Pharyngula

Journalistic flibbertigibbet

I am feeling a growing sense of incredulity as I read the latest babble from Susan Mazur. She was the one who reported on this upcoming meeting at Altenberg with an excess of hyperbole and a truly misleading inflation of the importance of that event. It sounds interesting in that a small group of respectable, credible scientists are gathering (along with a few who would most charitably be called crackpots), but it’s not that unusual — meetings happen all the time, the people participating in this event go to meetings all the time, and it’s simply different but routine.

I get the impression that Mazur is journalist with no sense of proportion and a rather distressing lack of skepticism. This meeting will not revolutionize science. If we’re lucky, a few good ideas will emerge from it. More likely, some people will have a good time, they’ll learn a few things, and they’ll fly back to work and we won’t hear about it ever again.

Mazur desperately needs a tranquilizer, because she has struck again with another exceptionally silly article on this non-story, Theory of Form to Evolution Center Stage. It’s a disjointed mess, this amazingly rambling collection of credulous nonsense that mixes up entirely reasonable statements from some participants with flakiness from a few notorious weirdos, with no sense that she’s even trying to distinguish the two.

I’m not even going to try to wade into the chaos. Let’s just bring up a few points that involve me.

University of Torono biochemist Larry Moran, who runs a popular website called Sandwalk, which considers itself the rival to SEED blogger PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, asked me: “Why was Doug Futuyma not invited?”

Larry is my rival? That isn’t how it works — this is not a zero-sum game. There is no competition. It’s rather symptomatic of Mazur’s whole approach that everything is viewed as a conflict between everything else.

And this is just funny:

Pivar is the independent scientist whose work has been skewered on the blogosphere for not being a complete theory of evolution.

No, no, no — wrong on every count. Pivar is a wealthy art collector who makes millions selling septic tanks — he is not a scientist. Nobody (well, other than creationists, that is) argues against theories because they’re incomplete; every theory is incomplete. I don’t even know what a complete theory would look like. No, Pivar got mocked because his theory is divorced from reality, built on fantasies instead of evidence. So far, the only person who seems to take Pivar at all seriously is Mazur.

Pivar says he has in fact taken the advice of NASA minerologist Robert Hazen and early on approached mainstream evo publishers. He has been repeatedly rejected he says, but continues to fight on, making the point that he’s the only one with a model.

Pivar recently offered a research grant to Massimo Pigliucci and his lab to study his Engines of Evolution book, following an exchange of emails with Pigliucci over several months.

Pigliucci said he considered the gesture “bribery” and refused the offer, adding that he does not share Pivar’s enthusiasm about his theory of form.

That’s putting mildly, I suspect.

Mazur gets even wackier and more dishonest in this article: Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism As Religion And Embraces Form. I hear Dawkins has also stopped beating his wife. Anyway, all she got him to say is that there’s good stuff in developmental biology that complements evolutionary biology, and from that obvious and sensible conclusion she spins a bizarre thesis that he has somehow been converted from a religious view.

Spare me. I often gripe about bad journalism, but this is some of the worst … and I fear that she might actually be on the same side of the political fence as I am. Beware the left-leaning incompetents — they have the potential to be as awful as the incompetents on the right.

Comments

  1. #1 Cappy
    March 26, 2008

    It seems like, in order to stir up interest and readership, she is endeavoring to set the proverbial truck on fire herself.

  2. #2 Brownian, OM
    March 26, 2008

    I wonder if she’s any relation to T. Mazur, the invented author of the made-up novel my friend analysed in his Grade 12 English final exam because he couldn’t remember any of the real works they were supposed to have studied.

    They sound like they’re both grounded in the same level of reality.

  3. #3 Bill Dauphin
    March 26, 2008

    Oh, thanks, PZ! Now that you’ve used the word flibbertigibbet, I’ll have How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? running through my head for the rest of the day.

    Of course, Rogers and Hammerstein apparently spelled it flibbertijibbet. Get it right, will’ya?

  4. #4 Sven DiMIlo
    March 26, 2008

    Larry is my rival?

    No, no. You read it wrong. Look again–see? Larry’s website considers itself as the rival to Pharyngula.

    Close the podbay doors, Hal.

