Pharyngula

Hey, hack journalists, have I got a great concept for you! As I’m sure you’re aware, editors and the public are constantly hassling you to write about this discovery or that, and it gets tiresome: you don’t really know the first thing about the subject, you certainly don’t know anything about the context, it requires the hard work of doing some research, and doing research in science involves talking to people who are so much smarter than you that you’re left feeling miserable and uncomfortable. You need a template. You want a simple outline that you can use interchangeably with any story, and that demands that you do nothing more than take a couple of swigs of cheap gin before you bang out a story that substitutes opinion for facts.

Here it is, and just the title alone will inspire you. “Has _X_ made any difference in our lives?” It’s universal! It doesn’t matter what the editor tells you to write about, just plug it in in place of the X, and you’re ready to scamper through the story like a cockroach with its cerci on fire. Just picture it: you have to write two thousand words on Tiktaalik, James Clerk Maxwell, estrogen analogs, Mars, Niko Tinbergen, Fourier transforms, or Joseph Priestley, and you know squat-all about any of it, and you’re disinclined to bother with it now. So what do you do? Ask yourself, “Has Joseph Priestley made any difference in your life?”, and since you’ve obviously managed to ooze your way into a cushy job wiggling your fingers and pretending to be an authority while understanding diddly about him or what he did, the answer is no. Dredge up vaguely remembered references from your memory of those middle school science classes that you hated, and type up a few querulous objections. “If oxygen is an invisible, odorless gas, how can those smarty pants be so sure it is actually there, anyway?” and “Priestley’s principles were used to stoke the ovens in Auschwitz. If Hitler had known nothing of oxygen, the crematoria of the Holocaust would have stood silent and useless.”

See? Easy! And as a bonus, your audience of know-nothings, all those people resentful of that “C” they got in grade school chemistry, or who are suspicious of anything new those damned show-offy boffins trot out, or who have mistaken the confident certainty of their ill-founded beliefs for genuine knowledge, will be deeply appreciative, and they will tell your newspaper to keep paying you to pump out those articles that are so wonderfully affirming of their biases. And best of all, you get to write about the one subject in which you are the world’s foremost expert: your own ignorance.

No one has mastered the art form of turning abysmal ignorance into a stream of money-earning words on a newspaper page better than Bryan Appleyard, who writes for the London Times. I’ve stumbled across Appleyard’s excretions a few times before, and I’ve learned what to expect. He fulfills those expectations beautifully in an impressively corrupt and reeking bit of mass-market offal, For God’s sake, have Charles Darwin’s theories made any difference to our lives?

As an example of bad journalism, it’s paradigmatic. He’s not quite lazy enough to rely solely on his own ignorance, though, and he does some “research” — unfortunately, it all involves looking up some crank or crackpot from organizations like Answers in Genesis to bolster his own inanity with their jaundiced anti-science. It makes for an impressive mish-mash of blithering rigamarole. I’m not even going to try and dissect the entire article — every paragraph will leave you gape-mouthed and gasping in incredulity — but here are a few lovely instances of promoting ignorance over evidence.

There were gaping holes in his [Darwin's] argument. He knew nothing of genes and he had not shown how perfection emerges. It’s all very well to talk of small mutations changing an organism, but how do such changes make, for example, an eye? Without all its bits and pieces, an eye does not work. It is, in the terms used by the biochemist Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, “irreducibly complex”, beyond the reach of blind, random mutation.

1) Every theory is incomplete, 2) Darwin didn’t have genes at his disposal, but he did have comparative morphology, and did a very good job of describing exactly how an eye would have evolved, 3) we now do have tools in molecular biology and have even more detailed descriptions of how the eye evolved, and 4) “irreducible complexity” is a dead tired objection that has been refuted many times over. People have been making this objection ever since Paley. Paley had an excuse, since he was writing over 200 years ago, but anyone writing for the London Times in 2009 ought to have slightly more up-to-date sources. You know, like something only 150 years old.

When Appleyard does reach for something a little more recent, though, he reliably picks a crackpot, like someone out of the field who is nevertheless absolutely certain that Darwin has been refuted, rather than reinforced, my modern science.

In his new book, Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves, James Le Fanu, a medical doctor and journalist, insists that new biological discoveries have overthrown Darwin. The old man is “screwed”, he says gruffly.

Perhaps most startling is the discovery from the deciphering of the human genome that we have only between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. We were previously thought to have 100,000. A mere 25,000 doesn’t seem to be enough to sustain our vast complexity and yet genes are supposed to be the heavy lifters of the Darwinian enterprise.

“I wouldn’t get out of bed for 25,000 genes,” says Le Fanu, “and we don’t find form in the genome. We share most of our DNA with chimpanzees, but nowhere in the genome have we found what it is that makes us so different from chimps.”

I always want to ask these people who are outraged at the number of genes discovered a couple of questions. How many genes do you need to soothe your inflamed inferiority complex? And can you name 100,000 (if that is your number) discrete, significant gene functions that you need filled? Can you name 20,000? Where are the mathematical functions that you used to precisely quantify exactly how complex a human being is, and how you determined that 20,000 genes is inadequate?

Twenty thousand is the approximate number. It’s reality. Live with it.

We have also sequenced the human and chimpanzee genomes. We have found millions of nucleotide differences. We certainly have found changes that make us different, the problem is that we don’t know which of the many changes are significant, or how precisely they contribute to differences in form. While Le Fanu is lolling about in his bed, afflicted with ennui by the inadequacy of his genetics, real scientists are working on actually figuring out how those differences matter.

But of course the ultimate last resort of the dishonest hack is the argument from consequences. Who needs evidence and understanding when you can just announce that X leads to Y, and everyone knows Y is bad, and therefore X is bad. And if you are a really unimaginative hack (and lack of imagination is no barrier to success in this field; neither is competence in logic, reason, or literacy), the ultimate Y is Adolf Hitler. Appleyard does not disappoint.

At many levels we have failed this challenge. Almost from its first appearance, the Darwinian idea has been used to justify appalling behaviour. Herbert Spencer, the Victorian philosopher, seized on “survival of the fittest” as scientific evidence that there was a moral injunction for the fit to defeat the unfit. From this, many thinkers drew the idea that we could help evolution along by eliminating or allowing the death of “inferior” races or individuals.

This reached its deathly climax, via the work of the German biologist Ernst Haeckel, in Hitler’s statement of intent, Mein Kampf. From there it was but a short step to the Holocaust, which, among other things, was an attempt to aid evolution. Any hopes that we have escaped that dreadful phase are vain. How many times did the masters of turbo-capitalism of the past 20 years plead evolution and survival of the fittest as the justification for their cult of greed and cultural destruction? THE question nobody can really answer is: outside science, what difference did Darwin make? It is reasonable to answer: none whatsoever. Religion is as powerful a force in the world as it ever was, perhaps more powerful. Our rape of nature, our one true home, has accelerated. In the 20th century, technology extended our capacity for slaughter beyond imagination. Man still thinks he can be the master of nature, yet the one thing Darwinism shows more clearly than anything else is that we are its servants.

Here’s a challenge for you. Search the text of Mein Kampf for any occurrence of the name “Haeckel”. You won’t find it. Try “Darwin” — oops, no luck. Now try “God”. Bingo! Now try searching the works of Darwin or Haeckel for anything like an endorsement of genocide — not there. Oh, you will find the casual racism of the comfortable 19th century west European intelligentsia, but you’ll also find that they tried to break out of ingrained prejudices and support the virtues of other races, perhaps with a slightly patronizing air, but they were among the more enlightened people of their time. Darwin was an egalitarian who opposed slavery and wrote quite a bit about the humanity of the ‘primitive’ peoples he encountered. Haeckel was rather more convinced of relative racial differences, but even there, he thought that Jews were good people (again, it’s a bit patronizing). Haeckel was a lifelong and vocal pacifist! It strains credibility to argue that either of these men were the foundation of the German holocaust…but then, credibility is something Appleyard never has to worry about.

Consistency is something that he can throw overboard, too. One moment he’s blaming science for 20th century atrocities, and in the next he’s claiming that religion has become even more powerful in the 20th century than it ever was. One moment he’s saying that Darwin’s ideas climaxed in the most appalling horrors in recent history, the next that it made no difference whatsoever.

Now, really, you have to admire Appleyard for something. Read through his article, if you dare, and you will find many more instances of such idiotic tripe throughout. In my experience, read anything in the Appleyard ouvre and that’s what you can expect to find: the smug blatherings of a truly stupid person. Yet he has managed to turn his schtick into a successful grind working for fairly prestigious outlets like the Times and the BBC. It’s impressive.

What I find most curious, the kind of horror I contemplate with a thrill of incredulous anticipation, is this: if Appleyard is this patently asinine, how stupid are the editors and managers who keep paying for his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?

Comments

  1. #1 valdemar
    January 16, 2009

    How do you think we feel in Britain? This git is one of ours, and has been pissing intelligent people off for years. If there was a Nobel Prize for being a Semi-Educated Pseudo-Intellectual, Snappletard would win it.

    Anyone who wants to see Bryan Appleyard’s ‘writing’ taken down, old school, should try this perfect parody:

    http://www.michaelkelly.fsnet.co.uk/tosser.htm

  2. #2 James F
    January 16, 2009

    It’s the imminent demise of evolution! Again!

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    Yes, I’ve had an anti-Semite pull out “no difference to his life” when I brought up Einstein and relativity.

    The ironic fact is that evolution really didn’t lead to much research in the past, and is fueling a great deal of discovery in the present even as these dogpiles remain blithely unaware of it. True, even most of that isn’t actually practical knowledge, but when it comes to comparing organisms and possibilities for genetic manipulations, it is invaluable.

    Genetic algorithms, of course, do come from “darwinism,” and importantly, they have to be aware that such evolutions do not yield “global optimization” or rational leaps of any kind.

    But what if evolution were useless altogether? How much practical benefit has astronomy yielded, except as a way into modern science from earlier science and mathematical modeling? Now, I’m not really saying that it has had absolutely no practical benefits besides starting off modern science, yet it’s far from being a science giving much practical benefits. Nevertheless, most people who understand it are quite pleased with its many non-practical results, as it satisfies our curiosity and piques our interest.

    If evolutionary theory did only that, plus brought biology into the realm of physical cause and effect like the other sciences, it would be a worthy science indeed. It will, however, be increasingly important in guiding biotechnology and its application to medicine and agriculture.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  4. #4 Leslie in Canada
    January 16, 2009

    I just finished reading Appleyard’s piece. Has he been getting briefed by Ben Stein. Utter hogwash, but the fundies seem to enjoy it. No wonder, since it leads off with the Creation “Museum” as something that might have merit vis a vis Darwin. Britain: once an empire, and now it comes to this.

  5. #5 nichole
    January 16, 2009

    Once again proving, the media is not a good substitute for education…

    Straight up capitalism, man. This dude exists as a result of not properly educating the public.

  6. #6 speedwell
    January 16, 2009

    Beautiful. This belongs in your “Best Of,” PZ. Christopher Hitchens is probably staring at your post right about now, thinking, “Damn, that man can write a polemic.

