One of the many problems with the essay discussed in yesterday's post is that it was poorly written. Finnis and George seemed to go out of their way to be as unclear as possible, frequently choosing tortured, ambiguous phrasings when clearer options were readily at hand. This is something of an occupational hazard among academics, especially in the social sciences. Too many practitioners seem to think obscurity equals profundity. If you express yourself clearly it is too easy for your critics to spot the shallowness of your ideas.
I recently read a book called Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences by Michael Billig. The title is meant as cynical advice for graduate students in the social sciences. As an example he provides an e-mail he received advertising a special issue of a journal in qualitative psychology:
This combining of ontologies and epistemologies gives rise to both benefits and creative tensions and provides a focus for inquiry into enhancing awareness of researcher impact.
The aim of this Special Issue is to provide an international forum within which the disparate array of questions that are arising about a pluralistic approach to qualitative research in psychology can be posed and debated. Recognising the potential that this approach offers for accessing the different layers and dimensions of a complex and constructed social reality brings with it both curiosity and questions about its ontology, epistemological tenets, theoretical frameworks and practical applications.
Billig now provides a lengthy analysis, which includes passages like this:
We can note what makes the extract especially clunky. It is stuffed with big nouns and noun phrases, such as `ontologies' and `epistemologies', as well as phrases like `enhancing awareness of researcher impact'. We can also note that no people appear in this extract: no one is identified as doing anything. If anything is to be done--any action is to be performed--then it will be an abstract concept that does it. The combining of epistemologies and ontologies gives rise to something--with the combiner left in the shadows. People are not identified as recognizing the potential of this combining, but the recognizing itself does something: it brings with itself `curiosity' and `questions'. And both these latter two things--curiosity and questions--seem to exist independently from any identifiable people who might be curious and who might be asking questions.
Aficionados of the evolution/creation dispute are accustomed to wading through this kind of prose. Creationists and ID folks often try to accomplish through opacity what they cannot accomplish through strong arguments. If you are familiar with the writings of David Berlinski then you know what I'm talking about. For example, his manifesto, “The Deniable Darwin” contains one paragraph after another like this:
In its most familiar, textbook form, Darwin's theory subordinates itself to a haunting and fantastic image, one in which life on earth is represented as a tree. So graphic has this image become that some biologists have persuaded themselves they can see the flowering tree standing on a dusty plain, the mammalian twig obliterating itself by anastomosis into a reptilian branch and so backward to the amphibia and then the fish, the sturdy chordate line - our line, cosa nostra - moving by slithering stages into the still more primitive trunk of life and so downward to the single irresistible cell that from within its folded chromosomes foretold the living future.
This is not how you write when you have something to say. This is how you write when you are trying to impress people with how well you write. You can picture Berlinski muttering, “Damn, I'm good!” as he pecked out those two ridiculous sentences.
Poor writing is also ubiquitous in mathematical culture. In research journals, if, after the paper's introduction, you include two consecutive sentences of exposition, you will be accused of excessive wordiness. Likewise if, in proving a theorem, you unwisely choose to throw in a few words whose purpose is not to advance the proof, but merely to make it easier to follow.
This is bad enough in research journals, which are, at least, only read by other specialists, but it becomes positively scandalous in textbooks. I came to that conclusion in college, where I found that nearly all of my textbooks were written in the style of reference books. They were just a relentless pile of definitions, lemmas, theorems and proofs, carefully written to be devoid of passion or voice or anything else that might risk arousing some interest in the reader. As I spent college and graduate school wading through one miserable turd tome after another, I thought to myself that a person must truly hate mathematics to present it so poorly.
The trouble is that over the years I have found that when I raise these objections to my colleagues, they frequently disagree. They think the jargon-filled, notation-dense, just the facts ma'am approach is exactly the way it should be. If you look at the classic textbooks, the ones that are held up by mathematicians as exemplars of what a textbook ought to be, they are always of the stilted, boring sort.
You can imagine, then, how good it felt when, in graduate school, I came across Morris Kline's book Why The Professor Can't Teach, published in 1977 but still relevant today. It includes a chapter entitled, “Follies of the Marketplace: A Tirade on Texts.” This chapter so perfectly expressed my own thoughts about textbooks that I was practically in tears. I recently had occasion to go back and reread it, so let me share a few especially excellent passages.
Explanations of mathematical steps are usually inadequate--in fact, enigmatic. Because mathematicians do not take the trouble to find out what students know at any particular level, they do not know how much explanation is called for. But the decision is readily made. It is easier to say less. This decision is reinforced by the mathematician's preference for sparse writing. If challenged he replies, “Are the facts there?” This is all one should ask. Correctness is the only criterion and any request for more explanation is met by a supercilious stare. Surely one must be stupid to require more explanation. Though brevity proves to be the soul of obscurity, it seems that the one precept about writing that mathematicians take seriously is that brevity is preferable above everything, even comprehensibility. The professor may understand what he writes but to the student he seems to be saying, “I have learned this material and I defy you to learn it.”
That's just about perfect. As is this:
There are textbook writers who believe that a mathematical presentation that is logically sound explains itself to the reader who faithfully follows the author step by step. Presumably the meaning need not be stated by the author explicitly but can be grasped by the reader from the details he ploughs through. The authors do not see the need to take the readers into their confidence, to explain where the road is going, why this one is better than another, and what is really achieved. They give no inkling of how the proof was arrived at, why anyone sought the result to begin with, or why anyone should want it now. In effect, the texts are challenges to clairvoyance.
A glaring deficiency of mathematics texts is the absence of motivation. The authors plunge into their subjects as though pursued by hungry lions. A typical introduction to a book or chapter might read, “We shall now study linear vector spaces. A linear vector space is one which satisfies the following conditions...” The conditions are then stated and are followed almost immediately by theorems. Why anyone should study linear vector spaces and where the conditions come from are not discussed. The student, hurled into this strange space, is lost and cannot find his way.
Some introductions are not quite so abrupt. One finds the enlightening statement, “It might be well at this point to discuss...” Perhaps it is well enough for the author, but the student doesn't usually feel well about the ensuing discussion. A common variation of this opening states, “It is natural to ask...,” and this is followed by a question that even the most curious person would not think to ask.