  5. #5 Sili
    March 26, 2008

    Well, to be fair to Pivar he is the only one with a model.

    I mean – one of our young lecturerers illustrate VSEPR with balloon animals. I have yet to see any balloon DNA strands &c.

  6. #6 ERV
    March 26, 2008
  7. #7 Bill Dauphin
    March 26, 2008

    D’Oh!!

    It’s Rodgers. [blush]

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    March 26, 2008

    It might do to bring up Pivar’s junk as the sort of thing that could be taught under Florida’s “academic freedom” bills.

    It is more scientific than ID, even though it’s an armchair “theory” based on no evidence. I mean, at least it’s not demanding that the rules of science should be changed so that “theories” need never have any evidence, like ID does.

    But what person in their right mind would want Pivar’s nonsense taught in schools? Only to avoid evolution education would even the IDiots be willing to see that in the schools.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    March 26, 2008

    Bill Dauphin:

    Whom should we trust, Rogers and Hammerstein or Shakespeare? ;-)

    Brownian, OM:

    I wonder if she’s any relation to T. Mazur, the invented author of the made-up novel my friend analysed in his Grade 12 English final exam because he couldn’t remember any of the real works they were supposed to have studied.

    In retrospect, I really should have done that on the AP English exam. Instead, I opted not to take it at all (MIT wouldn’t have given me credit for it, so why should I have bothered?). I missed a golden opportunity. . . but I did complete a homework assignment by using a computer program to string together random grammatical sentences of lit-crit words.

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    March 26, 2008

    University of Torono biochemist Larry Moran, who runs a popular website called Sandwalk, which considers itself the rival to SEED blogger PZ Myers’ Pharyngula,

    Oh my God — sentient websites! TEH SINGULARITY IN UR TUBES!! RUN!!!!1!!!

  11. #11 Thomas S. Howard
    March 26, 2008

    Oh great. There’s a quote-mine ready for the taking:

    “I hear Dawkins has also stopped beating his wife.”
    -Atheist blogger and fabulist PZ Myers

    Nice job, PZ. ;)

  12. #12 Jim Royal
    March 26, 2008

    Beware the left-leaning incompetents — they have the potential to be as awful as the incompetents on the right.

    Tell me about it. Up here in Canada, CBC Radio’s flagship documentary series IDEAS has been running a weekly series of installments collectively called “How to Think About Science.” The results have been a woefully mixed bag.

    A few weeks ago, they spent an hour interviewing Rupert Sheldrake, the guy who created the idea of the “morphic resonance field.” The show’s presenter asserted that Sheldrake’s crackpot ideas are controversial — not because they are wrong — but because Sheldrake is too daring for real scientists to tolerate. But many scientists nonetheless secretly agree with Sheldrake’s nonsense. “Many scientists believe their dogs are telepathic, that they know when someone is staring at them, that their consciousness extends beyond the confines of their own heads… or they do once they leave their labs and offices.”

    The segment concluded with the assertion that the reason that the results of science are the same everywhere, regardless of local culture or religion, is because scientists collude together to cook the books.

    More recently, they spent an entire hour on the idea that no one in science experiences anything. If I see a tree, touch and smell the tree, then I experience the tree. But if a scientist measures the tree, that doesn’t count as experience. This is because experience is qualitative, not quantitative.

    Therefore, according to IDEAS, science must surrender its primacy in appreciation of the physical world to common sense.

    Science is under attack from the right for not having enough religion. Science is under attack from the left for being too consistent.

  13. #13 Bob O'H
    March 26, 2008

    Here’s how good a journalist she is. Take a look at the stuff about Salthe and TREE. They give emails from the acting editor, who they call Dr. Katia Bargum. I’m sure Katja will be impressed that they can’t even get her name right. When copying and pasting. Three times.

  14. #14 ChrisGose
    March 26, 2008

    She must be a member of the New Journalists.

  15. #15 Bill Dauphin
    March 26, 2008

    Whom should we trust, Rodgers and Hammerstein or Shakespeare? ;-)

    Whom should we trust regarding spelling? Anyone other than Shakespere… er, Shakspear… er, Shakespeare!

