Scott Adams reads Newsweek. Uh-oh.

| 9 Comments

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, the insignificant, minute information Adams has on evolution must be exceedingly risky—it's like the atom bomb of ignorance. In this case, it's not entirely his fault, though. He read the recent Newsweek cover story on evolution, which fed his biases and readily led him smack into the epicenter of his own blind spots, and kerblooiee, he exploded.

This is a case where the flaws in a popular science article neatly synergize with an evolution-denialist's misconceptions to produce a perfect storm of stupidity.

Continue reading "Scott Adams reads Newsweek. Uh-oh." (on Pharyngula)

9 Comments

My favorite part is where someone recommends reading a website about a “new theory of evolution” because the author comes highly recommended… by LeVar Burton. Isn’t he LaForge from one of the Star Trek series? And if so, why on earth would his recommendations about anything scientific mean something?

All this begs the question of why anyone would care what the author of the Dilbert comic thinks about anything other than comic strips (perhaps). Drawing for the funny pages doesn’t exactly make one an expert in either molecular biology or paleontology. Scott Adams’ opinion on these matters should carry about as much weight as my own opinions on Neolithic Swedish cave paintings.

It’s sort of sad though. I’ve read ‘Dilbert’ for years, and I would have expected more from a man who earns his living spoofing people who won’t think clearly or see beyond their own blinders.

I just got my irony meter fixed, so that’s all I’m gonna say.

Neolithic Swedish cave paintings? Are their any cave paintings in Sweden? Maybe rock drawings.

I know there are painted caves in France and Spain - but I’ve not yet heard of one in Sweden.

I haven’t looked into this one yet, but I have to keep reminding people to NOT take anything that Scott Adams seriously, no matter HOW serious he seems.

normdoering Wrote:

Neolithic Swedish cave paintings? Are their any cave paintings in Sweden? Maybe rock drawings.

I know there are painted caves in France and Spain - but I’ve not yet heard of one in Sweden.

See what I mean? I have no idea whether or not there are any because I don’t know a thing about the subject. I can barely spell “Lascaux,” if at all. Thus, if I ever express an opinion on the subject, it should be ignored immediately… just as should Scott Adams’ and LeVar Burton’s opinions on evolutionary biology, et al.

In general I believe in an encouraging approach when people try to understand science, but somehow, it has to mixed with a “you really don’t know what the muck you’re talking about, do you” message, when they voice a seemingly moronic opinion. A lot of times a Socratic approach works. “Scott, you say you have a problem with ‘fossils’. I’m trying to understand what you mean. Can you give me a specific example, for example, an example of a fossil you’re aware of that you think may be misclassified or otherwise wrongly interpreted?

Back when creationists used to dare to post on uncensored sites, I was often able to challenge them successfully just be repeatedly asking them to explain the theory of evolution.

Adams is just another clever guy who thinks, for some reason, that with no training, he understands paleontology. He doesn’t think he understands solid state physics (unless he actually has training in it); why does he think he understands paleontology?

I don’t know why, but I do know the “biology bias” (laypeople’s belief that they can understand biomedical science without any background knowledge) is common.

The journalistic bias of falsely presenting scientific progress as a series of conflict-ridden “revolutions” that overturn “orthodoxy” is easily explained.

The minority of us who have a scientific education of some level, or a skeptical mind, may tend to forget that most people form or adopt all sorts of stereotyped, oversimplified opinions, for emotional, cultural, or cognitive heuristic reasons, and defend them with violent anger when challenged. Journalists are for the most part people who avoided scientific study. The only model they know is “conflict between two rival positions” that will be decided, not by examination of evidence and mutual concord, but either by violence, or by financial and legislative battles.

Add to that the “conservative” bias of American journalists educated since 1975, and their output is easily explained.

Adams is complaining both that the science has changed and that it has not. Unfortunately for him, the basic facts of evolution really don’t change—have no reason to change—while the details continue to be worked out. And because he knows essentially nothing about science and how it works, he can’t parse the changes, it just seems contradictory to his uneducated mind.

The thing is that he went to college and learned engineering, then eventually he ended up in a world where he had the scope to comment on just about everything. Well, he’s not going back to school to learn what he’s going to comment upon, he’s going to wing it and utilize all that he doesn’t know in order to criticize whatever he doesn’t understand.

There are no real penalties for his smelling the bullshit in his brain, and thinking that it comes from the outside. It’s what his readers do as well, and they lap up his profound ignorance because it is profound (they just don’t know that it’s a pun on “profound”).

More seriously, this ought to wake up scientists and the rest to the simple fact that most people out there really don’t understand or appreciate the continuity and the change in science. What is more, they can’t, at least not very well. It actually takes some significant knowledge of science in order to recognize the legitimacy, even necessity, of science changing its explanations, while maintaining its core standards and most of its core mechanisms as well.

I know that I observed this in my physician (and creationist) father. The space missions would go out there and change our view of the satellites and planets, and from that he conceived the idea that the scientists really didn’t know what they were talking about. He obviously didn’t understand how it was that some of the best guesses about the details of the planets were indeed overthrown by new discoveries, and indeed, that expensive missions were funded in order to do just that (where appropriate). No matter what the changes that occurred, of course, the physics governing planetary and motion and development, along with spacecraft maneuvers, remained constant, as did the decay rates of the radioactive elements.

My dad actually did know a fair bit more science than most people do, yet he couldn’t really translate the meaning of change and stasis within the workings of science. Being creationist probably was a handicap in this (even where this wasn’t directly affecting his view of science), true, but it was a handicap many Americans have, and the confusion of most of these people is, I am convinced, genuine.

I bring up the shifting in knowledge of our solar system partly because it only goes to show how the various active sciences confuse people. Adams no doubt would not understand change and stasis in physics, geology, astronomy, or any other science, if he cared about those. Yet because evolution is being attacked by people as ignorant as Scott is, though, he only has had his attention drawn to this one branch of science, which, unsurprisingly, he is unequipped to understand in its ongoing search for knowledge and change.

When people are confused first by complex issues in evolution, they gain a prejudice against that science, one that is difficult to overcome.

Scott is derelict in his duty to teach his gullible audience honestly, however, because he is content to ramble on stupidly about science when he doesn’t understand it in particular, nor in general. Though he is answered, he’s not very capable of learning from necessarily short responses (ones that don’t substitute for all of the science courses he’s missing), he needs to get off his worthless tail and actually learn something. He has the money, he’s just too content to be a rich mindless idol to his fans, the latter of whom are generally as intimidated by science as it actually exists as he is.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

I’ve got a little bit of a correspondence goin’ on with Scott Adams. I think Glen D. in his post above hit the nail right on the head. I don’t know what to say to Scott that will persuade him to consider the possibility that he’s simply got it wrong, or that we just completely misunderstand what he’s using as an example, which is fine, considering his education in the area was obviously not designed for a future in paleontology, but that if he spend a little time getting familiar with the subject he’s still be able to criticize it but not by standing on a platform made of smoke.

My favorite part is where someone recommends reading a website about a “new theory of evolution” because the author comes highly recommended… by LeVar Burton. Isn’t he LaForge from one of the Star Trek series? And if so, why on earth would his recommendations about anything scientific mean something?

He is the long-time host of “Reading Rainbow”.

I wonder if that was the context in which the author in question was “highly recommended”?

(“But you don’t have to take my word for it!”)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on March 17, 2007 10:29 AM.

The deniers of science Part 1: Intelligent Design was the previous entry in this blog.

OK, Egnor, it’s time to put up or shut up. is the next entry in this blog.

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