Folks, we're only a few pages in to a lengthy chapter. Reading this as a graduate student was certainly a boost to my confidence, since it was nice to see that someone with credibility felt as I did.
I'll close with a story. In college I took a full-year course in real analysis. In the first semester we discussed the standard topics of real analysis, while in the second we moved on to more high-brow fare like measure theory, Lebesgue integration, differential forms, and analysis on manifolds. The professor wrote the textbook himself, meaning we got the chapters, hot off the press, for free.
Sadly, the chapters were worth what we paid for them. The book was a textbook on how not to write a textbook. It was guilty of everything Kline described, and of several other things he didn't. I honestly felt embarrassed for the professor, that he would write so poorly about a subject he obviously cared about deeply. I liked both the professor and the class, but his book was appalling.
The book was later published by Springer. It subsequently won an award for mathematical exposition.
"It may be shown that...." and "it follows that..." were two of my least favorite phrases in lectures involving theory in any science. The densest books I read were statistical theory and it influenced me to write reports in a similar fashion.
An encounter with a professional technical writer was a wonderful education in how to communicate. She would edit reports, memos, etc. and explain why the changes were made.
I support required writing courses for anyone in technical sciences.
VI Arnold called it the "Bourbakization" of mathematics.
Agree with most of what you're saying here but also think you're mixing apples and kumquats a bit... there are different purposes and styles in writing... textbook writing being vastly different from writing a trade book. I actually enjoy a lot of Berlinski's flowery prose, and by his own admission he is trying to be a "provocateur," quite different from the goal of more academic writing. Kline is good, but also seems a bit ho-hum to me compared to several more recent math writers (including yourself). Such diverse folks are successful at finding an audience because 'different strokes for different folks.'
But I agree, generally, the dryness of much textbook writing can be improved (also, social science writing will probably always differ from math writing).
I too support writing courses, as I believe somewhere along the line, something was lost in education where proper respect for language is concerned. Interestingly enough, that is the case at my university. A mandatory course is implemented for all science students, and it covers concepts such as: language, seminar and report writing, study skills and referencing, amongst other.
This is something of an occupational hazard among academics, especially in the social sciences.
I've seen it in military and government documents too. I think there is a general problem here and that the social sciences are maybe a good example of it but not any more 'guilty' than other subjects. The problem is:
(1) as humans investigate complicated processes and concepts, we create terms of art to describe them. This is a very useful practice, because it creates a form of 'shorthand' which makes it much easier to discuss such subjects (once you get a handle on the terms of art). We add terms like "voltage" or "enthalpy" or even "software" to our language because of their usefulness.
2) Terms of art are often opaque or unclear to laypeople. When we see them, there is something of an implication that the text we're reading must be on a technically complex subject, because the author has had to shift to terms of art to best describe it. They are a proxy measure for complexity or depth.
3) We imperfect humans sometimes forget the difference between the proxy and the object it's a proxy for, and mistake the proxy measure for the object itself. In this case, opaque terms of art stop being seen as linguistically useful tool for discussing complex subjects and start being seen as an end in itself.
Its similar to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: if most technically strong papers have jargon, then jargon must help make a paper technically strong, right?
“It may be shown that….” and “it follows that…” were two of my least favorite phrases in lectures involving theory in any science.
Yeah, I remember my first QM class, maybe a few lectures in, the professor at one point said "it is intuitively obvious that....". This caused most of us to look at each other with bewilderment; of all the subjects in the world to call intuitively obvious, QM is probably the worst example. But that's not why I remember that event: I remember it because one of my classmates had the guts to stand up and say (I'm paraphrasing): "excuse me, this is not intuitively obvious to me. Could you explain how you got to that point from the earlier work?" This flummoxed the professor, who just handwaved away the student and kept going. We all got the point: do not bother the professor with teaching requests when he has a lecture full of material to present!
there are different purposes and styles in writing… textbook writing being vastly different from writing a trade book
That's how it should be, but Jason's point is that too many professional scholars fail to make that distinction. It's not immediately obvious to most students that you can derive equation (8.43) by comparing (8.17) and (8.42), let alone the steps that would demonstrate that this statement is true. Scholars in the same field know to expect statements like that, and usually have the preparation to figure out what the missing steps are.
Lack of applied examples is another chronic problem with textbooks, and not just in mathematics. For instance, a physics textbook discussing simple harmonic oscillators might mention that chemical bonds can often be thus approximated, and an instructive exercise would be to work out, from as close to first principles as the class level allows, the vibrational absorption spectrum of a molecule like carbon dioxide. Conversely, if mathematics courses included examples of what the concepts are good for, certain upper level physics courses (particularly E&M and quantum physics) could be more than thinly disguised mathematics courses (where the physical applications of the math are explicit), but go deeper into the physics of the situation.
“it is intuitively obvious that….”
… is a synonym for, "I can't remember why."
I may have had an unfair advantage in that I heard that joke as an entering freshman at a school where the students had a reputation for enjoying that kind of joke. But like many such jokes, it has a basis in reality, as you found.
I think you'll are pilling on a little unfairly. There's lots of very good advanced maths and physics books out there, that explain proofs as well as giving motivation to the theorems and constructs under study. On average, a lot better than the texts in most disciplines in my opinion.
Royden is a wonderful book. Griffiths also wonderful. Both popular, both used for a long time, at least back to the 70's.
"It is intuitively obvious" - you don't say what was the context. Some contexts, a reasonable statement. I doubt very much the professor was asserting that QM in general is intuitively obvious. And yeah, my textbook was vivid with lots of motivation (don't remember the author).
It is intuitively obvious” – you don’t say what was the context.
I can't tell you the specific derivation, equation, or concept he was discussing because it was decades ago. But I remember most everyone in the class looking around and giving pretty obvious nonverbal signals that it was not intuitively obvious to them either. So at least part of the relevant context is: the professor was glossing over steps tha were giving his students trouble, and when he found this out, he chose not to address it. The first Kline quote seems fairly appropriate. To paraphrase: this physicist did not take the trouble to find out what students know at any particular level, he did not know how much explanation is called for. I would add: when he figured out how much explanation was called for, he decided for whatever reason not to give it.
