SciBlogs

Posts Tagged Pharyngula

How do you know that? Ken Perrott Oct 06

No Comments

PZ Myer at Pharyngula has produced another of his gems. A letter to a nine-year old girl who had been fooled by the creationist Ken Ham to think the question “Were you there?” is a clever response to scientific information (see via Dear Emma B ).

(I have always thought that response by creationists was really silly, and self destructive. After all, aren’t they making huge claims about the past – a past where not only they were absent, but one they consider they can describe without any evidence).

As the girl, Emma B says:

I went to a NASA display of a moon rock and a lady said, ’This Moon-rock is 3.75 billion years old!’ Guess what I asked for the first time ever?

’Um, may I ask a question?’

And she said, ’Of course.’

I said, in my most polite voice, ’Were you there?’

Love, Emma B

Myers see Emma B as having been manipulated by Ken Ham and he has written a hypothetical letter outlining what his response to Emma would be, if he had the opportunity. It’s considerate, thoughtful and educational – somewhat along the lines of Richard Dawkins’ Prayer for my Daughter.”

I recommend you read the whole text at Dear Emma B .

He starts positively:

“I’m glad you were asking questions – that’s what scientists are supposed to do – but I have to explain to you that that wasn’t a very good question, and that Ken Ham is a poor teacher. There are better questions you could have asked.”

He conveys some of the wonder that inquisitive children must have to the world around them:

“we live in a big ol’ beautiful world, far older than your 9 years, and there’s so much to learn about it – far more than you’ll ever be able to see for yourself. There’s a gigantic universe beyond South Carolina, and while you probably won’t ever visit a distant star or go inside a cell, there are instruments we can use to see farther and deeper than your eyes can go, and there are books that describe all kinds of wonders. Don’t close yourself off to them simply because you weren’t there.

I’d like to teach you a different easy question, one that is far, far more useful than Ken Ham’s silly ’Were you there?’ The question you can always ask is, ’How do you know that?’

Right away, you should be able to see the difference. You already knew the answer to the ’Were you there?’ question, but you don’t know the answer to the ’How do you know that?’ question. That means the person answering it will tell you something you don’t know, and you will learn something new. And that is the coolest thing ever.”

Myers devotes soem space to explaining to Emma how scientists have established the age of the moon rocks. A useful and relevant example of the scientific process.

He finishes the letter with:

I think you’re off to a great start – being brave enough to ask older people to explain themselves is exactly what you need to do to learn more and more, and open up the whole new exciting world of science for yourself. But that means you have to ask good questions to get good answers so that you will learn more.

Don’t use Ken Ham’s bad question, and most importantly, don’t pay attention to Ken Ham’s bad answers. There’s a wealth of wonderful truths that reveal so much more about our universe out there, and you do not want to close your eyes to them. Maybe someday you could be a woman who does go to the moon and sees the rocks there, or a geologist who sees how rocks erode and form here on earth, or the biologist who observes life in exotic parts of the world…but you won’t achieve any of those things if you limit your mind to the dogma of Answers in Genesis.

Best wishes for future learning,

Congratulations PZ Ken Perrott Aug 14

No Comments

PZ Myer, of Pharyngula fame, has just been awarded Humanist of the Year at the 18th World Humanist Congress in Oslo (see It’s so…sniny… ).

Congratulations – well deserved!

Debates in the philosophy of science Ken Perrott Jul 06

No Comments

Jerry Coyne, over at his Why Evolution is True blog does get into some important issues of the philosophy of science. Usually in debates with others. PZ Myers at Pharyngula often participates, some times agreeing, sometimes disagreeing withy Jerry.

Currently both Jerry and PZ are critiquing an article by Andrew Brown at his Guardian Blog (see Science is the only road to truth? Don’t be absurd). Andrews article itself is a criticism of a comment by Nobel prize winner Harry Kroto in a recent talk:

’Science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any degree of reliability.’

Jerry Coyne’s response is in Andrew Brown: there are lots of ways besides science to find truth. PZ Myers’ response is in There’s something obvious missing from this argument….

It’s an important and interesting discussion – worth following.

Another interesting recent post of Jerry’s is Why am I reading theology?

Apparently he has undertaken a study of theology! That seems really strange to me – a complete waste of time. Perhaps he has lost a bet. or maybe he is taking those theist critics of Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion to heart. You know – the charge that Dawkins had no right to produce that book because he has not studied theology!

Jerry claims to have so far learned only three things:

1: “I am spending my middle age reading drivel about beliefs that have no basis in fact. This seems a total waste of time.  I could be reading books about real things instead.” He must have lost a bet!

2: “Theologians can’t write.  A lot of what they have to say is postmodern or obscure bafflegab, and I’m starting to believe that this obscurantism is deliberate . . .”. That’s one of the overwhelming impressions I have obtained from the little theological writings I have encountered.

3: “There seems to be no ’knowledge’ behind theology, and I haven’t learned anything–not even any clever philosophy.  One gets the strong sense when reading theology (and granted, I am biased) that everyone is just making stuff up.” That’s another overwhelming impression of mine – and as Jerry says this helps explain point 2.

