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March 27, 2005

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Bwah-ha-ha!

Splendid.

Boy Howdy! I've been waiting quite a while for someone to publish my ideas on perpetual motion. I'm convinced that thermodynamic stuff is just a theory.

Neiwert

Let the name be a warning to those who don't wish to visit him.

I think this week, this story, does mark a "tipping point" in which the MSM, including not only the TV talk networks, but the best of MSM, NY Times and WaPo, have shown themselves to be totally compromised and willing to be right-wing propaganda machines. There were facts in this case, which the MSM allowed to be "balanced" with obvious falsehoods. Terry Schiavo recognizing people, responding, talking to people was a flat-out lie, a complete impossibility. Yet people were allowed to say it on National TV.

And the left-wing of the blogosphere has passed the MSM in terms of usefulness and credibility.

OK: I gotta buy that issue. Heck, maybe I have to subscribe.

You know, it would actually be a hoot for SA to cover quack science - with exactly that tone, light-hearted drollery. They could start out with Flat Earthism - pointing out each of the internal inconsistencies, the conflicts with established science etc., etc. Maybe have "Meeting of the Minds"-style debates between famous scientists and theologians and scientist/theologians of the past.

Maybe devote one issue per year to rounding up, and making deadpan fun of, the top pseudoscience stories of the year.

"Skeptical Inquirer" sort of does this to the Alien Abduction/ESP/New Age crowd- but it's got a really smarmy attitude about it.

CaseyL: If you subscribe and you have a high-speed internet connection, consider their electronic subscription version. As a print subscriber, I find the fact that I pay good money and can't download stuff because I don't e-subscribe maddening. Nor is it obvious, from their site, how one might convert from one to the other without throwing away the rest of one's print subscription. Grr.

I'm also not sure that there is any such thing as 'the rest' of the April Fool's issue. One has to pay $5 for the regular April issue just to get this pdf. Hmmph.

But subscribing in some form is definitely worth it.

Ah. Thanks for the advice. I'll check it out.

please guys, some alertness!

the effective date of the SA new policy is APRIL 1.

LE: You know, I kinda think we got that.

To hilzoy et al. with subscriptions: I used to subscribe but became irked at the steady decline in number and length of articles (concomitant with an inevitable decline in their quality) and I let it lapse. Would you say they've sharpened themselves back up to the point of being worthwhile again?

Second Anarch's question - I saw a plot once of word length/sentence complexity/something-or-other in SA as a function of time - steady, then a while ago (perhaps twenty years?) dipping then falling.

I seem to recall seeing a plot along the lines that rilkefan describes, as well, though it was not at all recently, and I have no memory whatever as to source (gee, it probably was the World Wide Web!).

I subscribed to SciAm for many years as a youth and teen, and on a couple of occasions later, but then, I, too, found it moving far too much in the direction of simplification and popularization, which is not what I was looking for from it. I hope dumbing down gained them new readers, because they lost me.

Missile defense snark aside, I'd be interested in Slart's take on this post.

Despite my support for Evolution, I think Scientific American should be a little more humble. There has been collateral damage in their war against the Creationists.

Remember when Scientific American refused to hire Forrest Mims III as their "Amateur Scientist" columnist? The job was his, well and justly earned, until they found out that he was a Creationist. Even though his responsibilities would rarely, if ever, intrude into biology, ideological dissonance could not be tolerated.

As an agnostic liberal evolutionist, I nevertheless feel an injustice was done. It's time we liberals express a little of that tolerance we like to brag about.

I recommend we begin by being tolerant of engineers who believe 2+2=5. We have to allow for differing opinions!

We should also be tolerant of airline pilots who believe the earth is flat. Who are we to insist we're right and they're wrong? Fight the injustice! We must grant these people credibility by being tolerant of differing opinion!

The SciAm article has prompted me to confess:

the liberals on this blog do, in fact, hate life and worship death. We are an entire subculture of thantolophiliacs / necrophiliacs who have been waiting for the right moment to come out of the shadows and express our right to be aroused by death. You think the gay marriage wars were bad? Wait till you hear our claim for equal rights to marry the dead.

