Pharyngula

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Oh, come on, Boston Globe. They tip-toed around, avoiding naming me or the weblog, but I think everyone here can figure out what they’re talking about.

Yet even Gilder, seemingly a lightning rod for the socioeconomic controversy of the moment, was blistered by the comments posted on a University of Minnesota biologist’s weblog last fall, language so heated Gilder’s daughter felt obliged to rush to his defense.

Awww. Poor baby. They could have at least mentioned the site url! Here’s the article that made George Gilder cry: The Sanctimonious Bombast of George Gilder. It’s too bad they didn’t give that link in the fluff job they wrote for Gilder, because he repeats the same nonsense again, and adds a new set of lies to the mix.

“I’m sorry my daughter got dragged into this,” he continues, picking up a conversation that begins in his rustic Berkshires home, overlooking the bucolic dairy farm where he grew up, and resumes over lunch at a nearby Stockbridge restaurant. “But I really think those guys” — meaning the scientists who attacked him on the weblog — “are pretty crazy.”

Gilder pokes at his spinach salad and smiles wanly. “They must feel very vulnerable,” he muses. Then he warns that if biologists don’t take information theory seriously enough — information theory and not Christianity being the basis for Gilder’s embrace of intelligent design — then they’ll be the ones branded fools in the long run. Not him.

His daughter was not “dragged” into anything—she showed up in the comments of her own free will.

For an article that allows Gilder to whine about his unfair persecution, it is ironic for him to call us “crazy”.

And the key thing is that, as in my original complaint, Gilder doesn’t know anything about information theory. Scientists do take information theory seriously, and we can see that Gilder doesn’t understand it. Or biology. Or science in general. What he is is a fast-talking con-artist who thinks he knows something. The reporter seems to accept his glib babble uncritically.

In conversation, Gilder is something of a rhetorical hummingbird, darting from topic to topic so rapidly it’s difficult to get a word (much less a question) in edgewise. Each topic arrives with its own set of footnotes, reference texts, and unvarnished — some might say unhinged — opinions. Predictable Gilder is not, however. On balance, it’s much easier to peg him as a hip-shooting contrarian than a cookie-cutter conservative or raving holy roller.

At maximum conversational velocity, he waves his arms as though battling through nylon netting to get to the next point. And battle he does, with the energy of a 65-year-old man who runs 5 miles daily and could outtalk either Al, Franken or Sharpton, at the drop of a hat. Have you read this?, he asks frequently during a two-hour interview. Looked into that? Sixty-codon alphabets, amino-acid source codes, low-entropy carriers: Hey, check them out. Although a PhD in electrical engineering might be helpful, too.

Talking real fast and throwing out poorly understood buzzwords does not compensate for his lack of understanding. He did this same thing in his Wired article, and in his comments here. Here’s a delightful example of Gilderian pomposity:

I come to this issue not as a biologist (I have never taken a biology course) but as a writer (12 books) who has spent much time studying communications and networking theory as an analyst of technology. My role with Discovery (parttime) is as a technology analyst. My new book, The Silicon Eye (Norton, 2005), addresses the interface between biology and electronics. I came to see that the nature of the evolutionary problem had changed radically with the discovery of DNA, which introduced information and codes as central elements of biology.

I came to see the genetic alphabet, what I termed the adguacyth, as informational possibilities actualized in the twenty amino acids that combine in multiple sequences as proteins. In other words, the genetic alphabet defines the “W” or bandwidth of possibilities of the genetic message. Proteins embody it, resolving uncertainty in particular entropic forms.

Hmmm. Doesn’t know any biology, but thinks he has recognized the importance of DNA to evolution, 52 years after the fact. Invents phony terms (adguacyth? Spare me). Thinks he can bamboozle people if he can babble about “actualizing” and “entropic forms” and “bandwidth”…but honestly, he can only fool people who actually know nothing about the subject. To anyone else, he comes off as a jibber-jabbering clown.

The rest is stuff I’ve dealt with before. He just keeps claiming that Shannon’s information theory refutes evolution, when it does no such thing. That claim alone is sufficient to mark him as a poseur who is misusing the theory.

He’s also fond of straw men.

“There’s no biblical literalism — none — to the ID movement,” he says flatly. “So presenting us as troglodytes who believe in Noah’s Ark is quite bizarre. If people want to attack me that way, fine. It’s quite exhilarating, actually, to be shot at and totally missed.”

It’s quite clear that there are religious motives to the ID movement, but simple Biblical literalism isn’t what they are accused of (and for a movement that claims “literalism”, there sure is a lot of interpretation that goes on, anyway). What they are accused of is attacking science to provide support for their notions of a supernatural designer…which Gilder shows is an entirely valid claim.

Ergo, some form of higher intelligence — call it God, a Supreme Programmer, or whatever — must have played a role, they say.

Though a conservative Christian by upbringing and temperament, Gilder insists his belief in ID is not a faith-based proposition.

“Much of what I’ve written about has been in reaction to the materialist superstition,” he says, “the belief that the universe is a purely material phenomenon that can be reduced to physical and chemical laws. It’s a concept that’s infected the social sciences as well.”

And, he adds, “it’s preposterous.”

Ah, and he confuses methodological with metaphysical materialism, too. Same ol’, same ol’ Discovery Institute crap.

By the way, there is one good thing about the Globe article: it presents a succinct list of Gilder’s past failures.


(Oh, and thanks to David, Hylton, Erik, and Kate for bringing the article to my attention!)

Comments

  1. #1 Ichthyic
    April 29, 2007

    At maximum conversational velocity, he waves his arms as though battling through nylon netting

    seems possible the author of the article did indeed understand what George was doing very well.

    arm waving is what he does best, after all.

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    April 29, 2007

    Then he warns that if biologists don’t take information theory seriously enough — information theory and not Christianity being the basis for Gilder’s embrace of intelligent design — then they’ll be the ones branded fools in the long run. Not him.

    Then Greespan warned that if investors don’t take the theory that internet investment is vastly overinflated seriously enough — actual economics and not idealism being the basis for Greenspan’s predictions — then they’ll be the ones branded fools in the long run.

    …and so they were.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    April 30, 2007

    However, there is an important implication here related to the 2nd law of thermodynamics: specifically, that in a closed system the total amount of information can never decrease.

    Remeber that succint, factual point and be sure to wave it in these cretins faces whenever they babble about “information theory” or the favorite 2LT BS. The body of theory they’re trying to press gang into supporting their cause actually says, quite definitively, exactly the opposite of what they want it to.

    Well… find me a closed system first…

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    April 30, 2007

    However, there is an important implication here related to the 2nd law of thermodynamics: specifically, that in a closed system the total amount of information can never decrease.

    Remeber that succint, factual point and be sure to wave it in these cretins faces whenever they babble about “information theory” or the favorite 2LT BS. The body of theory they’re trying to press gang into supporting their cause actually says, quite definitively, exactly the opposite of what they want it to.

    Well… find me a closed system first…

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