Thursday, March 27, 2008

On Blogging as a Student

I have been wanting to start a blog for the past 2 years...ever since I started reading ScienceBlogs actually. However, I have been hesitant about actually going through with it, mainly because I'm only 18 (19 in 2 days!). I am still constantly changing my opinions on almost everything. I only became and atheist and skeptic 2 years ago, although I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. And I very often say things that I realize later are just plain wrong. Every journal I have ever kept has been a good source of mocking laughter a year or two later.

There are a few reasons I finally decided to do this thing. First of all, I need to improve my writing. I have never been much of a writer, but I discovered that I actually do enjoy writing about science. I'm hoping that I can develop that ability in this blog, so please try to bear with any incoherency as I do so.

The second reason is, despite the fact that they do change, I have some very strong opinions. And as I wrote in my first post, I need somewhere besides my facebook to rant about them.

And lastly, even though I still do change my mind about many things, I think that I am finally becoming the person that I am likely to remain for the rest of my life. And hopefully, as I embark on this strange journey through college and into adulthood, this blog will help me sort things out.

That being said, I am only a college freshman and I don't know much. So please, please point out when I'm wrong (and if you could do it nicely, that would be appreciated). And even though I may not agree with you, I will definitely take your comments with an open mind!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


PZ Myers has just written this post about Suzan Mazur, whom I have actually seen before but wasn't aware if it until now. Myers's post is about her article on the Theory of Form, but there is also a link to her article: Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism As Religion. It is hard for me to believe that someone would ever write this, especially since I was at both of the events she mentions. Right at the beginning of the article she says:
Atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins spoke to a packed auditorium at Manhattan's Ethical Culture Society Saturday night about his best-selling book, The God Delusion , admitting in a Q&A that followed being "guilty" of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion and vowing to "reform"
I can only assume she is referring to one of the questioners, who mentioned that referring to someone as a "Darwinist" is strange since we don't refer to people who believe in relativity as "Einsteinists," etc. This wasn't actually how he phrased the question, but I think I've captured the general idea. Regardless, there was no mention of Darwinism as a religion, and Dawkins certainly did NOT renounce it as one. He merely conceded that the questioner made a good point and "raised his consciousness" to this oddity, and that he will try to avoid using the term Darwinism in the future.

Next, she recounts her own question to Dawkins at Barnes and Noble in Tribeca, the night before. She asked him about the Altenburg Evolution Summit. She recounts the conversation rather faithfully, as far as I can remember, except for this:

Suzan Mazur: You might have a look at the story I put up.

Richard Dawkins: No. I'm sorry I've got to answer the question now.

Dawkins wasn't saying no to her request that he read the article. The moderator of the event tried to move on from the Mazur's question, because it was turning into more of a dialogue, and Dawkins was actually saying he must answer Mazur's question. It's not really that important and I don't know if Mazur left that out purposely, but I just figured I'd point it out. Anyway, the key point is this what Dawkins says about the Theory of Form:

I see a lot of value in that kind of approach. It is something we can't as biologists afford to neglect. However, it absolutely neglects the question where does the illusion of design come from? Where do animals and plants get this powerful impression that they have been brilliantly designed for a purpose? Where does that come from?

That does not come from the laws of physics on their own. That cannot come from anything that has so far been suggested by anybody other than natural selection. So I don't see any conflict at all between the theory of natural selection -- the gene-centered theory of natural selection, I should say -- and the theory of form. We need both. We need both. And it is disingenuous to present the one as antagonistic to the other.

I find it amusing the Mazur chose to interpret the combination of these two responses from Dawkins as him renouncing Darwinism and embracing the theory of form, because there is no way a vaguely intelligent human being who actually heard what Dawkins said at both these events would come to this conclusion. I have no clue what her objective is, but she just comes off as completely nuts.

In the comments section of Myers's original post, H.H. recalled the "Darwinism" question and Dawkins's response much better than I did:
During the Q&A session one young man stood up and asked Dawkins why he used the term Darwinism when referring to the theory of evolution. While noting that it is still common to do so in England, most American scientists eschew the term because of the manner in which it plays into the hands of creationists. We don't speak of Newtonism or Einsteinism, the young man pointed out, and referring to the theory of evolution as "Darwinism" might give some the mistaken view that evolution is nothing more than a religion or cult of personality.

