’d wager that the Bar and climatology share the same problem – the 5% with an agenda or driven by pure greed ruin the reputations of the other 95%, because those are the ones that get in the media or appear lightly-fictionalized in bestsellers. There’s an ambulance chaser (one of his commercials who shows him parachuting onto the back of an ambulance, so I use the epithet honestly) who advertizes on one of the regional TV stations up here. I suspect that the rest of the regional plaintiff’s bar (with two infamous exceptions) cringes when his ads come on. Like climate historians do when M. Mann or Hansen of NOAA make the news.

      1. People who can’t resolve their own disputes hire lawyers to resolve them, then often displace onto the lawyers all their own hostility–as if the fight didn’t come from them in the first place.

        1. “People who can’t resolve their own disputes hire lawyers to resolve them, then often displace onto the lawyers all their own hostility–as if the fight didn’t come from them in the first place.”

          Lawyers take a lot of unjustified flak, and I agree with various of your defenses before this one, but I think this quoted defense is only partially true. Lawyers — including law professors, judges, and various professional associations — have been disproportionately involved in creating some of these quarrels, notably by turning contract law into tort law. They didn’t create the underlying tensions, but they converted what could have been a tense but routine customized negotiation before the event into an expensive unpredictable court showdown after the event (possibly mixed with one-size-fits-all legislation and regulation determined by a lobbying battle before, during, and after the event).

          Society in general deserves much of the blame for the general move away from the rule of law and various individual rights, but some of the narrowly technical aspects of it — like contracts to torts as above — look much more like a movement among lawyers than a movement in the larger society.

          1. In my experience, when clients want to settle, they do. I have never seen lawyers succeed in prolonging a dispute that the clients wanted to resolve. After all, the lawyers have to take their orders from the clients, but not vice versa.

            Are there lawyers who cheerfully make a pile of money from clients who simply won’t quit fighting and strike a deal when rationality, honor, or justice should tell them to do so? Sure, just as there are lawyers who are bitterly disappointed by settlements. But the clients are in charge always. Try to imagine what a judge would do if a client stood up in court and said, “Your Honor, I want to settle this, but my lawyer won’t take my orders.” Everybody would be in chambers in a heartbeat. For that matter, all it takes is one letter saying, “I don’t want this lawsuit to continue, and I’m not paying you any more.” Copy it to the judge if necessary.

            Usually the client’s attitude is more like, “I’d like to settle, but the other side won’t offer reasonable terms.”

            1. Usually the client’s attitude is more like, “I’d like to settle, but the other side won’t offer reasonable terms.”

              All right, but how often is that because their lawyer is telling them that they can get a better settlement?

              1. Far less often than you’d think. How often do you oversell yourself? It creates lots of problems, as you probably already know. Lawyers are a lot more accustomed to having to moderate their clients’ unreasonable expectations (a great settlement, fast, without having to invest any money! It’s like a lottery ticket!) than to pump up their excitement.

                Remember that not all–not even most–cases are on a contingency. It’s a somewhat rare case where a lawyer is even tempted to steer his client wrong by advising against a settlement. We’re probably more tempted to encourage people to accept iffy settlements, just to avoid risk and clear our desks for the next big pile of work. After all, if we go to trial we may lose outright!

                1. How often do you oversell yourself?

                  I’m the wrong guy to ask that question. Because it may have happened once. Of course, you won’t believe me, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true.

                  Maybe that’s why I’m skeptical. But I’ve talked to lawyers in person who seemed more like a Used-Car Salesman than what my understanding of what a lawyer should be.

                  1. I’ve talked to doctors and plumbers who created unrealistic expectations, too, but it’s not a quality I consider inherent to their professions–just a normal human failing. If you’re interviewing a lawyer who gives you an icky feeling, it’s a good idea to find another one. Excessive hucksterism may indicate desperation to get business, which is not what you want in someone you’re looking to hire, even if it does promise the lowest price.

                    Lawsuits are terribly expensive. They’re rarely a good idea, and problem absolutely cannot be fixed by going cheap, or hoping for a pro bono rescue.

                    1. Another of my lawyer friends commented on how often a client would say “They can’t do that, can they?” and the answer was “Actually, I’m afraid they can.”

          2. noticed this morning from the blogfather

            “Rep. Bruce Braley […] speaking to a group of lawyers at a ‘closed-door fundraiser.’ […] told the crowd he would be someone on the Senate Judiciary Committee with ‘your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years.'”

            1. Blech, you got me there. I’m sure there are people innocently combating what I call “tort reform” on the theory that it’s an unjust hampering of the right of people to seek full compensation for the terrible things that rich powerful people do to them, but I haven’t got much sympathy. Personal injury law in this country took a thoroughly corrupt turn in this country a while back–see the “Fairy Godmother” syndrome we noted earlier. “Tort reform” usually means things like ceilings on damages for emotional harm, and even requiring losers to pay for the legal fees of winners. Some people think it’s too dangerous and will harm victims, but I don’t agree. Lawsuits should get thrown out at the motion stage a lot more often than they are. PI lawsuits shouldn’t work like a lottery.

      2. I’d wager that the Bar and climatology share the same problem – the 5% with an agenda or driven by pure greed ruin the reputations of the other 95%

        Are you sure you have your percentages the right way around? I thought it was the 95% of ambulance chasing scumbags that give the other 5% of lawyers a bad rep.

        (PS Texan99 I’m mostly kidding, I know plenty of sound honest lawyers)

      3. I think I’d go with the 5% idea, though even 5% may be too high. I’ve known a handful of lawyers personally, and not one fits the ambulance chaser profile. Yet there are ambulance chasers.

        One of my lawyer acquaintances, interestingly enough, is the fellow that unsuccessfully defended McDonald’s in the famous hot coffee case. The only comment on the case he’s ever made to me is that he made the mistake of thinking he couldn’t lose. The only comment he’s made about his fellow lawyers is when I mentioned a prominent Albuquerque attorney who has a massive advertising campaign and whose name would be instantly recognized by any New Mexico resident. After he got through ungrimacing his face, he suggested that any lawyer who needs to advertise is not a lawywer you want to hire. I understand that’s not an uncommon attitude. (Had some other comments but I don’t feel at liberty to repeat them.)

        Chasing a different thread of thought, which takes us back to the OP: I’m still sort of a practicing scientist, though I don’t publish much in the open literature any more. And it is getting very hard to hire good scientists and engineers any more. I really don’t think we’re making as many.

        1. Hey, I didn’t finish a degree, but I’m intelligent and willing to go back to school… 🙂

          Oh, and I am experienced in taking classroom study and transitioning into practical use. Lots of people coming out of school nowadays have to be beaten over the head with a clue-hammer for that.

    3. If anyone really wants to see just how bad it can get for lawyers when they get caught – do checkout Pope Hat’s entire coverage of the “Prenda Law” debacle.

    4. Let me put it this way – with few exceptions (and all of those are honest people and also *good* people) – most of the lawyers I know of are politicians or professional sleazes. They too may have started out honest and been turned by a system that does place rather too much pressure on winning over doing things right. I don’t know enough about that to say.

      Of course, it could just be that the politicians couldn’t cut it as lawyers and now they’re giving the profession a bad name.

      (The serious point is that very few of the rest of humanity understand a tiny fraction of lawyer-speak because of all the specialized meanings. Which of course is going to cause misunderstandings and worse.)

      1. It sounds as though your view of lawyers was about as positive as mine of the people who air their dirty laundry in public by pursuing lawsuits. After all, people who are relentlessly honest and open tend not to get embroiled in this kind of thing, or find a quick exit. But people that get caught up in it also tend to displace their own behavior onto their lawyers, and the public often buys it, as these comments demonstrate.

        1. That’s a fair assessment, yes. Me being kind of cynical I tend to lean straight to the worst way of casting it, too.

  11. The evolution thing– it’s very rare to see people state that evolution is impossible, but there is a lot of resistance to the claim that it is a fact and that all the philosophical baggage and assumptions pumped into it are true. Shortest example, I have seen people claim that the Pope can’t say evolution is possible because that requires that there be no God.

    1. It tends to get left out of accounts of the Scopes trial that the book he used was promoting involuntary eugenics.

    2. And I, carrying on from my former comment, see absolutely no problem with the Pope making the statement, “My, what a wonderful complex mechanism our Lord has created to carry out His will.”
      The disconnect lies, in my opinion, with those knee jerk fundamentalists who insist with, excuse the expression, religious fervor that the words printed in their english Bible mean exactly what was written down a very long time ago in a far away place in a totally different language.

      1. I have no problem either– and yes– about taking the Bible out of context and place. Still it does have a clear view of people imho… and that hasn’t seemed to change that much.

      2. I’m Catholic. I have a lot of arguments where I’m on one side, and two folks who are using a “literal translation” are on a minimum of two others sides…because the word has changed in the time and space between them. And that’s when we can agree on a translation….

        *grin* If you know enough about the topic, you can take a wild guess on what I think of that problem once you know I’m pretty orthodox in my views, and my solution; if you don’t, it’d just be picking a fight to mention it!

          1. That’s just a specific case for a phrase I’ve heard from many Israelis I’ve worked with – “Two Jews – three opinions.” It appears to be a point of pride. And I think that’s supposed to be a minimum number, not an upper limit.

      3. What about reading the Masoretic Text in the original Biblical Hebrew? Is the Bible just something to inspire your belief? You don’t believe that any of the historical portions of the Bible happened?

        1. While I can’t speak for Uncle Lar, my own take on that would have more to do with the interpretation of the stories of the beginning, plus understanding of the meaning of various stories, events and/or declarations contained therein. Stories about people’s lives may be accurate, but understanding the meaning behind why they are included may not.

        2. The reason they call it the Masoretic text is that it’s not clear that it is “the” original. Probably some of both of the main Hebrew texts plus some bits here and there in minor stuff.

          1. Okay I’m not going to use that term and go with the term I’ve used all my life: Torah or T’Nach. I wish I had a Hebrew font.

            1. Every modern OS I know of has Hebrew fonts and keyboard layouts available. And if you’re using Windows or OS X, The Society for Biblical Literature has a really beautiful font, and a keyboard layout based on English transliteration (so I type SlwM to get שלום): [link; download the “SIL Layout” keyboard driver].

      4. And I, carrying on from my former comment, see absolutely no problem with the Pope making the statement, “My, what a wonderful complex mechanism our Lord has created to carry out His will.”

        My father, who is an Anglican priest, would be quite happy to go on the record as saying something similar to that. He might even draw parallels between the first verses of Genesis and the formation of the universe, solar system, planet earth etc. If you look at Genesis as an allegory required for people who lack the worldview and the maths to understand the real thing then the 6 days of creation are pretty good.