Plenty of extremely smart and competent people have particular blindspots. I don't see why an "Amateur Scientist" can't have some wacky [in the context] belief as long as he keeps it out of his column. I think Steven Jay Gould had a wacky belief or two that flavored his essays, but they belonged in SA.

I am probably not a good judge of whether either Anarch or rilkefan should subscribe. I tend to read mostly biology articles, having long since given up all hope of understanding physics, or any advanced math (outside the occasional bit of logic.) The amount of background I would have to somehow acquire defeats me. (I should have realized that this might happen when I could not, for all anyone tried, bring myself to accept that .99999 etc = 1; but in fact it took a lot longer.) I suspect, therefore, that our foci (but I can still do math puns) would differ, and thus that my take would not be all that informative to either of you.

The biology seems decent enough, but that might also reflect the fact that IANAD (or a scientist either.)

then a while ago (perhaps twenty years?) dipping then falling.

The really precipitous drop in quality happened about ten years ago, in 1996, I think -- don't quote me on that, though -- when they changed editorships and revamped the magazine substantially. This was in the heyday of moving content online and they were both moving stuff online themselves and reacting to other people making similar material available for free.

I suspect, therefore, that our foci (but I can still do math puns)...

Ew. Just ew.

Apropos of nothing:

When I was in high school I once spent an entire summer reading Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games columns in back issues, and got paid for it too. (Don't ask). Great days.

I still subscribe to SciAm. IMO the best stuff is often in the letters and the shorts at the beginning of the magazine, and of course the puzzles at the end. About one month in three there's a really good longer article - something interesting but not too familiar, explained well. The rest tend to suffer from an annoying pattern of having a first half that's a pretty good introduction to whatever, and then a second half discussing the authors' own research which is so narrowly targeted that it could only possibly be of interest to specialists (who would have been bored to tears by the first half). The mol-bio articles are the worst this way.

I still think it's worth it to subscribe, but there is certainly much room for improvement.

Well, if not SciAm, then who?

Seriously. If I want to subscribe to a magazine that keeps me up to date with what's going on in science, but is comprehensible to a non-math major, is there anything better than SciAm?

Missile defense snark aside, I'd be interested in Slart's take on this post.

My take on this is as before: GMD ain't nearly ready for prime time. There are a number of things about the link that bother me a bit, though: this was emphatically not $100 million washed down the tubes; it was some much smaller amount (certainly a few million, though) representing target cost and range support. This sort of failure, though, is a matter of getting the process settled out than it is of technical difficulty in engaging a target. So it was with the entire THAAD flight test program (which is about ready to start up again after a six-year hiatus, I hear): all of the failures were failures of assembly and test process, rather than of concept.

As I've said before, this is at least a couple of rounds in the foot. You DON'T publicize this sort of testing until you've had some history of tests in which the bugs have shown themselves to be reduced to two dimensions, and you don't conduct flight testing in the media. Failures happen while in development, and every missile program is in development for quite a spell after it's sponsoring agency has begun announcing it's ready for deployment.

This is a dance. It's a complicated one, but it's a dance that's only mystifying to those not dancing. Congress knows the moves, and so does the Pentagon. Not saying they're not both attempting to lead, mind you, and not saying it's got any artistic merit, but the reason things are screwed up lies squarely and equally with both partners.

Ugh. Snark-laden sarcasm with clear undertones of victimization and unwavering, unquestioning intellectual righteousness. Excuse me while I go ralph.

"Snark-laden sarcasm with clear undertones of victimization and unwavering, unquestioning intellectual righteousness. Excuse me while I go ralph."

I was going to label this the most unintentionally funny comment of the month, but then I thought Bird Dog may be getting into the early April Fool's spirit. Which is it?

Snark-laden sarcasm with clear undertones of victimization and unwavering, unquestioning intellectual righteousness.

Pretty much sums up the entire right wing blogosphere at this point.

CaseyL
The magazine The New Scientist has been recommended highly to me. I personally have a problem with both the Scientific American and the New Scientist because they often report about long range linguistic comparisons as if they were proven when they aren't, but that's a personal gripe and shouldn't prevent anyone from enjoying the rest of the magazine. At any rate, a few people who I think are quite sharp have recommended the New Scientist independently of each other. I think it is weekly, and can give you pointers to finding something on the web, which is where you really find everything anyway, right?

