Evolving Thoughts

Another goldang meme

This one started at Nature Networks, where I am not a blogger, but as Larry and Bora have answered it, among others, I figured I’d have a go too…

1. What is your blog about?

Basically the philosophical implications of science, although that extends into the distance a bit when I get angry about antiscience or political moves that either interfere with science or rely on bad science.

2. What will you never write about?

There’s not much I won’t write about. I’m a philosopher, so a mere lack of knowledge hardly fazes me. I can express complex views on any topic even if, or rather especially when, I don’t know the first thing about it. This, of course, doesn’t mean I will express useful or sensible views. That is too much to ask. I probably won’t ever talk much about race again. The context and sensitivities in Australia, where I live, are very different from those in America and Europe, and I make too much of a fool of myself even for me on those matters.

3. Have you ever considered leaving science?

One cannot leave what one never entered. I came to this via the following route: theology?philosophy?epistemology?philosophy of science?evolutionary philosophy of science?evolution?philosophy of biology?philosophy of taxonomy, etc. Along the way intelligent and educated people have tried with varying degrees of success to educate and correct me. Some scientists have taken what I try to do seriously, while others have had a patronising smile most of the time, entirely appropriately.

For reasons that passeth all understanding, PZ Myers recommended me for Science Blogs, and for some reason this is the 24th best/most popular/linked to science blog out there according to Wikio, which is just wrong, but so long as they all continue to think that of me, I can’t argue. So I will continue to pretend that I am a scientist, and instead corrupt youthful minds, which is the mission statement of philosophy.

4. What would you do instead?

Write very bad science fiction. I started reading science fiction at the age of seven or so, when I found my father’s discarded Amazing Stories and Astounding copies. A well meaning friend of his lent me Brave New World, which was the first novel I ever read. Then he lent me 1984, and then First and Last Men. It was all downhill from there. Basically I do philosophy because I can’t write dialogue. There’s something vaguely ironic about that, but it doesn’t come to mind right now…

5. What do you think will science blogging be like in 5 years?

More widely informed and diverse. There’s a telling lack of bloggers in some fields, like ecology (not conservation biology, the theory side of things), developmental biology (PZ notwithstanding), and so on. I hope that as the academic world becomes more accepting of blogging as a form of public service and education, more interesting bloggers will arise.

6. What is the most extraordinary thing that happened to you because of blogging?

I met many of my readers when travelling to the US and UK. It seems I have contacts in most parts of the developed world, who I can mooch off when I travel (hi, Robin, Matt, Larry). But that pales in comparison with my email correspondence with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett back when the world internet was young. I still regret that DNA didn’t take my advice to do an evolutionary epic of a family across millions of years.

7. Did you write a blog post or comment you later regretted?

Oh yes. See question 2.

8. When did you first learn about science blogging?

I honestly can’t recall. I’ve been on the Interwub since around 1982 or so, sort of by accident (I typed “rn” on a unix account one day by mistake). I discovered that email allowed me to talk directly to famous philosophers, and lacking any sense of proportion or propriety I did so. David Hull, for example, turned out to be a great help, an inspiration, a mentor, and a friend. So at some point in my travels I must have heard of blogging per se, and I would immediately have thought “hey, that sounds like a great way to make even more intemperate public comment”. But I only did it after Myers Meyers Mxsptlk Pharyngula got going and one day I tried it, and he found it, somehow, and outed me.

9. What do your colleagues at work say about your blogging?

They are generally supportive. My recent and soon to be again supervisor – Paul Griffiths – has been very encouraging, and made me put it in the most recent grant application (the one that was successful, yay). I have yet to meet a philosopher who thought it was a waste of time. Apart from me, that is.

10. Some bloggers are also asking for a poem about their blogging

Hmm. I am aesthetically colour blind, so this is a dangerous thing to ask, but I seem to do haiku OK:


Science is the way to earn

Book buying money


  1. #1 llewelly
    November 15, 2008

    book buying money? blargh. books give me gas. All that cellulose.

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    November 15, 2008

    You aren’t supposed to eat them…

    Unless you’re a termite, in which case, welcome. I like a diverse range of readers.

  3. #3 Gary
    November 15, 2008

    The good thing about book buying money is it can be justifiably transferred to the e-book buying fund. (I have no more room for books and I refuse to throw out even one.(I still have no idea what to do with all the e-books I’ve printed out.))

  4. #4 Roadtripper
    November 16, 2008

    I don’t throw books out, either. But the other good thing about book-buying money is that a portion of it may come back to you after you’re done with the books, in the form of book-selling money.

    Then you can reinvest it in something else of importance, like say, jell-o shots.


  5. #5 Bob O'H
    November 16, 2008

    Ah, John. This is how we get you. First you start reading NN blogs, then you comment, then you get hooked into our synchro-blogging, and before you know where you are you’ll be participating in our release of Calcium from intra-cellular stores parties.

    We have even trapped an ecologist.

  6. #6 John S. Wilkins
    November 16, 2008

    Frankly I don’t know why you have Calcium locked up in the stores in the first place. Free Calcium Now!

  7. #7 Alethea
    November 16, 2008

    Welcome to the fray. Ever venture to put your bad science fiction on paper somewhere? (Out of curiosity.)

  8. #8 John Monfries
    November 16, 2008

    As for 10, leave it to Cuttlefish.

    At least that’s what I say to myself when the fitful urge to rhyme strikes me.

    eg as it did last year:

    There once was a family called Stein
    There was Ben, there was Ep, there was Ein
    Benís film was all bunk
    Epís statues were junk
    And nobody understands Ein.

    (Apologies to whoever wrote the original version.)

  9. #9 Brandon
    November 16, 2008

    In being a philosopher of science with potential for writing bad science fiction, you are in very good company. William Whewell started (but seems never to have finished) a long science fiction work; you can find it in Chapter XX of Todhunter (which is available through Google Book!). It actually has some interesting parts, but dialogue wasn’t Whewell’s strong suit, either….

  10. #10 Alan Kellogg
    November 16, 2008


    I thought your strong point was poo flinging.

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