        The disconnect lies, in my opinion, with those knee jerk fundamentalists who insist with, excuse the expression, religious fervor that the words printed in their english Bible mean exactly what was written down a very long time ago in a far away place in a totally different language.

        Yes indeed. The King James bible is a great work of literature. It is fairly close to the source texts. But the only way you get to believe that it is correct in every particular is to believe that God divinely inspired the committee that compiled it and did not do the same for any other group of people writing or translating the bible. The one good thing about Christina religious fundies is that (unlike those of a certain other religion) they prefer to just tell you that you are a sinner and hence damned rather than try to kill you to make you change your mind.

        1. Time was that fundamentalists refused to vote, to avoid entanglement with the world. Liberals got used to running things without having to heed them. They went too far. Now they’re annoyed that they actually have to consider their views as if they were citizens or something.

        2. And even if we assume the source texts for bible were divinely inspired, back when they were writing things down they didn’t have the language to describe something like evolution, not in a way the people those texts were aimed towards at the time would have understood at all.

          They just didn’t have that language yet.

          So maybe even so it would have had to be more symbolic than literal. Maybe ‘shaping from clay’ or whatever was the best way one could describe the process, too bad most people imagined something like making a statue instead of what we now think happened (and if we were to assume what I suggested, that God exists outside of time, he might have done the whole process in what could well be described as a ‘day’ even if it seems like millions of years to us).

          (and I’m not going to argue Christian theology or doctrine with anybody, as said I’m not a Christian, but this is one way it could be looked at from the outside 🙂 )

      5. The irony is that both St. Augustine and St. Jerome both described the Genesis account as figurative, and indeed St. Thomas Aquinas described the possibility of new species appearing as that they could be created in their causes:
        “Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.”

  12. I think you missed the largest cause of misunderstanding of scientific claims, possibly because you’re focused more on the malicious aspects:
    removing qualifiers.

    How many times has the news reported “X=Y” when a look at the actual study (never mind the support for their claim) is something like “In A situation with B group under C conditions, X was associated with Y at .25% higher rate than in the control.”


    The opposite can also be a pain in folk-science; my first pregnancy was especially terrifying, because I found out that I was pregnant on Easter. I’d been dieting and practically living on tuna for the last three months, and my doctor told me no more than half a tin no more than once a month.

    My second pregnancy, I ate a lot of cheese sandwiches.

    Eventually, one of my sister’s slightly silly, very well meaning friends was having a mental breakdown on facebook because she was sure she’d killed her unborn child by going on a camping weekend and eating fish for dinner each night, and a friend had told her that the baby would die because she’d had three fish in a week.

    I tried to calm her down, started looking… and found out that the original was something like no more than two meals a week of ocean fish that eat a lot of other fish and are from a known-contaminated area, and that they got that amount by taking the amount that someone who had a bad effect from mercury had eaten and dividing it by ten.

    Definitely not about a mountain stream trout from an area with no known contamination, and the three dinners was only slightly above the recommendation if it HAD been a more-likely-to-be-contaminated fish.

    And they wonder why pregnant women aren’t getting “enough” fish oil in our diets….

      1. Add in the “just in case” stuff. My pregnancy stuff still says not to drink coffee because it’s associated with miscarriages, but the studies that found that were later found to be tied to the rate of morning sickness in women. (There’s a higher rate of miscarriage among those who have no morning sickness.)

        How could someone do a study on miscarriage and NOT even try to control for other known causes, especially when it’s something like “women getting sick in the morning aren’t going to drink coffee”?

        1. Yea– I see this type of stuff in research about my disease. A group I belong too finally decided to control the research — how it is looked at– by providing a small amount of funding. All of a sudden we now have new meds that will work for the disease. Before we had two or three meds and it wasn’t a sure thing.

    1. Also, I had people get royally pissed at me for having a small slice of cake that had rum glaze frosting.

      You put a tablespoon of rum in to about two cups of frosting, then cook it down. Up until recently, doctors in Ireland would suggest a mug of beer for anemic mothers each day. It’s not magic, or some sort of mystic taint– we don’t understand it very well, but if alcohol had that powerful of an effect on the unborn the human race wouldn’t have survived long enough to have clean water!

      1. Lets see, one tablespoon rum, spread between fifteen slices of cake. We’ll go with 100 proof rum (I know most rum is 80 proof) because it makes the math easy, 50% alcohol. That gives us 1/30 of a tablespoon of alcohol per slice of cake, and then you cook it. Anybody know what alcohol does when you heat it? I see John Lee waving his hand over there, yep that’s right, it evaporates. You probably ingested about as much alcohol as you would by walking down the sidewalk and having a wino breath in your face.

        1. If I’d known about it at the time, I’d have offered to show them a picture of the kids of the lady who had a cocktail each day at 4pm for her entire married life– including during all of her pregnancies.

          All but two kids are practicing doctors, in high demand.

            1. Mom didn’t. She drank her normal (probably 1/2 bottle a day, but very low alcohol) wine with meals while pregnant with us. Mind you, with my brother she had this bizarre craving — I know because she still talks about it. She’d crumble dinner rolls into sugared wine, and then eat the whole thing. She was eating a whole mixing bowl a day. My brother has a genius IQ and until recently eidetic memory. PFUI.

      2. Pregnant women habitually drank alcoholic beverages for millennia. Without refrigerator, all non-water beverages ferment on their own. Furthermore, its antiseptic effect was important.

        1. My mom has pointed out that between the self reporting problem– fetal alcohol syndrome in women having “no more than one drink a day” was only high among diagnosed alcoholics in those studies she saw, for example, and ANYTHING that the woman might possibly find to maybe imply that she had ANYTHING to do with her child being harmed in any way is going to get wildly strange results– my best bet is to take care not to shock my system in any way. (And accept that you can mitigate risk, but not prevent.)

      3. It wasn’t beer – it was stout. Because it’s packed with masses of flavenoids, iron, folic acid and other goodies. Guinness used to advertise that it was “good for you” and there does seem to be medical evidence that this is in fact true.

        The no alcohol while pregnant thing has come from people looking at the offspring of alcoholics. And yes if you drink a bottle of whisky a day while pregnant bad things happen. But extrapolating back from 1 bot whiskey/day leads to severe mental retardation etc. to (say) 1 pint of beer a day leads to minor retardation is clearly wrong because otherwise the whole of Europe’s towns and cities would have been filled with retarded children throughout history. Lets face it in Europe the only way to not die from the water was to add alcohol (no one in Europe thought of tea), hence everyone mixed wine with the water, drank “small beer” i.e. 2-3% alc or similar the entire time.

        1. “otherwise the whole of Europe’s towns and cities would have been filled with retarded children throughout history”

          It would help explain some things…

          1. I was going to point out that he picked a really bad example to try and disprove the effects of alcohol consumption on fetuses.

            1. Well yes except that if you think about it that means that every genius from the Homer onwards was born to a mother who drank while pregnant. You know people like Shakespeare, Sir Isaac Newton, Pascal, Homer…

              I have to say that the idea that people were slightly drunk all the time could explain some of the odder parts of history though

              1. From what I have read of the amounts people here got as part of their pay, or local castles required per person – yep, they had to have been at least somewhat drunk by midday latest. Even if lots of the beer consumed then was rather weak, and if we assume they traded some of what they got as pay and so on they still had to have drank enough for that.

                1. Going off of the functional alcoholics I’ve known or heard of, it’d go exactly the opposite way– having a daily amount is going to mean your body adapts and you function perfectly normally.

                  How normally?

                  One of the pilots I personally knew who was good enough to be selected as one of the best teaching pilots was tested after a flight– and was double the level that’s supposed to mean “drunk.” Per the doctor “but.. but… he was in flight for eight hours, his blood alcohol level should have been DEAD if he drank before going up!”

                  1. That seems to be somewhat dependent on age, younger alcoholics can do it more easily, but once they get older they may lose it and start to show signs of drunkenness at levels which they earlier could drink and appear completely or almost completely sober (yes, I have known a few in my life, long enough to observe that).

                    1. Aha. One of the ones I knew was one of my uncles, and at least he also kept drinking more as he got older because the alcohol didn’t affect him the way he would have wanted as his tolerance for it grew, until the time he started to lose that tolerance, but I think he then pretty much got the bad effects, still not what he would have wanted. He did live into his early 70’s, anyway, and managed to give it up for his last decade or so, after having had his first heart attack.

                    2. The few “wait, they DRINK?” functional alcoholics (back when it didn’t mean “drunk with a support group”) would also make room for the occasional person that made it to Freaking Ancient.

                      Figure average of 20 for having kids, you have kids at 20, grandkids at 40, great grand kids at 60, great great grands at 80, and you make it to 80 you’re older than time!

                    3. I took a quick look at some Swedish kings, looks like a good many of them managed to live to about 60, although getting past that is not usual, and of course many lost power earlier.

                    4. Doesn’t Sarah have some sort of a thing about childhood nutrition being really important? I know Suburban Banshee shared something about folks finding a way to improve large dogs’ longevity with better selected nutrition…..

                    5. Has to be. that is the difference between my generation and the next in Portugal, and they track with the size of other Europeans, while I as a giant at 5’7″

                    6. Possibly Japan, too– the guys working on the ship were all shorter than me, but about high school half of the boys were American normal height but willow thin. (Maybe a quarter of the girls similarly sprouted to American standard heights. No idea what the difference was.)

                    7. You can only have grandkids at forty if your first children survived.

                      A lot of the time, they didn’t.

                    8. I think 20 would be very old* to have your first kids throughout most of history, so grandkids at or before 40 would be the norm.

                      *Particularly for women.

                    9. I picked it for two reasons– one, it’s easy to calculate, and two, I figured it’d be an OK mid range between average first kid and outlier last kid.

                      For perspective on what “ancient” would be, it’s good enough! (I know some 70+ year old alcoholics, so it’s possible.)

                1. we are going through this reality cold sober

                  Speak for yourself! I’m one of the world’s few teetotal drunks. I don’t even have to have alcohol to pull off the hungover agent look. Or so says one of my editing clients who’s met me in person.

                  1. I have had to go cold sober for over ten years– except for meds– Of course, I am one of the few people to get drunk on a glass of wine- even when I drank *sigh

        2. Bizarrely, I couldn’t drink alcohol at all when I was pregnant. Couldn’t handle it all, turned me sick and dizzy – even half a glass of champagne on Christmas day when I was eight months along. Ordinarily – before and afterwards – I had a pretty hard head as far as drinking went, but for nine months I had to go straight cold turkey.

      1. Even ionizing radiation is nowhere near as dangerous as many people, including some health physicists, make out. The satement “there’s no such thing as a safe level of exposure” is an ASSUMPTION made based on looking at peope who received very high doses and assuming the effects fall off linearly with dose, with no dose that your body can handle with no ill effect. It’s a conservative assumption, keeping exposures well below any possible threshold, but it’s still almost certainly wrong.

