Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sarah Palin Proudly Ignorant

Sarah Palin's speech ridiculing fruit fly research earmarks as wasteful has spawned an enormous reaction. However, that reaction is almost as wrongheaded as Palin.

When I read the criticism at Skeptico, I just couldn't resist deflating that (sometimes good and reasonable) windbag again for his confidence in his ignorance.

So many people are so wrong about this, that I've decided to post my response here as well. I wrote:

While it seems many people have their hearts in the right place on this subject, the press (and this site) are showing an incredible ignorance as well.

The common name "fruit fly" is used for SEVERAL FAMILIES of flies. The olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) is in the family Tephritidae, while the common fruit fly of genetic research (more accurately called a vinegar fly or pomace fly) is in the family Drosophilidae.

Olive fruit flies have NEVER been important for genetic research, and anybody implying that this earmarked research is important for genetics is a fool ignorant of the differences between flies. I've yet to see the research proposal itself, but the few words I've seen describing it make it sound as if the research was for biological control through release of sterile irradiated males: a technique that has been used successfully to control several pest fly species such as the screwworm fly. That's economically valuable research that Palin is wrong to ridicule, but it also has nothing to do with genetics.

Once again, we see Skeptico (this time following the herd) making comments on a subject where he is extremely ignorant, where anybody familiar with the subject (like me: I had a course in fly systematics at Cornell) could immediately spot the howlers. I suppose his excuse is that he's as ignorant as most people, and doesn't have the sense to consult an expert in the RIGHT FIELD before he regurgitates bullshit from experts in the wrong field, who can't tell one family of flies from another.

18 comments:

Glen said...

It's election time, which makes people crazy. The rule everybody is following is: if candidate X (who is running for The Other Party) makes a remark that could conceivably be construed in a manner that makes him look really bad to people like me, that's obviously exactly what he meant by the remark. Why? because my prior opinion is that candidate X is stupid and/or evil, and I'm only trying to find confirmation of that opinion.

Wait a few weeks and most of these people will start sounding somewhat sane again.

Mike Huben said...

[Skeptico is holding my comments for review: we'll see if this one is published in response to his last comment.]

you are a moron concentrating on irrelevant trivia for reasons that are actually incomprehensible to most people.

Gee, Skeptico, I thought honest argument was supposed to be a well-understood principle in skeptical argument. Do you find that incomprehensible? Do you need to misconstrue other people's arguments to be able to refute them? Especially with such an easy target as Sarah Palin?

And many more commenters, researchers, PhDs etc are just ignoring the technical difference

Well, I'm sure you'll be satisfied with similar behavior defending creationism, woo, and other nonsense in the press and blogosphere. You'll be happy to accept claims that the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, right? We can find endless examples where this technical error is ignored by commenters, researchers, PhDs etc.

And you and your claque are still incapable of admitting error it seems. A lot like the Bush administration, yet much more rudely churlish. Moron indeed.

Being on the right side doesn't make YOU right, doesn't make you informed, and doesn't give you license to make bad arguments without having to face criticism.

If you're angry, it's probably because I'm right and that stings. Your readers look forward to seeing if you grow from the experience, or if you regress even further. Gonna take your ball and go home next? Or fling feces? Enquiring minds want to know!

Mike Huben said...

Well, apparently Skeptico didn't appreciate my comment and so he has sent me some hate mail. Let's live up to internet tradition: publish and ridicule it.

Subject: I said Piss Off
I don't know why you have so much trouble understanding simple English. What part of piss off and do not bother posting here again didn't you understand?


I don't understand where Skeptico gets the idea that he has any sort of authority to order me around. This guy has issues.

Since you are clearly an idiot as well as a moron I will try to make this simple for you. DO NOT try to comment on my blog again and especially DO NOT try to get around the IP blocking or I will delete your comments anyway and instigate comment moderation and then everyone else - ie those interested in reasonable debate and not just here to play stupid fucking games - will suffer.

I can just imagine the spittle flying! He's so incoherent that he uses instigate when he means initiate. And he projects that I would attempt to get around his blocking (which would be trivial, though it's not my style.)

