Strange stuff from Pharyngula

I don’t, in general, read my fellow science blogs. Not because I hate them, you understand, but because they talk about other stuff. But I was lead to Inventing excuses for a Bible story, and getting them published in a science journal? and was immeadiately struck by (a) how strident it seemed, and (b) how backwards it all seemed. (a) I can excuse: I’m sure I seem the same fairly often, but hopefully not too often (b). Side note: I was “accused” recently of being tedious in my writing on wikipedia, at which I vigourously protested. But it became clear that she actually meant “tendentious” which isn’t great but is certainly much better (old joke: deaf old Oirish Catholic grandmother: and what do you do now, grandaughter? Grandaughter (embarrased, low voice, mumbles): I’m a prostitute. Grandmother (outraged): *what* did you say? Grandaughter: repeats, louder. Grandmother: Oh thank heavens, I thought you said you were a Protestant).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: someone has published a harmless paper with hydrodynamic modelling about whether the fabled crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites could be explained simply by wind forcing exposing some mudflats or reef. I read a bit of it (here it is, if you want to) but not enough to tell if it was any good. It reminded me of what I was taught in school, oooh, must be (thinks) 30 years ago. Much the same story, though with less detail. And we were taught by a proper C of E clergyman too, I tell you. In those days, “explaining away” the miracles of the bible was quite fashionable; perhaps it still is.

But PZ gets this completely backwards, altough bizarrely he also realises this, because if you can explain away all the miracles that is evidence against God, not in favour of it. so all the outrage and huffing and puffing is completely off target. Far better would have been a gentle mocking piece called something like “even the believers don’t believe” or somesuch.

I also find his “If a paper like this were plopped on my desk for review, I’d be calling the editor to ask if it was a joke. If it wasn’t, I’d laugh and reject it”. PZ knows nothing about hydrodynamics or ocean modelling. If this paper landed on his desk the only honourable thing for him to do would be to return it with a polite note saying that it was outside his field of competency to review.

Also, PZ has been rather careless with some of his sniping: It’s also troubling that this work actually got funded by NCAR and the Office of Naval Research. Why? I suspect that sympathetic Christians somewhere in the administration gave bad Christian research a pass… looks wrong (as pointed out in the comments [1]. The authors are funded; it doens’t look like this study specifically was. This looks like the kind of stuff one sees the septics pushing in the Global Warming arena. But PZ has no excuse: he is a scientist, and he knows how funding works.

Incidentally, there is a whole pile of speculation in PZ’s comments about where the idea for this came from, and why they bothered, etc etc. I think the answer is obvious: they were interested in the idea, and most importantly they had a model they could conveniently reconfigure to run this case, and computer time to run it. So they did.

Ha: and while I’m on disturbing reminders of GW: how about this from the comments:

I just talked to Drew via email, and he claims he performed this research ON HIS OWN TIME. I intend to write to NCAR and request and audit of his time there to verify that he used no government funded resources, and also to inquire why NCAR’s name was attached to this research in any way shape or form.

Does that kind of (threatened) harassment remind you of anything? I felt moved to comment over there:

PZ: you know (professionally) nothing about hydrodynamics. If this paper passed your desk for review, your only correct response would be to decline on the grounds of lack of competence. http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2010/09/strange_stuff_from_pharyngula.php Some of the comments on this thread are appalling. In particular I intend to write to NCAR and request and audit of his time there to verify that… looks very much like the kind of harassment that cliamte scientists have been subjected to by the septics. This is a harmless little paper. It may well not be great science, but if anything it deserves gentle mockery not vitriol.

[Note: visitors from P are welcome. However, make sure you're aware of the comment policy which may not be as free-n-easy as you're used to. In particular, insulting other commenters, or simply repeating yourself, aren't welcome. I've already deleted some comments -W]

[Update: from Chris, over in the comments there, an important point: It's well worth, in my opinion, standing firmly for the principle of academic freedom. I wish I'd said that too.]

[Update: another aspect I forgot and shouldn't have (from Chris C in the comments): There's a larger issue here: the importance of a playful attitude in the pursuit of knowledge. Yes! Lets not take this stuff too seriously. We have to work, but it doesn't all have to be grind. We can have fun too, and should.]

[Thanks to the indefatiguable Hank for digging out Sci-Fi atmospheres by Ray Pierrehumbert. I haven't seen that before. Meanwhile, BCL has found some more govt-sponsored trash that PZ will doubtless be attacking :-)]

Comments

  1. #1 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    2010/09/23

    Harmless? Since when does the Navy, National Science Foundation, National Center for Atmospheric Research and University Corporation for Atmospheric Research consider funding and thus wasting valuable taxpayer’s dollars on the wet dream of a self admitted Jesus freak and bible thumper?

    You need to get your freakin priorities straight. The paper and its author are a joke, make our federally funding research laboratories look stupid, and are a waste of valuable time and resources. Plus the author lied to me about the funding in an email. He should be fired forthwith, and there should be an investigation of the NSF for funding this kind of obvious crap.

  2. #2 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    2010/09/23

    If you are interested, I’ve blobbed it, since either the scienceblogs software doesn’t allow embedded links, or I screwed up the link. The guy is a software engineer, and this paper makes NCAR look really bad, and you complaining about its blogospheric coverage makes you look really bad as well. It’s complete tripe, pure and simple.

  3. #3 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/23

    > explained simply by wind forcing

    Seems like a straightforward exercise in establishing the baseline natural variability, against which to evaluate any claims that anything is attributable to some new and extraordinary forcing.

    After all, if it happens again, someone’s going to blame it on climate change, UFOs, your deity of choice, or some combination thereof — and this kind of study can be referenced to say, nope, could’ve happened any time, nothing unusual going on here.

    Add some curry to spice it up if it’s too bland.

  4. #4 carrot eater
    2010/09/23

    Good grief. Apparently, linking to your fellow science bloggers brings forth angry people. Or at least, an angry person.

    Silly/fun publications are not unheard of. Somebody develops some tools, and uses them for something silly on the side. It then gets more attention than it’s worth.

  5. #5 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    2010/09/23

    Silly/fun publications are not unheard of.

    Sure, if Mr. Drews wants to run his simulations on his home computer and on his own time, fine, but he used federally funded supercomputers and a federal grant, and lied about it.

    And you continue to support that kind of behavior. Go USA!

  6. #6 Chris Ho-Stuart
    2010/09/23

    Academic freedom, anyone?

    And while we are at it… the idea that all non-USA people should butt out of comment on this is bizarre.

    Cheers — Chris

  7. #7 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/23

    Google the name, folks, just Google the name.
    Before you reply to anything, Google the name.

  8. #8 Irene
    2010/09/23

    @ carrot eater: “It then gets more attention than it’s worth.”

    Notably from CNN and the BBC. Don’t tell me PLoS ONE wasn’t aware that this stuff would draw media attention! Science journals are not above using sensationalism, for the same reasons other journals do: it gets publicity.

    @ Hank Roberts: Interesting speculation. But then, it’s not the aim of the actual paper, is it? It’s about a possible natural explanation of a totally fictitious story (since we know that no Pharaoh drowned with his whole army in the Red Sea around 1200 BC, or at any other time, for that matter).

  9. #9 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    2010/09/23

    Academic freedom, anyone?

    Indeed, and I have the academic freedom to notify Carl Drews bosses that I consider it a travesty that [snip - WMC. There is no need to repeat yourself]

  10. #10 SteveF
    2010/09/23

    The absurdly over the top response from the Pharyngula crowds is nicely exemplified by “Thomas Lee Elifritz” (who he?). A few runs of an open source model isn’t exactly the Large Hadron Collider.