        Fortunately(?), thanks to Fukushima, we’ll soon (well, in the next 30 or so years) have a large cohort of people exposed to very low levels of radiation for long periods of time. It’s almost as if the Japanese were placed here to let us learn about the effects of ionizing radiation.

        1. A few health physicists and a lot of activists are the only folks who take the linear no threshold model seriously. Such evidence as there is actually suggests a (socially insignificant) hormesis effect.

          1. I take it seriously, but I always keep in mind that it’s wrong. It’s wrong in the right direction, but it’s still wrong.

        2. History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.

          Go Go GODZILLA!

    2. I’m no fan of alcohol consumption, but the story of the woman who aborted her child because she had a glass of wine before she realized she was pregnant … holy scatological metaphor, that’s stupid. And based on science that was fairly shaky even before being stripped of numerous qualifiers.

    3. Removing qualifiers, indeed. This drives me bonkers, frequently.

      “But…if you leave the qualifiers in it’s not definitive! We need to make definitive pronouncements. Market studies show people don’t like uncertainty.”


  13. Roughly a generation ago, “Journalism” went from “who, what, where, when, why and how” to “Journalism’s purpose is to make the world a better place.” Better Place = More statist.

    Imagine if there were still people called “Reporters” who went out and discovered facts and then reported them instead of having people who tell you things that are false.

    Same thing with Law School. Make the world a better place, not a nation of laws.

    1. Same thing as writing, and now apparently gaming. “We’re supposed to do this to make the world a better place.”
      Two questions: WHY? And HOW? I mean, isn’t it horribly presumptuous to think that any random journalist/writer/game designer KNOWS how to make the world a better place?

      1. Another question would be make it better for whom? how and why? also what are the trade-offs? Last but not least–making the world a better place is not the province of law or journalism or writing or education or gaming. If any where it would be correctly the province of religion. It doesn’t really belong there either.

      2. Possibly coincidental though I think not, but looked to me at the time and after that the tipping point was with the exploits of Woodward and Bernstein and the taking down of Nixon. Suddenly all budding journalism majors had a grand new purpose in life. Since journalism requires precious little in the way of science or logic the outgrowth is what we have today, eager young bucks and does looking to mould the future after spending five years getting a three year degree while totally missing the whole concept of disinterested reportage.

      3. When I saw that gaming guy quote, I immediately translated it as “Now that we have this power, we must USE it for something! what good is power if we don’t use it?”

  14. On lawyers and innumeracy. I watched a suit for damages over an allegedly bad parking lot paving job.

    The prevailing plaintiff’s attorney cherry picked the worst spot(s) – thin and uneven at the very edge of the parking lot. The plaintiff then put on an expert at predicting pavement life based on analyzing random samples – asking without objection what the predicted pavement life would be for the actual pavement as if the original sample(s) had been randomly chosen (instead of being cherry picked). Not exactly a search for truth. May have been a fair result.

    Juries often split the difference – ask me how I know – so trial lawyers often find a reason to ask for twice as much or more. See also over charging and plea bargaining.

    Agreed that at least in the softer sciences people seem to believe that a 95% confidence must be true – whether it’s one paper or a hundred – rather than remembering that an equivalent statement is to say that given a fair number of papers we can be pretty sure what proportion on average are in fact wrong.

    It’s been remarked on how gullible people can be when it’s in their interest. Presenters will claim knowledge beyond their own expertise – Bill Nye once explained that with a fair coin the number of heads and the number of tails converge as the number of flips increases – in fact (laws of large numbers) the count of heads and the count of tails diverge without limit; the proportion converges to even but the count diverges. He might have got it right because Martin Gardner revisited the issue as often as we see the Monte Hall Make a Deal 3 doors and a goat problem.

    One of my graduate school instructors with a very strong applied math background – mostly Markov chain based time series predictions when Box Jenkins was new – once said: “might as well not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution to which I responded with typical snark that given a false dichotomy, a choice between believing in Special Creation or Darwin’s Theory I’d have to go with the irrefutable and unscientific Special Creation. This because Darwin’s theory had been essentially refuted in the process of extending and elaborating it. Fortunately in a world of increasing knowledge we can adjust our prior thoughts to conform to after acquired knowledge. Folks still set up that false dichotomy though to make Darwin’s theories a straw man rather than a guide.

    On the general issue I can’t add anything to Mr. Heinlein’s sure the game is rigged . When I was once tasked with teaching college freshmen High School Civics – in the guise of economics without analysis aka being paid to wash out the unwashed 90% and sending on only those who got it – I sat in on freshman orientation. The counselor, herself innumerate, might have said college is good place to deal with math phobia. Instead she suggested majoring in journalism as having no math or science requirements.

    A counselor might have gone on to say something about the declining job market for journalism majors – law schools have been full of fluent writers with few other skills.

    1. Darwin’s theory was not only wrong, it’s not possible in any conceivable world. This is because it relied on folk genetics. It was not until they rediscovered Mendel’s work that it was made possible.

      1. Mendel’s work as published is not reproducible. Some combination of dry labbing and preparing the lab reports for publication. Then again Ben Franklin’s kite experiment was likely a dry (smiley) lab report and maybe an effort to kill a rival in the old country.

        1. Mendel’s work as published is not reproducible.

          If you read it as a modern write-up, yes; if you use a more philosophy research style approach, it’s fine.

          One of my peeves is modern scientists who attack historic researchers for not using modern formats. 😀

          1. First exposure to it: people “debunking” something or other because it described the size of a bowl, and it gave the circumference and the diameter.
            Response: “a-HA! It’s obviously false! The ratio should be pi!”
            Because 1) nobody ever says “close enough” at an earlier point than they want and 2) it’s a perfect circle with no problems about the thickness of the material or anything else.

            1. And nobody ever said, when asked the length of a 31.416-foot object, “It’s thirty feet long”. Nope. Nobody ever approximates. So clearly the bowl in question must have been exactly thirty cubits around, and not (say) thirty-one-and-a-half cubits, which got verbally approximated to thirty cubits.

              1. And of course, nobody ever wrote a spec that required 10 pints be put in a 2 liter bottle. That just doesn’t happen.

          2. And modern fonts! Man, have you ever tried to read some of that handwritten stuff? They couldn’t even be bothered to break out a typewriter? 😉

            1. “And modern fonts!”

              There’s one gent in particular that I read his letters (crosswritten in blue ink on thin blue paper) and wish he’d printed or had used the office typewriter. Fascinating guy, but I can see why no one else has used his material in articles or books before.

              1. You should read some of the GLO (General Land Office) survey notes sometime. I have heard hundreds of people go on about how everyone was taught penmanship a hundred years ago, and they had to practice it until they had it down perfect. I sometimes think this is because the teachers tried to read notes written by surveyors a hundred and twenty years ago, but the rest of the time I believe it was deemed more important to have beautifully flowing cursive handwriting than it was to ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO READ WHAT THE HECK YOU WROTE!

                1. Actually, that’s a pen problem. With dip pens, if you lift and drop the nib, there is the possibility you will blort the ink, poke a hole in the paper, or bring the paper with you. All of which result in huge legibility issues, so they developed Spencerian script.

                  I also seem to recall it was replacing Blackletter, which I gather was more suited for illuminated manuscripts than it was writing anything in a timely manner.

                  1. Good heavens, the first step in making an illuminated manuscript was to figure out how many ewes you had to breed, to get how many lambs, and so in due course how many sheepskins, for how many pages. Timely couldn’t enter the equation.

                2. there’s also the problem with abbreviations, which they used all the time.

                  Patricia C. Wrede had something in Across the Great Barrier where Eff gets a job basically translating an explorer’s notes into real English

                3. Bearcat, I did/do read the GLO and TX surveyors reports. Their ink didn’t bleed as much as this gent’s did, at least not that I’ve encountered yet. And I found that once I learned the “language” of the GLO, I could decipher things pretty quickly. Personal letters, at least this gent’s, tend not to follow such predictable patterns. And then there’s the 19th century rancher who used 17th century numeral notation . . .

                  1. I can read them fairly well nowadays, but I remember when first looking at them they looked like so many chicken scratches. The “language” helps immensely, until they insert something off the wall.* I feel for you when reading somebody with that or worse writing and no language patterns to follow.

                    Oh and switching from field notes taken by one person to those taken by another can require a reformatting of the notation recognition program behind the old Mark 1 eyeball.

                    *The one I think took me the longest to decipher is when in mid- traverse I come across the note: “36 chains, chainman attacked by bear, killed it with an axe.”

                    1. I seen notes that stated “survey delayed due to hostile Indians, lost chainman.” But they (or rather copies, not the originals) were in the display case where I worked. I never actually ran into them when trying to retrace a survey like the bear attack notes.

                      I’m assuming that it was not usually that severely cold in Late October where such notes were taken?

                    2. Apparently not. They got caught out in an early blizzard without sufficient shelter and supplies. The first frost date in that area is October 5, but blizzards tend to wait until after mid-November.

    2. I can’t be too hard on Bill Nye for confusing asymptotic with convergent. Besides, there are plenty of other things to be hard on him for.

      “Agreed that at least in the softer sciences people seem to believe that a 95% confidence must be true – whether it’s one paper or a hundred – rather than remembering that an equivalent statement is to say that given a fair number of papers we can be pretty sure what proportion on average are in fact wrong.”

      XKCD has the scoop, of course.

      Even this is too optimistic. It’s like saying that if a medical test has a 1% chance of a false positive, then 1% of those diagnosed with the disease don’t actually have the disease. This turns out to be wildly optimistic for many diseases.

      Here’s a case that came up at another board I haunt: Suppose the disease is rare, with an incidence of 1 in 10,000 among those screened for the disease. Suppose the screening test is extremely good, with a 1% false positive and 1% false negative rate. You get a positive result. Sensibly, you ask for a repeat test, which also comes up positive. What are the chances you actually have the disease?

      Just a little less than a 50% chance, it turns out.

      I’ll post the math if anyone is really curious.

      This has some bearing on why polygraphs have little place in a courtroom and none in routine screening of security clearance holders.

      1. I can’t be too hard on Bill Nye for confusing asymptotic with convergent. Besides, there are plenty of other things to be hard on him for.

        After being exposed to his radio commercials up here in support of his insane political desires, I find that I am fully in agreement.

        My goodness, what a shining example of someone who loves his I Believe button.

        1. He was tolerable in “Stargate SG:1”. And “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” is a great way to grab a 45 minute, air-conditioned nap at Epcot.

      2. Lots of ways to lie with good statistics. Claritin was tested for soporific effect in small groups. In each small test group people using the drug reported drowsiness in larger numbers than people receiving placebos – but only 1 or 2 more reported drowsiness. In each small group the difference was called insignificant. Had all the test groups been one group the relatively small difference but immensely larger number of people reporting drowsiness would have been significant by the study rules. Probably fair to say the difference is insignificant but statistically significant. The Supreme Court of the United States has written opinions mixing and confusing socially significance and statistical significance – maybe a clerk knew better but the confusion supports the decision.

