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Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 December 2008

I recently came across an old copy of Arthur Koestler’s “The Case of the Midwife Toad”. Originally published in 1971, it’s an exploration of a rather tragic footnote in the history of evolutionary science. Back in the early years of the 20th Century (prior to the understanding of DNA, but after Mendelian genetics had become well known), there was still a remnant of the biological community who preferred the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics over the Darwinian idea of natural selection of random mutations. One of the vanguard for the Lamarckian idea was Paul Kammerer whose specialty was the breeding of amphibians that apparently few others could match. He claimed that he could get his toads and salamanders to acquire characteristics that were useful in the new environments in which he raised his specimens. This was touted loudly (in the New York Times for instance) as proof of Lamarckian inheritance and Kammerer was hailed as a ‘new Darwin’. It all ended very badly when one toad specimen was found to be faked (by who remains a mystery), and Kammerer killed himself shortly afterwards (though there may have been more involved than scientific disgrace).

The details of the experiments and controversy can be read online (with various slants) here and here, and a more modern non-replication of one of his experiments is described here. However, the reason I bring this up here is much more related to how the scientific community and Koestler dealt with this scientific maverick and the analogies that has for the climate science and its contrarians.

There are (at least) four points where the analogies with climate science are strong: First, there were clear philosophical motives for supporting Lamarckism (as there are for denying human effects on climate change) (see below). These are strongly articulated in Koestler’s book, and it is obvious that the author feels some sympathy with that argument. Second, there is idealization of the romantic notion of the scientist-as-hero, sacrificing their all (literally in Kammerer’s case) for the pursuit of truth in the teeth of establishment opposition (cf Svensmark). Third, there is the outrage at the apparent dirty tricks, rumours and persecution. Finally, there is the longing for a redemption – a time when the paradigm shift will occur and the hero will be proven right.

Enough time has passed and enough additional scientific evidence has been gathered however to show that Kammerer’s ideas are never going to be accepted into the mainstream. Therefore, we can use this episode to highlight how people’s misunderstanding of scientific process can lead them astray.

So let’s start with the non-scientific reasons why Kammerer’s ideas had resonance. Martin Gardner in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) puts it well (p143):

Just as Lamarckianism combines easily with an idealism in which the entire creation is fulfilling God’s vast plan by constant upward striving, so also does it combine easily with political doctrines that emphasize the building of a better world.

The point is that without Lamarckianism, none of the striving and achievement of a parent impacts their progeny’s genetic material. That was a depressing thought for many people (what is the point of striving at all?), and hence there was a clear non-scientific yearning for Lamarckian inheritance to be correct. I use the past tense in referring to these almost 100 year-old arguments, but Koestler’s book and more recent attempts to rehabilitate these ideas tap into these same (misguided) romantic notions. (Odd aside, one of the most positive treatments of this “neo-Lamarckianism” is by Michael Duffy, a frequent climate contrarian Australian journalist). Note that I am distinguishing the classic ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’ from the much more respectable study of epigenetics.

The scientist-as-hero meme is a very popular narrative device and is widespread in most discussions of progress in science. While it’s clearly true that some breakthroughs have happened through the work of a single person (special relativity is the classic case) and someone has to be the first to make a key observation (e.g. Watson and Crick), the vast majority of scientific progress occurs as the accumulation of small pieces of new information and their synthesis into a whole. While a focus on a single person makes for a good story, it is very rarely the whole or even a big part of the real story. Thus while Koestler can’t be uniquely faulted for thinking that Lamarckianism rose and fell with Kammerer, that perspective leads him to imbue certain events with much more significance than is really warranted.

For instance, one of the more subtle misconceptions in the book though is how Koestler thinks that scientific arguments get settled. He places enormous emphasis on a academic tour that Kammerer made to the UK which included a well-documented talk in Cambridge in which the subsequently-notorious specimen was also in attendance. In fact, Koestler devotes a large number of pages to first-hand recollections of the talk. Koestler also criticises heavily the arch-protagonist in this story (a Dr. Bateson) who did not attend Kammerer’s talk, even though he presumably could have, while continuing to criticise his conclusions. The talk is in fact held up to be the one missed opportunity for some academic mano-a-mano that Koestler presumably thinks would have settled things.