  11. #11 Atmoz
    2010/09/23

    stoats should filter out the rabids.

    [Wabbits? I've only just woken up -W]

  12. #12 Rosie Redfield
    2010/09/23

    Given that the peer reviewers found that the science was fine, I think the researcher’s motivation is largely irrelevant.

    And there can’t be many scientists who have never used the computers provided by their employers or granting agencies for research that falls outside of the officially approved project.

  13. #13 Kengi
    2010/09/23

    If the paper had been explaining an actual historical event, or proposing a reason for a particular fossil find, I can see how it might be of value to science. If it had been studying the meteorological and geological phenomenon in general, it would have been fine.

    The paper, however, took a make-believe story and “investigated” an explanation for it. It’s like the really bad Discovery Channel programs about how it was actually possible for the ancient Greeks to build a Trojan horse.

    [Why does it matter whether the historical event was real or not? Its just a hydrodynamics paper, tied to an interesting peg. If you don't find the peg interesting, thats all right, you can just ignore it.

    When I ran GCMs, I sometimes ran simulations of "aquaplanets" - ie, the whole world was completely covered in water (well, nearly). People still do such stuff today. Will you tell me those runs were totally fictitious, and therefore valueless? -W]

    The Iliad was just a story, perhaps based on some actual war, told by Homer. It’s still hard to say with confidence there was even an actual “Trojan war”, though evidence has been mounting. There is not a bit of evidence, however, for the specifics of any strategies or battles in such a war.

    The same applies to the Bible story. It’s hard to say there was even such an exodus never mind the details made up in the stories about it.

    Ajax, Achilles, Paris, Moses, et al, were just characters made up for a nice story to tell. Anyone who sets out to prove that the Trojan Horse existed, or the Red Sea was parted, is not doing science. The “research” doesn’t belong in a science journal. It belongs on the Discovery Channel.

  14. He‘ is a United States citizen who is sick and tired of my federal government funding religious nonsense, and who has decided to fight back against it. Carl Drews is a federally funded researcher who has taken it upon himself to use his federal funding to pursue a religious pet project, and then who decided to lie about the origin of his funding in an email to me when I complained. Then William Connelley decides to liken my complaints to illegally hacking emails and harassing British climate scientists who are actually doing research critical to global security. I live in a country where United States senators and representatives invoke the bible and god on the house and senate floor regularly in clear conflict with the constitution they have taken an oath to protect and defend, and I’m not about to take any s h i t from anyone who thinks I don’t have a right to complain about that, and that I don’t have a right to demand that they be fired forthwith. Fortunately, that just involves voting them out. Carl Drews is no different. He is guilty of misusing his federal funds, and then he lied to me about it. Game over. I can complain, and he can be fired if his bosses decide to fire him, or even better, they can take a good hard look at where their management procedures went horribly wrong here.

  15. Given that the peer reviewers found that the science was fine, I think the researcher’s motivation is largely irrelevant.

    My complaint isn’t about the peer review, they can do whatever they want, and my complaint isn’t about Mr. Drews motivations, that’s fairly clear, he’s a religious fanatic. My complaint is about his federal funding of his religious pet project. Get it? It is not in the purview of the federal government, and superficial research has already shown that the phenomenon under consideration has already been observed, rendering its need for physical explanation moot. I see that sort of thing all the time in hurricanes.

  16. #16 SteveF
    2010/09/23

    Anyone who sets out to prove that the Trojan Horse existed, or the Red Sea was parted, is not doing science.

    They didn’t set out to prove that the Red Sea was parted. They set out to see if there was a plausible physical mechanism that might provide a context to some ancient mythology. They come from the perspective of treating “the Exodus 14 narrative as an interesting and ancient story of uncertain origin.” You don’t have to be religious to do this, you might just have an interest in old stories. Indeed, they’re not the first researchers to do this – Doron Nof did something similar over a decade ago:

    http://www.doronnof.net/red-sea.php

    I don’t see any particular problem with this kind of minor little investigation. Even if it happens to be a bit pointless, it certainly doesn’t warrant the absurdly hyperbolic reaction it has recieved.

  17. #17 SteveF
    2010/09/23

    You seem to be very angry. Perhaps you should go for a lie down.

  18. #18 Kengi
    2010/09/23

    SteveF #17:

    They set out to see if there was a plausible physical mechanism that might provide a context to some ancient mythology.

    Next I’m looking forward to the materials science research showing how it was possible for old world European cobblers to construct glass slippers for stepdaughters destined to become princesses.

    Or perhaps we should stick with meteorology and show how it really is possible for wolves to blow down houses, especially when those houses were constructed using differing techniques of common suidae.

    The paper is a poorly veiled attempt to support a Bible story as a literal event.

  19. Are you an American Steve? [Snip - WMC]

    [What is all this nationalism stuff creeping in? -W]

  20. #20 E.V.
    2010/09/23

    60+ mph sustained winds along a narrow channel (4 hours?!!) is pretty silly by any standards. Marching a large crowd of refugees into it is ridiculous, but then most myths are. It wasn’t just a simulation for a lark – this little study was an attempt to overlap those Non-Overlapping Magisteria the Templeton Foundation, and evidently the people who sponsored this little study, are so fond of promoting. Your tax dollars at work – trying to make science and Judeo-Christian lore partners.

    Now lets see the modeling for a flying horse for Mohammad on his trip to Baghdad.

    *cricket… cricket…*

    ‘ thought so.

  21. #21 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/23

    Gasp! Look, there’s ANOTHER one:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=black+sea+flood
    and … and … ANOTHER!:
    http://www.noradsanta.org/
    Watch the skies!!!:
    http://beforeitsnews.com/story/177/903/Retired_NORAD_Officer_Predicts_a_Worldwide_UFO_Display_on_October_13,_2010.html

    Now, focus for a minute.

    There are stories from before writing was invented. Mostly lost. A few got written down. Some are about improbable things or things people thought, maybe still think, are just impossible.

    Stars that move. Rocks that fall from the sky. Rains of frogs. Great floods. Parting of the Red Sea. UFOs.

    Who’s to say for sure none of these could have any basis in reality?

    Give ideas a chance. If someone’s abusing privilege or priorities, it will become obvious fairly soon that he’s a crank wasting people’s time.

    By their works …. wait, where’s that quote from?

    [Ha ha, you know better than to put in 3 links :-) -W]

  22. #22 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/23

    Psst — folks, William gave the link, you can read the paper. This bit is relevant to assess the reliability of the assumptions made in some of the comments above:

    “Scientific literature from the 19th century contains a description of a wind setdown event that occurred in the eastern Nile delta. Major-General Alexander B. Tulloch of the British Army reported this event happening on Lake Manzala in January or February 1882 ….”

  23. #23 Snardly Barfinton
    2010/09/23

    If you want a good laugh, google ‘setdown’ in scholar.

  24. #24 jim
    2010/09/23

    #21 “60+ mph sustained winds along a narrow channel (4 hours?!!) is pretty silly by any standards”

    Chinook winds can exceed 75mph and last for several hours, causing effects that are localized to within less than 50 miles. It is also common in areas with large tidal variations, such as the Normandy coast, for high winds or storms to greatly change the amount of beach exposed or flooded during tidal changes. Such possible weather events were a major factor in D-Day invasion planning. So the possibility of such an event described in the paper is not unheard of. It just requires the proper conditions.

