Monday, August 28, 2006
Just Plain Incorrect
Over at The Panda's Thumb, the contributors are doing a good ol' fashioned chapter-by-chapter
But this post isn't about Wells' book per se, but rather the whole "Politically Incorrect" series. PZ Myers linked to a post on another blog parodying the series of books with additional made-up topics. It was good for a laugh and nicely illustrates how the phrase "politically incorrect" has apparently mutated (at least in the minds of Regnery publishing and their readers) from "don't be afraid to voice an unpopular opinion if you can back it up with facts" (as demonstrated by Bill Maher) to mean "any part of conventional histororical or scientific knowledge that supports a 'liberal' position is actually wrong, and all the 'real' facts support our preconceived prejudices and justify our bigotry." The supreme irony, of course, is that it seems like all the "Politically Incorrect" books rely on dishonest rhetoric and distortion of facts to arrive at the predetermined conclusion that everything "liberal" is bad.
Unfortunately, what is chilling is that the actual books in this series are just as ridiculous (if not moreso for apparently being serious arguments) as the parodies on display at that blog post on 90% True. The other books in this series besides Wells' include:
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism - Women should have remained barefoot and pregnant, and their uppity quest for careers is destroying the American family.
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and The Crusades) - The European Christian Crusaders were "defensively" trying to conquer the Middle East, and all Muslims are terrorists.
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science - Global warming, evolution, and stem cell research are all junk pseudoscience.
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History - The Founding Fathers were "conservatives" and "hundreds" of American liberals were traitor commie bastards.
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature (Coming soon!) - "Dead white males rock!" (I kid you not, that is on the cover of the book) and the "greatest" English literature is "explicitly Christian and celebrates military courage."
Friday, August 25, 2006
Evolution, HIV, Holocaust, and ... Einstein Denial
Now I've seen everything. Apparently Albert Einstein did not develop the Theory of Relativity, but was in fact an "incorrigible" plagiarist who stole his ideas from every prominent scientist of the time. Needless to say, this seemed like an outrageous and unsubstantiated claim. However, this guy Christopher Jon Bjerknes published a book in 2002 detailing Einstein's supposed malfeasance.
Well, check out Mr. Bjerknes' entry on Wikipedia. Not much more info about his theory, other than the fact that he got into a flame war with another science historian, John Stachel, over his controversial thesis (not surprising). Then we find this little tibit:
Bjerknes and Winterberg have spoken up to defend some highly controversial figures, including David Irving and Arthur Rudolph. Despite being lionized in some articles at the White Nationalist Wiki, Bjerknes disavows any antisemitic motivation for his attacks on Einstein. Bjerknes has written himself on the Holocaust for the Holocaust denial "Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust", claiming that "Racist Zionists" perpetuated the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust, as well as having later used the history of anti-Semitism as "a means to control public opinion in a most corrupt and deplorable fashion". He also claims that "Jewish racists helped to put Hitler into power in order to herd up the Jews of Europe and force them into segregation", that "Jewish racists collaborated with the Nazis to kill off the weakest Jews and preserve the best genetic stock for deportation to Palestine", and that, contrary to mainstream historical opinion, that the Nazis did not plot genocide at the Wannsee Conference.Hmmm... blaming the Jews, ... er, "Racist Zionists," for the Holocaust in some sort of elaborate conspiracy theory and defending the views of Holocaust deniers does a lot to impeach this guy's credibility in my estimation. Sort of seems like this Einstein-denial thing is just a specific manifestation of his general anti-Semitism. Still, I'd be employing the ad hominem logical falacy if I dismissed his arguments solely on the basis of his apparent anti-semitism.
So we turn to reliable source Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope to deliver a balanced view of the subject:
So, it seems there was nothing particularly sinister about Einstein after all (other than that he was left-handed, like me; look up the original meaning of sinister). If you go and John Stachel's critique of Bjerknes' book, you'll also find that Bjerknes employs tactics and arguments that have uncanny parallels to creationist propaganda, such as quote mining, and presenting self-contradictory, inconsistent criticisms.
Questions of priority have long swirled around the theories of relativity, both special and general. Though no one thinks Einstein confected special relativity out of thin air, his 1905 paper had no notes or references, which was odd even for the times. In fact, as Einstein's critics long ago demonstrated, virtually all the better-known elements of the theory--most famously, the equivalence of matter and energy (E = mc²)--had previously been suggested by others. Two men in particular, French mathematician Henri Poincare and Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz, are credited with anticipating many of Einstein's discoveries.
Some latter-day writers have seized on these observations as proof that Einstein was a fraud, notably Christopher Jon Bjerknes, author of Albert Einstein: The Incorrigible Plagiarist (2002). The gist of his argument: (a) Einstein got many of his ideas from his first wife, Mileva Maric; (b) Maric herself plagiarized her ideas from others; and (c) the theory is a crock anyway. Clearly, some aspects of Bjerknes's attack operate at cross-purposes--if relativity is fatally flawed, who cares if it was pirated? More importantly, though he seems to have unearthed every remark ever penned that could conceivably be construed as undercutting Einstein's contribution, he never manages to demonstrate that Einstein ventured over the line between building on other people's work and stealing it.