Except that this is not how controversial ideas get either accepted or rejected. Sure, publishing papers, giving talks and attending conferences are all useful in bringing ideas to a wider audience, but they are very rarely the occasion of some dramatic denouement and mass conversion of the skeptical. Instead, ideas get accepted because of the increasing weight of evidence that supports them – and that usually comes in dribs and drabs. A replication here, a theoretical insight there, a validated prediction etc. Only in hindsight does there appear to be a clean sequence of breakthroughs that can be seen to have led inexorably to the new conclusions. At the time, the landscape is far more ambiguous. Thus in focusing on one specific talk, and on its reception by one particularly outspoken opponent, Koestler misses the wider issue – which was that Kammerer’s ideas just didn’t have any independent support. The wider community thus saw his work (as far as I can tell) as a curiosity: possibly his findings were correct, but his interpretation was likely not, and maybe his findings weren’t all that reproducible in any case?

This remains the issue, if Lamarckian evolution were possible, it should have been viewable in hundreds of other systems that were much easier to replicate than Kammerer’s toads (nematodes perhaps?). Absent that replication, no amount of exciting talks will have persuaded scientists. In that, scientists are probably a little different from the public, or at least the public who went to Kammerer’s more public lectures where he was very warmly received.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that Kammerer’s more vocal opponents would occasionally give vent to their true feelings. Koestler is particular critical of Bateson who, in retrospect, does appear to have gone a little far in his public critiques of Kammerer. However, Koestler perhaps doesn’t realise how common quite scathing criticism is in the halls of academe. This rarely gets written down explicitly, but it is nonetheless there, and forms a big part of how well some people’s ideas are received. If someone is perceived as an exaggerator, or an over-interpreter of their results, even their most careful work will not get a lot of support.

Koestler ends his book with the familiar refrain that since modern science is incomplete, alternative theories must continue to be pursued. He states that since “contemporary genetics has no answers to offer to the problem of the genesis of behaviour”, the replication the key experiments (which he clearly expected to vindicate Kammerer), would very likely make biologists ‘sit up’ and have a long-lasting impact on the field. This notion fails to take into account the vast amount of knowledge that already exists and that makes certain kinds of ‘alternative’ theories very unlikely to be true. The link between this optimistic expectation and discussions of climate change is persuasively demonstrated in this pastiche.

There is one additional characteristic of this story that has some modern resonance, and that’s the idea that once someone starts accepting one class of illogical arguments, that leads them to accept others that aren’t really connected, but share some of the same characteristics. Some people have called this ‘crank magnetism‘. In Kammerer’s case, he was a great believer in the meaningfulness of coincidences and wrote a book trying to elucidate the ‘laws’ that might govern them. Koestler himself became a big proponent of parapsychology. And today there are examples of climate contrarians who are creationists or anti-vaccine campaigners. Though possibly this is just coincidence (or is it….?).

Of course, the true worth of any scientific idea is whether it leads to more successful predictions than other theories. So I’ll finish with a 1923 prediction that Kammerer made while he was on a speaking tour of the US: “Take a very pertinent case. The next generation of Americans will be born without any desire for liquor if the prohibition law is continued and strictly enforced” (NYT, Nov 28).

703 Responses to “Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad”

  1. 651
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Stirling engine, steam engine, grid

    Look at the operating temperature of big power plants; the temperature difference between source and sink is the big factor in how efficiently power is going to be produced.

    There isn’t a fission heat source that operates hot enough to replace coal, yet, in supercritical steam powerplants — and those are being designed hotter and hotter.

  2. 652

    “Intelligent Design is simply Creationism retooled”–yes, the judge in the Dover PA school board case referenced some cut-and-paste which clearly demonstrated that fact.