I guess we can conclude that he HAS regressed to the point of taking his ball and going home AND he's flinging feces. Dang! I was hoping for the grand slam of a threatened lawsuit as well!

You have your own blog. Write your pompous pedantic crap there.

That's right: we wouldn't want Skeptico's blog to live up to its slogan: "Critical thinking for an irrational world."

Instead we have Skeptico violating most of his own comment guidelines, while I've followed them fairly well. As a matter of fact, Skeptico's fallacy was one he decries on that page: he equivocates through use of common names of organisms.

Why is it that he can't simply say "Ooops, you're right. I was mistaken. But we are agreed that Sarah Palin is unworthy because she doesn't respect science, right?" It's as if he has a delusion of infallibility, and goes off the deep end when challenged.

Enough. The big skeptical frog can lord it over his own little puddle. He can pretend his croaks are critical thinking when they are little more than partisanship on the side of skepticism by regurgitated argument.

Anonymous said...

Wow, aren't you a little pompous! Indeed the research Palin criticized was not genetics research using fruit flies. However, it is pretty clear from her comments that, had it been, she almost certainly would have criticized it in exactly the same manner. Do you think she looked at the research and found, oh, it is actually about pest control and not genetics, and *then* subsquently merely described it as "fruit fly research", inviting the misunderstanding that arose and consquent criticism of her that has not been lived down despite observations such as yours? Unlikely. So while there is a small error in these other people assuming it was fruit fly research, and that is bad of them, it is distracting to blow your top about it.

In any case, she is also right (perhaps this is what she meant) that research should not be funded by idiosyncratic pork barrelling that some congressman happens to be able to stick in some bill. How do we know these people who got the money were doing any good job? It should be vetted by funding bodies set up for that purpose, and I suspect then Palin would not be so annoyed with it (should it win a competition for such funding).

Mike Huben said...

Anonymous, you also miss the basic point.

It is bad argument to criticize people for what they "would" have done. That's the same as putting words in their mouths.

Palin said so many stupid things that are appropriate to criticize that we don't NEED to make up shit and claim she would have said it or means it or any other excuse.

Stick to criticizing the things that were actually said. Lest your opponents think it's okay to claim YOU would say various things.

Anonymous said...

No, you miss the point. I see that it has been thoroughly explained to you at length at skeptico, which I had not checked out prior to writing here, so it's not worth trying to continue.

Incidentally, it would interesting to see you go to pharyngula and put your correspondence course undergraduate degree authority in biology up against pz myers on this issue.

Mike Huben said...

Ho hum. Another anonymous twit who thinks that mere accusations without specifics make an argument.

By extending the criticism of Palin beyond the olive fruit fly which she spoke of, folks like Skeptico are putting words in her mouth.

Plenty of science bloggers have pointed out that this is an error of biological classification, and Meyers has noted this as well.

Claiming she meant anything about Drosphila is putting words in her mouth, and very simply a fallacy of argument (using the shifting middle term "fruit fly"), something that folks like Skeptico should know better than.

Just because biological ignorants like Skeptico are numerous doesn't mean that they are correct or shouldn't be corrected. What's funny about Skeptico is that (like George Bush) he will not admit to error, and will not stand to be corrected. He seems to have an infallibility complex.

And once again, there's no need to make BAD arguments (because they are speculative) to criticize Palin. She provides a wealth of much more firmly grounded opportunities.

That last point has been a problem in the skeptical community for decades: lazy skeptics who "know they're right" have often made bad arguments against woo. Ideally, we should set an example for our opponents of how to think and argue properly.

jjensenii said...

Hey, thought you might like this:

"Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now" by Roderick Long

http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/11/10/roderick-long/corporations-versus-the-market-or-whip-conflation-now/

A self-described left-libertarian (I'm not sure I would call him that just based on this article) attacking the conflation of libertarianism with corporate plutocracy by (among others) libertarians themselves.

H/T to http://www.theartofthepossible.net/

Anonymous said...

I'm a twit? No, you are a twist, and a pompous idiot as well.

