Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some folks should stick to their medium.

I love reading the funnies, and have a special place in my heart for those most brilliant cartoonists. I owe a huge debt to Bill Waterson (I hate everyone of you fuckers with those stupid Calvin pissing on ford/chevy stickers on your car; way to ruin it for everyone, assholes), Berkely Breathed, Gary Larson, and Gary Trudeau for their role in helping me form my world view. They may seem silly, but read every day and framing current events and human situations in unique and humorous ways helps shape curious little developing minds. I later came to also love Dilbert, The Boondocks, Get Fuzzy, and Non Sequitor. I would read the other ones, even Family Circus and Cathy and I have a strange place in my heart for Prince Valiant, but these are the ones that I look forward to reading, that really seemed to have something to really add to interpretation of the human experience.

Dilbert I relate to perhaps less than the others because I tend to do my best to stay away from beauracracy and corporate life as much as is possible in this modern world of ours, but I still find the strip funny and entertaining. scott adams can write a comic strip. But having just been introduced to his blog, I think I'll do my best to steer clear of it. It comes across as smarmy and obnoxiously know-it-all in a sort of you-can't-trust-anything kind of way that is as useless as it is annoying.

Anyone who knows me knows about how much I like folks jumping into scientific debates without knowing much of anything about what they are talking about. So maybe I would be kinder on mr. adams had I not first found him throwing his hat in with the intelligent design folks:

The Dilbert Blog: Intelligent Design, Part 1

PZ Meyers does a wonderful job of taking apart his arguments piece by piece, so I'll mostly defer to him:

Pharyngula::Scott Adams is a Wally

From reading scott's second post about how uncredible and ridiculous everyone is on either side of the debate, I am certain he would take ofense as me characterizing him as being in cahootze with the i.d.ers, but his post seems mostly aimed at arguing that science is basically untrustworthy and uses their terminology for framing the debate, so pardon me if I take his i'm-neutral posturing as unconvincing.

He then has a third post on the debacle titled "Who Is Credible to Me?" It is no more illuminating and only further makes my heart sink as one more fairly talented person in his main medium comes across as an obnoxious pointless contrarian outside of it.

There are just a few little things about his arguments that I want to question before I wash my hands of this whole mess. In the first post, he opines:

"First of all, you’d be hard pressed to find a useful debate about Darwinism and Intelligent Design, of the sort that you could use to form your own opinion. I can’t find one, and I’ve looked. What you have instead is each side misrepresenting the other’s position and then making a good argument for why the misrepresentation is wrong. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the comments I get to this post.)"


"The Intelligent Design people have a not-so-kooky argument against the idea of trusting 90%+ of scientists. They point out that evolution is supported by different branches of science (paleontologists, microbiologists, etc.) and those folks are specialists who only understand their own field. That’s no problem, you think, because each scientist validates Darwinism from his or her own specialty, then they all compare notes, and everything fits. Right?

"Here’s where it gets interesting. The Intelligent Design people allege that some experts within each narrow field are NOT convinced that the evidence within their specialty is a slam-dunk support of Darwin. Each branch of science, they say, has pro-Darwinists who acknowledge that while they assume the other branches of science have more solid evidence for Darwinism, their own branch is lacking in that high level of certainty. In other words, the scientists are in a weird peer pressure, herd mentality loop where they think that the other guy must have the “good stuff.”

"Is that possible? I have no way of knowing."

Please, mr. scott, where have you looked? I really honestly want to know what you have read about biology. Have you taken a college level biology course, have you read _On the Origin of the Species_ or any of the more modern books on the subject? I wouldn't start with Richard Dawkins if you are new to science, but Stephen J. Gould wrote expansively and skillfully for a popular audience as has E. O. Wilson. Really, what texts are you basing your arguments on? Where does you understanding of science come from? Your arguments sound like someone who read one book on intelligent design and a couple of articles written for Time or the Washington Post about the controversy instead of actually reading about science.

And as to the idea that specialists understand only their little field and are assuming other branches hold the real evidence for evolution, please tell me you are kidding. For my undergraduate degree in marine biology, we had to take a broad range of biology classes in addition to physics classes, general and organic chemistry classes, geology, and oceanography. Functioning in biology requires a broad understanding of sciences in general and while scientists may have pet specializations, they have to have an abilty to put their work in a larger frame work for it to be very useful. It isn't a bunch of isolated, near-sighted hermits carving out these tiny little pieces of knowledge that are then cobbled together willy-nilly based on some assuptions about other folks over the way knowing something that makes their version work.

One more little peeve, the suggestion that it is ridiculous to lump the i.d. folks in with the creationist folks. When we talk about intelligent design, we aren't talking about biologists who believe in god. A scientist religious beliefs are irrelavent if they don't taint his work. The folks promoting i.d. are promoting it for religious/political reasons. Dig into who is backing the i.d. stuff and where the i.d. curriculums are coming from. It still wouldn't be included as science even if it was just what folks say it is; what are you going to test for? How does it become anything other than an anecdotal argument ("Look at how beautiful and wonderful everything is? Kind of makes you believe there is someone out there. You can see god's hand in nature's beauty and function.") and if it isn't, then why are people trying to insert it into curricula? It is being promoted as an assault on science and an attempt to sow doubt in the public sphere about biology and evolution because these are used to argue against folks' uncritical acceptance of religious dogma. I saw Julia Sweeney's one-woman show "Letting Go of God" last week and a particularly amusing part was about dating a fellow that was into intelligent design. (if you can go see the show, i highly recommend it.)

Anyway, whatever. scott adams never was really that high in the pantheon of comic strip artists and this really can be left separate from appreciation of his little cartoon world which is so enjoyable, so I can just turn away from the annoying blog and be done with it. I really hope he does take the time to read more about science though. For the uninnitiated, I really do recommend Stephen J. Gould as a good starting point. All of his books are excellent and often collections of stand-alone essays so they don't necessary require cover to cover reading to take something useful away (though reading cover to cover is still encouraged).

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