Semi-scientists

One reason why evolutionary biologists are inordinately disposed to be snarlingly contemptuous of religion is that they are rightfully insecure about their standing as genuine scientists:

I prefaced my first question to them by a little imaginative scenario: three biologists discussing the properties of the black hole in the middle of our galaxy. It was very clear that the astronomers really believed that they could discuss ‘life’ professionally, whereas everyone saw biologists talking about black holes as absurd….

Biology questions don’t seem professional to the people who design these scenarios; it’s like folk psychology or philosophy – everyone has “a right to” an opinion.

The reason people have more respect for physicists, even the sort of physicists who are engaging in unscientific speculation such as string theory, is that physicists are capable of answering difficult questions without trying to change the subject, resorting to evasive maneuvers and archly proclaiming that the subject is just too difficult to understand by anyone outside of the evolutionary priesthood. Here’s an excellent example, Sean Carroll criticizing Larry Michael Behe’s new book:

“Unfortunately, [Behe’s] errors are of a technical nature and will be difficult for lay readers, and even some scientists (those unfamiliar with molecular biology and evolutionary genetics), to detect. Some people will be hoodwinked. My goal here is to point out the critical flaws in Behe’s key arguments and to guide readers toward some references.”

I’ve never read Behe. Perhaps Carroll is correct, I am not sufficiently informed to judge. But to the intelligent reader, Carroll is giving a warning that he isn’t capable of providing an adequate explanation anyone who isn’t already convinced will find convincing. And we see this sort of thing all the time, whether it is biologists like Carroll or professional propagandists like Dawkins, even though biology is much easier than physics.

One seldom sees an economist frothing at the mouth at yet another attempt to deny the iron Law of Supply and Demand. We will see fish-squirrels breeding humans out of monkeys in the lab before we see prices rise with an increasing supply and static demand, and yet economists are capable of listening to morons advocating health care nationalization and other nonsense doomed to failure with equanimity. Meanwhile, evolutionary biologists are wetting themselves at the thought that evolution might not be taught as Holy Scripture in schools that can’t manage to teach math or basic reading.

Read a Christian theologian and then read a site like Pharyngula. Which one strikes you as more insecure, more terrified that at any moment, they will be revealed to be intellectually naked? Religion has not only survived its “inevitable” demise at the hands of the Enlightenment for 200 years, it is growing explosively throughout the world.

The inability of these semi-scientific biologists to make accurate observations and conclusions regarding relative meme growth demonstrates how shaky their capacity for genuine scientody is. If one meme is growing in a shrinking population and the other meme is growing even faster in an expanding one, then how in the name of Natural Selection can anyone possibly conclude that the first meme is in the process of becoming the dominant one?

That being said, I do agree that is is bizarre how many SF writers are concerned about getting the science right, while showing no interest in getting either the biology or the religion right. This is a real failure on the part of the genre, as it is the artful use of psychological truths, not scientific ones, that make great literature.

The Wheel of Slime

The Original Cyberpunk makes the mistake of rolling with “The Wheel of Time”:

Seven pages of Prologue. Three pages of maps that by all rights should have the Tolkien estate consulting their lawyers. Then the story finally gets started — except no, wait, that was just the author tuning up; here, this is the real sta — no, wait, he fooled me again, now is the point where the story finally starts to get under weigh, with a determined, dreary, and ponderous plod.

There are two reasons why I remain serenely untroubled by my books selling in the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. The first is named “Dan Brown” and the second is named “Robert Jordan”. Of the two, Jordan is by far the more execrable, as he manages to combine annoying characters with an absence of a plot that is only topped by his general lack of originality.

If you want to sell the maximum number of books, you must appeal to the lowest common denominator. Jordan is as low as it gets. I actively loathe his protagonist, Rand al’Thor, and slogged through a few of the middle books in the series inspired solely by the hope that he would die a lingering and painful death, preferably involving something that would somehow manage to silence his whining during the process.

For years, I thought that “The Wheel of Time” was the worst best-selling fantasy-related series ever written. However, I think the woman who writes the Anita Blake novels recently managed to top Jordan with her increasingly absurdist vampire porn.

If you want modern epic fantasy, stick with Martin, Feist and the older Eddings stuff. Or even Dragonlance. Shannara is another mediocre Tolkein ripoff, in my opinion, but it’s head and shoulders above the interminable “Wheel of Slime”.

Discretionary law

No smoking, no snapping in NYC:

Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks.

New rules being considered by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance. The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.

Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers. Nevertheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union says the proposed rules, as strictly interpreted, could have that effect. The group also warns that the rules set the stage for selective and perhaps discriminatory enforcement by police.