Anyway, why not go and rant about PZ Myers, who didn't draw the distinction between the various kinds of fly and went on at length blaming Palin for being against genetic research using fruit flies. Here is what he said:

"This idiot woman, this blind, shortsighted ignoramus, this pretentious clod, mocks basic research and the international research community. You damn well better believe that there is research going on in animal models — what does she expect, that scientists should mutagenize human mothers and chop up baby brains for this work? — and countries like France and Germany and England and Canada and China and India and others are all respected participants in these efforts.

Yes, scientists work on fruit flies. Some of the most powerful tools in genetics and molecular biology are available in fruit flies, and these are animals that are particularly amenable to experimentation. Molecular genetics has revealed that humans share key molecules, the basic developmental toolkit, with all other animals, thanks to our shared evolutionary heritage (something else the wackaloon from Wasilla denies), and that we can use these other organisms to probe the fundamental mechanisms that underlie core processes in the formation of the nervous system — precisely the phenomena Palin claims are so important.

This is where the Republican party has ended up: supporting an ignorant buffoon who believes in the End Times and speaking in tongues while deriding some of the best and most successful strategies for scientific research. "

He much more clearly made serious errors here than did Skeptico. Arguably Skeptico made no error in biology at all, yet you call him an ignoramus. He clearly identified the fruit fly in the study Palin had heard about as the olive fly, and the study about the problems it caused as a pest. He then pointed out, that fruit fly research is also so much more. He is totally correct. Since the term "fruit fly" refers to various organisms, some of which are used heavily in genetic research. He doesn't appear to have explicitly said in his original post that olive fruit flies were used in this research.

Man, I could go on at length, but it just isn't worth it, Mr "I am a biologist" because I have an undergrad degree that took me, what, 30 years to copmlete, and also I am an expert in normative political and economic theory and even philosophy because I, uh, uh, took no course (apparently) ever on it, nor charitably attempted to read any political views different from my own and instead spent years and years attacking, well, not strawman, but very poorly formulated versions of ideologies I don't like.

Toodaloo. Dont bother responding, twit.

Anonymous said...

"If you didn't have your head up your arse admiring your own qualifications, maybe you might not have missed this and made yourself look like a complete twat. Again.

Once again you have missed the point, jumped to a conclusion based on your own prejudices, and shot your mouth off before even stopping to think about it. This is turning into a pattern with you."

Yeah, what he said. Like I said, you have been thoroughly toasted on this once already and you don't get it, so I am not going to try to explain it to you. But PLEASE, why can't you get a clue? People are telling you this all the time, doesn't it hit you, ever? Look at yourself. Just once maybe. Instead of doing this insane bragging about a course you took some time.

Anonymous said...

You say "I think the problem is that people with no qualifications are looking for excuses to doubt people who do know what they're talking about."

Get real! You have such a swollen head it is unbelivable!

As if you know what you are talking about in most of what you say about political theory! Like Skeptico said, piss off. Wait, you can't piss off on your own website? Tant pis.

Anonymous said...

Someone wrote this there:

"Did Skeptico know the difference? I don't know, but then neither did you when you made your claims of ignorance. Why would you jump to that conclusion immediately then? The answer is, your own personal bias coupled with your willingness to see in the text only what you wanted to."

You see, it has been explained and explained to you, before I came across that blog, but you show NO SIGN of that in your own ranting on your own blog. Strictly speaking, indeed, Skeptico did not indiciate CLEARLY that olive fruit flies are not used in genetic research. But you assumed he thought they were, didn't know the difference, was EXTREMELY IGNORANT, in your words. There is NO SOUND BASIS for making such a claim.

Why am I wasting my time on you? I don't know. Your pompous kind of think-he-knows-it-all really disturb me. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

"What's funny about Skeptico is that (like George Bush) he will not admit to error, and will not stand to be corrected. He seems to have an infallibility complex."

Sweet Jesus!! I suppose you've heard about the pot and the kettle! How ironic!

Mike Huben said...

Anonymous twit:

Yes, Meyers made that mistake of confusing vinegar flies with fruit flies, and the science blogs community pointed out that mistake. Probably because he has never studied insect taxonomy. And he was corrected in about the fourth comment.

