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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

So much for "the science is settled"

Now it is the turn of evolutionary scientists discover that Richard Dawkins is a deeply unpleasant individual:
A disagreement between the twin giants of genetic theory, Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson, is now being fought out by rival academic camps in an effort to understand how species evolve.

The learned spat was prompted by the publication of a searingly critical review of Wilson's new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, in Prospect magazine this month. The review, written by Dawkins, author of the popular and influential books The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, has prompted more letters and on-line comment than any other article in the recent history of the magazine and attacks Wilson's theory "as implausible and as unsupported by evidence".

"I am not being funny when I say of Edward Wilson's latest book that there are interesting and informative chapters on human evolution, and on the ways of social insects (which he knows better than any man alive), and it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution, but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory," Dawkins writes.

The Oxford evolutionary biologist, 71, has also infuriated many readers by listing other established academics who, he says, are on his side when it comes to accurately representing the mechanism by which species evolve. Wilson, in a short piece penned promptly in response to Dawkins's negative review, was also clearly annoyed by this attempt to outflank him.

"In any case," Wilson writes, "making such lists is futile. If science depended on rhetoric and polls, we would still be burning objects with phlogiston [a mythical fire-like element] and navigating with geocentric maps."
As I noted a few years ago in The Irrational Atheist, Richard Dawkins is not a scientist, he is an ex-scientist. Dawkins has always been inept when it comes to arguing against intelligent and informed interlocutors, so it should come as no surprise that he would blunder badly when trying to take on EO Wilson, even in the event that he happens to be right.

Dawkins's statement also raises a serious question. If a famous and heavily credentialed biologist like EO Wilson truly does not understand evolutionary theory, what could possibly be the use of attempting to teach it in public schools?

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55 Comments:

Anonymous Amir Larijani July 10, 2012 1:18 PM  

Oh come now, Vox! No True Evolutionist would argue like Dawkins...or PZ...or...

Blogger Astrosmith July 10, 2012 1:19 PM  

Time for another Epic Rap Battle of History.

Anonymous Axe Head July 10, 2012 1:33 PM  

Why don't they each do some experiments to validate his theory? Then we can compare the predictive value of each theory with the experimental results.

To play with the Slashdot joke:

1. Theorize
2. ???
3. Settled!

The ??? is where you used to do experiments. Now it's "build a noisy faction of support, bigger than any other faction."

Blogger Earl July 10, 2012 1:34 PM  

When will social Darwinism become mainstream again?

Anonymous WinstonWebb July 10, 2012 1:44 PM  

He's much smarter than you, he's got a Science degree!

Anonymous JartStar July 10, 2012 1:50 PM  

They are just self correcting.

Anonymous DT July 10, 2012 1:51 PM  

But but but...Not All Evolutionists Are Like That

Anonymous DT July 10, 2012 1:52 PM  

"In any case," Wilson writes, "making such lists is futile. If science depended on rhetoric and polls, we would still be burning objects with phlogiston [a mythical fire-like element] and navigating with geocentric maps."

And spending money on Global Warming...er...Global Climate Change.

Anonymous dh July 10, 2012 2:05 PM  

> If a famous and heavily credentialed biologist like EO Wilson truly does
> not understand evolutionary theory, what could possibly be the use of
> attempting to teach it in public schools?

Few people are truly capable of understanding calculus, or even algebra in all of it's complexities and details. Yet that's still taught routinely.

Anonymous Jimmy July 10, 2012 2:06 PM  

From the comments section "What's annoying to me about these professional disagreements is that the creationist brigade will inevitably use them to declare evolution bogus as "even the scientists can't agree". They ought to be very well aware of this and keep it courteous and avoid ad-hominem attacks."

1. Why does it matter if the science is solid?
2. I guess it isn't.

Anonymous jerry July 10, 2012 2:18 PM  

Dawkins' best publicity photo is "the sneer"?? Lol!

Still, it's better than Vox's "I get misty" look.

Anonymous DT July 10, 2012 2:26 PM  

Few people are truly capable of understanding calculus, or even algebra in all of it's complexities and details. Yet that's still taught routinely.

True, but knowing even part of those subjects has tangible benefits in the real world.

