Thursday, June 29, 2006

Let's Talk About Intelligent Design

I doubt anyone of consequence will notice this entry, but I'd like someone to explain Intelligent Design to me. I'm pretty sure that I know what ID is, but lots of people have said that I don't understand it. Such allegations are usually followed up by A) cookie-cutter fallacious ramblings on what's wrong with evolution, B) a description of exactly what I think ID is, C) a subject change, or D) crickets.

So, if you'd like to tell me exactly what Intelligent Design is, how it works, and what supporting evidence you have for it, feel free to drop me something in the comments or my gmail account.

Some things you should know beforehand:

1. I won't tolerate attempts to change the subject. Evolution is not the subject of this blog entry/challenge: ID is.

2. If you're going to make an argument from probability, be sure you've double-checked your math and its premises. I've got a fully-loaded MarkCC, and I'm not afraid to use him.

3. If you're going to use the terms "Specified Complexity" or "Irreducible Complexity" be sure that you can define and detect them.

4. Please don't rant about materialism and things it allegedly can't cover.

5. Please don't rant about how beliefs affect morality. Reality is what it is, regardless of how we respond to knowing a thing or two about it. Or thinking we know a thing or two about it.

Because I'm Developing Masochism

I'm considering doing an agony booth-style review of a woo movie "documentary". Skeptico's already done What the Bleep Do We Know?, and plenty of people have done Loose Change, so I was thinking of doing another one.

Because I have difficulty suffering fools, I was thinking about doing it in 15 or 30 minute spurts.

So, which fools should I suffer?

Edited slightly for clarity.

That's Marginally Amusing!

Say that with gusto. Bumped into this little game while cycling through my webcomics. I like Alien. Because Alien is non-believer in Devil.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I'm Glad I Didn't Meet This in Art Class

Commenter Arthur directed me towards this abuse of "quantum" and other scientific jargon. I've spent some time in some fine arts classes, and I'm glad I didn't encounter a flood of nonsense. The only woo I remember encountering involved a field trip to meet an artist who used a lot of 50s memorabilia as material. The stuff was pretty good, and I got a smile out of some "What Would Elvis Do?" posters. Of course, the woo came in when he described the "energy" of art, and talked about everything already existing. Attributed some of his decisions to "resonance" or something that made him "recreate" a copy of his art that already existed. Hey, when I'm making art, I've felt a "pull" that compelled me to move a blue rectangle further to the right, but that's just my sense of composition kicking in non-verbally. No need to invoke woo waves in my art.

