Friday, December 02, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Heretical

Via Fired Up! Missouri, we learn that Missouri is not content to let Kansas have glory in both basketball and pseudoscience. Evolution foes seek changes in Missouri:
Missouri critics of evolution are encouraged by the Kansas Board of Education’s recent adoption of science standards that call for criticism of evolution. Opponents say the move opens the door for the teaching of intelligent design.

“I think Kansas is doing the right thing,” said Rep. Cynthia Davis, a St. Louis County Republican who last year filed a bill that would have required biology textbooks to include “critical analysis of origins.”
Cynthia Davis is certainly in the running for "laughingstock of the century." There was the campaign finance glitch (what is it about Republicans and campaign finance problems?), and many other infractions against decency and common sense, ably documented at FuM.

Ms. Davis continued:

She said it is only a matter of time before such legislation becomes law.

“You look at Galileo who was criticized as being a heretic because he thought the earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around,” she said. “There are doctors who were ostracized because they washed their hands in between patients. Today we know that sometimes you’ve got to change with the times.”
And you look at the heretics who insisted that bumps on the skull could tell you about someone's personality. Or you look at the fringe ideology of spiritualism in the 19th century. Today we know that scientific research is the best arbiter of what is taught in science classes. You change not with the times, but with the evidence.

Griffiths and Wright, 1920
While I was in New York, we visited a small exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art showing vintage photographs which attempted to scientifically demonstrate the existence of ghosts and fairies. Most of the early photos were chintzy double exposures, total hack work. Then there are photos of mediums (media?) who claimed to be able to exude "ectoplasm" and make it take form. Too bad it looks a lot like cotton batting, or maybe just greasy cloth in the photographs.
There was a brief episode where Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes' creator, and also the originator of the Lost World) argued for the authenticity of some photos of fairies, which turned out to be drawings cut out of books and photographed in natural settings.

After Doyle's death, ghost photographers took photos of mediums he had patronized and imposed Doyle's face on the images, to suggest that he had returned from the beyond.

When these darkroom tricks became unsatisfying, people just pressed their hands against packets of undeveloped film and developed it. The pressure and the electrical fields they had hooked themselves up to altered the film, and produced eerie images.

People at the time generally considered the spiritualists to be cranks or hoaxsters, and they were. That's why the Galileo gambit is so absurd. There are lots of heretical ideas. Some are right, some are wrong. We don't just point to Galileo and declare a heretical idea good, we look at the evidence for and against the idea, and judge, it that way.

That's how things have always worked. As Ed Brayton quotes from Jason Rosenhouse (who attributes this to Nick Matzke):

The first use of the term Intelligent Design to refer to a scientific theory came in the book Of Pandas and People. That's intended as a high school biology text. How many scientific theories can you name whose first mention came in the form of a high school biology text? The usual procedure is for a scientific theory to be kicked around among scientists for a while, gradually gain acceptance via proven usefulness, and only then trickle down into the science texts.
Here, I'm less interested in the first half than the second half. If one can provide convincing evidence for ghosts, proceed to demand access to science classes (and James Randi has <Dr. Evil>One Meeeelyun dollars!</Dr. Evil> to give you.) Same for IDC.

That's what made Galileo special. He gathered copious evidence and presented not just the Copernican model, but a series of convincing observations based on that model's predictions.

IDC is like spiritualism without even doctored photos to back it up.

"Your Ghost" by Kristin Hersh from the album Hips & Makers (1994, 3:16).