These discussions are worth following.

Similar articles

Painless science writing Ken Perrott Jun 06

2 Comments

I guess most scientists find writing difficult.  I certainly have over the years. So I do admire scientists who communicate well, who produce readable material. And do it with ease.

P Z Myers is one of these. He is a prolific blogger (see Pharyngula) and an excellent writer. Besides so much activity on his blog he holds down a teaching job and is in  high demand as a public speaker.

And he has written a book! It’s due out early next year and I am sure itwill be an excellent read.

So what is his secret? How does he write so well, and so prolifically?

Using the sleeping brain

In a recent post, Fishkiller, he revealed part of this secret.  “I write in my sleep” he claimed. Boy, would I love to have that skill.

“I write in my sleep. You see, the way it works is that if I have something on my mind when I go to bed, my brain will churn over it all night long, and because of the way my head works, it will spontaneously generate a narrative. I do that in all of my dreams – I float aloof from the events, mentally transcribing what’s going on. My consciousness is a kind of disembodied reporter, I guess.

This quirk can work out well. Lots of my longer posts are composed while I’m sleeping – I wake up in the morning and the structure of the story is all laid out in my head, with a jumble of words stacked up waiting to be written down. It’s not a complete word-by-word write up, but major themes and key chunks of text are all done, and writing is more like splicing in a few transitions and tidying up some rough edges than actually, you know, writing, whatever that is.”

Maybe he exagerates and it is only part of the story. But I am sure he is on to something. I once presented a class on science writing. It was aimed at young scientists, many of who were contemplating their first paper. So I decided to give help with the approach to writing, rather than just the formality of producing a research paper and getting it published.

Using both sides of the brain

I took the concept of using “both sides of the brain” – the right hand side for creativity and the left hand side for editing. This was basically the approach Betty Edwards used in her course, and famous book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

The trick is to separate the two activities. Firstly suppress the left hand side of the brain. Be creative. Get your ideas down. Don’t worry about the language, grammar or spelling. Don’t worry about the orders. Just concentrate on a brain dump. Just use the right brain.

Only once you have the material on paper do you allow the left hand brain to participate. Only then do you get into editing, correcting, and so on. The discipline is to suppress the left brain in the initial stages. (Which does take some effort). Otherwise we just naturally attempt to edit when we should be getting our ideas out. That inhibits our ideas, slows down the whole process, causes diversions.

Allowing the left brain to interfere is a major source of procrastination. It’s dispiriting.

If you are interested in following up this approach to wring have a look at the book by Henriette A. Klauser – Writing on Both Sides of the Brain: Breakthrough Techniques for People Who Write. The technique certainly does work and I found it liberating once I started consciously using it. And yoiu know what? After a while I was finding that when I did allow the left brain to apply its editing very little was required. My grammar and organisation was being applied without the left brain interference!

Using the unconscious brain

But I always felt there was another part of the brain we use in writing – our subconscious. That’s why it helps to put a paper aside. To “sleep on it.” I am sure that the subconscious mind may still be working through the ideas, maybe even the editing. Certainly, I always found I returned to the paper with a fresh mind, more able to identify and solve problems. Maybe even satisfy myself that I was happy with the writing anyway.

So, while I hadn’t actually seen the unconscious mind taking the active role PZ describes, even perhaps using dreams, I can certainly see how that works. And wouldn’t it be great if we could train our brain to work that way? It would certainly take a lot of the pain out of science writing.

I am sure that this skill, like all others, is a matter of training. Of experience. Once we learn to take the left brain, right brain approach and consciously put work aside to allow the subconscious to work at it, we are effectively in training. The more writing we do the better we become. The less painless it is.

After all, this is probably how journalists work. And we do too, in the rest of our lives. When we learn to ride a bike our subconscious eventually takes over and we do it automatically. On our jobs we may be applying quite difficult operations, analyses or calculations effortlessly because the skills are unconscious. I am sure many of us perform these operation in our dreams. I certainly do.

So I guess the answer is – do more writing. Apply concepts like writing on both sides of the brain to free up the creative side and take the pain out of editing. Have the confidence of putting things aside to allow the unconscious mind to do its work.

Maybe one day I can put my nightly dreams to work like PZ does

Similar articles

Philosophical sausages Ken Perrott Jun 03

1 Comment

Any scientist who has experienced the frustration of debating the theologically inclined, or the philosophically inclined who have a theological bent, will appreciate this. I certainly do.

It’s from Answers in Genes: Show me the Sausages! (and thanks to Pharyngula for the link I think this is another version of The Courtier’s Reply)


Show me the Sausages!