Given the selection of topics, given that you did your undergrad at Brown, and given that he taught there, I'm willing to bet that the text you're talking about is Browder's "Mathematical Analysis: An Introduction" (which I rather liked, but then again I already knew the material well before I read it).
Thank you for citing that David Berlinski example. He is insufferable.
"try to accomplish through opacity what they cannot accomplish through strong arguments"
Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to incompetence.
I don't believe that anyone ever writes unclearly on purpose. I think there are two phenomena going on:
1) Insecurity. People are afraid they won't look smart if they don't use big words. The reasoning may be sound, but still hard to grasp.
2) Unclear thinking. People that don't fully understand something can't write clearly about it. One reason that people don't fully understand something is the fact that it's not capable of being understood because it's nonsense.
If it really is intuitively obvious, then you don't need to write or say that it is. You are simply wasting ink or breath on unneeded words. It is like Dennett's comment on using the word surely in an argument.
The word ‘surely’ is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument.
Ironic that the hover ad is for Liberty U on this site today?
#12: there is another possibility: lack of training. In my undergraduate program we (math majors) were required to take a course with emphasis on writing proofs. The main content varied according to the professor teaching it: sometimes it was graph theory, sometimes abstract algebra: the year I took it the subject was introductory real analysis. The faculty stressed clarity of presentation and organization of ideas over brevity. That influence was continued in later classes. The influence continued in grad school. That is a rare approach.
I believe your first reason much more than your second: there is no doubt that we have pressure to sound "academic". I really doubt, however, that people who write graduate level books are lacking understanding of the material: I'm not even sure what you mean by "it's nonsense".
There was a mention of statistics books as being poorly written. That is still true. There are some truly great researchers in non-parametric and robust statistical methods who are abysmal writers: their articles and books are quite nasty slogs, but the work is highly thought of. It should be for its content, not its exposition. But: there are also some very good researchers and writers in the same areas.
" I really doubt, however, that people who write graduate level books are lacking understanding of the material:"
Lots of people can work the math, but can't tell a story behind the math. I'm sure they could if they thought about for a while, but they often don't. It's been said that you don't understand a topic until you begin to teach it, and I'm sure this applies to PhDs as well.
What I mean by "it's nonsense" is that you can't make a coherent case for something that is incoherent.
I really doubt, however, that people who write graduate level books are lacking understanding of the material:
In one sense their deep understanding of the material is part of the problem: they can no longer describe the thought processes they go through to actually do the work because they now do it reflexively. Its like being asked to explain how you add 2 + 2. Describe the heuristic you go through to do that. Maybe Jason can describe it because he's a math professor, but I can't - I just do it. It is intuitively obvious to me. :)
In one sense their deep understanding of the material is part of the problem: they can no longer describe the thought processes they go through to actually do the work because they now do it reflexively.
Maybe, or maybe: deep understanding of an issue might make people think every explanation of a topic has to involve all the details, and those details use all of the language and notation from a specific area, which makes it impenetrable to non-specialists.
But in general, yes, the state of academic writing (certainly in what I'm most familiar with, statistics, and I will assume in other disciplines as well) is not good.
Even good writing will never save some things
Like, say, evolution theory.
Evolutionists try to avoid the devil in the details by speaking of “overwhelming evidence” or a “mountain of evidence.” But when you take a look at any of the pieces that comprise the so-called mountain you find problems.
In many years of reading the literature, I have yet to see one pro-evolution paper or book or article or argument that doesn’t have AT LEAST one problem of science or logic. And if I point out how that piece is a P.O.S., they’ll say, “Well, we got plenty more where that came from.”
I think I can prove it, too. Anyone care to provide a link to a pro-evolution article/paper, ideally your favorite?
Unfortunately, bad writing is now found everywhere--in once great newspapers and magazines, in the fiction and non-fiction of nearly all of the iconic publishers of English, whether British or American, Canadian or Australian. And bad writing is just one facet of a larger picture of decline in language arts. Spoken English has suffered greatly over the past sixty years as new technology has helped all manner of silly stuff spread and become rooted in our debased daily discourse.
These same trends seem to have spurred another reather recent phenomenon: today, unlike in generations before the television and internet, before instant messaging and "texting"--which used to be known as sending someone a written note or "writing to someone"---what are apparently vast numbers of people seem to regard any effort to defend any standard at all in their written or spoken language as a futile task, simply impossible. I'm more and more convinced that this fatalism toward standards of good speech and writing is driven, above all other factors, by these mass communications technologies (just mentioned). People feel powerless against what appears as a super-human tide of "bad" ---and that, of course, concerns only those who are still able to distinguish between the commonplace junk of poor speech and writing and what was once thought by many people of even moderate education to be the minimum in good standard language. Beside these are millions of people too young to even have experienced that standard of practice. They have no idea that "their" is not a proper pronoun form for use in reference to a single individual, no idea that, in comparative phrases such as "...______ is (or are) _____ than ..." takes an " I ," a "you," a "we," or a "they," but not an "us" or a "them," which apply only when preceeded by a preposition (which is "pre- postion," something in a preceeding position), such as "to," "of," "by," "in," "on," with," "from," "for," et cetera.
So, science-writing is just one of many aspects of declining good language practise. This is not just a culture-wide phenomenon of the "English"-speaking nations. I've heard professors and others say the same things about the French, Japanese and German languages. So the source must be in things which are common to numerous cultures and, for me, the prime suspect is the technology which helps spread a tidal-wave of lazy, ignorant junk-thought and speech and writing.
(Sorry, I hadn't time to review and edit this comment--any more than major publishers today have the time to do the same with the works they publish. A pity. We've reduced the time and care we take with what we say and write because that is the way we live today.)
See also, this, from today's New York Times:
"Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A."
I have yet to see one pro-evolution paper or book or article or argument that doesn’t have AT LEAST one problem of science or logic. And if I point out how that piece is a P.O.S.
