how not to start a debate

February 19, 2009 — 1 Comment

Pharyngula’s supreme overlord PZ Myers, posted an interesting back and forth on his blog between David Klinghoffer, one of Discovery Institute’s most vocal instruments in the media, and biology professor Nicholas Gotelli. It seems that after failing to get Ben “Science Makes You Kill People” Stein to deliver a moving commencement address at UVM, the Discovery Institute tried get a foothold into the college anyway by asking Dr. Gotelli about the possibility of a public debate in which he would face off against a philosopher of science.

philosophers

In no mood to entertain pseudoscience, Gotelli promptly denied their request with a note about their dishonest methods; instead of being impressed with his defense of free speech, as DI had claimed in their original e-mail, they actually published a condemnation of his opinion piece in the local newspaper. Obviously peeved by this two faced approach, Gotelli then made the entire conversation public, giving Klinghoffer an excuse to cry all over his blog about a campaign by the evil cabal of scientists who worship Darwin as their God manifesting itself yet again. There’s no way a scientist who feels insulted because he’s being treated as a tool for publicity wouldn’t want to entertain their delegation’s weighty pontifications based on absolutely nothing. No, it’s all a massive conspiracy by a clandestine professorial cult. The Discovery Institute is like Above Top Secret for creationists a this point.

It’s become the Institute’s modus operandi after their awkward novelty has worn off. Attack editorials of actual academics, claim a conspiracy to deny creationists any public visibility, try to sweet talk the same scientists they dragged through the verbal mud into a debate, then whine about how these scientists are mean and evil and overall bad people who exemplify DI’s conspiracy theory view of science. But seriously, come on. Who are they trying to kid? They’re going to have a real biologist argue about what complexity means with someone who’s referred to as a philosopher of science? What in the hell is a philosopher of science? Sounds to me like a major for someone who wants to hear him or herself talk for five or six years, then get a glossy sheet of paper with the seal of a university and the word “science” on it.

And again, the Institute insists on ignoring the most important point that Gotelli went out of his way to elucidate. Do some science, publish something testable in a scientific journal, then you’ll be invited to talk about your theory by respectable colleges and universities. Claiming that your theories are getting shut down by an evil establishment is a very convenient way not to do any real research and demand legitimacy for whatever comes out of your mouth. Then again, it’s a really difficult task to do some real science when the crux of your theory has to do with an awe factor and claiming that you have absolutely no idea how something happened so it must be an intelligent, magical force from the great beyond.

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  • http://dad2059.wordpress.com dad2059

    It’s been my experience that in most universities professors have a “publish or perish” mentality, with complex maths being the “proofs” instead of documented empirical labwork. Especially in the field of physics. And that’s where the problem lies I think, scientific papers get reduced to mathematical theories instead of concrete experiments.

    Thus the ‘philosophy’ aspect creeps in, because theory is often misconstrued as “opinion.”

    That’s why particle collider/accelerators are so important for research and any experiments in biology that uses actual labwork goes a long way toward shutting up any “philosophers of science.”

    But you can show these people all the physical evidence you want, their minds are already made up.