Libertarians v. Bethell?

Man, the reviewers just keep doing my work for me. Consider the latest takedown of Tom Bethell's The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. It's lengthy, thorough, and written by a libertarian who says he's in similar territory to Bethell politicially. But instead, the reviewer says Bethell's book is "of no worth, even for a highschool audience." I particularly liked this bit:

In regards to science-critical journalism--we live in a country in which a fourth of the people believe that the sun rotates around the earth [I thought it was higher--ed]. Thus it is hard to believe we are in dire need of more criticism of science--if there is a white-lab-coated priesthood of which Bethell speaks, it has to be one of the most unsuccessful at carrying its message to the folk in recorded history.

Niiice. And I know this guy isn't the only libertarian who would be dismayed by Bethell's work; serious libertarians like Ron Bailey would assuredly see through it as well (though I don't know if Ron has read Bethell's book yet). Now, if we could only get the people at National Review to wake up and stop taking Bethell so seriously.....come on, conservatives, your credibility is on the line here. Don't you realize that Bethell denies not only evolution and climate change, but even the epidemic of AIDS in Africa ("A Political Epidemic," as he calls it)? Is that a position that the right really wants to be embracing?

More like this

I read with some regularity several local (NC) libertarian blogs and almost all have posted some nice posts supporting science (usually evolution) and damning the creationists and other abusers of science.

well, derb is fighting the good fight. he just read the evolution anthology (on my recommendation might i add!) and might include some items relating to it in a new column from what i hear.

There are some conservative writers trying to get a little more balance into NROnline with regards to evolution, as I understand it. Let's hope we hear from them soon. The Corner, at any rate, seems much more balanced so far on the issue....

By John Farrell (not verified) on 17 Jan 2006 #permalink

I'll believe it when I see it. From where I'm coming from, if I want to find a conservative distortion of science, not just on evolution, NRO is first stop shopping......

Subtitle for TB's book: A Million Little Pieces of BS.

By An Enquiring Mind (not verified) on 17 Jan 2006 #permalink

The Corner, at any rate, seems much more balanced so far on the issue....


Any mention of ID Creationism that doesn't contain the words "unmitigated bullshit" is not balanced.

Graculus, I'm with you, but they won't let Derb use the term "unmitigated bullshit" on the Corner. :)

By John Farrell (not verified) on 17 Jan 2006 #permalink

As I recall, the last poll on scientific literacy that I saw had only 1/2 the people knowing the Earth went around the Sun, and only half of those knew it took a year.

Incidentally, when it comes to evolution, there is no "balance", there is truth, and there is not truth.

Bloody Republicans... they'll always be like this.
And after Bethell there will always be another similar
character. Remember "Darwin on Trial"? Little bunnies
like George Will (and the money that backs such as he)
will always be present to eagerly give these guys a
platform from which to corrupt our culture.

Bruce Scott
Freising, Germany

drift wave turbulence:

By Bruce Scott (not verified) on 17 Jan 2006 #permalink

A lot of libertarians seem to be tip-toeing away from the loony religious wing of the republican party these days. Reason magazine (probably the best and most serious libertarian publication) has had a lot of articles along these lines.

You know... the central idea of libertarianism seems to be that a central planning authority is not required to produce order or solve problems in complex socioeconomic systems. Hmm... order and problem solving without a central planner... sound familiar?

Did you check George Will's position on ID, or did you just assume that all "bloody republicans" think alike?

For the record, according to that "little bunny" George Will:

"The problem with intelligent-design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific but a creedal tenet--a matter of faith, unsuited to a public school's science curriculum."

What about "ultra-conservative" columnist Charles Krauthammer:

"Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud."…

Bruce, unless I'm mistaken, George Will (along with Charles Krauthammer) is one of the few conservatives who isn't afraid to point out that ID is junk science.

James Q. Wilson is another.

By John Farrell (not verified) on 17 Jan 2006 #permalink

Bethel is just horrible. I considered buying his book because I like to keep up with pseudoscience that students might be exposed to. But when I scanned the Bethel book I found it to be so absurd I simply couldn't put money into pockets... perhaps I'll check it out of the library (when I'm feeling I can stomach the bs he writes).