  7. #7 Greg L Johnson
    January 16, 2009

    …”how stupid are the editors and managers who keep paying for his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?”

    Really, really stupid.

    As Atrios would say; “This has been another…”

  8. #8 CaptainKendrick
    January 16, 2009

    I worked in the newsroom of large east coast paper for 10 years, and the biggest lesson I learned:

    After graduating from journalism school, for many journalists, the wide-eyed dreams of becoming the next Woodward and Bernstein are smashed by the realities of hard work, and the bulk of reporters resort to the comfort of laziness, and re-writing a faxed press-release at each opportunity.

    Journalism is dead.

  9. #9 Dianne
    January 16, 2009

    It strains credibility to argue that either of these men were the foundation of the German holocaust

    Quite apart from the fact that Haekel and Darwin really had nothing to do with the Holocaust, it’s pretty clear that knowledge of evolution is not necessary for the perpetration of a genocide. Andrew Jackson knew all squat about evolution but he did a pretty decent job of committing genocide against a number of peoples, the Romans didn’t need to read Origin before they razed Carthage, the pogroms against the Jews in Medival Europe owed nothing to knowledge of biology. On the other hand, a belief that god or the gods are on your side…very handy, possibly critical for committing genocide.

  10. #10 E.V.
    January 16, 2009

    Jesus-fucking-christ, the comments after that atrocity of an article are beyond the pale. Somebody needs to bitch slap The Times editors.

  11. #11 uppity cracka
    January 16, 2009

    Incredibly well written, Sir. The argument for reason takes another step forward.

  12. #12 IST
    January 16, 2009

    Step by step directions for poor science journalism:

    1. Have topic assigned, 2. create a complete farce of a strawman out of the topic, 3. attack that strawman without mercy, and steal credulous arguments that support that attack without shame.

  13. #13 Tanya
    January 16, 2009

    hmmm… PZ, I sense just a little bit of hostility in this post….lol

  14. #14 recovering catholic
    January 16, 2009

    I need a makiwara…beating on the mattress with a tennis racket just isn’t cutting it for this one.

  15. #15 SteveN
    January 16, 2009

    Well said, Sir! Like Valdemar (post #1) I am a Brit who has been sickened by the ignorant rantings of this pathetic hack for years. He is the main reason that I stopped, out of pure disgust, buying the Times and the Sunday Times.

    SteveN

  16. #16 Feynmaniac
    January 16, 2009

    I read the article and I think I’m now dumber for it. Appleyard gets his facts wrong and manages to contradict himself. I’d explain further, but quite frankly I don’t want to waste anymore of my life on it.

    It never ceases to amaze me how the ignorant can be so confident when they talk about something they know absolutely nothing about.

  17. #17 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 16, 2009

    Someone please nominate Appleyard for the IgNobel Prize for Literature.

  18. #18 robotaholic
    January 16, 2009

    ooh, someone comments on the article that science answers how questions and the bible answers why questions- how fucking stupid. The standard replies to religious claims work so well, why even think anymore *yawn*

  19. #19 croor singh
    January 16, 2009

    PZ on fire!!!

  20. #20 AndyD
    January 16, 2009

    Excellent response, PZ, I hope for the day when actual science reporting becomes mainstream.

    Why is evolution useful? Does anybody ever ask why sweet things taste good? I think this line of reasoning might be more convincing because it’s something people can think about in their everyday lives. Sugar is no longer scarce, and thus we must be wary of our evolutionary heritage lest our teeth fall out and we become fat.

  21. #21 raven
    January 16, 2009

    For God’s sake, have Charles Darwin’s theories made any difference to our lives?

    This is just flat out completely wrong. Evolutionary theory is critical in biology, medicine, and agriculture.

    1. We (scientists) have managed to feed 6.7 billion people. An astounding achievement that relies on the continuing Green revolutions.

    2. Medicine has extended the average US lifespans by 30 years in a century.

    This Darwin stuff only matters if you eat and want to live a long, healthy life.

    A few scientific theories may not have had much tangible impact…yet. The Big Bang, discovery of neutron stars, gamma ray bursters and so on. So what, you never know. Besides which, learning about the universe is worthwhile in itself. Ignorance, by contrast, has well known negative effects, frequently getting people killed.

  22. #22 E.V.
    January 16, 2009

    Surely one of the UK readers has sent PZ’s rebuttal of Applyyard’s inanity to The Times. Perhaps Professor Dawkins will express his expert opinion on the article as well.

  23. #23 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 16, 2009

    ooh, someone comments on the article that science answers how questions and the bible answers why questions- how fucking stupid.

    Indeed — because every “why” question is a “how” question. Or, in other words, there is only one “why” question, and it has already been answered, so “how” questions are all that’s left!

    I forgot which development biologist was it who said; “Everything is the way it is because it got that way.”

    Why is it that way” is the same as “how did it become that way”.

  24. #24 Holbach
    January 16, 2009

    Appleyard has apple sauce for brains, and without seeds so that there is a good chance his brain will not reproduce.
    Is there no end to this constant trashing of reason and science by the religious demented?

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 16, 2009

    Crap. That’s supposed to be a colon, not a semicolon.

  26. #26 Kevin Anthoney
    January 16, 2009

    Strange you should mention lack of oxygen. I’ve a feeling that something like that may have something to do with Appletard’s condition!

  27. #27 pyramus
    January 16, 2009

    I was stopped in my tracks by the very first sentence of the Appleyard quote, particularly the phrase, “…he had not shown how perfection emerges.” And then in the article, Appleyard goes on to talk about the eye.

    Does he really think the eye is perfect? It’s pretty good: it gets the job done. But perfect? Has he never heard of the blind spot, myopia, astigmatism? Has he never noticed how various animals, humans included, have eyes with differing functions and abilities which can be explained as a result of their evolutionary heritage? Are all of them perfect, even the most flawed?

    And surely “perfection” in evolution is a relative term, localized and temporal. The most perfectly adapted feature or animal is dependent on its surroundings; if those change in any significant way–if they get hotter, colder, wetter, drier, invaded by an alien species–then the definition of perfection for that location changes. Did Appleyard not think this through?

    You could tear apart nearly every single word in the article. My favourite is the word “mad” in the approving reference “To them, Darwin ? with his mad ideas about millions of years of slow evolutionary change ? was a prophet of contemporary, secular delusions, perhaps even a foreshadower of the end-time when God will return in judgment.”

    I don’t understand how someone who gets paid to string words together for a putatively respectable publication can be so stupid.

  28. #28 Emmet Caulfield, OM
    January 16, 2009

    The article is evidence that a single monkey sitting at a single typewriter can, indeed, reproduce the complete ignorance of Ben Stein.

  29. #29 Chuck
    January 16, 2009

    My favorite part: “I wouldn’t get out of bed for 25,000 genes.”

    Sigh … I note that he’s a medical doctor. I am too; I’m a Family Doc in Utah. I was hoping this doctor:woo stuff was isolated, but it isn’t. It’s disheartening to see so many doctors buy into so much crap, but so it goes. We docs are probably worse, because we think we’re too smart to be fooled by this stuff, and that opens us up to swallow complete horseshit hook, line, and sinker. The only saving grace is that we’re surrounded in a scientific environment for years while we train, so hopefully some of that soaks through.

  30. #30 Geoff
    January 16, 2009

    Actually, some Times journalists and/or sub editors tend to be poor on stories which rely on facts, measurements or simply numbers. They frequently pass errors in Times Online which should have been picked up by a teenage schoolkid. I seem recently to have been banned from leaving comments there as I probably complained about this too much.

    Like everyone else here, I’m disgusted with the abysmal quality of Appleyard’s piece.

  31. #31 Crystal D.
    January 16, 2009

    I just get nervous that the general public will read something that they think ‘sounds smart’ and won’t make any effort to think about it or delve into the matter on their own…

    I think that’s one of the best things about being a skeptic, is you have the ability to allow yourself to think and check things out without having to be told to.

    And, no, I won’t read the rest of Appleyard’s writing, it’s just a rehash of so much stupidity. But I’m glad for the tip off so I don’t have to look at it!

  32. #32 Don
    January 16, 2009

    The eye? He actually cited the eye as irreducibly complex?

    Why not go the whole hog and ask whether we claim to be descended from apes on our mother’s or father’s side?

  33. #33 DGKnipfer
    January 16, 2009

    Truly it burns. The STOOPID BURNS!!!!

  34. #34 JohnW
    January 16, 2009

    Appletard writes

    he had not shown how perfection emerges

    Possibly because perfection doesn’t emerge. Darwin did show, however, how good-enough-to-convey-a-survival-advantage emerges. Evolutionary biology doesn’t do perfection, it does optimal trade-off among competing pressures.

  35. #35 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    For God’s sake, have Bryan Appleyard’s articles made any difference to our lives?

    The answer is quite certainly, yes, for it has brought mirth and a sense of superiority over him into our lives.

    Plus, it shows that the USA doesn’t have all of the morons in this world, which is not always clear to those of us trying to make intelligent points over the sounds of mooing.

    Any positive difference not related to laughing at and/or sneering at his stupidity and bigotry? ‘Fraid not.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  36. #36 TSC
    January 16, 2009

    Appleyard got smoked G Muney. PZ popped a cap in his logical fallacy ass.

  37. #37 NoAstronomer
    January 16, 2009

    I *really* recommend that you submit this entry, with some editing perhaps, to the Times.

  38. #38 H.H.
    January 16, 2009

    Leaving aside the many practical applications of the theory of evolution, it holds great relevance because of what it explains. What difference has the theory of evolution made in our lives? It is one great piece of knowledge which aids us in understanding our world and our place in it. The only type of person for whom evolution makes no difference is one who is utterly incurious about reality. Usually, this incuriousness is a result of becoming enraptured by a compelling fantasy, i.e. religion. Anyone who says the theory of evolution makes no difference in their lives reveals a tremendous amount about the limitations of their intellect and shallowness of their comprehension.

  39. #39 Peter McGrath
    January 16, 2009

    I left a short, polite, critical comment pointing out that even had Darwin not written the Origin he would sill be one of the world’s greatest scientists. The Times declined to publish it. Either the Thunderer or Mr Appleyard have thin skins.

  40. #40 BobC
    January 16, 2009

    The creationist Bryan Appleyard asked “For God?s sake, have Charles Darwin?s theories made any difference to our lives?

    I think this quote from Ann Druyan answers his question perfectly.

    And I would celebrate Charles Darwin for having the most revolutionary concept in human history, the one idea that could completely dethrone the patriarchal chains that kept us from seeing who we really are and for his undoing of what is I think the most nefarious lie and that is that we were created separately from the rest of nature.

  41. #41 E.V.
    January 16, 2009

    Chuck:
    Several of our family Docs have been woo-mongers. My mother dismisses everything I say against creationism/ID because her Dr. talks about the beauty and elegance of human design. As an artist, I can attest to that beauty as being true in an aesthetic sense, but the biology/design over evolution/adaptation is utter nonsense. It’s frustrating to know the persons you seek professional medical advice from believe in magic and discount overwhelming facts in biology.