A philosopher designs a marvellous sausage machine. A scientist comes
to marvel at this wonderful creation, and raises an eyebrow.
The philosopher says, “Ah, behold the wonderful cogs and sprockets and
temperature-controlled mixing chambers in my wonderful machine -
surely you can see how it must produce the most fantastic sausages!”
The scientist says “Yes, that is all very interesting. Show me the sausages.”
The philosopher says “How dare you, a mere scientist, question my
wonderful philosophical reasoning?”
Scientist: “I’m not questioning your reasoning – I want to know if
your machine really produces sausages.”
Philosopher: “Can you point to any flaw in my argument that it
produces sausages?”
Sci: “I don’t know – I just want to know if it produces sausages. Here
is some meat. Why don’t you feed it through and see if you get any
sausages?”
Phil: “And sully my wonderful machine with mere offal?”
Sci: “You said it was a sausage machine. I want to see the sausages.”
Phil: “Are you questioning my ingredients?”
Sci: “I’m just questioning whether it produces sausages or not. Show
me the sausages.”
Phil: “Ah, so you cannot attack my premises and you cannot attack my
argument. Therefore I’m right and you lose.”
Sci: “Don’t be such a melodramatic prancing arse. Show me the sausages.”
Phil: “The sausages inevitably flow from the argument. You see my fine
machine. You can even inspect the meat & onions. The sausages
necessarily flow.”
Sci: “Show me the sausages or I’m off to Tesco.”
Phil: “You are a mere scientist with no understanding of philosophical matters.”
Sci: “Bye.”


Love that “Don’t be such a melodramatic prancing arse.” Reminds me of a few people!

I have often thought that “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” is an important philosophical principle. Unfortunately one that some people never learn.

Similar articles

The heart of PZ Myers Ken Perrott Aug 24

No Comments

Sounds like PZ Myers’ health problems are more serious than he first thought. He is currently in hospital for more tests – and from the sounds of it – an operation (see That’s not a heart! It’s a flailing Engine of Destruction!)

Hopefully things will go well. He will get the necessary repairs, a well-deserved rest and return renewed to his blogging. I try to read his blog, Pharyngula, daily and I know others do as well. I enjoy his daily dose of humour and common sense.

PZ Myers answers questions at the Melbourne Convention. Photo: Geoff Cowan

PZ is an excellent communicator and we need more people like PZ to defend science and reason. I am personally amazed at the time and effort he puts into this communication. During the last year he has been on sabbatical leave. While he has been writing a book I know this is disrupted by the traveling and large number of meetings he has been speaking at. In the USA and internationally.

I met him last March at the World Atheist Convention in Melbourne and was impressed at how eager he was to meet everyone. This willingness to make himself so available has resulted in a hectic round of speaking engagements and public appearances in this last year. While this has been great for the communication of science and reason it must have had a toll on his health.

So, hopefully, PZ will take this health alarm as a warning. Recognise that he needs to consider his own needs more and turn down some of the requests for public appearances. Hopefully Myers will return to blogging soon. And I hope to see his book published. I will be satisfied with that and I am sure most of his regular readers will be too.

PZ has appealed to his readers not to “waste your time with prayers.” After all he is getting some real help from medical experts. I wish him well and look forward to his successful recovery. Many of his readers are doing the same. One of these well wishers was Richard Dawkins, who commented: “How noble, how typical of the man and of everything he stands for, to use humour in making such an announcement.”

Which brings me to another of my concerns. Dawkins is also someone who gives his time extremely readily. His life must also be very hectic. I was aware that at the time of the World Atheist convention he was traveling around New Zealand and Australia and speaking to sell out audiences. It amazed me that he spoke in Auckland on the Saturday night and in Melbourne on the Sunday afternoon. Those who went along to hear him certainly appreciate his willingness to make himself so available. But perhaps he should also be taking a lesson from PZs current health problems.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The naked emperor Ken Perrott Sep 27

No Comments

It’s interesting how a simple word, a name or a book title can cause twitching in the knee area. I predicted we would see a rash of this syndrome with the publication of Richard Dawkins new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. We are going to see more of the syndrome as the book reviews and other publicity appear in our newspapers and magazines.

One of the most common symptoms of the knee jerking goes right back the Terry Eagleton’s early review of Dawkins’ previous book, The God Delusion. That is the charge that Dawkins had no right to produce that book because he is not a religious philosopher or theologian (see Do you believe in a god?).

I think this symptom also indicates laziness on the part of the sufferer. The delusion that a review of titles, or ones own prejudices, will suffice rather than a proper review of the book. The syndrome seems more common in individuals also suffering from other afflictions involving mystical beliefs, or conviction of the existence of gods who look out for them.

Even though Dawkins’ new book does not deal directly with these mystical beliefs those knees are still jerking – as readers will note from recent comments here (see Dawkins bashing season upon us?). I thought it would be interesting to reintroduce something written by PZ Myers, author of the science blog Pharyngula, three years ago -  The Courtier’s Reply. Many of you will have read it before but its a great piece of writing and deserves to be more widely known. So I repeat it below:

“I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed – how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry – but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”

By the way. Myers is currently writing a book. I imagine we will see it some time next year. He certainly has great literary skill so I imagine it will be a best seller.
I look forward to it.

Permalink

Similar articles

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer