Random incoherent rants vol. 4: I discovered that I’ve stopped reading Pharyngula

PZ rides again (photo taken from Pharyngula)

Once upon a time PZ Myers loved to ride dinosaurs. Now he mainly jumps sharks.

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I haven’t spent much time on this blog in the past few weeks, but now I’ve passed the Physics exam (brilliantly, as usual for a superior mind like me), and I’m back with a vengeance.

What I’ve realized just recently is that it’s been a few weeks since I last visited Pharyngula, which is kind of a big deal since everyone that has an interest in skepticism, atheism and especially debunking creationism probably knows, or at least has heard of, biologist PZ Myers and his blog, which is probably the most important blog about those subjects. I discovered Pharyngula only in 2009, but I immediately liked Myers’ rationality and his unapologetic and highly critical views on religion and superstition; I liked the science articles, and I liked his sense of humor in dealing with creationists. So what made me lose my interest in the blog lately?

Starting with the infamous ElevatorGate (short version: a man clumsily approached a girl on an elevator, was rejected and accepted it; the whole internet skeptic community – including PZ – asploded accusing the man of sexism, and there was even a proposal of boycotting Richard Dawkins himself because he had the audacity to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the whole situation was kind of irrelevant and ultimately innocuous, and thus it was better to focus on real examples of sexism around the world – I know, what a fucking monster) Myers’ posts about science, atheism, evolution and religion gradually started to decrease in number in favor of an increasing amount of posts about pointless and, quite frankly, pretty boring internet drama. Examples of new content include: the evilness of the word “cunt” (WTF?) and other so called “feminist issues” that are even less substantial than ElevatorGate (which I cannot fucking believe people are still discussing 9 MONTHS after it happened), criticism of what some stupid students NOBODY HAS EVER HEARD OF OR PAID ATTENTION TO wrote on their blog or said on YouTube about OccupyWallStreet or abortion, dissertations on why it’s imperative not to accept a public apology of some dumb christian who wrote “atheist not welcome here” on a piece of paper in front of his gelato shop (yes, that was stupid and the guy deserved criticism, but there was no reason not to accept the apology), and also an absolutely hilarious series of discussions in which, for once, PZ was seen as the bad guy and viciously attacked by the most insane readers of his blog, since he had the balls to post a cute anti-religious comic strip in which the rational character was a bunny dressed as a boy and the religious character was a bunny dressed as a girl and this, somehow, makes the strip incredibly offensive towards women (even though the sex of the character wasn’t important, or even mentioned, in the comic). Whatever. Criticizing stupidity when you see it is good (and fun), but it’s useful only when you attack the stupidity of people or groups who have some sort of relevance in the world around them, and thus are likely to damage it. And let’s not forget that many of PZ’s recent attacks are against people who didn’t even do anything particularly wrong or stupid. In fact, in most cases, they didn’t do ANYTHING, except maybe writing some bad words on the internet, and in his ludicrous rage against them PZ looks frightfully similar to the religious zealots he often valiantly fights. Or “fought”, since now that he has to write about uneducated teenagers and middle-aged men on the internet he hasn’t time for that anymore. Hell, lately he’s so absorbed in finding and debating poor unknown fuckers that dared not to agree with him on everything, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he found this article (written by an italian undergraduate student on a six-months old blog which counts, at the moment I’m writing, a grand total of 613 views all-time) and created a long, rambling post dissecting and debunking it.

And what about those “Why I am an atheist” articles submitted by readers that he drops daily (or almost daily, I don’t know)? I like the idea, but an article every day or so is too fucking much: the excessive quantity makes each one of them less special. It looks like a spammy way to constantly update the blog. Okay, okay, my “Friday’s Featured Organism” articles are a spammy way to constantly update the blog too, but 1) I write them myself and 2) They happen once a week.

Another relatively minor annoying thing is that after a while PZ left ScienceBlogs and relocated Pharyngula on FreeThought Blogs (or FTB), a completely new site that was allegedly created with the intention of gather the most promising skeptical bloggers around the net under one roof, without the fear of censorship. Sounds promising, right? Well, first of all is kind of hard not to agree, or at least not to see, the point made by some of PZ’s detractors, who claim that the “We create this new site because elsewhere we are censored” story is bullshit, and that PZ did it only to get more money from the ads (which isn’t anything to be ashamed of, so why not being sincere about it?). Actually, PZ has always been fierce against religion and other kinds of popular silliness on ScienceBlogs, so I don’t think he had any censorship problems there. And the ads at Freethought Blogs – yeah, they’re pretty big and obnoxious. Even more annoying is the fact that it’s an automated ad service that works with keywords, and this means that ironically most of the ads are things like “Become a priest today” and shit like that. And what about the other skeptic bloggers of FTB? They’re kind of redundant, actually. Whenever someone of them writes about something, all of the others write about the exact same thing – which would be perfectly natural and even interesting were they to cover some relevant event or idea; but alas, it’s almost always some irrelevant internet drama that gets dissected repeatedly by PZ and friends, like a fucking echo through all of FTB – only it’s made of boredom instead of soundwaves (bare with me, I just passed a Physics exam).