  42. #42 John Goatham
    January 16, 2009

    The Times and Fox are both owned by News International,do you think there’s a connection?

  43. #43 Vic
    January 16, 2009

    Of course The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Not really the most “fair and balanced” individual.

  44. #44 Major Tom
    January 16, 2009

    For cryin’ out loud – Every time I read a “But what has science/Darwin/Einstein done for me?” screed, I imagine the writer in an alternate universe where ignorance is at home – one with all the following…

    No astronomy – No navigation, no time-keeping

    No Darwin & evolution – No modern medicine

    No Einstein & relativity – No GPS

    No quantum theory – No computers upon which to write stupid articles for the Times.

  45. #45 Marcus
    January 16, 2009

    Dear PZ, I work at a bookstore, I have at my disposal the genius and inanities of the ages. Let me just say; Man you are good! “While Le Fanu is lolling about in his bed, afflicted with ennui by the inadequacy of his genetics…”
    what can I say? ROTFLMAO. Thanks.

  46. #46 RobertM
    January 16, 2009

    If Appleyard’s birth leads to Appleyard’s death and everyone knows death is bad then Appleyard’s birth must also be bad. I submit to Appleyard that he should immediately commit suicide. Hey, look, we can all play the game of “arguments from a conclusion”….cool.

  47. #47 Brina
    January 16, 2009

    This article is horrible, but as far as: “how stupid are the editors and managers who keep paying for his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?” goes, it’s not them so much: It’s the readers who keep buying this paper that are more to blame. The managers in particular are beholden to the bottom line. If Appleyard keeps making them money, they’ll keep printing him.

    Brian

  48. #48 SnarkFish
    January 16, 2009

    “THE question nobody can really answer is: outside science, what difference did Darwin make? It is reasonable to answer: none whatsoever.”

    so he’s NOT responsible for the holocaust or the financial greed from earlier in the EXACT SAME paragraph?

  49. #49 NMcC
    January 16, 2009

    Christ! I can’t abide that Appleyard. He spoils my Sunday Times every week. After interviewing Richard Dawkins, Appleyard described him as one of the strangest men he’s ever met. He wrote a piece last Easter about Leonard Cohen and managed to mangle the lyrics of Bird on the Wire (Bird on a Wire, to some) to the extent that it made no sense, and when I emailed and pointed it out to him, explaining that I was his ‘secret enemy’ and despised his ‘dopey musings’ after insulting Dawkins in such a stupid way, he emailed back saying “Everyone in Northern Ireland despises my dopey musings. It’s a cross I’ll just have to bear”.

    To which I thought, ‘If I’d my way, you’d be fucking nailed to it”. Which I thought was rather seasonal, you know, with it being Easter and all that.

  50. #50 PZ Myers
    January 16, 2009

    The source of “Everything is the way it is because it got that way”, a quote I use frequently in my developmental biology courses, is D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson.

  51. #51 Chuck
    January 16, 2009

    @ E.V.:

    I think the current idea of “doctor as scientist” needs to be modified. Most of us read and interpret the literature, but only a few of us contribute to that literature. So for the most part, doctors are plumbers instead of engineers.

    It is very frustrating to have the person responsible for interpreting your lab data subscribe to crazy ideas that have no basis in evidence. Hopefully, these docs are very good compartmentalizers.

  52. #52 littlejohn
    January 16, 2009

    PZ, as you may have noticed, I have never written to disagree with you before. But here goes.
    Did some journalism student give you a wedgie back in 1975?
    Appleyard is a moron; so is Behe. Neither is representative of his profession.
    We journalists are, as a rule, smart and skeptical. Furthermore, despite your uninformed speculations, we are paid even less than professors. Surveys showed that 90% of us voted for McGovern in 1972, despite the Nixon landslide (I certainly did). As a rule, we are not religious.
    The very nature of our job requires us to write about things about which we are not well educated. How would you like to be forced to teach economics next semester, and Shakespeare the following? With ten minutes notice, no less. You’d fuck up, but you’d do your best.
    Also, there is a difference between an opinion piece and a news story. You civilians don’t seem to get it. Most papers make it clear which is which, and why they should be judged differently.
    But, as previously posters have made clear, newspapers are dying. And it’s a hell of a shame.
    But you owe a hell of a lot of smart, decent people an apology. You tarred us all with the same brush. That’s wrong, both logically and ethically.
    John A. Anderson

  53. #53 Charon
    January 16, 2009

    “How much practical benefit has astronomy yielded”?

    I have to admit that I occasionally take pride in the fact that, as an observational cosmologist, my work has absolutely no conceivable commercial application.

    On the other hand, astronomers did come up with the CCD and pioneer its use. Yes, that same CCD that’s in every digital camera, camera cell phone, etc. (We love it because its response to intensity is linear, and makes our lives much easier.)

    So I’m all for supporting the basic sciences as a quest for knowledge, but it has often been the case that the basic sciences have yielded practical fruit (DVDs from lasers from quantum mechanics – didn’t seem very practical in the 1920′s).

  54. #54 ctygesen
    January 16, 2009

    @littlejohn

    But you owe a hell of a lot of smart, decent people an apology. You tarred us all with the same brush.

    Ahem. From the first line of TFA (emphasis mine):

    Hey, hack journalists, have I got a great concept for you!

    Well, if the shoe fits…

  55. #55 garth
    January 16, 2009

    #52: Wow, breathtaking fail. Nicely done! Journalists are expected, even in opinion pieces, to research and write on a plethora of topics, unless they specialize on a narrow range. Krugman, frinstance. Opinion doesn’t mean “make shit up”. Biologists are expected to know biology.

    Also, can I assume anyone who trots out the term “Darwinian” to be automatically full of shit? Unless they’re referring to something very, very specific and qualify it as such?

  56. #56 Blue Fielder
    January 16, 2009

    I left a comment of my own. It’s been so long, I had forgotten how good it felt to take the high road while tearing into someone like that.

    What a schmendrik.

  57. #57 protocol
    January 16, 2009

    We journalists are, as a rule, smart and skeptical.

    Thanks for the laugh

  58. #58 littlejohn
    January 16, 2009

    Garth, you have mistaken me for a troll.
    I am a Darwinian evolutionist and an atheist. We’re on the same team.
    I offered no defense of Appleyard. As I said, he’s a moron.
    It was the general attack on journalists, which in the U.S. normally comes from right-wing religious nuts, that offended me. It was wrong-headed and logically indefensible.
    It would be like me smearing all professors because of that Harvard professor who claims UFO abduction stories should be accepted uncritically.

  59. #59 marcus
    January 16, 2009

    re:Emmet#28
    Man, what have monkeys ever done to you to cause you to abuse them so profoundly? Ease up on those poor creatures! Their lack of intelligence is at least honest.

  60. #60 Cade Register
    January 16, 2009

    Well done PZ … well done. If I could write like that, I would send secret ‘love notes’ to every member of the Louisiana state congress.
    While reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about one of my favorite quotes:

    “One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance.”
    -Dan Dennett

  61. #61 SEF
    January 16, 2009

    prestigious outlets like the Times and the BBC

    It’s very much past prestige to which they are desperately (and ever more dishonestly) trying to cling, in lieu of actually going to the trouble of meriting a good reputation these days. Far too many people are still fooled by both of them though (and, in the case of the BBC, the ones who can’t be fooled are silenced wherever possible).

  62. #62 Conor H.
    January 16, 2009

    Littlejohn,

    I wanted to wrote a pithy comment, but everything I wrote just seemed too severe. I’ll just say I think it would be nice if science writers wrote about science, celebrity gossip whores wrote about celebrity gossip, etc. If you’re writing about something you don’t understand, I don’t understand how you can write about it.

    -Conor

  63. #63 protocol
    January 16, 2009

    In every area that requires even a smidgen of specialized knowledge (e.g. knowledge of a language, slight knowledge of mathematics or science, or even knowledge of the history of other countries)mainstream American journalists are, as a rule, full of shit. Of course, there are American journalists that have the requisite knowledge, but they seldom make to the the mainstream media in this country. I don’t know if the situation is similar in other countries.

  64. #64 Tulse
    January 16, 2009

    How much practical benefit has astronomy yielded?

    It gave us the primary means of ocean navigation until relatively recently.

  65. #65 Epikt
    January 16, 2009

    littlejohn:

    But you owe a hell of a lot of smart, decent people an apology. You tarred us all with the same brush. That’s wrong, both logically and ethically.

    A few years ago, a science journalist from the local paper came out to talk to us about something we were working on. I dreaded that; I knew he would find a way to misinterpret what we told him, to garble things to the point that we looked like drooling idiots, and to put his own political spin on everything.

    Except that he didn’t. What he produced was a simplified but accurate version of what we’d told him, set at a level appropriate for the portion of the general public that pays attention to such things. It was neither overly skeptical nor fawning. It favored no particular political stance, and showed no obvious agenda. It was fair and balanced, before fair and balanced became “Fair and Balanced?.”

    It was refreshing to find that such people still existed. If, as seems to be the case, they’re a dying breed, we’re the worse for it.

  66. #66 blf
    January 16, 2009

    As a number of people of pointed out, The Times (London) is the British print equivalent of the USA’s Fox News with the same slimey owner and lack of integrity. In the dim dark past The Times might have been a useful source of news and analysis, but for some time now it’s just another one of the British ?red tops? (or tabloids), with the only obvious difference being The Times doesn’t print colour pictures of nude starlets on page 3.

    It was The Sunday Times (which is now the Sunday edition of the paper albeit it was founded zillions of years ago as a separate independent newspaper) which back in the early 1990s had, for several years, a campaign against HIV research claiming it had nothing to with AIDS, and called the AIDS epidemic in Africa a myth. The paper deliberately compared to their HIV campaign to their much earlier campaign against Thalidomide (from many years before when the paper was perhaps something other than an irresponsible waste of trees and ink). The denialism, dishonesty, lack of integrity, and bogus comparison so incensed Nature that Nature‘s Editor of the time, John Maddox, devoted space in the journal to systematically destroying each(?) article The Sunday Times published in their HIV denialism campaign. That was also the last time I ever bought a copy of that fecking badly-fermented birdshite (The Times and The Sunday Times, that is, not Nature); and to this date, anytime anyone gives me a reference to either tabloid I go and see if I can find a confirmation (or refutation) on a legitimate site.

  67. #67 Peter McGrath
    January 16, 2009

    SEF: the BBC’s TV output has gone shockingly downhill in recent years. News reporting has been dumbed down, the journalists editorialize in a shocking fashion and the TV science coverage is just a waste of electrons. They’ve gone for a cult of youth, been forced to privatize programme production so programmes are made down to a budget, rather than made up to expected excellence. Seeing the slow death of quality on BBC TV makes me want to self-harm.

    BBC Radio remains excellent. The news, analysis, comedy and drama on Radio 4 is superb speech radio. There’s a daily 9pm science/medicine/environment slot. You can get it all on ‘internet here.

  68. #68 ZacharySmith
    January 16, 2009

    Here are a couple things for our good Mr. Appleyard to consider.