But I couldn't believe the monumental stupidity of the sfollowing:

"Material causes only are admitted in science. Wrong. Let me illustrate by reference to his book, Prime Obsession, and let us travel 100 years into the future. Mr. [John Derbyshire] is no more, except perhaps for a few unrecognizable molecular traces. But in the moldering ruins of what was once a library, someone finds a tattered copy of Prime Obsession. "What caused this," the finder inquires, examining the symbols on the page. "Can it be that there was once someone called Derbyshire who was the author of this book?"

The material causes of these printed symbols were? Ink, printing press, bindery. Was there no agent behind it? No Mr. Derbyshire? Not really, in the materialist view. That was just a conglomeration of chemicals that enjoyed the illusion of autonomy but was impelled to act in certain ways.

That is where the injunction, material causes only, takes us. The impulse is to move the causal attribution past the agent and back into the material world. We do look for material causes at the entry level of scientific explanation, but if we see signs of intelligence, we regard material causes as insufficient. Ink didn't write the book. We seek other causes at a higher level. We look for an agent. In so doing, would we commit the error of abandoning science and flirting with supernaturalism? No. "Non-material" does not imply supernatural."

I have to wonder if Bethel really doesn't understand the difference between a scientist in the future postulating:

1. A person named John Derbyshire that does have an miraculous powers. Indeed, Mr. Derbyshire doesn't have to have any powers beyond a sufficient command of the english language to write a text.

2. A being capable of creating biological information using unspecified mechanisms.

C'mon dude - here is the big difference:

There is very likely to be substantial information from a variety of sources corroborating the existence of people capable the amazing feat of writing. In fact, scientists one century from now probably won't be that different from us. But even 1,000 or 10,000 years from now (assuming we haven't manged to cause our extinction by then) I suspect future scientists won't be that different, and will have remarkable amounts of data corroborating the existence of people capable of writing.

For an extreme (and equally contrived) example imagine that a scientist finds something that looks like a Sumerian cylinder seal dated to (say) 12,000 B.C.E. that has writing in an unknow language. One would be skeptical due to the very early date, but if extensive work showed it to be authentic one might conclude that an ancient and unknown civilization came up with something like a cylinder seal idependently. After all, that is technology that humans can develop. If the writing were cuneform - well, the simpler hypothesis would be that it actually dated from a much later era. What about english writing - there the simpler hypothesis is a fake.

Why? People can develop language, and it would take a lot of data to corroborate an early development of language - but it is not outside realm of possibility. The likelihood that a language from either 10K or 12K years later would developed independently is essentially zero. Such a model (two developments of english, for example) would be so improbable that one must look for other explanations.

How much corroboration would you want for magical tablets of gold that were translated with the aid of an angel - a being whose existence cannot be confirmed - and then disappeared. How mean those of us in scienes for saying that such a belief lies in the realm of faith and that it cannot be viewed in science? Produce an angel or - and this is important, and probably what Bethel doesn't understand - strong indirect evidence of an angel. Then it is science!

This argument isn't incontrovertable evidence of the non-existence of angels, but I must say that I can only respect angel believers who are honest about this and say they believe in angels based on faith (and don't want to teach about angels in science courses).

I've gone on too long - apologies...

Now I almost want to read this book, just because reviewing it seems like a prime opportunity to use the word "truthiness."

You're being a little kind to Bailey, and way too kind to the rest of the libertarians, who generally disparage climate change science through the assertion of lack of scientific conesnsus.

A lot of libertarians seem to be tip-toeing away from the loony religious wing of the republican party these days. Reason magazine (probably the best and most serious libertarian publication) has had a lot of articles along these lines.

Count me in. I saw the writing on the wall more than five years ago, recognizing that Bush was the worst kind of Republican - a big spender (It's the Texas record, stupid) and a promoter of government intervention in people's personal lives.

Since then, I have become even more convinced that I made the right decision; and that the the GOP can no longer be my home. Any claim to fiscal conservatism has been revealed as hollow.

The only thing the GOP has left is pandering to ... and promoting the social/"scientific" agenda of a radical wing of the Christian religion, hardly appealing to a Jeffersonian Democrat such as myself.