  16. #16 Dan
    March 26, 2008

    I like Larry Moran. It’s just horribly unfortunate that his website appears to have become self-actualized and is now calling all the shots and running amok picking fights all across the greater blogosphere.

  17. #17 Jon
    March 26, 2008

    Hahaha… I was at that Barnes & Noble reading Dawkins did where she asked him those questions about the Altenberg symposium she’s so excited about. I recall him being about as far from endorsing anything she was saying as he could be; he had very little idea what she was talking about it. She also cut off the part where he actually tried to answer what she was asking. He basically acknowledged that form was an interesting idea but far, far off from being any kind of alternative to the gene-centered theory.

    Even though at the time I had no idea who she was I thought it smelled suspiciously like she was trying to pull some comment out of him that she could twist later on.

  18. #18 stogoe
    March 26, 2008

    I wonder if she’s any relation to T. Mazur, the invented author of the made-up novel my friend analysed in his Grade 12 English final exam because he couldn’t remember any of the real works they were supposed to have studied.

    That is all kinds of hawesome. How’d he do?

  19. #19 ice9
    March 26, 2008

    Well, all you scientists have it mostly right, but the real failure is not in understanding science poorly, but in accepting the current model of journalism too enthusiastically. Reporters have been intimidated; they now believe that balance is objectivity even when the assertions of one or more of their sources are laughably incorrect or viciously slanted.

    It’s tempting to suggest “MSU” but sadly your reporter is just doing what everybody else is doing mostly.

    For example the continuing coverage of assertions that Barack Obama is a Muslim frequently omits the fact that he is not a Muslim, or buries it in relation to one or the other parties to the dispute. The reporter refuses to make the call. So we see headlines like this: “Obama Muslim claims surface again” Even if the lede establishes that the man is not a Muslim, the story still exists; in this climate, that’s as good as a certainty. The writer and editor decline to tackle the truth, and instead opt for balance: one “side” stating that he is not a Muslim and the other “side” repeating the charge in the process of denying they made it, or, my favorite, expressing chagrin that it was necessary to make it in order to spark a fair discussion.
    In this model the controversy is all. If one side or the other of a potential story is blatantly false, the story evaporates as soon as a discriminating reporter considers it, and they have to go a-looking for a new story to write.
    We’re in the same rhetorical boat with ID in schools.
    Since the Bush Administration “makes its own reality”, and that sense of flexible factuality has permeated the press, the simple fact of an event confers on all participants in the event an equal claim to their portion of the “balance.” My lie is accorded equal credence with your truth.
    Abetting this is the drumbeat repetition of the notion of “liberal media” (the media are actually quite conservative by nearly any measure). Skepticism of the press is one thing; abdication of the responsibility to judge it is another. We’re lazy. That’s the bottom line.

    Evenhanded coverage of a sticky subject is easy, if you give every dog his day; that allows you to sell ads without miffing anybody, whether they need miffing or not. No axes get ground; all axes are equally speckled.

    The readers have grown accustomed to this face. It requires a second level of journalistic craft (and testicular fortitude) to cover the event and dismiss the controversy at the same time. Simpler to let all parties have an equal claim to fame. One graph for you, one for you, there! Everybody’s happy.

    It’s been asserted persuasively that the weakness and apathy of the American press permitted the Iraq adventure. I believe that the press could have, with a few effective strategic acts of courage, prevented the war.

    I’d guess your journalist isn’t biased, or even stupid; she’s just average. Sad but true.

    your karassmate

    ice

  20. #20 Midnight Rambler
    March 26, 2008

    Is she deliberately trying to make herself look like a moron? She quotes Dawkins as ‘admitting in a Q&A that followed being “guilty” of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion’ – and then includes a long transcript with nothing of the sort. Her articles seem to mainly exist for the purpose of name-dropping, like the Leakey pictures in the “Theory of Form” article.

  21. #21 lemur
    March 26, 2008

    Well, during the last presidential campaign I worked with a lot of stalwart lefties going door to campaign for Kerry and a nice collection of moveon folks too. The night before the election we all met at the house of one of the organizers. When I walked in I noticed the house was full of geodes. I suspected immediately it wasn’t because someone was a geologist… borne out a while later when it was revealed that our hostess was a ‘consultant’ in psychic reading, and apparently pulled down a hefty chunk o change in doing so. ‘Oh non-existant-imaginary-myth-figure-in-the-sky’, I thought, ‘and these are my people’. Woo is everywhere.