Anonymous Suomynona July 10, 2012 2:43 PM  

dh July 10, 2012 2:05 PM
Few people are truly capable of understanding calculus, or even algebra in all of it's complexities and details. Yet that's still taught routinely.


dh must be female. Math is hard... therefore evolution must also be taught.

Hey, dh, next time they use the theory of evolution to actually achieve anything, you know, like they constantly do with mathematics, you can make that case. The fact that evolution isn't used for anything other than pushing the godless agenda, your statement comparing mathematics and this theory is irrational and beyond idiotic.

Anonymous TheVillageIdiotRet July 10, 2012 2:43 PM  

I agree to disagree.


This is why I love science,
There is no "one right answer".

DannyR

Anonymous Stickwick July 10, 2012 3:01 PM  

Few people are truly capable of understanding calculus, or even algebra in all of it's complexities and details.

a) This is an inept analogy.

b) No one with a PhD in math has trouble with calculus or algebra. Vox's point was that if experts in evolutionary biology don't understand their own subject, how can it possibly be taught at the pre-university level?

c) Your statement is untrue. The only reason anyone of average+ intelligence has difficulty with algebra or calculus is because math is typically the worst-taught subject in school. With a competent teacher, just about anyone can learn algebra, and a great many can learn calculus.

Anonymous Stickwick July 10, 2012 3:04 PM  

My favorite comment so far ...

"Geocentric maps? Who is this guy Wilson, some kind of space traveller?"

Blogger Earl July 10, 2012 3:09 PM  

Noes! Evolution is not a theory- it is a FACT. It is LAW! And math is only theory- based on humans egocentrically pretending they can deal in facts and truth!

Don't you know how ignorant you are?! Luckily I'm smart and skeptical enough to tell you.

Blogger Earl July 10, 2012 3:10 PM  

All my maps are gynocentric.

Anonymous Feh July 10, 2012 3:17 PM  

This is why I love science,
There is no "one right answer".


Note to self: never drive over a bridge or get in a plane built by someone who thinks this...

Anonymous Feh July 10, 2012 3:20 PM  

With a competent teacher, just about anyone can learn algebra, and a great many can learn calculus.

Yeah, but they can't learn all the complexities and details, whatever the hell those are.

Anonymous Starbuck July 10, 2012 3:32 PM  

Hey.. I can solve the sceintific establishments arguements towards evolution:

You are both wrong. Get over it. God created this world in 6 days. You will find out eventually that the Bible is true. Everyone will. Maybe you will come to your senses before then and turn to God, you know the one thing you can't stand to think about? Wonder about? Evolution is a deception...

Blogger James Higham July 10, 2012 3:44 PM  

Full circle, Vox, full circle. Beautiful to watch.

Anonymous Richardthughes July 10, 2012 3:46 PM  

Well, there's the 'what' of it and the 'how' of it. We're only really getting to the heart of the 'how' of gravity right now.

Anonymous Russell July 10, 2012 4:24 PM  

"We're only really getting to the heart of the 'how' of gravity right now."

Right.

"You can trust biologists. Because physicists get amazingly accurate results."

Anonymous jerry July 10, 2012 4:32 PM  

We're only really getting to the heart of the 'how' of gravity right now.

No, no we're not. I know you've probably wet yourself over all the hype about Higgs, but a Higgs mechanism is only a transfer of energy. It says nothing about where mass comes from or how it is generated.

Anonymous Richardthughes July 10, 2012 4:36 PM  

"getting to" not "got to", Jerry. Calm down.

Anonymous jerry July 10, 2012 4:47 PM  

"really getting to the heart".

Sounds like some bullcrap you read in NewScientist. It's a lie, of course.

Anonymous Smarty Pants July 10, 2012 5:01 PM  

Didn't realize Dawkins was that old.

Seems funny that a guy his age debates like an adolescent.

Anonymous Richardthughes July 10, 2012 5:04 PM  

Thanks for sniping, Jerry. Of course we're moving further way from the heart, learning less with each discovery. I always get that bit mixed up.

Anonymous jerry July 10, 2012 5:33 PM  

"In any case, neither the Higgs mechanism nor it's elaborations, such as Heinz Dehnen's modification, which imply automatically the validity of the weak equivalence principle, contribute to our understanding of the nature of mass."

