8/18/2007

HOUSE-KEEPING ANNOUNCEMENT

If you didn't see, I added to my prior post below and greatly expanded it. Enjoy! I'm waiting for more comments or questions from Vox before I proceed....

14 comments:

Starwind said...

Hello Scott:

Perhaps off-topic from the dei-bait :) but might you suggest a good, succinct comparison (ideally a chart or matrix) of the status and specific tenets and/or differences of "Darwinism", "Neo-Darwinism", "Evolution", "Macroevolution", "Evolution by Natural Selection" "Evolutionary Synthesis" "Synthetic Theory of Evolution" etc. (other germane theories)?

They all seem to both overlap and claim unique contributions, but I find the ever-shifting labels and the vague or distorted claims, counterclaims and revisions a bit bewildering.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Right. You're not alone! This is especially the case when scientists uses the term one way and others use it a different way, as in 'Darwinism' and 'macroevolution'.

When capitalized, the Modern Synthesis and Evolutionary Synthesis refer to the same thing: the marriage of the scientific research programs inspired by Darwin's original synthesis with the fields of genetics, ecology and population biology in the 1930's.

The term 'Neo-Darwinism' is often applied to mean the same thing, but anything with an 'ism' is likely to imply something like a belief system, so to avoid confusion I think scientists should avoid this usage.

'Darwinism' has an interesting history: some scientists (many of them British) still use it as being synonymous with TENS. As I read him, this is how Dawkins in fact uses the term, but his reputation and manner often lead people to assume that it is synonymous with his personal views---which, while certainly being consonant with science as he understands it, are almost certainly not science. In this country, 'Darwinism' and 'evolutionism' imply a belief system, whether I like it or not, and I think scientists should avoid these terms all together.

'Macroevolution' is not much used by scientists, conversely---and when we do, it has a technical meaning that differs from the way your garden-variety creationist uses it. The latter admits that genetic changes occur in populations, and maybe even admits that this can lead to new species, but they thing evolution 'above' the species level differs not merely in degree, but in kind.

This is not the normal scientific usage. To us, 'macroevolution' refers rather generally to large-scale evolutionary patterns, such as adaptive radiations, co-evolution, convergence or mass extinctions.

To me, the worst offense is when scientists simply say 'the theory of evolution' or even just 'evolution' when what they mean is TENS (the theory of evolution by natural selection), where what is theoretical is the relationship in bold. It's laziness, and it leads to misconceptions, such as the notion that evolution or natural selection are theoretical---when both are, properly speaking, facts.

Starwind said...

Do you know of an on-line glossary that defines these 'theories' in any precise authoritative way? Something that most biologists/geneticists, etc would at least agree in principal on the definitions, terminology and history.

Something more authoritatve (and less 'fluid') than wikipedia and its inummerable clones. Maybe some university biology dept has an online glossary?

Anonymous said...

In this country, 'Darwinism' and 'evolutionism' imply a belief system, whether I like it or not, and I think scientists should avoid these terms all together.

What if one is not a scientist, or in any case does not understand the intricacies of the theory? How shall we describe the knowledge held by the uneducated regarding the theory?

I mean, such a person does not "know" that evolution or natural selection are facts, if they cannot even coherently explain what those terms mean.

Most likely, an uneducated person who is sympathetic to the idea of evolution would sum it up by describing a sequence of pictures showing a modern chimpanzee, a humanoid gorilla, a cartoonish caveman, a guy with a beard, and a clean-shaven modern Caucasian. Can we say that such a person really knows anything at all about the subject?

I would say that such a person has simply a childish faith in men who wear white lab coats or tweedy sportcoats and stand in front of chalkboards using big words.

--emerod

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

How is this different from the 'faith' that laypeople put in the competence of other professions?

Salt said...

How is this different from the 'faith' that laypeople put in the competence of other professions?

August 20, 2007 12:39 PM

I remember going to a doctor and asking him about a problem I was having. He sent off for blood work.

"Well?" I later asked.

"Don't know!" he replied.

Anonymous said...

How is this different from the 'faith' that laypeople put in the competence of other professions?

It is functionally the same.

So, I have to trust that the engineer knows how to build bridges, and that if it fails, I can sue the engineering company. For some reason, laypeople don't usually get into big arguments about different engineering theories, even though failures can cost many lives.

Engineers produce a tangible product and they are held accountable for its failure. Geneticists and genetic medical researchers are held accountable. Eugenicists were held accountable, which is why they are very quiet now.

Evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, and computational evolutionary biologists, for example, are not held accountable to the public; but for some reason we are told that it is absolutely essential for every member of society to parrot what they say and publicly assent to the truth of the underlying theory, whether it is understood or not.

--emerod

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, and computational evolutionary biologists, for example, are not held accountable to the public;

Really? Because, to hear some creationists tell us, we evo guys are responsible for all of society's ills.

