Top Ten Litmus Tests

| 113 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

The conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, apparently not wanting to allow Commentary to have all the fun, has waded into the anti-evolution biz by publishing this miserable article by Paul McHugh. It is the usual melange of literary arrogance coupled with scientific ignorance. It does, however, provide a useful opportunity to review the various litmus tests you can apply to distinguish between serious commentators on the one hand, and dishonest hacks on the other.

If the author of the article you are reading uses any of the following devices in making his case:

  1. Make a reference to thought control.
  2. Bring up Inherit the Wind.
  3. Imply that evolution is about ideology and not science.
  4. Pretend that evolution has made no progress since Darwin.
  5. Use quotations from scientists misleadingly and without indicating their source.
  6. Bring up Piltdown Man.
  7. Use the term “Darwinian fundamentalist.”
  8. Pretend that the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium refutes core tenets of neo-Darwinism.
  9. Put words into the mouths of scientists without providing citations.
  10. Accuse scientists of being dishonest.
then you are almost certainly reading the work of a dishonest hack. I've fleshed out the details in this post over at EvolutionBlog.

2 TrackBacks

Over at The Panda's Thumb, Jason Rosenhouse nicely fisks a ridiculous article in The Weekly Standard by one Paul McHugh. McHugh is apparently "a university distinguished service professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins School... Read More

Jason Rosenhouse, writing at Panda's Thumb and more expansively at Evolutionblog, addresses an article by Paul McHugh in the Weekly Standard entitled Teaching Darwin: Why we're still fighting about biology textbook. The article is, as Rosenhouse says, ... Read More

113 Comments

Idealogue:

“Anyone who questions my idealogy is a dishonest hack”

Your anger is humorous. How dare we question your pseudoscience that relies on rhetoric instead of scientific method to promote itself.

You guys are going to have to do better than this if you want to prevent the greatest hoax in history from being exposed.

Apeman: There are a lot of specifics dealt with in the post referred to above. You, of course, dealt with none of them, choosing instead to wave your creationist cheerleader pom-poms. But then - and this is the delicious irony part - you say:

How dare we question your pseudoscience that relies on rhetoric instead of scientific method to promote itself.

Now, my replying to this bit of silliness probably qualifies as “troll-feeding”; but my purpose is the opposite. If you have nothing of substance to write, we’ve really had all the creationist pom-pom action we need.

I disagree strongly, Russell. The delicious irony part is

You guys are going to have to do better than this if you want to prevent the greatest hoax in history from being exposed.

in response to a message that posits as one of its tests of dishonest hackery

10. Accuse scientists of being dishonest.

All of those ten tests are worth remembering, as I don’t think any of them even require a belief in evolutionary biology to appear reasonable - just a basic working knowledge of fair discussion. For example: Darwin fundamentalists - what are they, exactly? People who hold the original books to be inerrant? I don’t think such animals exist, and Darwin was certainly not one such. So any argument that uses this term without defining what it means and why its relevant is either dishonest or incompetent. Imagine the fun using a term such as “Progressive creationists” when referring to some ill-defined body of IDers (‘scuse tautology)…

R

One could add a few more to the list:

11. Pretend as if Dawkins and Gould are the final authority in evolution.

12. The use of the term “Darwinist” as a blanket description of everyone who accepts modern evolutionary theory.

13. Invoke the essentialist fallacy by claiming that “a fruit fly is still just a fruit fly!”

14. Assert that any and all critics of “Darwinism” are invariably “shouted down”.

I could go on. It’s a silly article, pretty much the standard nonsense that could have been written by any DI lacky, without so much as a hint of originality.

BTW Jason, excellent take-down.

McHugh employs what I call “sophomoric reasoning’. While such reasoning may suffice for public rhetoric, students who do not rise above it will not succeed in science.

I think that there should be some attention that they can’t even use common English in the title of that pies of trash:

Teaching Darwin Why we’re still fighting about biology textbook. by Paul McHugh

That ought to be “a biology textbook” or even “about biology textbooks.”