Of course, since your "discovery" of errors are nothing of the kind, but merely your lack of understanding and twisting of fact, there is no problem found.
But if you think there is, just as with your concern about thermodynamics and the universe, write it up, publish it, and get famous.
Until your "concerns" are shown to be valid, you will continue to be viewed as what you really are: ignorant.
SN, examples? Didn't think so.
"AT LEAST one problem of science or logic. And if I point out how that piece is a P.O.S."
It doesn't follow that if you discover a perceived problem with a paper that it's a P.O.S. Any piece of research by necessity focuses on one small issue and there are doubtless many embedded assumptions that one could challenge. Typically these assumptions will be justified based on other research, so it's a fair defense to point to the body of scientific research as a defense. A layman usually isn't qualified to critique a scientific paper and only makes himself look foolish.
It's amusing to me how demanding many religious folks are for the obviousness of scientific evidence, rejecting almost any inductive arguments, yet are totally uncritical of supernatural claims.
@23: You should realize (and perhaps you do) that when sn says "there is a problem with the science" he isn't saying that from a position of understanding, he is saying it because he doesn't like a conclusion (it contradicts young earth creationism and supports evolution, for example). His objections are due to his philosophy, not anything else.
..."I think I can prove it, too. Anyone care to provide a link to a pro-evolution article/paper, ideally your favorite?"
Not a chance that this will receive anything resembling a respectable response but, just for grins, you're on:
First, and foremost, this:
and, if you prefer, in strictest terms, "an article/paper"
then this one:
" A Darwinian theory for the origin of cellular differentiation "
JJ Kupiec - Molecular and General Genetics MGG, 1997 - Springer
By the way, Darwin's English is a model of superb exposition just as is, in its original French, J.J. Kupiec's writing--- two brilliant thinkers who don't just happen to write brilliantly. (The English text of Kupiec's paper is probably a translation. )
Please give us your scientific alternative to evolution. A link to a paper explaining the alternative?
I'd suggest the concerns you express constitute the best arguments for a traditional liberal arts education.
Comprehensive studies in the humanities (e.g. literature, philosophy, music, history, anthropology, art, etc.) teach three things:
a) how to read
b) how to think clearly about what we read, see, and hear
c) how to write clearly about what we think.
Here's a good starting point for recognizing good writing, and then emulating it as best we can:
In particular, I offer an extended excerpt from John Steinbeck's Nobel Banquet Speech:
“Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.
The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.
Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal fear so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about.
Faulkner, more than most men, was aware of human strength as well as of human weakness. He knew that the understanding and the resolution of fear are a large part of the writer's reason for being.
This is not new. The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.”
If we all try to emulate this sort of written expression, especially our physicists, engineers, and mathematicians, science, and the world, will be better for it.
But it starts with reading writers who know how to write well.
To proximity #25:
Since I asked for one article/paper, and not for a book, I’ll take the paper/article. But I’m not going to pay $39.95 for the whole P.O.S. I’ll go with the free abstract. It’s nevertheless quite remarkable.
First, I wonder how Jason Rosenhouse would grade the writing of this abstract: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s004380050490#page-1
I’d bet Jason would not think too kindly of it. I certainly don’t.
[Probably my favorite sentence: “Instability and stochasticity in gene expression are caused by random displacement of regulators along DNA, whereas phosphorylation and/or dephosphorylation of transcriptional regulators triggered by signal transduction between cells are responsible for the stabilization of stochastic gene expression.” Amen.]
Anyway, I’ll try to wade through the erudite obfuscation and see what they got.
First, I see this is only a theory, and apparently only one of at least two: “In THIS theory…”
They’re focusing on the origin of cellular differentiation, that is, how and why cells become liver cells vs. cornea cells vs. brain cells vs. big toe cells, etc.
They repeatedly mention the process, or at least parts of it, are STOCHASTIC. How can you rely on getting the needed liver cells, brain cells, etc. from a RANDOM process? Oh, but a second process supposedly provides STABILITY. That’s like saying I’ll “stabilize” the roulette wheel by making it stop, except that “stabilizing” the wheel is no guarantee I’ll get the one exact number I need out of the possible 36+.
Notice their THEORETICAL chain reaction:
a)Cell populations grow undifferentiated,
b)But a diffusion of external substrate concentrations leads to
d)to which cells ADAPT, and, and…
e)Voila! Cells differentiate! Brain cells here, bunion cells there.
I have news for the evolutionists. Adaptation may help explain SURVIVAL of the fittest, but it does NOT explain ARRIVAL of the fittest. Adapt into an esophagus?
What a P.O.S. masquerading as science.
@28: Your personal disbelief at the science does not equal a rebuttal of the science. It reveals you lack of effort.
It is comical that SN thinks assertions on his part count as evidence. In a previous post I asked him some directed questions about evolution and he clearly showed no understanding of the even the basics. I can't imagine that he could comment on the scientific validity of even the simplest scientific paper.
SN here are some thing I asked phil - which he ignored. Does that mean he agreed with them?
Do mutations occur? Yes.
Do some mutations increase fitness? Yes.
Does natural selection increase the frequency of beneficial mutations in the population? Yes.
Are mutations inherited? Yes.
Are mutations shared across generations? Yes.
Are mutations shared across populations? Yes.
Are mutations shared across species? Yes.
Which part(s) don’t you agree with? And if not please explain using evidence why you don’t agree.
Have at it SN - knock us out with your scientific expertise.
Do mutations occur repeatedly in the same genes or gene region, or alter duplicated genes, and slowly build multiple unique, functional subassemblies that integrate into hyper-complex systems? Of course they do, and just as frequently as cows jump over the moon.
Once again, a creationist fails at an attempt to demonstrate any understanding of science (or integrity, or honesty, or anything present in any decent person). Good job phil.
To Michael Fugate #31:
I agree with every one of your statements, with the possible exception of the second (“Do some mutations increase fitness? Yes.”).
Also, we could add:
Are virtually all observed mutations detrimental to the organism, or at best neutral, as far as we can tell? Yes.
Do mutations accumulate through the generations? Yes.
Would you dislike someone calling you a mutant or mutation?
