Respectful Insolence

I’m devastated.

Truly and totally devastated emotionally and intellectually. Indeed, I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to recover, how I’ll ever be able to live down the shame and go on with my career.

What could bring me to this point, you ask? I’ll tell you. Everybody’s favorite creationist neurosurgeon and dualist Dr.Michael Egnor thinks I’m “unprofessional.”

Worse, he does it while agreeing with Pat Sullivan’s article in which Pat asserts that “Darwinism” has what he calls a “marketing problem,” in essence seemingly saying that, because he can’t understand “Darwinism” but can understand “intelligent design,” evolution must have a problem. P.Z. Myers and I both took him to task for a number of misstatements and misunderstandings of evolution, plus a really ignorant “observation.” This apparently brought Pat to the attention of the only surgeon who has ever tempted me to cover my face with an iron mask to hide the shame of having someone capable of spouting such nonsense about evolution in the same profession as I, Dr. Michael Egnor, who, not surprisingly, was bowled over:

Darwinists would be well-advised to pay careful attention to Pat’s observations about Darwinism’s problems with public acceptance. Contrary to Pat’s self-deprecating comments, he’s obviously a very smart guy. Pat has real insights into Darwinism’s credibility problems, and Pat speaks for millions of Americans who question Darwinists’ dogmatic assertions and their venomous denigration of thoughtful people who ask questions about their science. Sneering ad hominem attacks from a scientist (Myers) and from a physician (Orac) are lamentable, and Myers’ and Orac’s unprofessional behavior contributes to Darwinism’s growing problem with public credibility.

I beg to differ. When it comes to marketing, Pat may be quite slick, but when it comes to science and medicine Pat is about as unsophisticated and credulous as they come. It is not at all an ad hominem attack to point that out, as long any more than it is an ad hominem attack to point out that Dr. Egnor frequently says some very misinformed and scientifically ignorant things about evolution, as long as the specific reasons that I come to that conclusion are described, something that I purposely strive to do in my posts. Indeed, Pat’s an excellent example to bolster my frequent observations about how credulity towards one pseudoscience tends to predispose to credulity towards other pseudoscience. I don’t mean to pick on Pat here (well, maybe I do–but only just a little), but I’m going to give Dr. Egnor the benefit of the doubt for a moment about surgery and medicine. Neurosurgeons, in my experience, tend to be pretty hard-nosed skeptics about alternative medicine and other forms of medical woo. I’m going to assume for the moment, whether erroneously or not, that Dr. Egnor is the same. I note that Dr. Egnor characterizes Pat as a “very smart guy” because Pat doesn’t accept “Darwinism” and is sympathetic towards ID. I wonder if he’d say the same thing about some of Pat’s other views, particularly when it comes to health and medicine, views that led him to found his company. Let’s review a few examples:

Inquiring minds want to know!

The list goes on, by the way. No doubt Pat père et fils will think I’m being horribly mean and unfair (and Dr. Egnor will think I’m being “unprofessional”) by picking on them so, but it’s fair game. The Pats know my opinion on their various “alternative” medicine beliefs, and I know their opinion of me. In any case, Pat clearly believes in all of this, and that’s the problem: his credulity, his demonstrated inability to distinguish between what is well-supported by science and clinical studies and what is not. That’s why it’s not particularly surprising at all to me that Pat is similarly unable to distinguish the pseudoscience of “intelligent design” from the real science of evolution, or, as all good ID creationists like to call it (with a sneer and between clenched teeth, of course), “Darwinism.” That “skepticism” about “Darwinism” is all that Dr. Egnor saw. My guess is that, after Dr. Egnor saw that Pat is a definite “Darwin skeptic” and sympathetic to “intelligent design,” one of two things probably happened. Either Dr. Egnor didn’t bother to peruse any more of Pat’s blog or website, which is why he didn’t see all of Pat’s views on a variety of alternative medicine topics, or he did peruse Pat’s blog and its non-evolution-related content didn’t bother him.

I don’t know which possibility concerns me more.