Anyway, back to the nut of the moment. Please note that a lot of my commentary on the purpose of art is opinion:
The title, What Good Are the Arts? seems as idiotic to me as asking What Good is Food? If you believe, as I do, that life has an inside as well as an outside, you will accept that the inner life needs nourishment too. If the inner life is not supported and sustained, then there is nothing between us and the daily repetition of what Wordsworth called ‘getting and spending.’
Already, a bad analogy. We can live in a daily repetition. I wouldn't want to, but I could. I couldn't live without food.
Carey would counter here that I am confusing art and religion, and one of his chapters is devoted to the fallacy of art as a religion, primarily debunking any notion of ‘transcendence’ or ‘spiritual experience.’
I wouldn't insult art by comparing it to religion. As Picasso said, art is a lie that tells the truth. Religion is just, as far as I've been able to tell, a lie.
Like religion, art offers an alternative value system; it asks us to see differently, think differently, challenging ourselves, and the way we live.
Sorry, but religion does the opposite of what's suggested. Art isn't an alternative value system, either: It's a diverse means of expression. The values are what it tries to communicate.
Most importantly, art is a continual reminder that the money and celebrity scrabble of the modern world can be countered by the serious pleasure of doing something for its own sake.
But people can do that for its own sake. Does that make money and celebrity scrabble art? They could also make art in celebration of that.
The twenty- four emergency zone that we call real life saps our energies.
Given the slant of 24 hour television news, I'd agree.
Art renews those energies because it allows us an experience of active meditation.
Depends on the art. Art is not a monolithic entity.
The energies of the artwork cross-current into us. It is a transfusion of a kind, and if this has religious overtones, it doesn’t matter. Nobody need be nervous about a connection between art and religion. All of life is connected and our deepest experiences, whether of faith or love or art will share similar qualities. That does not mean they are the same thing, it means we are in a particular territory – that inner life that John Carey finds so suspect.
Art is intellectual stimulation. There. Saved you a lot of meaningless text. Also, does anyone else smell a straw man at the end there? I haven't read Carey, but I've heard similar lines said about me, even though I'm all about intellectual stimuli. I just prefer not to flower it up by claiming that some types are inherently more magical than others.
He dislikes the words ‘real’ and ‘true’. Such words suggest absolutes, and for Carey everything is relative.
I don't know about Carey, but you won't catch me shying away from those words.
‘A work of art is anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, though it may be a work of art only for that one person.’ So everything is art, East Enders, internet porn (‘ once again people are being sent to prison for looking at the wrong kinds of pictures’) the cartoon dog I drew this morning for my god-daughter, and nothing is art, because there is no there there, as Gertrude Stein put it. Nothing exists, only our impressions.
Anything can be art. Whether or not it's good art is left open for argument.
Carey rushes to science to back him up here, and points out that only science can offer ‘proof’. The best art can do is ‘persuade’, and what persuades us is really a amalgam of snobbery, prejudice, fashion, period, and emperor’s new clothes. If enough of the right people keep saying that a thing is a work of art it becomes one, but that doesn’t mean it is one, because there are no absolute values, no objectivity, only the mind observing itself and what it makes.
I have no idea what he's going on about at this point. Science is a tool for finding the truth. Art is a tool for expressing ideas, emotions, etcetera.
The muddle here is to confuse objects with energies. Yes, we live in a quantum world where there is only, in TS Eliot’s phrase, ‘the dance’, and the dance is always changing, both in the sub-atomic world of particles, and in the visible world of objects. We construct out world so that we can apprehend it, we make our ideas visible so that we and others can enjoy them and debate them, and usually destroy them at some time or other, but we go on making, we go on turning energy into objects.
I need earplugs so brain don't leak out me head. We don't construct reality. We change around parts of reality into forms we find interesting and/or pleasing.
The object itself is provisional, the energy, though changing, is permanent, and is a feature of the whole universe.
And the square is square, though round. But seriously, matter and energy will stick around, at least until someone builds the opposite of a free energy machine. All that stuff just goes through different arrangements. We like some of those arrangements.
What art does is to release and focus energy in a particular way, and I would argue that what we call art objects are places where energy is especially intense. It doesn’t matter whether it is a picture or a book or a piece of music, or a performance, it is a concentration of energy.
It also doesn't matter if it's my dinner from last night, a meteor passing Jupiter, or a rain of neutrinos. Stuff is stuff. Art objects are just stuff we've arranged in certain ways to express an idea. Being art doesn't change the intensity of the "energy."
This is why the arts occupy relatively timeless space, and why one of the tests of art is that it should go on working on us long after any contemporary interest in its subject matter is extinct. We don’t go to Shakespeare to find out about life in Elizabethan England, we go to Shakespeare to find out about ourselves now. The energy in the plays goes on being released.
No, Shakespeare is still relevant to this day because, like Nietzsche, Shakespeare was a monkey. The human condition hasn't changed all that much.
This is why Carey’s rubbishing of any distinctions between high art and low art is so misplaced. There is no such thing as high and low art, there is only the real thing, and it comes very differently packaged and dosed at different strength. This is why, in one of my ‘barely sane’ periods, (Carey), I talk about the huge truth of a Picasso and the quieter truth of a Vanessa Bell. The dosage is as different as the packaging, and not all art lasts forever, indeed forever is a meaningless term, when in performance art, for instance, every performance lasts only as long as itself. One of the liberations of contemporary art has been to free us from the mandarin view of ‘everlasting monuments to the human spirit’. It is the human spirit that is everlasting, not its monuments, but art’s great gift is to transmit that spirit across time.
I don't think I'd be as polite about this person's sanity as Carey apparently was. Whatever you want to believe the "human spirit" is, there's no reason yet to believe it's everlasting. Here's a much shorter and more sane thing I'd say in this place: Art communicates ideas. Some forms of communication last longer than others.

That's about all I can stand for now. I need to run my brain through the opposite of a blender to get it out of the milkshake consistency this article turned it into.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A First Year Pooniversary

Matt's blog celebrates its first year in the blogosphere. I'm celebrating with chocolate cake.

Doggerel #20: "Obvious"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

I've been inadvertantly reminded of a conversation I once had with a fundie that went something like this:
Me: "What makes you think that some deity made the world in six days, and sent his son to Earth for some kind of 'sacrifice'?"

