April 16, 2008

Page hits on the blog slipped past 700,000 just before noon today, Central Time. 

Other than the odd post on ancient animation, the Bathtub is plateaued at just over 2,000 viewers per day.   All of them are advance-degreed, well-balanced, erudite individuals, I gather.   At least, most are too polite to post just for the sake of responding.  Some of the best and most interesting stuff comes from readers who comment.

If hits were dollars, we could buy about 42 seconds of the war in Iraq, I estimate.

Cold showers for intelligent design: ID not even fringe science

April 16, 2008

Experimentalchimp raises some serious questions about how fringe science sometimes stumbles into the stuffier meetings of real science — or, at least, into the gossip columns of real science, with his post, “How Empty Science Becomes Wisdom.

The post discusses a silly proposal made by a fellow in Virginia that perhaps, just maybe, cold showers might fight depression.

Let me introduce you to Nikolai Shevchuk. He’s worked at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. One day Nikolai gets an idea. What if cold showers could treat depression? After all, cold showers get the adrenaline pumping, doesn’t it? So Nikolai gets a few friends together and asks them to try taking a cold shower and seeing if it improves their moods. Nikolai probably likes to take cold showers himself and he feels just fine!

So Nikolai writes down his ideas. There’s not what you’d call a huge amount of evidence for them. Nikolai tries his hardest to think up a mechanism by which cold showers can make you feel good. The adrenaline thing was good, but what if he can invoke some kind of evolutionary mechanism. Hey! Yeah! That’s it! Back when man was a hunter-gatherer chasing after prey, he’d have to swim after it in cold water. So modern man, lacking these environmental stressors must be getting depressed as a result!

It’s not rocket science, but it’ll do.

Nikolai doesn’t want to keep this breakthrough to himself, so he sends it all off to a medical journal. Medical Hypotheses, to be specific. Medical Hypotheses. It sounds so truthy, doesn’t it?

Truthy, indeed. (Right up the alley of Telic Thoughts, no?)

The story about how Shevchuk’s work got picked up by a journal, Medical Hypotheses, and how it migrated to the London Times and farther, may make you giggle. Or squirm.

But it also made me wonder: If this almost-admitted joker in Virginia can get this dubious quality conjecture published in a journal, why is it intelligent design advocates cannot get even a hypothesis published somewhere in more than 20 years of existence.

I didn’t say “20 years of trying,” because I suspect that the ID people are not trying to do even fringe science. (There’s that other joke, too: “Oh, yeah, they’re trying. Verrrrrry trying!“)

I have often said that intelligent design is to biology what cold fusion is to physics and chemistry, only stripped of the extensive experimental backup published in the journals. This points up one of the key problems of intelligent design: There is no intelligence in it. Intelligent design is the vapor ware of biology, too. No hypotheses, no experiments, no observations from the wild, no laboratories, no grants, no attendees at science conferences, only one or two poster sessions (and not by the grad student tyros, but by the greatest minds in ID) — nothing.

ID can’t crack the fringe science journals, because ID lacks the wisp of ideas required to be called fringe science.

Maybe science fiction next? Calling Orson Scott Card!

This contrast between intelligent design and intelligent conversation is so stark that the new ID mockumentary “Expelled!” has had to work hard to make sure scientists of faith do not appear in any way in the movie. Why? Well, Christopher Heard at Higgaion carefully explains, if the movie showed people like Ken Miller, a faithful Christian who happens to be the lead author on the most-used high school and junior college biology textbooks, it would give the lie to the film’s entire premise, that faithful Christians are not allowed into the halls of science.

But to return to the main point: the real reason that folk like Miller and Collins find no place in Expelled is because they do “confuse”—that is, complicate—the simplistic and false dichotomy that the filmmakers wish to construct. When your whole schtick is to pit religious “design proponents” open to the supernatural against atheistic, philosophically materialist “Darwinists,” all those pesky scientists who simultaneously affirm evolutionary biology and a robust Christian faith become very, very inconvenient.

(Heard also features a transcript of part of an interview Scientific American editor John Rennie had with the film’s associate producer of “Expelled!”, Mark Mathis. It really made me laugh for some reason — is it that I’m too deep into grading? Check it out, let me know.)

How did Miller get into the hallowed halls, anyway? He did real science, published it, got his Ph.D., and continues research, academic advising, and teaching.

Why can’t ID do that?

When the cold showers hypothesis gets more respect than intelligent design, it’s time to pull the drain plug on intelligent design.

Maybe Mathis should install cold showers in the lobbies of the theatres that show his movie. People who buy a ticket to the movie may need them, especially after they realize they’ve seen so much of the stuff before, in better venues (and with attribution).

Maybe Mathis, Ben Stein and the entire “Expelled!” team should try the cold showers out first, to see if maybe a cold shower might shock them back to reality.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Expelled! Exposed, for the tip to Heard’s piece.

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