    I once had occasion to address this issue with respect to Roy Spencer–a proponent of ID–and was accused of using an ad hom attack– I was supposedly “attacking his religion!” Funny, since a better-informed supporter of RS would’ve known that ID is *science* (nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

    (Captcha: “verdict seem”)

  3. 653
    Rod B says:

    Mark (648), your post is substantiation of my “out of context” assertion — which was in no way meant as a complaint, just a clarification. There is nothing incorrect with the others’ contexts; they’re just different from my point, which was simply that physicists are not sitting around hoping and salivating that someone will come around and reverse their decades of work and study.

    That many were out of context proves nothing. In fact that might show a problem that I’ve noticed from time to time, and that is the tendency for you guys to answer the statement you want to answer or argue about, not what was said — as you are doing in 648. “the context that we got wrong with “it could be something else”” has no connection with my assertion what-so-ever; not even in the same ballpark. It’s like I say ‘I think the wagon is red’ and you reply that my answer on the calculus exam is wrong.

    Comparison of dogma vs religion has no relevance, either. And while I appreciate jcbmack’s words in 647, the sun-centric solar system is not close. All of the science philosophy studies in the world, while insightful and helpful in their own right do not change my assertion re human emotional responses to stimuli and have no bearing at all on my statement.

    Just a quicky re 649, whether something (like the universe) is irreducibly complex remains to be seen. Demanding that it is or asserting it is not are both non sequiturs. I don’t do the former; why do you think/want that I do?

  4. 654
    dhogaza says:

    you’re not talking about physicists who had a long vested interest in the science under question, but about physicists more as spectators.

    Uh, actually, Rod B … do you have any understanding as to what the impact on physics would’ve been if Fleischman and Pons had been right? Certainly physicists had a “long vested interest” in our understanding of how and when fusion can happen.

  5. 655
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, this:

    > my point, which was simply that physicists are not sitting
    > around hoping and salivating that someone will come around
    > and reverse their decades of work and study.

    is your purely political view; you make clear you’re very cynical about people and have no idea how to test an idea in a scientific way.

    Take a class or something. Learn what it means to test an idea.

  6. 656
    Mark says:

    Rod 653, surely YOU are taking YOUR assumption of what scientists do and either misrepresenting them or taking them out of context.

    As Hank asks: do you think they really do sit about hoping?

  7. 657
    Rod B says:

    J.S. (650), ditto my post replying to Mark. You say,

    “[I am] ignoring the key point – your [my] characterization is based on a presumption that has no real basis in reality and, instead, best describes Denialists and the folks that promote their agenda.”

    I see no, NONE, connection with my thoughts about a scientist’s personal reaction to seeing his decades of work being thrown over the cliff, and what you call a “Denialist’s” agenda…, or any other agenda for that matter. You’re refuting what you wish to refute with no relationship to my point. If you want to debate the skeptic’s agenda and their demeanor, I suppose we can; though we’ll bore the hell out of everyone else. (Well, most, but not all to be sure; a few will jump into the pool fully clothed. ;-) )

    I view “Intelligent Design” more along the lines of Einstein, not Biblical creationists. Though it’s getting pretty clear that I have lost that tug of war with creationists, and should just give it up and go find a better term. Too bad. We could debate this too, but Gavin would start to question the tremendous effort he puts into RC — spending most of his time telling us to shut up. I do agree (and said) the ID vs. creationism debate is analogous to the AGW vs. not AGW debate, but, again, has nothing to do with my current point.

  8. 658
    Rod B says:

    Hank, I’ve never tested my belief that horses can’t climb trees either — and have no need to. On the other hand I could be wrong with my assertion here. Do you think that all of these climate scientists are avidly and anxiously hoping for and awaiting for someone to refute their life’s work — so maybe they can realize their dreams and get on Oprah? Do horses climb trees? ;-)

    BTW, my assertion is in no way a pejorative. I think it is a natural reaction. And no doubt most of those despondent physicists will soon get over it and plow ahead.

  9. 659
    Rod B says:

    Mark (656), I might be wrong, but I can’t be misrepresenting anybody. It’s my own context: how can I take them out of it???

