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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Altenberg 16 - burying Darwin while he is still hot?

Is Susan Mazur writing a book that exposes the Darwin industry instead of protecting it?

The title is "Altenberg 16: An Exposé Of The Evolution Industry
Sunday, 6 July 2008, 12:32 pm
Article: Suzan Mazur "




Evolution Tribes

1 The Altenberg 16

2 Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?

3 Jerry Fodor and Stan Salthe Open the Evo Box

4 Theory of Form to Center Stage

5 The Two Stus

[ and more ... ]

Susan, you mean, no more of the "dancing with the biologists" on Galapagos rubbish (and, person who wrote that silliness, you know who you are ... ) A real accounting at last?

By the way, the intro to a book is the "Foreword", not "Forward". Easy to correct.

I will read and report shortly.

Okay, (2:04 pm EST) starting to get some answers now: A long-time observer who knows several of the Alt. 16, says,
The anecdote about Mary Leakey, with which Mazur opens her e-book, is telling. Leakey says that she re-buried hominid fossils so that their "discovery" could be covered by a film crew. As I see it, Mazur places this story as a epigraph to her coverage of the Alt 16, and related issues, to indicate her skepticism of the neo-D enterprise: a science hopelessly corrupted by ideology and quasi-religious motivations, and shot through with cowardice and intimidation of dissent.

Mazur's skepticism is long-standing (note the date of the Leakey interview: 1980). That means she got bit with the bug of doubt about neo-D nearly 30 years ago, and has had plenty of time to observe the mischief since then. Now she's on a roll.

I don't think she wants to take the Alt 16 to the cleaners, so much as she wants a lot more openness and candor about neo-D in public discussions. Moreover she sees the stifling orthodoxy, even to the extent that she publishes her correspondence with magazine editors turning down her article proposals.

Fascinating lady. I look forward to meeting her.
But why did Mazur even make any article proposals? Don't legacy media editors have to front Darwin as part of making a living?

Here are some of the Comments at Telic Thoughts in response to this intro by Guts:
It's not Yasgur's Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let's call them "the Altenberg 16" – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accomodate "other" new phenomena. So the theory Charles Darwin gave us, which was dusted off and repackaged 70 years ago, seems about to be reborn as the "Extended Evolutionary Synthesis".

A lot of the ensuing chatter is just people talking to themselves, but some interesting discussion is developing:
Well, it’s very unfortunate that you bought into this. There are very few people in evolutionary biology who take Pigliucci seriously, and Fodor, Pivar, et al. are literally unknowns, providing no evidence that they’ve read a single bit of the mainstream evolutionary biology literature.

[ ... ]

I have little confidence in a “new synthesis” emerging from this motley crew of B-list science celebrities, and their mishmash of old ideas (“self-organization,” “emergence,” “edge of chaos,” and all that), and current professional rivalries and personal animosities. These are all “old school” biologists and philosophers.
And so forth.

Essentially, old school or new school, the Darwinists first need to decide what exactly Darwinism is. Is it simply a theory about whether species originate via survival of the fittest? That's what Darwin (and Wallace) proposed. Or is it also Lee Smolin's cosmic Darwinism, the Big Bazooms theory of evolution beloved of Psychology Today, and gangs of deceitful memes spreading religion as a virus of the mind?

If it is the first (a theory of the origin of species), it may well be true in some cases. But the evidence for Darwinism as a large, general cause of the origin of species has never been very good. When challenged, Darwinists typically point to trivial or questionable examples, then demand loyalty to their bigger idea as proof of support for "science" generally.

Then, of course, in marches a kazoo band harping on cosmic Darwinism, the Big Bazooms theory, and the gangs of deceitful religion memes (or viruses).

The fact that Darwinists have been able to get away with this nonsense for so long is principally due to the popularity at universities of the bigger idea that Darwinism supposedly underwrites - materialist atheism. Darwinism is the creation story of materialist atheism, if not of any particular species in nature. Most of the "skeptic rants' you hear in Darwinism's defence are recitations of the creed.

In short, I think Darwinism would be a viable idea in science if Darwinists could bring themselves to fire the kazoo band, but I bet they can't. We'll see.

Oh, and here's some damage control from Olivia Judson in the New York Times, "Let's get rid of Darwinism" because it's all much broader than that:
I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today.
But Judson, what ISN'T Darwinism?

The best way to accomplish your proposed goal would be by beginning there. But somehow I don't think you want to go there.
Yet all too often, evolution — insofar as it is taught in biology classes at all — is taught as the story of Charles Darwin. Then the pages are turned, and everyone settles down to learn how the heart works, or how plants make energy from sunshine, or some other detail. The evolutionary concepts that unify biology, that allow us to frame questions and investigate the glorious diversity of life — these are ignored.

Do these evolutionary concepts include or exclude cosmic Darwinism, the Big Bazooms theory of evolution, and the gangs of deceitful religion memes (or viruses). I am beginning to suspect that the Birkenstock of Evolution (the Altenberg Conference) will break up without defining anything like that, which means it will have been a pleasant Alpine holiday.

