Dark Buzz

Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters


Dark Buzz
RSS feed
Singular Values

About these blogs

Schlafly net

Powered by RogBlog


Sunday, May 08, 2011
New blog
This blog is moving to blog.darkbuzz.com.

This blog has been powered by software that I wrote myself. It has served well, but it does not allow comments, and I want to allow more reader feedback on my postings and my new book. Please update your bookmarks and blog readers.

Saturday, May 07, 2011
Trust in science
Virginia psychology professor Daniel T. Willingham writes in SciAm:
A friend of mine has long held that a vaccination his son received as an infant triggered his child’s autism. He clings to this belief despite a string of scientific studies that show no link between autism and vaccines. When the original paper on such a link was recently discredited as a fraud, my friend’s reaction was that it will now be more difficult to persuade people of the dangers of vaccination. He is not alone: nearly half of all Americans believe in the vaccine-autism link or are unsure about it.
His friend's reaction is not so bad. After all, discrediting a 15-year-old paper says nothing about whether there is a link between autism and vaccines. That paper was just a provisional report on about a dozen cases. Scientific knowledge comes from positive studies, not by exposing bogus papers.

It will be more difficult to get physicians to report vaccine concerns, because those who do are subject to getting pilloried.

Asking science teachers to impart enough content to understand all the issues may be unrealistic, but they might be able to improve people’s appreciation for the accuracy of scientific knowledge. Through the study of the history of science, students might gain an understanding both of their own motivations for belief and of science as a method of knowing. If a student understands how a medieval worldview could have made a geocentric theory of the solar system seem correct, it is a short step to seeing similar influences in oneself.
I get the impression that he thinks that medieval geocentrists were irrational and narrow-minded, and that one can become more enlightened about science by repudiating Christianity.

The point of the article is to teach kids to trust scientists more. This guy is on the wrong track.

Another SciAm essay says:

Now the U.K. government, represented by the Government Office for Science, has produced its own response. In a May 5 memo to Parliament, the government wrote: "After two independent reviews, and two reviews by the Science and Technology Committee, we find no evidence to question the scientific basis of human influence on the climate." ...

Ultimately, it is doubtful that the governmental proclamation will have any significant influence on the debate. Those who believe the planet is warming are already supported by scientific consensus and by a wealth of climate data, and those who believe a conspiracy is afoot to suppress conflicting data will hardly be swayed by a formal statement to the contrary from a government body.

This silly proclamation should not have any significant influence. I am convinced that human-generated CO2 has caused some warming, but it is ridiculous to say "no evidence to question". There is certainly evidence to question the consensus. The consensus may be correct, but having an official govt body say that there is "no evidence to question" is not something that should persuade anyone of anything, except that there is a political push to suppress criticism of certain ideas.

Friday, May 06, 2011
Lousy selection arguments
I have commented before on the group/kin selection dispute among evolutionists. A psychiatrist writes:
2. The rebuttals to Nowak and Wilson are almost all of the form, “you’ve misunderstood kin selection theory,” or, said generally, “that’s not what we meant!” They resort to ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority (“evolutionary biologists know…”) These are typically the defenses of a paradigm unable to critique itself from the outside. The result in these cases (when/if they happen) is not the gradual modification of theory (e.g. scientific method) but a full fledged Kuhnian shift. ...

Nowak and Wilson seem to be writing a paper about bugs, they are, in fact, not writing a paper about bugs:

We have not addressed the evolution of human social behaviour here, but parallels with the scenarios of animal eusocial evolution exist, and they are, we believe, well worth examining.
That’s the game. Wilson is talking about humans. Is human altruism and cooperation understandable and predictable as a function of genetic relatedness, or is relatedness the result of group dynamics, of competition between groups?
I am going to track this. My gut feeling is that Nowak and Wilson are right, and that Dawkins and the other mainstream evolutionists have been getting the subject wrong for decades.

NewScientist mag announces a computer simulation that takes the side of Dawkins:

Virtual robots have "evolved" to cooperate – but only with close relatives. The finding bolsters a long-standing "rule of thumb" about how cooperation has evolved, and could help resolve a bitter row among biologists. ...

Nowak's criticism has now been answered, argues Keller. "We show that the rule works very well," he says. "But I'm sure some people won't change their minds."

Indeed, Nowak remains unconvinced, saying that the simulation's design forces it to obey Hamilton's rule. "It is no surprise that Hamilton's rule holds in a system that is designed to validate it," he says. "It tells us nothing about whether Hamilton's rule makes a correct prediction for actual biological systems."