      3. Agreed that polygraphs have no place in the courtroom – perhaps somewhat like hypnosis a rarely useful tool that requires burning a witness in the hopes of useful information.

        On the other hand as a tool in the hands of a skilled interrogator a polygraph working or not – but working is better – can be a very useful. There’s the story of the suspect hooked up to a copy machine that kept printing out he lies until the truth came out. See also IIRC Father Brown’s experience with machines and human reaction to slightly off questions.

        I’ve used a polygraph test only once – college student who walked out of the store with condoms in his pocket. The store was a grocery+pharmacy chain joined inside with checkouts for each side of the store. His story was that he picked them up in the pharmacy intending to pay with his grocery order at a single checkout then perhaps feeling unsure and even suppressing conscious knowledge in front of the checker because condoms he forgot.

        The prosecutor and I in effect agreed to let a polygraph operator known to us to be a first rate interrogator resolve the issue by stipulating the results would be admissible – in effect say to the prosecutor there’s enough doubt in the operator’s expert opinion or to me that there’s little doubt it was intentional shoplifting. Notice that we were more relying on expert opinion not machine readings.

  15. And then there’s that whole million, billion, trillion thing, the bane of TV pundits of every stripe. After all what difference does a decimal point or three or six really make? What’s a few orders of magnitude when you’re trying to impress an audience?

    1. You also have to be careful translating those between American and British sources. A Trillion in Britain is (or at least, used to be) a million billion, not a thousand billion.

      1. Thanks for the reminder. Ran into that one a few times dealing with British research teams from ESA. Same was also true with regard to Billion being a thousand million here and a million million in the UK. It is my understanding that the Brits have since converted over to the American version in both cases, but I suspect somehow that’s going like our attempts to go metric, slowly and with great reluctance and pushback in some areas.

        1. Oops. I actually meant to point out the difference in meaning of a Billion . I don’t know if I’m right about trillion, or if it is a Billion Billion.

          1. Even more fun, in Australia you never know *which* definition is being used. Which is why I prefer to go straight to exponential notation. 1×10^9 and 1×10^12 are are quite distinct that way even if you don’t know whether you’ve got a thousand million and a billion or a billion and a trillion. (Either way you’ve got a bloody big number, and one that’s not small change in the US budget).

  16. One thing that drives me crazy is over-broadening of the meaning of something to make it match some other thing that people think is “cool”. Forex, in Star Trek IV, Scotty lamented the lack of having “Transparent Aluminum” to work with. People find an article about an Aluminum-based ceramic which happens to be transparent, and instantly dub it, “Transparent Aluminum”. Here’s an article that at least talks about it being a ceramic:

    But if that’s true, then table salt is Transparent Sodium, Malachite is Transparent Copper, etc.

  17. Mythbusters’ ‘science’ makes me cringe. I watched a bit more of them again last night, and they often just go about things so effin wrong it almost makes me scream at the tv.
    Like the time they tried to do the “myth” of never hitting two hammers face to face. Doing so may cause one to chip, and the shard can be deadly dangerous. So they went and bought new hammers (problem one, the breakage usually only happened to older, well used hammers) then made a machine that hit them together but didn’t allow for any rebounding (dulling some of the resonance that does the damage) and when they got no breakage … they heated the begeebers out of one the doused it in oil (wait, What?) then hit that one on an anvil (you know,,,those things made to be hammered on). So much heat had gotten into the handle of their hammer the handle bent on impact because that portion never saw any of the oil in there poorly thought out heat treatment.

    Others they “busted” or called implausible I had happen to me. Like the time I had a CD blow up in my drive from being spun up too fast.
    It had cracks and I was going to make a copy, and mistakenly put it in my cheapo 52x drive instead of the old 4x (yeah, that tower had 4 cd drives in it). If my cat hadn’t had just jumped down from her normal sleeping perch, a shard would have hit her instead of impaling a box on that shelf.
    So, yeah, they do science, but often it is very faulty science.

    1. Yes, they make me cringe too. The hubby loves to watch it so he can debunk them. lol (Hubby has been involved in electronics since 1965.)

      1. The Hammers made me stop watching.
        I was close to it when the tried to redo Hathcock’s shooting an enemy sniper through the scope. Instead of one like the Russian unit the dead guy was using, they went and got a multi-power modern scope with 3 to 4 times the glass in it.
        Though I do watch the disappearing cement truck episode and giggle like a school girl

        1. I saw that one too– (shooting with the scope) I am trying to think of which one that really made me go huh? But I can’t remember– *sigh

            1. Yep– The last one I saw, I told the hubby that I wasn’t watching any more. I haven’t been in a tech field for over a decade now (before illness), but even I know that a lot of the experiments are not even about the “idea” but about blowing things up.

    2. The texting and driving one, and the talking on the phone one, drive me nuts.

      I know that, like the driving drunk test, they couldn’t have any other result– but did they have to stack the deck so stupidly? They’re just going to get people who DO recognize “that has no resemblance to how people actually do that” to keep doing what they’re doing and ignore any further research.

      1. being as I ride a motorcycle 99% of the time, I live the driving while texting/talking test every day.
        If I had a recording of me going to work the most common words would be “put down the damned phone and DRIVE”

        1. Then it should have been dead easy to get good results the way people actually mess with the phone, not by stacking the deck.

          I WATCH people on motorcycles and some cars (the ones that make it easy for me to see the driver) use the cellphone, and none of them are reciting back stuff that the person on the other end asked, or even doing math. By appearances, they’re giving a running commentary on what they’re seeing.,..which doesn’t include the red minivan I’m driving….

          I also notice that it happens with people who aren’t on the phone, messing with food, messing with the radio, yelling at the kids, etc, they just seem to be driving like an idiot.

          My theory is that the problem is idiots.

          1. your theory is quite correct. The big problem is the idiots doing all of the above. The woman texting while eating a burger and yelling at the kids while driving a four-door ford truck loaded to the gills and towing a trailer nearly took out several people just trying to do the speed limit and get around the effing moron. I think she nearly wet herself when I was passing and she started weaving back over to me and I hit my 139dB Stebel horn. Sorry to startle you lady, but it was get your damned attention, or get run into the 18 wheeler next to me.
            I can pretty much tell who is talking on the cell by how they drive, and those texting are even worse.

            1. Part of my dislike for outlawing the things is that it takes one situation– high traffic– and applies basic sense for them over all situations.

              Just apply the various reckless driving laws and be done with it, I don’t care if they’re technically perfect and just shoved me into the other lane because they’re a moron.

                1. Which would also get rid of a lot of the “people being idiots” stuff.

                  Unsafe following distance? Actually apply the law on people who invariably jump between you and the car ahead if you’re at a safe distance, making it so you have even LESS space. Give tickets to people who don’t merge properly. (If I had a dime for every time someone made me slam on my brakes because they can’t manage to merge, even when I’ve maintained speed….)

                    1. seen people merge right into the space between the drive and trailer wheels of a log truck. they realized it when the drivers side window broke as the roof deformed.

                    2. An interesting corollary/causative to this:

                      A family member recently received a speeding citation for exceeding 40mph (the access road speed) on the on ramp. According to the cop, the freeway speed does not obtain until you reach the actual surface of said freeway. At which time you presumably achieve instant acceleration from 40mph to the ambient freeway speed (frequently 70-75). :-/

                      I would have argued the point in court, but unfortunately my family member hasn’t the time.

                    3. You and I agree. But work and family priorities…

                      I’m of the opinion that opposing such idiocy is a significant civic responsibility. Others evaluate based solely on the impact to their own lives.

                    4. This is the only incident I’m aware of, so I’m hoping ‘dumb cop’ rather than stupid law.

                      I’m frequently unaccountably optimistic, I suppose.

                  1. My dad is fond of pointing out all the new cars on the road that have blinkers that don’t work.
                    Oh and on the merging it is amazing how many people can’t seem to figure out that there are cars in the left hand lane, so I can’t get out of their way when they are merging; and that big yieldy thingy means that they need to speed up or slow down to get in either in front of or behind me, not just try to push me into the traffic in the fast lane.

                    ” Actually apply the law on people who invariably jump between you and the car ahead if you’re at a safe distance, making it so you have even LESS space.”

                    You have no idea how many times I have been tempted to make a Civic sandwich.

    3. It seems to me that that one was “plausible” with older hammers if I recall. A lot of the stuff in the early seasons had issues because of their lack of experience and knowledge. I’ve heard both Jamie and Adam say so. But it’s television, not a lab. The shows primary focus is making the things entertaining enough that people keep watching. Of course they may not get things right every time and they make mistakes. The amount of outright stupid, dangerous and cringeworthy stuff I’ve seen over years is mind boggling. But they are still on the air, long after many other of the same kind of shows on Discovery and similar networks are long gone and the are still there. That says something.

        1. How about those they drive away? The ones who self-taught enough to recognize they’re being fed fertilizer?

          It’s one thing to show off the parts of science that are cool; it’s another to misrepresent it to try to appeal to those who aren’t interested.

          1. I don’t think that my kids view Myth Busters as science. And they’re smart enough to think “but what about this other thing… and wouldn’t that work different”. They love the show. Blowing stuff up is always fun and building the contraptions is fun. What I think it probably the most beneficial message from it is more that stuff can be built from scratch, if you want to build it, instead of just bought ready made from the store.

            1. I can remember when I was a rather science-minded kid, I kept running into “make it more popular” stuff that hobbled me.

              We’ve got a huge population– why can’t they just ONCE aim at the folks that are actually interested, rather than trying to grab the ones that aren’t?

              1. … why can’t they just ONCE aim at the folks that are actually interested, rather than trying to grab the ones that aren’t?

                Totally agree with this. I was probably fortunate in not having watched most of the science shows when I was little (though I suspect they were better then – you’re significantly younger than I), and got most of my interest from SciFi and simply reading about science. I knew the SciFi wasn’t reality, but went into that with the idea of maybe we could make it happen some day, whereas I was reading real science written for people who wanted to learn about it.

                1. Folks kept “helping” me by giving me stuff that was written to try to get kids interested in science– so it flubbed a lot of stuff, avoided a lot of stuff and generally didn’t give any sort of a foundation to build on.

                  Once I was a teen and could get online, it got better– I could find the stuff way above what I understood, and then get explanations as needed, but…ugh.

                  1. My pet peeves are the “science” programs on Discovery channel and those others supposedly serious places that so over dramatize everything so that the universe is always a moment away from dying a fiery death, or the oceans of roiling magma burst through the earth’s crust destroys us all, or a disease plague rushes through our cells… or there really were mermaids, really.