    I see no great harm in looking at conditions in the Middle east to see if such an windstorm is possible, since the area is famous for large sandstorms. Its not earth shaking research, but it certainly is not an endorsement of biblical miracles.

  25. #25 thingsbreak
    2010/09/23

    Left at PZ’s:

    I second @132. This seems entirely wrong-headed.

    The idea of PZ reviewing this is absurd, the threat of demanding an audit of the author’s time is eerily reminiscent of the crap the denialists pull, and the proposition that because something is alleged to occur in the Bible it shouldn’t be investigated by modern science is precisely the opposite of what I would assume rational skeptics would propose.

    There have been a legion of attempts to test the plausibility of physical phenomena that appear in religious texts/oral traditions. They can be a valuable source of scientific investigation. The tone of many of these comments smacks of the same tribalism and groupthink that the same commentors claim to abhor.

    Krajick, K. (2005): Tracking myth to geological reality. Science, 310, 762–764, doi:10.1126/science.310.5749.762.

    [Available here for those like me without subs -W]

  26. #26 E.V.
    2010/09/23

    Chinook winds can exceed 75mph and last for several hours, causing effects that are localized to within less than 50 miles.

    Yeah, those snow capped Egyptian peaks on the Red Sea are well known. And hordes of people can trek through 75mph winds? You seem to have left that part out, Jim.

  27. #27 Dan Satterfield
    2010/09/23

    WC has it right. Not a biggy. Not worthy of acting like the nutters in climate denial.
    I would suggest some more aggressive editorial control over the comments though.

    [Now in place, so it may look like this comment wasn't warranted -W]

  28. #28 Rattus Norvegicus
    2010/09/24

    This idea has been floating out there for a while. The day before I saw the presser on this I watched — while trying to fall asleep — an old (circa 2002) show on History Channel International which put forth a similar hypothesis. I can’t call this paper great science (at best it seems like science fiction) but hey, you got it right. No miracle needed, if indeed the Exodus ever happened as described in the bible.

  29. #29 thingsbreak
    2010/09/24

    Oddly enough, I don’t remember the outrage over a similar study that proposed a skim of ice allowing the “miracle” of Jesus “walking on water”. Recalling a study discussed in Ice, Mud, and Blood:

    Nof, D., et al. (2006): Is There a Paleolimnological Explanation for “Walking on Water” in the Sea of Galilee? Journal of Paleolimnology, 35, 417-439, doi:10.1007/s10933-005-1996-1.

  30. #30 Sigmund
    2010/09/24

    Sorry William but I think you’ve got this one wrong. If it was simply a question of hydrodynamic modeling – for instance, about wind forces causing mud flats to be exposed in a shallow lagoon site – then it can have some scientific merit, although it is not particularly novel and thus not suitable for a journal with the impact factor of Plos One.

    [I think that is an arguable point, but a erasonable one. If so, any criticism should largely be directed at Plos One for their editorial standards - after all, you can't blame people for submitting papers to journals above their station (if that is so: I should emphasise that I left science before Plos became major (if indeed it is) and that I've only read about 1/3 of the paper) -W]

    The reason it is getting all the attention is that it tries to use the hydrodynamic modeling to explain a ‘historical’ event. There’s no way such a story would get into PLoS One without the religious angle attached to it and the fact that some people view it as a real historical event. Does anyone think you could get a paper in PLoS One trying to give a natural explanation for one of the miracles of Thor or Hercules?

    [Some seem to disagree with you. But Nature has been similarly guilty of publishing stuff primarily for its impact factor rather than intrinsic worth. I've argued against that before (see here, though now I look back I can see the point I'm making here is only implicit in the headline. Incidentally, I came across Latif saying a good thing, which I recoemmend reading). So to be clear: yes I agree that journals publishing research merely because they know it discusses a controversial and exciting topic, and will make a splash in the meeja, and thereby dropping their editorial standards, is a Bad Thing -W]

    The religious or mythological aspect, however, does not rule out real science being done – we can look at the real archaeology associated with places like Troy and Jericho for examples of this. What it does mean, however is that one must apply rigor to the review of these aspects of the story as well as the hydrodynamics. Even apart from the extreme lack of physical or historical evidence for the Jewish captivity and exodus from Egypt there is a glaring problem with the model proposed by Drews that I think the reviewers have not addressed, namely that the model requires the fleeing Jews – all several hundred thousand of them – to be fleeing directly headfirst into 74 mph winds.
    On the Beaufort scale we are talking of the border between gale and violent storm and this will have to be consistently blowing for hours on end in order for the water channel to remain open.
    The authors laughingly describe this scenario as probably being ‘memorable’ to those who experienced it!

    [Perhaps I'm showing my biases. As a modeller, I was considering this primarily as a modelling paper. But I've just scanned it again, and I think I'm right: it *is* a modelling paper, and (just as many other papers do) it is dressed up with some relevance. So I disagree that it should have been judged on its archaeology, because that is a minor part (or the scientific content) -W]

    In conclusion I would suggest that it is wrong to consider this as being an average paper on hydrodynamic modeling. It should be considered a bad archaeology paper that happens to use good hydrodynamic data to make an insufficiently supported archaeological claim and as such it should not have been accepted in PLoS One.

  31. #31 P. Lewis
    2010/09/24

    Hang on a min. Have I missed something?

    Notwithstanding any funding impropriety that there may (or may not) be — advertised for all to see in the publication — a dyed-in-the-wool Christian and his believing or nonbelieving acolyte attempt to explain what The Book describes as a Divine intervention by postulating that the said “event” does not require Divine intervention at all. Have I got that right?

    Now where are the fundies, ripping this work to shreds because it casts doubt on the figment who must be obeyed’s word?

    Zealots rool!

    WMC, you must have wanted to get your numbers up for the end of the month, yes? :-) Politics and religion, guaranteed to turn any Friday night down at the pub into a bun fight.

    P. Lewis (lifetime atheist)

    [Ah, you have spotted my cunning plan. What do you think my next target should be? -W]

  32. #32 Beaker
    2010/09/24

    @Sigmund: “Does anyone think you could get a paper in PLoS One trying to give a natural explanation for one of the miracles of Thor or Hercules? ”
    Well, actually yes, I think you could. Basically, you take an extreme event and see whether such an event could plausibly occur. Mythology is a good source for such extreme events and my guess is that such studies have been done. It happens more often with the bible, because that is a book our culture knows best.

    “What it does mean, however is that one must apply rigor to the review of these aspects of the story as well as the hydrodynamics.”
    Why? It’s a hydrodynamics paper. They did a simple modeling exercise on a fictitious event. They research one aspect of the story. Your putting limits on this research that isn’t even put on serious research.

    “In conclusion I would suggest that it is wrong to consider this as being an average paper on hydrodynamic modeling. It should be considered a bad archaeology paper that happens to use good hydrodynamic data to make an insufficiently supported archaeological claim and as such it should not have been accepted in PLoS One.”
    Sorry, no. It’s not an archeological paper. It’s a modeling exercise.

  33. #33 Slowjoe
    2010/09/24

    Gotta love the inquisitor going after NCAR for a time audit. Considering that I’m a GW sceptic (and indeed, one that applauds the FOI requests to CRU), I’ve got to say that I can’t express how hostile I am to this witch-hunting bigot.

    Rationalising, I guess I’m ok with requests for data, but not with requests looking to harass. But that’s a thin line, and this story unnerves me. I have no truck with this idiot. At all.