What does all of this means? Is PZ getting too old, and Pharyngula doomed? Is it just a phase of transition in the initial year of exisence of FTB? I hope it’s the latter. Personally, I’ll probably stay away for Pharyngula for a while and eventually come back to see if something has changed for the better. Fans of PZ, don’t be too angered by this incoeherent rant of mine: I used to be a fan too, and I hope I can be a fan again soon.

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Italy and Evolution

So, a part from openly creationist douchebags like Antonio Zichichi, what’s the situation of the teaching of evolution in Italy? Not too good, actually. Superficially, it seems like most people, even religious ones, have no problem to accept evolution. And yet, evolution is not thaught in our schools, or at least in the schools (elementary, middle, high school) I attended, which is kind of puzzling, since in many cases relatively complex notions of molecular biology are thaught in high and even middle school; why learn this if you don’t exactly know the main principle on which all biology is based?

Officially, the Catholic Church, with Karol Wojtyla,¬† has accepted evolution as more than a mere hypothesis; their “acceptance” however consists basically in an equivalent of the retarded Intelligent Design “theory”, in which there’s a creator that started all life and guided with his all-powerful hand the path of evolution; also, man is seen as something special, and not a mere accident. This means that most religious italian people (at least most of the ones who are not scientists) who say to accept evolution probably are in fact believers of the Intelligent Design, and thus actually just a variant of the standard creationist.

Data from UAAR (the italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics – the site is in italian) show that around 25% of the italian population believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and its history of divine creation, and while this is probably not as dramatic as the american situation, it still sucks huge balls.

Popcorn Biology: The Tree of Life (2011)

Tree of Life

"We're gonna make a religious movie about a father and his sons doing ordinary everyday shit, so the title will have to reference evolution. Obviously."

First of all: fuck you, The Tree of Life. You suck. You suck so much that in a cinema of Bologna the film scenes where shown in the wrong order and NOBODY NOTICED IT for a week. And actually, the wrong version was slightly better than the original.

It’s not even the fact that this film is so christian that even the goddamn dinosaurs in it are christians (also, dinosaurs? What the fuck?). It’s just that it’s so unbelievably boring.

Anyway, Popcorn Biology should be the section where I discuss the interpretation of biology in movies, so let’s start. First of all, calling what is basically a creationist movie The Tree of Life, a title that basically screams “evolution”, is just an insult. And yes, it is a creationist movie (in every scene everyone is praying god and saying that nature sucks compared to the divine grace), I don’t care if they put in a pointless half an hour of naturalistic footage to narrate the history of life in a frantic effort of justifying a title that doesn’t have anything to do with the main “plot”. The naturalistic footage itself is pretty spectacular, but again… dinosaurs? Half of the history of life is CGI dinosaurs? In a movie like this, where the presence itself of a section about the history of life is incredibly useless? Why don’t you just stick with the real footage?Seriously, the CGI bacteria and amoebas were lame, you could have just used real images of those organisms and the result would have been much more beautiful.

And what was that theropod? We’re in late cretaceous (the other dinosaur shown is a Parasaurolophus), that predator looks like a coelurosaur and yet it has no feathers (and its palms were faced to the ground, while they should be facing each other – a common mistake in depicting dinosaurs). Also, as I’ve anticipated, this is probably the first instance of a predator with a sense of mercy: it doesn’t kill the small Parasaurolophus, but decides to let it live. Yeah, I call bullshit on that. Maybe god spoke to it or something.

Fuck this movie. Fuck it.

Random incoherent rants, vol. 1: Physicists are more prone to insanity than other scientists

Toni Zichichi, creationist extraordinaire

Antonio Zichichi: Because creationism isn't an exclusively american problem.