As for Dr. Egnor’s calling me “unprofessional,” well, let’s just say that I’d be less worried about the occasional cantankerous outburst of snark than I would about an inability to distinguish science from pseudoscience or, as Pat père et fils have done, their publicly “outing” me by uncritically reposting on their blog a message that disingenuously tried to paint me as a some sort of white supremacist and Holocaust denier (or at least sympathetic to them) who was somehow affiliated with the odious Rense.com website, and their later falsely accusing me of using sockpuppets. (I saved the pages to show it, by the way.) I’m sure Dr. Egnor didn’t know about those little incidents, which is why I’m making a special point of mentioning them again now. Similarly, Dr. Egnor seems to like to contrast himself as being a paragon of “civility” as compared to us “unprofessional” and nasty “Darwinists,” but then he thinks nothing of cheerfully denigrating “Darwinism” and “Darwinists” as being the source of eugenics, Godlessness, and much that he perceives to be evil in medicine and the world today.

No, it’s not “uncivil” or “unprofessional” to call Dr. Egnor out for that, nor is it “uncivil” or “unprofessional” to point out examples of his continuing to spout pseudoscience. Dr. Egnor’s complaining about a lack of civility in this case is nothing more than an excuse not to fully address the content of the criticisms against him.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 10, 2007

    Head, meet desk. Desk, meet head. Thump. Thump. Thump.

    You’d think I’d be used to Egnor’s antics by now. Nope: every time, he manages to reveal a new and more astonishing crack in his ceramic.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    July 10, 2007

    Egnor needs to have his head examined. Or, he could take some DCA and call back in the morning. But seriously, arent’t there Medical Boards in New York State that govern ethics for “doctors” like Egnor?

  3. #3 Joe
    July 10, 2007

    “If this be unprofessional,” Orac famously replied, “make the most of it.”

  4. #4 DragonScholar
    July 10, 2007

    Just because you can market it doesn’t make it true. End of story.

  5. #5 Interrobang
    July 10, 2007

    Just because you can market it doesn’t make it true.

    Which is, in a nutshell, the reason that I worked like hell to get out of marketing writing. (Occupational steering is hell, really.) If I’m going to lie for money, I’ll at least have the good manners to call it “fiction.”

  6. #6 factician
    July 10, 2007

    Heh, anti-smoking advocates have a tough time marketing their message in the third world. Quite the measure of accuracy, there…

  7. #7 Lepht
    July 10, 2007

    sneering ad hominem attacks? we get to sneer now?

    damn. i wish someone had told me.

    Lepht

  8. #8 Uncle Dave
    July 10, 2007

    As Sullivan said “I’m a marketing guy” He knows what jobbers are and how to correctly locate a product at eye level in a store, and if that is all he is saying, fine. Pretty much like a marketing guy discussing why people didn’t buy the Ford Edsel he discribes the general publics feeble 5 minute understanding of science. Marketing people try and make things inviting to potential buyers – you don’t do that by telling people that you have to stick your nose in a book and study a bit of scientific theory, biology, and anthropology. Bascially put, Intelligent design is the Jello instant pudding of reason. So do we need to package evolution in a Sesame Street style show where Kermit the frog discusses with Big Bird that in order to debunk a theory you must actually come up with a much better theory that better explains the evidence before you? maybe?
    Don’t worry, I believe these are the last desparate gasps of a modern society trying to come to grips with a world that is much more fascinating than our tiny brains can fully cope with all at once. People are for the most part acting out of desparate fear. Fear that brain cells are a non regenetative cell that if overused, may burn out and never return.

  9. #9 Chayanov
    July 10, 2007

    Ah yes, the non-argument of “I don’t like your tone, so I can ignore what you have to say,” coupled with “the correctness of an idea is based on the number of people who believe it.” And yet, evolution is still real while ID is just a poorly constructed fantasy.

