Monday, August 31, 2009

Doggerel #200: "You Just Want to Tear Everything Down!"

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

To round off the Day of Doggerel, and for this big round number, I've chosen a leading contender for the most cynical bit of doggerel ever uttered by a woo: The idea that we're purely negative people out to spoil everyone's fun.

Quite frankly, I sometimes wonder the same about woos. In my experience, they're far from optimistic, and I see it in their vocabulary: "Impossible!" "Invisible!" "Unexplainable!" Someone who casually tosses these words around is not someone who is looking for a deeper understanding of the world around them. But I digress.

Science is a wondrous thing. Its methods have unveiled greater breadth and depth of the universe than anyone could have imagined. Every new discovery has shown there is always so much more to learn. That process has been far from easy, and it seems it will only get more demanding. The underlying philosophy of science has allowed for all this progress: If an idea can be torn down by the evidence, it deserves to be torn down. Anything that remains is probably accurate. Those ideas that fall do so because they're useless for telling us anything, or worse, lie to us with false predictions. We cannot afford to coddle ideas that may be wrong. That's why we apply the same rigorous standards to everything. That's why we can create so many wonders and can hope to discover more.

The Old Guard will have none of that. They judge ideas not on their real merits, but on their emotional attachments and biases. They take our abilities and our progress for granted, so they see nothing wrong with tearing away the foundation: The scientific method. They ask us to undermine the source of our hope and dreams so that they can keep a useless security blanket.

Doggerel #199: "Straw Man"

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

There are many woos out there who like to imitate skeptics. To do so, they often shout the names of fallacies without understanding them. "Straw Man" is a real fallacy that often falls victim to this. The real nature of the fallacy is easy to illustrate: Imagine there are two boxers about to face off against one another. One hastily constructs a scarecrow out of straw and puts a caricature of his opponent's face on it. He then beats the stuffing out of this straw man and declares that he has defeated his flesh-and-blood opponent. That is the straw man fallacy: Claiming victory over an opponent after refuting a weak parody of his argument.

Sometimes there is merit to the accusation but no follow through: I am often forced to guess what my opponent is arguing if he presents only non-sequiturs to link his premises to his conclusion. If I guess wrong, then yes, I have inadvertently performed the fallacy. The appropriate response, of course, is to point it out AND explain precisely what you really are claiming. That latter half is so commonly missing, and what typically turns it from legitimate criticism to doggerel. I can't win an argument against someone who won't give me a target to analyze.

Other times, it seems to result from a skeptic taking an opponent's principle to a logical extreme, or finding an interaction that results in a contradiction or an absurdity. In such a case, the accuser needs to point out what part of his hypothesis prevents those things. Again, I seldom see them doing this.

Accusing your opponent of this fallacy invariably means that you should be prepared to communicate your real position in detail. Debate requires communication. There's no reason to hold back.

Doggerel #198: "Look it Up Yourself!"

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

One of the common themes in woo is shifting the burden of proof onto the skeptic. With it comes all the work. This particular bit of doggerel tends toward just doing the latter: The woo doesn't feel like showing their work, so suddenly we have to construct their argument for them.

Of course, there's a LOT of information out there. If we're given a vague thing to look up, there's little chance we'll know what they want us to look at. Expect "low-hanging fruit" or similar doggerel to rear its ugly head if we bother to try looking it up.

And that's only hypothetical. More likely, however, we'll demand that they do their own homework. After all, if someone's stating their case, they should be the one to do it. We don't exist for their convenience.

Doggerel #197: "Unprofessional/Immature"

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

Welcome to the internet. Lots of people out there say unkind things. That's reality. Yes, it'd be nice if people could remain in a calm tone, but we are emotional beings. Some of us have to rage in the face of apathy and cynicism. Some of us have to laugh at absurdities to avoid crying. Debates as open as those on these blogs are not for the thin-skinned. And neither is science.

That's why this doggerel falls so flat with me. A person's manner and tone are irrelevant to the arguments they present. If their premises are true, and their logic valid, it doesn't matter if they're making silly faces at you. That's the bottom line. If you can't toughen up and illustrate your argument or present evidence, don't blame the actions of others for your decision to post stalling comments about this irrelevance.

Annoyingly, though also irrelevant, I tend to see this doggerel coming from all sorts of vicious characters who demonstrate little or no awareness of their actions. I have seen, for example, all sorts of fundies who know nothing about us claiming in their opening comment that we're depraved, nihilistic beasts only worthy of being pointlessly tortured for all eternity, and then act shocked when someone addresses them with a mild expletive. So really, if you want to see a mature discussion, keep an eye on your own maturity.

Doggerel #196: "Anomaly"

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

"Anomaly" is one of those 25 cent words that probably sees much more use than warranted. It's used to describe oddities, outliers, statistical clustering, individually unlikely events, and counter-intuitive results. Someone aware of statistics, some relevant science, and various tricks people can use to fool themselves might end up thinking "anomaly" means "everyday boring event."

Most so-called "anomalies" I hear about from parapsychologists, alties, and so on are exactly that boring. Anecdotes don't control for well-known alternative causes. Many statistical "anomalies" are well within the realm of chance, or the result of overzealous data mining: They essentially tilt their heads and squint as they look at many, many angles until they see something, rather than comment on their original hypothesis.

Many successful scientific theories are counter-intuitive to our middle world brains. We can easily fool ourselves. Someone who understands those things often knows an explanation for many things less knowledgeable people would consider odd. When dealing with parapsychologists, Creationists, alties, and so forth, I end up groaning when they point out a well understood or easily explained fact and treat it like a mystery. That's why I often find woo itself boring: There's nothing new or mysterious to look at. I have to entertain myself with figuring out how best to explain why I'm so unimpressed, and how to get that explanation to stick in my adversary's head.

Doggerel #195: "You're Just Denying the Facts!"

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

I've seen it all too often: Someone claims I'm denying some fact a person is citing to support their position when I'm not. It may be an altie claiming I'm denying a person's improvement, a believer in parapsychology claiming I'm denying a "psychic" prediction came true, or a racist who claims I'm denying some economic statistics about certain countries. All too often, my trivial concessions fall on deaf ears who remain unaware of my true objections.

The reality of the debates I get in is typically this: My opponents' arguments are invalid because they rely on logical fallacies. Therefore, their conclusions do not follow from the facts they use in their premises.

Alties have claimed that I denied someone got better after a quackery treatment. I seldom have any reason to doubt the improvement: My argument is usually that there are other causes for improvement, therefore, they need to rule these other explanations out before they can claim an anecdote supports their case.