A computer simulation of robots eating virtual food is not going to resolve this. Either type of selection could be simulated on a computer. The question is what happens in nature. This should be easily settled for ants and bees. It could get a lot uglier when then get to human beings, as a lot of prominent evolutionists get queasy whenever anyone talks about apply evolution to people.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Natural selection was never a hypothesis
The leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne is upset today about a newspaper article:
Tam Hunt, ... His particular beef was natural selection, which he sees as “little more than an assumption that evolution has resulted from natural causes rather than supernatural causes. As such, the theory of natural selections explains nothing in itself – it is a very loose framework that needs filling in rather substantially.” ...

He then characterizes natural selection as tautological, because it’s “survival of the fittest,” and the fittest are defined as “those who survive. This, of course, is an old creationist canard, which completely ignores the fact that hundreds of biologists are trying to understand those particular traits that promote survival and reproduction.

Yes, I agree that hundreds of biologists are trying to understand those traits. I sometimes post links to stories about progress that they are making. But I also agree with Hunt that natural selection is just a trivial and tautological assumption that explains nothing.

Coyne goes on to cite this Gould essay for explaining the point:

I am a strong advocate of the general argument that "truth" as preached by scientists often turns out to be no more than prejudice inspired by prevailing social and political beliefs.
Gould goes on to say that Darwin got natural selection wrong because Darwin's concept included progress and "improved design".

Only one of these die-hard evolutionist ideologues like Gould and Coyne could deny that evolution has brought progess.

A hypothesis is defined by M-W.com:

2: a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences
This M-W dictionary defines empirical as "3: capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment". These are reasonable definitions, altho I also like this: hypothesis - A guess made by someone with a PhD.

Wikipedia explains:

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon. The term derives from the Greek, ... For a hypothesis to be put forward as a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories.
M-W.com also defines Darwin's natural selection as:
a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment
I ask whether this should be called a hypothesis. It was a tentative assumption, but to be a scientific hypothesis, it should also have some testable consequences.

This essay tries to explain Darwin's theory:

Charles Darwin was missing a mechanism for the inheritance of beneficial traits when he published the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin had amassed a huge amount of evidence that supported some type of adaptive process that contributed to the evolution of new species, much like Wegener had for Continental Drift. He argued that with the natural variations that occur in populations, any trait that is beneficial would make that individual more likely to survive and pass on the trait to the next generation. If enough of these selections occured on different beneficial traits you could end up with completely new species. One major flaw in Darwin's theory was that he did not have a mechanism for how the traits could be preserved over the succeeding generations. At the time, the prevailing theory of inheritance was that the traits of the parents were blended in the offspring. But this would mean that any beneficial trait would be diluted out of the population within a few generations. This is because most of the blending over the next generations would be with individuals that did not have the trait.

In spite of the lack of a mechanism for the preservation of traits, Darwin's theory quickly came to dominate. Within 5 years, Oxford University was using a biology textbook that discussed biology in the context of evolution by natural selection. The textbook stated,

"Though evidence might be required to show that natural selection accounts for everything ascribed to it, yet no evidence is required to show that natural selection has always been going on, is going on now, and must ever continue to go on. Recognizing this is an a priori certainty, let us contemplate it under its two distinct aspects."
At Oxford, evolution by natural selection had gone from hypothesis to a priori certainty in the space of 5 years.
This shows that natural selection was never a scientific hypothesis; it was just a new term for a commonly understood truth. It had been published before Darwin, and before Wallace's letters to Darwin. Darwin was the third to give a written explanation of natural selection, at best.

Darwin's assumption was that evolution by natural selection could explain biological features such as the long necks of giraffes. Testing this (for giraffes) does not mean verifying that evolution has occurred or that natural selection has applied. As the textbook said, those are obvious truths.

Explaining the giraffe necks would mean to give some hypothesis about why giraffe ancestors split into short-necked and long-necked species, and then to show how that same hypothesis predicts splits in other species. Those predictions could be tested by examining the fossil record, along with other evidence of the ancient environment. Natural selection does not do that at all, and apparently that was well-understood in Darwin's day.

Wikipedia tries to explain the giraffe's neck:

For example, an incorrect way to describe giraffe evolution is to say that giraffe necks grew longer over time because they needed to reach tall trees. ... Tall trees could not cause the mutation nor would they cause a higher percentage of animals to be born with longer necks.
This is a bad example. It is not known that the evolution of giraffe necks has anything to do with tall trees, and there are experts with different opinions on the subject. But if it were shown that giraffes survived because they could reach tall trees, then it seems reasonable to me to say that the tall trees caused the predominance of long necks.