Fundie: "It's obvious!"
The reminder came about when Daniel Pinchbeck commented on Skeptico claiming,
All that we really know of material reality is what comes to us mediated through our consciousness - therefore it should be paternaly obvious that our consciousness is fundamental rather than the material world we perceive through our senses.
Of course, the problem with this is that there's no reason to believe that consciousness is a required part of the world: If life never formed, electrons would still buzz around nuclei, comets would still collide with planets, and black holes would still suck. The only difference would be that no one would be around to care. (I wonder if there's a potential Zen koan in there.)

The problem with the word "obvious" is that it's usually a sign that someone isn't prepared to debate the point. Just like "and then, a miracle occurs," it's often used as a way of skipping a step. Many people, if they read that piece of Pinchbeck's comment, would go along with it, simply because they aren't able or willing to contemplate the possibility of a universe where consciousness is optional, not required.

"Obviousness" is a featured part of many logical fallacies. For example, in the classic "shill" ad hominem, there's usually an implicit argument that the shill would "obviously" lie to protect his interests. The unexamined alternative, usually covered up by the "obviousness" of the scenario is that the truth can be in the shill's favor. As Stephen Colbert said to demonstrate that concept, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Additionally, what is "obvious" to a human being is not necessarily true. One of the purported geocentric arguments out there was "Any child could tell you that the Earth does not move." Of course, the Earth does move, but our circumstances render that movement difficult to detect by non-rigorous means. But it is detectable for someone willing to put forth the effort.

Hopefully by now, it's obvious that "obvious" obviously can't be used to defend an argument. Duh.


Doggerel Index

Monday, June 26, 2006

Doggerel #19: "Read My Book!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. This edition inspired by Skeptico and someone else.

This is one of the big fallback responses of published woos and their fans. Granted, some arguments involve so many details, it's hard to condense them into a few forum posts, but that is seldom the problem. This response typically comes up as an effort to avoid answering simple questions. Simultaneously, it can make us skeptics look closed-minded because we aren't going to waste our time reading a woo book indistinguishable from all the others.

Usually, the tactic involves throwing up several non-arguments that avoid answering the skeptics' questions, so that when the skeptics challenge the non-arguments (I fall for that, too, though I try to note the irrelevance every time. I'm obsessive-compulsive or something, because if I feel that if some idiocy goes unchallenged, the terrorists will have won), it looks like there are too many things to discuss, leading to the apparent necessity of reading the book. In reality, most of the "discussion" is a smokescreen of irrelevance created to build up that illusion of necessity.

If the type of book being discussed was fiction (Keep those retorts on hold), there might be some reasonable complaint. Try explaining the original Star Wars to someone. You sound silly, don't you? But these books typically claim to be scientific or historical non-fiction. The quality of such books depend on the quality of their premises, among other things. Suspension of disbelief is not allowed in real life. One false premise in the foundation, and the whole thing collapses. No amount of text will change that.


Doggerel Index

Carnival of the Godless #43

Well, I've made my first contribution to the Carnival of the Godless, hosted by Michael Bains this time.

Doggerel #18: "I Know What I Saw!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. Before I continue, I'd like to thank all the commenters for the various compliments and suggestions you've brought me. This dog intends to be man's best fiend.

This particular phrase is a favorite among ufologists and ghost hunters. Despite what they like to think, a human being's eyes are not cameras, and their visual cortex is not an objective piece of film (or memory card, to stay current). There is a lot of things going on in the human mind, and to minimize the workload, biological organisms often take shortcuts. Human beings, for instance, are distinguishible from most animals because they've reduced their sensory load in order to make room for cognition. Though they miss out seeing everything that twitches, very high and low sounds, and other things, they can think more deeply about the stimuli they do receive: A lion seeing a rock rolling down a hill sees only that. One of the early humans could have been inspired by such an event to make a wheel, starting a revolution in their way of life, leading to a day where humans get so much food, obesity is a leading health problem. (This dog needs to lose a few pounds, too, by the way.)

The problem with this increased cognitive ability is that humans often see what they want or expect to see: Human beings live and die by understanding (or misunderstanding) the way the world around them works. Understanding makes them feel good. Unfortunately, the illusion of understanding also makes them feel good. Additionally, much of human understanding comes about in the form of pattern recognition. Scroll up and look at the opening paragraph. See anything wrong? Here's a hint:
That was inspired by a faint memory of a Mr. Wizard episode: The scientific spellcaster was holding a flashcard with the phrase, "Dog is man's best fiend" on it, showing it to the kid guest, who kept saying it read, "Dog is man's best friend." The latter phrase is common enough that the human brain typically doesn't bother looking for deviations like a missing "r." It fills in the missing information based on what's familiar: There's usually no point in me looking at every KFC sign I come across, just to make sure it isn't KEC.