Parapsychology fans have claimed that I denied that a psychic prediction came true. Usually, I have instead argued that there are other, unremarkable explanations for their accuracy.

A recent commentator has claimed that my friends and I deny that some countries are in a poor economic state. We did not. We simply argued that there are many possible explanations for that poverty other than the DNA of the citizens.

Just because A is true, doesn't mean your conclusion follows from it. A sound conclusion requires both that the premises be true AND that the steps from premises to conclusion be logically valid.

Of course, there are cases where we do deny the premises of someone's argument. In such a case, we're willing to hear evidence to support the "fact" they're arguing. Usually, this results in a microcosm: The evidence they use to defend their larger argument's premise doesn't actually support it.

Doggerel #194: "I've Seen More Than You!"

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

The universe is a big place. There's enough fascinating stuff just on our ball of dirt and water to satisfy most people. Exploring the world around us can be an exciting and rewarding experience that raises a person's awareness. But not always. The collection of experience does not necessarily make one person an expert.

Scientists collect evidence in the form of experience, but they use the scientific method to interpret those experiences. They have to sort useful, repeatable experiences from what would otherwise be a collection of anecdotes. Woos, in contrast, tend to rely on their biases to understand their experiences. Without even being aware of it, they can marginalize and forget details that defy their expectations and exaggerate memories that confirm their prejudices. Not only can a biased person fool himself on the contents of his experience, he can also attribute events to false causes.

The ivory tower of anti-science does not become more attractive if it happens to be mobile. This particular entry was inspired by a recent troll named Gabriel who described the "laziness" he saw as he traveled the world. He attributed this to inferior genetics among the people he saw without even considering cultural and economic factors. He continued using these uncontrolled experiences when asked for actual genetic data, as if traveling had endowed him an innate authority in such matters.

In science, it doesn't matter how much of the world you experience, it's how rigorous you are in interpreting experiences. Quantity is no substitute for quality.

Doggerel #193: "There are Lots of Frauds Out There!"

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

This particular bit of doggerel applies to many forms of woo, but psychics are probably the first that spring to everyone's mind. The skeptical community has done a lot to find frauds. James Randi and Houdini are probably the best known for this. And they're the right sort of expert to detect fraud: As magicians, it was their job to fool us. I am grateful that they applied their skills of deception strictly towards entertainment and revealing the truth. By knowing how a magician could perform a task, they could sabotage a fraud with appropriate controls. That's how rampant fraud (knowing or unknowning) became obvious.

But that's not what this doggerel is about, precisely: Yes, skeptics can unmask huckster after huckster without disproving the existence of the genuine article. That's not the point. We must apply the rigor they do in case we do stumble across a real psychic. If we don't use the scientific method to rule out fraud, we will never be able to tell the difference. All things being equal, Occam's Razor favors known, mundane explanations over those that require belief in unproven entities like magic or miasmas.

We only need one good, repeatable example of these extraordinary things to be convinced. True, many of us are jaded, and that's why science is needed to reduce experimenter bias in either direction. But one example that stands up under several tests could change everything and give us a strange and wonderful new thing to study. This would be most awesome. Don't use the frauds, knowing or otherwise, as an excuse to continually retreat to the next example. Use them as a reminder to be vigilant in your research and experimentation. Know that you're a normal person, and that normal people can be fooled. It's not just a good idea, it's a founding principle of science.

Doggerel #192: "Go Look at [Woo]'s Research Yourself!"

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

Smart people can do dumb things, and dumb people can do smart things. It's natural that a person's intellectual output have both highlights and folly. Just because a scientist backed the wrong horse or accidentally misinterpreted his data once is no reason to diminish his successes. Thus, it's perfectly understandable for a fan of someone's work to ask us not to judge an individual or a field of study by one paper.

That is, however, the starting point for this doggerel. I haven't, for example, read all of the research done on parapsychology. I've read a fair sample of poorly done studies on the matter, and have yet to see one that wasn't worthy of a thorough fisking. But I will openly admit it's possible that there are some good parapsychology papers out there with positive results.

Of course, I find that highly improbable because I would expect these hypothetical good studies to be well advertised by my online adversaries. With deep science fields like biology, we could do the same, though we might get hung up on which of the thousands of studies to point to for a bit. Since, however, many "woo" fields of science are chronically described as being in their infancy, I would think experiments demonstrating fundamental observations would be easy to sift for. If we're talking about a particular "luminary" in such a field, it should be that much easier to locate just one such good study.

I seldom see any such response. As I think about it, in most cases, I suspect it's innocent doggerel: The advocate doesn't know the nitty gritty of science and thus doesn't know what will satisfy us, so they leave a broad response, asking us to sift through a large bulk. Of course, this means we'd have to spend more time going over someone's career or looking for needles in what our pattern recognition tells us is merely a haystack. If you're one of these people who has been directed here, I would encourage you to talk to skeptics about the philosophy of science, in hopes that you learn why we require certain rigorous standards. Once you have a good idea of what we mean by skepticism and science, you'll be better equipped to understand our point of view on the subject, and know what it will take to get us to change our minds.

More cynically, there are many trolls out there who adopt this as a stalling tactic: No matter how many studies we can form legitimate criticism for, they can always say we're just attacking the low-hanging fruit, while providing us with no good examples of high-hanging fruit to expedite the process. My skeptical friends and I would love to be proven wrong. If any of the various forces claimed by psychics, alternative medicine advocates, amateur physicists, etcetera, were true, that would make the universe that much more fascinating to learn about, as well as providing us with more means of helping others enjoy their lives. The frustration I felt from this stalling was one of the things that made me sympathize with the skeptics and eventually join them as I learned more about science and its underlying philosophy.

So, if you know of any good-looking research, bring it up right away. We've grown tired and impatient with so many unnecessary delays. We want to be proven wrong, but we don't simply allow our hopes to run wild. Like everything in science, you have to work hard to earn the ability to say, "I was right."

Doggerel #191: "Genius"

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

We've gotten along pretty far in scientific discovery, and we owe a lot of that to some wonderfully clever people whose brainpower helped them put two and two together to find the answer to a lot of weird mysteries we've had to deal with. They deserve major kudos for their contributions to our understanding of the world around us. They don't deserve to be propped up as saints, though.