Now here's the really amazing thing: despite being about 30 years the young man's senior, Dawkins thoughtfully assented. He agreed that the young questioner had a point, one which he hadn't fully considered before. Perhaps "Darwinian" has it's place, but maybe "Darwinism" should be retired as too likely to be misconstrued. We in the audience saw a respected writer and science advocate who was willing to reevaluate himself and his choice of expression, and we all loudly applauded Dawkins' open-mindedness and willingness to change. It was a great moment.

Well, Now That I'm Back...

I may as well stay for a while. It's a good diversion from the paper I should be writing. So in the last 48 hours:

  • The whole Expelled thing has died down a bit. However, as New Humanist points out, PZ's original post on his expulsion was fourth most popular in the world. Hopefully the hypocrisy of the makers of Expelled was exposed, but I'm still skeptical of whether it came to the attention of many people who didn't already have their minds made up.
  • Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math has an excellent post up about the framing issue. I agree with him completely.
  • Mooney and Nisbet Are going to be giving a talk at Princeton on March 31 about Framing Science. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to go. I'll come back here write about how it goes.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pulled Out a of Long Hiatus By the ID vs Evolution Turned Political Framers vs Vocal Critics "Controversy"

So I've been gone for a while, not that anyone noticed because I hadn't been blogging for long enough to gain any readers. However, with the recent Expelled fiasco, I felt the need to come back here and get my opinion out. This is as much of an exercise in me figuring out exactly what I think about the whole ordeal as it is in me communicating my insignificant opinion to whoever happens to be reading this.

First of all, if you are unfamiliar with the incident (which I can't imagine, because it seems like it is what everyone in the science blogosphere is talking about) Greg Laden has summarized what happened, and provided links to many of the news sources and blogs that discuss it. That entry alone can provide you with some idea of how the issue has been completely blown out of proportion. I had a good chuckle to myself on the night of the event, after reading PZ Myers's first post about being Expelled from Expelled. However, since then, the discussion has taken a large turn from the jovial tone of Myers first post. Chris Mooney thinks that the "hoopla" surrounded PZ's expulsion will actually help Expelled in the long run. His fellow framer, Matt Nisbet, also weighed in, and said some things that many, including PZ, were not happy about.

Since then, the atmosphere on quite a few of the ScienceBlogs has become reminiscent of a middle school cafeteria.

This controversy has brought the whole issue of framing to my attention. I have only recently been exposed to this idea and hadn't given it that much thought. I'm still trying to formulate my opinion on the issue - I have always been rather vocal (not publicly since I'm a student and have no forum for doing so, but in my conversations) about the fact that I don't think religion and science are really compatible. However, I don't find it astonishing that going around, declaring this to the world, may not be the best tactical approach. As a young idealist who believes that science should be about what is true, and not about what you want to hear, I am not immediately sympathetic to the idea of being so political when communicating science. But if it is something that would be for the greater good in the long run, I can see where Mooney and Nisbet are coming from (although I'm not convinced they are approaching it the right way).

Regardless, I think Mooney and Nisbet are completely wrong about this particular situation. Frankly, what Dawkins and Myers have said and done so far with this issue probably won't make much difference at all, for better or for worse. Sure, it's had some coverage in the NY the science section... The people who read that section almost certainly already have their minds made up on the issue of Evolution vs ID. Other than that, it has been covered by a few Christian news sources, a couple of local papers, and blogs. It's not exactly the news that everyone is talking about (besides the science bloggers). I actually think it would be better if this was brought to wider attention, the hypocrisy is obvious to anyone that is not a complete IDiot.

But, really, the science community needs to stop fighting among themselves about this. There have been a few voices of reason who have expressed themselves much more eloquently on the subject than I could ever hope to. So I will direct you to Dr. Free Ride, and Sean Carroll
(from whom I stole part of the title of this post) who analyze the sitution logically, and probably convey what I think better than I did in this post.