I disagree Charles. I've written before about my reservations about "evolution," but I think nothing deserves ridicule as much as the ridiculous notion that science should be forced to account for religion. With regard to pressuring publications to take them seriously, that's the Creationists' (and their formal dress up arm, the IDers') argument in a nutshell: Our religion says differently, therefore you should acknowledge that. And that's beyond arrogant and, let's not mix words here, downright stupid.

What you expect to be taught in your children's school is one thing (although, woe to those who handicap their children's academic potential through stubbornness). What you expect professional scientists to accept is entirely different. There are processes and standards that have not even been close to being met.

The Creationists and IDers have absolutely no right to expect Scientific American to do anything more than ignore their theories. Once they start having peer-reviewed articles published in respected journals, then they'll have some rights to expectations. Until then, though, it is laughable that they would pressure them and such persistent behavior does deserve ridicule (in fact that's the kindest appropriate reponse to it I can think of).

CaseyL: Seriously. If I want to subscribe to a magazine that keeps me up to date with what's going on in science, but is comprehensible to a non-math major, is there anything better than SciAm?

Don't laugh, now: I recommend Nature. It's way over my head in many areas, but much of it is quite readable and it's very good for keeping up to date. I don't pretend to read the whole thing each week, but it's worth the money for what I do read.

Science News is good for light reading -- you often find news items that point to long articles in Nature and elsewhere.

I let my SciAm subscription lapse for the above-cited reasons, after having subscribed for many years.

"Snark-laden sarcasm with clear undertones of victimization and unwavering, unquestioning intellectual righteousness. Excuse me while I go ralph."

Just be careful not to ralph on your right-wing rags that you rely on instead for "science."

I enjoy SciAm. It's gotten quite a bit lighter over the years (a sign, perhaps, that the issues raised in the editorial are quite real), but I find the cosmology discussions fascinating.

Recently, for example, there was an article discussing the expansion of the universe which clearly explained the difference between space expanding (which it is) and objects within space moving away from each other (which they're not). I find the utter ignorance surrounding the concepts of dark matter and dark energy gripping.

the other thing the magazine is good for is to remind laypersons of the nature of the competition and areas of agreement in various disciplines. The various mechanisms explaining the current distribution of species across the planet have not been adequately explored, but the foundations of "descent with modifications" are set firmly. Biologists cannot model the lifecycle of a single cell, but a new era of targeted medication will change the face of modern medicine in our lifetime.

Elitists may make lousy politicians, but they do make good scientists. If the nausea which is causing CB to vomit is something more serious than his daily discharge of bile, I'll bet he'll find better relief at the Mayo Clinic than at the nearest Christian Scientist healer.

"I don't see why an 'Amateur Scientist' can't have some wacky [in the context] belief as long as he keeps it out of his column."

It's not the worst thing in the world, but the argument is perfectly clear. If SciAm (or some similarly reputable outfit) endorses someone as their official "Amateur Scientist" or any such official staff position, the person gets to go on the lecture circuit with that credential: "Speaking Tonight On Intelligent Design, Scientific American Columnist Joe Shmoo!"

You can't appoint someone to a staff position of high visibility at a major scientific outfit and not be giving them the credibility of the organization. That's just how it works. If it were the staff janitor being hired, that would be different. A column in such an immensely high profile scientific publication is a big deal. If you think it isn't, try to get the job yourself. Along with it comes lecture opportunities, tv opportunities, and onward.

I didn't mean to imply that SciAm had become worthless, by the way; not at all; there's still good reading to be found there; I just didn't want to subscribe (not that I have any magazine subscriptions in my budget, anyway; although, if I did, I'd probably put The Atlantic first).

And while I'd not say that either New Scientist or Nature are better or deeper than SciAm these days, they're both full of excellent reading, and that's part of why I'm constantly blogging news items from their online sites all the time.

"Snark-laden sarcasm with clear undertones of victimization and unwavering, unquestioning intellectual righteousness. Excuse me while I go ralph."

Uhh, Charles..... is the is new disclaimer you plan to attach as header to all your posts? Or just the ones dealing with science?