Time for some mindless ranting! (birds will have to wait, mostly because of my laziness)

Well, okay, I’m not sure if the title reflects absolute truth, but that’s just MY personal, probably pretty unscientific, impression. I just think that for every Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman or Albert Einstein, there’s at least one maniac who has won that joke that is the Templeton prize, or something like that. Seriously, look at the wiki page: of all the scientists who won that templetonic piece of garbage, one is a biologist and NINE are physicists or astrophysicists. Some of them are credited as “physicist and philosopher”, which reflects a thing I had noticed here in Italy, but that maybe is common in other parts of the world too. I’ve known a lot of people who said that they couldn’t decide if they wanted to study physics or philosophy. Uh, what? Why not acting vs neurobiology, then? I failed to see what was the link between these two disciplines, that caused so many people to be attracted to both. Then someone explained to me that many people sees them both as a mean to explain the world, and this notion cracked me up. No offense to philosophers, but every one of them that came after Epicurus is either wrong or redundant. My old teacher of philosophy, a very intelligent man, would probably shoot me in the face if he ever read this, but the fact is that often philosophy is used as an easy way to pretend you understand the world and to confuse the reader into thinking you’re smart, when you’re just using empty words. Physics is a real science, grounded in reality, facts and logic, which can really explain the world on many levels. It’s much harder, and I can understand that people doesnt usually find it as attractive as philosophy (I’m not particularly interested in physics myself, and I’ll admit I often find it frustrating), but if you honestly want to learn what’s the universe, and you have the requisites, it’s a much wiser choice than philosophy. Now, the revelation that many people who study physics had also considered philosophy as a valid alternative to reach the same goal (understanding the world) greatly undermines their credibility to my eyes: they are hunting some kind of romantic, spiritual purpose or cause to everything instead of looking at the facts and logic alone, and thus they are prone to faith-based bullshit.

Of course, most physicists are not people of this kind (I hope, at least), and of course¬† people of this kind are not found exclusively among physicists; and yet, this kind of morons seems to spawn extremely well in the world of physics. This problem has catastrophic results if it couples with a widely-spread trait of physicists: they tend to be very proud. Sometimes, they are even arrogant, I’d dare to say. Since physics is the base of chemistry, and chemistry is the base of biology, they tend to think they’re superior to such mundane disciplines (and now, time to boast: actually, I think they got it backwards – biology is the study of the most complex phenomenon known to man, life; physics studies the most basic and banal phenomena in the universe, by comparison). Technically, this would make math superior in the gerarchy, since it’s even more basic and physics is based on it, but awesome Feynman dismissed it by amusingly but prickishly saying “Physics is to mathematics as sex is to masturbation”. So yeah, physicists are somehow convinced they’re somehow the best scientists ever – I’m not condemning them for this, as I can be pretty arrogant myself, and I think that arrogance is not necessairly a despicable trait in someone who is actually capable, as many physicists are. What I mean is that, when the arrogant nature of physicists is coupled with the romantic and unscientific view of the world typical of the morons I described above, we get a monster: a person who feels entitled to pontificate about everything because not only they feel like great scientists, but they also think they’re experts of spirituality – and spirituality is everywhere, am I rite?

This sometimes causest clashes with the world of biology, because many spiritual people are of course interested in man, which is a living being, and god, which is supposedly also a living being who created all the other living beings – and you know, living beings are the subject matter of biology, which is based on this thing called “evolution” which rejects any forms of creationism and intelligent design. One would think that a biologist is more qualified to talk about life than a physicist, but those guys (the dumb “spiritual” ones, not all of the physicists) don’t agree and can’t help but point out how Darwin’s theory is “unscientific”. Yeah, sure, whatever. An italian example of this bullshit is the douchebag in the photo, Antonio Zichichi, which is a paladin of irreducible complexity, and is also apparently convinced that evolution is not a scientific theory since there’s not a mathematical formula to describe it yet. Which is kind of amazing, because not only he seems to forget the overwhelming evidence for evolution (science is based not only on logic, my dear Antonio, but also facts – if facts contradict your logic it usually means your logic is flawed), but he also seems to ignore that something (in this case, evolution by natural selection) can be logically accurate even if it hasn’t a math formula describing it yet. By the way, I have no doubt that there’s a still undiscovered uber-complex algorytm that somehow describes everything in evolution; as every good BIOLOGIST knows, however, evolution is basically a synonym for “biology”; now, if all of biology needs to be explained by a single equation to be considered scientific, then all of the other sciences need to be explained by single equations too. Do we know the universal equation that explains everything in chemistry (or in physics, for that matter)? No. Does it mean that they’re not sciences? No. It just means our knowledge is still incomplete (and that’s why we need science – to expand our knowledge). Every discipline has its wide set of formulas, and biology too has many math formulas explaining its various aspects – and thus the various aspects of evolution. Also, Antonio, I don’t see you proposing an equation to explain the god you so firmly believe created and guided the evolution of life. So next time, Toni, just stick to what you know best, and leave the rest to the pros.

 

NOTE: If any physicist feels offended by something I wrote here, please don’t take all of this too seriously. I recognize it’s a probably poorly written generalization; its content is just the impression I got from various experiences in my life, and I don’t pretend it’s certainly something objective. I also reitarate that my rants are of course directed only at a minority of morons, not at physicists in general. You can also, if you will, attribute my rage to a bad experience I had with a truly ferocious and incompetent physics professor I had during my first year of university. Peace out.