  10. #10 DuWayne
    July 11, 2007

    I still don’t understand why people claim that the understanding evolution is all that hard or complicated. I mean sure, it’s a little more involved than goddidit, but the basic premise really isn’t all that much more complex than that. That which survives to reproduce, reproduces. Genetic traits that make survival more likely get passed on, presumably because the carrier of those genes – survived to reproduce. Not only is that not all that complicated, it bloody well makes sense.

    That, and accepting the theory of evolution means you don’t have to explain away bizarre vestiges, such as the hind legs of whales.

    No, I don’t buy the “it’s too complicated” line. That just won’t pass muster with any reasonably intelligent person that spends fifteen minutes, seriously considering, very simple ideas. It is nothing but willful, decisive ignorance, in the face of contradictions to one’s religious dogma.

  11. #11 jotetamu
    July 11, 2007

    Orac:
    The “as long” which I have made bold in the following needs to be deleted.

    It is not at all an ad hominem attack to point that out, as long any more than it is an ad hominem attack to point out that Dr. Egnor frequently says some very misinformed and scientifically ignorant things about evolution, as long as the specific reasons that I come to that conclusion are described, something that I purposely strive to do in my posts.

    You have “as long as” in the proper place later in the sentence, so I suspect you added “any more than … about evolution” as additional clarification and slightly misedited. Anyway, taking out the first “as long” will restore your usual standard of lucidity.

    Jim Roberts

  12. #12 factician
    July 11, 2007

    If you head over to Pat Sullivan’s blog, someone comments over there that:

    “You’re looking at this the wrong way. Science isn’t marketed to the lay person, it’s marketed toward the scientist in the field.

    You wouldn’t say that Rolex was failing because .001% of Americans own one. Rolex can succeed because it only needs to win the money of those people in its market, if someone buys one who isn’t in the market, Rolex won’t turn them away, but it doesn’t need them to survive. (And you wouldn’t poll normal Americans on the difference between a Daytona and an Oyster Perpetual.) Like Rolex, science has a narrowly defined market. If scientists believe a theory, then that’s all that really matters.

    Would you say that special relativity is failing as a theory because 99.5% of average Americans cannot explain it?”

  13. #13 Kurzleg
    July 11, 2007

    It strikes me that simply saying “Evolution has a marketing problem” is itself a marketing technique. This line implies a great deal and casts doubt without making any argument at all. One needn’t bother saying anything more to have the desired effect. It’s brilliant in its own self-serving, dishonest way.

  14. #14 Infophile
    July 11, 2007

    I’m starting to think that using Dr. Doom as your supervillain alter ego might be a bit shortsighted. Sure, the iron mask obscures your identity now, but eventually people are going to start recognizing the man in the mask.

    If you really want to hide your identity indefinately, The Master is where it’s at. Not only can he regenerate to look like someone completely different (and he’s even found ways to avoid the pesky 12 regeneration limit), but he can pull off such tricks as hypnotizing an entire nation through four drum beats. Besides, how can you not love a guy who acts like an ass to the face of the American President? Okay, that’s it. If you don’t take him, I will.

    Vote Saxon.

  15. #15 Mike
    July 11, 2007

    “No, I don’t buy the “it’s too complicated” line. That just won’t pass muster with any reasonably intelligent person that spends fifteen minutes, seriously considering, very simple ideas.”

    I thought it was the anti-science folk who want reality to conform to their wishes. Fifteen minutes of seriously considering something, especially something which naturally leads to more questions is a lot more bother than just saying ‘God did it in a poof.’ Remember, this is the world where George W Bush gets RE-elected, where people believe in free lunch (the key to political success), where American Idol kicks Nova’s ass in ratings and where more newspapers carry daily astrology columns than daily science columns (are there any of the latter?). For most people, fifteen minutes of serious consideration means the ideas involved weren’t ‘very simple’.

    Evolution isn’t beyond people of normal intelligence, but it does take some effort to actually understand. Creationism takes no effort since it requires no understanding because there’s nothing to understand. Unfortunately, thinking for aught but money is a minority pastime.