  34. #34 David Marjanović
    2010/09/24

    The really strange thing about the paper is that one author is an Old-Earth creationist.

    Incidentally, Thomas Lee Elifritz has been killfiled by several Pharyngulite regulars for his… strange behavior in climate change denialism threads. Apparently we made him feel sufficiently unwelcome that he hasn’t come back since the last such thread several months ago.

    [I think I remember him, possibly from sci.env days. Eli? -W]

  35. #35 Birger Johansson
    2010/09/24

    PZ has been conditioned to regard all religion stuff as hostile, due to the *extreme* prevalence of fundies and politicized religion in the U S. In this particular case, he is mistaking a flapping turkey for an inbound strategic bomber.
    I am reminded of the T-shirt worn by Jon Stewart: “Take it down a notch for America” :-) Yes, I do like Jon Stewart. He knows humor is a great way to fight religious bigotry, BTW.

    [http://www.rallytorestoresanity.com/ looks good. A long way for me to go. But I like "If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence... we couldn't. That's sort of the point." -W]

  36. #36 P. Lewis
    2010/09/24

    [Ah, you have spotted my cunning plan. What do you think my next target should be? -W]

    Oh, I know you were being rhetorical WMC, but state executions of women (or men for that matter), gun control, possibly/probably ending a moratorium on building on occupied territory that doesn’t belong to you as a means to end talks you don’t really want to be involved in, religious/racial hatred arrests in Gateshead (also see PZM for that, too**), …, hockey sticks;-)

    Take your pick. They’ll all bring out the zanies, the zombies and the zealots. Your advertisers will love you for it, and you’ll have lots of material on the cutting room floor :-)

    ** But first have a read of the European Convention on Human Rights provisos concerning the guarantee to “freedom of expression” and the UK specific provisos enshrined in UK law under the Human Rights Act and also see the Public Order Act 1986, Part 3A: Hatred against persons on religious grounds, 29B Use of words or behaviour or display of written material, para (2) and other paras thereabouts to see where PZM, when he says

    they had their own copy and destroyed it … they did nothing illegal. But they’re still arrested, and the police are making excuses.

    might not be right on that score.

    On second thoughts, you’d best delete this message, having read it of course, ‘cos it’ll bring out the zanies, the zombies and the zealots… and I have work to do to, lots of it unfortunately. :-(

  37. #37 Jim
    2010/09/24

    “Yeah, those snow capped Egyptian peaks on the Red Sea are well known. And hordes of people can trek through 75mph winds? You seem to have left that part out, Jim.”

    The original comment was questioning whether winds of such strength and duration can exist. I gave examples. The question is could such winds occur in the middle east for other reasons? Isn’t the purpose of science to investigate new questions? I don’t think this is any kind of serious research, but its a fun problem in meteorology, and I see no harm in this paper.

  38. #38 Jim
    2010/09/24

    @26:

    I apologize for double posting but I just couldn’t resist. Pictures of a snow capped egyptian peak. About 30 miles from the Red Sea:

    http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Jabal-Katherina

    I learn so many cool things from these internet discussions. Hope you enjoy. :-)

  39. #39 P. Lewis
    2010/09/24

    With regard to old European glass shoes/slippers: though largely or even wholly ornamental, search for Caspar Wistar and glass shoes.

    On Canis lupus‘s porcine hunting expedition, I would suggest it’s the laziness and poor building skills of Sus domesticas one and two that were the issue with their houses tumbling down, not said lupine’s exhalation feats. Straw and wooden houses can be built to very exacting standards indeed.

  40. #40 Sigmund
    2010/09/24

    William and Beaker, you both agree that this is a modeling paper but I think you are not addressing a critical point of the model. As far as I can tell the model has two section:
    1) It suggests a plausible mechanism for the exposure of a land bridge in a relatively shallow body of water.
    – I have no problem with that part.
    2) It suggests that the land bridge could be a plausible route for a large group of people to transverse in a short time period. This is the part that I have reservations about. Even if you ignore the archaeology and treat the whole paper as a fun speculation you are left with a model suggesting that several hundred thousand people (young, old, infirm and their livestock) could cross the mudflats by heading directly into almost hurricane force winds.
    If you think the second part of the model is unimportant then you are left with a rather mundane and unoriginal paper speculating on how a high wind can expose a mudflat – hardly worthy of PLoS One.

    [So, yes, I don't think the paper is really about (2), because that isn't modelling. As to the importance, I think we likely agree -W]

  41. #41 Chris Ho-Stuart
    2010/09/24

    Sigmund, (#40), you say that the paper “suggests that the land bridge could be a plausible route for a large group of people to transverse in a short time period”.

    What part of the paper do you mean? Here’s the link again. Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta. I don’t see this alleged second part of the model. There’s a brief mention of implications of times and strong winds for a mixed group; but it hardly raises to the level of being part of the model! I don’t see numbers for a group used at all.

    By the by; the raw numbers in Genesis are certainly an enormous exaggeration if in fact there was any historical seed to the story; but that’s a side issue not mentioned in the paper that I can see.

    I consider that the real merits of the paper are completely independent of this alleged second part of the model on large groups. The real merit or otherwise is in the hydrodynamics. I’m not enough of an expert to judge whether or not the results are worthy of publication. I don’t accept a bland assertion that it is not.

    It doesn’t have to be earth shattering (it certainly doesn’t seem to be) but publishable? I don’t see the problem. The discussion is a little more sophisticated than simply whether a mud flat can be exposed, and it looks at first site to be a credible kind of test case for the modeling system used, with a bonus (at least, I think it is a bonus) of having a bit of wider interest and association with prior less technically developed papers on the same hypothesis.

  42. #42 Eli Rabett
    2010/09/24

    Eli, being an old bunny remembers a great deal of speculation on this about the time ol’ Cecile B filmed his “Ten Commandments”. Now Eli, silly bunny, thinks that the navy might be seriously interested in conditions when a ground crossing of the Red Sea might be possible, so an attack on those grounds does not appear very fruitful given program managers interests. However, as Wm. points out, moving the miraculous to the “large natural variation” camp undercuts religious beliefs on the issue. Curry worst at its best.

  43. #43 Eli Rabett
    2010/09/24

    Oh yes, TL was one of the crazy uncles we kept in the closet for when Steve visited.

  44. #44 Snodly Yardgrass
    2010/09/24

    Gotta love the inquisitor going after NCAR for a time audit. Considering that I’m a GW sceptic (and indeed, one that applauds the FOI requests to CRU), I’ve got to say that I can’t express how hostile I am to this witch-hunting bigot.

    Sure, I’m a bigot. I can’t stand retards, so that means you. If you’re an American, then I go after you verbally, with a US constitution in my back pocket. Get used to it, it ain’t gonna stop until after the election.

  45. #45 Snodly Yardgrass
    2010/09/24

    Sure, mud flats can be exposed. It’s called storm surge when it sets up, and storm surge when it sets down. I’ve seen it happen many times in hurricanes on the Bahama banks. There is nothing miraculous about it. Drews is a first class twit, and Connelley is a first class twit defending him, and comparing my outrage at my government wasting valuable time coddling him, to Climategate, so much that I’m gonna blob his pathetic ass all over the internet. This is going to get some press, trust me. And it’s not going to make any of you look good.