While I haven't found Meyers admitting that mistake directly, he immediately changed to precisely the sort of correct argument I advocated, criticizing Palin for real things she said in a similar vein. See: Losing the sense of the argument.

Skeptico did neither of those things.

What amuses me is the way you guys mock my qualifications: what are you, the party of the know-nothings? You don't need any of that high-falutin' eddycashun? That's the Palin approach, and is unbecoming of skeptics.

When I speak of my qualifications, it's because they are sound for this subject. And you'll notice that I was correct. When an expert (and I am expert in insect systematics, as a number of professionals and several publications will attest) makes an easily confirmable factual claim that you are wrong, ridicule is not the correct rebuttal. Unless you're a know-nothing.

Benson said...

You are such a partisan hack it is incredible. That Myers was corrected is really pretty irrelevant to his own total foaming at the mouth, which you apparently don't dare criticize, instead choosing to do your own foaming at the mouth.

By the way, Myers was corrected (in the sixth not the fourth comment) by ME. But he never said anything about it again anywhere in that thread, didn't answer for his ranting. Other people said "did it matter", and clearly he thinks not. In fact, people who point this out, he lumps all together in the followup you cite as right wing cranks who are lying.

He says:
"she wasn't disparaging all research into fruit flies, but only one specific earmark for studying agricultural pests.

Baloney."

Baloney, in other words, because Myers claims she *was* disparaging all research into fruit flies. So why don't you criticize him for that. I won't, because in in my view she *was* disparaging all research using fruit flies. That is exactly what she said. It's irrelevant that the particular study that she heard about was on a particular sort of fruit fly. She didn't mention that. She said fruit flies. Fruit flies (in english) are fruit flies, that includes all sorts of them (as denoted in english). For example, had she said "research in psychology in france" because she had heard of some research into rat psychology, she would still be referring to *all* sorts of psychology research. That's what the word "psychology" refers to, not to just rat research.

But there are two ways to be ignorant of "fruit fly" research then. One is to not know what is done with fruit flys, and probably this means in particular the important genetic research. Another is to be aware of it, and disparage it still. It seems that Myers was assuming the second, which is the main reason to criticize him. She could reply to him by saying, oh, sorry, I am not disparaging the research you describe. I just didn't know that this was actually being done. His attack thus merely has to be modified to account for the first possibility, which is what I attempted to do receently in a later post. Her only way out is then to say, well, of *course* I know about genetics fruit fly research and don't disparage it. I was merely disparaging this research on fruit flies as a pest. Sorry that I wasn't clear on that by explicitly clear on that, so as to lead to the impression I was that ignorant. Rather, I am just linguistically sloppy.
My view is that this reply is not very plausible.

Benson said...

You know, the "you guys" phrase that you use is another clue in your own writing that should help you understand the very complaint you make about "you guys". Who is "you guys"? I am not a member of the Skeptico crowd, so "you guys" can only mean "everyone opposed to me in any way". I am neither a "skeptic" nor a "libertarian" or any other kind of right-winger. I have never seen or heard of Skeptico before and only came to it because I looked at your site because I was looking for references to Robert Hale's work and then saw the coincidence where you were complaining about the very same thing I complained about on PZ Myers's blog. (Note btw that I had egged on Myers to comment on this before he did, in the previous thread. That is just because I wanted to see if he would make just the very mistake he did).

Another clue is that in your very first self-righteous post, you talk about "extreme ignorance" of others and that you are an "expert". But if anything this was a minor mistake on Skeptico's part (and I don't think it was even that), and other "experts" went the same way on it (I could provide examples). Don't you see how your hair-trigger desire to apply your "expertise" is something that might rub someone the wrong way?

Mike Huben said...

Benson, that's the most confused and self-contradictory rant I've read in a while.

I like Meyers, and (like Skeptico) his heart is in the right place on this issue. But pardon me if I don't have the time to criticize everybody in the whole world, or think that everybody is equally worthy of criticism.

Benson said...

Wow. Clearly you are not worth the trouble.