Mailvox: no worries, no trap

Merkur smells a rat:

When you said “Please be assured that this has nothing to do with… any of the presumably anti-scientific bete noirs that offend your professional sensibilities”, did you not know you were writing a column called “The Case Against Science” for WorldNetDaily, or were you just flat out lying?

Ah, yes, nothing like a deceitful unnecessary* use of ellipses, especially when implying that asking directly if someone else is lying. The full quote, of course is: “Please be assured that this has nothing to do with any defense of ID, creationism or any of the presumably anti-scientific bete noirs that offend your professional sensibilities as a biologist.”

The competent reader will have noted that there was nothing in the column about ID, creationism or any of the subjects about which Prof. PZ Myers has written so enthusiastically. Furthermore, as Larry correctly noted, the column was written prior to the request; I neither expected a reply nor required one for the column. The two things are unrelated, except by general subject matter.

I should note that an attack on science is not equivalent to a defense of ID, creationism etc. Even if I had written so flawless a column that it was met by the immediate mass hounding of scientists from their laboratories and classrooms, this would not make one particle of difference in making the case for ID or creationism. As most regular readers know very well, I’m far less interested in those subjects than Prof. PZ Myers or many people here.

The definition, of course, is for the book. I’d be surprised if the professor took any exception to the use to which I have put his useful definition. And while I won’t be surprised in the least if parts of the book should become a future bete noir for Pharyngula and company, I don’t expect to mention ID, creationism, the age of the Earth or any of that sort of thing even once.

I mean, you don’t honestly think I’m that predictable, do you?

*Merkur explained subsequently that he intended nothing of the sort. I see no reason to doubt him.

Science: a dialogue

In which Salt, heroically assuming the role of Socrates, confronts an upset gaggle of militant sciencists:

SCIENCIST: I guess I must be more optimistic than a weird Christian nihilist, because I think it’s better to aspire to a better world than to give up and slide back into some benighted religious illusion.

SALT: Great risks! Most certainly. I’d bet the 100K+ Hiroshima Japanese of August 1945 would agree! Now, just why did you scientists build that damn thing anyway?

SCIENCIST: If you actually took the time to read about WWII history, unlike, say, Vox Day,* you’d realize that the scientists built the bombs to blow up Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the behest of the American Military because the American Military wanted a way to bring the Japanese Empire to its knees without the need of a total invasion.

SALT: So, that lets the scientists off the hook culpability-wise? I guess a hit man is off the hook solely due to being hired? They knew what they were building. Had it not been built it could not have been dropped and a nuke is not simple science. It took scientists to invent and build the damn thing.

SCIENCIST: Terribly analogy. The hit man’s the one who pulls the trigger. What you mean is closer to: “I guess the gun manufacturer is off the hook solely due to having made the gun?” The Hit Man you mean to refer to is not the science or the scientists who developed the bomb, it’s one or more people in the chain of command between Harry Truman and the crew of the Enola Gay (inclusive).

SALT: You miss the point, being express intent; scientists invented, designed, and built the bomb specifically for use on a Japanese target. Not unlike hiring a hit man for an express intent. The military were just the willing and desirous delivery boys. That any were hired does not relieve culpability.

SCIENCIST: [irrelevant quibble about nationality of target]

SALT: My apologies. I should have said military target. Germany was primary, but after it surrendered and it seemed that Japan would not be far behind there was a great push to have the bomb for use while it could still be used.

Quote: “The epic story of the development of the atomic bomb is well known. [4] It began in 1939 when a small group of eminent scientists in this country called to the attention of the United States Government the vast potentialities of atomic energy for military purposes and warned that the Germans were already carrying on experiments in this field…. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer recalled in 1954 that “we always assumed if they [atomic bombs] were needed, they would be used.”

SCIENCIST: Your arguement is weak and your conclusion pointless. Anyone on both sides of this argument who blames all members of one group for something awful that a couple memebers did is an idiot. But let’s take a look…perhaps at most somewhere in the realm of a few hundred “scientists” worked on the bomb. Perhaps the same number of military personel and politicians allowed it to be used. How many thousands of scientists are working to make the world a better place every day?

I mean I don’t even know why I have to point this out…some Jewish guy used to talk about turning the other cheek and doing onto others and all that, but the people in this day who use his name seem to think it’s okay to drop (non-atomic, of course) bombs on Iraqi children because it makes them feel a little safer.

SALT: Okay, so if we shouldn’t blame today’s scientists for the actions of other scientists who were building nuclear weapons 62 years ago, why should we blame today’s Christians for the actions of Crusaders retaking occupied Christian territory from Muslim prinicipalities 908 years ago?

SCIENCIST: (blank stare not dissimilar to deer caught in headlights)

SALT: And furthermore, if the scientists who conceive, design and build a weapon for the express purpose of killing thousands of people cannot be held responsible for its use, how can the scientists who conceive, design and build a medical treatment for the express purpose of saving thousands of lives be held responsible for its use?

SCIENCIST: But there’s an important difference! See, in the case of the former, scientists look bad, but in the latter case, they look good!

SALT: Ah yes, I stand rebuked. The logic is impeccable… in its absence. And I further note that if Science cannot be held responsible for the evil actions of a few scientists, it cannot be held responsible for the positive actions of a few scientists either.

SCIENCIST: But.. but Science is good! By definition! Polio vaccine! Computers! Your argument is weak and pointless! I like cheese! LOL, you couldn’t even read this on the Internet if it wasn’t for Science! (bursts into tears)

SALT: I almost hate to remind you that if we’re going to delve into the foundational aspects of existential credit, Science wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the Christian medieval priesthood.

