Gene Expression

The genius of stupidity

John Lynch comments on an impending list of Ph.D. scientists who dissent from Darwin. He doesn’t care, and neither do I, ho hum. As I’ve noted in the past (and plenty of others have) these lists are usually stacked with physical scientists, and within the life sciences they are slim on individuals from integrative fields where evolution plays a large role. Rosters of scholars who dissent from Darwin is part of a public relations ploy meant to leverage the fact that most humans don’t have a great grasp on the specificity and the specialization which a course of scientific work entails. Been there, done that. But, another thing I want to comment on is a comment on John’s blog:

Mathematicians have this strange weakness, wherein they think they’re well-qualified to make judgments in fields outside their own. I catch myself doing it, too; I think it’s an unintentional side-effect of our training. Or maybe we just secretly think we’re much smarter than everyone else.

I would grant that mathematicians in particular do have some ground to be a bit imperialistic, their field of study suffuses the reality we see around us and undergirds our most precise and predictive sciences. I would also grant that mathematicians are, on average, perhaps the brightest individuals on this planet when it comes to pure rationality. But being smart does not mean you are necessarily wise. Wisdom is a hard thing to nail down, and I’m not old enough to speak much about it from personal experience, but I know it when I see it. Without wisdom smart people can do and say very stupid things, only faster and more efficiently than the less intelligent. Wisdom is like being able to see the dire consequences of computationally intensive loops strewn within sphagetti code, a faster CPU does not necessarily mean that the problem can be avoided. You are shit out of luck if you lack a higher level gestalt perception of the potential pitfalls of not thinking beyond your specific line of code, subroutine or object.1

When it comes to debates about science in the public forum it seems that we are stuck in this pattern where we dance about with ad hoc control structures. Every heuristic is used as a wedge against us,2 when the reality is that science has within it a cultural flexibility which transcends any specific rule or regulation. Though the brain implements and directs, a good and sincere heart is a necesary condition for furtherance of knowledge within the system and culture of science. It isn’t proof text from Popper or Kuhn to which we appeal, it is the spirit of progress and exploration which has spanned the ages from Thales, to Newton to Einstein.

A toolkit is rendered moot without intent and ends suitable to its utilization. A hammer can drive home a nail or it can smash a skull.

Alternative post: Creationist + 130 IQ = retarded delicious!

1 – Please, no religious debates about things like Extreme Programming, you know what I mean.

2 – Babe of babes Kathy Ireland once trotted out the Law of Biogenesis on the show Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher to support her Creationist viewpoint (she’s an evangelical Christian). The Law of Biogenesis is real, but it isn’t a commandment handed down from Mt. Sinai. But this is exactly how those who are engaged in rote memorization of scientific heuristics to hammer home specific ends tend to behave. This is why there are endless debates about definitions like the term “theory.” The definition isn’t the point of course, but you knew that….


  1. #1 Ethan
    March 25, 2006

    I can’t believe you lust after a creationist. Have you no shame?

    What I find most amusing about this post is that I would have sworn that this particular sin (hubris, not lust) reaches its most extreme form among physicists. The mathematicians I’ve known have all been reasonable people.

  2. #2 razib
    March 25, 2006

    ethan, we are all sinners, i thrown no stones from glass houses. i tremble in the hands of a stochastic universe.

  3. #3 NuSapiens
    March 25, 2006

    Mathematics is what transformed the biological sciences from bird watching to quantitative genomics. So if a mathematician has something interesting to say, I’m willing to listen.

    Something I’d like to see: a thermodynamic-like model of gene flow. This could give a big boost to evolution, since laymen view species (of humans and large vertebrates) as steady states (environmentalists, for instance) instead of dynamic, chaotic systems. Something like Y chromosome studies can give an indication of the recent “paths” etched by these patterns of flow, which could perhaps be mined for insight into the dynamic nature of gene flow within species.

    Somebody smart needs to do this.

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