.... but for some reason we are told that it is absolutely essential for every member of society to parrot what they say and publicly assent to the truth of the underlying theory, whether it is understood or not.

I'm sorry, but that bit of rhetorical overreach makes you sound like a cartoon. Show me one source in which any scientist says that it is essential for all of us to parrot their views. I can't imagine a more profoundly anti-science attitude.

You know what I think? I think you resent the fact that the scientific community has the preponderance of the evidence in support of the reigning model. You know what you want to believe already, and, you know, it's those pesky facts getting in the way, they've got to be stopped. And, since your argument is almost certainly inspired by your faith, you desperately want to recast a legitimate science as something like a faith. That way, it's all just 'he said-she said' from competing belief systems.

Hey, if this armchair psychology doesn't describe you, well accept my apology in advance. But you sure sound like a lot of people that it does describe...to a T.

Anonymous said...

Really? Because, to hear some creationists tell us, we evo guys are responsible for all of society's ills.?

No, I'm not in that camp. Those people are idiots.

Show me one source in which any scientist says that it is essential for all of us to parrot their views.

I'm sorry for being ambiguous. I never meant to imply that scientists as a rule claim such things (although it probably wouldn't be hard to pin them on Dawkins and Myers). I intentionally left it open to interpretation, but I was thinking of the average evolution supporter who regularly repeats the things that educated evolution supporters call "myths" and "misconceptions."

Somehow, I get the impression you believe that only a biased person would repeat the misconceptions that you work hard to contradict, as if there are no ignorant people out there who gravitate to the cause for political or pathological reasons.

It is a steady drumbeat among practical folk: If you don't agree with the general principle of evolution, you are considered functionally incapable of rational thought, and treated like a mentally retarded person, even if the evolution supporter has an IQ of 80 and has no idea what a phylum is.

I don't really see a problem with any model that the scientific community wants to use for their research, since I am not in charge of funding. From an engineering perspective, TENS is only a "model" in the sense that it represents phenomena that cannot be directly observed. So, perhaps you can use it to reverse-engineer the phenomena in question, but you cannot claim to have direct knowledge of it. From a philosophical point of view, that may be naturalistic, but it is not empirically positive knowledge. A lot of engineering works that way, but so does a lot of social science and astrology. It is simply not defensible as positive knowledge.

I have no problem with facts, just inferences that someone wants to push on me as positive facts. My faith is in a liberal democratic society where no one tells me I "must" believe something because of someone who has never observed what they promote as a "fact" and who has never produced anything useful. (I do make a distinction between useful work like genetic science and useless crap such as evolutionary psychology.)

Yes, I do believe that "it's all just 'he said-she said' from competing belief systems." That includes religion and education, by the way. Science is just another product of society saying something I should listen to, but not something I am required to give priority of place to.

--emerod

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

From an engineering perspective, TENS is only a "model" in the sense that it represents phenomena that cannot be directly observed.

Um....evolution has been observed. Natural selection has been observed. Natural selection has been observed to cause evolution. Speciation events have been documented through careful observation. And, of course, the inference of past evolution is supported by innumerable observations.

So....how much more do you need?

Anonymous said...

So....how much more do you need?

For what? I already gave you permission to keep using it for research purposes.

--emerod

Anonymous said...

OK, I missed your point, which is that you want me to grant that the phenomena in question have been observed. The problem is twofold:

1. Morphological changes as such cannot be observed, due to the time-scale constraints. You have already said this.

2. A "model" necessarily is an artificial representation of reality. The purpose of a model is to represent the phenomena in question with greater precision than is possible to observe directly.

Sometimes this entails using numerous discrete observations, say of a dynamic system, and creating a mechanistic or mathematical representation so that one can show the datapoints that could not be directly measured, whether because of limitations of precision or because one is projecting into the future.

Another type of model would be like that of subatomic particles or someone's inner thoughts. Direct observation is not possible, so indirect observation is used to construct a representation of what might actually be occurring. This type of model need not be mechanistic or mathematical; that is, it may merely illustrate a general principle.

I think you mean for TENS to be the latter type.

--emerod

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Another type of model would be like that of subatomic particles or someone's inner thoughts. Direct observation is not possible, so indirect observation is used to construct a representation of what might actually be occurring. This type of model need not be mechanistic or mathematical; that is, it may merely illustrate a general principle.

I think you mean for TENS to be the latter type.


Yes, I'll agree to that, but I'll point out that within evolutionary biology there are research programs guided by but not identical with TENS, that use math and very large data sets in a very rigorous way, and which come to conclusions with very high confidence levels.

Anonymous said...

OK. This is the reason I originally posted a comment to you. Classifying TENS as a "model," I think, leads to certain problems, one of which Vox has attempted to take advantage of.

The problems have nothing to do with truth as such, but rather with the basis for acceptance of something as true. Whether that basis is valid objectively is less important than its pragmatic significance.

--emerod