I understand that they are spouting about biology, but as they have no grasp of science one might expect at least minimal facility with English.

6. Bring up Piltdown Man.

Double points for Nebraska Man. Triple points for “Ramapithecus Man.”

If facility with English is going to be a test, then I sadly must point out that many who regularly post here will fail.

“You guys are going to have to do better than this if you want to prevent the greatest hoax in history from being exposed.”

Nuh-uh. What about the moon landing?

Hmmm… how about:

15. Fret that teaching our children that their very distant ancestors were a different species than our own will cause them to want to act as if they were members of that ancient species instead of the humans that they are.

16. Quote Dostoyevsky: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.”

Everytime somebody quotes the “If God is dead, then everything is permitted” bit, I’m moved to point out that if there really isn’t any God, nothing is permitted because there isn’t anybody authorized to do the permitting. This is not just a quibble. Religion motivates people, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil, while those who lose their faith are more likely to become passive than murderous.

I think that there should be some attention that (sic) they can’t even use common English in the title of that pies (sic) of trash:

You may want to rephrase that.

We can do a lot better than non-substantive and hypocritical attacks on journal editors for abbreviating headlines.

Yes, anyone who rants on the “seperation” clause should refrain from casting stones at another’s misuse of English.

Unlike the “dishonest hack” who criticizes evolution, you guys are far superior because:

1. You never miss the opportunity to point out a spelling or grammer error to discredit someone 2. Your keen eyes can recognize a troll (i.e. anyone who makes any criticism of evolution on this forum) 3. Your “science”-based worldview is above religion. (Keep telling yourself that and maybe you will never have to ask an honest question about your life) 4. You have mastered the art of circular reasoning: “This finding in nature doesn’t fit with our current model of evolution, let’s make some minor adjustments. Hey, evolution is the unifying theory in biology” 5. (My favorite) You are far superior than the ignorant masses who suffer from the “god” gene that promotes reproduction in protected but oppresive environment. - Correllary A: Your critics have protective mechanisms (due to evolution) that protect them from accepting the greater knowledge you hold. Thus there is really no point in arguing with them, its like trying to convince an ape.

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Thanks for pointed my speling error out :>

You guys have closed the door to any open dialogue. Based on the “post in question”, nothing I or any critic has to say will ever have any substance. You have essentially have said that if you criticize us, you are a dishonest hack. After all you get to define the rules of criticism.

However, I agree with the president (elected by us ignorant masses), the book isn’t closed on all the claims of evolution. So whether you consider your critics worthy of dialogue and debate doesn’t really matter. If we do not get our way in publich education, we will home school our children (where they where they outperform the public schools despite an inferior evolution education). We will also vote in more politicians that support school vouchers so we can put them in private schools where they will be not be indoctrinated with garbage.

You guys need a system like socialism or communism to have your way. This whole democracy thing really gets in the way.

However, I agree with the president (elected by us ignorant masses),

He won a majority of the vote, but he more than 50% of US citizens did not vote for him.

the book isn’t closed on all the claims of evolution.

It’s science, the books are never closed. However, there have been no scientific alternatives to evolution purposed.

So whether you consider your critics worthy of dialogue and debate doesn’t really matter. If we do not get our way in publich education, we will home school our children (where they where they outperform the public schools despite an inferior evolution education). We will also vote in more politicians that support school vouchers so we can put them in private schools where they will be not be indoctrinated with garbage.

Put your kids in private schools to be indocrinated in garbage you believe in, but why should I have to pay for it? You see, vouchers are unconstitutional and will be found as such.

You guys need a system like socialism or communism to have your way. This whole democracy thing really gets in the way.

The last bastion! You see, you pay attention to only the things you wish to pay attention to. This is the reason there is no “debate” as you call it. Your president runs rough shod over “Freedom of Speech” and “Freedom of Religion” and it doesn’t bother you. You call people who disagree with you as communists?