-Max Jammer, Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy

Got that? It does not contribute to our understanding of the nature of mass. Zero contribution to zero understanding of how mass is generated = zero understanding - not "really getting to the heart" as you in your blighted ignorance proclaimed.

You're welcome, moron.

Anonymous DrTorch July 10, 2012 6:00 PM  

Dawkins also feuded with Steven J Gould about evolutionary models.

Suddenly this seems even more like WWE, where the feuds are created expressly to increase sales. Obviously the matches are scripted, and none of their events indicate who's the better athlete. So it would seem even more that evolutionary biology is scripted, and none of their efforts indicate anything new about science.

Oh, and I'm the first to compare evolution to phlogiston, so now Wilson is using my material.

Anonymous Richardthughes July 10, 2012 6:20 PM  

Nice Max Jammer quote from 1990. Unfortunately Max Jammer is no longer with us so we can't know what his contemporary views would be. Finding the Higgs boson (which provides support for the Higgs mechanism and thus the standard model) also clearly has implications for hypothesized models of gravity, be they supersymmetry or whatever. Don't shit yourself, Jerry. Pissy old men are funny, but not that funny.

Anonymous James Dixon July 10, 2012 7:01 PM  

Somewhat off topic, but speaking of the science being settled.

Anonymous DT July 10, 2012 8:26 PM  

Somewhat off topic, but speaking of the science being settled.

Obviously the Romans were destroying the Earth with their oil wells and SUVs.

Anonymous jerry July 10, 2012 8:32 PM  

Real quick: The book is from 2000, Jammer died waaaaay back in 2010, supersymmetry is not a model of gravity, and I'm not shitting myself I'm trying to help you to not sound like an utter moron.

Fat, gay, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

Anonymous Vidad July 10, 2012 8:47 PM  

"If a famous and heavily credentialed biologist like EO Wilson truly does not understand evolutionary theory, what could possibly be the use of attempting to teach it in public schools?"

That is brilliant. Right to heart of it, there.

Anonymous Johnycomelately July 10, 2012 9:45 PM  

I wonder how 'Saturn theory' would play into this, I for one would like to see how geneticists explain away the fact that dinosaurs could not possibly reach their sizes under the earth's current gravitational field.

Anonymous Toby Temple July 10, 2012 10:25 PM  

Biology... female human anatomy was very interesting..

oh.. I'm sorry. You were talking about evolution. It was a boring subject.

Anonymous zen0 July 10, 2012 11:30 PM  

Feh July 10, 2012 3:17 PM

This is why I love science,
There is no "one right answer".

Note to self: never drive over a bridge or get in a plane built by someone who thinks this...


Don't confuse science with engineering.

Anonymous zen0 July 10, 2012 11:31 PM  

And don't confuse sagacity with literality.

Anonymous jay c July 10, 2012 11:45 PM  

Fat, gay, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

Thanks, jerry! That's why I keep coming back here.

Anonymous The other skeptic July 11, 2012 12:03 AM  

Retaliative legislation against the rent seekers

Anonymous kh123 July 11, 2012 1:02 AM  

[Paraphrased to the best of my memory.]

Local NKVD bigwig Krylov to local foods administrator Vlasov:
"Give an accounting of the wrecking activity and food shortages in your district, by those under you."

Vlasov to Krylov:
"You're the arresting officer in charge; you give the account."

Krylov:
"I am unfamiliar with the case."

Vlasov:
"If even *you* are unfamiliar with the case, then that means they were arrested for no reason at all."

Even in the Soviet Union, this was an effective parry.

Anonymous Jason July 11, 2012 2:38 AM  

You think Richard Dawkins is bad, but my oh my the evolutionist Jerry Coyne takes the cake. Check out his wedsite Why Evolution is True - the contempt that he has for anybody who opposes his particular materialist/evolutionist worldview is a sight to behold - he is literally dripping with contempt.

Anonymous ICP July 11, 2012 4:50 AM  

"Dawkins's statement also raises a serious question. If a famous and heavily credentialed biologist like EO Wilson truly does not understand evolutionary theory, what could possibly be the use of attempting to teach it in public schools?"