  10. 660
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., On issue with your viewpoint, though, is that the people doing the theorizing and the people carrying out the experiment are generally not the same people. There is generally a friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) rivalry between theorists and experimentalists. The latter love nothing better than to make a beautiful theory come crashing down. For one thing, they know a more beautiful one will take its place.
    However, even among theorists, usually curiosity is stronger than their attachment to any particular theory. The failure of an old theory allows creativity to shine in the construction of a new one. Yes, sometimes physicists fall in love with a particular theory (Einstein an General Relativity, for instance), and yes, some scientists might have greater emotional attachment than others. However, times of theoretical uncertainty are often the most exciting times to be a scientist. Remember what Asimov said, “The most exciting words in science are not “Eureka!” but rather, “Huh, that’s wierd…”

    The other thing you are failing to consider is that the vast majority of scientists have more to lose than gain from the reality of climate change. Surviving climate change is likely to require a Manhattan Project scale effort to understand climate, retool energy infrastructure, transport, etc. That means less money for astronomy, particle physics, and on and on. Yet, every scientific professional and honorific organization that has looked at the issue has endorsed the consensus position on climate, despite their interests to the contrary. That does not sound like groupthink to me.

    Finally on ID: you can show mathematically that the information content of ID as a scientific theory is zero–meaning it cannot make predictions.

  11. 661
    Mark says:

    RodB 657, I didn’t make that connection.

    You have shown denialism in other posts.

    Your assertion that scientists hide the truth if it embarrases them is much more an ad-hominem than calling you a denialist.

    And how does ID get viewed along the lines of Einstein? That makes no sense. Unless you view it as dead as Einstein.

  12. 662
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, you’re restating part of a very longterm conversation in the history and philosophy of science; you won’t resolve this in a blog thread, and while it’s new to some readers it’s hardly new to working scientists. This is part of learning how to do science.

    Beyond Popper and Kuhn, the study of how scicence works has moved on. Yes, many research programmes are organized around a central idea that is being elaborated on not challenged per se.

    Paraphrasing from memory something I read long ago (which is also, no doubt, superseded in the study of how this stuff works):

    To the extent any core research program’s central idea isn’t sufficient, anomalies will be discovered while doing research around it. When investigated, when such anomalies can’t be explained under the old facts, they have to be wrung out to discover new facts. New facts that eventually will suggest new core ideas around which new research begins to be organized.

    It works.

  13. 663
    Rod B says:

    Ray (660), all you say here I agree with, but it is still a different context/scenario than my construct.

    I have little doubt that the current group of climate scientists that fervently support AGW, were they to run across something extraordinarily contrary, would pursue that diligently. Nor do I doubt that there is considerable conflict at times between members of like teams.

    How did “groupthink” get in this???

  14. 664
    Rod B says:

    Hank (662), I agree with everything in this post. But it has nothing to do with my point, which rose nowhere near the level of “a very long term conversation in the history and philosophy of science.

  15. 665
    Mark says:

    RodB 663, well, maybe the meme that scientists don’t want to find or even investigate (and will kick out anyone trying) is being attacked here. You do say here in 663 in black and white you don’t think that happens, but this is a VERY common denialist meme: the controversy is being quashed. Is it any wonder that your earlier comments that restated this old horse apple was treated as such?

    Now that you have stated that this doesn’t go on, please explain what your posts about “could it be something else” is doing? You don’t have an idea what it could be and you now say that you do not think that the scientists involved in climatology would shun any idea, where would they start? Until you come up with a reason for what else it may be, they aren’t “ignoring the controversy”, there IS no controversy. One side has a testable theory that works with what we can measure and the other sides have varying points that either test and prove failing, don’t test, or are just hand-waving.

    So stop with the “it could be something else” until you have an idea what that something else could be and how it modifies what’s seen to make it “look” like CO2 is a major driver of recent change.


