Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Anger fading

So I'm less pissed than I was when I read the DI response to the conversation we bloggers had about the supernatural.

In the comments, JY helped me clarify my thoughts on the supernatural as science. I don't think that things we call supernatural cannot be science. If they generate testable (falsifiable) predictions, they may be validated, and be incorporated into science. If supernatural things can be shown to follow laws in a predictive way, they probably shouldn't be called supernatural any longer.

This is why ID is bad religion. If it works, it drags God out of the supernatural, into and exclusively in the natural world. That's an interesting religion, but it's not one that too many Americans practice.

That idea was under the surface in my first post. The surface said that science is based on falsifiable predictions. If any thought system generates testable predictions, it may be scientific. I then showed that ID doesn't and can't (at best won't) generate falsifiable predictions, so it isn't science.

I got pissed when Paul Nelson paraphrased the first part (ID could be science if …) and not the second (ID doesn't do … so it isn't science). There are two reasons for that anger.
  1. The second part was the argument, the first was introductory philosophy of biology. It misrepresents my argument.
  2. He presented it as if the biologist gave ID more credibility than two journalists and a philosopher. I gave in no credibility.
The first part bears a scary resemblance to quotemining. I don't know if Nelson has a rep as a quoteminer. I don't care. He blogs with known quoteminers, and his behavior was very similar to theirs. I reacted preemptively to head off the possibility that my name will show up in some steaming pile of DI propaganda: "Even biologist Josh Rosenau says ID could be science if … ." No I didn't. I said it can't be science because it won't do what needs to be done.

Here's a hypothetical quotemining example. Someone can start an article "Many people think HIV was created by the CIA." They can spend several pages presenting the arguments advanced in favor of that. Then they can spend more pages tearing that argument to shreds, and show that it had to be an accidental transmission before the CIA ever existed. No one should quote the first sentence without explaining that the article's intent was to demolish that sentence. That would be dishonest.

Maybe Nelson despises quotemining as much as I do. Maybe he'd never dream of doing that, and he was just pointing out something sort of funny and silly, or he misread me. I can't be sure.

I do know that there is quotemining and apologetics for quotemines on the same blog, and I've never seen him denounce the practice. Anyone with a shred of intellectual and academic integrity has to be appalled at the practice. Everyone writes sentences that they disagree with, or which give bad ideas too much credit, specifically in order to criticize the idea or explain its errors. Quotemining makes everyone afraid to use normal rhetorical techniques by using these counterfactual quotes without the context of the actual argument being made.

I don't trust IDtF because it has quotemining on it. My distrust extends to each person writing there. That may be undeserved, but until they each make a specific statement denouncing the practice, I can't trust them. That changes my calculus of intentions. I try to follow Robert Hanlon's dictum (often attributed to Twain): Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. If I just thought Nelson was a regular guy, I'd figure he read my piece fast and missed the point. If the blog allowed comments, I'd leave a polite note explaining the confusion, and maybe we'd chat about it.

But I don't trust anyone who would associate their intellectual efforts with quoteminers. Quoteminers abuse quotes maliciously and intentionally. If a quoteminer misquotes or misrepresents, it is attributed first to malice.

I'd like to believe that Nelson just misunderstood my argument. But I can't because he hasn't disassociated himself from the practice of intentionally misrepresenting people's arguments.

You'd think it was obvious where people stand, and it's a shame I have to ask. But I emailed him with these concerns and explanations, and asked him to specifically denounce quotemining.

I'll draw up a statement that anyone can sign, if that would be helpful.

By way of reconciliation, I'll say that I don't know enough about Nelson's parents to call him a bastard, and I suspect that I overstated in calling him illiterate. More retractions may follow. I'm prepared to retract lying, if it comes down to it. I still believe that one, but new evidence may change my mind.