As you probably know, I don’t much care whether New York continues to provide the backdrop for hilarious television comedies about the idiosyncratic lives of twenty-somethings exchanging theoretically witty one-liners or disappears in smoke and fire. And it’s debatable which group is more annoying, tourists with cameras around their necks or would-be photographic artists intent on inflicting their vision on an unsuspecting humanity.

But I find this law interesting for the way that it specifically articulates what is an increasingly common practice of ensuring that everyone is in technical violation of the law, then arbitrarily enforcing said law at the discretion of the representative of the legal authority.

I’ve always been skeptical of the legitimacy of most so-called law – “I’m a rebel, so I rebel” – but it’s becoming increasingly hard for even the most genuinely law-abiding citizens to pretend that it is anything but a charade in which we all pretend to believe.

No great loss

NFL Europe closes:

The NFL folded its development league in Europe, calling the decision a sound business move that will allow for a stronger international focus on regular-season games outside the United States….

Goodell said it was time to develop a new international strategy, terming the move to fold NFL Europa the “best business decision.” The league reportedly was losing about $30 million a season.

How did they manage to lose that much money on a six-team league? It was a dumb idea anyhow, and the decision to play regular-season games in Europe is just as bizarre. All that’s needed is to arrange to televise the games, preferably with a choice of different broadcast teams according to language. That would cost a lot less and do a lot more towards building international recognition of the sport.

"Black" is not an insult

Jay Nordlinger points out an lingering PCism:

At the Winter Olympics in 2002, an American woman won a gold medal in the bobsled. She happened to be the first black woman ever to win a gold medal in the Winter Games.

But the TV network (NBC) could not relate this fact. Why? Because, apparently, they were forbidden to say “black” — they had to say “African-American.” So they resorted to saying, “She’s the first African-American woman from any country to win a gold medal”!

An NRO reader adds: “Recently, I listened to an announcer refer to Lewis Hamilton, the rookie sensation Formula 1 driver from Hertfordshire, England, as African-American because there was simply no other acceptable way to refer to him.”

Being referred to as “African-American” is far more annoying to my friends from Nigeria and Ghana than being described as “black” or simply “African”, although in general they prefer to a reference to their country of origin. Ironically, those sophisticated Europeans that PC liberals normally so love to ape have never considered calling them anything other than “neri”, which is to say, “blacks”.

The young: still stupid

This hasn’t been news since Enjolras and the boys were putting up barricades in Paris:

New Poll Finds That Young Americans Are Leaning Left

Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.

Even when I was a teenager, I could not comprehend the lionizing of passionate youthful idiocy. The young never value the world, they never understand that civilization is not a given and they are inevitably so short-sighted that they can’t figure out the most obvious consequences of their actions.

The fact that we have prevented our teens and now our twenty-somethings from maturing with experience is a very good means of ensuring societal collapse. Whining about the world and turning to Mommy government to save you isn’t a mark of youthful idealism, it’s just a mark of being ignorant and infantile.

So much for the "no race" theory

And we’re back to the Origin of the Species and the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life:

Researchers studying other single genes have found evidence for recent evolutionary change in the genes that mediate conditions like skin color, resistance to malaria and salt retention.

The most striking instances of recent human evolution have emerged from a new kind of study, one in which the genome is scanned for evidence of selective pressures by looking at a few hundred thousand specific sites where variation is common.

Last year Benjamin Voight, Jonathan Pritchard and colleagues at the University of Chicago searched for genes under natural selection in Africans, Europeans and East Asians. In each race, some 200 genes showed signals of selection, but without much overlap, suggesting that the populations on each continent were adapting to local challenges.

Another study, by Scott Williamson of Cornell University and colleagues, published in PLoS Genetics this month, found 100 genes under selection in Chinese, African-Americans and European-Americans….

A genomic survey of world populations by Dr. Feldman, Noah Rosenberg and colleagues in 2002 showed that people clustered genetically on the basis of small differences in DNA into five groups that correspond to the five continent-based populations: Africans, Australian aborigines, East Asians, American Indians and Caucasians, a group that includes Europeans, Middle Easterners and people of the Indian subcontinent….The concept of race as having a biological basis is controversial, and most geneticists are reluctant to describe it that way.

No wonder Richard Dawkins wants to reopen the discussion about eugenics. It would appear that he anticipated these developments, the clever fellow. If the process is moving along faster than the evolutionary biologists had previously thought, how long will it be before the human race is divided into two or more species?

And why, oh why, would geneticists be reluctant to talk about their scientific conclusions? My understanding was that scientists were trained to be objective and dedicated only to the results of their experiments and observations.

I don’t think the term will catch on, though. Stop Genetic Clusterism Now just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I find it tremendously interesting that science fetishists throw a fit if anyone questions the evolutionary process, but are remarkably quiet when the biological basis of race is similarly questioned.