    Dragonscholar has it right with “Just because you can market it doesn’t make it true.” (and very nicely put too). The proper answer to ‘Evolution is harder to market than ID.’ is ‘So what?’

  16. #16 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 11, 2007

    “By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing. . . kill yourselves.

    Bill Hicks

  17. #17 BG
    July 11, 2007

    Well put, sir. Thank you.

    And thanks to all the commenters. I feel as if I pick up something every time I read this blog and its comments.

  18. #18 Uncle Dave
    July 11, 2007

    We had a young man stand up and speak at a local school board meeting about taking the books out of the schools that are saying that evolution is fact and not theory. I won’t go into the poorly constructed details of this blatantly around end presentation by a home schooled adolesent creationist, but the main point is as I stated in the local newspaper editorial is, “why don’t they get upset when evidence and scientific hypothosis point toward a possible break in Newton’s laws as postulated by Mordehai Milgrom. Milgrom suggests that Newton’s Second Law be modified for very small accelerations.
    The reason they do not talk about these interesting developments or breaks in the laws of physics is that physics does not collide with thier book of genesis.
    Understanding evolutionary theory is not difficult, it is just to scary for some people to postulate due to a deep seated spiritual desire to beleive that we are gods image and there is no one else (the only child delimma).

    So discussing it purely from a marketing perspective, well, as Kursleg stated “It’s brillant in its own self serving dishoniest way”.

    Intelligent Design has the marketing problem because it requires that you only convince those that are interested in the product concept to begn with. Like selling ice water in the desert.

  19. #19 Uncle Dave
    July 11, 2007

    We had a young man stand up and speak at a local school board meeting about removing the books out of the schools that are saying that evolution is fact and not theory. I won’t go into the poorly constructed details of this blatantly around end presentation by a home schooled adolesent creationist, but the main point is as I stated in the local newspaper editorial is, “why don’t they get upset when evidence and scientific hypothosis point toward a possible break in Newton’s laws as postulated by Mordehai Milgrom. Milgrom suggests that Newton’s Second Law be modified for very small accelerations.
    The reason they do not talk about these interesting developments or breaks in the laws of physics is that physics does not collide with thier book of genesis.
    Understanding evolutionary theory is not difficult, it is just to scary for some people to postulate due to a deep seated spiritual desire to beleive that we are gods image and there is no one else (the only child delimma).

    So discussing it purely from a marketing perspective, well, as Kursleg stated “It’s brillant in its own self serving dishoniest way”.

    Intelligent Design has the marketing problem because it requires that you only convince those that are interested in the product concept to begin with. Like selling ice water in the desert.

  20. #20 Aaron Kinney
    July 11, 2007

    Excellent post! As a fellow Egnor hater, I just had to give you a shout out: http://killtheafterlife.blogspot.com/2007/07/retarded-michael-egnor-uses-technology.html

  21. #21 MartinM
    July 11, 2007

    The reason they do not talk about these interesting developments or breaks in the laws of physics is that physics does not collide with thier book of genesis.

    Except pretty much all of geophysics, astrophysics, cosmology, vast swathes of elementary thermodynamics…

  22. #22 Sastra
    July 11, 2007

    My daughter once told me that her high school civics class had a discussion on the existence of God. The kid who sat behind her asked “I considered atheism, but what’s in that for anybody?” I thought her response was a good one: “What do you want — a toaster?”

    Perhaps evolution needs to give away some toasters, or points you can redeem for various gifts and cash prizes. That would make it much more attractive to the public.

  23. #23 Uncle Dave
    July 11, 2007

    Sastra –
    “What do you want a toaster?”
    LOL. I haven’t heard that one in a while!

  24. #24 Ed Darrell
    July 12, 2007

    Somebody send the Pats Sullivan toasters from “evolution theory!” As marketing guys, they’ll recognize the powerful marketing woo involved, and begin to promote evolution instead!

    Of course, I’d wager that they’ll continue to sell their untested, unproven health stuff, too. Can’t take too much truth all at once. Their toast will be nice, brown and warm, though.