Monday, September 17, 2007

Carl Zimmer and Real Science

Carl Zimmer has an interesting article discussing a new book he has written condensing Charles Darwin’s “Descent of Man”. In it, Zimmer shows, probably unwittingly, the difference between real science writing and pseudoscience:

” Also bear in mind that this edition also contains commentary I've written for each section, in which I put the book in its historical context and reflect on how recent discoveries have either supported or overturned Darwin's arguments.”

Here is a science writer talking about Darwin’s mistakes. Oh yes, he made a lot of them. Remember that Darwin write before genetics was fully understood, and as such had no knowledge of the means by which natural selection could effect populations. In some ways this shows Darwin’s brilliance, since the discovery of DNA stands as one of the great verifications of his general theory. But Darwin’s speculations about these specifics was also found wanting, and scientists have little trouble talking about that.

What I found interesting about Zimmer’s innocent comment is how starkly it contrasts to pseudoscientific writing. Try to imagine an IDer/creationist writing about the mistakes of William Paley, Michael Behe, or William Dembski. Consider how bizarre it would look to hear James Inhofe criticize something about the latest global warming denials. Take a look at any alternative health magazine and see how much criticism and dissent you can find. I’ve tried, and failed, many times. Lockstep agreement sans critical analysis is a sure sign of crankery. Doubt, not certainty, debate and criticism, not unity and loyalty, are what produce intellectual progress.

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