Debate is the intelligent exchange of ideas. Sometimes emotions get in the way, and both sides pick at irrelevant things. IE spelling, grammar, etc. Name calling is also a part of this. It is not debate.

Anyway, as I stated before, I have seen no scientific alternatives to evolution. Not one. Every alternative either fails the “Science” test or doesn’t fit the evidence. Thus, you can pose your opinion as fact, and fall on your face, or you can provide a scientific theory that fits the evidence and remains scientific. You can in no way make ID or Creation scientific.

“You guys need a system like socialism or communism to have your way. This whole democracy thing really gets in the way.”

Well, it’s a moot point anyway since science isn’t a democratic process. It’s more of an “objective reality totalitarianism”. But I’m glad you appear to realise, based upon your silly threats regarding public education and sympathetic bureaucrats, that creationism is a POLITICAL issue, with no actual grounding in science as you lot so often claim.

Gee Monty,

Sounds like we need a lesson in science 101.

Let’s start with common descent of all life. No experimental data to show this. So we use observational data which boils down to comparitive anatomy, similar DNA, finding old bones which can always be made into an “intermediate species”. But you made a fatal flaw. You presumed a naturalistic explaination for events you did not observe and cannot experimentally reproduce. Thus your conclusion was inevitable with your presumptions and no other alternative can ever be possible. If you had insight, you might realize that your field is philosophical and not science. But circular reasoning never held an evolutionary biologist back. I’m sure Dr. McHugh knows something about lack of insight among people in his line of work. Perhaps you should make an appointment with him, he may be help you?

Jim Harrison Wrote:

Religion motivates people, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil, while those who lose their faith are more likely to become passive than murderous.

Tell that to Louis XIV, Stalin’s citizens, and Chinese college students.

Yeah, Jim, take a look at the passivity of this faithless movement.

Ooooo 3 in a row, I think we are due for a don’t feed the trolls post.

Yeah that will teach us!

17) Mentions that development of life would decrease entropy and violate the second law of thermodynamics.

Bayesian Bouffant Wrote:

17) Mentions that development of life would decrease entropy and violate the second law of thermodynamics.

Bonus points if they say it’s actually the third law of thermodynamics.

Double bonus points if they invent a Fourth Law of Thermodynamics.

18. They fail to see how a computer simulation is an “instance of evolution”

19. Use the term “worldview.”

Evolving Apeman.

It appears you need a lesson in Debate 101.

You cry and complain about being there being no debate possible on this site, and yet you always fall into the conman’s trap. When confronted change the subject or call them names.

You presumed a naturalistic explaination for events you did not observe and cannot experimentally reproduce.

And what am I supposed to “presume?” Am I supposed to presume some unnamed magician waved a magic wand and poof life appears in a finished form? That would be unscientific. IE Not Science.

You see, I know what science is and is not. So, now give me a scientific explanation of origins that fits the data. You can cherry pick your data and nit-pick on the interpretation, but give one. Just one. When you do that, the debate can begin.

Communists, as umpteen people have rightly pointed out, were not people for whom God is dead. That’s why the famous book against ‘em is called the God that Failed. People ascribe the fall of the soviet system to a lot of things, oil prices, Ronald Reagan, overcentralization, resurgent nationalisms—but a Stalin or a Lenin would certainly have been able to keep the lid on if the Party hadn’t lost its faith.

Somebody also mentioned Louis XIV as a counter example, a strange reference since the Sun King was exceedinly Catholic, indeed a famously bigoted one.

Jim,

The fall of communism is not the issue at hand, but rather its irrefutable history of mass murder.

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Tell me Ed,

You really believe no assumptions are used to ‘date’ events that occured millions of years ago? No assumptions regarding the initial ratio of isotopes? If you took an honest look at the data as I have, you would realize that all these different methods calibrate themselves against each other. SO NO WONDER THEY ALL MATCH! But as I have said before, circular reason never stopped an evolutionary biologist.