  22. #22 Jackie Stone
    March 26, 2008

    Her article about Dawkins is just a mix of lies and stupidity. I was at both events she mentioned and wrote about what actually happened here:
    http://quantumcosmos.blogspot.com/

  23. #23 Madhu
    March 26, 2008

    PZ:

    Beware the left-leaning incompetents — they have the potential to be as awful as the incompetents on the right.

    And haven’t we seen enough of that even in these parts lately?

    Blake Stacey:

    …but I did complete a homework assignment by using a computer program to string together random grammatical sentences of lit-crit words.

    And how exactly is that different from normal lit-crit?

  24. #24 j.t.delaney
    March 26, 2008

    Apparently, being able to “draw the turtle” in a book of matches is not only the entrance exam for Stuart Pivar’s New York Academy of Art, it’s also Pivar’s main qualification as a biologist…

  25. #25 Eric
    March 26, 2008

    Pivar is sooooo going to sue you AGAIN! :)
    http://www.sunclipse.org/?p=242

  26. #26 AJ Milne
    March 26, 2008

    Tell me about it. Up here in Canada, CBC Radio’s flagship documentary series IDEAS has been running a weekly series of installments collectively called “How to Think About Science.” The results have been a woefully mixed bag.

    Sigh.

    Sinclair. Grave. Spinning.

    The Enlightenment was fun while it lasted.

  27. #27 H.H.
    March 26, 2008

    Mazur wrote:

    Atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins spoke to a packed auditorium at Manhattan’s Ethical Culture Society Saturday night about his best-selling book, The God Delusion , admitting in a Q&A that followed being “guilty” of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion and vowing to “reform” (no one was allowed to tape Dawkins’ confession, however, with organizers of the event threatening to march offenders around the corner to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).

    Holy shit is that a misrepresentation! I was there. I attended this. It is true that we were warned against taking flash photographs or making recordings, with a joke about being sent to the church across the street. The line was good for a few laughs. However, the statement that Dawkins considered himself guilty of following Darwinism as a religion is utterly false.

    During the Q&A session one young man stood up and asked Dawkins why he used the term Darwinism when referring to the theory of evolution. While noting that it is still common to do so in England, most American scientists eschew the term because of the manner in which it plays into the hands of creationists. We don’t speak of Newtonism or Einsteinism, the young man pointed out, and referring to the theory of evolution as “Darwinism” might give some the mistaken view that evolution is nothing more than a religion or cult of personality.

    Now here’s the really amazing thing: despite being about 30 years the young man’s senior, Dawkins thoughtfully assented. He agreed that the young questioner had a point, one which he hadn’t fully considered before. Perhaps “Darwinian” has it’s place, but maybe “Darwinism” should be retired as too likely to be misconstrued. We in the audience saw a respected writer and science advocate who was willing to reevaluate himself and his choice of expression, and we all loudly applauded Dawkins’ open-mindedness and willingness to change. It was a great moment.

    Mazur’s contention that Dawkins’ admitted to being “guilty of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion” is 100% false. He admitted no such thing. The discussion wasn’t about views, but on whether or not the word “Darwinism” itself left a false impression. Bad journalism? More like sensationalistic bullshit.

  28. #28 Thomas S. Howard
    March 26, 2008

    Quasi-OT: O’Leary is now engaging in the same sort of sleazy tactics over on UD wrt to PZ:

    “Someone whose comment I rejected wrote to tell me that PZ Myers is really a nice guy in person. I don’t care, okay. I am entitled to take him at his word as provided in his posts …

    And I intend to – unless he informs me personally that it is all hogwash, in which case, ….

    Also, a friend asks, given Myers’s well-advertised views,

    Would a known Christian, especially one with a known ID persuasion, be able to take a course under Myers without fear of intimidation, ridicule, belittling and threats found on his web site?

    Well, here is his university’s policy on the subject:

    The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation. Inquiries regarding compliance may be directed to the UMM Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Officer at (320) 589-6021.