  46. #46 Rhinanthus
    2010/09/24

    Consider this hypothetical case: In the Harry Potter books the “Death Eaters” (evil wizards) make a huge skull appear in the clouds by saying some magic words. Do you think that a scientific journal would publish a paper in which the author shows how the Death Eaters accomplish this feat by their magic words manipulating known atmospheric dynamics? Might not the fact that the book is just a children’s story and and that there are no skulls appearing in the clouds affect the justification for publishing the mathematical model in a science (as opposed to a mathematics) journal?
    Well, outside of the Bible there is no evidence for Moses, for the flight of the Isrealites and certainly no evidence for the Red (or Reed) Sea parting. There is lots of empirical evidence that it didn’t happen.
    Demonstrating a theoretical explanation for a non-existant phenomenon is not science (with appologies to string theorists…).

  47. #47 Onkel Bob
    2010/09/24

    just my $.02…I believe there should be a corollary to Dunning-Kruger (the ignorant being confident about knowledge) that the educated believe their expertise extends to all fields.
    Then there’s the adage, those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

  48. #48 Vinny Burgoo
    2010/09/24

    Sigmund, the paper modelled winds of 62 mph, not 75. I’m not sure I know what a 62 mph wind feels like but suspect that, whereas 75 mph could knock you off your feet, 62 mph would be hard work but manageable. Winds that strong blew across much of northwest China earlier this year. People coped – and coped without having spears at their backs to chivvy them along.

    It might have been you who wondered whether such winds are likely in that area. Yes, they are. Strong, steady winds blow for weeks and sometimes months in desert regions, especially near the sea. I think a southeasterly khamsin would be more likely than an easterly in the Nile delta but natural variability and all that.

    (Handy tip: If a sandstorm is approaching and your only shelter is a sleeping bag, make sure you lie with your feet facing the wind, otherwise you’ll wake up with the bag filled with sand up to your waist. D’oh!)

  49. #49 Sigmund
    2010/09/24

    Chris Ho Stuart asked: “What part of the paper do you mean?”
    Look at the very beginning of the paper
    “Previous researchers have suggested wind setdown as a possible hydrodynamic explanation for Moses crossing the Red Sea, as described in Exodus 14.
    Methodology/Principal Findings
    This study analyzes the hydrodynamic mechanism proposed by earlier studies, focusing on the time needed to reach a steady-state solution.”
    This is pretty clearly stating that the purpose of the paper is to examine a previously proposed model for “Moses crossing the Red Sea” I think it is fair to conclude that the words “Moses crossing the Red Sea” refers to the biblical story that mentions numbers much higher than I mentioned previously.
    (Exodus 12:37)
    “And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot who were men, besides children.”
    So 600,000 men plus women, children and the foreign slaves that the Israelites owned (so we are probably talking several million people!)
    The author looks at a time period consistent with the biblical account and discounts other crossings in the Red Sea area for the reason that the reefs that might get exposed contain ‘notches’ that would make it difficult to traverse – entirely consistent with the model being one that would explain the biblical crossing of Moses and the Israelites.
    The author doesn’t spend much time on the mechanics of the physical crossing itself (for rather obvious reasons if you think of the numbers mentioned in Exodus) but I don’t think one can ignore this (OK, the reviewers did!) if you want the take the model, as a whole, seriously.

  50. #50 Chris Ho-Stuart
    2010/09/24

    Sigmund, of course the paper refers to the biblical story; and it also explicitly says “The present study treats the Exodus 14 narrative as an interesting and ancient story of uncertain origin.”

    The quotes from the bible are not from the paper and the model in the paper does not anywhere consider the obviously impossibly large numbers in the current biblical text.

    So, as I said, the model IN THE PAPER does not appear to include the second part you mentioned of a large group of people. The actual models studied are simply hydrodynamic and deal simply with the effects of wind on certain geographic configurations.

    It’s just not true to say that the paper models the large numbers you quote. Several million people can’t walk across a land bridge in a few hours, let alone 600,000. This is not a refutation of the paper, because the paper does not simply use the bible as a model. It’s just dealing with the hydrological model; and it’s a speculation (not in principle impossible) that there may be a historical seed to the story. If there is, it won’t involve the numbers you quote from the bible; and the paper simply doesn’t deal with that at all. There’s no reason for it to do so. It’s not trying to make the whole thing simply exactly as quoted in Exodus, and this kind of demythologizing usally reduces the numbers of the Exodus enormously.

    But this paper doesn’t deal with the numbers of people at all.

  51. #51 thinsgbreak
    2010/09/24

    [Available here for those like me without subs -W]

    Did you note who makes a cameo in the article?

    “The pendulum may have swung too far in favor of accepting myths, says social anthropologist Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K., who runs the Cambridge Conference Network, an Internet clearinghouse for catastrophist theories.”

    [Aieee! -W]

  52. #52 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/24

    > remember him … sci.env
    Memory fails? Google. Yep.
    Checking IPs? I wonder if you have sockpuppets.

  53. #53 Sigmund
    2010/09/24

    Chris Ho-Stuart said:
    “this paper doesn’t deal with the numbers of people at all.”
    Not quite.
    It doesn’t mention specific numbers but section 3.2.2 “Realistic Topographic Case” makes it clear that they are modeling a number of people crossing the exposed mudflats.
    “A traversable dry gap in the waters opens here at 9:36 hours, where it appears feasible for a number of people to make their way across the exposed mud flats. The midpoint of the land bridge is at (30.9812° N, 32.4553° E). The passage is about 5 km wide initially, and it later expands up to 6 km wide. This land bridge remains continuously open until 13:30 hours, leaving 3.9 hours for the company to cross the Kedua Gap.”
    The paper also goes on to model the location of the “debris field of military artifacts” caused by the waters returning to engulf the Egyptian army (apparently it should be “North of the gap” shown in(Figure 10(a))
    It is unclear what sort of numbers they mean in each case but I do think its highly relevant to the story and leaving it out makes it rather ambiguous whether they have or have not produced a plausible explanation for “Moses crossing the Red Sea”.

  54. #54 David Marjanović
    2010/09/24

    To correct myself, I note that T. L. Elifritz has appeared in the Pharyngula thread (with which I’m now catching up), under the name of “Antagonizer”, and has not got a friendly welcome. It’s glaringly obvious that that’s him. “Snodly Yardgrass” above is likely him again.

    I don’t understand the reason for the morphing. He’s not banned at Pharyngula; at least not yet — because morphing is a bannable offense there.

    [My, it is getting weird over there. My current favourite: Antagonizer you idiot! I wasn't addressing you! You fail reading comprehension. I was on your side you twit. Does PZ ever step in to moderate? -W]

  55. #55 Chris Crawford
    2010/09/24

    equally unreasonable applies here.

    Let us suppose, solely for purposes of argument, that a scientist discovered proof of God’s existence. Yes, as an atheist I reject the physical possibility, but I raise the point as a useful hypothetical test of intellectual honesty. Suppose, for example, that the Hubble telescope obtained photos of pearly gates, angels strumming harps, and this old bearded guy smiling down on everything from a throne. Would Mr. Myers prefer that such photographs not be published? In other words, if by some microscopically tiny chance, Mr. Myers was proven to be wrong about the existence of a deity, would he be willing to admit his error? I hope that enough of the spirit of scientific inquiry still breathes in him to permit him to do so.

    Two quotes from, iirc, Voltaire seem apropos here, both of which I shall probably mangle:

    1. The test of true intelligence is the ability to simultaneously entertain two contradictory ideas in one’s mind.

    2. I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.

  56. #56 Richard D
    2010/09/24

    My attitude to this paper was as following.

    1. Not sure about the raw science behind it as this is far from my field. I assume, given that it got published that the science is in some way decent.