                    The only thing that wouldn’t have had me battling nightmares as a child is the mermaid part.

                    1. OTOH, even the mermaids were heroically sacrificing themselves to save their families and getting eaten by Megladons, so…. maybe nightmares there, too.

              2. I could say all sorts of stuff but it’s easier to just have the man explain for himself:
                Regardless of what everybody seems to think, Adam and Jamie are passionate about what they do and that’s important. Now some of the stuff is silly and yes, they blow stuff up a little much, but they really believe that, in the end, by showing how to do it, they can inspire people to move beyond the hard facts and just do stuff. This, in a world where I’ve heard frequently over the years that the only real science is going to be done in the big research institutes. I think that’s one of the biggest falsifications that exist and if the Mythbusters can show that creativity and passion are more important than a PhD and a seven figure budget from the NAS then that’s all too the good.

                1. No problem with blowing stuff up, etc– the problem is with the stuff that isn’t emphasizing the known awesome parts of science, but trying to inject non-science awesome.

                  Blowing stuff up is very scientific. ^.^

                  if the Mythbusters can show that creativity and passion are more important than a PhD and a seven figure budget from the NAS then that’s all too the good.

                  So you’re in the same camp as the “if it gets one person interested” folks– that doesn’t really answer the problems already pointed out, or of the folks who are already interested, are already doing stuff being turned off because they’re basically saying the only way to go big is to try to get the cool kids to think you’re cool, and not on your own merits.

                  It’s kinda like Pintrest shots that have a picture of something that’s a little bit like what it’s actually about making, but are really totally different; putting carnations in colored water and photographing them in the right situation to emphasize the coolness isn’t the same as taking a picture and tweaking the colors, contrast, etc so that they pop into supernatural glowing.

                  1. Well, the purpose of Mythbusters is to make money. If you can teach at the same time, then you are a step further along than the other programs that just whine and dribble on about rather meaningless stuff. If you can convince people to try to understand their world and ask questions at the same time you are even further ahead, and you get interested people to keep coming back.
                    This is in many ways what science fiction started out to be, and pretty much the best of it continues to be.

                    1. Because it’s not like geeks are famous for spending way outsized amounts of money on the stuff that treats them with respect, same way parents never spend a lot of money on “fun” educational stuff….

                      If the problems folks have been pointing out actually had a big effect on the “get more viewers” thing, say if folks had complained about having an adorable red head that likes guns, then the “they like money” part would work.

                2. I don’t think anybody doubts that they’re both geeks of a very high degree, and that means passion. Even if it’s not always the jumping-up-and-down sort.

              3. Because (a) we don’t need it, we know how to read and research, and we’ll find out own answers; (2) there aren’t enough of us with sufficiently similar interests to be a “market” and (iii) tv is bad for your brain and video is propaganda.

                1. I disagree that there is not a market. A lot of people get excited about such things, and doing them wrong is a bad idea, especially when doing them right is not much, if any, more difficult.

                  1. Why spend time getting people interested enough to go find out the real stuff on their own when you could get them interested in the real stuff right here and now, and then they’ll have that when they go look for more.

                    Not very well said, but it’s like giving folks “grape flavored” jam when it costs the same as real grape jam, in hopes that they’ll get interested in the grape rather than the sweet. Let folks have the grape jam and then the ones who’d be interested in grapes will not risk being turned off, and you don’t have to deal with folks who want more stuff that’s just “Grape flavored.”

              1. One of the episodes where they used a liberal dosage of thermite irritated me. It was the one where the thermite caused the ice to explode. They threw around hypotheses like the thermite separated the ice into Hydrogen and Oxygen, which recombined and exploded. No one mentioned the possibility that huge blocks of ice, when differentially heated, simply shattered with the force of a small explosion, like a block of glass would.

                1. Huh? They had never poured hot water on ice and had it shatter before?
                  Or tossed an ice cube on the wood stove? (what normal people don’t do that when they finish a drink, to see what will happen?)

                    1. Would’ve worked better in response to Bearcat; picking the second use of a pronoun of folks referring back to tossing ice on a hot stove looks odd.

      1. typed a response and nodded off to sleep and clicked on the mouse killing it…Ooops

        The busting or not wasn’t the issue, it was a mind numbingly stupid methods they used. They hit and anvil with a hammer to see if the hammer would break. every blacksmith in the world will be shocked to learn that they been abusing their equipment.

        1. Yes. What they need is a person with a better understanding of the subject matter to advise them when they are setting up stupid tests. I can’t remember specifics, but I’ve yelled at the TV any number of times when they are making a bad setup.

          1. You’d think they’d be able to find someone. then again, they are filming in the Peoples republic of California in the area of nutbag central.

  18. One of the things that bothered me at that Lunacon panel was when one of the panelists said as PROOF of Republican sciences illiteracy was a Republican congressman said that wind was a finite resource. Now I don’t which congressman said that, or what the context was, but he was absolutely right. While there is wind every where, the need for good siting locations, the variability and velocity of the wind, and other considerations mean that wind energy does have finite limits and those are actually fairly severe. So the Congressman was correct, but because it did not fit the Progressive scientific narrative he must of been yet another Republican ignoramus.

    1. I’d be really surprised if the panel didn’t go deep down that road. It’s the sort of thing I’d avoid just out of anticipation.

      1. I think I had something to do with how deep they could go. My question hit them right in the tolerance and turned the “denier” language on it’s head.

        1. It did. And for the most part the panel stayed away from that and focused much more on the general level of ignorance – thankfully. I might have had to get sarcastic otherwise.

          1. You know, I don’t think that most geek types really understand that there is great gulf between not knowing something because you are ignorant and not knowing something because it simply isn’t important to them. Geeks grok the science stuff because to matters to us. But for most people, though fewer then we geek realize, that stuff isn’t important enough to pay attention to.

            1. I think I tried to make that point along the way somewhere – although it might have been a related discussion in a different panel. For most people, the science stuff isn’t relevant because the things they do care about are quite enough to fill up their lives. Hard to blame them for that, even when it does cause issues.

          1. Well, since the Supreme Court decided it’s okeydokey for the EPA to regulate CO2 as a “pollutant”, and since some significant proportion of exhalation (and thus speech, even political speech) consists of CO2, then EPA regulation of Nancy’s political speech as pollution is, by extension, okeydokey, QED. It doesn’t even require penumbras, just a new management at the EPA.

            Sarah’s made the point before – I cannot believe how much of a hole the current idiots are digging for themselves when the other idiots get in.

            1. Could you get away with murder by redefining it as reducing carbon dioxide output? If they’re dead they aren’t breathing anymore.

    2. Alas, at the time I couldn’t think of any of the MANY scientifically laughable things Democrats have said.

      Of course, solar energy is also finite. There’s a fixed amount of it reaching us at any given time and the sun will eventually burn out. The chances of us *hitting* either of those limits at the moment is miniscule, but solar energy is still finite.

  19. A fellow rockhound! I knew I liked you for some reason. 🙂
    Have you had fun pointing out that Uniformitarianism is a transitive statement, and that for AGW to be true, Geology must be false?
    (Not that it sways the zealots. They’re more comfortable with the past, and by extension the future, being unknowable, than giving up their faith in their Satan-figure.)

    1. “It was warmer during the Carboniferous/Mississippian.”
      AGWFan “But that’s different.”
      “It was warmer during the Cretaceous.”
      AGWFan “Volcanoes. And it was different.”
      “The Altithermal long predated the internal combustion engine.”
      AGWFan “But that’s different.” [starts bouncing up and down, red-faced, crying] “It’s different, it’s different, it’s different this time!”
      *whispers* “CO2 lags behind warming.”
      AGWFan “Nooooo!!!!!”

      1. Well, let’s see.
        The Vikings used to grow wheat in Greenland.
        Their term for the area we now know as New England was Vineland because of all the wild grapes there.
        The Brits once upon a time had a robust wine making industry, today not so much.
        As for volcanoes, it’s been well established that the Tambora eruption in the western pacific/east asia region was directly responsible for the severe weather patterns experienced in 1816, also known at the time as the year without a summer.
        But then again, as we should know by now, it’s pointless to use facts to argue religion.

        1. Then there’s the way Krakatoa buggered up the patterns in the early 1900s, and the theory that the subterranean caldera that 10x the size of Krakatoa did something similar and caused the Year Without a Summer (and also indirectly the first wave of the Islamic conquests in the early post-Roman centuries).

          1. Krakatoa was part of a series of eruptions that had a noticeable effect on weather patterns reducing world temperatures by about 2 degrees F in the year following the eruption.
            The Mount Tambora eruption on 10 April 1815 with a rating of VEI-7 was the largest such event in recorded history with an estimated ejecta volume of 160 km3 (38 cu mi).
            “The eruption caused global climate anomalies that included the phenomenon known as “volcanic winter”: 1816 became known as the “Year Without a Summer” because of the effect on North American and European weather. Crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine of the 19th century.” (Wiki cite)

            1. There was actually an earlier year without a summer as I recall… (damn, gotta go google) – got it – higher sulfur spike than Mount Tambora, correlates fairly well with recorded observations from that general time period about a narrow section in the Indonesian region near where Anak Krakatoa is now blasting itself to pieces. Snow in July. All that fun stuff…

      2. It wasn’t just warmer… it was WAY warmer. It was hugely warmer. The Earth generally has no polar ice whatsoever and life loves it during those warm times.

                1. Not to worry. The times with the ice caps coincide with blocked equitorial currents. The ice free times always had a current able to circle the globe at roughly the equator. Really. Ice free poles just aren’t going to happen. We’re just in an interglacial, and have been for about as long as most interglacials have been lasting for the last half million years or so.

        1. Yup. Geology is a fun science. It’s a shame I’ve got so rusty with it over the years.

      3. “Aren’t you forgetting that massive fission/fusion reactor over there?” (point at the sun). “And the orbital cycles with the different periodicies?”

        (muttering) It stands to reason that variation to the output of the largest single source of heat in the flipping system would have a bigger impact than anything else, but do they consider it? No….

    2. By no means, though, should this imply that any Geosciences department anywhere is less than 100% behind and supportive of AGW.

      1. Heh. I was in school when the “global warming” scare was starting to make headlines. The Geol/Geog profs were not amused, and were quite vocal about it.
        I wonder how the University got them to shut up. They went from outspoken to avoiding comment overnight. (After I left, or I’d have found out how.)

        1. Purse strings. When I was going through, the climate questions were largely “will there be another ice age soon?” and “what will happen the next time the Earth’s magnetic field flips?” (the last I heard, there’s reasonable evidence we’re close to a flipover – strength is decreasing and the theory is that strength decreases as the flow of hte liquid part of the core gets more turbulent and chaotic, then picks up again in the opposite direction. This may have more to do with skin cancer rates than holes in the ozone layer or greenhouse effects, funnily enough, since the magnetic field is what keeps out a good chunk of the less friendly solar radiation.