Not to pile on or anything, but...

unwavering, unquestioning intellectual righteousness

I believe it's called "being correct".

Yea, his comment really puts the foundation of his viewpoints into sharp focus, doesn't it?

Mr. Farber

Your criteria would be pretty exclusive. Under that policy SA would not have hired Einstein, worried he might mention something about dice or (secular-humanist-fill-in-the-blank forbid) god. An unorthodox amateur like that cannot be allowed to taint real scientists, like the editors of Scientific American.

Oh yeah, and Bird Dog sucks. Neener-neener.

ladan

"Under that policy SA would not have hired Einstein, worried he might mention something about dice or (secular-humanist-fill-in-the-blank forbid) god."

Oh, please. Relatively few people maintain that belief in God is inherently in conflict with science in any way (certainly I don't). Assertion that a basic aspect of biology is untrue or unproven, on the other hand, is in conflict with science. But feel free to argue this with the Pope.

The Creationists and IDers have absolutely no right to expect Scientific American to do anything more than ignore their theories.

Edward, I don't disagree with SA's stance on the science of evolution, nor their skepticism of ID and creationism. My objection with them is the poor and counter-productive choice to go the juvenile route and basically give their detractors the finger with that silly rant.

The Creationist/ID groups aren't detractors of SA, they're detractors of science. They argue dishonestly, they don't want the requirements of scientific method and inquiry to apply to them, and they certainly don't want their pseudoscience subjected to real scientific analysis in schools.

They don't merit respect. They definitely don't merit having their pseudoscience taken seriously by real science magazines. Creationists/IDers are right up there with phone-in psychics, tealeaf readers, and New Age crystal therapists in terms of scientific validity. They rank far below in terms of intellectual honesty: I don't see psychics, tealeaf readers, et al., demanding equal time in schools.

give their detractors the finger with that silly rant

Geez, an April Fool's issue is 'giving the finger'? Maybe this is more proof of Bob McManus's point that we liberals are so unserious and oblivious.

Well, I thought it was funny, so I guess I'm not serious.

"Creationists/IDers are right up there with phone-in psychics, tealeaf readers, and New Age crystal therapists in terms of scientific validity."

I think flat-earthers is a better comparison, given the gawdawful number of our citizenry who do belief in the above, or astrology, or that the dead can be communicated with. But there don't seem to be too many people left insisting that the Bible makes no reference to a round earth, so it must be flat, any more. Helio-centricism is another equivalent belief.

I'm also reminded that one of the reasons the [GODWIN] regime didn't get close to making an atomic bomb (despite the recent ridiculous claim) was the dismissal of "Jewish science."

PBS Newshour had an interesting, and sad-making, story on evolution/creationism in schools tonight, btw.

Certainly it's not helpful in advancing the debate -- no one's mind will likely be changed by it. But then, not every sentence on the subject needs to accomplish that. It's a fun way to let those who are dismayed by the IDers' assault on the scientific method blow off a little steam, and maybe indulge in some feelings of smug superiority to boot.

Anyway, following up on CaseyL's point, I don't see this piece as ridiculing creationists per se -- its target is those who are trying to force creationism into science curricula. If we hadn't been seeing all these attempts to browbeat schools, textbook publishers, etc., into lining ID up side by side with evolution, or to boycott documentaries that dare to mention evolution and not ID, etc., then I might agree with CB's reaction. OTOH, if that weren't all happening, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be seeing an editorial like this either.

Certainly it's not helpful in advancing the debate

But that, to me, is the point: there is no debate to be advanced. On the one side you have a bunch of yammering, howling fools -- some well-meaning, some almost predatory in their advances -- and on the other you have reason, science and evidence. The two do not meet in a "debate", which connotes a sense of reasoned argument; they meet in a knock-down mud-slinging brawl where one side has specifically abrogated their responsibilities to reason because almost by definition, reason is on the other side.

That's the problem I have with the usual response of the scientific community towards these loons: genteel derision and devastating evidentiary eviscerations are only useful insofar as winning the academic debate, they do not prevent the creationist/ID political agenda from being advanced one whit. It's the political battle that the scientific community must engage, and the best single weapon for that aim is laughter.

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