Such is often the case in ufo, ghost, and Bigfoot sightings: These entities are familiar enough in pop culture that a person, given something indistinct enough, could start filling in particular traits in his memory, simply because his brain assumes the visual patterns from fantasy fit into the real situation. Coupled with boundless enthusiasm, it's easy for a gullible human to turn a bright dot in the sky into an intricately detailed sci-fi spacecraft.

This cognitive trouble doesn't end with visual stimuli, either: It applies equally to the auditory sense, and even dreams. Obi-Wan wasn't quite right about your eyes deceiving you: Your own brain can deceive you, even if your eyes are in perfect working order. Be prepared to second guess yourself.


Doggerel Index

Friday, June 23, 2006

Good News, Everyone!

It seems Futurama getting uncancelled. For real, this time.


I hope.

(Via PZ)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Skeptics' Circle #37

Well, Autism Diva has posted the latest Skeptics' Circle from the Bermuda Triangle. Earlier, it vanished mysteriously. Thankfully, it seems that tachyon inversion field thingy I thought of worked. The meeting was held by skeptical fish this time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Doggerel #17: "Quantum"

This Doggerel entry has been replaced with a more accurate version.

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. With this one, I'm speaking with my layman's knowledge, so if anyone's on break from trying to find one of those sixth quarks or a superstring for the cat to play with, feel free to bombard me with every detail I got wrong or left out.
"If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." -Richard Feynman
"Quantum" is a word woos have fallen in love with, probably because of the weirdness of quantum mechanics: The experts have a hard time dealing with it, so it's easy to dazzle laymen with QM jargon.

The word "quantum" by itself refers to, as I understand it, the smallest possible units of energy. You won't find half a quantum anywhere in the universe. Because of this, quantum mechanics deals with very small stuff, down to fundamental particles. On that scale, our familiar Newtonian assumptions stop working, and probability takes a much bigger role. Particles don't have a simple position and velocity assigned to them: They have a wave function, which "collapses" when "observed." There seem to be plenty of interpretations of what wave function collapse is, but none of the good science ones involve consciousness in any way, like plenty of woos like to claim. The woos probably got it from the use of the term, "observer" in many of those interpretations. Some, like those who made "What the Bleep Do We Know?", don't seem to care about the misrepresentation. As David Albert, one of the scientists they edited said,
I was edited in such a way as to completely suppress my actual views about the matters the movie discusses. I am, indeed, profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness.
The realm of quantum mechanics isn't subjective. It's still quite deterministic, like the rest of science. It's just weird and probabilistic.
So, while I'm waiting to be bombarded by people with better explanations, is a quantum mechanic someone who works on very small cars? If he looks at the speedometer, does he get lost?


Doggerel Index

Monday, June 19, 2006

Doggerel #16: "Faith"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. This version updated, following Dave's largely civil commentary.

Many woos of all stripes talk about having "faith" in their preconceived conclusions. The most vehement promoters of this doggerel are, of course, the fundies. How they use the term is seldom consistent.


First, many refer to their preconceived conclusions as their "faith." The problem with this is that a conclusion must have a line of evidence that leads to it. Calling an unsupported conclusion "faith" is essentially an admission of jumping to said conclusion. For some reason, however, they expect us to nod and smile politely, rather than question. That's some double standard. Welcome to Moonside!

Second, they sometimes refer to "faith" as a means to determine the truth. If that's the case, they should explain why it leads to so many contradictory results. Science usually doesn't have that problem. When experimental results do conflict, the experiment is refined and repeated until an explanation can be reached for the results. If science is wrong about something, we can tell: All scientific theories are falsifiable. "Faith," as far as I've been able to tell, doesn't have that feature. If you've got the wrong one, there'd be no way to tell.

Third, they sometimes talk about "faith" in a way more consistent with the word, "hope," as in, "I hope that X is true." In this form, they're dealing with wishful thinking. A little wishful thinking isn't bad. When you base your life on wishful thinking, it's a very bad thing. I'd also rather struggle for confidence or certainty than live in hopeful ignorance. If there's something about reality I don't like, I'd rather learn about it: Identifying a problem is the first step in solving it.

So, let's review: Woos, and especially fundies use faith to arrive at their faith and have faith that they aren't wrong about their faith. Got it? No? Well, you will. Have faith.