  16. 666
    Mark says:

    re 658. Yes you DO need to know if horses can climb trees. What if a stallion is in heat and wants something to have a little quality time with and YOU are nearby? Can you climb that nearby tree to get away from its amorous advances or are you, literally, boned?

    re 659: You can mislead. E.g. “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. If in context it is about transparency of action, then its meaning is fairly benign. If in context it is about government surveillance of the population, the meaning is antisocial (inferring that if you don’t like being watched you deserve being watched). You can also insinuate. You do that a lot. You can also pick out things that don’t mean anything intending its context to lead someone to a false conclusion (see simon’s “clouds are a big uncertainty” screed).

    This is why words are so important in science and why maths is used so widely. When you have a mathematical formula you have a single description of the phenomena. If you use english words, you have to pick them VERY carefully so as to get the right message accurately across. E.g. “Volcanoes produce more CO2 in one year than humans have over the last thousand years” is true if you mean ancient supervolcanoes that nearly extinguished all life on earth, but the context is left out so that you will get people to think that Mt St Helens did this. It didn’t. Poor words chosen deliberately to mislead by dropping context).

    re 653. However you ARE asserting that the universe is irreducibly complex. THAT’S WHAT ID IS!!!! If you don’t know if it IS irreducibly complex, then you aren’t following ID. You’re following science which says “I assume it isn’t unsolvable”.

    Again, you drop words and forget your past prose in order to make out you are being even handed when you definitely are not.

    Stop it.

  17. 667

    “And how does ID get viewed along the lines of Einstein? That makes no sense. Unless you view it as dead as Einstein.”

    It’s a vice of mine to speak for others, but I would imagine that Rod is thinking of such Einsteinian comments as “God does not play dice with the universe.”

  18. 668
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B, OK, so based on your responses:
    1)You agree that if there were some revolutionary development that undermined current theory, it would be better to be with the discoverers than with the folks caught flatfooted.
    2)You also agree that careers of supporters of the current theory would be better off if they made the transistion to the new, better theory and could explain how the new evidence changed things.
    3)You also agree that the experimentalists have an interest in overturning the status quo and are a different group from the theorists.

    And yet, you still think all these scientists–people intelligent enough to get a PhD and rise to the top of their field–are so incapable of recognizing their own self interest that they would fail to pursue a promising new theory if it came along. Wow! I don’t suppose it would be fruitful to enquire as to what is the evidence on which you base your surmising that scientists will act differently than any other group

    I do not say that a new idea would not face resistance. New ideas always do, and until they have evidence behind them, they should. But the idea that climate scientists are all non compis mentis and incapable of even incapable of deciding on the strategy that best serves their interests is to say the least, novel, not to mention insulting.

  19. 669
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, you claim you agree with what I wrote
    3 January 2009 at 4:44 PM
    If you agree with that and stand by what you’ve been writing over and over, the only way I can figure it is you’re just having a laugh — over and over here — by tossing out casual insults then stirring the pot and saying oh, no, how can you people take this so seriously.

    There is, if Gavin will allow this, one analogy I can think of and it’s from religion. The sin of omission — telling the truth just so far and then leaving out something important that is needed to fully understand. That’s a theological divide from somewhere early in Christianity, and it turns up in other moral codes too — either way. Some say it’s okay to mislead, some say no. In this current world, omission of facts isn’t against the law. Caveat emptor. The buyer has to assume the seller may omit vital facts, it’s considered good business tactically to do that (unless someone actually swears to tell the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth).

    Scientists are holding themselves up as not leaving out anything important they know of that could affect understanding.

    If your world view is that people always leave facts out, spin, and lie if it suits them — well, demonstrate in your own behavior how you feel you should conduct yourself in scientific conversation.

  20. 670
    Rod B says:

    Mark (661, 665), You’re evidently reading a whole lot into my comments that aren’t there. I can’t follow your responses; so really can’t comment back.

  21. 671
    jcbmack says:

    With all this talk of bias, self fulfilling prophecy and shifting paradigms, you would think that no scientists can make a clear judgment in their research or that no engineer designed a bridge that could hold up to the winds of nature. Without science medicine could not exist and progress as an art and meteorology would not have the approximate two week predictive power. These computers run due to physics, chemistry and technological application quite well. Imagine how well those GCM’s have come. Without science we would be living to about 30-50 years of age tops. Everyone has bias,this is why experiments are so rigorously designed and why there must be multiple sources of data and a repeatability factor. It is amazing how people are still debating a proven warming trend. Now what is up for grabs so to speak in terms of probability is how fast and high warming will get at a particular point of CO2 levels and in due time; yet even here the data has gotten very very good. We know we need to reduce CO2 emissions based upon current trends and the future range we are looking at with a high level of confidence.