Biology as a field of study has absolutely no need of macroevolution. Keep your teliologic explainations to yourself and I’ll keep my “Goddidit” to myself. Of course if we biologists dare question common descent, our careers could be ruined. Its much easier to take Ed’s cowardly road and accept the paradox so you we live at peace with your Darwinian Fundamentalist colleagues. No point in getting blacklisted, might prevent a favorable review of your papers, no matter how unrealated they are to evolution.

So Russell, You are technically correct that all of us biologists are to one extent or another evolutionary biologist and you wouldn’t have it any other way or else there may be consequences to dissenters.

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There was a good article somewhere I saw a few years ago. A geologist, who was a christian, was tired of hearing his fellow christians say obviously dumb things about radioisotopes and dating. He wrote a long article to explain to them that they really shouldn’t make that claim, and that they just make christians look ignorant. I’m sure you can still find it online.

Apeman:

“the logical conclusion to his blind faith in naturalism”

Methodological naturalism. I have no objection to alternative cosmologies, including Gods, but I am not going to deny observed facts or warp evidence to suit an infantile emotional need for an invisible Daddy figure to make sense of it all.

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Very nice summary of the ‘deceitful creator’ angle here, Ed. If our resident Paranthropus insists on the artificiallity of DNA dating, maybe he can give us a link or a cite to somebody who actually has run the numbers under different assumptions - preferably ones not more complicated or removed from the data then the ones used by mainstream science - and has got different results, which still stand up when new data is added. Would be nice to read, although I somehow doubt such an analysis exists.

Is Apeman actually serious? I find it hard to believe that a person living in a wealthy part of the modern western civilisation (which I assume he does) could be so utterly uneducated when it comes to science. There is elementary school, high school, college, university, and then we have libraries, scientific magazines, books, websites and documentaries, and somehow, some people still manage to avoid coming across real science. Amazing.

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Or could he be thinking of Glen Morton?

Speaking of strawmen I never argued for an early earth.

I’m arguing that dating methods make multiple assumptions and are calibrated against each other.

Exihibit from 1st website:

“ C-14 dating has been calibrated back more than 30,000 years by using uranium-thorium (isochron) dating of corals (Bard et al. 1990; Edwards et al. 1993)”

Go ahead an revel in your arrogant ignorance. I choose to recognize limitations in my research to avoid overstating conclusions. But then again I’m more interested in analyzing real data than writing narratives based on unfalsifiable assumptions.

P.S. You guys are so good at correcting my grammar and spelling erros I think I will post my next paper here before I submit it to Nature for some free editing.

Quoth the Apeman:

Speaking of strawmen I never argued for an early earth.

Did someone suggest you did? I only included that in my “list of things we know” to establish a bedrock we could all agree on. I’m a little taken aback that you seem to be reluctant to grant even the age of the earth “provisional acceptance”.

I’m arguing that dating methods make multiple assumptions and are calibrated against each other.

Well, except for Divine Revelation, all we can ever hope for is our different technologies to cross-check one another. Is this somehow different in earth-age estimates from every other aspect of science?

Go ahead an revel in your arrogant ignorance.

Does anyone else sense an uncanny resemblance between Apeman and our recently departed friend, DonkeyDong? The combination of arrogance, ignorance, marginal language skills and apparent tone-deafness to irony seems awfully familiar.

P.S. You guys are so good at correcting my grammar and spelling erros I think I will post my next paper here before I submit it to Nature for some free editing.

I doubt anyone here has had the time or inclination to point out more than a small percentage of your language problems. Have a lot of papers in Nature, do you? Do they charge extra for editing?

The Courageous Apeman Wrote:

Its [sic] much easier to take Ed’s cowardly road and accept the paradox so you we [sic] live at peace with your Darwinian Fundamentalist colleagues. …all of us biologists [sic!] are to one extent or another evolutionary biologist [sic] and you wouldn’t have it any other way or else there may be consequences to dissenters.

So Ed is a “coward” for failing to see that up is not in fact down, but the Apeman, valiant fighter for Truth Justice and the American way, nurtures in secret the skepticism that dare not speak its name.