In many cases, some people use "faith" in a manner more consistent with "confidence" and "trust." A scientist can claim that he has "faith" in the Big Bang, but he's more likely guilty of poor word choice than he is of religiousity. A scientist confident in a theory or a hypothesis has evidence to support his conclusions. Faith is uninvolved, or at least unnecessary. For it to be a matter of faith, there would need to be either an absence of evidence, or evidence that contradicts the hypothesis.

I don't have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow: I have confidence. All the experimental data we have supports the heliocentric model of our solar system thus far, along with the sheer repetition. I don't have absolute certainty, but 99.99999999999%+ confidence will do.

Some woos and fundies, however, like to deliberately confuse the matter.

See also: Skeptico's take on this equivocation of the term.

Ver. 16.1, Updated 7/11/2006


Doggerel Index

You Silly, Silly Kitties

Shortly after my previous post, I bump into this, via Orac. Black kitty's thoughts translated by GIR.

You Silly, Silly Monkeys

Got this from my brother. Covers pretty nicely what all you crazy hominids have been up to.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Doggerel #15: "Natural"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

A lot of alties like to defend their magic cures and suppliments as "natural." Of course, that has no bearing on its safety. Nature's kitchen doubles as a meth lab. Don't get me wrong: Nature produces a lot of wonderful stuff. But that doesn't mean it's safe to stick just anything into your mouth. Nature keeps a lot of nasty stuff under the sink.

Apple seeds and peach pits, for example, contain amygdalin, which can turn into hydrogen cyanide in the human stomach. I recall an anecdote from long ago where some police officers thought some parents were poisoning their kid. After the investigation, they found out the kid had a habit of cracking open and eating peach pits.

Many animals naturally produce toxins as a way of life. Some of these toxins are incredibly powerful. Just think about all the poisonous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, and so forth. It would not surprise me if there's some unnamed invertibrate in some dark corner at the bottom of the ocean capable of producing a toxin so powerful, a single molecule will make your brain boil out your ears. I don't want to know what'll happen if you're allergic.

Hopefully, I've established that natural does not equal benign. Now, onto another angle: Some woos seem to think that natural products are inherently superior to artificial counterparts. In some cases, such as natural vanilla extract versus artificially produced vanilla flavor, it's a matter of opinion. Some people with talented taste buds can tell the difference between them in blind taste tests, but that's probably explainable because the natural extracts contain traces of not-vanilla-flavor impurities.

Nature tends to be messy in her kitchen: Some of the chemicals we find useful are often coupled with nasty ones. Cinchona bark, which contains a chemical useful for treating malaria also contains a lot of other chemicals, like quinidine, a cardiac depressant. Sometimes an herb doesn't contain the active ingredient we're looking for, due to growing conditions. That's why medical science is usually so interested in isolating individual chemicals and then manufacturing them: Herbs and such are chemical cocktails, and medicine often requires precision measurements to get the desired effect. Herbal suppliments, being largely unregulated and filled with inherent unreliability, can vary in their active ingredient so much that a bottle might not even contain what the label says it does. With real medicine, you usually know exactly what you're getting.

One of the more absurd assertions I've encountered online discussed an alleged difference between identical "natural" and "artificial" chemicals: Humans "force" the chemical bonds which sets them at unnatural angles. The last time I checked, human beings hadn't developed a way of altering the laws of quantum mechanics, but that is a topic for a different post.


Doggerel Index

Is the Site's Feng Shui Off?

Just logged on today and noticed all the stuff over on the right is missing. I'm not all that competent at editing raw html, so I may need some assistance getting it back if it doesn't return on its own.

UPDATE: Came back right after I posted and refreshed. I guess Mercury's responsible. Probably should update that stuff, anyway.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Doggerel #14: "It Works THROUGH the Placebo Effect!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the funniest arguments I've heard from woos is that their magic pills work through the placebo effect, and I don't think they mean it in a Zen "acting by not acting" sort of way.

The placebo effect is what you get when you do nothing, but think you're doing something: It's a combination of two things: Psychological tricks and coincidental recovery.

First, are the psychological tricks: Confirmation bias, the regressive fallacy, misattribution, subjective validation, and so on and so forth: We essentially fool ourselves into thinking the symptoms aren't as bad, or not as common, etcetera. They're still there, but we have an excuse to ignore them: They don't fit with expectations, so we rationalize them away. There's no "power of positive thinking" going on, just a conscious and unconscious motivation to ignore what doesn't fit. This is why double-blinding is important: It make most of those rationalizations very implausible, and points of view irrelevant: Belief isn't going to change the numbers.