    1. The first words of the personal oath of allegiance to Hitler that all armed services personnel were required to swear are: “I swear by God this sacred oath…”

    2. Martin Luther & Richard Wagner were far more of an influence on Hitler than Darwin. I doubt that Hitler ever even cracked open “Origin of Species”, yet he was thoroughly engrossed with Wagner’s operas and of course gobbled up all kinds of anti-Semitic literature in his youth.

    But guys like Appleyard don’t let facts get in the way of a good rant.

  69. #69 Travis
    January 16, 2009

    Peter #67,
    I totally agree about BBC radio and especially BBC radio 4. I often listen to podcasts and archives shows when going to bed and usually they are something I have found on there. I regularly listen to In Our Time. It is often very good radio, with some very good conversations and discussion.

  70. #70 strangest brew
    January 16, 2009

    I have taken the liberty of a rant in the Times direction…reprinted here for the benefit of the terminally bored…

    Sir /Madam,

    With reference to the rather moronic comments in his recent column ‘For God’s sake, have Charles Darwin’s theories made any difference to our lives?’

    Would it not be incumbent on Mr Bryan Appleyard to at least understand what the theory of evolution actually is and how it really works before he decides to question it?

    The whole piece appears to be a rather incoherent waste of column space…pandering to religious fundamentalist dogma.

    ‘Without all its bits and pieces, an eye does not work. It is, in the terms used by the biochemist Michael Behe, author of Darwin?s Black Box, ?irreducibly complex?, beyond the reach of blind, random mutation.’

    If Appleyard cannot be bothered to find out the how of eye evolution then that is his sloppiness…but posing that claim to a readership that he obviously hopes will for the most part take it as a fact without checking themselves is, by any definition, misleading the ignorant.

    Plugging a disreputable and thoroughly debunked scribbling by Behe is doing neither science, religion, nor your readership any particular favours either. This nonsense and other articles penned by Behe relies on the total ignorance of the reader?seems Mr Appleyard fulfils the required role in this particular case.

    This is not good journalism it is lazy and wallowing in ‘godwotdidit’ gobbly gook hiding behind a shallow attempt of respectability but which are really just pseudo scientific claims and arguments that are not substantiated by neither evidence nor fact.

    That Appleyard wishes to espouse the failed and extremely tired, if not boring, mantra of the religiously afflicted is his problem, but a little more thought to fact might serve him or his point better then the religious memes so oft trotted out by the religious apologetics crew, or indeed by the rank and file of the Jesus loving but intellectually challenged legions of the saved.

    Maybe someone should inform Appleyard that intelligent design or ID, presumably along with ?irreducibly complex? has been deemed a religious belief…and not a bona fide scientific research organization…by the American courts.

    Appelyard should be aware of that because Behe was one of the defendants that the Judge lambasted for dishonesty.

    For the most part IDism is supported by the likes of Behe that make it a personal goal of making ridiculous statements in trying to manufacture evidence for their position and then lie about it subsequently…frequently!

    Seems par for the course in that branch of the Creationist religion…because that is what ID actually is, Creationism…with 4000 year old Earth…global flood and the garden of Eden…bible literalism mostly departed in the 19th century, seems that some have not the wit to realise that point.

    Creationism ‘evolved’ in to a fake science club styling themselves ?Intelligent design? advocates, basically to try and fool the secular authorities in the USA to allow ID, which is really Creationism, to be taught in a science class…with the express intention, or should it be ‘agenda’, of eradicating or at least denigrating Evolutionary principle to be an also run theory on the development of the species!

    No one is claiming Darwin is infallible.

    And most advances in evolutionary research Darwin could never have imagined but new techniques and equipment have revolutionised the research ?but the theory is still thanks to Darwin.

    The reason he is respected is that he showed the mechanism although not the detail…which he left to subsequent generations to unravel…and which to a greater or lesser extent they have and are doing!

    As for the rest of Appleyard’s dross…it is just surprising that such a weak and flawed article was printed in your paper…it is an embarrassment to the Times credentials of claiming responsible editorialship.

    I would suggest the on-line publications of ?Answers in Genesis? that would be a more apt platform for Mr Appleyard to contribute towards?the intellectuality there would suit his IQ if not his attitude.
    It would certainly suit the Times readership.

    Yours sincerely….

    strangest brew

  71. #71 Paul Burnett
    January 16, 2009

    PZ ranted: “…try searching the works of Darwin or Haeckel for anything like an endorsement of genocide ? not there.”

    How about the works of Martin Luther – or the Bible? Genocide is not only endorsed but lovingly described.

  72. #72 Jason
    January 16, 2009

    Since this jackass played the ol’ reductio ad Hitlerum card, I figured I’d share a thought I’ve had on the subject, as a counterpoint to the “Darwin=Hitler” argument. Since I’m not exactly an expert on biology, I’d also appreciate it if anyone here could tell me if my line of reasoning has a decent foundation.

    Let’s put aside the fact that evolution, as a theory, is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and suppose that we can use it to influence our decisions. Let us further suppose that among our primary interests is the long-term survival of our species. Now, it seems to me that the last thing we want to do is reduce the diversity of our gene pool — which, I would imagine, is exactly what genocide or any kind of selective extermination would do. We may have our own preconceived notions about what traits may increase our fitness, but ultimately we can’t know for sure what nature will throw at us in the future; therefore, we have no way of knowing what traits will help our descendants survive.

    As I said, I’m not an expert on evolution, so I’d appreciate any feedback on the soundness of this argument. Also, let me know if anyone’s heard this case made before; I can’t be certain that I haven’t unconsciously stolen it from somewhere.

  73. #73 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009
    How much practical benefit has astronomy yielded?

    It gave us the primary means of ocean navigation until relatively recently.

    That’s like calling the use of the sun in navigation the result of “solar astronomy.” Which in the barest sense might even be true, however it seems like it’s stretching the point.

    I suppose in the broadest sense one could label the maps of the stars, constellations, and asterisms as products of “astronomy,” but then one might as readily consider them products of “astrology.” In truth, it’s more like cartography.

    Obviously in some sense all of these things can be “astronomy,” which gets away from the contextual fact that I was really discussing modern astronomy as a comparison to evolutionary science (it’s included in “plus brought biology into the realm of physical cause and effect like the other sciences,” naturally–hardly the case of medieval and earlier astronomy), since they’re both modern sciences. It’s not really useful to bring up ancient astronomy (which in the earliest times was primarily cartographic in nature) in a comparison, and even astronomy just prior to modern science (and having continuity with later astronomy) was hardly the realm of mapping navigational aids. Even Ptolemaic astronomy wasn’t a matter of mapping out the heavens at mere navigational tolerances, and exactly how much it counts as a science is a matter of dispute (quantification and geometry gave Ptolemy a close approximation of the moon’s distance from earth, akin to present science, while the motions in his system have nothing to do with physics as we know it).

    So I guess if one clings to the broadest and oldest definition for astronomy, including the bare record of what constellation is where during the course of the year, one could relate this to navigation. For that reason it wouldn’t be a very good example of a “science” without a great deal of practical use. Worse for comparison is the fact that charting the heavens for purposes of time-telling and navigation is nothing like the modern science of astronomy (which I discussed in present tense), and which is far from a major source of practical scientific breakthroughs (although engineering and science used in engineering astronomical instruments probably more often yield practical spin-offs).

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  74. #74 Stu
    January 16, 2009

    Also, can I assume anyone who trots out the term “Darwinian” to be automatically full of shit?

    It’s one of the Three Signs Of Dumbass (Pharyngula-specific) that rarely fail:

    1) “Meyers” (bonus points for “Mr. Meyers”)

    2) “Darwinian” (bonus points for “religion” and/or “acolyte”)

    3) “Athiest” (bonus points for “I [am/was] an athiest”)

  75. #75 Tulse
    January 16, 2009

    Glen, given what you’ve said, do you really mean “astronomy” or “astrophysics”? Until the modern era most of astronomy was what you would call cartography (although in many cases highly sophisticated, time-dependent cartography), but it certainly was astronomy nonetheless.

    I completely agree that astronomy is no longer useful in this way, and that modern astronomy has little practical utility. But it really was astronomy, or at least its products, that helped seafarers navigate for hundreds of years.

  76. #76 'Tis Himself
    January 16, 2009

    One thing that astronomy has done for us is show that mankind does not occupy the center of the universe.

  77. #77 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    2. Martin Luther & Richard Wagner were far more of an influence on Hitler than Darwin. I doubt that Hitler ever even cracked open “Origin of Species”, yet he was thoroughly engrossed with Wagner’s operas and of course gobbled up all kinds of anti-Semitic literature in his youth.

    There’s probably more social darwinism in Nazi ideology than many admit, though.

    The problem is what you bring up, though, for even though “social darwinism” wouldn’t exist without “darwinism” appearing, the fact of the matter is that social darwinism took its prejudices from the tenor of the times, and not from any kind of inherent telos or prescription coming out of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory, though not unassociated with Victorian prejudices even in Darwin’s writings, is not inherently prescriptive at all, so that neither in Darwin’s writings nor anywhere else could the science be considered as the source of Nazi eugenic or anti-Semitic impulse.

    Indeed, it is the lack of any prescriptivity in the science of evolution that left it vulnerable to importation of Xian/Victorian/American/European prejudice. Whether it was Lutheran screeds against the Jews, or Protestant loathing of Catholic immigrants, evolutionary theory was the tofu of its time, it was morally flavored by things other than itself.

    So yes, we can look to Xianity, to self-interests of the industrialized world, imperialism, and previously-existing (and evolving) racial, ethnic, and cultural prejudices to explain social darwinism. Evolution only provided the form that social darwinism could take. It was wholly lacking in any ability to say what anyone should do with evolutionary theory.

    The fact is that Nazis did exploit social darwinian ideas for their own purposes. However, social darwinism has about as much relationship to “darwinism” (which was a legitimate term at one time) as prophesying through the observation of chicken entrails has to do with modern anatomical studies. That is to say, the two practitioners look at some of the same things, but the advice and predictions of the entrail readers owe nothing to scientific anatomy.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  78. #78 E.V.
    January 16, 2009

    I thought Nietzsche, and therefore Lamark, were Hitler’s idols.

  79. #79 Efogoto
    January 16, 2009

    Our rape of nature, our one true home, has accelerated.

    Isn’t this agenda pushed by the religious right to bring on the end times?

  80. #80 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    One thing that astronomy has done for us is show that mankind does not occupy the center of the universe.

    Much the same with evolution, also.

    After all, while knocking out an ID which really had failed (scientifically, not culturally) prior to Darwin is not considered to be the main scientific triumph of evolution, it probably was the primary effect in society for decades after the Origin was published.

    Even theistic evolution, which exists to save religion, typically entails much-reduced, to non-existent, claims about any observable involvement of a deity in this world. And it is almost certainly no accident that this often accompanies rather reduced beliefs about even the parts definitionally cordoned off from any possibility of observation.

    Couple those with the much-increased numbers of non-religious folk, and you have far less belief in meddling supernatural forces in the countries where science has traditionally been practiced.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  81. #81 Lotharloo
    January 16, 2009

    This post is fucking amazing. Indeed how stupid or intellectually dishonest the editors must be to keep paying this stupid fuckwit.