July 16 6:17 pm EST, another friend writes,
I have not had time to read Mazur's stuff in detail. It seems that she has experienced the stonewalling encountered by anyone who questions Neo-Darwinism, but it also seems she is trying to push the self-organization school of thought, which tends to be either materialistic or pantheistic (ala Stuart Kaufman) in approach. Self-organizationalists acknowledge the incompleteness of the Darwinian explanation, but will not concede the necessity of an intelligent agent who guided the origin and development of life.

As to her assessment of the A-16s- she is angry because they promised her access, then denied it after her first article caused an uproar. I am not sure she has engaged the arguments for herself yet. I think she didn't realize how radioactive this particular subject is, but she is now beginning to find out.

Radioactive? yes. Susan should contact me if she wants to know whether she has a future as a journalist. Yes, if she adopts as her motto, "If, after investigation, it sounds unbelievable, ... hey, don't believe it." Otherwise, no. But there is always a government job somewhere.

Another friends, James Barham, comments,
On the whole, I thought it was splendid. ... Something like Mazur's article is long overdue. I am so happy that finally a few of the people who question neo-Darwinism from a secular perspective are beginning to get a real hearing in the media. It's high time!

There are many, many other folks that she might have interviewed, as well, but I am grateful that she at least gave Kauffman, Newman, and Lima-de-Faria a hearing (also, I was delighted to learn that Piattelli-Palmarini seems to have come around to a self-organization perspective, which I was not aware of). Now, if she will only interview West-Eberhard, Jablonka, Margulis, Ho, Goodwin, Yates, Reid, and a dozen others ...
Look, James, I just paid a library fine for a bunch of overdue pop sci mags that were not worth checking out even for free because they were brimful of the sci trash that Mazur is trying to expose (and thus were expensively forgettable clutter).

I just hope that girl got good biz sense ...

Casey Luskin at Discovery Institute notes,
Pigliucci claims there's "no crisis" here, but Kevin Padian is hanging up on people and Eugenie Scott claims people will confuse the arguments of conference-attendees with intelligent design.

What is most interesting here is not just Pigliucci's attempt at damage control, but the NCSE's knee-jerk reaction against anything that isn't neo-Darwinian. It seems that the NCSE was indeed quite worried that this conference will do damage to neo-Darwinism. At the very least, this exchange exposes the NCSE's intolerant attitude towards non-Darwinian thoughts, even when the doubters don't support ID. Indeed, Mazur's reports reveal that various scientists she has interviewed at the conference have fundamental doubts about neo-Darwinism, but they are eschewed by the scientific community.
Well yes, because they have to yap Darwinyap to get research funding. Try getting research funding without doing that ... try holding your hat out on the street.


Intellectual freedom in Canada: Comedy and libel - a quick update

About next Saturday's comedy show, Mark Steyn writes,
Denyse O'Leary's misgivings about the event may well be borne out, but, if I weren't going to be several thousand miles away, I'd certainly be there myself - and I urge all freespeechers in the neighborhood to attend: Be there even if you're square. No doubt many of the participants were hitherto entirely relaxed by the thought police cracking down on Swift Current White Supremacists and the First Church of Christ the Same-Sex-Marriage Disparager. But the reality is that any truly free society will have its share of anti-Semites and homophobic pastors and right-wing blowhards and left-wing pottymouth comics, and, if you give the government license to squash the liberties of selected citizens, you soon find they're selecting all kinds of other folk. So, if you're in Toronto this Saturday, do check out Guy Earle and co.

Now, please let me clarify: I sincerely hope my misgivings are misguided. That is, the comics should aim principally at real threats, not convenient joke topics.

In our society today, the would-be neo-Nazi in the basement apartment (Aryan Storm Eagle on an obscure Internet site but in real life an unemployable schmuck whose landlady bullies him when he forgets which day of the week he is allowed to use the ironing board) - that guy is not a threat except to himself.

However, the social worker with a string of degrees and a self-imposed mission to wipe out hurt feelings everywhere IS a threat. Many in our society are bafflegabbed by her jargon, feel more secure when she is running their lives, and don't think that growing up is all that great an idea anyway.

For what it is worth, I have always thought that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was a better dystopian picture of our society than Orwell's 1984. Huxley got the most important thing right - infantilizing people is far more effective than terror for gaining control.

In my view, we need to aim at Nanny Monster, not at Aryan Storm Schmuck.

See also: Intellectual freedom in Canada: The first order of business is comedy!

Meanwhile, Franklin Carter of the Book and Periodical Council kindly writes to add:
Incidentally, Brian MacLeod Rogers has organized a coalition of interested parties to support the newly minted PIRJ defence against libel charges in Ontario.

PIRJ stands for "public interest responsible journalism." The Ontario Court of Appeal created this defence late last year while reviewing Cusson v. Quan, a newspaper libel case.

In late June, the Governing Board of the Book and Periodical Council voted to join Rogers's coalition and defend PIRJ.

In the not-too-distant future, the Supreme Court of Canada will decide whether PIRJ remains on the lawbooks as a valid defence against libel charges.

So you might want to watch for news about Cusson v. Quan and the PIRJ defence.


Be sure I shall, Franklin. People who are used to praise tend to think that media should be their private public relations firms. Hurt feelings abound when they don't get what they want, so they sue. Good luck to the PBC.

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