Second, there is the physical aspect: Natural improvement and coincidental recovery. It could be that a person's immune system is rallying for a final assault when he takes the treatment. There's no way to be certain that it's the drug that's doing anything. That's where the placebo control in studies comes in: Compare the drug to essentially doing nothing as a base line. If there's a significant difference between the placebo group and the treatment group, it's unlikely to be coincidence. The bigger the study, the less likely coincidences become.

There are probably more aspects to placebos and nocebos, but that should be the bulk of it: The placebo effect is what happens when you merely think you're doing something.


Doggerel Index

Doggerel #13: "People Have Believed This For Thousands of Years!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Many of you will instantly recognize this as argumentum ad antiquitatem, or the appeal to tradition. This one is somewhat of an appeal to authority as well, presuming that if human civilization believed something for a long time, there must be some validity to it. Of course, the big problem with this is that humans have believed all sorts of silly things over the ages.

Humans are fallible creatures, and they have several kinds of known problems in their thinking process. Just because lots of humans once believed in something doesn't mean they did the sort of error checking that science requires. Bogus medicine gets passed on through generations because of the placebo effect fools lots of people. That's why we have the double-blind control study, for instance: It's designed with our capacity for self-delusion in mind. The vast majority of silly things mankind typically aren't subjected to error-checking processes. Some people were hideously tortured and burned alive for even suggesting the possibility of error in some of these beliefs.

For traditional and alternative "medicine," it's often no different: The practitioners are almost never willing to put their treatment to the test: They're content to draw results from unblinded, uncontrolled testimonials, a method known for producing false positives, thanks to the human failings of confirmation bias, the regressive fallacy, misattribution of natural improvement, and dozens of others.

In matters of religion, the ancients' "knowledge" is usually built on ignorance combined with unrestrained imagination. Just because the ancients didn't know what caused lightning doesn't mean it was Zeus. Just because we allegedly don't know how IC evolves doesn't mean there's Intelligent Design at work. Just because your particular religion has been around for thousands of years doesn't mean it's been error-checked.

Put simply, a belief's age has nothing to do with its validity. If the belief is wrong, it's only a testament to human stubbornness.


Doggerel Index

Monday, June 12, 2006

That Pi Meme

Since I'm not feeling particularly inspired today, I'll just do a meme, though it's intended for the scienceblogs newbies.

3 Reasons you blog about science:
  1. It's just so gosh-darn nifty.
  2. If people can't distinguish between black and white issues like science versus pseudoscience, how can they handle all the grays of politics? I'm here to contribute my little bit to that art.
  3. Cranks can be so entertaining to take down.

Point at which you'd stop blogging: Don't know. Would probably have to be part of a massive time conflict.

1 thing you frequently blog besides science: I've posted a little about videogames, but I suppose logic and critical thinking would qualify, even though they are tightly linked with science.

4 words that describe your blogging style: This may be a bit tricky. "Humorous" probably qualifies as one, though I probably need to get some more material for Appeal_to_Ridicule, since one of those I did in a Skeptico comment probably brought me into Ryan's attention. "Serious" is another. As the saying goes, "I am at my most serious when I am joking." Though I laugh at them, I have a deep annoyance for cranks who resort to formulaic propaganda techniques, hence all the Doggerel posts. I'm amazed anyone still falls for those. "Uncompromising" might be another appropriate word. No issue is sacred. No one is immune to ridicule. We'll see how that holds up when Jack Chick inevitably tries to sue me for hurting his feelings. "Caring" might be another. I get angry when woos exploit and hurt people.

1 aspect of blogging you find difficult: Dealing with anonymous commenters who have nothing to contribute but spam and hate. If you're going to comment, try actually saying something.

5 SB blogs that are new to you: Since I don't visit that many, I'll just list those that I can think of:
  1. Pharyngula: PZ lays on the truth about our distant, distant ancestors.
  2. Respectful Insolence: Orac knows, knows that he knows, and how he knows what he knows.
  3. Good Math, Bad Math: MarkCC looked down upon the math and saw that some was good and some was bad. I confess I mostly look at his takedowns of the bad.
  4. Terra Sigillata: Only skimmed a few entries over there, but it was good stuff.
  5. Chaotic Utopia: Mentioned on GM/BM. Apparently the guy likes fractals. So do I.