  82. #82 Rey Fox
    January 16, 2009

    My succinct answer to the “has X made any difference” question would be: X is just one part of the vast repository of human knowledge, which grows every day by unimaginable bounds. It’s not really up to you what’s important and what’s not. YOU are not that important. Or smart. You probably don’t have as much “common sense” as you think you do, either.

  83. #83 PixelFish
    January 16, 2009

    Stu: The misspelling of atheist as “athiest” always makes me think “athy, athier, athiest!”

  84. #84 Paul
    January 16, 2009

    #77

    The problem is what you bring up, though, for even though “social darwinism” wouldn’t exist without “darwinism” appearing, the fact of the matter is that social darwinism took its prejudices from the tenor of the times, and not from any kind of inherent telos or prescription coming out of evolutionary theory.

    Nothing that the Nazis did lacked precedent before Darwin’s time. It’s deceptive to say that there’s more “social darwinism in Nazi ideology than many admit”.

    “Social darwinism” has much better precedent than Origin. All Darwin tackled was observing and theorizing on Natural Selection. Artificial Selection has been practiced for a long time, and humans had millennia to make the jump to applying these things to other humans. There is evidence for cultivation and trait selection in crops as far back as 11,000 BCE. Humans have a long history of ‘breeding’ animals. Also a long history of tribe mentalities to reinforce their belief that only their in group matters/is human. Even old testament biblical tales have many incidents of rulers employing artificial selection in human populations.

    Unless the Nazis were proposing that everyone goes on their merry way and the Great Aryan Nation makes itself greater through their superior earning power, physical traits, and employability, even metaphorically it has fuckall to do with Darwin. And I hate it when seemingly rational people imply that “social darwinism” wouldn’t have existed without Darwin. It wouldn’t wear the same label, but people would still be finding justification for believing their tribe is the most special and deserving of resources.

  85. #85 Stu
    January 16, 2009

    @PixelFish

    Also, you could call an agnostic “athiish”.

  86. #86 Stu
    January 16, 2009

    It wouldn’t wear the same label, but people would still be finding justification for believing their tribe is the most special and deserving of resources.

    Indeed. I don’t recall seeing Hamas or the IDF on CNN quoting The Origin lately.

  87. #87 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    Nothing that the Nazis did lacked precedent before Darwin’s time. It’s deceptive to say that there’s more “social darwinism in Nazi ideology than many admit”.

    “Social darwinism” has much better precedent than Origin.

    What’s deceptive is your out-of-context quote and pretense that I said anything substantively different than you did.

    And it is more than a little bizarre to claim that social darwinism has a much better precedent than Origin, considering that the defining characteristic of social darwinism is its pseudo-scientific claims upon darwinism and its mechanisms. As far as the fact that it was other factors that gave social darwinism its prescriptions, well, that’s more attack upon a strawman.

    And I hate it when seemingly rational people imply that “social darwinism” wouldn’t have existed without Darwin. It wouldn’t wear the same label, but people would still be finding justification for believing their tribe is the most special and deserving of resources.

    I hate it when you attack your strawman, crediting me for your own delusions. Deal with the substance of what I wrote, not your gross interpretations of a snippet or two.

    If you don’t have the intelligence to understandm the implications of “Whether it was Lutheran screeds against the Jews, or Protestant loathing of Catholic immigrants, evolutionary theory was the tofu of its time, it was morally flavored by things other than itself,” you have no business commenting.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  88. #88 Eetto
    January 16, 2009

    Damn it Bryan Appleyard has always got on my nerves, good to see him slammed.

  89. #89 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    If you don’t have the intelligence to understandm the implications of “Whether it was Lutheran screeds against the Jews, or Protestant loathing of Catholic immigrants, evolutionary theory was the tofu of its time, it was morally flavored by things other than itself,” you have no business commenting.

    Although, now that I think of it, I should have written “social darwinism” in place of “evolutionary theory.”

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  90. #90 Nanahuatzin
    January 16, 2009

    Glen Davidson @ 77

    There’s probably more social darwinism in Nazi ideology than many admit, though.

    mmh let see.. The aryan race as the superior of all races?

    That idea has nothing to do with Darwin.

    but what about:

    .. mankind is passing through a series of seven ?root races.? These are: Astrals (pure spirits), Hyperboreans (from a now-vanished continent), Lemurians , Atlanteans (who had psychic powers and secret energy sources, but went under during a cataclysm), and the Race of Hope, the Aryans.
    (The Secret Doctrine (1888))

    The root of nazi ideology comes from Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and other “ocultist”.

    Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the Nazi SS, was a devoted follower of the racial theories of Blavatsky and based the design of the SS on her teachings and on those of Aleister Crowley.

    Social Darwinism, may have took the name from darwin, but the ideas behind had little to do with Darwin, the same way that “Magnet therapy” has little to do with magnetism.

  91. #91 Scrabcake
    January 16, 2009

    “How many times did the masters of turbo-capitalism of the past 20 years plead evolution and survival of the fittest as the justification for their cult of greed and cultural destruction?”

    Firstly, I’ll bet a good number of these masters of turbo-capitalism were pious faithful in the “judeo-christian” tradition.

    Secondly, I’ll bet this guy would really get his knickers in a twist if someone took this to the illogical next step and called him a ‘dirty pinko commie.’”

  92. #92 SB
    January 16, 2009

    #58:

    John Mack (“that Harvard professor who claims UFO abduction stories should be accepted uncritically”) died in 2004 (source: wikipedia).

  93. #93 Sioux Laris
    January 16, 2009

    Too many words wasted on a shit who truly doesn’t matter to anyone, even as casual dumbass entertainment.
    I’d wish him ill myself, but what could be worse than the life he leads now?

  94. #94 MelekTaus
    January 16, 2009

    What I always found impressive about Darwin was the fact that he DIDN’T know about genes. He could not possibly have known the mechanism by which traits are inherited, as these were not discovered for a century or so, but like all good science, evolution predicted that there would be such a mechanism. The discovery of DNA and it’s function is massive supporting evidence for the Theory.
    Not so, these quacks, who seems to think it’s a liability. I don’t get it.

  95. #95 AnthonyK
    January 16, 2009

    I’ve read on the internet – so it must be true – that Mein Kampf contains only one reference to “evolution” and that is not in any biological sense. As has been pointed out above, Hitler’s anti-Semitism came from Luther, Christianity, and tradition, while his use of the word “race” is wholly different from Darwin’s. Darwin, the anti-slavery campaigner and all round nice guy, would have despised Nazism (and Eugenics) with every gene on his chromosone.

  96. #96 Jeff
    January 16, 2009

    Maybe some people on this thread can’t see the wood for the trees – there may be a lot of ignorance and bunkum on Appleyard’s part concerning the science, which, for a science-orientated journalist, is a travesty, but Appleyard I think is trying to make a broader and more philosophical point about evolutionary theory, which is this: what are the implications of natural selection for humans? Optimists might like to hope that we are capable of rising above the more savage and brutal part of our nature, and I’m sure that, on an individual level that’s the case. But us humans are still capable of the most appalling atrocities when hiding behind the complicity of a larger group. There are nice people like yourselves everywhere. But there are also plenty of nice people like yourselves in other parts of the world who are caught up in conflicts that are as absurd as they are savage. Savagery begets more savagery: the point Appleyard makes is that an understanding of evolution doesn’t necessarily enable us to evade the reality of conflict that has been a feature of human societies since history was first recorded. Our knowledge of evolution may improve, but corruption, genocide, exploitation, cruelty,turf wars, from Georgia to Palestine to the Congo to trafficked people on the streets of London, this never ends, it’s business as usual. I think that was the point he was trying to make. I also think that there is something singularly ugly about Mr Myers’tone in this piece: a languid air of easy intellectual superiority pervades throughout: it’s not pretty and it just makes him seem a little bit prissy – come on Mr Myers, surely you can do better than that!

  97. #97 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    Glen Davidson @ 77

    There’s probably more social darwinism in Nazi ideology than many admit, though.

    mmh let see.. The aryan race as the superior of all races?

    That idea has nothing to do with Darwin.

    And nothing to do with what I was saying. Which no doubt is why you chose it.

    Just picking from the most convenient source that I have at hand:

    During his brief stay in jail, he [Hitler] wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), an autobiographical account of his movement and its underlying ideology. Extreme German nationalism, virulent anti-Semitism, and anticommunism are linked together by a social Darwinian theory of struggle that stresses the right of superior nations to Lebensraum (living space) through expansion and the right of superior individuals to secure authoritarian leadership over the masses. (William J. Duiker & Jackson J. Spielvogal. World History fifth edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007. p. 687)

    Or:

    Social Darwinism: A concept based on the idea of “survival of the fittest.” Based on Social Darwinism, Nazis created a pseudo-scientific brand of racism which was most virulent when directed against the Jews, but others, particularly Slavs, were not exempt.

    fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/TIMELINE/NAZIRIS3.HTM

    While I haven’t studied the issue in any first-hand manner, there are a broad range of reasonably neutral sources which agree with these two quotes.

    The root of nazi ideology comes from Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and other “ocultist”.

    This is what I wrote at Expelled‘s blog:

    Ben needs to study the history of Germany versus that of England and the United States. Both of the latter have had and continue to have their faults, but they were the Enlightenment countries (the US in particular was founded on Enlightenment principles), and thus were not fertile ground for the nonsense of the Nazis (it is believed that occult beliefs played a large role in fostering Nazi anti-Semitism, for instance). Germany was open to such ideas, for a number of reasons, naturally (WWI, depression, etc.), but especially because the Enlightenment hadn?t really taken hold in Germany.

    expelledthemovie.com/blog/2007/09/28/come-on-guys%E2%80%A6you-can-do-better-than-that/ (post 20)

    The difference is that I wrote that occult beliefs played “a large role” in Nazi anti-Semitism, rather than your naive claim about it being “the root.” Anyone with a historical consciousness knows that there is not “the root” or any such thing, just many streams of causality.

    Social Darwinism, may have took the name from darwin, but the ideas behind had little to do with Darwin, the same way that “Magnet therapy” has little to do with magnetism.

    Did you have fun attacking your strawman?

    More importantly, evolutionary theory itself has nothing to do with Nazi ideology, other than that their particular perversion of evolution came from another perversion of evolutionary theory, and so had the same form of “scientific respectability” that ID does.

    I hasten to add that I am not equating IDists and Nazis, only their respective dishonest claims on science.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  98. #98 Blue Fielder
    January 16, 2009

    Jeff, that’s a lot of bullshit. We can read the piece, thank you, and it has fuck-all to do with that. Take your concern trolling and stuff it.

  99. #99 Glen Davidson
    January 16, 2009

    Savagery begets more savagery: the point Appleyard makes is that an understanding of evolution doesn’t necessarily enable us to evade the reality of conflict that has been a feature of human societies since history was first recorded.

    And thereby he attacked a strawman (assuming that was his point), because evolutionary theory is important to science because it explains things, not because it ever claimed to make people nice.