This is another example of how our leading evolutionists get hopelessly hung up on some ideological argument about some basic scientific point, and be confusing and misleading.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Detecting quantum entanglement
Anil Ananthaswamy reports in the 03 May 2011 NewScientist magazine:
"They are different sides of the same coin," says Busch. Where two particles are perfectly entangled, spooky action at a distance calls the shots, and uncertainty is a less stringent principle than had been assumed. But where there is no entanglement, uncertainty reverts to the Maassen-Uffink relation. The strength of the Berta interpretation is that it allows us to say how much we can know for a sliding scale of situations in between, where entanglement is present but less than perfect. That is highly relevant for quantum cryptography, the quantum technology closest to real-world application, which relies on the sharing of perfectly entangled particles. The relation means there is an easier way to test when that entanglement has been disturbed, for example, by unwanted eavesdroppers, simply by monitoring measurement uncertainty.
I don't know how any modern writer could say that quantum cryptography is "the quantum technology closest to real-world application". Quantum mechanics was invented in the 1920s, and is essential to all 20th century physics and chemistry. Your cell phone uses the theory in dozens of different ways.

Quantum cryptography is a speculative technology that has never been shown to work, and would not have any real-world usefulness even if it did.

Monday, May 02, 2011
Leftist attack on science and positivism
The Nation, a leftist magazine, writes a long attack on Sam Harris, new/gnu atheists, and positivism:
More a habit of mind than a rigorous philosophy, positivism depends on the reductionist belief that the entire universe, including all human conduct, can be explained with reference to precisely measurable, deterministic physical processes. (This strain of positivism is not to be confused with that of the French sociologist Auguste Comte.) The decades between the Civil War and World War I were positivism’s golden age. Positivists boasted that science was on the brink of producing a total explanation of the nature of things, which would consign all other explanations to the dustbin of mythology. Scientific research was like an Easter egg hunt: once the eggs were gathered the game would be over, the complexities of the cosmos reduced to natural law. Science was the only repository of truth, a sovereign entity floating above the vicissitudes of history and power. Science was science.
No, this is an inaccurate definition of Positivism. Positivism is a philosophy that believes in what can be positively demonstrated with empirical science. Logical positivism adds what can also be proved with reason and logic. But it does not assume that everything is precisely measurable, or deterministic, or reductionist. It would be contrary to postivitism to assume those things, unless they could be positively demonstrated.

Positivism is out of favor among philosophers. It died about 50 years ago, they say. I think that philosophy died about then. Positivism is much better than its replacements.

Though they often softened their claims with Christian rhetoric, positivists assumed that science was also the only sure guide to morality, and the only firm basis for civilization. ...

Every schoolkid knows about what happened next: the catastrophic twentieth century. Two world wars, the systematic slaughter of innocents on an unprecedented scale, the proliferation of unimaginably destructive weapons, brushfire wars on the periphery of empire —- all these events involved, in various degrees, the application of scientific research to advanced technology.

Wow, this is wacky. Christian rhetoric about morality is not positivist. Christians believe in a morality based on the Gospels, faith, tradition, and church teachings. They are informed by empirical science, but do not rely on it.

The view of the 20C is even more bizarre. Yes, the 20C advanced science and technology, but that made the world a much better place. You would have a hard time finding anyone who wants to live under 19C conditions.

I am not defending Harris here. He is neither a positivist or a Christian. His morality does not make much sense to me. The Nation does point out some of his screwy opinions, while giving its own screwy opinions. I am defending logical positivism. It is a perfectly legitimate view of scientific knowledge. It says nothing about morality.

Sunday, May 01, 2011
The latest evolutionist boycott
Here is the latest evolutionist dispute with alleged creationists:
It's more than a bit depressing to report that Synthese, a journal that has published classic papers by Carnap and Quine, among many others, and has been a major scholarly forum for philosophy informed by the sciences, should now have caved in to the major enemies of science education in the United States, the Creationist/Intelligent Design lobby.
It published a rant by Barbara Forrest against Francis Beckwith for supposedly supporting ID while having some religious motivations, and the editors attached a disclaimer about "the usual academic standards of politeness". Now the evolutionists want to boycott the journal for publishing the disclaimer.

I think that a philosophy journal ought to be apologetic about publishing ad hominem attacks on the religious motivations of others. Would they publish a paper attacking relativity based on Einstein's Jewish motivations?

There is no "Creationist/Intelligent Design lobby", as far as I know. The creationists say that the Earth is less that 10k years old, and the ID proponents say that it is billions of years old.

Beckwith says that he made a legal argument:

I argue that it is constitutionally permissible to teach intelligent design in public schools, ... I'm not an intelligent design advocate, and I don't think it should be required in public schools.
He also says:
I am not, and have never been, a proponent of ID. My reasons have to do with my philosophical opposition to the ID movement ...
Forrest and her evolutionist supporters are what Dilbert would call smooshers. They have a lot of difficulty compartmentilizing information, and they confuse legal, philosophical, and scientific arguments.