There is more to being a scientist than being a "genius." Science requires hard work and a methodical approach. Simply having a higher IQ, brain cell count, or whatever measure of intelligence you choose doesn't make you right. Sure, being able to pick out patterns or perceive connections other people miss is handy in scientific research, but bragging about that ability won't get you published if you can't use it to find good evidence. Evidence is, after all, the ultimate authority in science.

Albert Einstein was a genius. He used that powerful brain of his to revolutionize physics and cosmology. But, despite what users of this doggerel would have you believe, smart people can do stupid things. Einstein backed the Steady State model of the universe and rejected quantum physics. He did so in spite of available evidence because it didn't fit his sense of aesthetics. Those who subscribe to the (false) messianic priesthood model of science are the sort who would cling to Einstein's word because it's Einstein's word. Real scientifically-minded people would accept or reject ideas based on available evidence, no matter who proposed them.

It doesn't matter if you're a genius. It doesn't matter if you won a Nobel Prize. It doesn't matter if you have a brain the size of a planet. If the evidence doesn't agree with you, we can dismiss your ideas. I don't need to be smarter than Einstein to disagree with him on quantum physics or the cosmological constant. I just need better evidence and/or the ability to spot logical fallacies in his position.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

So, What's the Problem?

All too often, if I have an extended encounter with a Creationist, I find they'll apparently agree with all the premises of evolution, but never point out where they disagree with it. C0nc0rdance made a video on that point:

For the sake of saving time and clicks, here's the list he uses:
1. DNA is the basis of heredity.
2. DNA changes over generations.
3. DNA is responsible for the differences between organisms.
4. The environment acts on the frequency of changes.
5. There is no physical limit to the amount of changes that can occur in DNA.

The video does a great job, though I feel I should put in a little commentary of my own.

Point 1: Heredity: I haven't met a Creationist who disputes this, yet. I am aware of a passage about goats and striped poles that gives them room for it, though.

Point 2: Changes over generations: Another that you would think is indisputable. I have, however, seen a few Creationists who've painted themselves into a corner where they would have to argue that offspring are clones of the parent(s) to avoid self-contradiction. No, it didn't dawn on them.

Point 3: Differences between organisms: Minor nitpick referencing developmental errors that lead to so-called "science journalists" to label critters with extra bits as "mutants." If these malformed critters do manage to reproduce, however, their offspring will more than likely be normal. Of course, there are other environmental causes of difference, but it's perfectly okay to skip over them for the sake of brevity. DNA's the big, big one for discussions of evolution, and my nitpickery is only worthy of being shoved into a footnote.

Point 4: Environment acts on frequency of changes: I think this could be rephrased for greater clarity. He goes into greater detail in the video, but the slogan-sized snippet shouldn't require a followup elaboration to get the central points across. It should be a quick summary behind the idea behind natural selection, genetic drift, and the founder effect. I'd like to hear suggestions.

Point 5: No physical limit: The most common point of dispute I've been able to nail Creationists down to, and probably worth a whole video or blog post by itself. There are some limits in the form of development-related genes: They're highly conserved because changes to those part tend to kill the offspring before it leaves the womb/egg/seed. That's why you won't find big changes to body plans, like sprouting additional limbs (said developmental errors, of course, don't count) that could turn into wings. And of course, if too many changes happen in one offspring, it could render it infertile in regards to the rest of its parent species. Thankfully, evolution never posits such absurdities, no matter how much Creationists wish it did.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

118th Skeptics' Circle

Look closely. Look closelier. It's up at Evolving Mind.

Open thread as usual, but peeping Toms are FORBIDDEN!

The Day of Doggerel

It's coming Monday, August 31. I've been pretty wonky lately with my medications causing insomnia and drowsiness, respectively. Thankfully, I've been on a bit of a summer break, mostly worrying about decorating my place and poking some trolls here and there. Anyway, I'm going to be doing a total of 10 Doggerel entries on Monday to try and simulate a full day's work, to get my biological clock back to normal. Here's the planned schedule.

#191: "Genius"
#192: "Go Look at [Woo's] Research, Yourself!"
#193: "There are Lots of Frauds Out There!"
#194: "I've Seen More Than You!"
#195: "You're Just Denying the Facts!"
#196: "Anomaly"
#197: "Unprofessional/Immature"
#198: "Look it Up Yourself!"
#199: "Straw Man!"
#200: "You Just Want to Tear Everything Down!"

As you can probably guess from the links, the Day has come and gone. Enjoy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pointless Question #66

Hey, you over there, yes, you, the person from the fantasy/dungeonpunk/laser blade space opera over there! What precisely is it about your sword that makes it so cool?

Blank Thread for Gabriel

Might as well move some of the stuff here. Was unaware blogger had that 200 comments thing, and figure I might as well give him a blank slate to start explaining what he's trying to claim.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

WILD THREAD: What's Up With the Wingnuts?

I've always known the bulk of them are crazy, but... Wow. They've cranked it up to 11.9 over the last year. Birthers. Truly off-the-wall Godwining. What's up with that?

This thread is hereby WILD! Comment policy does not apply within.

Simple Questions

I've had to ask a couple.

Of course, as you've seen with Gabriel, I've had to ask repeatedly, "If the Wright brothers were raised in a nomadic hunter-gatherer society, would they invent the airplane? If not, why not?"

This is, quite frankly, a question I think any bonehead could produce a cogent answer for. It also gets right into the heart of the matter behind inequality in scientific progress across the planet: Geniuses who do not have access to knowledge and technology will have their potential greatly stunted, regardless of any genetic advantage they may have.

Another troll I've been dueling with was an annony identified as Graeme Bird by Tom Foss. Graeme lives in denial behind fundamental concepts behind the philosophy of science such as the null hypothesis (and, by extension, falsification thereof as a basis for a positive conclusion) and burden of proof.

I repeatedly asked Graeme what the alternative method for concluding "unicorns don't exist" there is. Dodged every time.

I mean, geeze, is it that hard to humor me for a simple question that gets to the fundamentals of the matter?

A Brief History of grOw

I present to you, an abbreviated, relatively low detail, version of the most interesting bits of history of the game of grOw, made by thatgamecompanyoverthere.

Note that some events may be swapped around. You may get pedantic about that in the comments. It's less about precise details and more about underlying truths. And please pardon me for being a bit cute. I'm in a weirdly good mood today. Or a goodly weird one.