I just know that it probably goes without saying that
Instability and stochasticity in gene expression are caused by random displacement of regulators along DNA, whereas phosphorylation and/or dephosphorylation of transcriptional regulators triggered by signal transduction between cells are responsible for the stabilization of stochastic gene expression.
I mean, doesn’t it?
So what's your problem with evolution?
That'sa just about what I expected. You're a shameless bullshitter who, in this case, adopts the intellectually disgusting tactic of special pleading. You won't touch Darwin's exquisite prose or his scientific reasoning which is the soul of modest claims founded upon solid reasoning. And the high price of 40 USD spares you the responsibility for delving into the details of a piece of science exposition which, clearly, you have no intention of allowing a fair hearing. After all, unlike some scientists who regard it as part of their professional duty to hear and weigh a fresh or unknown development which challenges their current but tentative views--always open to revision upon new and good contravening data--you offer us the opposite: one who has already determined--without avowing it--not to learn anything which is or might be unwelcome.
It's a wonder anyone here continues to give you the courtesy of a reply. I'm certainly done wasting my time on clownish dipshit such as yourself. I have no more respect for you than I have for others here--scientists, in some cases--who indulge in similarly intellectually dishonest debate tactics--people who are hypocrites, liars, peddlers of arrogant claims and those who ignore what they cannot adequately answer. Your example here is no better than such scientists and I regard you as no less disgusting than are they.
Stay ignorant and stupid. It's your right to be a fucking moron and flout others who are actually interested in the possibility that they might be mistaken and, on finding that they are, learn something.
Please, guys. Don't feed the SNoll. This was an interesting discussion about writing until SN came along.
@ 27 Ian writes: ..."If we all try to emulate this sort of written expression, especially our physicists, engineers, and mathematicians, science, and the world, will be better for it.
But it starts with reading writers who know how to write well."
Those are excellent points but that's partly because they highlight our present difficulties: It has become more and more difficult for many people to find writers who know how to write well and this is intimately related to the challenge of not just finding them but, of course, recognizing them when one sees them. It's clear that many people are reading far less than was common generations ago. While they spend less time reading, what they do read is often of quite poor quality ; it's a mistake to assume that the reader is generally aware of the literary quality of the work--of whatever sort it might be, including science--he is reading. So, unless one happens, for whatever reason, to read widely, the chances of stumbling upon excellent writers dwindles as people simply read relatively little.
Recognizing good writing comes from experiencing both very bad writing and very good writing and in discovering how and why they differ. Others can help by pointing out their favorite writers but that is just a first step. A reader has to learn to develolp his own critical eye abnd ear and no one can do this for him. Judgement, which is so frowned upon by so many in this supposedly "non-judgemental culture"--though of course it is anything but that--has to be practiced like any other learned skill. Writers themselves must achieve these same things simply to become masters of their crafts.
Like all superb writing, superb science writing is just not at all common. That's to be expected.
People must become their own first-order literary critics and then strive to grow and develop what they learn by reading others and gaining from their insights.
Critics I recommend: John W. Aldridge,
B.R. Meyers (author of "A Reader's Manifesto: An attack on the growing pretentiousness of American literary prose" ( http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-readers-manifesto… )
and lots of varied reading. You can browse my own library and see those authors I regard as exemplarly at a site called "librarything.com" / user name-- "proximity1"
@ 38: You're right, R.W.
[Probably my favorite sentence: “Instability and stochasticity in gene expression are caused by random displacement of regulators along DNA, whereas phosphorylation and/or dephosphorylation of transcriptional regulators triggered by signal transduction between cells are responsible for the stabilization of stochastic gene expression.” Amen
The use of terms of art or jargon doesn't necessarily make it bad writing. If the concept can be explained just as quickly without them, this may be bad writing, but if the author would have to write an entire page to say the same thing without jargon, then they are useful - the terms are doing the job people intend them to do, by conveying complex concepts quickly.
I'm not an expert in the field of biology but I understand pretty much all of those terms, and offhand I can't think of an easy way to say that sentence without them, so it seems to be okay technical writing to me. To go back to what I talked about in @5, terms of art can be useful. This seems to be a case (at least to me) where they are serving a communicative purpose, rather than being thrown in just to make the paper sound unnecessarily complicated. Granted, the audience for such writing is experts in the community rather than laypeople, but that's perfectly okay. Not everything humans write has to be written to the standard that a high-schooler must be able to get it.
At the risk of angering Richard Wein, I'll now say a couple things about your supposed review of the abstract: First, your complaints 1, 2, and 4 are non-complaints. You don't point out any methodological flaws. You don't make any argument that the results don't follow from the data. You don't make any argument that the article isn't an accurate description of the research performed. That is the sort of critique we scientists are concerned about. "Its a theory" is not a criticism; there are loads of papers discussing theories. How the frak would scientists share info on what theories we're interested in exploring if we didn't discuss them in journal papers? Two: your complaint #3 seems to be just plain nonsense. It seems perfectly reasonable on its face that processes which alter the molecular structure of transcriptional regulators may change the way they transcribe. Did you just not understand what they were saying?
The use of terms of art or jargon doesn’t necessarily make it bad writing. If the concept can be explained just as quickly without them, this may be bad writing, but if the author would have to write an entire page to say the same thing without jargon, then they are useful – the terms are doing the job people intend them to do, by conveying complex concepts quickly
There is also the issue of target audience: is there really a problem with the use of the correct terminology in research articles written for consumption by other researchers? The ``jargon'' alone doesn't make it bad writing - other factors may do that, but not the jargon itself.
For work to be distributed outside academics - within reason, as little specialized language as possible, while still getting the message across, would seem to be best.
To Michael Fugate #36:
What’s my problem? My problem is with your illogical and unscientific position that ‘Since mutations happen, evolution is true.’
It’s as silly as saying that ‘Since the beaks of finches on Galapagos varied in length over time depending on environmental conditions, molecules-to-“monkey”-to-man evolution is true.’