    2. To anyone who studies the human past this paper displayed glaringly bad logic in trying to hunt around for possible candidate events within a location and time window that are highly dubious. Putting aside the fact that the Exudus is archaeologically invisible and is unlikely to have happened, people who actually believe it happened, can not only not pin down the body of water but disagree which Pharaoh was ruling to the extent that it could have happened within a window of a 1000 years or so.

    This is why I was mainly annoyed at the paper.

    3. At the time I saw it initially, I chalked it up to one of those ‘fun’ papers that gets people talking about the research project as a whole. I put the history rape down to the fact the guy was not an archaeologist or ancient historian and left it at that, thinking it was a most ill advised ‘fun project’.

    Now seems the guy may have had an agenda, which disturbs me a little more and I would agree, much as it pains me to say it, that this was a bit of a waste of time and money.

    All I can say is let’s hope that modelling comes in handy and they do some of the work they claim they got funding for.

  57. #57 Chris Crawford
    2010/09/24

    I just realized that the editor seems to have cut off the first portion of my earlier post. Here is the portion that was excised:

    I am much saddened by Mr. Myers’ comments on the paper. Intellectual freedom is a crucial component of any scientific culture. It’s the scientific analogue of the First Amendment: just as we honor the right of Nazis to deny the Holocaust,

    [You do (assuming you're USA). However, in Germany it is illegal. That is probably reasonable, or at least it was when first brought in. Holocaust denial is something of a special case though; perhaps not a good one to generalise from -W]

    so too must we be open-minded about scientific pursuits. Indeed, science has a much stricter standard than the First Amendment: a paper must pass the rigorous process of peer review before it is published. The only proper objection to any paper must concern its truth or falsity. Mr. Myers makes no such objection. His injection of political considerations into scientific matters is every bit as reprehensible as the efforts of climate change deniers or creationists. It would seem that the old saw about fanatics on both sides of an issue being just as unreasonable applies here.

  58. #58 J. J. Ramsey
    2010/09/24

    Richard D: “Now seems the guy may have had an agenda”

    However, if the science is good, that doesn’t matter much. Considering that this guy’s paper can easily be used as further ammunition to show just how dicey the story from Exodus 14 is, it’s not even all that good at pushing the guy’s agenda.

  59. #59 P. Lewis (lifetime atheist)
    2010/09/24

    A thing puzzles me about the blog reaction (comments and original post), having just had a gander at the paper, and that is the seeming focus on Drews, when the author contributions state:

    “Conceived and designed the experiments: CD WH. Performed the experiments: CD. Analyzed the data: CD WH. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: CD. Wrote the paper: CD. Conducted background research: CD. Supervised the research: WH. Extensively reviewed and edited the manuscript: WH.”

    So, Prof Han had extensive input to the design, review and edit. So, is she being tarred with the same brush as Drews seems to be? Not if PZM’s post is anything to go by. If not, then why not? She doesn’t seem to have a Christian-oriented web page (though she may of course, or even may swing in that direction). Is that the reason?

    [I haven't looked at Plos much, but Extensively reviewed and edited the manuscript looks rather suspicious to me: I would take it as something like "ZOMG! You can't say that! Where is my red pen..." So yes, I'd take it as extensive involvement in the write-up -W]

  60. #60 Amenhotepstein
    2010/09/24

    Chris @ 55

    Suppose, for example, that the Hubble telescope obtained photos of pearly gates, angels strumming harps, and this old bearded guy smiling down on everything from a throne. Would Mr. Myers prefer that such photographs not be published?

    Say rather that Dr. Myers (kudos for not using “Meyers”) would object of several hours of extremely valuable HST observing time being used in a search for those “…pearly gates and angels strumming harps…”, which no reliable evidence suggests exist. Should such sights be miraculously captured by the Hubble, Dr. Myers (and myself, I might add), would be very excited to see them published. I would even be forced to reconsider my world view.

    However, as a working scientist with a good knowledge of the current funding situation, let me say that the idea of Drews and Han using valuable grant $ for a project which was almost certainly NOT made known to the granting agency beforehand is frustrating to say the least.

    The fact that PLoS ONE published this paper is more depressing than frustrating. I now realize that the old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” applies to the academy as well.

  61. #61 Chris Crawford
    2010/09/24

    Yes, Amenhotepstein, I agree that funding should not be allocated for such research — except in the rare case of author funding as opposed to project funding. For example, a university pays its tenured professors to pursue any intellectual quest that interests them. This is essential to academic freedom. If the authors in question were working on “university time” as opposed to “project grant time”, and if they used equipment that was broadly assigned to their use rather than specifically assigned to a particular project, then I would say, “Let’s chalk this up as one of those academic freedom things”. But if any of these conditions were not met, then I would conclude that these academics have violated the trust that was placed in them.

    One other thought to ponder: suppose that these scientists had come up with conclusive proof that the parting of the Red Sea was a physical impossibility. Would that research have earned Mr. Myers’ ire?

    Another thought: back in the 1960s, there was a crackpot named Velikovsky who cooked up this crazy hypothesis based on an absolutely literal interpretation of Old Testament material. He proposed that Venus and Mars went careening through the solar system, begetting near-misses with earth and other planets. Each such collision generated lots of sparks that Mr. Velikovsky used to explain various weird phenomena in the Old Testament. For example the mannah from heaven was really some form of congealed hydrocarbons release by electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere of Venus… you can see how crazy this stuff was.

    Scientists all over the world were extremely dismissive of Mr. Velikovsky’s books (Worlds in Collision and Earth in Upheaval). However, a young astronomer by the name of Carl Sagan suggested that Mr. Velikovsky’s hypothesis be discussed at the upcoming AAAS meeting, and somehow got it through the organizing committee. At the session, a number of scientists presented devastating critiques of Mr. Velikovsky’s hypothesis. Neither Velikovsky nor any of his adherents showed up, despite open invitations being published. They talked one scientist into discussing the magnetic field of Jupiter, iirc, and he presented a very weakly plausible scenario in which, under truly fantastic conditions, the magnetic field of Jupiter might be sufficient to alter the orbit of an asteroid. My memory on that is weak, though.

    My question to Mr. Myers is this: was Mr. Sagan wrong to organize this session?

  62. #62 natural cynic
    2010/09/24

    This looks like the kind of stuff one sees the septics pushing in the Global Warming arena.
    and
    …looks very much like the kind of harassment that cliamte scientists have been subjected to by the septics.

    Is this how we spell skeptic [or sceptic]? But, then again, you may be correct. Most of them should not be considered as skeptics – cranks is a better term. Then again, they are septic as in a bad infection on the body politic.

    [You want http://mustelid.blogspot.com/2004/12/septics-and-skeptics-denialists-and.html -W]

  63. #63 Richard D
    2010/09/24

    ‘J. J. Ramsey: Considering that this guy’s paper can easily be used as further ammunition to show just how dicey the story from Exodus 14 is, it’s not even all that good at pushing the guy’s agenda.’

    —————————————–

    This would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that some people are happy to accept this as further proof. As bonkers as it sounds, you end up at the point where ‘god did it’ eventually, even if he ‘did it’ through a medium that Earth science would consider a perfectly explicable event.

  64. #64 carrot eater
    2010/09/24

    To the angry people: Nobody spends 24/7 working on exactly what’s written in their grant proposals. You may even take time to sleep instead, or have lunch, or write angry comments on a website. Or follow up on something amusing.