In the beginning, there was the grOw server. Some say it was programmed by some crazy software engineer who logs in at night when nobody's watching to troubleshoot the data. Others say it's the most splendid piece of AbandonWare known to man. Still others say the grOw program was an unintended byproduct of other partitions on the drive no one has yet been able to access. Those stories are for another time, though. It was an enormous machine that quietly ran a program based on four simple rules. The events happening with each tick of the computer's clock, however, were far from simple. Like many elegant games, simple rules added up to amazingly complex interactions.

The first 10 billion cycles didn't really hold everyone's interest. Most of the object elements were simple copies of H_001 and H_002. Large clumps of these were attracted to one another and eventually started squeezing the H_002's into He004's, and so on until there were many "heavier" object elements. Most of that time passed without anyone logged on to care.

Chapter 1: How to Copy

Eventually, however, some interesting happenings started on a little rOck made mostly of Fe, Si, and O_, and Al, orbiting and otherwise uninteresting ball of H_ and He. This rOck was called The wOrld. It was soon covered with liquid flOw. Inside the flOw, bits of H_, O_, N_, and C_ began to clump together into files called aminOs. At the bottom of the flOw, where it was dark and hot, these aminOs began to assemble into strings called genOmes.

Many similar interactions between object elements had happened before, but these genOmes did something quite rare: They made copies of themselves out of the surrounding aminOs. The process was imperfect, leaving in many errors, but this process led to longer and longer genOmes. Long genOmes could take protective resources from shorter ones, creating a sort of competition to see which could form the longest string. Eventually, another fascinating thing happened: Some genOmes developed copying "errors" that started manufacturing other chemicals from their surroundings. Those that made chemicals that protected them from other genOmes, or allowed them to copy themselves more efficiently and accurately prospered. Competition grew only fiercer as new innovations were cobbled out by trial and error. The complexity of these genOmes rose as time went on. Some specialized in taking materials from others, rather than manufacturing them all. With this, different strategies and specialties arose. These early genOmes were called "g3rms" and the resources they competed for was called "foOd."

Chapter 2: How to get foOd

Eventually, some g3rms started clustering together for protection. Eventually these clusters of identical genOmes themselves found a way to specialize in different tasks, determined by physical pressures, chemical interactions, and even parts of the individual genOmes that could be turned "on" and "off". Some clusters were large, some were small, but individual g3rms still existed: Large clusters had advantages where there was a lot of foOd. Investing that resource into bulk made it harder to steal from. The individual g3rms made up for their vulnerability by copying themselves more frequently: As long as a few survived to produce copies, their category would survive.

Things continued in this fashion to the point that the g3rm colonies began competing with one another. A variety of strategies appeared among them. Interested users came up with names for these general strategies. First, cOrns were colonies that remained in one location for most of their life. They prospered by using light from the nearby H_ ball to turn low grade foOd into higher energy grades. They would then use this energy to produce many smaller colonies called s33ds that would be carried by various means to another location. Those s33ds that landed in safe locations could then grow to produce others.

This source of high energy foOd, however, did not go unnoticed by another category called the hOrses. They would remove large chunks of the cOrns or entire s33ds and break their structure down into foOd they could use. These groups would compete with one another: Some cOrns would grow a defense against the assaults of hOrses, by growing spines, thick g3rm walls that would make the foOd harder to break down or extract, and so on, while the hOrses would develop stronger t33th, hardier foOd extraction mechanisms, etcetera.

Meanwhile still another strategy developed known as wOlfs. These genOmes essentially raised the hOrse strategy further by extracting foOd from hOrses. Competition formed as wOlfs and hOrses got faster, stronger, sharper, and so forth to eat or avoid being eaten.

In turn, there were crOws, who had many similar mechanisms to wOlfs, but favored taking leftover foOd the wOlfs couldn't store, or was too low grade for them. There were, of course, many genOmes that employed a measure of multiple strategies.

Chapter 3: The nOOdle

In the background of all this competition, still more innovations happened, notably including the evolution of the nOOdle: A mass of specialized cells that would direct a genOme's behavior according to outside stimuli. The earliest ones contained simple instructions: If you smell a cOrn, eat it. If you see a wOlf, move away from it. As the variety of genOmes steadily grew, so did the complexity of the instructions that a genOme would encode into its nOOdle. A particular kind of hOrse would need to know which kinds of cOrns it could extract nourishment from.

Eventually, nOOdles reached a level of plasticity: Many behaviors were too complex to simply encode through the genOme. Instead, the creature in question would acquire new instructions in its nOOdle by observing the world around it. This adaptation eventually led to the practice of many creatures demonstrating useful foOd-gathering behaviors to later generation copies. This was especially prevalent in wOlfs, who required larger nOOdles to outwit their prey, and crOws, who needed to recognize opportunities when they came and take advantage of them. Now, there was a new depth to copying strategy: Groups of creatures could pass on useful learned behaviors to later generations.

Chapter 4: The Ascent of homO

Many observers of the grOw server had been fascinated by the new behaviors exhibited by these creatures with large nOOdles. Many more would become entranced by a new group of generalist creatures that arose known as HomO. HomO was a subcategory of generalist creatures that combined the strategies of hOrses, wOlfs, and crOws. It required a massive nOOdle to contain the sheer variety of useful behaviors it could use to survive and copy, as well as discover new behaviors. Its pattern recognition abilities were, in many ways, too good: They would engage in pointless rituals born of coincidence. One homO of note injured itself by accident twice and formed a false connection between those accidents and observing a black c4t intersect its intended direction of movement. Though these rituals and prohibitions did cost time and energy, the cost was often small enough to be offset by significantly useful behaviors such as following hoOf-shape depressions to the hOrse that produced them. Many variations on homO existed, and tended to compete with one another. Though simple strength and endurance were useful in these struggles, the benefits of a larger nOOdle and progenitors diligent in passing on behaviors was invaluable. The eventual result is the current standard: homOsapien. It had one of the largest nOOdles ever seen in a homO, as well as an efficient file compression routine, to store more data with less nOOdle space.

Chapter 5: Sp34k!

Because homOsapien had a dizzying array of behaviors to pass on to later generation copies, they banded together into wandering groups. One day, a homO grunted in a peculiar fashion and extended a fing3r towards a nearby hOrse. The repetition of this behavior started a collection of learned behaviors called "language". Initially, it was quite simple, but over generations, different sounds became associated with different objects and behaviors. Syntax arose, allowing complex descriptions and precise commands to be transmitted between the nOOdles of completely separate homOsapiens.