SCIENCIST: PZ? St. Darwin? Mommy? HOLD ME!!!!!!

If the logic demonstrated by these heartfelt believers in science is indicative of scientists in general, I should fear for the fate of science. Fortunately, I suspect genuine scientodists are rather better equipped in that area. For the benefit of Pharyngula’s slower readers, I note that I am not Salt, as even a brief textual analysis should suffice to demonstrate. Moreover, I am neither anti-science nor anti-technology,** being a literal card-carrying, award-winning Expert in technology as well as a scientist by most sciencists’ definitions of the term. I am even a regular reader of the pop science journal, New Scientist.

*Oh, if he only knew the humor in that statement… especially given the way in which Japanese transport capacity in 1945 had been reduced to….

**I’m not sure which is funnier, the idea that an uploaded Internet superintelligence with an ASL habit doesn’t know anything about WWII history or that it is anti-technology.

Science in the shower

In kindly awarding me the prestigious Pointy Stick Award For Practicing Ludditry With A Computer, committed sciencist (and, apparently, fellow scientist), PST makes some unusual claims:

In his outpouring of blogorrhea, Day tries to apportion good things to “technology” and bad things to “science”, and does nothing so much as illustrate his inability to understand what either is, or how they are related.

First, Day thinks that science and technology are inherently modern — he pegs science as 200 years old. They’ve been with us for millenia. While the rate of change has grown over time, and will continue to grow, did not Archimedes do science when he took a bath on that storied day? And what separates the neolithic from the bronze age from the iron age? Could it be, oh I don’t know, could it be something called TECHNOLOGY?! Vox Putz is more like it.

Correction: I do not think that technology is modern nor did I write anything even remotely resembling that in my recent column. Only someone who believes science = technology could possibly conclude that I have ever said or even implied anything of the sort.

And while I had an excellent idea in the shower the other day; I had no idea that I was simultaneously science. It seems I’m not only a scientist, I am a downright natural! Perhaps we should add a another definition to Pharyngula’s three: “4. Performing water-based ablutions”.

Confusion on the part of scientists and some dictionaries notwithstanding, technology is not science and science is not technology. They are related, to be sure, but then, so are humanity and science. If we apply PST’s reckoning, without humanity there would be no science, so therefore science is humanity and we are all scientists.

I’d always thought philosophy classes were a joke, but now I’m beginning to wonder if scientists and engineers should be strongly encouraged to take a course or two in basic logic.

As for the origins of science, the most widely accepted assertion is that it began with Galileo around 1600. But if it began then, it did not become a significant factor until the Industrial Revolution and the widespread use of firearms, around 1800. Now, there is no doubt my choice of words could have been more precise, but to claim that I am wildly off base or that science goes back to Archimedes, much less the Neolithic, is not only bizarre, but directly contrary to every creditable source that I have ever encountered.

The irony, of course, is that there is no shortage of empirical evidence suggesting that scientists take rather fewer baths and showers than the average individual.

The evidence for Atkins

Okay, Dad, you win:

One of the largest studies to date has found that overweight women lost a little more weight on the popular Atkins diet than on three other well-known diet plans….

Christopher Gardner and colleagues at Stanford University in California, US, put 311 overweight women between 20 and 50 years old on either Atkins, or one of three other popular diets:

• Zone, which cuts carbs less severely than Atkins

• LEARN, a low-fat, high-carb diet based on US national guidelines

• Ornish, an extreme low-fat plan

After a year, all the women had lost some weight. The Atkins group lost more on average than the groups on all other diets – 4.7 kilograms (10.3 pounds) versus 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) for Zone, 2.6 kg (5.7 lbs) for LEARN and 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) for Ornish.

About 15 years ago, my father and I were arguing over whether his insane habit of eating a fat-filled protein-heavy diet was a better way to lose weight than the low-fat diet I was eating. Since I was quite lean, I thought my father’s position was obviously nuts, although he did manage to lose the weight he wanted to lose.

Obviously, I was wrong.

I do find it interesting that the science community still seems to have it in for the Atkins guy, apparently due to his chutzpah in publicly demonstrating the flaws in the “scientifically superior” low-fat diet. The headline is that the Atkins diet is “marginally” better, whereas you know that if the LEARN diet had proved superior by the same ratio, the headlines would have trumpeted its being “nearly twice as effective as Atkins”.

Of course, exercise is a lot better than any diet.

March is Women’s History month!

On this day in 1994, Lt. Kara Hultgreen became the first qualified female F-14 pilot. A few months later, she became the first female F-14 pilot to kill herself trying to land on an aircraft carrier.

What I find more than a little funny is the way Women’s Military Firsts complains: “Although 31 male pilots have died in Tomcat accidents much ado was made over Lt Hultgreen’s accident.”

Perhaps the ado made over Lt Hultgreen’s becoming a pilot might have had something to do with that. Or the fact that the 31 male pilots killed in Tomcat accidents represented at most 0.7 percent of total male Tomcat pilots, whereas Lt Hultgreen represented 100 percent of the female pilots.

(712 F-14s were built from 1969 to 1991, so assuming that at least two pilots per plane were required from 1974 to 2006, the plane’s period of service, there must have been at least 1,423 male F-14 pilots. If the average pilot’s active flying career was 10.6 years, then there would have been at least 4,269 male pilots flying F-14s, of which the 31 killed in accidents would represent 0.7 percent.)