  22. 672
    Rod B says:

    Ray, Hank, and a little Mark:. The problem is as I’ve repeatedly said. You all are taking my original point, and blowing it way out of proportion (though somehow Hank accuses me of exaggerating my point…???) It has nothing to do with climate science per se, or the philosophy of science investigation, or the validity of ID, or the intelligence of climate or any other scientists. I merely said, in disagreeing with Ray’s implication, that a (pick your own field) scientist, while watching the TV news after dinner, learns his life long work has just been overturned, is (most probably) not going to immediately turn to his lovely bride and with great glee and satisfaction say, “Oh! Goody, goody. That’s great! Now I can get on Oprah!” His immediate reaction is (most probably) ‘Oh! S__t!’ This is the only point I made.

    If you all think otherwise, maybe because he is intellectually solid with a firm grasp of the scientific method and knows his field of science very well, or he really always wanted his work to be overturned because of its horrendous implications, or because you think me a “denialist”, or because the Earth revolves around the Sun, or because ID is unprovable, or because horses might actually climb trees, or……., well, that’s your privilege. And I could possibly be wrong and you correct. It would come as a complete shock and surprise to anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of human nature. But possible.

    Finally, just for the record and clarification, Einstein had a belief that there was some kind of super intelligence that had a “hand” in the development of the physical universe, and that the physical universe did not just randomly produce just the exact correct physical constants, for example. At the same time he had little to no countenance for the Creation as described in Genesis.

  23. 673
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, here are two very important tools worth knowing about:

    This excellent blog — with much to offer about learning– tools and much more:

    Suggests this site:

    From that list I recommend these two linked below.

    They give you the basic tool and method that research scientists have to use, all the time, to keep track of work and credit their intellectual sources. If you don’t keep track of information and cite sources — all of them, not just the ones “on your side” — you’re doing PR not science. It’s a slippery slope, people make mistakes, people end up “beyond emeritus” when they no longer keep clear in their own minds.

    This is how it’s done. This is the kind of thing researchers do to keep themselves honest. Nobody’s saying that researchers are more moral, more thoughtful, kinder, more better somehow than you are.

    The important thing is that to do science, they have to do it this way, giving recognition, making clear where ideas come from, making the effort to give all the information others will be able to use, no matter what “side” anyone is on.

    Seriously, look at the tools and consider why they exist. An artist needs a precise color reference; a scientist needs a precise fact reference.

  24. 674
    Mark says:

    Rod, you take your original point and then forget you said it and try to turn it about so someone who hasn’t read the entire thread will think that you are the sole voice of moderation.

    Stop it.

  25. 675
    Mark says:

    Kevin, 667, however I fail to see how that god != dice makes for ID. There is neither dice nor god in ID and the evolutionary theories require neither as well.

  26. 676
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod, The surest way to wind up learning about an advance on the news rather than in your research is to become defensive about “your” theory. Ultimately, however every theory is destined to be replaced by something better–perhaps incrementally better, and perhaps still recognizable, but more complete. That’s science.

    As to Einstein, be extremely careful when ascribing theological sentiments to him. He said he believed in “Spinoza’s God,” but Spinoza’s God is not a “personal” god. There’s no “personality” there that can relate to us or even be aware of us. Most historians simply think Einstein was saying that the Universe is lawful. Spinoza was an exceptionally subtle thinker. So was Einstein. Pinning down what either meant will keep historians and philosophers in PhD theses for years.

  27. 677
    Hank Roberts says:

    > while watching the TV news after dinner, learns his life
    > long work has just been overturned

    Oh, there’s the problem. Your hypothetical was that, seeing something on television, a scientist would say those two words.

    No argument there. It could happen.