    So we must hope that he is personally much nicer than his Internet ramblings would suggest.”

    What a bitch. She’s basically nudging-and-winking at people to go and attempt to catch PZ picking on some student, then helpfully supplying the phone number to call in order to get him in trouble.

  29. #29 Jim Royal
    March 26, 2008

    Sinclair. Grave. Spinning.

    Indeed. Lister Sinclair loved science, and had a keen sense of the power of curiosity and discovery to motivate people. He loved the natural world, and it showed in his broadcasting.

    On top of all the woo that IDEAS has been pushing for the last couple of years, this essential idea has been missing for “How to Think About Science.” It is a jaded piece of faux intellectualism.

  30. #30 gerald spezio
    March 26, 2008

    ice9eroni; is ice nine in Italian giving youse a classy wop pedigree that you may well deserve.

    It sounds like you coulda been a framer/contenda but went straight instead of crazy.

    I have been following Mazur as a result of her Leakey/faucet/Afreaka articles.

    Mazur may be described as a super typist journalista along the literary lines of Jack Kerouac.

    Since neither Susan or Jack had a whiff of science in their literary portfolio, much of their print results from terrific typing, but the content suffers something terrible.

    I think that beatster Kerouac had more fun even if he croaked from the booze.

    Chris Mooney can type the underpants off most any yuppie lady/secretary/clerk in Washington, D.C.

    Mooney & his pal Nisbet dosn’t know much science either, and both of them are determined not to learn any.

  31. #31 Roman Swiatkowski
    March 26, 2008

    Pivar’s stuff looks more like homotopy.

  32. #32 AJ Milne
    March 26, 2008

    On top of all the woo that IDEAS has been pushing for the last couple of years, this essential idea has been missing for “How to Think About Science.” It is a jaded piece of faux intellectualism.

    The storied phrase ‘fashionable nonsense’ also comes to mind.

    I think your general sense of Sinclair’s love of the natural world is probably a pretty good place to start marking the difference between what Ideas was ten years ago and what it is now. I also think in terms of the difference between ‘what sounds engagingly high-minded and defensible as cocktail party chatter’ and ‘what might, in fact, actually be true’. Sinclair was more interested in the intersection of the two. The current program settles too often for the former, on its own.

    I guess it’s a bit of a tangent, if not an actual derail. But I can’t help but think Ideas current bent serves as a nice bellwhether–a capsule of what’s wrong with an identifiable segment of intellectual culture. Engagingly high-minded and defensible as cocktail party chatter will do. As to potential for actual veracity, well, come now, let’s not be jejeune.

    And another thing. All you damned kids, get off my lawn.

  33. #33 Janine, ID
    March 26, 2008

    Gerry, you fucking twit! Ice9 did not slip into crazy. Ice9 pointed out that most journalist are content to present “both sides of the story” instead of offering up facts.

    As for Ice9′s moniker, I would suggest you check out Cat’s Cradle. Bokonoism might do you some good.

  34. #34 Kim van der Linde
    March 26, 2008

    Several years ago, Michael Ruse at FSU organized the Werkmeister Conference about Form an Function in Biology (see here). It addressed the same issue, how do we bring together the two major lines, functionalism and structuralism, together. The Altenberg meeting might be a bit more seeking the synthesis but it is an topic that is around, and people are thinking about it. In the end, both are important, and it often depends on the questions that you are looking at whether you take a more structuralist or functionalist approach. But I think one thing I got from that meeting was that yes, there are things we do not have to explain by adaptation (for example round shape of most cells), but many things do. I am curious what will be the news from the Altenberg meeting, but I am not sure whether it is anything beyond that we have to realize that neither of the two approaches is going to hold the full answer.

  35. #35 Eamon Knight
    March 26, 2008

    On top of all the woo that IDEAS has been pushing for the last couple of years, this essential idea has been missing for “How to Think About Science.” It is a jaded piece of faux intellectualism.

    I haven’t been listening to IDEAS much in the past few years, though I did catch a couple of the H2TAS shows (to which my reaction was: “Um, what was this supposed to be about?” The quality of that series may correlate with the fact that the guy who seems to be behind it, David Cayley, also endorses these people (whom I just discovered yesterday, thanks to Scott Hatfield).

  36. #36 JJR
    March 26, 2008

    Holy yellow journalism!

    Sounds like someone writing for the National Inquirer, for goodness sake. Bleh…

  37. #37 ndt
    March 26, 2008

    AJ Milne said:

    The Enlightenment was fun while it lasted.

    We need an award for posts that are profoundly accurate without being particularly funny.

  38. #38 Jim Royal
    March 26, 2008

    Eamon, how do you know that David Caley supports the Centre for Cultural Renewal?

    The current series that Caley is working on fits perfectly with the two hour segment he did on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the handful of people left in the world who want to revive his pseudoscience.

  39. #39 has
    March 26, 2008

    Did a quick scan of that site: it posts anti-vax and autism woo as well. Somebody buy Zombie Hitler an air-ticket; I’m sure he’d like the weather.

  40. #40 Chris Bell
    March 26, 2008

    H.H. hits the nail on the head. I was also at the event, and nothing occurred that was remotely like this:

    Atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins spoke to a packed auditorium at Manhattan’s Ethical Culture Society Saturday night about his best-selling book, The God Delusion, admitting in a Q&A that followed being “guilty” of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion and vowing to “reform”

    Some of the things you hear – they just ain’t so.

  41. #41 Aaron Lemur Mintz
    March 26, 2008

    Perhaps we’re looking at it from the wrong frame (bear with me, folks):

    What if Mazur is thinking about completeness from a mathematical or formal logic viewpoint? Specifically, I’m thinking about Godel’s Completeness Theorem. Very hand-wavingly, and naively, this says a formal system is complete if: Anything that is true in the system, can be proven in the system.

    For the current theory(ies?) of evolution, that is the case, so evolution is a complete theory. At least, I think that’s the case, I’m not a biologist of any form. Please correct me if I’m wrong. However, by positing that God Did It, or any form of supernatural explanation, breaks this completeness. And that’s the problem with it: we can’t prove things that it claims to be true.

    Thus, it is being skewered for not being a Complete theory…just maybe not for a standard definition of complete.

  42. #42 Thomas S. Howard
    March 26, 2008

    Godelian Pick-Up line: “Baby, without you, I’m just not complete.”

    Sorry.

  43. #43 SteveM
    March 26, 2008

    …a formal system is complete if: Anything that is true in the system, can be proven in the system.

    I think that a complete systems must also be able to disprove all false statements as well. That is, in order to be complete, every statement must be decidable as either true or false. Undecidable statements make a system incomplete, paradoxical statements make a system inconsistent. Godel proved that every logical system (powerful enough to do arithmetic) must either be incomplete or inconsistent. And I think this only applies to logical systems, not every scientific theory.(but I could be wrong about that)

  44. #44 Megan
    March 26, 2008

    She lost me when she misspelled Toronto.

  45. #45 Steve Fisher
    March 26, 2008

    While I agree that Mazur does not seem to know enough to differentiate between crack pots and real scientists, she does seem to try to present all sides. That said, it also seems as though she’s trying to create a bandwagon to jump on, perhaps to further her career, and her reporting shows a serious lack of knowledge of her own subject. However, despite her short comings she is getting the real (and interesting) arguments within evolutionary theory into he public eye(as opposed to the imaginary arguments inspired by religionists).
    On another note…has anyone read “Evolution in Four Dimensions-Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, And Symbolic Variation in the History of Life” by Eva Jablonka (a member of the so-called Altenburg 16) and Marion J. Lamb? I have ordered but not received it yet.

  46. #46 Chris Noble
    March 26, 2008

    Susan Mazur sounds uncannily like Celia Farber. Farber fell for Peter Duesberg’s HIV denial and has been loyally presenting both sides of the nonexistent debate for years.

    They both seem to be:
    a) scientifically illiterate
    b) distrustful of authority/orthodoxy
    c) credulous towards iconoclasts/crackpots

  47. #47 Glen Davidson
    March 26, 2008

    I think this demonstrates an important point, which is that ignorant people like Mazur sound like IDiots/creationists, and vice versa.

    Gee, could we come up with an explanation for this fact?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  48. #48 JP
    March 26, 2008

    Hey PZ, I am not sure which attendees of the Altenberg meeting you consider crackpots.

    The invited ones were: John Beatty (UBC), Sergey Gavrilets (UTK), D.S. Wilson (Binghamton), Greg Wray (Duke), Michael Purugganan (NYU), Eva Jablonka (Tel Aviv U.), John Odling-Smee (Oxford), David Jablonski (U. Chicago), Massimo Pigliucci (SUNY Stony Brook), Stuart Newman (NY Medical College), Gerd Mueller (Vienna), Guenter Wagner (Yale), Marc Kirschner (Harvard), Werner Callebaut (Hasselt), Eors Szathmary (Budapest), and Alan Love (UMN).

    Sure, some of them have unorthodox ideas, but I am hard-pressed to guess whom you’d put in the crackpot category.

    The invocation of Pivar and Salthe, who obviously more than qualify for the moniker, as well as the ridiculously grandiose claims about the expected outcome of the meeting seem to be entirely an invention of our journalistic hack friend Mazur. Seems somewhat unfair to tar actual scientists by association – it’s not their fault that they’re a target of her crazy projections, especially since she doesn’t seem to have ever talked to the majority of them.

  49. #49 Forrest Prince
    March 26, 2008

    Dr. Dawkins has never stopped beating his wife.

    I have the bruises to prove it.

    On the other hand, Professor Dawkins has never failed to be a voice for reason, sanity, and clear thinking.

    I have the informed belief to prove it.

  50. #50 crankynick
    March 27, 2008

    Never mind the content, any professional editor I’ve ever worked with would have slapped me back to high school if I turned in a piece that abused the comma as comprehensively as Mazur does…

    Scoop.co.nz presents all the information driving the news of the day in the form it is delivered to media creating a “no spin” media environment and one that provides the full context of what is “reported” as news later in the day.

    The problem with “independent” news services, is that they’re quite often also independent of editorial standards also.

    Not that I’m particularly defending the mainstream press, mind you, but Indy media ain’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

    What does a “no spin” environment mean, exactly? That everybody’s view of the subject is treated equally as a point of view, no matter how mad they clearly are?

  51. #51 Nick Gotts
    March 27, 2008

    Re #41 and #43: (in)completeness and (un)decideability.
    All these terms apply only to formal systems. The theory of evolution is not a formal system, so they do not apply to it. A formal system is complete if anything that must be true if the system’s axioms are true and its rules of inference valid, can be proved from those axioms using those rules of inference. Otherwise, it is incomplete. Goedel proved that any consistent formal system expressive enough for ordinary arithmetic to be performed within it, must be incomplete. Decideability is stronger than completeness (so any decideable system is complete, any incomplete system is undecideable): a formal system is decideable iff there is an algorithm for determining whether any statement expressed within it is true or false. For a complete but undecideable system, you know any true statment must have a proof, but there is no general way of placing a limit on how many steps the shortest proof contains, so however long you’ve been looking, you can’t in general say “OK, we’ve looked long enough and haven’t found a proof, so it must be false”.

  52. #52 Eamon Knight
    March 27, 2008

    Jim @#38 asks: Eamon, how do you know that David Caley supports the Centre for Cultural Renewal?

    Did you follow that link? Fourth name down.

    Note that I’m not saying that Cayley has drained the Disco Koolaid to the dregs; only that he’s, well, not terribly critical of his sources (and obviously can’t tell science from his posterior).
    BTW: I’m somewhat witholding judgement on the CCR itself — they look suspiciously like a DI branch plant, but I haven’t seen enough of them to decide if they’re as deep-crazy and mendacious as the Seattle bunch.

    (I thought I posted this last night, but I can’t find it this AM. If it shows up twice, that’s why)

  53. #53 Jim Royal
    March 27, 2008

    Note that I’m not saying that Cayley has drained the Disco Koolaid to the dregs; only that he’s, well, not terribly critical of his sources (and obviously can’t tell science from his posterior).

    Well, IDEAS in general hasn’t been very thorough in its discussions of science in the past few years. The only science they seem to like is environmentalism, which passes without critical analysis. There is a definite ideological trend building.

