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.