          1. Yes solar particle flux, but also galactic particle flux (cosmic rays) as well. And at levels that are far below biointeraction thresholds, all those particles and their decay descendants from when they whack into atoms in the upper atmosphere do just totally nasty things to digital electronics at ground level today – if the Earth’s magnetic field drops significantly, lots and lots of electronics won’t work very well at all.

          2. … “what will happen the next time the Earth’s magnetic field flips?”

            There’s one prediction I feel completely confident in making: mass hysteria beforehand, most of which will turn out to be completely overblown and based on faulty understanding of the actual science.

            1. Most compasses will point the wrong direction, except for the one my dad has which currently points the south arrow at the magnetic north pole.

    3. Oh, quite. I’ve also had much fun pointing out that we’re, statistically speaking, *way* overdue for the next ice age (this is the longest interstitial warming since the ice ages kicked off) and wouldn’t it be nice if AGW kept it from happening? When you add in the vivid depictions of walls of ice covering most of the world’s major breadbowls and the dramatic shift in rainfall patterns that would follow (along with a tendency for drier as well as colder everywhere) it gets a really interesting result.

      1. …it gets a really interesting result.

        For possibly-apocryphal-Chinese-curse “May you live in interesting times” values of “interesting.”

      2. I think we are entering a Maunder minimum period. I’ve read that there have been very few sunspots observed. I think that this is an indication that the Sun is now less active than it’d been previously. Less solar activity means lower temps(I think) since the Sun is what heats the Earth.

  20. Recommended reading:
    The Voodoo Sciences by Jerry Pournelle

    Cargo Cult Science by Richard Feynman

    Math… I’m thinking of writing some stuff on “What The New Math Was Trying to Teach”. It was a nice start, but it was handled by people who may or may not have even understood the old math.

  21. Ya know, once upon a time it was the sole province of fiction writers to fudge the facts. Let’s face it guys (and I know a lot of us are writers) it goes with the territory. Sometimes, when what you’re writing is by definition made-up, it becomes necessary to not let truth get in the way of a good story. The examples of where Hollywood has done this is long (Saving Private Ryan, Gettysburg, Gone with the Wind, Apocalypse Now, etc.) and getting longer. But it’s FICTION. I can deal with that.

    The problem I have is with journalists and teachers doing this. When I can sit in a classroom and have a teacher say that something was true because it happened that way in Apocalypse Now (yup, true story) there’s a problem. We’ll leave the time that one of my teachers told the class that there was no gravity on the moon and astronauts had to wear magnetized boots to work there alone. After all, I still get steamed when I remember her shushing me when I tried to tell the class the truth.

    The bottom line is that I don’t think the powers-that be CARE. I mean, someone needs to correct this crap, but uneducated people are more easily exploi…. I mean led. Or maybe it’s more fair to say that they’re encouraging it. After all an educated adult is dangerous. An uneducated idiot is just one of the sheeple.

    1. [N]o gravity on the moon and astronauts had to wear magnetized boots to work there alone.

      Wait — the moon is primarily ferrous?

      1. The milk used to make the lunar cheese was fortified with iron. I thought everybody knew that. 😀

        (Beware the coming of the Giant Space Cow! MOOOOOO!)

        1. So, with regard to Cthulhu, those aren’t tentacles…they’re teats?!?!


        2. Everybody knows that goats can survive anywhere. The moon is obviously made out of space goat cheese, not cow.

          As soon as NASA gives me an outfitters license I’m going to start guiding Space Goat hunts, you can pre-book now by sending my 25% down.

  22. I just went off on this person on G+ and I wasn’t nice…
    “I applaud your efforts to explain science to this group. However, when the process by which they claim “knowledge” is faith-based and lacking any evidence, I somehow fear that stem cell research and all of its complexities cannot possibly be understood. Evidence is dismissed in order to make the world fit their faulty conclusions.

    When one lives by faith, it makes them gullible to pseudo science, conspiracy theories, and financial fraud. When evidence and objective means of defining truth have no value, they will never understand or accept something as complex as stem cell research.”

    After I challenged her she said: ”Quite the contrary. I will not claim to be an expert in an area for which I was not extensively trained and educated. Because the Bible….does not make one an expert in the field of stem cell research or any of the sciences for that matter.”

    No… I wasn’t nice.

    On thinking about it… this *elevation* of science is what science fictions is NOT all about. Science fiction is about accessibility and playing in that messy jumble of ideas and possibilities. There is no gatekeeper who is going to check if you are “extensively trained and educated” before you’re allowed to play in the sandbox or get your hands dirty.

    1. “When one lives by faith, it makes them gullible to pseudo science, conspiracy theories, and financial fraud. When evidence and objective means of defining truth have no value, they will never understand or accept something as complex as stem cell research.”

      I presume that the above paragraph is one that you were rebutting.

          1. It seemed like such a *classic* mixture of scientific snobbery combined with a near pride of how ignorant she was. She was more than willing to explain just how wrong people were while excusing herself from any responsibility to understand the basis of what was being discussed.

            It seemed on-topic to me just because the “pseudo-science” was being defined by “not in line with what the cool kids think”… focused on the end state, I suppose, rather than any interest or ability related to the process and nature of inquiry.

            1. I don’t have to have a PhD in Lunar (or like a friend of my wife’s, interplanetary) Geology to know that the moon is neither made from curdled mammalian breast secretions, nor is there sufficient ferric metals present to make magnetized boots useful.

              I also know that there is a sufficient quantity of gravity installed such that those sorts of boots are not required.

              There are degrees of faith, and variations in the depth of that faith.

              Let us assume faith:believe::knowledge:think

              If one has faith in the medical system (faith, not knowledge), then one can fall for a tremendous amount of nonsense (acupuncture, chiropractic subluxations, homeopathy) that gets dressed up in medical or scientific language.

              Since is, at it’s root, a methodology and mindset for interrogating the world AND FOR MAKING PREDICTIONS. This is critical. I have as much faith in “God Did It” as I do the Big Bang Theory–and I essentially do not believe in God. But the Big Bang has a BUNCH of ramifications that are testable and make predictions. If “God Made It That Way” then God could, next time decide to do it differently. God *could*, if he wanted to start suddenly making the next generation of people such that one gender had the phallus and the mammaries, and the other had the uterus. He’s *God*, he can do it.

              Science says “no, it can’t.”.

              A better example. Unicorns and Pegasus’. A Unicorn (leaving aside the whole virgins and magic parts) is, in this world *possible* to the extent where they’ve basically created one out of a goat, and could possible be created on a pony or horse with a little tweaking of bone in the forehead. There is a foreseeable or logical path from “horse with extra boney forehead” to “horse with some sort of horn”.

              A pegasus OTOH *cannot* happen in our world. There are at least two insurmountable problems–power to lift of the wings, and there is NO path from “horse” to “horse with wings, much less functioning wings”. There is so much missing in the musculature and skeleton that you’d basically be better off starting with a buzzard and making it horse like than going the other way.

              God can create a pegasus. Science, at least as far as we can reasonably project, cannot (see the Dragons in Ringo’s Council Wars for “possibly”).

              If you have mostly, or primarily your faith for understanding and evaluating arguments in “the world”, you’re going to have a LOT harder time sorting out what is plausible and reasonable and real from what is not.

              1. Any animal that has horn buds can, in theory, be made into a unicorn– I don’t think the transplants have a very high success rate, though, or more places would have them.

                If you have mostly, or primarily your faith for understanding and evaluating arguments in “the world”, you’re going to have a LOT harder time sorting out what is plausible and reasonable and real from what is not.

                Depends on what your faith teaches; there’s a large body of work that points to our modern science growing out of the Christian popularization and spreading of, well, a sane God that made universal rules and expected us to figure stuff out.

                Actually, there’s a “donate everything to charity” book that’s on the topic and just came out.

                (Tried to hack it to be our hostess’ tracking marker, we’ll see if it works.)


                Hauling myself back to what I wanted to say– if you get a chance to be near a C17 that’s fairly low, it’s incredibly easy to picture them as the basis for a dragon.

                Triggered by the comment about buzzard to horse as Pegasus.

  23. The number one problem with science is that at least half the people labeled as scientists don’t know their mass from their elbow.

    The number two problem with science is that almost no one (besides the true scientists) can distinguish between science and technology.

    The number three problem is that the mass media invents (I mean that literally.) science reports that are unrelated to reality.

    The number four problem is that the general public’s ‘knowledge’ of science comes from the mass media and from entertainment. (Yes, Sara Hoyt, you are part of the problem. Write only romances set in the 1700s.)

    The number five problem is that only problem one can be solved, but that would require universities to pay attention to their science postgraduate programs, which isn’t going to happen.

    1. I beg your pardon. I am in no way a scientist (I trained as an engineer, and I work as a computer programmer) and I can certainly tell the difference between science and technology.

    2. My science is run by scientists in their respective fields. Beyond the fact that I live with three STEM people AND read a lot of it. Oh, I also don’t watch TV and rarely watch movies. I think you might consider attacking someone else.

      1. I might be too generous here, but I read Mingo’s parenthetical comment as a lame attempt at humor: “All SF” (so his argument goes, and it holds no matter how scientifically-correct your writing is) “leaves the reader with the mistaken impression that he has learned science, when he has merely been entertained. This contributes, however mildly, the the problem of people misunderstanding science. I shall therefore make an over-simplified statement about the non-SF books you write, and humorously suggest you write only that.”

        And I might even agree that some readers/viewers/consumers of SciFi think they have learned something about reality; witness the suggestions that MH370 was eaten by a black hole, or a Lost-like island. But the fault is not with the entertainment, no matter how execrable the science, but with their previous science education, which left them unable to distinguish good science from bad.

        1. Possible? In which case it’s his fault for hitting me on a day when I’ve been reading people saying that my books aren’t space opera (never mind hard science fiction. I know they aren’t THAT. I can write that, but it takes much too long and it’s the genre I read least. I wanna write like Heinlein) because I don’t explain the science and I don’t have a science degree. You know, like all of the greats in early sf did. (Okay Asimov. And half a dozen others. BUT most of them didn’t. And most of the hard sf then and now now doesn’t sell that well, which is another reason not to have it.)
          This is a meme going around an it has got on my nerves…. and I suspect other people’s. (Not that I’m the only one hit. They have it for Bujold and a handful of others.)

          1. Yea– been having days lately where any comment sets me off — Personally if it is not a good story, then it is a technical manual. I don’t read tech manuals unless I need to fix something.