    It looks to me that the CCR is focused largely on pushing religion into politics and little else, although they have had events on ID in the past. There is an interesting intersection between the name of the organization and the phrase “secular fundamentalism” in Google. It will be interesting to see if this term ever shows up on IDEAS.

  54. #54 Massimo Pigliucci
    March 27, 2008

    Right on target, PZ. My alleged “email exchange” with Pivar that lasted months consisted more precisely of him harassing me and my group for months, with an occasional request from me to stop. I finally had to put his address on my spam list. As for why Douglas Futuyma hasn’t been invited to the meeting I organized for this summer in Vienna, it’s because we work in the same department, and if you organize meetings and bother to travel thousands of miles to attend them you’d like to hear views you don’t already know…

  55. #55 PZ Myers
    March 27, 2008

    Of course, that doesn’t explain why you failed to invite me…but I suppose there are other good reasons for that.

    We’ll all be looking forward to the new ideas inspired by the meeting, anyway!

  56. #56 Drhoz!
    March 28, 2008

    beating his wife? as if! She’d just sic K9 on him to fry his arse with lasers :D

  57. #57 anonymous
    March 28, 2008

    To NYC Skeptics, Re Massimo Pigliucci: at Pharyngula

    “Dear Fellow NYCSkeptics

    In the blog Pharyngula, Massimo Pigliucci claims harrassment. But his statements are at odds with the fifty or more emails. The email discourse with Pigliucci is scores of emails over ten weeks of cordial exchange in which he agrees to review the theory of form proposed , and to show it to his lab of five. I sent his lab only one email asking them to observe the site. He never asked to stop the correspondence, except with the very last email, when he suddenly blocked his site and ask me not to email his lab. There is no way that this can be seen as harrassment.

    He finally succeeded in avoiding reviewing the theory it presents which directly contradicts his own.

    Kindly reserve me one place at Pigliucci’s April 5 lecture called Paradigm Change and Scientific Objectivity.

    Stuart Pivar, NYC Skeptic”

  58. #58 anonymous
    March 28, 2008

    The Altenberg 16, New Theory of Evolution, or International Science Scam?

    Sixteen scientists from seven countries will hold a closed meeting in Austria, this July, to search for a new theory of evolution, based on the theory of form by self-organization, as opposed to Darwinian natural selection and genes, which they claim is now widely challenged. It will be published in 2009 by MIT Press. The meeting has been substantially criticized in various media.

    A book sub-titled The Theory of Form by Self Organization was shown to all 16, presenting a solution to the question of evolution and embryo development. It contains the result of ten years of research by a privately funded NY biological laboratory, and has substantial professional endorsement.
    Massimo Pigliucci, organizer of the Altenberg meeting agreed to review it, but after ten weeks refused comment. Stuart Newman agreed to comment. The rest of the 16 do not respond.

    The A16, presented with a solution to the problem for which the meeting was organized, refuse to look at it, and do not say why. The book, titled The Engines of Evolution contradicts the premises of most of the papers to be presented by the sixteen participants.

    Dr. Pigliucci gives regular public lectures in NY on ethics. April 5, he will speak on “Paradigm Change and Scientific Objectivity.” at the NYC Skeptics.

    “But that is what’s truly amazing about science: you can literally wake up one morning and find that someone has figured out the answer to a question that has vexed people for decades, sometimes centuries.”
    M Pigliucci

  59. #59 Sondra
    July 3, 2008

    Dr. Myers,

    I would like to thank you for this article. I came across the Scoop website by accident (well, not quite, I was doing a little research for a dispute with a creationist) and at first I couldn’t figure it out. I read Mazur’s article on the Altenberg meeting and her bizarre interview with Dawkins under an even more bizarre title. But then I checked out the website of the Lorenz Institute and it looked legitimate, so it was all very confusing. Eventually I came to the conclusion that something is seriously wrong with the journalist, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. Your sentence:

    “I get the impression that Mazur is journalist with no sense of proportion and a rather distressing lack of skepticism”

    summarizes it brilliantly. Of course, there is also a possibility that she practices this kind of trash journalism just to get noticed and get ahead, like some kind of Jerry Springer wannabe.

    Either way, both articles quickly found their way into creationist websites, which is the truly sad part of the story.

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