    We’re well aware that plenty of not nice “Darwinists” have existed.

    Unfortunately, the bizarre little man appears to have no comprehension of what science claims, or what sorts of issues it addresses.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  100. #100 Ktesibios
    January 16, 2009

    I propose a new entry for The Devil’s Dictionary.

    PUNDIT: A person who makes a business of not knowing what he’s talking about.

  101. #101 jo5ef
    January 16, 2009

    Damn you just ruined my morning, maybe i’m naive but the realization that such vacuous writing on science could be published in a serious newspaper made me feel sick.
    I left a comment but its one of those incidents that make you just feel: “whats the point, i give up, just keep wallowing in your own crapulence humanity”

  102. #102 E.V.
    January 16, 2009

    Jeff:
    You need to read Appleyard’s piece again, that is if you actually read it the first time, which I doubt.
    You treat us to this odd critique of Professor Myer’s post:

    “a languid air of easy intellectual superiority pervades throughout”.

    Perhaps that would be because he is intellectually superior to you.
    Jeff, your apple polishing and barely literate apologetics are tiresome yet amusingly pretentious and somewhat… what’s the word? Oh yeah – prissy.

  103. #103 skepsci
    January 16, 2009

    Yeah, what good is the Fourier transform anyways? I mean, I know it has maybe something to do with complicated things those wacky scientists do with their radio telescopes and their x-ray crystallography, but how does it affect me? I can post my lolcats, listen to my podcasts and bittorrented music, and watch my YouTube videos, all without ever worrying about Fourier transforms.*

    *I wonder how many times a day the average internet user’s computer, mp3 player, or cellphone performs a discrete Fourier transform or related transform. My guess is a whole hell of a lot.

  104. #104 strangest brew
    January 16, 2009

    *96

    Anyone that tries to use Behe to illustrate a contention made in scientific principle is by default ignorant of Science…

    And Appelyard proved that point all on his lonesome!

    His piece was a pandering to religious fundamentalism…he is trying to curry favour with right wing sycophants…which usually encompasses the scientifically illiterate jeebus lovers!

    He has done it before…probably do it again…

  105. #105 Fatboy
    January 16, 2009

    We share most of our DNA with chimpanzees, but nowhere in the genome have we found what it is that makes us so different from chimps.

    This argument always amazes me. When I look around at all the diversity on this planet, humans, chimps and bonobos all seem pretty damn close to me. I’ve got an entry on my own blog showing a picture of a chimp (the cover of Frans de Waal’s My Family Album) compared to a human. They look very similar. I wouldn’t expect our DNA to be very different. Why don’t these people ever pick whales and mesonychids, or bats, or some big transition?

  106. #106 Libbie
    January 16, 2009

    Citing Behe = instantaneous fail.

  107. #107 J Dub
    January 16, 2009

    David Marjanovi? at #17, you misunderstand the point of the IgNobel prize. Appleyard definitely doesn’t deserve one. If he had done a piece of actual science that on its face seemed ridiculous but then actually made one think, then it would be worthy of consideration.

  108. #108 how
    January 16, 2009

    “…if Appleyard is this patently asinine, how stupid are the editors and managers who keep paying for his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?”

    Unfortunately for us, his editors & managers are not stupid: they keep Appleyard on because his imbecilic spewings provoke controversy and, therefore, readership. You yourself directed us to his writings…a delicious irony, no?

    And speaking of irony, it’s been said, and I agree, that sunlight is the best disinfectant: that the best way to battle evil, ignorance & stupidity are to cast upon them the light of reason & intelligence; that the only way to fight bad words is with good words. One would hope that the converse would be true: that the way to kill a weed is to deny it sunlight, that by ignoring idiotic bloviating we will still it. Sadly, our silence is transformed by the ignorati into an admission of defeat. Ah, well…so it goes.

    In any event, PZ, keep fighting the good fight!

  109. #109 Citizen Z
    January 16, 2009

    I’ve read on the internet – so it must be true – that Mein Kampf contains only one reference to “evolution” and that is not in any biological sense.

    Occasionally, SIWOTI. Hitler does discuss, ahem, *his conception* of evolution. You tell me if this sounds in the least bit Darwinian:

    This urge for the maintenance of the unmixed breed, which is a phenomenon that prevails throughout the whole of the natural world, results not only in the sharply defined outward distinction between one species and another but also in the internal similarity of characteristic qualities which are peculiar to each breed or species. The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger. The only difference that can exist within the species must be in the various degrees of structural strength and active power, in the intelligence, efficiency, endurance, etc., with which the individual specimens are endowed.

    There’s also the fact that Hitler endorses “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a manuscript that describes “Darwinism” as a Jewish plot.

  110. #110 Merkuto
    January 16, 2009

    I think that’s a new record. Two sentences, and I wanted to stab myself in the eye. I’m sure there’s a one liner out there that can manage a hole in one, but two ain’t bad.

    And I’d wager that he’s not on there because the editor’s find him worthwhile, but because they find him profitable. He reaffirms the sense of superiority of the proud, willfully ignorant, and creates enough of a controversy to sell the controversy. Shameless attention whoring, on the editorial level. Pornography for the pride.

  111. #111 Russell Blackford
    January 16, 2009

    I haven’t been following what Appleyard’s been up to lately. But I can’t resist inviting people to read where I had my say about an earlier incarnation of him … since I thought I managed to shaft him pretty well on that occasion:
    http://www.users.bigpond.com/russellblackford/genetics.htm

  112. #112 course8
    January 16, 2009

    @J Dub (#127)
    You don’t actually have to do legit science to win an Ig Nobel. Jack Van Impe won for saying that “black holes fulfill of the technical requirements to be the location of hell”.

  113. #113 africangenesis
    January 16, 2009

    H.H.@38,

    Yes, without evolution there would be a big hole in our conceptual understanding of the “how” of our existance. Evolution overlays and conceptually unites all of biology. There are not many practical applications of evolution yet, which touch everyday lives. Is this “understanding” role for evolution fullfilling a practical need? Sans religion, would modern humans be immobilized by this hole in our “how”? Would we be distracted or “lost”? Is evolution filling that role which is filled by religion for the less curious, allowing us to get on with the “business” of life?

    Frankly, this lack of practical application, combined with the more ethereal and unifying “how” role gives some credence to the concerns of the religious that the state run public education system is forcing someone else’s religion upon their children. It can be argued to fulfill that role. Are we creating unnecessary controvery over something that will make little difference in the lives of the incurious that it touches? The curious and literature can remedy the omission of evolution, much more efficiently with little effort, and probably will already have done so before high school. The incurious might derive considerably more benefit from the biochemistry which underlies all of biology, medicine and pharmacology, and the curious literate will derive benefit as well.

  114. #114 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 16, 2009

    There are not many practical applications of evolution yet, which touch everyday lives.

    Yeah who needs genetics and the understanding it brings to the world of medicine and a better understanding of human biology.

    Pfft,

  115. #115 africangenesis
    January 16, 2009

    Rev@114,

    Genetics and the phylogeny can be studied, and there can be mention of which are more “closely related” to which, all without stating the obvious implications of shared genes and relatedness. If such is the price paid for all the benefits of the move to central control that made education a political football, isn’t it worth it? If it isn’t worth this price, them perhaps the dreams of a centrally controlled factory model school system, should be abandoned so that with local control, some children will be getting a decent education. After all, not EVERYBODY is going to be a contemptuous biologist.

  116. #116 clinteas
    January 16, 2009

    Beautiful rant PZ,just beautiful…:-)

    The Times of London’s excuses for journalists quote Behe(Behe !)to support their claims in their articles,thats really too funny.

    Jeff @ 96,

    but Appleyard I think is trying to make a broader and more philosophical point about evolutionary theory, which is this: what are the implications of natural selection for humans?

    What do the implications of natural selection have to do with trafficking in London or corruption??

    the point Appleyard makes is that an understanding of evolution doesn’t necessarily enable us to evade the reality of conflict that has been a feature of human societies since history was first recorded.

    And who on earth said that the TOE says anything about the “reality of conflict” in human societies?Its all this presupposed social darwinism strawman stuff whisking around in your head….
    You are not making an awful lot of sense Sir.

  117. #117 Doogan
    January 16, 2009

    Michael Behe is coming to my school (UNCW) to talk on the topic of intelligent design. Apparently it he will be hosted by the Department of Art and Art History which seems kind of strange to me. What are some good obnoxious(read insightful) questions that I could ask him in a Q+A or personal meaning?

  118. #118 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 16, 2009

    Ask him if he’s boned up on the evolution of the Immune system.

  119. #119 doogan
    January 16, 2009

    oops I meant to say meeting…

    good idea rev. I’ll be sure to put the emphasis on the word ‘boned’!1

  120. #120 africangenesis
    January 16, 2009

    Doogan,

    Several of Behe’s proposed “irreducibly complex” candidates have been punctured by knockout mice. Notably the clotting and immune systems have been found to be robust to having components knocked out. There is no reason to be hostile, he is a nice guy. Just assume good faith, and ask him if he has now acknowledges the need to withdraw some of his candidates.

  121. #121 clinteas
    January 16, 2009

    AG,

    There is no reason to be hostile, he is a nice guy

    I spilled my drink over that line.
    Behe is just another liar for jeebus,if at least of average intelligence,but he will happily misrepresent and lie to further the creationist cause, and he makes shit up.Not a nice guy at all in my book.

  122. #122 Militant Agnostic
    January 16, 2009

    This bozo is trotting out arguments from Behe that were refuted how many years ago?

    Another ignorant moron who mistakes reducible kluginess for irreducible complexity.

  123. #123 Stanton
    January 16, 2009

    H.H.@38,

    Yes, without evolution there would be a big hole in our conceptual understanding of the “how” of our existance. Evolution overlays and conceptually unites all of biology. There are not many practical applications of evolution yet, which touch everyday lives. Is this “understanding” role for evolution fullfilling a practical need?

    Are you aware that modern agriculture and animal husbandry, along with medicinal genetics and medical microbiology, are just a few of the most thoroughly deadliest important “practical applications” of Evolutionary Biology? Or, do you think that the food you eat and the antibiotics you take are magically poofed into existence by magical wish-thinker people who have nothing to do with or say about evolution?

  124. #124 James F
    January 16, 2009

    Doogan (#117) wrote:

    Michael Behe is coming to my school (UNCW) to talk on the topic of intelligent design. Apparently it he will be hosted by the Department of Art and Art History which seems kind of strange to me. What are some good obnoxious(read insightful) questions that I could ask him in a Q+A or personal meaning?

    Actually, it would have been more surprising if your biology department had invited him to speak!

    My question would be why intelligent design has failed to produce a single piece of data in peer-reviewed scientific research papers. It would be interesting to see how much of a conspiracy theorist he is, and in a public forum. I’d also like to ask how he feels about the Discovery Institute promoting, as a pro-ID publication, a paper that was formally repudiated on the basis of academic misconduct.

    You can also go here and ask Abbie for some pointers. Oh yeah.

  125. #125 Stanton
    January 16, 2009

    After all, not EVERYBODY is going to be a contemptuous biologist.

