Thursday, November 17, 2005

Romantic evening with evolution

Mr. Geeky and I spent a romantic evening in bed reading PZ's takedown of Scott Adams' ID vs. Evolution rant. Adams' response to PZ is even scarier than the original, if that's possible. He's written even more, which I skimmed this morning, but it looks just as bad. I was reading the response out loud to Mr. Geeky (no, it was not a Bull Durham moment!). We both said, "Oh my God, he's like our students." He's like our students in two ways (and students, if you're reading this, don't be offended; these are common mistakes for beginning writers, acceptible for freshman, not for supposedly intelligent grownups). First, he takes a source, the ID folks apparently (though he doesn't cite them really) and uses their argument to argue the other side. When he gets called on it, he claims he was misinterpreted and hey, aren't ID people a credible source? As PZ and many other scientists told him, "No, they aren't and here's why." But he refused to accept that.

The other way he was like our students is his vehement response. Instead of addressing the actual arguments, he falls into a "I'm just right and you are wrong and besides, you're mean" stance. Not effective at all.

Sadly, my respect for Adams has fallen. I think PZ's response should have been a badly drawn cartoon to show that he's as good a cartoonist as Adams is a scientist.

This post has me truly baffled. Adams says:

Many of your comments suggest that there are plenty of credible scientists on the topic of Intelligent Design and evolution. Some people asked who I would consider credible.

Let me point out, by way of background, that all of the intelligence agencies of every major country believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That was based on lots of data that all pointed in the same direction. It's probably safe to say that those agencies had a preconcieved notion that Saddam had WMD, and so they saw all of the data as consistent with that view.

Further, let me point out that there are 17,000 mutual funds being managed by highly qualified financial experts. They'll tell you that investing in a managed mutual fund is a better idea than buying an index fund. But on average, managed funds underperform the indexes, and you would have no way of knowing which ones won't. Each of those financial experts has a financial incentive to mislead you about the odds.

I would consider credible anyone who didn't have a preconcieved notion or a financial/career incentive. When you're talking about the cause of life itself, I submit that no one can pass that test (especially people who write books on the topic). That has been my point all along.

It's not enough to understand what the experts tell you. You also need to understand cognitive dissonance to understand how the experts and even you could be completely wrong about something that seems so completely true.

Now how many of you read what I just wrote and interpreted it as a defense of Intelligent Design or an attack on Darwinian evolution? If you experienced either of those feelings, you had a little taste of cognitive dissonance.

It's this slippery definition of evidence that has the scientists in a tailspin. Scientific evidence is a very different thing from say, evidence in a text or stock market evidence or even evidence for the war in Iraq. Scientific evidence involves observable fact. Stock market evidence, war intelligence, those involve educated guesses. There aren't facts; there are a lot of interpretations and predictions.

Most scientists, and I suspect PZ himself is among them, don't have much financial incentive. I'm disappointed that Adams has such a complete misunderstanding of how science.