Gee Russell,your deductive reasoning skills are truly amazing. Of course the irony is that your conclusion that I am DonkeyDong should be of no surprise. After all a brilliant scientist such as yourself doesn’t need data to draw his conclusions about an event occuring billions of years ago. Scientists are probably about as good in predicting the past as they have been in predicting the future. To equate the science of pre-recorded past(by evolved apemen that is) with science dealing with the present is utter and complete arrogance.

Just for your wisecracks Russy boy I’m moving you from 4th author to the acknowledgement section for our landmark paper in Nature on the topic of common descent.

Bummer

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Some things that are not in dispute by any serious scientist: 1. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old” Again, serious scientists don’t go into fields that ask silly questions. There is no observable or testable way to dispute that statement. I can plug a different set of assumptions into a model and come up with a different time frame.

Let’s see it.

Comment # 22597

Evolved Apeman Wrote:

Comment #22597 Posted by Evolved Apeman on March 30, 2005 11:30 AM Speaking of strawmen I never argued for an early earth. I’m arguing that dating methods make multiple assumptions and are calibrated against each other. Exihibit from 1st website: “ C-14 dating has been calibrated back more than 30,000 years by using uranium-thorium (isochron) dating of corals (Bard et al. 1990; Edwards et al. 1993)” Go ahead an revel in your arrogant ignorance. I choose to recognize limitations in my research to avoid overstating conclusions. But then again I’m more interested in analyzing real data than writing narratives based on unfalsifiable assumptions. P.S. You guys are so good at correcting my grammar and spelling erros I think I will post my next paper here before I submit it to Nature for some free editing.

While Apeman provides and example of what he means I think he doesn’t understand what he has said. His lack of understanding of how radiometric dating is done and verified is obvious if he thinks Test A is “calibrated” off Test B therefore test A and B will always agree. Please read about radiometric dating before making misleading statements like this. Because you can find a situation where they’ve calibrated one test off another doesn’t mean they all are. The are often used to cross check each other. When 2 tests don’t agree, beyond their accuracy ranges, then there is normally some known condition that causes this. Many times this can be fixed by using more appropriate tests.

Apeman: “…the most important questions in life: why am I here…” Well, of course,science does not answer such a question. It is one of those questions science is not interested in finding an answer. Possibly the reason for this lack of interest is due to all the fun there is in finding “how” things are what they are. “Why” questions are not very good science questions. “Why is there something rather than nothing?”,is a great question but not one on which you will find scientists spending much time. There is just not alot of fun in thinking about “nothing”. As to the purpose of life and where you are going, I believe you will have great fun providing your (not someone else) answers. BTW Thanks Ed and Russell for your thoughtful post. Sagan

Y’all need an analogy. (or is everything a homology on this site )

I’ve got a collection of films ranging from 5 minutes to 3 hours. I’ll send you a freezeframe from the last scene. You can all use your deductive reasoning skills to tell me the length of the film. You may be right, but wouldn’t you know a lot more if you watched the entire film?

To claim our knowledge of natural processes that occur over thousands or millions of years is on equal footing with processes that we can directly observe is preposterous.

Y’all need an analogy.…To claim our knowledge of natural processes that occur over thousands or millions of years is on equal footing with processes that we can directly observe is preposterous.

Of course your analogy is preposterous since - as has been repeatedly pointed out to you - there is abundant evidence from multiple sources using multiple technologies by which we deduce events in the past. Whether these are on an “equal footing” - whatever the hell that means - with today’s thermometer reading is totally beside the point. What is preposterous is to say that what because neither the thermometer reading nor the fossil record, DNA phylogeny, or what have you, can be taken as an absolutely certain indicator all by itself, nothing can be known “scientifically”.

Speaking of strawmen I never argued for an early earth.

I’m arguing that dating methods make multiple assumptions and are calibrated against each other.