    No, but it would be nice if there were more people who were not maliciously misled, and kept woefully ignorant about basic biology by allegedly pious shysters who lie, cheat, and slander in order to make God happy.

  126. #126 doogan
    January 16, 2009

    James F: Our biology dept hosted Ken Miller not too long ago. Also, Kevin Padian will be coming to talk soon too; I guess he might be hosted by the geology dept. Not to boast, but we also had EO Wilson and Richard Leakey come talk too so it has been an interesting couple of years leading up to the D-man’s bicentennial birthday.

  127. #127 Aquaria
    January 16, 2009

    I thought Nietzsche, and therefore Lamark, were Hitler’s idols.

    Don’t know about Lamarck, but Nietzsche never intended to be an idol for the likes of Hitler. He wrote about the Jews, but, when one reads the entirety of what he says, it’s to make a point about religion, not to slam the Jews. He examines them honestly, but fairly. There is nothing in his philosophical writings to support anti-Semitism.

    The reason he’s linked with Hitler is how Nietzsche’s sister was married to a man who was purportedly the most notorious “Jew-baiter” in Germany. She was also an acolyte of Wagner (known to be an anti-Semite himself). She and her husband tried to start an “Aryan” paradise in South America that failed. Nietzsche openly denigrated his sister’s hatefulness, and even cast aspersions on her lack of ethics. He also stated that he would love to send all of Germany’s racists with her, to improve the nation as a whole, but, barring that, he wished for the project to fail, as it did.

    He went insane before he learned about the failure of the project, and this is where the sister gets her revenge. She put together fragments of papers that Nietzsche had never intended to publish and printed it as “Will to Power, to make her brother look like as big an anti-Semite as she was. She befriended Hitler, and pressed upon him her brother’s “work,” I guess to show that Nazism’s hateful ideology had some kind of legitimate “philosophical” underpinning.

    She further fueled a madman, but ruined her brother’s reputation for all time. He will be forever linked to Hitler, thanks to her.

    I haven’t seen anything about her death, but I hope it was painful.

  128. #128 Stanton
    January 16, 2009

    Aquaria, I checked Wikipedia about Frau Förster-Nietzsche, and, although it said nothing about her demise, it did say that several top Nazi officials, as well as Hitler, attended her funeral.

  129. #129 Anon
    January 16, 2009

    Ok… I just read through 128 comments, and nowhere has anybody explained the phrase “For God’s sake.”

    I mean, is it just a variant of “For Fuck’s Sake”, or what?

  130. #130 John Morales
    January 17, 2009

    Anon @129, it’s an ironic play on the referred post’s title. No need to read the comments to find that out, it’s in the post itself :)

  131. #131 Feynmaniac
    January 17, 2009

    The Nazi affection for Nietzsche was strange, considering his writings are closer to being a philo-Semitic than anti-Semitic. He was also critical of Wagner, who he had earlier praised, for his support of German nationalism and his anti-Semitic views.

    If one simply glances through his works it would be obvious that Nietzsche would have never supported them. Then again, I guess the Nazis weren’t known for their scholarly abilities.

  132. #132 Jimf
    January 17, 2009

    Hah, no sooner do I read this than the name “Bryan Appleyard” crops up again. He has an article in the magazine section of today’s Weekend Australian: Life after death. Cover blurb says: Scientists zero in on life after death. I haven’t read it yet, but why do I expect it to be full of galloping credulity?

  133. #133 Ben Breuer
    January 17, 2009

    On IgNobels: Wasn’t the original nomination for the literature prize, rather than biology?

    Re #109 (Citizen Z): It’s scary how close the Hitler quote is to some creationists’ points about species, almost as if separately created.

    Re Frau Förster-Nietzsche: Auweia! One of those scary relatives of famous people that caused the latter to be considered Nazis. She’s close second to the champ in that category: Winifred Wagner. (Grandpa Richard was an antisemite, but Winifred cuddled up, perhaps quite literally, to her “Wolf.”)

    Nietzsche on Germans: He’s not so hot, IIRC. Nietzsche has little love lost for Germany of the Bismarck era, skewers it quite nicely in his later books, and spent most of his (sane) life elsewhere.

  134. #134 Cannonball Jones
    January 17, 2009

    My flatmates buy the Times and it holds some worthwhile articles but Appleyard is indeed a wretch. I propose that we arrange for him to spend a year living without any technology or medicine whose invention in any way depended on Darwin’s theory or anything that followed from it. Any wagers on how long he’d last?

  135. #135 tmplikeachilles
    January 17, 2009

    There ought to be a word (and there probably is in German) for the satisfaction derived from finding out that someone you admire feels contempt for someone for whom you also have long felt contempt. I’ve found Appleyard to be a useless, self-satisfied, ill-informed gasbag for years now. Full marks to PZ for nailing him.

    By the way, PZ, I’m not so sure that Appleyard’s editors and managers are so stupid. I just think they are functionaries, and that people like Appleyard serve a useful purpose to that end. It is very rare that finding out the truth and journalism have anything in common. More often than not they are in some sort of direct opposition to one another, and the managers of journalism have the job of making sure that the truth is obscured by relativism and misinformation. This is where people like Appleyard come in useful, blessed as he is with a sort of internal anti-magnet that invariably leads him in the opposite direction to the truth.

    I sometimes even wonder sometimes if he is not a very intelligent but cynical manipulator who deliberately creates false opinions for so many pounds a word. But the idea makes me shudder, so I just go back to assuming that he is just what he appears to be: an idiot.

  136. #136 Dr. Matt
    January 17, 2009

    Doogan, #117:
    I subjected myself to a talk by Behe once, and his focus was on the supposed irreducible complexity of the human blood clotting system. In reality, a lot is known about the evolution of blood clotting in vertebrates, and simpler but fully functional clotting systems are present in various extant vertebrate lineages. There’s a good introduction by Ken Miller here. Behe acknowledged absolutely none of this research in his presentation.

    My Behe experience was a couple of years ago, but I doubt his spiel has changed. By all means, show up prepared and ask some probing questions, or write a response for your school paper.

  137. #137 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 17, 2009

    James F: Our biology dept hosted Ken Miller not too long ago. Also, Kevin Padian will be coming to talk soon too; I guess he might be hosted by the geology dept. Not to boast, but we also had EO Wilson and Richard Leakey come talk too so it has been an interesting couple of years leading up to the D-man’s bicentennial birthday.

    Doogan I went to NC State and my grandfather taught at NC State in the entomology dept. They have a lecture series in his honor at the school that has hosted EO Wilson and Ken Miller. Look it up, there may be some good lectures upcoming in Raleigh (not to bad a drive from Wilmingon).

    It’s the Dr. Robert Rabb lecture series.

  138. #138 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 17, 2009

    typos for the win!

    KoT

  139. #139 Maugrim
    January 17, 2009

    No such paper as the London Times. “The Times of London” would be the correct way to refer to it if you’re trying to differentiate from the New York Times. [/pedant]

    I’ve never had that much beef with that particular paper before, but my, that is a truly dreadful article by a dreadful journalist.

  140. #140 Lambert Heenan
    January 17, 2009

    Bearing in mind that Murdock is a born again, it’s hardly surprising that the once great “Times” quite happily pays for this kind of drivel.

  141. #141 Cathal
    January 17, 2009

    Ah yes, the old Reductio ad Hitlerum argument. Well done Applecart.

  142. #142 JTode
    January 17, 2009

    I haven’t read any of this Appleyard fellow’s screed, but this is nonetheless one of the finest rant/smackdowns I’ve read in years. Thanks PZ.

  143. #143 Morsky
    January 17, 2009

    If you want to up your cortisol levels, check out Appleyard’s blog, where he explains his article in the same airy, substanceless and smug manner. If you want to burst a couple of blood vessels, check out the comments, full of twits blubbering pretentiously about some fuzzy, never really defined “It” that the “militant atheists” just don’t get. The most infuriating for me was his pair of posts on the supposed rift between those crass and uncultured people who never had an “aesthetic experience” and the elect aristocracy of aesthetes (including, presumably, him) that did.

    He’s basically a narcissistic twat whose chief problem with science is aparently that it doesn’t coddle his hideously bloated ego enough. “Cousin to a gibbon? Moi? With my sublime aesthetic taste? Puh-lease.” Thank you for a well-written, cogent smackdown of this pretentious scribbler, PZ.

  144. #144 Bruce Will
    January 17, 2009

    It would seem that the aphorism “The mere fact that something is published in the Times doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a lie” is more true now than ever.

  145. #145 africangenesis
    January 17, 2009

    Stanton@123,

    What role do you think evolutionary theory played in progress in modern agriculture and animal husbandry? Hypothesis generation perhaps. But is there anything which couldn’t also have been concluded from cladistics and biochemical similarity?

  146. #146 melior
    January 17, 2009

    At many levels we have failed this challenge.

    Projection much, Appleyard? Let’s try filling in what you were really thinking here…

    Almost from its first appearance, the Monotheism idea has been used to justify appalling behaviour. Moses, the Judaic philosopher, seized on “the Chosen People” as holy evidence that there was a moral injunction for the fit to defeat the unfit.

  147. #147 'Tis Himself
    January 17, 2009

    Morsky #143

    If you want to up your cortisol levels, check out Appleyard’s blog

    I spent some time there. He strikes me as a pretentious, supercilious twit.

  148. #148 Morsky
    January 17, 2009

    #146: It’s actually far worse.

    From Wikipedia:

    “The first clear articulation of Spencer?s evolutionary perspective occurred in his essay ‘Progress: Its Law and Cause’ published in Chapman’s Westminster Review in 1857, and which later formed the basis of the First Principles of a New System of Philosophy (1862). In it he expounded a theory of evolution which combined insights from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s essay ‘The Theory of Life’?itself derivative from Friedrich von Schelling’s Naturphilosophie?with a generalization of von Baer?s law of embryological development.”

    Spencer seized upon Darwin’s ideas two full years before they were even published! This, of course, shows Darwinism is retroactively pernicious – so vile and dangerous it inspired atrocities and questionable social theory even before it was formulated. Oh, that Darwin…

  149. #149 Smidgy
    January 17, 2009

    Haven’t read all the comments, so excuse me if this has already been pointed out, but:

    Here’s a challenge for you. Search the text of Mein Kampf for any occurrence of the name “Haeckel”. You won’t find it. Try “Darwin” ? oops, no luck.

    It actually goes further than simply not mentioning Haeckel or Darwin in Mein Kampf. There was a set of guidelines published in the Nazi journal for lending libraries, Die Bücherei, in 1935, for the drawing up of blacklists for books. One of the items on there was this:

    Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

  150. #150 Stanton
    January 17, 2009

    Stanton@123,

    What role do you think evolutionary theory played in progress in modern agriculture and animal husbandry? Hypothesis generation perhaps. But is there anything which couldn’t also have been concluded from cladistics and biochemical similarity?

    africangenesis, please let me be the first person to state that you are a pompous, and pretentious moron who wallows in his ignorance like so much filth. If I am not the first person to state so, please me be the latest person to state as such.