To proximity1 #37:
“After all, unlike some scientists who regard it as part of their professional duty to hear and weigh a FRESH or UNKNOWN development which CHALLENGES their current but TENTATIVE views–always OPEN TO REVISION upon new and good CONTRAVENING data–you offer us the opposite: one who has already determined–without avowing it–not to learn anything which is or might be unwelcome.”
In many years of reading the literature, I’ve found only one thing true: No matter what the scientists find which might contradict or overturn current theories about evolution, the overall conclusion remains sacrosanct – evolution is true!
To eric #40:
Regarding your attack of my 3rd point, how does a stochastic/random (and non-rational) process produce the rationality you rely on? On what basis do you feel justified in believing rationality results from non-rationality?
Take away all the big words and fancy phrases and that abstract was saying the genesis of all living things is due to ADAPTATION (“The origin of cellular differentiation is explained as an adaptation of cells to…”).
Adaptation my a**.
I was an evolutionist for about 30 years, from my teens to mid-forties. Then I started actually reading and thinking about it. In short, I’m not an evolutionist anymore.
Regarding your attack of my 3rd point, how does a stochastic/random (and non-rational) process produce the rationality you rely on?
That paragraph isn't talking about my rationality. Its talking about how sometimes adding a phosphate group to a transcription enzyme (or sometimes taking one away) can result in a gene expressing more consistently than it otherwise would. How in the world did you come to the conclusion that the paper is trying to explain my (or anyone else's) rationality?
Why is it illogical? Once again, assertion is not explanation and you have explained nothing. You have not even offered an alternative - which is?
In many years of reading the literature, "
I call bullhead right there. You've already demonstrated you couldn't be troubled to read an article. Your "critiques" have not addressed any of the material presented to you: they are simply "I've made the conclusion that the results the scientists have demonstrated have to be false, so my assertions about them are sufficient rebuttals."
Your religious viewpoint has destroyed any sense of critical thinking you might have possessed. If you cannot provide an evidence based alternative to the information in these articles, one that provides predictions which are at least as useful, you have nothing and deserve no respect for your objections. (Since you made similarly fact free objections about physics on Ethan's blog, and fled when asked for support for them, it's a sure bet you don't have support here either.)
Given the complete absence of historical evidence, and geological evidence, for things Bible related, it is no surprise you can't come up with any here: you've never had to before. Meaningful subjects require more than your statements of gullibility.
To eric #43:
You say “That paragraph [my 3rd point] isn’t talking about my rationality. Its talking about how sometimes adding a phosphate group to a transcription enzyme (or sometimes taking one away) can result in a gene expressing more consistently than it otherwise would. How in the world did you come to the conclusion that the paper is trying to explain my (or anyone else’s) rationality?”
My 3rd point verbatim was “They repeatedly mention the process, or at least parts of it, are STOCHASTIC. How can you rely on getting the needed liver cells, BRAIN CELLS, etc. from a RANDOM process? Oh, but a second process supposedly provides STABILITY. That’s like saying I’ll “stabilize” the roulette wheel by making it stop, except that “stabilizing” the wheel is no guarantee I’ll get the one exact number I need out of the possible 36+.”
Cell differentiation includes the differentiation into BRAIN CELLS, which I mentioned in my 3rd point.
Don’t you believe your rationality comes from your brain?
Perhaps Dean will supply a different article/paper, ideally one of his favorites.
Demonstrate you have the ability to discuss the science from an honest approach. You have not done that at all so far.
To Dean #48:
You write to me: “Demonstrate you have the ability to discuss the science from an honest approach. You have not done that at all so far.”
Well, let’s give it one more try.
Supply here a pro-evolution article/paper we ALL can read, and one whose science you’re well-versed in. (Again, ideally, it should be one of your favorite rocks from the mountain of evidence.)
In many years of reading the literature,"
"A paper we all can read"
So you haven't been reading the literature. What a non surprise.
“They repeatedly mention the process, or at least parts of it, are STOCHASTIC. How can you rely on getting the needed liver cells, BRAIN CELLS, etc. from a RANDOM process?
As you say, the authors describe a two step process where the second step stabilizes the development of cells produced in the first step.
That’s like saying I’ll “stabilize” the roulette wheel by making it stop, except that “stabilizing” the wheel is no guarantee I’ll get the one exact number I need out of the possible 36+.
These are not roulette wheels, they are biochemical molecules. If not having a phosphate group makes the transduction enzyme more likely to promote reactions that do not lead to appropriate development, sticking one on will improve the likelihood of appropriate development. That is stabilization of a stochastic process.
So if I have to use your own crappy roulette wheel example to explain this to you, I will. If you need the one exact number (say, the 7) to come up, then yes filling up many of the other spots with putty WILL improve the likelihood of getting a 7. The more you fill up, the more you stabilize (i.e. increase the likelihood of) the process you want.
But since you're making a more fundamentally erroneous assumption (that you can't rely on stochastic processes to produce a specific result), let's just cover that too while we're at it. Casinos make loads of money on table games. They rely on stochastic processes to produce a specific and predictable result, just as you claim is impossible. How do they do this? They rely on very slight odds advantages producing a highly predictably distribution of results over many trials. Bodies produce, use, kill, and excrete billions of cells during development. A stochastic process where there are many developmental pathways, but a modification of the transduction enzyme will cause one of those to be favored, and many cell development 'trials,' will produce a highly predictable distribution of cells.
SN - are you going to answer my questions?
So you don't accept modern chemistry as well as biology?
To dean #50:
I know, and God knows, I’ve read hundreds of pro-evolution pieces (maybe a thousand) over the years.
When I told you “Supply here a pro-evolution article/paper we ALL can read…”, I meant a paper all readers here could read IN FULL, and WITHOUT having to use their CREDIT CARD.
To eric #51:
“… enzyme more likely to promote reactions that do not lead to APPROPRIATE development, sticking one on will improve the likelihood of APPROPRIATE development. That is stabilization of a stochastic process.”
And what does mindless evolution consider “appropriate” development?
My roulette wheel was an analogy, not, as you say, an example. The biochemistry of living things is far more complex than hitting the right number on a roulette wheel. But just what do you mean by “the more you stabilize (i.e. increase the likelihood of) the PROCESS YOU WANT.”
