Breaking a butterfly on the wheel, part II

Part I refers, in which I take PZ to task for getting too carried away over some harmless minor piece of hydrodynamics. PZ didn’t show up in the comment thread for his post after I criticised him there, which I took as an implicit admission of error, and was all ready to forget it. But no, PZ bites back:

I have been chastised by William Connolley; he thinks I was too “strident” in condemning that lousy paper about Moses parting the sea with a fortuitous wind. I disagree, obviously. It was a bad paper, and I gave the reasons why it was so awful: it was poorly justified, it was not addressing an even remotely significant question, and the logic of the work and the conclusions was lacking. Connolley also doesn’t seem to understand why it is objectionable and serves an ideological purpose for the creationists. Yes, as I pointed out, finding natural causes makes miracles irrelevant, but that logic doesn’t matter. The point of this paper was very simple: to allow creationists to make the claim that science supports the truth of the Bible.

There isn’t a great deal of point in repeating myself, so be sure you’ve read part I, so, on to the new stuff, such as it is:

1. As several people have pointed out in the comments over at PZ, there is a disconnect in how this issue is seen between the USA and… well, the rest of the wrold. Only they seem to have a sufficient mass of influential nutty ID / Creationist folk to have to care about. The rest of us don’t have to, and consequently don’t. So perhaps PZ is right to say that (from a we-are-wacky-USA perpsective), that I don’t care enough about Creationism. But it would be nice to see, in return, some realisation from him that the USA isn’t the whole world.

2. That was quite enough compromise for one post, don’t you think? Right! Onwards. Point 2 is that PZ purports to care about this paper because it is bad science. And he advances a number of reasons why this paper fails that test: stuff like one of the results of researching a topic should be the discovery of genuine problems that warrant deeper analysis. A science paper is a story, and it always begins with a good question. But actually, none of that is the real problem. There are any number of science papers that fail this test: that cover trivial problems, that repeat existing literature, that don’t do deeper analysis; and PZ cares about none of them enough to blog. Heavens, by those standards papers that are primarily about observations would be doomed. The reason PZ dislikes the paper is the religion he sees in it. I think it would have been better (clearer, more honest) to simply say that, and drop the mask of condeming it as bad science because (oh no, not again) the modelling part is unexceptionable.

I could go on, but I said much of it on the comments at PZ, so won’t repeat:

* General comments, including a snark at the (generally) hostile comment atmosphere there rather reminiscent of WUWT
* PZ reply, partially misunderstanding me, to which I reply
* comments that the editor is taking lots of flack, and suggests that had the paper been clear that this was all hypothetical, all would have been well. I point out the obvious similarities to Copernicus and Galileo but no-one gets the point.

It is possible to have a reasoned discussion of the merits or otherwise of this paper, and Sigmund and I have had such a discussion, in the comments on my part I. He is something of a voice of reason over at PZ too. But the “regulars” there give him (and me) short shrift.

Amusingly, I now know a little how Curry feels. Not that makes her right, you understand.

Strange stuff from Pharyngula

I don’t, in general, read my fellow science blogs. Not because I hate them, you understand, but because they talk about other stuff. But I was lead to Inventing excuses for a Bible story, and getting them published in a science journal? and was immeadiately struck by (a) how strident it seemed, and (b) how backwards it all seemed. (a) I can excuse: I’m sure I seem the same fairly often, but hopefully not too often (b). Side note: I was “accused” recently of being tedious in my writing on wikipedia, at which I vigourously protested. But it became clear that she actually meant “tendentious” which isn’t great but is certainly much better (old joke: deaf old Oirish Catholic grandmother: and what do you do now, grandaughter? Grandaughter (embarrased, low voice, mumbles): I’m a prostitute. Grandmother (outraged): *what* did you say? Grandaughter: repeats, louder. Grandmother: Oh thank heavens, I thought you said you were a Protestant).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: someone has published a harmless paper with hydrodynamic modelling about whether the fabled crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites could be explained simply by wind forcing exposing some mudflats or reef. I read a bit of it (here it is, if you want to) but not enough to tell if it was any good. It reminded me of what I was taught in school, oooh, must be (thinks) 30 years ago. Much the same story, though with less detail. And we were taught by a proper C of E clergyman too, I tell you. In those days, “explaining away” the miracles of the bible was quite fashionable; perhaps it still is.

But PZ gets this completely backwards, altough bizarrely he also realises this, because if you can explain away all the miracles that is evidence against God, not in favour of it. so all the outrage and huffing and puffing is completely off target. Far better would have been a gentle mocking piece called something like “even the believers don’t believe” or somesuch.

I also find his “If a paper like this were plopped on my desk for review, I’d be calling the editor to ask if it was a joke. If it wasn’t, I’d laugh and reject it”. PZ knows nothing about hydrodynamics or ocean modelling. If this paper landed on his desk the only honourable thing for him to do would be to return it with a polite note saying that it was outside his field of competency to review.

Also, PZ has been rather careless with some of his sniping: It’s also troubling that this work actually got funded by NCAR and the Office of Naval Research. Why? I suspect that sympathetic Christians somewhere in the administration gave bad Christian research a pass… looks wrong (as pointed out in the comments [1]. The authors are funded; it doens’t look like this study specifically was. This looks like the kind of stuff one sees the septics pushing in the Global Warming arena. But PZ has no excuse: he is a scientist, and he knows how funding works.

Incidentally, there is a whole pile of speculation in PZ’s comments about where the idea for this came from, and why they bothered, etc etc. I think the answer is obvious: they were interested in the idea, and most importantly they had a model they could conveniently reconfigure to run this case, and computer time to run it. So they did.

Ha: and while I’m on disturbing reminders of GW: how about this from the comments:

I just talked to Drew via email, and he claims he performed this research ON HIS OWN TIME. I intend to write to NCAR and request and audit of his time there to verify that he used no government funded resources, and also to inquire why NCAR’s name was attached to this research in any way shape or form.

Does that kind of (threatened) harassment remind you of anything? I felt moved to comment over there:

PZ: you know (professionally) nothing about hydrodynamics. If this paper passed your desk for review, your only correct response would be to decline on the grounds of lack of competence. Some of the comments on this thread are appalling. In particular I intend to write to NCAR and request and audit of his time there to verify that… looks very much like the kind of harassment that cliamte scientists have been subjected to by the septics. This is a harmless little paper. It may well not be great science, but if anything it deserves gentle mockery not vitriol.

[Note: visitors from P are welcome. However, make sure you’re aware of the comment policy which may not be as free-n-easy as you’re used to. In particular, insulting other commenters, or simply repeating yourself, aren’t welcome. I’ve already deleted some comments -W]

[Update: from Chris, over in the comments there, an important point: It’s well worth, in my opinion, standing firmly for the principle of academic freedom. I wish I’d said that too.]

[Update: another aspect I forgot and shouldn’t have (from Chris C in the comments): There’s a larger issue here: the importance of a playful attitude in the pursuit of knowledge. Yes! Lets not take this stuff too seriously. We have to work, but it doesn’t all have to be grind. We can have fun too, and should.]

[Thanks to the indefatiguable Hank for digging out Sci-Fi atmospheres by Ray Pierrehumbert. I haven’t seen that before. Meanwhile, BCL has found some more govt-sponsored trash that PZ will doubtless be attacking :-)]