Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Brief History Of Darwin Bashing (From Forbes)

Interesting article on Forbes "A Brief History Of Darwin Bashing".  Here is my favorite quote form that article:

"The basic pattern most of these pieces follow is simple: Ignore the science; don’t bother talking to working specialists in the field; selectively quote long-dead sources (or emeritus scholars in unrelated fields); enthusiastically cite the work of self-described revolutionaries without critically examining the scientific merit of their work; and impugn the character of the theory’s founder."
Tell me if any of that sounds familiar?  John Farrell, Forbes Contributor, just describes the tactics used by folks like the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and the Institute for Creation Research in a nutshell: Ignore science, quote-mine, push their own writings without a single critical thought, and denigrate Darwin!  

Farrell's article digs deeper into one specific example, Tom Wolfe's "Kingdom of Speech".  While it has a number of 5-star reviews on Amazon, mostly from folks who apparently already have issues with real science and evolution, it's the 1-star reviews that are much more entertaining.  You might read a few, but here are some of the headlines to whet your appetite: "Preening Ignorance", "His White Suit is Unsullied By Research", "Backward in Every Sense", and "Glad I Could Get a Refund From A Kindle Purchase".  It certainly looks like not everyone is buying into Wolfe's Darwin Bashing!

We seem to live in a time when expertise is less valued than opinion.  Maybe the Internet is partly responsible for at least making us aware of it, but I was always taught that opinions are like . . . armpits (yea, armpits!) everyone has one or two and they usually stink.  But nowadays people seem to think that a voiced opinion should be taken as gospel and when an expert chimes in, their 'expertise' should be distrusted.  

A historical example that I've used before, Leaded additives in gasoline.  In the 1920's it was discovered to be dangerous, but it took 40 years to get it removed and fix some of the damage it was causing.  The leading advocate for lead additives was sponsored by the company who made the additives.  The principle tactic used was to develop a feeling of mistrusting experts on the subject.  That tactic helped delay removing those additives for over 40 years!

We saw something similar with tobacco and we are also seeing it with the current arguments about climate change and vaccinations.  We are developing a culture that mistrusts expertise.  Darwin bashers are doing their best to use that mistrust in pushing their own religious agenda. That appears to be exactly what is happening here.  According to the many critics, Wolfe blatantly ignores current science, takes other things out of context, and gets support from other bashers . . . and many of the folks who wrote those glowing comments on Amazon gush how wonderful it all is . . . because the idea of relying on expertise has become foreign to them.

What I have noticed is that this disregard for expertise seems to be of the cherry-picking variety.  For example anti-vaxxers whine about science, yet use the Internet for their whines.  Vaccinations and the Internet share the same scientific methodology . . . yet one is bad and the other is useful.  People still take their cars to mechanics.  While I see holistic foolishness for people's health, I have yet to see a holistic car repair place.

I feel foolish for having to defend expertise, the most often heard argument is that experts are defending their territory because funding would dry up and they would be unemployed.  In a recent conversation with a climate-change denier I attempted to address this point, but he wasn't listening.  My point is that I find it funny is that, according to him, the whole reason climate scientists support climate-change it because of their funding.  How does he know this?  Well that's what he hears on Fox News.  So . . . as I tried to tell him . . . climate scientists, whose average annual salary is $95K a year are arguing the reality of climate change and you [he] is getting his science from a political pundit who makes millions each year . . . and it's the $95K a year scientists whose expertise is getting ignored because that's how they make a living, yet the millionaire pundit with no expertise is telling you the truth?  (source)  Really?

Experts shouldn't need to be defended, we rely on people's expertise every day.  I work on a computer using others expertise in networking.  I use still others expertise in manufacturing to help me develop the software I build.  Ask any computer programmer, you might have a ton of expertise in programming, but you need subject matter experts to develop software for any industry!  I rely on the people creating the food I eat, not only in restaurants, but what lines the aisles of the grocery store.  I have my car maintained by several car mechanics, just recently I had the windows and doors in my home replaced.  I have made more than one visit to a doctor in the past year.   I do not have the expertise to do all of these things myself, so I have to rely on the expertise of others.

Why is it so hard to accept that same sort of expertise from biologists, climatologists, and the developers of vaccines?

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