    Notice, though, that eople keep thinking you’re trying to make some serious point in the conversations here. Wonder why?

  28. 678
    jcbmack says:

    Rod, Einstein was a deist… he suscribed in many, but not all ways to Spinoza’s God, though he has a few disagreements.

  29. 679
    Rod B says:

    Mark, you could go back and read my initial post (527), absorbing only the words I wrote (including the disclaimer that I was agreeing with Ray’s wider more global description) and not all the stuff you think or wished that I’d said. Then maybe you could stop your nonsense.

  30. 680
    Rod B says:

    Ray (676), I’m just paraphrasing Einstein. And you’re correct, he absolutely did not believe in a “personal God”.

  31. 681
    Rod B says:

    Hank, I meant it as a serious point but a very minor one. Everybody else kept trying to build it up; I kept trying to put it back in its original box. It was serious but worthy of no more than about 5% of the discourse posted here, if taken on its face.

  32. 682
    jcbmack says:

    Scientists are still human, yes and no one likes to be proven wrong either. Also one more comment about faith before I drop this non science related subject; nothing in science has does or will disprove the existence of a higher being or if you will, God(s). Science merely explains the workings of the natural world, as Francis Collins knows, one can have faith, even be a Christian, but still know of the facts of evolution that there is no vital force as they thought of it in the fourteenth century and before. Yet one can believe in a vital force and prime mover as long as they do not confuse ignorance for God or replace solid evidence with a “personal belief” that is wrong. This is really an eighteenth century debate rehashed by ID and the like. Personally and I will say this once in a science forum, I am a theist with some beliefs that sound very deist, but no matter, science explains what is or gets closer to the truths in the physical realm; it does nothing to make less evident or disprove, or deny the possibilities of genuine faith.

  33. 683
    dhogaza says:

    I’m just paraphrasing Einstein.

    However you want to paraphrase, or invoke, Einstein in your defense of ID …

    Einstein never suggested that any god intervened to create the bacterial flagellum, etc etc. ID is based on the premise that some “designer” has intervened repeatedly in the course of biological events, many times.

    That’s not Einstein’s deity, and there’s no way to misrepresent his views that any intelligent person will fall for.

  34. 684
    Mark says:

    RodB, #6680 your initial post was not #527. That post is from Ray.

    I can absorb those words but they aren’t yours.

    Now, if you can’t find your own posts here, what chance does anyone else have one and so notice your attempt to avoid the statement you deny having made?

  35. 685
    Rod B says:

    Mark, I could swear it was #627 when I dbl-checked a few days back (“5” being a typo; or maybe I can’t see well…). In any case my original post on this particular aspect of the discourse is #625 in response to Ray’s 624 — near as I can figure!

  36. 686
    jcbmack says:

    Post numbers do change sometimes. I see several of my posts change number as other post questions or responses are made; this seems to be at the leisure of the blog moderators and I can do the same thing on my blog as I believe any blog moderator can.

  37. 687
    Hank Roberts says:

    Posting numbers change, nobody’s at fault. I use’em too but that’s laziness on my part. They get stable, once the Contributors are done filtering. And I thank them for filtering.

    Maybe item for a
    “How2 Use This Blog, Editing, WatchOutFors” FAQ.
    Along with the magic incantation for — is it “less than” or “more than” — that accidentally truncates one’s post prematurely.

    When a posting is held for approval you’ll see it but others won’t, so I think numbers won’t be the same for different viewers in that stretch.

    To really point to a posting you can identify by time:

    # Rod B Says: on 5 January 2009 at 11:03 AM “….”

    — copy the timestamp,
    — go to /View/Source, paste into Find, copy out the HTML, go to your reply and paste. Looks like this when you do that:

    (copying from “left angle bracket a” through “a right angle bracket”

    Rod wrote 5 January 2009 at 11:03 AM

    That’s clickable, takes you to the actual posting, a great help.

    “Tammanyites Polka”
    says ReCaptcha. I think I’ve been thanked, or flattered, or ….