Who wants what? Evolution wants something?
You called my roulette analogy a “crappy” “example”. But you proceed with a crappy casino example: “Casinos make loads of money on table games. They rely on stochastic processes to produce a specific and predictable result, just as you claim is impossible.”
I’m a gambler myself (I prefer the craps table.). I’m well aware of the stochastic process in play. I know, and the casino knows, that the casino will win in the long-run. We know this because we know in advance what the possible outcomes are and the odds for each outcome. Where are similar “knowns” in cell biochemistry? You say “… but a modification of the transduction enzyme will cause one of those to be FAVORED…”
Favored by who and favored why?
Everyone now knows the DNA molecule directs the development of cell differentiation and everything else about the body. Bill Gates once said the DNA molecule is far more complex and far more INSTRUCTION-rich than anything Microsoft’s intelligent software engineers have ever developed. The more fundamental question is: How did such magnificent biological software come to be?
Also, consider not just cell differentiation, like with the eye’s cornea, pupil, iris, retina, rods, cones, aqueous humor. Consider, too, processes, such as photosynthesis. If you need a refresher on the latter, check Wikipedia. The entry is only about 25 pages long. (Quite a lucky “roll of the dice” for the first green plants on earth!)
To Michael Fugate #52:
Answer what questions?
"I know, and God knows, I’ve read hundreds of pro-evolution pieces (maybe a thousand) over the years."
And what does mindless evolution consider “appropriate” development?
Oh seriously, you're going to pretend you don't understand the natural processes English language users typically use agent shorthand to describe. Oh, very well, here goes:
1. There are many organisms per generation. They will vary in traits, including stuff like "likelihood of phosphorylation of enzymes".
2. They will not all survive and leave children the same rate. The ones whose traits (such as phosphorylation of enzymes) lead to stronger development will tend to survive longer and leave more kids. So that...
3. Over time and generations, RM+NS will lead to a population which has a selection of traits - such as phosphorylation of enzymes - that are appropriate to best surviving.
The more fundamental question is: How did such magnificent biological software come to be?
I think the more fundamental question is: why do you keep trying to switch the conversation away from the topic of the paper, when you have yet to actually provide any "problem of science or logic" with it. To review, your complaints #1 and 4 are you complaining about it being theory, which is not a 'flaw' as science accepts the publication of papers on theory and hypotheses. #2 is merely an observation. If the implication is that you wish they had written about something else, well too bad so sad, that is not a 'logical or scientific flaw.' And #3 has been answered by both the authors and me, and in any event is just the fallacious argument from incredulity: saying you don't see how stochastic processes can lead to reliable results is not a 'logical or scientific' argument that they can't.
To dean #54:
I can assure you it’s true. But you don’t care about that. You care about “winning” by ANY means, including lying and ad hominems.
The despicable Harry Reid must be your hero. Time 2:31-3:01…
To Michael Fugate #55:
Everyone agrees mutations happen.
But you are saying that since mutations happen evolution must be true.
If you don’t see why that is unfounded, both logically and scientifically, we need go no further.
To eric #56:
What do your points #1-#3 have to do with the origin of cell differentiation?
It’s like you’re talking about the origin of different types of skyscrapers when we’re in fact discussing how the building materials themselves could have originated. It’s like you’re talking about the differing visual acuity of different animals when we’re in fact discussing the origin of retinas, corneas, etc.
Why do you keep trying to switch the conversation away from the topic of the paper?
You have NOT answered my #3. Or let me put it differently. Incredulity works both ways…
I am incredulous that a stochastic process - with limitless possible results (i.e. NOT a roll of the six-sided dice) – would produce (and retain) liver cells vs. cornea cells vs. brain cells vs. big toe cells, etc.
You are incredulous that it would not.
I am incredulous that the DNA molecule was NOT designed by intelligence.
You are incredulous that it WAS designed by intelligence.
In addition, the preeminent point of the paper is that the cells ADAPT to become different, leading to different organs. “The origin of cellular differentiation is explained as an adaptation of cells to metabolic gradients …”
As I said earlier, adapt into an esophagus?
Or I could have asked, did the first life on earth just adapt (or mutate?) systems of nourishment and reproduction, and do so very very quickly, like in its short lifetime?
Everyone agrees mutations happen.
But you are saying that since mutations happen evolution must be true.
If you don’t see why that is unfounded, both logically and scientifically, we need go no further.
Straw man much SN. God you are an idiot.
Dean, Eric, M.F.,
As Richard W. wrote already, you're allowing a dickhead moron to hijack this thread--which is supposed to be about bad writing-and monopolize it for his own stupid comments. In doing so, you're playing this jerk's game and giving him exactly what he wants: to set every thread's agenda to his own nonsense theme.
There's not the slightest chance that the points in your replies are either interesting to him or liable to alter his already fixed opinions. Each time you entertain his comments, another useful discussion risks being ruined. He has _nothing_ to offer here and won't cease until he's consistently ignored. Why are you playing into his idiot's game?
For any readers following this thread who'd ask, "Sure, okay, but where's an example of really good expository writing?"
here's one of my favorite examples. Pat Jordan is a brilliant writer and his work (example at the following link) is a good model of what excellent writing looks like.
( I envy those who'll read the article for the first time.)
Would the following be considered good writing or bad writing, and why?
Title: “Atheists’ Hatred”
The pervasive characteristic of atheists is this: hatred. (It’s also true of most liberals.)
Atheists’ hatred is fully expected in some areas. For example, almost by definition, atheists have an innate hatred of religion and of the very idea of God. Oh, they’ll say they have no such hate, and insist they have something more akin to pity or disgust. (Similar to the way Obama mocked those who “cling to their Bibles”.) But this is just talk.
However, atheists’ hatred also shows up in what many would consider unexpected places. And I think we could call this a hidden hatred.
Atheists’ hatred of science. Yes, science! See, although atheists say they are enamored with science and in fact build their entire world and world-view on science, they actually hate their idol’s inadequacy in addressing the big questions (e.g. Why does anything exist? How did we come to be?).