Still, you ask, given that Big Al was just one of a bunch of scientists sniffing around the same turf at the same time, why did the Smartest Person Ever trophy go to him and not one of his contemporaries? Poincare, for instance, gave a prescient lecture in 1904 (Einstein doesn't seem to have been aware of it) that posited many aspects of special relativity, among them the idea that the speed of light was an impassable limit. So illuminatingly did he dilate on the issues that one historian of science professes bafflement that Poincare failed to invent the theory of special relativity himself. But he didn't. His comments make it clear he was still wedded to classical physics, with its comforting notion of space and time as unchanging verities. Einstein alone was able to make the conceptual leap and realize that space and time were about as immutable as Silly Putty, paving the way for our modern view of the cosmos as a profoundly strange place.
While one doesn't want to deprecate Einstein's intellectual boldness, the fact remains that he put together a puzzle all the pieces of which were then in plain sight. He himself conceded that had he not invented the theory someone else would soon have done so. (He thought the theory of general relativity, which he completed in 1915, was a more impressive achievement--although even there, controversy still rages about who first deduced the crucial equations, Einstein or German mathematician David Hilbert.) This is not to say that Einstein was unworthy of the esteem in which he continues to be held--merely that, like every other physicist who ever lived, he stood on the shoulders of giants.
Seth, if you're reading, you might want to add Einstein-denial to your list of crazy belief pathologies.
By the way, if you're wondering how I stumbled onto this little gem, I was looking for a particular science fiction story written by H.G. Wells (no, not The Time Machine), and I did a google search for "H G Wells higher dimensions." Bjerknes' website was the 5th result. However, after this diversion, I did find the story I was looking for eventually. I was looking for the Wells story becuase it was mentioned in a few comments I read on The Panda's Thumb in the Design Challenge thread. Talk about your unexpected detours!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Return from (Unscheduled) Summer Break
Well, I guess I suck. When my blog-o-versary rolled around in June, I promised to deliver at least one new post a week. Well, here we are almost 2 months later. To anyone actually reading, sorry for the extended hiatus. I got a Nintendo DS Lite in June for my wedding anniversary (yes, my wife is THAT cool) and I've been neglecting the blog in favor of video games. Since my last post was in the last week of June, I figure I've got about 8 posts (in addition to resuming regular weekly posts) I've got to do to make up for my blogging-free summer. Well, given my past track record, I won't make any promises, but I'm trying to commit to this (Maybe 2 additional posts each week until I'm caught up? It's worth a shot).
Fortunately (or unfortunately) we live in very interesting times, and there's no shortage of stuff to deliver Unsolicited Opinions on. Some of the time I was supposed to spend on blogging was used perusing other blogs, and lots of stuff has caught my interest. Here's a running list, in no particular order, of potential topics I hope to turn into blog posts here in the next few weeks:
- In a series of posts at The Panda's Thumb, Dave Thomas shows how genetic algorithms demonstrate the ability of evolution to produce complexity without a guiding intellignce. Are ID supporters convinced by his demonstration? Alas, no.
- Mel Gibson's unfortunate tirade. I'm kind of conflicted on this. I've enjoyed many of his movies (but I haven't seen The Passion yet). He parodied himself on The Simpsons, proving he at least had a sense of humor. But it's hard to ignore his crazy remarks, even if he was drunk. I tend to agree with the phrase "in vino veritas." Alcohol lowers inhibitions, it can't make you say things you don't believe or don't think about.
- Apparently, dark matter is real. Cool science results that chip away at our ignorance of the universe.
- Orac reports on the Hitler Zombie's latest feeding frenzy. A documentary claiming to prove a direct causal chain from Darwin to Hitler? Yeeesh, such monumental absurdity.
- Over on David Neiwert's blog, Mrs. Sara Robinson has a series of guest posts about how to deal with right-wing authoritarians (Parts 1, 2, and 3, are up so far, with part 4 yet to come). Very interesting and helpful in understanding where these people are coming from, and how to break the spell their leaders have cast on them.
- From Mrs. Robinson's posts, I followed a link to an article discussing how consrvatives and liberals differ on how they view family relationships. Dovetails quite nicely with Mrs. Robinson's essays.
- Seth at Whiskey Before Breakfast has been
banging his head against a wallconversing with HIV deniers in the comments of epidemiologist Tara Smith's blog. He has an insight that there is a common modus operandi to evolution deniers, HIV deniers, and holocaust deniers, but he can't quite put a finger on what the underlying phenomonon is that makes these groups' tactics and memes so similar. I have noticed this too and I have some parallel thoughts. Hopefully I'll get around to sharing them.
- I've been wanting to write a series of posts outlining my big theory of what "human nature" is and how it influences human behavior and our conception of morality. I have seen lots of different individual points being made by Seth, David Brin, and David Neiwert, and my subconscious has been synthesizing an overrarching hypothesis about how these different points could be unified. Of course, I've never studied anthropology, and I took one introductory course in psychology 10 years ago, so I'm well qualified to hold forth on such a weighty topic right? Hey, this is Unsolicited Opinions. I never promised INFORMED opinions!
- BronzeDog has been doing a great job catalogueing logical fallacies with his series of Doggerel posts.
- Matt at Pooflingers Anonymous has apparently contracted creationist troll-itis. Unfortunately, his commenters have been steadily feeding this troll, causing the malignancy to spread and grow stronger. I recommend immediate and continous dosages of ignoracilin to remove the infection.
- The new live-action Transformers movie coming out next year will feature Peter Cullen, the original voice of Autobot Leader Optimus Prime from the TV show, as the voice of the same character in the movie. My inner 10-year-old geek squeals with delight. But my 30-year-old realist still thinks the movie will disappoint. However, my 30-year-old optimist will still drag me to see it on opening day!