This had yet another unexpected specialization effect: Before, grOw had genOmes that specialized in the colonial strategy, with individual colony members specializing into "c3lls" that would perform particular functions. The specialized c3lls of the nOOdle allowed populations of largely the same genOme to in turn specialize in behaviors according to local variation in climate. Now, homOsapien, though the transmission ability known as "language" could have individual members of a nomadic group specialize in the behaviors they learned. One homOsapien could learn everything he could about hunting to bring in and share foOd from a hOrse he killed. Another homOsapien could learn everything about cOrns, and know which ones are high grade foOd, when and where they grow, so that they could be gathered efficiently. Another could learn the fundamentals of multiple behaviors and teach the young copies while the specialists are working.

This meant that a group of homOsapien was not bound by the size of its largest nOOdle. Rather than keep redundant copies of instructions in each member's nOOdle, each could store different categories of instructions and leave working memory space for temporarily learning and forgetting other behaviors as needed, or to leave room for learning new behaviors by observation.

Chapter 6: F4rming

Gathering homOsapiens eventually studied the relationship between c0rn, s33ds, and sOil. They found that if they had enough leftover s33ds, they could cause their own plants to grow. Over generations, they found that they could plant s33ds from the most bountiful cOrns they grew to make bountiful copies. Over time, these cOrns, with enough care, could produce large amounts of foOd in a relatively predictable, stationary environment. They could, over generations of copying, produce more nourishing and pleasing foOd from these monitored copies. These cOrns eventually became known as crOps. Reliable foOds meant there could be more time spent understanding the world, and less time scrounging for scraps.

Chapter 7: ToOls

One day, a hunter homOsapien observed a piece of woOd and played with it. He was able to perform this idle behavior because the gathering specialists found a large collection of b3rries and fru1ts that would sustain the group for many, many years if carefully managed. He noticed that when bent at both ends, this piece of woOd would suddenly spring back into its original shape when he dropped his resistance. He tied the two ends together with a piece of s1new and pulled at the center. The creation sprang back into shape. He noticed the speed of the s1new as it went from bent by the pull of his fingers to a straight line. He fashioned a small sp34r in a manner similar to the method that his progenitor's progenitor's progenitor passed on to generations of copies. He put the small sp34r against the s1new and pulled it back. It moved forward suddenly as he let go. He repeated the gesture, eventually getting the small sp34r to go wherever he wished. It moved with great speed like a thrown sp34r, but farther. This meant he could kill a creature without giving as much chase. This saved time and energy, so he taught it to his young copy, who taught it to his young copy. Over further generations the free time these toOls, known as the bOw and arrOw, gave their users idle time to find ways of improving upon it. These improvements were also passed down the generations.

Chapter 8: scrOlls and bOOks

One day, a homOsapien thought about marks that were left behind by another tribe as hand prints left on a cave wall. He thought of the idea behind speaking as he did so, and ended up thinking of a new idea: If sounds from a person's mouth or gestures with your hands can be attached to ideas, could pictures and shapes also be attached to them? Marks on stone would last longer than a sound or a gesture. The speaker would not need to be around at the same time as the listener. In this manner, even two people who never met, or even lived at the same time could send messages or pass along ideas. You could also send a message to yourself, since marks on a stone last can longer than a single homOsapien's memory.

With this thought, a group of homOsapiens were no longer bound to the total memory capacity of everyone's nOOdles. Information could be recorded on a scrOll or in a bOOk, which would act as a substitute for nOOdle space. This, in fact, was superior to the nOOdle in terms of fidelity.

Chapter 9: The tOwn

With all the homOsapiens specializing in various trades, more time was open to understand the world. No one homOsapien needed to know everything. If a wise homOsapien knew something at an earlier time, it was probably written down and preserved, rather than allowed to die off. Because the farmers raised crOps, famine became less of a concern over time. Relatively few people could now do the foOd-gathering work that once required an entire tribe. Generations worth of bOOks were put into the schOol library, where children could learn a wide variety of topics, even those that did not directly produce food. Some became toOl makers. Some learned about plants out of curiosity, and when they grew up, learned that some had medicinal uses. Some studied rocks and metals to find which ones made the best tools, and made new, even more useful combinations.

Some grew bored with simply sustaining society and sought ways of eliminating problems that ate up time and resources. One of these problems was the formation of pointless rituals that came from the pattern recognition abilities that had done well enough in the wild. These people invented a method called "science." With science, they double-checked everything they did and found ways of reliably detecting patterns with less chance of false positives. The facts they uncovered involved such intricacies, they need specialized parts of the schools to pass on real understanding of the process, rather than just simple conclusions.

These scientists sought out other people to verify their results by conducting the same experiments, as well as gathering data from all other scientists in the world. The resulting mass of data was so vast, they needed many, many machines to contain it all, and a method by which these machines could pass this information to someone who wishes to access it. Using these innovations, homOsapien was eventually able to discover the genOme at the heart of all life and even study their own: They found little difference among their kind. The reason was unambiguous: The ideas the homOsapien civilization was built on blunted the red tooth and claw of nature. A person with a tiny increase in his nOOdle size that allowed him to memorize a few more facts did not make him more significantly likely to survive and copy his genOme than someone who used a bOOk to the same effect. Genetic evolution was almost, but not quite obsolete. As a society develops better methods of protecting its members from famine, disease, accidents, and violence, the fewer genetic hurdles there are to jump. This is as it should be.

Chapter 10: Inequality

Despite the advances that many homOsapiens had made, there were many who could not enjoy this prosperity. Some lived in places that were inhospitable for growing crOps. Some lived in places dominated by superstitions that demanded the mistreatment or even death of those who questioned their value. Some lived in areas where particular resources were scarce, the needy had to spend their time fighting one another for it instead of going to a good school or conducting research. Those who had gifts for certain fields were often forced to squander their genius on contemplating how to get their next meal or ambush the Haves, instead of unlocking secrets or designing new toOls. Many never had a chance to learn what knowledge the outside world had discovered for simple lack of time and access to that knowledge.

There is a saying: "If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." The advances we experience today are only possible because our ancestors were able to pass on that knowledge in a way that we can retrieve it. Scientific progress is built on the work of those who came before us. There is no gene that can tell us what dark energy is. There is no gene that will tell us how to analyze a cluster of data. There is only what we learn from our fellow beings. Shutting someone off from the mountain of diligent work from those who came before us will stunt even a genetic genius's growth. The destruction of that knowledge can easily cause a return to the Dark Ages. If you cannot give your offspring the knowledge shared by civilization, your DNA cannot preserve that progress.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

D&Dify: Hizzy Rules

Well, I've been thinking of some extra ways of customizing characters, and I think I've come up with a few good ideas. Looking for some input.