  38. 688
    Mark says:

    Rod in 625: Throw away his long belief and vested interest so he can align with the truth and get on Oprah?!? I think not — not in 99% anyway.

    Rod in 663: I have little doubt that the current group of climate scientists that fervently support AGW, were they to run across something extraordinarily contrary, would pursue that diligently.

    Originally “He won’t change. 99%”. Then “Mr Reasonable” turns up and it’s “He’d change”.

  39. 689
    Nick Gotts says:

    Rod B: “Gavin would start to question the tremendous effort he puts into RC — spending most of his time telling us to shut up. I do agree (and said) the ID vs. creationism debate is analogous to the AGW vs. not AGW debate, but, again, has nothing to do with my current point.”

    Having just reviewed the posts since around 24th, I can’t let this insult to Gavin pass – even if intended as a joke, it was a very poor one. Gavin’s posts and inline comments, like those of the other main contributors, must take many, many hours of concentrated work.

    Secondly, what on earth do you mean “the ID vs creationism debate”? ID is just creationism repackaged, and neither has anything whatever to contribute to science.

    Others have said more or less the same, but it bears repeating: Rod B. and Nick C. share the same caricature view, that the objectivity of science depends on scientists being emotionless calculating machines, unattached to their theories and always polite both to each other and to any ignorant idiot who barges in. It does not. It depends on the institutional systems of science, and specifically the way they combine cooperation and competition, conservatism and radicalism.

  40. 690

    Regarding the question of post numbers, it was discussed previously here.

    (I’ve got to get some basic HTML chops going as Gavin suggests, so I don’t have to give the whole URL.)

    The main point is that the comment ID tags are stable through the moderation process.

  41. 691
  42. 692

    For others who’d like to be able to make post references clickable, figuring out the HTML tags took a little effort, even after Gavin’s original helpful instruction. I needed a few basics, which can be found here.

    The key is to view source and reverse-engineer. I have to cop to being a little too lazy to figure this out until the current episode of “post-numeric creep.”

  43. 693

    Relevant perhaps to the question of political consensus is this story from Australia.

    [Response: Yeah, unfortunate that they couldn’t get the spelling of Hansen’s name right though. – mike]

  44. 694
    Rod B says:

    Mark, it’s all a matter of timing, though I admit that’s a pretty difficult concept.

  45. 695
    Rod B says:

    Nick Gotts, If you don’t think Gavin gets tired of the ID-Creation debate and would strongly prefer it not even show up so he doesn’t have to spend his precious time stopping it, you haven’t been around long enough or are not paying attention. How my saying this is an insult to Gavin is way beyond my comprehension. Though I would accept any correction from Gavin.

  46. 696
    Mark says:

    re 694.

    What is?

  47. 697
    Nick Gotts says:

    “We could debate this too, but Gavin would start to question the tremendous effort he puts into RC — spending most of his time telling us to shut up. I do agree (and said) the ID vs. creationism debate is analogous to the AGW vs. not AGW debate, but, again, has nothing to do with my current point.” – Rod B.

    Rod B.@695
    Sorry, I misinterpreted you as saying that Gavin does spend most of his time on this blog telling us to shut up. I apologise. But why are you talking about “the ID-Creation debate” (even, in your earlier post, the “ID vs creationism debate”? Where is this debate going on?

  48. 698
    Rod B says:

    Nick, the debate is mainly mine, over the creationists co-opting an otherwise good term — ID. As I said earlier I think I have lost the fight; continuing it causes too much confusion and mis-understanding.

  49. 699
    Hank Roberts says:

    Psst! Rod! you could continue over there –>>

  50. 700
    Hank Roberts says:

    Nice, relevant, fact-filled posting worth a look:

    “… if someone shows you a trend over 3 years, about 90% of what they’re showing you is weather (real trends of up to 1.5 C/century, 3 year trends of up to 15 C/century — 90% of that 15 C/century is weather). For a 7 year trend, it’s about 70% weather. Weather is interesting, but if you’re interested in climate, and they’re claiming to be talking about climate, then they’re misleading you by those 70-90% of weather they’ve thrown in by using such short spans….”