They sometimes try to teach economics in public schools. There must be at least as much disagreement among economists as there is among evolutionary biologists. Draw your own conclusion from that; I'm just throwing it out there.

Quantum mechanics is another thing that no one really understands, but it's not generally taught in public schools, I don't think. Maybe a very simplified version is presented. Then again, how different is that from how evolutionary biology is typically taught?

Blogger Duke of Earl July 11, 2012 7:24 AM  

Is he an asshole because he's an atheist, or is he an atheist because he's an asshole.

Jason1975

Anonymous FrankNorman July 11, 2012 7:36 AM  

Dawkins's statement also raises a serious question. If a famous and heavily credentialed biologist like EO Wilson truly does not understand evolutionary theory, what could possibly be the use of attempting to teach it in public schools?

People like Dawkins think the only people who "understand" Darwinism are those who agree with him 100% about it.
If you question it at all, then you don't "understand".
So indoctrinating schoolchildren to parrot a load of evo-dogma fits right in with his worldview.

Anonymous Richardthughes July 11, 2012 10:31 AM  

jerry:

"Real quick: The book is from 2000,"

Fair enough, my mistake.

"Jammer died waaaaay back in 2010,"

Oh in that case I'll call him and ask his current views, then. 0_o

"supersymmetry is not a model of gravity,"

But its confirmation or disconfirmation had major implications for models of gravity

" and I'm not shitting myself"

It must be residue, then.

"I'm trying to help you to not sound like an utter moron."

Why thank you.

"Fat, gay, and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

I can imagine in the modern world it would be problematic. But its still infinitely preferable to having you as a parent.

Anonymous Stickwick July 11, 2012 10:44 AM  

Quantum mechanics is another thing that no one really understands, but it's not generally taught in public schools, I don't think.

While it may be true that no one fully understands QM, it does have a successful track record of making predictions and explaining phenomena. I'm not a biologist, but my sense is that TE(p)NSBMGDaGF does not have a similar track record.

Anonymous physphilmusic July 11, 2012 11:52 AM  

You think Richard Dawkins is bad, but my oh my the evolutionist Jerry Coyne takes the cake. Check out his wedsite Why Evolution is True - the contempt that he has for anybody who opposes his particular materialist/evolutionist worldview is a sight to behold - he is literally dripping with contempt.

Not to mention stupid as well - he was involved in the recent Jesus Mythers Carrier/Ehrman fiasco, throwing his full support behind the former, putting himself in a situation which looked eerily similar to the moments when a prominent rogue scientist publicly states he doubts evolutionary theory...

Blogger RobertT July 11, 2012 2:10 PM  

"A disagreement between the twin giants of genetic theory, Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson, is now being fought out by rival academic camps in an effort to understand how species evolve."

Let me get this straight. So whoever wins the fight wins the argument? That makes sense. No wonder science and scientists are so screwed up.

Blogger AndrewV July 11, 2012 2:20 PM  

@Vox,

FFS I expect this kind of argument from PZ Myers not you!


@DrTorch July 10, 2012 6:00 PM
" Dawkins also feuded with Steven J Gould about evolutionary models".

Please! Gould was a bulshitter:
http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001071

"That Morton's data are reliable despite his clear bias weakens the argument of Gould and others that biased results are endemic in science".

Anonymous VD July 12, 2012 5:52 AM  

FFS I expect this kind of argument from PZ Myers not you!

I'm curious... what argument is it that you think I'm making? Do enlighten us.

Blogger AndrewV July 13, 2012 3:08 PM  

@VD,

Any objection to my taking this email?

In the interim, I proffer apologies for comparing you to P.Z. Myers. That was unfair.

Blogger AndrewV July 13, 2012 5:23 PM  

@VD
I changed my mind. While it is true that I am busy, it is also a rationalization to spare myself from proffering another apology.

Basically, the problem I have with your argument is that the dispute between Dawkins and Wilson is over specific aspects of "natural selection" not over the theory of evolution, and to characterize it as such is dishonest.

It did not occur to me that that you did not understand what the argument was about.

So my apologies in that respect and especially for equating you to P.Z. Myers, which I view as an especially egregious insult.

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