Exihibit from 1st website:

“ C-14 dating has been calibrated back more than 30,000 years by using uranium-thorium (isochron) dating of corals (Bard et al. 1990; Edwards et al. 1993)”

Go ahead an revel in your arrogant ignorance. I choose to recognize limitations in my research to avoid overstating conclusions. But then again I’m more interested in analyzing real data than writing narratives based on unfalsifiable assumptions.

Is there any reason that carbon-14 dating should not be calibrated against uranium-thorium dating? That you think this is a self-calibration argument tends to indicate you don’t have a good grasp of how the methods work and why C-14 would need to be calibrated.

C-14 dating works on formerly living things. Alone among the isotope dating methods, it is dependent on a reasonable assumption that the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the atmosphere was relatively constant for a period of time. Where those ratios vary, calibration is necessary. For example, we know that the ratios have changed since the dramatic increases in the exploitation of fossil fuels in the past 200 years – and consequently, reputable and honest C-14 daters use the well-established calibration tables to adjust, for objects thought to be less than 200 years old.

Similarly, since the ratios of the isotopes in water differ from that found in the atmosphere, and to this time differ in a way that cannot be accurately accounted for, dating animals that live in water, such as clams or oysters, is known to be inaccurate. Honest scientists don’t propose to date such creatures by C-14 methods. Dishonest people sometimes do propose to date them with C-14, but being dishonest about the age of clams is not a crime for those who don’t seek federal funding for their studies (have you ever noted that creationists never apply for federal grants for their studies?).

Of course, Mr. Apeman makes no allowance for the reasonableness of such “assumptions” with regard to C-14, nor does he explain that, when the calibrations can be carefully made based on confirmable evidence, whose confirmation can be repeated in the laboratory as often as one wishes, they become experimentally proven claims, rather than assumptions.

Argon dating of igneous rock depends on no cross-calibration with any other isotope. The various uranium dating methods depend on no cross-calibration with any other isotopes. That the dates obtained with these methods happen to correspond is not an assumption made by physicists a priori, but is instead dramatic confirmation of the accuracy of what a Christian might call “God’s little radioactive clocks.” Mr. Apeman also fails to note that.

Since the ages of the oldest rocks are generally based on uranium dating which includes no cross calibration, again I note that there is no set of assumptions that would suggest that the dates are in error, except an assumption that the universe was created by a deceitful creator who monkeys with the rules of universe solely to mislead humans who seek answers about nature. We Christians reject such creationist assumptions as blasphemous non-starters; we who rely on science reject such assumptions as wholly unevidenced by nature.

The oldest rocks on Earth, such as the Vishnu Schists from the basement of the Grand Canyon, point to Earth’s age as about 4.5 billion years. The rocks from the Moon brought back by the crews of various Apollo missions point to the Moon’s age as about 4.5 billion years (Harrison Schmidt, the geologist along on the last mission, is Christian, by the way – it’s rather distasteful that creationists label such a man’s work as “erroneous” or “biased” with such alacritous disregard for the facts of his faith). Those rocks thought (by chemical makeup and the fact that they are meteoroids) to be from Mars point to Mars’ age as about 4.5 billion years.

Such agreement would be incredibly statistically improbable if by pure coincidence – probably statistically more improbable than life springing full blown from a bowl of prehistoric prebiotic soup. (Quoth Gary Larson’s caveman: “Not prebiotic soup again!”)

Or, as we might look at it in a good, honest Sunday school class, God’s creation from roughly a third of the planets of our solar system tells a consistent story. It is only creationism that is out of step with the facts in this matter.

Evolution isn’t enough, Mr. Apeman. We must also learn to use our brains to make some of these calculations, and use our moral sense (called essential by Darwin) to have the guts to stick with the facts.

a little late, but I’m convinced that the apeman is just a pseudonym for Davison.

In his first post, EA said this:

“You guys are going to have to do better than this if you want to prevent the greatest hoax in history from being exposed”

that is almost verbatim the stuff that JAD spouts.

are there any real trolls here, or just JAD?

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This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on March 27, 2005 4:44 PM.

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