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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Stephen Hawking: Brilliant Astrophysicist, Hardcore Gangsta Rapper

It's absurd. It's juvenile. It's offensive. And it's hilarious. Check out the website of MC Hawking and his music video and album trailer. This seems to be a few years old, but I hadn't seen it until now. You can even buy MC Hawking's greatest hits CD: A Brief History of Rhyme. MC Hawking is representin' for the scientists, yo.

DISCLAIMER: If you're deeply offended by gangsta rap, profanity, and/or disrespect towards religion, don't click the link.

This clearly isn't the way to advance science education and awareness, but it struck my twisted sense of humor. I couldn't help laughing.

For a less controversial but even cooler hip-hop animated music video, check out Danger Doom's ode to Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

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Did I Do That?

And the drama continues. The war of words between dlamming and Ed Brayton continues to get more heated. Since my last post covering their opposing arguments, they've both posted new entries on the subject (see dlamming's here, and see Ed's here).

Previously I said I thought it was unlikely that Ed Brayton found dlamming's original post via one of my blog entries. Then Ed left a comment to my post confirming that he had, in fact, gotten to dlamming's post from my blog. He used a Firefox extension that links to Google's blog search engine. So, since I bear partial responsibility for igniting this turmoil, I figure I should try to capture and summarize the arguments as I see them for posterity.

I'm attempting the "paraphrasing challenge" based on David Brin's idea of "Disputation Arenas" to make sure I've accurately captured both sides of the argument. If either dlamming or Ed wishes to offer corrections here, I'll gladly incorporate them. I've seen the same arguments going back and forth several times, so this is an attempt to nail things down.

First, let's take Ed's original post about the Discovery Institute's (DI) list of scientists "dissenting from Darwin." As I understand it, Ed made two main points:
Now, let's look at dlamming's original post decrying elitism. His major point is that it is elitist to claim that for any particular field, only experts can discuss the issues of that field, and only the opinions of experts should be considered valid on any subject. He further claims that this position is the "logical extreme" of the second point in Ed's post. In addition to Ed's post, he also presents additional examples from Mike the Mad Biologist and Tim Lambert as demonstration of other bloggers' elitism in this regard.

This is where I came into the discussion. I made several comments on dlamming's original post, because I didn't (and still don't) see the logical connection between the elitism dlamming rightly disdains, and the original points in Ed's post (or the other examples, for that matter). To clarify, here is a list of possible positions one could take on the topic:
  1. It is elitist and wrong to reject out-of-hand the opinions of non-experts just because they aren't experts in a field. It's possible non-experts can be knowledgeable in a field.
  2. The opinions of experts and non-experts should be treated equally on a subject because the experts may be biased, and the non-experts may have studied the subject in detail.
  3. Without additional information, it is appropriate to give the opinions of experts more consideration than the opinions of non-experts, because experts are more likely to be knowledgeable in the field.
  4. Ultimately, opinions must be judged on the merits of the arguments and evidence presented, regardless of the source (expert or non-expert).
dlamming argues against (1), and I agree with him. Ed argues against (2), and I agree with him as well. Is that a contradiciton? No, because I agree with (3) and (4), which are reasonable positions between the extremes of (1) and (2). I'd wager both dlamming and Ed would agree to (3) and (4) as well. At least, when I brought up (3) in my arugments on dlamming's blog, he never argued against it. I don't think there's any room for debate on (4).

So why all the fuss? It seems dlamming continues to claim that Ed's statements argue for (1), when they actually argue against (2) and in favor of (3). This is where I see a fundamental disconnect.

The arguments spiraled around this disconnect on both Ed's and dlamming's blogs, with other commenters chiming in. Later in the discussion, Ed made the statement that he doesn't "believe that educated people in general have a good idea what evolution is about." dlamming responded with "Well, I believe that a basic knowledge of evolution is widespread among scientists (and lay people) of many fields, and certainly those of biology, chemistry, and medicine. And, as I did in my first post, I hold your unwillingness to believe this as evidence that you and others believe that 'only experts should talk about scientific issues.'"

This is another disconnect. Ed's statement is descriptive, claiming that educated people in general don't understand evolution. The position dlamming argues against and claims Ed is holding is prescriptive; that only experts should hold forth on scientific issues. One does not have to support the latter position to agree with the former.

Ed's statement about educated people is a question of fact that can be verified or falsified with sufficient observation. He's formed that opinion based on direct extended interaction over many years with educated people from various fields on the subject of evolution. Hey may be right or wrong about this statement, but he never used this assertion to imply that only expert opinions should be considered for any topic, or that some people can't talk about a particular topic because they're not experts.

The second statement is a position that argues in favor of only considering arguments from authority and rejecting all other arguments regardless of their merit. This is clearly the "elitist" position that dlamming derides, but it has no direct connection to Ed's assertion, and Ed expressly denied that he supported it.

After going through the various posts repeatedly, it seems to me that the arguments are driven by dlamming's continued refusal to recognize and acknowledge the disconnects in his arguments, and Ed and other commenters getting increasingly frustrated and hostile toward this refusal.

Unfortunately, Ed and other commenters have added some vitriol to their replies to dlamming, stemming from their growing frustration. I commend dlamming for remaining relatively polite in his responses. Unfortunately, that's the only merit I see in his arguments. And his continued refusal to acknowledge the disconnect between the positions he argues against and the positions his opponents actually hold is not helping.

But that's just my non-expert opinion.

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