    Have any of the people huffing and puffing away actually read the paper? It also refers to these so-called setdown events in more recent times, as well. I never heard of it, but it’s pretty far outside my comfort area. It also seems to be out of the comfort area of everybody else, since nobody is talking about whether the work was competently done.

  65. #65 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/24

    > Does PZ … moderate?
    Rarely: http://www.google.com/search?q=pz+pharyngula+ban+moderation

    [That lead me to the Mooney farce, which I hadn't known about, so thanks -W]

  66. #66 Richard D
    2010/09/24

    ‘carrot eater: It also seems to be out of the comfort area of everybody else, since nobody is talking about whether the work was competently done.’

    The closest I can come to saying that would be that it was incompetent theoretical archaeology.

    If it is competent science in terms of the model I don’t know, but it was trash archaeological science.

    [Um. But the problem is that it is a hydrodynamics paper, not an archaeology one. And the point that no-one is judging it on its merits, because so far we've found no-one who can (I probably could, if I cared enough, but I don't), still stands -W]

  67. #67 J. J. Ramsey
    2010/09/24

    Richard D:

    As bonkers as it sounds, you end up at the point where ‘god did it’ eventually, even if he ‘did it’ through a medium that Earth science would consider a perfectly explicable event.

    First, it’s borderline rather than “perfectly explicable.” Second, why should a misuse of the paper that would have to involve a distortion of its contents be anything for which the paper’s authors should be blamed?

  68. #68 zamia12
    2010/09/24

    A strong wind blew for 3 days in the Washington, D.C., area. The Potomac in front of the Naval Research Lab shrunk to a fraction of its size. I’ve forgotten details, I think it occurred in the mid80s and the wind was 50mph. It was obnoxious to walk in.

    Boats were stranded, a large mud flat was exposed. If people or horses could walk in the mud I don’t know. Perhaps something like that happened to the Red Sea, maybe the Moses legend got conflated with the story, or maybe it happened exactly as described.

    The story of Noah, ark and flood circulated throughout the ancient world, only the name of the protaganist changed. (Gilgamesh for example).

    NCAR and the referees thought the paper reasonable enough to be approved and published. I can see why some people are enraged by the fundamentalist attack on science. The paper does not prove the Bible was written by God nor should it be discounted because it investigates the possibility a Biblical event could occur.

    An aside: I suspect most of the Bible thumpers have only read excerpts second hand. I bet if they picked up the Bible and read passages at random, say Levitacus, they’d be surprised at what is in there.

  69. #69 James
    2010/09/24

    William,

    I have to hand it to you. I have learned a lot from what I perceive of your thinking style. You have no sacred cows and see things from all perspectives.

    I am a big fan of PZ, but I think you make some valid points here.

    Whatever happened to our “Spotters Guide to Climate Blogs”? Fools like me need advice about who to trust.

    thanks!

    [I like PZ too, but I think he got it wrong here. For your compliments, my thanks. And for your reminder, ditto. Yes I need to dredge that out: I have a draft. Now I get to add Curry, too -W]

  70. #70 Sigmund
    2010/09/25

    William, if I go along with your point that the paper is really a modeling exercise and nothing to do with archaeology then we are left with a paper that models a hypothetical situation derived from an old fictional story. Now there may be good modeling science involved in this exercise – I am certainly not qualified to judge the merits of the science – but I do wonder whether PLoS One is the correct venue for publishing models of fictional events. Isn’t the paper simply the equivalent of modeling how the tornado lifted Dorothy’s house and deposited it back to the ground in ‘The Wizard of OZ’?
    I have no objection to such papers getting published but unless the scientific modeling is novel and helpful to that discipline of science then my objection is pretty much the standard one that us working scientists hear when a paper is rejected – This paper is not appropriate for this journal and the authors are recommended to submit to a more suitable journal.
    Is there a “Nature – Fairy-Tale Modeling”?

    [That is a possible attidue, with which I don't quite agree, but in that case you have to conclude that the error lies not with the authors but with the journal -W]

  71. #71 Sven DiMilo
    2010/09/25

    ‘led’

  72. #72 Chris Crawford
    2010/09/25

    Sigmund, the fact that the authors of the paper were inspired by an old fable in no wise subtracts from its scientific merit. I have known the fantasies of science fiction to have been the source of fascinating scientific discussions, although I know of no papers resulting from such discussions. I can imagine a number of fictional phenomena that could (and possibly already have) provided provender for interesting scientific analysis: Scylla from the Odyssey; the Flood tales of Middle Eastern mythology (do they reflect ancient knowledge of the filling of the Black Sea c 10,000 BCE?); Merlin’s transport of the bluestones for Stonehenge from the Arthurian legends (how did they get the source location right?); the references to dragons in the mythology of weakly connected cultures (do they reflect some actual creature or combination of creatures?)

    There’s a larger issue here: the importance of a playful attitude in the pursuit of knowledge. Some of our best ideas come from flights of fancy. Sometimes scientists are inspired by decidedly unscientific considerations. The laws of probability were first established by a French mathematician thinking about how to win card games. Isaac Newton was almost fanatic in his Christian fundamentalism, which in turn drove him to understand what he took to be God’s handiwork — should we discard Newtonian mechanics because Newton was seeking to glorify God in his researches? Einstein famously developed some of his ideas about special relativity by imagining himself riding on top of a beam of light — is that not an absurd fantasy? There have been a number of scholarly papers published on the Tippy-Top, a child’s toy. The fact that the subject of the paper is a child’s toy does not detract from the scientific merit of the analysis of the dynamics of the object.

    Homo sapiens is not a robot; cognitive processes can be inspired by all sorts of considerations. Let us hope that no psychologist ever carries out research to determine the degree to which sexual desires motivate scientific research — the results would, I’m sure, undermine the gravitas science enrobes itself with. Let us ignore the motivations behind any individual scientist’s work and instead focus our attentions on the work itself. After all, who cares about any particular scientist? We’re here to study science, not scientists.

  73. #73 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/25

    “… an interesting 6 page essay by Ray Pierrehumbert (Atmospheric Physicist) … covers the atmospheric plots of: Ballard’s ‘The Drowned World’ & ‘The Wind from Nowhere’, Shute’s ‘On The Beach’, Herbert’s ‘Dune’, ‘Attack of the Clones’, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Red Mars'”
    http://www.sciencefile.org/SciFile/forum/Futures/62629-Re-Science-Fiction-Atmospheres

  74. #74 Tardly Whistlemouse
    2010/09/25

    We’re here to study science, not scientists.

    Then you need to get out there right away and collect some sediments and try to experimentally verify that this incredibly important ancient minor wind setdown occurred.

    Quickly now, millions of Pakistani global warming enhanced megaflood victims are anxiously awaiting your breakthroughs.

  75. #75 carrot eater
    2010/09/25

    If people are going to get upset at publications that lay out solutions that are in search of realistic problems, then I suggest you stay far, far away from academia.

  76. #76 Chris Crawford
    2010/09/25

    We’re here to study science, not scientists.

    Then you need to get out there right away and collect some sediments and try to experimentally verify that this incredibly important ancient minor wind setdown occurred.

    That’s a non sequitur.

  77. #77 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/25

    Does this guy create a new pseudonym each time he posts?

  78. #78 Simulux Experion
    2010/09/25

    Does this guy create a new pseudonym each time he posts?

    That’s a vitally important outstanding scientific question, Hank. I suggest you get a federal grant from a prestigious American scientific institution, and go ahead and run some simulations on your supercomputing laptop, and then do some experiments to verify and refute your insightful hypothesis.