Background bonuses: Since 4th Edition's pretty streamlined, it's sometimes hard for me to think of ways to put in little pieces of individuality for my characters. So, house rules to the rescue.

First, take the "standard" background bonuses available to characters: Two associated skills with the region/personal history/whatever background. You either get a +2 bonus to one or add it to your class skills.

The next bit is my idea: You get one background "quirk" for each tier of play. Paragon- and Epic-tier quirks are unique characteristics you've acquired over the course of adventuring. These quirks generally don't provide statistical bonuses, but the idea's broad enough to require DM approval. Some examples:

Elemental Prestidigitation: A good quirk for non-Wizard arcanists. Only usable in non-stressful situations. Example with my desert sorcerer: He gets "sand" as his element. He can do Prestidigitation-like abilities, so long as they involve sand, like conjuring a bed of sand to lie back on, forming sand sculptures that crumble once he stops concentrating, turning sand into rough glass objects, etcetera.

Daily Ritual: You can perform a chosen level 1 ritual once a day for free, possibly with restrictions. Example: I have a concept for a NPC wind-oriented Shaman who can perform the Animal Messenger ritual with birds.

Warforged Prosthetic: My desert sorcerer's paragon-tier quirk: He's a southpaw who lost his right arm to a werecroc and replaced it with a effigy look-alike. It doesn't give him any bonus to his ability scores like the old Arm of Nyr, but it does allow him to embed or attach Warforged components. He usually keeps an off-hand weapon embedded.

Bonus Language: It seems a bit off that there don't seem to be many ways to learn new languages.

Any thoughts?

Woo Enthymemes #4: The Myth of Passive Observation

Welcome to another edition of Woo Enthymemes. This entry was inspired by remembering some guy on a news article comment thread who was rambling on in a superior tone of voice about how the Double Slit Experiment put us skeptics in our place in regards to the existence of the supernatural. Cue my rolling eyes. I have yet to meet a woo who can tell me something I didn't already find boring in an "old news" sort of way about quantum mechanics.

Put simply, the typical quantum woo's amazement at the Double Slit Experiment comes from being stuck in the "Middle World," full of medium-sized objects moving around at medium speeds over medium periods of time, many of which involve agents we can perceive with our standard array of senses. All the objects they observe aren't heavily affected by being observed. Our minds were "built" by evolution to live in that world because resources spent understanding the "Big World" (of galaxies, dark matter, and illions of years), the "Small World" (of electrons, quarks, and femtoseconds), and the "Dense World" (of singularities and the instant of the Big Bang) was not conducive to having and raising children.

There is still a piece of my mind left in the savanna that gapes in wonder when I hold two repelling magnets against one another: They're inanimate objects, and yet they "struggle" to avoid meeting one another, as if they have their own locomotion, pushing against my fingers in a desperate effort. I know intellectually, of course, that like magnetic charges repel like charges. There's no intention there, anymore than water "wants" to flow downhill.

The myth of passive observation is born of our heritage as inhabitants of the Middle World. Let's say I'm in a dark cave and I want to examine a particular rock. I can shine a flashlight on it to look at it. I can pick it up and feel its shape. I can chip off a tiny sliver of it and perform various tests to determine its composition. All of these methods of observation change the rock. Shining light on it warms it up ever so slightly. Picking it up leaves traces of my skin's oils on it while picking off dust. Removing a sliver subtracts from the rock's overall mass. Because a human can be very delicate in the Middle World, these changes can be quite minimal. The danger of this, however, is that it can lead us to the hubris of thinking we can observe the universe as if we are not a part of it.

That is where things go wrong when a thoughtless person looks at the results of experimenting in the Small World of Quantum Mechanics. The word "quantum" refers to the smallest possible changes. Warming up a rock by a fraction of a degree in the middle world may be negligible, but the same sort of energy addition in a Quantum experiment could very well excite an electron into the next orbital shell or pin down the uncertain particle to a particular location, collapsing its wave function. The latter is precisely what happens in the Double Slit Experiment: Electrons are extraordinarily tiny particles with tiny mass. When we experiment with single electrons, we don't have the messy interactions of the Middle World to average out all the strange individual behaviors. Working with fundamental particles could be akin to moving an egg with a piece of construction equipment: We're hamfisted Middle World creatures manipulating objects that can be altered with the most delicate of touches.

The reason I am repeatedly impressing that fact in this blog post is because this is an issue that we were not made to think about. We take it for granted that we can look at something without changing it, mostly because the changes we inflict when being delicate are so small we can't casually observe them. While scientists are aware of this fact, many laymen who read their work have not raised their awareness. That is why many quantum woos out there can act surprised that observation can have effects: If they naively believe that we are separate from the experiment, they can believe it's magic when "passive" observation can have active effects. There is no such thing as passive observation. There is only active observation that strives to have negligible effects. In the Small World of QM, there is no "negligible."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I Need Science!

It's been fun "debating" Gabriel, but I need some uplifting fluffy stuff to get over the frustration of trying to teach a guy that science doesn't come from DNA. It comes from knowledge and hard work. Before the Wright Brothers could build an airplane, they needed to live in a society that had knowledge of woodworking and specialized members devoted to the task. The same for textiles, the creation of combustion engines, Otto Lilenthal to work out some of the early stuff for them, and so on and so on and so on. On top of that, the division of labor required knowledge of agriculture and a stock of plants able to efficiently produce nourishment that could be processed by the human digestive tract in a manner more efficient than nomadic hunting and gathering, and also be amendable to breeding to survive in a large collection of environments.

So, now that I've listed off all that stuff, the topic for the thread is this: List underrated or seemingly irrelevant discoveries/ideas/practices that were prerequisites for today's technologies that we take for granted. The human pyramid of scientific progress wouldn't have gotten far without some of those giants and even little people at the base. They deserve their kudos.

One of the great beginning technologies I'll start off with is a primal idea that helped kickstart the whole "civilization" thing: Division of labor. "Hey, I'll hunt, you gather, and you over there, see if you can figure out if any of these plants can be useful in unexpected ways."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gun Control

There, I've posted a thread about it, and I've chugged some Potions of Flame Resistance knowing what this will probably entail in the comments.

For a good long while, I was an oddball Texan because I favored gun control quite strongly. Of course, given that I lived in Texas, the best I typically saw from the opposing side were the gun nuts who were proud to live up to their stereotypes. After hitting my skeptical epiphany, so to speak, I've made a note to revisit the topic.