            1. Yes — we were talking about those effects yesterday with friends. The “will set me off” — first I’m suffering from the curse of women, and no don’t tell me that it has no effect, particularly when you’re my age. Second, it’s cold. I’m tired of being cold. I want to go out for walks, and DO stuff, and I can’t.
              The second, yeah, a friend said “I’m quite capable of reading a book on science, if that’s what I want. I want a STORY.”

              1. Cold– and I am getting the cabin crazy moments lately. Yep– Plus my meds do play havoc with my emotions as well– and then the age thing– yep.

            1. Apparently. And long “scientific” explanations of tech we DON’T have yet, and if we could create we’d do that, instead of writing stories, right?
              I mean, I try to put in stuff how it MIGHT be possible, which is what my captive scientists (I feed them scientist chow AND whiskey) are for. Also to tell me, “No, Sarah, that will NEVER be possible.” Or “Mom, what would be the evolutionary advantage of THAT?” BUT going into detail of stuff five hundred years in the future? Likely we don’t even have the language.

              1. BUT going into detail of stuff five hundred years in the future? Likely we don’t even have the language.

                Reminds me of David Drake’s disclaimers in the Lt. Leary series. He makes the point of noting he uses modern metrics of measurement, not because he believes they will still be relevant in the distant future, but because even if he knew (or invented) them, nobody else would understand ’em. So how’s about we just stipulate that I know and you know language changes and get on with the story? (I paraphrase :D)

                I always get the feeling he didn’t stick those in to tickle his own fancy, but because somebody tried to call him on the carpet about it. Yes, let’s please debate the lawyer. :/

                1. I’m sure of it judging by my mailbox for a week after a book comes out. I particularly like when they contradict each other on “this part is fine, but this part? You’re up your own behind.”

                  1. 😀

                    See that other comment I made about all of it being denounced at some level. The contradictions represent the different levels of education/field of specialty/understanding of foundations/blah-de-blah.

                    Or, far more likely, they represent the particular failures of imagination for each respondent.

                    You need a form response along the lines of:

                    “Dude, if I could make technology x work I’d be a billionaire and I’d spend my off days siccing annoying people on you for questioning my speculative choices. As it is, you’ll have to deal with me.”


                    1. I’d ask if I could save that and use it for the people who are going to attack me for the choices I am making in my WIP, but I’ll never be able to keep track of it. 🙂

                    2. On the off-chance a sticky note survives or some such, feel free. I hope to use some variation in the future as necessary.


              2. Make sure you feed them the good hi-pro chow with extra Omega acids to keep their hair shiny and healthy, and Vitamin C to give them extra energy.

          2. Hard science critics* irritate me. It’s science fiction. At some level of education all of it can be denounced as insufficiently hard in its science because it’s speculative, whatever it’s foundations.

            As noted, it’s the story that the story is about. And inserting “this is a placeholder for an as yet undiscovered technological marvel that will have an interesting impact on the way humans interact and form societies/families/cooperative units/” really breaks up the flow.

            *Hard science fiction doesn’t (always) irritate me. I read it, though infrequently. It’s the fanboi denunciations I reference.

            1. He’s actually not. I had a back of the brain bad association with his name, which contributed to the reaction, so after I read the other responses, I did a comment search. He’s mostly reasonable except… SOMETIMES.
              So, it’s still up in the air which one he meant. At any rate he should a) be clearer. b) beware it’s very cold in most of the US and we have cabin fever.. 😉

              1. So how’s about I put my charitable reading in escrow, till it can be determined whether it applies?

                Re. cabin fever: I’ve been working from home this last month, and that’s the plan for the next two months, too. And my wife’s home studying for her Torts midterm. (She refuses to use the definition “cake filled with fruit” on the exam; I can’t imagine why…) Cabin fever? We has got it!

      2. Ms. Hoyt, that was a joke about writing 1700s romances. I haven’t read any of your books, so I have no idea how much is science vs. how much is fantasy. My point is that almost all sci-fi has elements of fantasy, but many readers treat all the ‘science’ as if it were true science. In rare cases writers believe they are writing science when they aren’t; these are mostly novels that preach ecological doom.

        Dear readers, Many of you jump too fast and fail to read qualifiers. When I say half of scientists, I don’t mean 99%.
        When I say many, I mean 50%
        When I say almost all, I mean >95% but not 100%.

        1. Right. As I said, you came on the wake of a bunch of people claiming that what I write isn’t even space opera. The science I put in is “real” or at least possible, but yes, there is a lot of handwavium, because if I knew how to oh, fix someone’s degenerative brain disease with an injection, I’d be making gazillions, not writing sf.

    3. Ah, Mingo has come back to prove how much more he thinks he knows than the rest of the folks here. To start, Sarah doesn’t write romances. Perhaps you ought to educate yourself about what she does write before opening your mouth and inserting your foot. For another, her science is, as she said below, run by scientists long before the manuscripts ever go to her editor. She consults rocket scientists, medical researchers, military professionals and more just to make sure that what she writes is not only logical within the world she’s created but also something that might actually happen in the distant future. But then you can’t be bothered with little details like that, can you, MingoV? Little details like Sarah didn’t write this blog post, Kate Paulk did. Or are you just doing your usual drive by trolling?

    4. Oh GAWD we have us a special little flower again.

      *leans over his shoulder*

      “Hey HUNS, CHEW TOY.”

      Ok, fuckwit, let me see if I can explain this to you. I’ll use small words since you’re an idiot.

      Sarah is not a scientist, this is true. However. her husband, her son, and several of her close friends are. She also has a genius level intellect, unlike you, whose I.Q. appears to be about equal to your belt size. Oh yeah, I should also mention she counts Dr. Jerry Pournelle as a friend. You know, former science adviser to President Reagan? That guy?

      Your real problem is that you think the general public is too stupid to actually understand science and the issues surrounding it. Only the schmardt people should be allowed to talk ’bout that there science stuff.

      Actually I’m wrong. Your real problem is you’re a cretin (defined as a high level moron) who really should stick to competitive nose-picking as an avocation (that means you like doing it, twit).

      1. Oh, and I forgot, dimbulb, you misspelled Sarah’s name, and the post was written by Kate Paulk, who IS a scientist in two separate fields.

        You really are stupid on a monumental level ain’tcha?

  24. Boy do I have science reporting stories. National geographic visited my lab once. It was … eye opening. (Unfortunately that tale is one I’d have to tell in person for full effect).

    Now I know how things like Titan being lit on fire by a match ended up in what is ostensibly a science program, lol. Science reporters often don’t have the first clue what they’re looking at, what they’re being explicitly told, and what any of it means. They do, however, come in with a particular story in mind that they want to tell.

    1. Me too. I had a fellow student who made a moderately interesting discovery that caught the interest of the L.A. Times. Her advisor’s comments on her was “Incredibly bright, but also alert to anomalies, which in science is even more important.” How it was told in the newspaper story was “Alert to anomalies, which is more important than intelligence”, which kind of made her sound like mentally the equivalent of my dachshunds.

      Then there was the National Geographic writer who got sent down to La Serena to interview the guy that discovered Supernova 1987A. By coincidence, I was there for a two-week observing run as well. She was reasonably likable, but admitted she’d never done a science story. Her last few assignments had been in war zones. Literally war zones.

      Given her background, she did okay on the story. Not sure I’d have that confidence even in National Geographic nowadays.

  25. I have two questions that may sound contentious, but I promise, I’m not trying to troll anyone.

    First, you wrote, “To be a scientific theory, it has to be mathematically rigorous and disprovable.” Can you describe, in general terms, how one would disprove Darwin’s theory of evolution?

    Second, (and I apologize in advance for asking), what is the causal link between belief in some form of evolution and antibiotics and flu shots? Though I am familiar with genetic algorithms and simulated annealing (aka evolutionary algorithms) in mathematical optimization, I have never heard of them being used to develop antibiotics or vaccines. I could be mistaken, but doesn’t Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin predate the fruit fly work? Similarly, Edward Jenner used cowpox vaccinations before Charles Darwin was born.

    I’m not attacking Darwinian or any other theory of evolution, just asking you to buttress two points of your excellent essay.

    1. A few ideas off the top of my head:

      Evolution predicts that species (complex enough ones! Some bacteria seem to trade DNA, so this wouldn’t work for those) diverge over time. They become dissimilar enough that populations do not interbreed, then cannot interbreed, then their characteristics diverge in earnest. The “tree of life” has branches but no mergers.

      If we were to discover some creature that was an actual (genetic) hybrid of two unrelated branches that had been developing independently. (Dolphins with fish DNA, not just a streamlined body layout. Pick any Greek biological mash-up monster, etc). then (assuming this was common) our ability to classify what developed from what, or how closely related to what else would be shot.

      I suppose this is one of the reasons that the guy who discovered the Platypus wasn’t believed back in England right away. “Mammal – check. Lays eggs – wait, what? Is poisonous. Looks like someone duck-taped a duck to a hedgehog. No really, there is crazy stuff in Australia! I’m not having you on, mate!”

    2. I think I recall that back when Lord Kelvin was trying to figure out the thermodynamics of the Sun as being driven by some sort of (unknown) chemical reaction (he didn’t know about nuclear physics), he got the result that the Sun couldn’t possibly be more than a few hundred years old or it would have burned through all of it’s fuel and gone dark. This contradicted not only the sort of timescales that evolution might require, but recorded history as well.

      Of course more weight was placed on recorded history, but millions to hundreds of millions of years? That was still in doubt back then. Eventually it was discovered that a great many things (geological features, etc) made no sense unless the Earth was a lot older than recorded history. Later we discovered nuclear physics, and figured out the life-cycle of the stars, then discovered the true extent of the universe (bigger and older – always bigger and older than we had previously imagined) – things started to fit together.

      If things had gone the other way and Kelvin was shown to be right (prediction was consistent with too many other undeniable things, as opposed to jarringly inconsistent), then not only life’s apparent history, but a good chunk of our *own* apparent history would need to be accounted for.

      1. Lord Kelvin was also the guy who was officially assigned the task of producing the paper that showed that physics demonstrated that the earth could not be the billions of years old the geologists were claiming — it would have become cold as a cinder at that point.

        There was also a geologist who was officially assigned the task of producing the paper that showed that geology demonstrated that the earth could not be the mere millions of years old the physicists were claiming.

        And then they sat about waiting for new evidence.

    3. First, you wrote, “To be a scientific theory, it has to be mathematically rigorous and disprovable.” Can you describe, in general terms, how one would disprove Darwin’s theory of evolution?

      I’m unclear on whether the intended meaning is how to (1) disprove any scientific theory (2) Disprove Darwin’s specific theory of evolution with mechanism or (3) disprove theories of evolution in general using Darwin as a general rather than a specific descriptor?