They hate the unavoidable irrationality of saying a point of singularity appeared out of nowhere and nothing, and that this point of singularity went “Bang!” inexplicably (and “Big” time).
They hate that their idol of science is made possible only because of things they can’t explain, namely
-An order to the universe, complete with natural laws, and
-Human rationality, which they trust even though they think it came from a non-rational process (i.e. evolution).
They hate that their science can’t explain the emergence of life.
They hate that their science hasn’t proven, or even made a convincing case, that the first life mutated into all the life forms we now see. (After 150 years of indoctrination, less than 20% buy into it completely, and 45% reject it completely.)
Oh, and they hate that modern science PROVES HUMAN life begins at conception.
Yes, atheists’ barely hidden hatred of their inadequate idol, science!
Atheists’ hatred of history. They hate atheism’s historical record of genocide. Oh, they’ll talk much about all the evils supposedly done in the name of religion. But they know that these pale in comparison to the lethal legacies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. Atheistic totalitarian regimes lethal to body and spirit.
And what’s the historical record on suicides? Not all atheists commit suicide, of course, but of the people who do commit suicide, the majority must be atheists. (Certainly zero would be true Catholics.) Yet, the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernest Hemingway, etc. “live” on.
Atheists’ hatred of their small minority status. Of course, they’ll try to hide this hatred, and spin it positively as a mark of their “specialness”. Kind of like:
“The few, the proud, the (mental) Marines.” (I would agree with their being few, and prideful, and “mental.”)
They have a love/hate relationship with “consensus.” They can’t stop praising and clinging to the pro-evolution “consensus” among the largely atheistic, or at least largely irreligious, evolutionary scientific community. But they try to dismiss the consensus of humanity that atheism is a form of insanity.
They hate the fact that after over 5,000 years of “preaching”, less than 8% of the global students accept their message. Though they would never admit it, they are a lonely, looney bunch. Like my man from “The Twilight Zone”:
Atheists’ hatred of competition, including the competition of ideas in a democracy. Regarding the latter, I don’t think you’ll find in history a legitimate representative democracy established by atheists. It’s usually a dictatorship, a totalitarian regime. One reason atheists hate the idea of a democracy is that they’re irrationally fearful of the democracy’s inevitable supermajority of non-atheists. But why would atheists continue as citizens of a country such as the U.S. with a representative democracy? Well, who wouldn’t? Very few Americans see life outside the U.S. as better. And the U.S. is understandably the most popular destination for immigrants.
And while they despise democracy, they can live with it, provided they can hope in undermining democracy’s competition for ideas. As a general rule, Liberals/Progressives and atheists are not athletic, are not fond of athletics, and especially, are not fond of real competition. Oh, they may like winning. Who doesn’t? But they prefer to avoid the competition and win by “fixing the game.” Liberal/Progressive/Atheist “game fixing” can take various forms, including
1)Avoiding the arguments that are the essence of real debate and instead resort to ad hominems.
2)Stacking the deck. Example: Peer-review. Evolutionists often trumpet the fact that anti-evolutionists are never published in any of the prestigious peer-reviewed science journals, but they fail to mention that 100% of the peers doing the reviewing are evolutionists. Chances of a creationist being published in, say PLOS, equal about zero.
3)The ends justify the means, or, win by any means necessary. Example: Lying. Real life illustration: Obamacare - from the deceptive and underhanded and completely partisan way it was passed in Congress, to the way it was sold (“Don’t worry! If you like your current doctor and healthcare plan, you can keep your doctor and health care plan. PERIOD.” (about 36 times)), to the way its blessing by the Supreme Court was praised (even though the SCOTUS said it was constitutional only as a “tax”, while Obama and his minions had earlier vehemently and publicly insisted Obamacare was not a “tax”. ‘That’s OK. We don’t care how Obamacare gets through, just so long as it gets through.). Second example: Harry Reid (see link above).
4)Fallacious “numbers” game. Example: Consensus is king/The consensus is right. Example: “Mountain of evidence” for evolution (except that when you look at any of the “rocks” from the mountain they’re mush).
5) Moving the goal posts/Changing the rules mid-stream/Making up new rules during the debate.
Atheists’ hatred of truth. Someone once posed to me the apparent mystery of belief, for instance, in the doubt still harbored by some of the observers of the risen Christ. It brings to mind the old bromide “Seeing is believing.” It’s silly. As noted above, some see and still don’t believe. Others don’t see, yet still do believe (e.g. abiogenesis).
Another saying is something like “Everyone wants the truth. They’ll search for it and follow it wherever it leads.”
But it’s not true.
The Church says faith is not automatic or natural but rather is a gift from God. Our generous God gives the gift freely, but it must be nurtured by the recipients. Apparently, some just aren’t fit for “farming” (cf. Mat 13; Mark 4).
Having faith can be “hard”, and involve “hardness” (cf. Mat 7:14; Mark 3:5; Mark 6:52; Mark 16:14; John 6:60.)]]
I could have added Romans 1:20: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Atheists don’t perceive the truth because they’re not interested in the truth. They’re not only not interested in the truth, they hate the truth.
And they are without excuse.
“The pervasive characteristic of atheists is this: hatred. (It’s also true of most liberals.)”
How perfectly true. And nothing illustrates this better than the gigantic Munchausen syndrome by proxy that characterizes liberalism.
Further to my comments @ 19:
On the impact of recent technology, see:
Emilie Bickerton's "CULTURE AFTER GOOGLE"
Too many scientific textbooks suffer from ineffectively communicating the subject matter. There should be a greater emphasis on being able to effectively communicate what you rather than simply knowing. 13242033
A van Wyk I completely agree with you. Most people are just taught what evolution is but not how it happens. Probably because when you think about how they say it happens, then it does not make sense at all. If humans were only part of evolution from apes and so on, where did emotions come from for example? Could that just appear from as bunch of molecules?
i agree with the writting coarses as well and i think thatalong the line, something was lost in education where there is no proper respect for language and where language is undermined. I am glad that at my university a mandatory course is implemented for all science students, and it covers concepts such as: language, seminar and report writing, study skills and referencing, amongst other. That helps us to have study skills in other modules.