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 :-)]