Orang-utan: 1, Hunter: 0

Orang-utan: 1 Hunter: 0, originally uploaded by Prof. Jas. Mundie.

For an awesome look at museums (and wierd anatomy specimens) that most of us will never see, visit Prof. James G. Mundie’s photostream on Flickr.

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Creationism proved: stego-cat

Scientists have found the crocoduck of the ages:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more LOLcats and funny pictures

Hint: evolution doesn’t work like that.

“Cargo cult science” by Richard Feynman

This was extracted from Richard Feynman’s address to a graduating class in 1974. Among other things, he points out that, if you don’t understand science, adopting its trappings will not make what you do magically become science. There’s a nice, clear copy here: “Cargo Cult Science.”

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land. Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.
—Richard Feynman

Bill Maher explains swine flu

Bill Maher points out that swine flu proves evolution:

In the process, he gets in a few good one-line jokes and takes a dig at creationism.

Hat tip to Tara C. Smith at Aetiology.

Who benefits from religion?

A good question to ask about why organizations exist is to ask, “Who benefits?” Political parties exist to help their members to influence what laws are made and how they are enforced–in other words, to get into power and benefit the interests of their own social class.

For example, farmers usually have influence greater than their numbers would suggest by voting as a bloc on their issues, such as farm subsidies. Farmers are paid for not growing certain crops, because that keeps the price of food up and gets them more income–a wierd form of group socialism that harms the poor who are trying to eat and feed their children but benefits farmers.

Actors and dancers and artists believe that the arts should be subsidized for the good of the country’s culture and reputation. It’s incidental that subsidizing the arts would give more of them a living doing what they like to do.

Being a priest is a wonderful way to get an income without actually having to produce anything. However sincere, he gets paid to utter magic words and make mystical signs and ask for miracles, just like the witch doctor of a village. And with as much reality behind him.

Fun with geography: Waymarking.com

The Waymarking site lets you pinpoint where you’ve been and what you found there. There’s even a category for Town Clocks, such as this one in the small town of Stayner. You can use it to find the nearest geocaches or even the nearest hotels. The reason I’m focusing on Stayner is because the town clock is near some 19th-Century buildings that I photographed there.

town-of-Stayner-Aug-2009-pic3

Evolution as Fact and Theory

cover-GouldSJ-HensTeeth-w-thHere’s a link to Stephen Jay Gould’s notable essay, “Evolution as Fact and Theory.”

According to idealized principles of scientific discourse, the arousal of dormant issues should reflect fresh data that give renewed life to abandoned notions. Those outside the current debate may therefore be excused for suspecting that creationists have come up with something new, or that evolutionists have generated some serious internal trouble. But nothing has changed; the creationists have presented not a single new fact or argument. Darrow and Bryan were at least more entertaining than we lesser antagonists today. The rise of creationism is politics, pure and simple; it represents one issue (and by no means the major concern) of the resurgent evangelical right. Arguments that seemed kooky just a decade ago have reentered the mainstream.

.The basic attack of modern creationists falls apart on two general counts before we even reach the supposed factual details of their assault against evolution. First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word “theory” to convey the false impression that we evolutionists are covering up the rotten core of our edifice. Second, they misuse a popular philosophy of science to argue that they are behaving scientifically in attacking evolution.

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