Now, first I want to make this absolutely clear: I don't want guns to be in the hands of the criminal, the irresponsible, or the unstable. That's the core of the issue for me: Keeping deadly weapons beyond those people's reach. The debate is about the best method for doing that. Can the government make and enforce laws or programs that do that with relatively few drawbacks? Can responsible, law-abiding gun owners encourage a culture of firearm safety that prevents dangerous individuals from acquiring them? Is there another method?

Whichever side or idea you present, be sure to back it up with numbers and citations. I've seen a few cases of statistical skullduggery from all groups, so be sure you know what you're talking about.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Discussion Thread: The Future of Human Evolution

I was thinking I'd be able to type a bit more on the topic, but I ended up thinking of what I think is a succinct way of putting it: I doubt humans will develop big veiny brains like in bad science fiction because we've formed what I believe is called a negative feedback loop: As our brains grew in the past, we developed technology to act as substitute brain matter. We're at the point where we have books, the internet, experts on reference, and so forth to outsource the need for brain space. With these non-genetic substitutes, there's a lot less selective pressure to confer significant advantage to those who might develop mutations that result in more powerful brains.

Being able to remember or figure out something without a search engine doesn't make you that much more likely to get laid.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

117th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Ionian Enchantment.

Open thread as usual, but Google bombing is FORBIDDEN! I mean, how would you feel if you were a chiropractor searching for information on chiropractic, and the first place you bumped into was just a bunch of perfectly legitimate criticism?

On the Topic of Race and Memetic Evolution

Had a thread derailed earlier with a guy following me from Pharyngula. Things got more interesting when he suddenly dropped the typical racist troll tone and actually asked questions. Here is where that derail gets onto its own rails.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thinking About Turning Up the Heat

As some of you probably know, I didn't exactly have high expectations of Obama when I voted for him, only that he'd be better than McCain. Had some conversations in meatspace on the topic. Most of us were expecting him more about Gitmo, Blackwater, and such.

My counselor is hoping he's just biding his time so that the wingnuts can't claim he messed everything up by strong arming in his first year. With any other Democratic president, I could see the logic in that. With the current attitude the Republicans have with "Barack Hussein Obama," I have a hard time believing anything will get them to calm down. You know, kind of like fundies have with even the tiniest concessions to science.

So, naturally, I'm more cynical than my counselor, so I'll eventually write up a post about all the things we wanted Obama to get over with. I'm mostly speaking of the stuff we'd consider no-brainers. So, please drop by and post issues and links. I don't want to end up forgetting anything as a result of the red herrings tossed out by the fringe about his alleged religion or birthplace.

Skeptical Doggerel: "Obvious Poe"

I don't expect to run into enough of these to make a series, since I don't see much stupidity from my blogosphere fellows. But this is one phrase that annoys me.

Poe's Law pretty much says that you can't parody fundamentalists in a manner that it can't be mistaken for an actual fundamentalist: There's always a fundie crazy enough to actually believe what the parody depicts. We're a segment of the population that deals with these fundies quite often. We've seen a great deal of the width, breadth, and depth of fundamentalism.

That's why it's impossible to say someone is an "Obvious Poe": The very nature of Poe's law means that it's going to be hard to distinguish a particularly crazy fundamentalist and a parody of one. As someone who's faced off against a great number of fundie trolls, I'd like to recommend you just avoid talking about "obvious" parodies. It's okay to suspect one and give evidence, but please don't act like we're idiots because we've seen similar fundies before.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

My Bro's Back!

He's started up a new blog, focusing a bit more on music this time around. Be warned, he spent a bit of time on /b/ while bored, recently.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Creative Juices

I've been thinking of a lot of stuff I should do online.

1. I'm thinking about moving the content of my Game Development Limbo to a forum. It should be easier for everyone involved to keep up, especially since the "recent comments" widget didn't work on a private blog. If I make one, I'll probably keep it open for a bit so that the rest of you can decide if you'd like to sign on. One thing I'd like for the service is not having to delete the mass of spam bots that invaded the Skeptiplomacy forum.

2. A private wiki where I can write up details of a homebrew D&D campaign setting and easily add on details when I think of them.

3. Maybe attempt to revive the idea behind Skeptiplomacy.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pointless Question #65

What was that movie, you know, the one with that guy? That guy with the hair?

Doggerel #190: "Free Will"

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

Free will is one of those things I find incredibly difficult to define precisely, even though I have a sense of what it means. On a casual level, it can be used to describe a trait possessed by sapient beings: They can make a wide variety of decisions about how they live their lives. That variety diminishes as you go down to simpler minded creatures, like ants, who are pretty much hardwired or close to it.

The trouble comes when you get down to the nitty gritty.

First, there's causality. Everything I do is affected by my genes, my experiences, my knowledge about my current situation, the stimuli I'm receiving by now, and even my medication. All of that affects the cognition behind my decision process. Someone who knows a lot about me could do a decent job of predicting my actions. In principle, there's no reason not to believe keeping track of all the particles in my corner of the universe could yield a near perfect prediction of my behavior.

That doesn't sit well with a lot of people. They don't like the idea of being a "slave" to external forces, instincts, drugs, or whatever. Some of us who have come to believe in determinism still get a twinge of discomfort every once in a while. The problem is what else is there? Adding in a "supernatural" component like a "soul" doesn't solve the problem. If it's not bound to the various influences in your life, why is your behavior still fairly predictable based on those influences? If it's just something that occasionally makes you act contrary to your nature, how's it any different than any seemingly random natural event?

People are complex things. It's far more likely unexpected or counter-intuitive behavior is a result of that complexity than an ethereal set of dice attached to everyone's brain.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Superhero Show/Comic Concept

Opening setting: Typical college fare. The star: Brilliant engineering student who's started having trouble getting to classes on time, sleeping in class, and so forth. First few episodes mostly involve his teachers and friends complaining about him going missing for a while and returning with lame excuses. Sprinkled in the background are reports of some guy fighting criminals in body armor, a trenchcoat, and a mask...

Said reports start getting more outlandish and attracting more attention and camera time: The mystery man takes on tougher and tougher criminals, displaying exotic high-tech weapons. It soon becomes obvious to any genre savvy viewer that the main character and the mystery superhero are the same person. But all the action is off screen, or shown in fragmented security camera views. The show isn't about the glamor and action of superheroics: It's about how the main character's civilian life is affected by adopting his alter ego.