  79. #79 Rattus Norvegicus
    2010/09/25

    Look at the acknowledgments. No grant funding seems to have been involved.

    On the other hand, it looks like a pretty lightweight paper.

  80. #80 Wallace Gromit
    2010/09/26

    Look at the acknowledgments. No grant funding seems to have been involved.

    Read the paper, lightweight, the Bluefire supercomputer was involved, NCAR receives 95% of their funding from the federal government, and NCAR paid his tuition. For all practical purposes, this was funded by the United States government.

    [This is getting rather dull. We've been though this bit before. No more on this, please -W]

  81. #81 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/26

    This next link is a gift for PZ as a reward for coming back by this thread whenever he or one of his ‘inions does:
    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=1603
    And of course for everyone else.
    Even mentions climate change.

  82. #82 bigcitylib
    2010/09/26

    Wait until Myers hears about this:

    http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2010/09/aliens-eye-view-of-solar-system.html

    NASA scientists using a gov. supercomputer to help illegal aliens plot their invasion of the solar system. Why do NASA scientists hate America?

  83. #83 Exomoon Alien
    2010/09/26

    This next link is a gift for PZ as a reward

    A Hugo. Wow. That makes a Nobel look downright silly.

    Wait until Myers hears about this:

    Outrageous. Everyone KNOWS Earth is the only life bearing planet in the entire universe. Exomoons can’t possibly exist until we observe them. And what possible use would simulating large telescope images be to telescope design? Everyone knows that the observing the heavens is irrelevant to ordinary life on Earth, what possible use can classical mechanics be to agricultural and hunter gatherer societies?

  84. #84 Hank Roberts
    2010/09/26

    > NASA scientists
    Likely related to that NORAD thing linked above:
    “The author draws upon … a senior NORAD intelligence officer who provided him a wealth of historical data relating to NORAD’s experience with the UFO/alien ….”

  85. #85 John Morales
    2010/09/28

    William:

    Incidentally, there is a whole pile of speculation in PZ’s comments about where the idea for this came from, and why they bothered, etc etc. I think the answer is obvious: they were interested in the idea, and most importantly they had a model they could conveniently reconfigure to run this case, and computer time to run it. So they did.

    You’re suggesting it was the equivalent of a Mythbusters episode, except for the bit were parameters are fed into a model rather than an actual experiment is made?

    Do you then consider that myth Confirmed, or just Plausible? :)

    [I don't see the connection to Mythbusters, which I've never seen anyway. Like I said: they had a tool lying around, so they used it. The results (if correct: as I've said, I haven't read it carefulyl) confirm a possible physical basis for the "myth". But if you really cared about that, you'd need to do all the archaeology carefully. Several people over at PZ have asserted that there is no evidence for Exodos. If that is so, then you're probably at a dead end -W]

  86. #86 MIke
    2010/09/28

    Mr. Connolley, you and I do not share the same meaning of the word “harmless”.

    [Who is Mr Connolley? -W]

  87. #87 Mike McCants
    2010/09/28

    “a harmless paper”

    Your opinion is noted and dismissed as wrong.

    [You need to look up contempt, in Leviathan -W]

  88. #88 Kevin (NYC)
    2010/09/28

    “[snip - WMC. There is no need to repeat yourself]”

    you cut comments because you think they are repeating themselves? wow. your blog and all but that is a crappy way to play. bad form and all that.

    [If you look at the way threads at PZ, or WUWT, degenerate when unmodified, I think you'll agree that modeeration is a good idea. But even if you don't: that *is* the policy here. I don't oblige you to like it, but you accept it or you leave -W]

    every time the believers try and force science into proving their fantastic stories, it is harmful to the cause of reasonable understanding of the world around us, and dangerous because it feeds their intolerant and pernicious world view of good/evil.

    [No, not at all. I entirely disagree with you. This is rather like the "war on terror" errors that most Western governments have made. You need to take care that your reaction isn't worse than the threat. In this case, I think that PZ's well-over-the-top reaction to this paper is teaching unreasoning -W]

    The people who wasted our money and computer time…

  89. #89 Kerry Maxwell
    2010/09/28

    I can’t help but wonder if as many apologists would have stood up for this paper if it was a proposed model of how the Big Bad Wolf could indeed huff and puff and blow your house down?

    [You still don't get it, but I'll try again. If this paper was (a) about the stability of straw, wood and brick structures, and (b) was submitted to a buildings journal, and if it (c) carefully analysed the wind stresses required to damage these different classes of builds, and if it (d) could then demonstrate that the range required were within the winds capbable of being generated by a wolfs breath, then you could just about get away with it. But I think (d) is implausible. Unlike the paper under discussion, whose scenario is unlikely but not implausible -W]

  90. #90 J. J. Ramsey
    2010/09/28

    Kevin (NYC): “every time the believers try and force science into proving their fantastic stories”

    What part of “The present study treats the Exodus 14 narrative as an interesting and ancient story of uncertain origin” do you not understand? Did you even read the comments above that point out that the paper does not even support the narrative as is, that at best, the numbers in Exodus 14 would need to be treated as exaggerated? Looks to me like the biblical story was a starting point, but that the conclusions followed from the scientific modeling, regardless of whether it supported the story or not.

    Kerry Maxwell: “I can’t help but wonder if as many apologists would have stood up for this paper if it was a proposed model of how the Big Bad Wolf could indeed huff and puff and blow your house down?”

    Well, if it were plausible for a wolf to actually make that strong a wind …

  91. #91 Steven Sullivan
    2010/10/06

    For context, has everyone here visited Dr. Drews’ website?
    http://theistic-evolution.com/

    *THAT* is really why the Pharygulites are going completely bonkers, though few of them seem to admit it. FWIW, I’m an atheist, and a longtime Pharygula fan, but I do get tired of the dick-waving there. The responses to Chris Ho-Stewart and Hank Roberts’ posts were absurdly aggro.

    Also, has everyone here actually read not just the paper, and but the PLoS One *comments* on the paper, and Dr. Drews’ responses to them?

    http://www.plosone.org/article/comments/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012481

    Interesting stuff.

  92. #92 Hank Roberts
    2010/10/08

    > absurdly aggro
    Meh, one guy arguing his fantasies with his socks, ignorable.

    > PLOS
    Thanks for that pointer; their editorial process and policy is explained in the “Comment from PLoS Posted by DPattinson on 30 Sep 2010″

    New thread more typical of good Pharyngula:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/so_thats_why_koch_funded_a_maj.php

  93. #93 Carl Drews
    2011/01/13

    William Connolley –

    Nice blog post! Thanks for writing it. (Sorry, I didn’t read all the comments.)

    Since your blog entry is tagged as “religion”, I want to clarify something. The statement “if you can explain away all the miracles that is evidence against God, not in favour of it.” refers to the God-of-the-Gaps philosophy and its converse:

    1. If science can’t explain something, then God must have done it.
    2. If science can explain something, then God must not have done it.

    TalkOrigins has a couple of good references to God-of-the-Gaps:

    CA100: Argument from incredulity
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA100.html

    The Origin of Life
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

    The upshot is that God-of-the-Gaps is a view held by a number of individuals (either instinctively or deliberately), but rejected by many mainstream religions. Many theologians would disagree with both of the statements above.

    Your comments about harassment are well-taken; it is not unusual for scientists researching the atmosphere and oceans to receive obscenities and threats. That does not mean we should just accept them. I’m glad to see you speaking out against that kind of thing.

    Thanks again!

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