9 non-SB blogs:
  1. Pooflingers Anonymous: Logical arguments against silliness that are well-aimed and hard to clean off.
  2. The Second Sight: EoR takes on some of teh silliest silliness on the net.
  3. Autism Diva: You'd think she'd know a thing or two about autism. And you'd be right.
  4. The Uncredible Hallq: You don't want to get him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
  5. The Bad Homeopath: Going inside the belly of the silly (but still dangerous) beast. Now, stop that.
  6. The Bad Astronomer: Judging from his JREF forum avatar, the last time I saw him there, Phil must know Strong Bad's typing secret.
  7. The Hokum-Balderdash Assay: The dissection of, not a source of.
  8. Silly Humans: Just because I gmail chat with Michael Bains every day, asking him trivial questions, requesting ideas, never ceasing. Oh, and he gave me computer advice.
  9. Swift: The One Skeptic to rule them all.
2 important features of your blogging environment: Well, I blog at home and at work, during my lunch break. The most important features are 1) The boss isn't watching me, and 2) the boss isn't watching me.

6 items you would bring to a meet-up with the other bloggers: (Changed slightly, since I'm not an SBer.)
  1. Four GBAs with cables and matching copies of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past / Four Swords, since that's about the only chance I have of bumping into three other people who'd be willing and able to play.
  2. A T-shirt with my JREF avatar on it.
  3. Maybe a dog mask to keep up the whole anonymity thing I've got going.
  4. A copy of "What the Bleep Do We Know?" for an MST3K session. My brother and his roomates got a kick out of it. Of course, results may vary, and it might feel like a trip through the agony booth for us.
  5. My laptop, since there's bound to be something blog-worthy about the hypothetical event, and I wouldn't want to forget a good quote.
  6. My +3 flaming anti-vaxxer bane tire iron, for showing off.
5 conversations you would have before the end of that meet-up:
  1. See if Phil Plait convulses as much as I do when someone uses "lightyear" as a measure of time.
  2. Talk with MarkCC about a weird videogame concept of mine involving lots of arguably unnecessary math.
  3. Get caught up on the issue of global warming. All the propaganda of the 90s didn't tell me much about the raw data. The more knowledgeable skeptics are probably right, but I'd rather know for myself than to make arguments from authority, legitimate or otherwise.
  4. Smack around Prometheus until he updates. Does that count?
  5. Probably get lots of suggestions for more Doggerel entries.

Mmmm... JREF

Just thought I'd let some of you know why I've been quiet for almost a week: I've gone back to the JREF forums after an absence. Since I'm bound and determined to be the last person to post in that thread, I might not be posting here as often as I should be.

Small update: DJLegacy, the butt of Appeal_to_Ridicule #2.0, is continuing his Brave Sir Robin act.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

[Appeal_to_Ridicule] #2.0

Dear ______,
I've been reading your (website/blog/forum/post/comment), full of verifiable references on ______, and I think it's very closed-minded of you to dismiss _______ without researching it. I have lots of problems with your opinion, but I don't feel like specifying any objections or if I do, provide any basis for my objections beyond disagreement for disagreement's sake. I just want to hear the sound of my own typing by expressing my opposition and feel better about my _____ by calling your _____ deficient, even though that has nothing to do with the topic. It is also immature to call my subject change for what it is, you 12-year-old doodie-head. (Websites/Blogs/Forums) were created for inane rambling that goes nowhere, not the discussion of evidence, so I am fully justified in continuing to nitpick about people's increasingly hostile complaints when I show the politeness of stalling my earth-shattering discoveries about ______ to complain about the fact that they're complaining. The primary thing you have to think about is that it's impossible that your explanation(s), _______________ could cover _______. It all amounts to you having the wrong worldview, where evidence must be collected, examined, and discussed, unlike the real world, where (testimonials/life experiences/spam emails) determine reality.

Every time you (forward this spam/visit this website/click this button), an amount of ______ will be donated towards curing Little Timmy of his __COLD__.


(Via JREF Forums)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Good Math, Bad Math Moves

MarkCC moves on up to the world of Scienceblogs, beyond the petty mortal problems like lack of trackbacks, and onto godly concerns like typekey cookies messing up our ability to post our foolishness and prayers.

I hope he transfers over the indicies he created.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Doggerel #12: "Science Doesn't Know Everything!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Imagine this scene: A person holding a black box walks up to you and says, "I have a purple monkey in this box."

You turn the key in the padlock, open the box, and look inside. There is no monkey, purple or otherwise. You close the box and look up to the person presenting it. "I don't see a purple monkey."