How does he keep his friends from figuring it out? How does he handle the situation when they do? Can he balance the demands of both lives?

Of course, those are all questions shows about supers usually have to deal with, but I can't think of one that focused exclusively on the man under the mask. I'm sure there's some comic book out there that's done it (and that inevitably, I'll get a recommendation from a reader).

So, any thoughts to share on my little idea?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Doggerel #189: "Settled, Once and For All"

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

This is a two-sided bit of doggerel. The first part is a straw man of science: Many woos like to assign false certainty and absolutes to science. They think we're closed-minded because we consider just about everything "settled, once and for all." That is how faith works, not science. In science, all conclusions are tentative. For the strongest theories, it's unlikely there'd be something to falsify them, except for special cases where scientists would need to adjust.

The other side of the doggerel comes from a well-known phenomena among woos: Moving the goalposts. Many like to claim that some single piece of evidence will convince them, but have formulated their arguments so that they can keep retreating into more elaborate ad hoc hypotheses, semantics games, double standards that involve raising the bar for the scientific theory and lowering the bar for psuedoscience, changing the subject, and so on and so on and so on.

There are many cases where one particular solid piece of evidence can quickly overturn opinions, but one of the main features that separates science from woo is that woo is built to resist evidence. When someone can honestly change their mind from a key piece of evidence, that's great. With a great deal of woo, however, we can't be naive to expect that sort of honesty and open-mindedness.

Of course, presenting large amounts of evidence anyway is a good tactic for discrediting a denialist. Sometimes, though, it's not worth the time and resources to cater to their every whim. We do not live to spoon feed the baselessly stubborn.

The Birthers

I had to get around to it, eventually. I mostly ignored other people's posts relating to it. I regarded it as just one of those quirky things I'd see conspiracy nuts getting repeatedly owned about when I glance up. Then I saw that Orly woman on the Colbert Report, and decided to sample a bit deeper of their trolls when Orac posted some links. Funny.

The funniest thing is that they've inspired a Doggerel entry coming up latter tonight: "Settled, Once and For All": Many trolls claimed the whole thing would die down if Obama gave a special order to have his original released, which is highly abnormal. The office keeps them in one location for a reason. Of course, those trolls saying that and wiggling their eyebrows suspiciously apparently forgot about all the others making preemptive excuses: Changing the definition of "natural born" to require both parents, or making up tales about his mother not being a certain age to "pass on her citizenship." And, of course, if Obama does issue a special executive order, they'll use that as a source of suspicion, "Oh, don't you think it's interesting that he went through the trouble of getting an executive order for a document that's supposed to stay still? He must have thought violating the sanctity of that office to produce that document, where it could conveniently be altered en route would appease us. He must be very desperate to settle this once and for all, so something suspicious must be going on."

It's amusing, and for those who've been roasting those trolls for a while, I can imagine it's equally frustrating to deal with the same old canards again and again. That is the life of a skeptic on the internet, after all.

Of course, I feel obligated to discuss birther motivations. Of course, I imagine I'll get a troll or two who will scream "ad hominem!" inappropriately, but the evidence is already overwhelmingly against them. We might as well spell out some probable motivations for their goal post moving and arbitrarily high standards. Getting that out of the way, rather than naively believing simple evidence will change matters can direct how we handle them. I think presenting evidence is still the first priority, but being able to reasonably call their objectivity into question is also important.

Racism is the first big, obvious one. I didn't see them hassling McCain over similar concerns all that much. Exercising a double standard based on this thing we call "race" is racism. Of course, not all birthers are racist. Some are latching onto the conspiracy crankery for religious reasons: They're doing this because they detect some faint whiff of Islam on him, and they want him out. I wouldn't be surprised if many are knowingly "lying for Jesus." And, of course, there are no doubt some birthers doing it because they just don't agree with Obama's policies. He hasn't been doing all that well to meet my expectations, but I hope to remain objective when I complain.

I doubt the majority are knowingly lying, though: I think they just let their prejudices override their critical thinking, if they have any. In either case, I can't imagine any kind of evidence would change their mind. I will not be surprised if I'm still hearing some peeps from them decades from now, just like we're still hearing from people who think the moon landings were hoaxed, JFK was shot by the Illuminati, and the all-time champion of denialism, Creationism. Crankery isn't stopped by simple evidence.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Random Recall #10

Since I had Tron on the brain, thanks to an awesome trailer, I ended up remembering another instance of primitive computer graphics: Horror movie I believe. Guy goes into an arcade after it's closed to play one of the games. It has a joystick and an attached gun. The console explodes, releasing a couple wire frame enemies and the game's announcer's voice. He realizes he's holding the now detached laser gun and finds it works for real. Given that the enemies also work for real, he decides to ditch the place and run. As punishment for that action, the game's Big Bad, in the form of a wire frame face, decides to show up and eat him.

So, any ideas?

It's Always Opposite Day in Creationism Land

Not long ago, ended up exchanging a few comments with a YouTube Creationist who laughably brought up Piltdown Man. Seriously, Creationists, when was the last time you ever heard us claim Piltdown was real? Really. You'd think that our unending laughter when you bring it up would clue you in on our opinion. Nowadays, if you want to prove evolution false, you'd have better luck by proving Piltdown Man was real.

Shanedk summarizes the whole Piltdown thing well:

This is just one example about Creationists doing things exactly backwards. It often makes me wonder if they're just so desperate, they're knowingly perpetuating the Big Lie.

Another example: The Crocoduck. This is another example Creationists should be desperately trying to find, but try to reverse it so that evolution has to find this critter that, if evolution is accurate, is impossible. Crocodiles and birds are on very different branches on the evolutionary tree. Large organisms never ever make a leap that big. In short, finding a chimera with the head of a crocodilian and the body of an avian (having characteristics that are part of the definition of the branches) would outright falsify evolution. It'd be like a dog giving birth to a cat (another example of Creationist Opposite Day) in outright violation of heredity.

Finding a real Piltdown Man, Crocoduck, or one species bringing forth a grossly different species is precisely what Creationists should be scrambling to do. Most know these things are absurd. But Creationism can happily explain them as "Well, God was in a weird mood that day," while evolutionary biology would be unable to explain any of those things. Of course, Creationism is an absurdity that can explain anything, including impossibilities and absurdities that don't happen. Evolution explains quite reasonably why zoology doesn't look like a D&D Monster Manual. Creationism can't explain why life looks the way it does, except to invoke random, unpredictable whims of a magic man.