      In the specific case of Darwin’s theory of evolution see my earlier comment about a sarcastic response to an overbroad statement giving Darwin full credit for describing the mechanism(s) of evolution as opposed to giving Darwin credit for spreading the idea with plausible but not quite right theories as to the mechanism. Is the assertion that Darwin’s theories and explicit and implicit hypotheses as to mechanism have not been contradicted by later observation?

      More specifically is the question intended to imply support for Darwin’s theories specifically? That is do you deny that Darwin’s theories but not evolution in general have been superseded?

      1. Reading early twentieth-century works can be fun, but they are more careful than people nowadays, such as describing Darwinism as Natural Selection not Evolution.

        Remember that experiment that refuted inheritance of acquired traits by chopping off mice tails? George Bernard Shaw rejected it on the grounds that having your tail externally chopped off was not an acquired trait, any more than being in a train accident would be. I read that and realize — you know, he’s right.

        1. That’s lamarckian inheritance. If GBS didn’t understand the difference between that and other inheritance, it’s not the issue of the experiment — it’s his.

    4. Darwin actually mentioned a few items in his work that would constitute a disproof of his theory. For example, any elaborate structure that can be shown cannot have arisen by a series of successive small modifications of an ancestral form would disprove his theory. Creationists and Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theorists (ID/IOTs) have proposed numerous structures and systems that they say constitute disproof. Unfortunately for them, people who look at these in depth find that yes, they can, in fact, be explained by small, successive modifications of an ancestral form.

      I suspect the reference to antibiotics and flu shots is pointing out that we have to keep finding new antibiotics and developing new vaccines for the flu, because bacteria evolve defenses against antibiotics, and influenza viruses evolve to evade the immune response of critters that have been exposed to the viruses’ ancestors. If evolution didn’t happen, we’d still be perfectly fine with one antibiotic and one flu vaccine.

      1. Problem:
        The leap between selective breeding and relatively minor mutations (such as from black to red angus, or a doubling of existing wings) or changes in things that swap DNA in pretty crazy ways (Antigenic shift, it looks like is the proper term? where types of flu strains mix up the box sets of legoes and go nuts) to assertions that you can gradually get a thumb and five fingers from a fish fin is pretty big. (Example chosen because my thumb hurts.)

        Incidentally, it really doesn’t help folks trying to keep things reasonable and decent if someone on their side starts calling those who happen to disagree “idiots,” even if it was done in a twee way. You’ll just get the old line about pound the facts, pound the law, pound the table adapted for the situation.

        1. Maybe so; I’ve just seen in incredible amount of idiocy from certain quarters. Call it “definition of character”.

          DNA swapping is a mechanism Darwin hadn’t anticipated. (He kind anticipated genes, but seems to have missed Mendel’s work on particulate inheritance.) A number of mechanisms have been uncovered that don’t work quite the way Darwin thought evolution would occur, and there’s vigorous debate over how much these drive the total of evolutionary change. To the extent that Darwin argued that “Darwinism” was the only driver of evolutionary change, you may regard that as disproved. However…

          The leap between selective breeding and relatively minor mutations … to assertions that you can gradually get a thumb and five fingers from a fish fin is pretty big.

          So are the differences in time scales and available breeding stock. If you were to try breaking a proposed change down into steps along a pathway (lengthen these bones, shorten those bones, build up and strengthen here, etc.), and divide that pathway into a number of segments equal to the number of generations in a million years, you find an incredibly tiny amount of change per generation suffices to make some impressive overall changes.

          1. Maybe so; I’ve just seen in incredible amount of idiocy from certain quarters. Call it “definition of character”.

            You really don’t want to get into a situation where you need to be defending the likes of PZ Myers, or the various other twits who define anybody who believe in the possibility of higher power as “ID/IOTs”. One shorthand: cursing Mother Teresa.

            If you were to try breaking a proposed change down into steps along a pathway (lengthen these bones, shorten those bones, build up and strengthen here, etc.), and divide that pathway into a number of segments equal to the number of generations in a million years, you find an incredibly tiny amount of change per generation suffices to make some impressive overall changes.

            As your example assumes, that works if you already have the bones. There’s a difference between morphing existing structures (or, as I alluded to, doubling existing ones like the fruit fly mutations) and entirely new ones showing up.

            Possibly we’ll find some sort of additional information in “junk DNA” or when we finally figure out what causes snap back in selective breeding. (Can’t remember the real term– where you selectively breed for more and more of whatever, and then all of a sudden it stops working and the offspring will actually have less of whatever. The design limit of the model, I’d call it in an engineered device.)

            I know some cool stuff is being investigated WRT gestational situations (famous from ligers and tigons and even mules and…hinnies? Can’t remember the opposite of a mule) and whatever the heck it is that triggers the beak size changes observed in some bird populations depending on what the most common source of food is. (faster than they can replace the generations, so it’s not the same as the “germ that is flawed in a way that makes it avoid X countermeasure, so it survives and is most of the population, then the population balance goes back to normal when that countermeasure isn’t used anymore”)

            1. You’re getting awfully hot under the collar.
              For what it’s worth, I’m not saying those who believe in a higher power are idiots. I’m saying those who insist the higher power had to craft the world the way they say he or she did and in no other way are idiots.

              In particular, I’ve watched people argue some aspect of science. When it’s pointed out that their argument implies results that we can prove don’t obtain, they head straight into ignore-and-deny mode. They insist on living in their own world with their own facts. The term for someone who lives in his own world is “idiot” from the Greek “idios” meaning “own” or “private”. If you want to believe in your own private science, you qualify as an “idiot”.

              1. You’re getting awfully hot under the collar.

                No, I’m not.

                In fact, I was having fun up until that point; I happen to think this stuff is INTERESTING.

                That accusation does tend to indicate that the person I’m speaking to is going to explain to me why I think something I don’t, and feel something I do not.

                You just dumped any claim you had to being rational, such as it was after your childish name-calling. Guess mom’s quips about those who think those they fight against are idiots are close but not quite right.

                1. You just dumped any claim you had to being rational, such as it was after your childish name-calling.

                  I guess my observation was correct.
                  Come to think of it, there was another person who claimed to have been having fun debating with me, just before she declared me a horrible person and blocked me. I guess “having fun” should be considered a warning sign.

                  I also notice you conceded the point about going from a fish fin to thumb and fingers. After all, you’ve now changed the topic to the development of bones in the first place. (Or are you not calling lobe fins — such as are found on lungfish — “fins”?)
                  This would be a time where someone with some open-minded curiosity would look at the various types of fish in existence and see what variations can be found on lobe fins and ray fins.

                  1. “Guess mom’s quips about those who think those they fight against are idiots are close but not quite right.”

                    I would say Foxfier’s observation was a lot closer to correct than yours. It was a nice friendly debate, where she wasn’t even really disagreeing with you, just pointing out that proof of one thing isn’t proof of another, when you went off the deep end and decided that everybody who didn’t agree with you lock, stock, and barrel was an idiot.

                    1. The “Idiot” label was aimed at people who are abusing science, in particular, ignoring data and methods that lead to a conclusion they don’t like. If you want to apply the comment to yourself, I’ll let you.

                      “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Just don’t blame me when you insist on breaking through the store window, grabbing the shoes, and stuffing your own feet into them.

          2. “So are the differences in time scales and available breeding stock. If you were to try breaking a proposed change down into steps along a pathway (lengthen these bones, shorten those bones, build up and strengthen here, etc.), and divide that pathway into a number of segments equal to the number of generations in a million years, you find an incredibly tiny amount of change per generation suffices to make some impressive overall changes.”

            Only in the meantime such tiny evolutionary changes need to make sense and either cause a survival advantage for those recipients of them, or in the theory of Intelligent Design, at least not create a survival disadvantage.

        2. “to assertions that you can gradually get a thumb and five fingers from a fish fin is pretty big. ”

          Who is that six fingered man?

          1. Now I’ve got the Rhyming Game stuck in my head.

            Oh, for when the Princess is old enough to figure out rhyming consistently!

      2. “For example, any elaborate structure that can be shown cannot have arisen by a series of successive small modifications of an ancestral form would disprove his theory.”

        And how would you show such a thing?

        1. “For example, any elaborate structure that can be shown cannot have arisen by a series of successive small modifications of an ancestral form would disprove his theory.”

          And how would you show such a thing?

          Very interesting question. Almost like “How would you show energy is not conserved?”
          Certainly at the time Darwin published, it was far from obvious that question would be very hard to disprove. Nature, it seemed, was filled with exquisitely designed organs and organisms which had to have been designed the way they were. Now, as you note, the failure to draw a series of small, successive modifications that can lead from A to Z turns out to be far more often a failure of imagination.
          But that’s a question dealing with Darwin’s theory. It’s also not intended to be a comprehensive list of possible disproofs. Another possible disproof would be the discovery of fossils in a sequence that doesn’t fit Darwinian predictions: Bat wings showing up in the fossil record before phalanges on the distal ends of forearms, for example, or any other cases where derivative structures show up before the ancestral structures they supposedly derive from.
          Professor Ken Miller has written about the evolution of vertebrate blood clotting — a system one ID theorist declared “irreducibly complex”, and whose evolution by Darwinian processes therefore impossible. He traces a pathway by which the entire system could have developed from digestive enzymes.
          What keeps this from being a “just so story”? Having described a possible pathway connecting A and Z, he goes looking for the footprints on that pathway. It turns out they exist. A non-clotting fibrinogen, whose existence was predicted based on this proposed evolutionary history, was found in the sea cucumber in 1990.
          The biochemical make-up of proposed ancestors of vertebrates could have been quite different, and none of the basic building blocks for the blood clotting cascade need have been present. Or the proteins involved could have been novel, with no analogues anywhere in the animal kingdom.
          The point is, attempts to produce a system or structure that obviously can’t be arrived at by small, incremental changes have not been successful. And furthermore, research programs that assume small, incremental changes are how systems and structures did arise tend to yield the kind of results you’d expect if the underlying assumption were true. Same way physicists who assume energy is conserved tend not to see that assumption contradicted.

          1. I repeat, “And how would you show such a thing?”

            What thing you would accept as proof that such a path could not be found?

    5. “Darwin’s theory of evolution” is now an entire field of science, and encompasses a gabillion specific theories any of which could be falsified if their predictions failed. If a preponderence of these specific theories were falsified, then that would bring into doubt the over arching basic principles.

      But we keep finding these fossils that fill in the gaps, just as predicted. When we look for specific things, like say, a chain of advances in sight that reaches from light sensitive patches to the mamalian eye, we find many critters that have “inbetween stages” that fit them to their specifc environment. As predicted. There’s no need to explain a leap from sightless to fully functional eyes. There are plenty of demonstrable steps in between.

  26. Incidentally, Sarah — you probably answered this before, but I missed it — who’s that who’s so surprised at being caught doodling on the walls of the shower in your new site header?

    1. Look again. It appears to be somebody (ancient Greek?) with a “harp” (not the correct term I know).

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