That's exactly what it means when a woo says, "Science doesn't know everything!" Science isn't a collection of unexpanding, eternal facts. That would be dogma, and the province of religion.

Science is a method, despite what our public school system says. The quick and dirty way to describe this method: 1. Form a hypothesis. 2. Do everything you can think of to prove it wrong. One simple assumption involved in this method: Everything that continues to stand despite our efforts is probably close to the truth. The great thing about the scientific method is that it knows it's fallable: If one of the conclusions it comes to is wrong, anyone can prove it's wrong with an appropriate experiment: All conclusions are tenative.

Another related bit of doggerel that comes up is often an appeal to other ways of knowing, which are seldom, if ever, described. Those that are described are more like faith: Belief without or despite evidence.

Also related is the assertion that science was wrong before. Of course, this is true: Science can and has been wrong. But it's designed to catch those errors. Think about it: Would you associate with:

A: Someone who makes mistakes, admits them, and takes measures to catch his errors, just in case he makes one,


B: Someone who never admits he's wrong, makes accusations about people who point out apparent errors, and makes special exemptions to make it impossible to prove him wrong?

Hopefully, that covers just about every aspect of this doggerel. But we all know they'll come up with some other varient.


Doggerel Index

Get the Popcorn!

It seems Richard Saunders has posted a lot of skeptic videos. Richard is a very super guy who hangs out with other super guys.

Hat Tip to Phil, who's very good at Bad Astronomy.

Doggerel #11: "You're Just an Anonymous Commenter!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

This is one of the most transparent attempts at a subject change. I'm surprised that anyone falls for it. When a person makes an argument, he is irrelevant to the argument. If my opponent is, for instance, being evasive about a certain point, my online name isn't going to change his evasiveness. It's a red herring and a non-sequitur combined. It doesn't matter if I'm Hitler behind a mask, a corporate shill, or whatever. My identity or lack thereof isn't going to change the failures of my opponent into successes.

I'm not being cowardly when I'm anonymous: I'm limiting my opponent's potential for genetic fallacies. He's only got one that he knows for sure, which is my anonymity. Additionally, since much of America (particularly my chunk of the south) is ultra-religious, and willing to burn the Constitution, I'd rather not have my free speech connected to my real name. I'm sure there are plenty of bosses out there that wouldn't hesitate to fire someone for being an atheist, First Amendment be damned. If I were cowardly, I wouldn't be expressing any thoughts at all. I just don't see the reason to recklessly throw out my real name for hackers, identity thieves, and local meatspace bigots to use. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Those who employ this doggerel are the cowards, however: They're trying to use suspicion and innuendo to take the focus away from the argument and onto an irrelevant triviality: the arguer. Again, if I point out the invalidities of their arguments, my anonymity isn't going to make them magically vanish.


Doggerel Index

Doggerel #10: "Sophistry"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

This is one of the words that got me to contemplate this series. It was heavily abused by Fore Sam, who was actually a sophist himself: Sophistry is the use of rhetorical arguments that are invalid, but still persuasive to people who don't recognize them for what they are. Logical fallacies and propaganda techniques fit very snugly into that category. The big problem that really annoyed me was that he was accusing me of "sophistry," even though he had no conception of what the word really means.

Fore Sam's butchered definition of "sophistry" seemed to include any of the following:

Pointing out a quote of his as evidence of his sophistry.

Using common knowledge Latin.

Pointing out how his argument mirrors that of a sophist.

Proposing alternate explanations that are simpler than his.

Calling his bluffs.

Asking questions about the core issue.

Pointing out how evasive he is when he ignores questions about the core issue.

Using the phrase "straw man" to point out when he's putting words into other people's mouths.

Explaining very simple concepts to him as if he was a child.

The other problem with Fore Sam's abuse of the term is that it is, in itself, a type of sophistry. Just because I use Latin phrases or whatever to describe the very basic errors he makes does not mean that they aren't errors.


Doggerel Index

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Quote of the Time Being #1

Xianity HAD to invent hell. The smarter Jews of the time were beginning to figure out what it would be like to spend eternity with religious fanatics, and the Xians needed to invent someplace worse. They failed.

[Brent Yaciw, 1995]

Via Pharyngula's random quotes. Really think about that. You've got a bunch of people who honestly can't think of any reason to be moral beyond fear of punishment or hope of reward from some invisible sky daddy, and you're stuck on a cloud with them for longer than all of human history.

My mother, during a mini-crisis, suddenly found great relief in the thought that she wouldn't be spending the next illion years hanging around with fire and brimstoners.