    If you actually bothered to read, you would know that one of the reasons Darwin formulated Evolutionary Theory was through studying lineages of domesticated animals such as pigs and pigeons.

    Furthermore, cladistics and “biochemical similarity” are crucial subsets and tools of Evolutionary Biology: to infer that they are distinct from Evolutionary Biology is as idiotic as implying that woodworking and carpentry are two totally distinct entities.

    That, and it is only through Evolutionary Theory that we understand why people can not totally eradicate agricultural pests and diseases, given as how agricultural pests and disease evolve. Or, am I right to presume that you think that the food you eat and the antibiotics you take are magically poofed into existence by magical-thinking people who don’t know about Biology or Evolutionary Theory?

  151. #151 Lurkbot
    January 17, 2009

    Well, the difference “darwinism” has made to my life, other than the obvious biological, agricultural, and medical ones that others have pointed out, is more philosophical. Without getting into any “Gaia” type crapola, I find the certain knowledge that my cat, asleep here next to me, that pine tree out the window, and every cell of brewer’s yeast in that beer I just drank are all my umpty-jillionth cousins to be enormously “life-affirming”, to use a phrase that the fundie death-cultists have hijacked to mean its exact antithesis.

    And they may be worthless in everyday life, but any editor of a popular science magazine will tell you that the two topics you want in each issue, because they put the eyes on the pages, are astronomy and archaeology. For whatever that’s worth.

  152. #152 littlejohn
    January 18, 2009

    Look, it’s nice some of you defended me. Thank you.
    But some of you seem to base your view of newpaper journalists on Superman movies. No, Lois Lane doesn’t live in a luxury penthouse apartment. She lives in a basement with an alcoholic friend and a dozen rats.
    I understand that most folks confuse journalist with rich idiots who read scripts written by others, or express idiotic ideas uninformed by knowledge. But those aren’t newspaper journalists.
    And no, journalists don’t have time to research anything. We write two or three major stories a day. Not a week, not a month, not a year. A fucking day.
    Please feel free to say what you will about Apple-whatzitz, but please give regular $25,000-a-year newspaper journalists a break. We make less money than kindergarden teachers and police officers.
    And please stop poking fun at people you’ve never met. I’ve known plenty of professors, and I’ve worked for six newspapers. My late father, L.T. Anderson, was a two-time runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. He was not stupid.
    I’ll say it again: The smartest and least religious people I’ve known (and I am not young) have been newspaper journalists. Unless you’ve actually worked for a paper or known a journalist, please don’t be an asshole. Thank you.

  153. #153 africangenesis
    January 18, 2009

    Stanton,

    It is no honor to be the 1st to use ad hominem attacks instead of addressing the substance, but if you know much about this blog at all, you know that being the 1st would be rare honor indeed.

    That said, my bad, what I should have said instead of cladistics was just taxonomy in general, which of course, existed in before the theory of evolution.

    Not every tool of evolution would be meaningless without it. Despite the insights Darwin gained from studying animal husbandry, animal husbandry is not much different today because of evolution. The Amish are productive farmers, presumably without knowledge or at least belief in evolution. Yes, evolution has made some difference, but how are we served by exageration and hyperbole. Are you sure that we can’t eradicate pests and diseases?

  154. #154 René
    January 18, 2009

    “my modern science.”? Please replace with “by modern science.”

  155. #155 John Morales
    January 18, 2009

    africangenesis @153, it’s funny to see you claim, in your first paragraph*, that Stanton made “ad hominem attacks instead of addressing the substance”, and in your second and third paragraphs you addressing the substance you denied existed.


    * Despite your tortured phraseology: “It is no honor to [X], but if you know much about this blog at all, you know that [X] would be rare honor indeed.”
    That’s kinda funny too :)

  156. #156 Marc Abian
    January 18, 2009

    And no, journalists don’t have time to research anything. We write two or three major stories a day. Not a week, not a month, not a year. A fucking day

    Littlejohn, if journalists are writing something without doing research, then that’s useless. In fact, it’s pernicious.

    Now maybe it isn’t your fault, maybe it’s the burden the editor puts on you, but if you’re writing about something you don’t understand or know, then you’re not a good journalist.

  157. #157 Tom
    January 18, 2009

    Just a slight point of pedantry – although a rather important one if you happen to work for the Times… the Sunday Times is a completely separate newspaper, with a separate editor and separate staff. They were founded by different people, and for most of their life have been owned by different people. The journalists have no interaction and the papers have different editorial standards – although they do share a website.

    By all means send letters of complaint, but make sure they actually go to the right paper.

  158. #158 Calilasseia
    January 18, 2009

    As I wrote elsewhere recently, how the once-mighty Times has become a pale shadow of its former self, when dreck of this magnitude can appear within its pages … this is what happens when you let Rupert Murdoch buy your newspaper …

  159. #159 africangenesis
    January 18, 2009

    John@155,

    I agree that Stanton did get around to the substance, but it should have been his own substance for the case he is trying to make, like his animal husbandry point. Insights from evolution are starting to make some practical research more efficient, but pushing evolution rather than the more immediately practical biochemistry in high school curriculums, does have a bit of that evangelical ferver to share ones beliefs.

    I’ve sure Stanton knew that is chances of being the FIRST to resort to dismissive name calling were near nil.

  160. #160 Mike G.
    January 18, 2009

    that demands that you do nothing more than take a couple of swigs of cheap gin before you bang out a story that substitutes opinion for facts.

    Would that be Victory Gin?

  161. #161 Gordon McCabe
    January 18, 2009

    Excellent post PZ!

    I reviewed Appleyard’s article on my blog last week, and regarding the question of gene number, you might be interested in the following quote:

    “It is unarguably true that the differences between a monkey and a human are huge…The point is – as every geneticist…knows perfectly well – that a small number of nucleotides can make a very big difference…The fact that, at the molecular level, the difference appears small is irrelevant because, at the molecular level, everything appears small. And, besides, the whole of modern science from quantum theory to chaos theory has successfully persuaded us of the fact that small things make big differences.”

    And the author of these admirably accurate words? Bryan Appleyard, no less, in his book ‘Brave New Worlds’ (p102).

    http://mccabism.blogspot.com/2009/01/bryan-appleyard-and-creationism.html

  162. #162 Shadow
    January 18, 2009

    #28

    The article is evidence that a single monkey sitting at a single typewriter can, indeed, reproduce the complete ignorance of Ben Stein.

    In one session, while on acid. — Not to impugn monkeys, they’re sensitive, intelligent beings.

  163. #163 Stanton
    January 18, 2009

    I’ve sure Stanton knew that is chances of being the FIRST to resort to dismissive name calling were near nil.

    As opposed to accusing the posters here of being “atheists who have holes in their hearts that they’re trying to fill by attacking theists in groups”?

    I do not understand why the fact that you’re too arrogantly lazy to realize that strategies to maintain and improve the genetic health of plant and animal breeds , combat inbreeding while maintaining breed integrity, and creating new plant and animal breeds are direct and very frequent applications of Evolutionary Biology in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry is my shortcoming, and not yours.

    Furthermore, I don’t see why you should single me out simply because I’m stating that you’re a pretentious moron for claiming that evolution has few practical applications. The other posters here, like, say, Nerd of RedHead, routinely respond to your arrogant inanity with far greater ferocity.

  164. #164 africangenesis
    January 18, 2009

    Stanton,

    I don’t understand why I’m too arrogantly lazy either. But, I still think I should not have to guess what you have in mind that makes you think evolutionary theory is so important to progress in animal husbandry. You didn’t like it when I guessed you were an atheist, so I’m not good at guessing either.

  165. #165 Stanton
    January 18, 2009

    I say that you’re arrogantly lazy in thinking that there are few practical applications of Evolutionary Biology because if you were to expend the necessary 30 to 100 calories necessary to pick up any textbook about Evolutionary Biology, you would immediately notice that it’s positively rife with references to and studies about Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.

    You didn’t like it when I guessed you were an atheist, so I’m not good at guessing either.

    You were pigeonholing me into a grossly inaccurate cartoon stereotype of atheists. In other words, you were engaging in bigotry. Please explain to me why I should not have been upset by your bigotry.

  166. #166 africangenesis
    January 18, 2009

    Evolutionary insights gained from animal husbandry are not the same as an evolutionary basis for progress in animal husbandry.

    The reason you should not be upset by my bigotry, is that you don’t want me to be in control of your emotions and you sense of self worth.

  167. #167 africangenesis
    January 18, 2009

    Stanton,

    Upon further thought, I find your comment revealing, you appear to be contemplating an emotional response to being lumped in with a certain stereotype of atheists, i.e., being “upset”.

    Were you expecting or hoping that I would be upset by your namecalling, “moron”, “bigot” and characterizing me as “pretentious” and “wallowing in ignorance and filth”? I wasn’t upset, I just thought it was a way you feel better about yourself by assuming that others are below you, and that perhaps you were trying to impress your peers with your flaunting of the social convention of politeness, and that you might be afraid of being wrong.

  168. #168 Stanton
    January 18, 2009

    Evolutionary insights gained from animal husbandry are not the same as an evolutionary basis for progress in animal husbandry.

    So then explain why you think that the insights gained from animal husbandry can not be applied to animal husbandry.

    The reason you should not be upset by my bigotry, is that you don’t want me to be in control of your emotions and you sense of self worth.

    So then why were you trying to foist a grossly inaccurate cartoon stereotype to begin with?

  169. #169 africangenesis
    January 18, 2009

    Stanton,

    I know you really want to know “why”, but I don’t recall even doing characterizing you as an atheist or thinking of you personally, I do recall you accusing me of it. If you can point me to where it happened, it wasn’t this thread, I will try to reconstruct it as a personal favor.

  170. #170 kenneth
    January 19, 2009

    As the initicable Ben Goldacre (http://www.badscience.net/ , del.icio.us/bengoldacre , etc) says
    “Bryan Appleyard is a knobend”.
    I concur. Prof. Myers ….you say it for most of us.
    Whatever happened to “The Times” or was it always full of such **** ?

  171. #171 tom
    January 19, 2009

    #170, and quite a few others. To repeat my previous post…I think it’s a relatively important point to make: Appleyard does not write for the Times, he writes for the Sunday Times. They are completely different papers.

  172. #172 Rowan
    January 19, 2009

    Monty Python time…..!

    Reg:

    “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation, medicine, education, irrigation, public health, roads, a freshwater system, baths and public order… what have the Romans ever done for us?”

  173. #173 Eric Saveau
    January 21, 2009

    @Jeff
    a lot of ignorance and bunkum on Appleyard’s part concerning the science, which, for a science-orientated journalist, is a travesty

    And right there, Jeff said everything of substance he had to offer on this topic. Going on to try to defend Appleyard and his ridiculous screed was just self-embarrassment.

  174. #174 Nova
    January 21, 2009

    if Appleyard is this patently asinine, how stupid are the editors and managers who keep paying for his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?

    Wrong way round; how stupid are the members of the public that keep buying his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?

  175. #175 mig
    February 26, 2009

    Oh Crap… i bought the book

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