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.

Random inchoerent rants vol. 3: Biochemistry is pain

KILL IT WITH FIRE

Apparently, this is supposed to mean something in some way. It's almost like modern art.

This will be shorter than usual. One would think, since I basically live for biology, that I preferred biochemistry to regular chemistry. False. I’m not a lover of general chemistry, but it’s not bad. Organic chemistry is incredibly more boring, and biochemistry is PAINFULLY boring. I don’t know exactly why, the more it gets close to biology, the more I’m bored by chemistry. Well, it actually has to do with the fact that it becomes increasingly mnemonical and decreasingly logical along the way. There are other disciplines I love that require a lot of memory, like taxonomy – but in that case, we’re talking about things I love, and thus it’s easier for me to see in them the beauty and the logic. I’m sorry to admit that, because biochemistry is of course more and more important every day, but I just don’t give a fuck about proteins and their shapes and names; if I have to study biology at a molecular level, then molecular biology and genetics are much more interesting and beautiful.

I’m NOT complaining about the fact that I’m forced to study biochemistry, because every biologist must know the basics of this discipline, among others. I’m just glad that the professional path that I’d like to follow (ecology/biodiversity research – yeah, I will die of starvation) won’t probably require me to be an expert biochemist. I’m more interested in the organisms themselves, in their diversity, anatomy and in the mechanisms by which they evolve and survive in their environment, than in the details about the thousands of proteic gears that form their cells.

Random incoherent rants vol. 2: Paleontologists can sometimes be attention whores

I urge you to look at the badass motherfucker in the photo below:

Alan Grant

You bred Raptors?

He is, of course, Sam Neill in the role of paleontologist Alan Grant, the main character in Jurassic Park, one of my childhood heroes and one of the reasons when I was a kid I wanted to be a paleontologist. Now, compare him with this guy:

Jack Horner

My hair is a Maniraptora. Your argument is invalid.

(BTW, if you get the joke in the caption, you earn my instant and outmost respect. Also, you’re a nerd.)

This is the famous real life paleontologist Jack Horner, but I started to suspect that his methods are just as fake as the ones of the fictional character Alan Grant. I’ll elaborate: I’ve come to think that the theories he elaborates are chosen on the base of how innovative and grounbreaking they look, instead of how close to reality they might be. An open, antidogmatic mind that accepts new ideas is fundamental in a scientist, but this doesn’t mean that every new theory is automatically more valid than an older one.

I’m talkin of course about Horner’s opinions on the T-Rex’s feeding behaviour. Specifically, Jack is known for his theory that T-Rex was an obligate scavenger, based on the facts that it was too big and slow to chase the prey, it had such small arms and a very good sense of smell. However, none of these points convinces me: first, even if the most moderate estimates of T-Rex’s speed were true, we must remember that its possible preys where big and probably slow too (and the wiki section about its locomotion, which I’ve just conveniently checked, confirms it). Second, who the fuck needs arms to kill the prey, when you have a mouth like that, capable of the most powerful bite known to man? Third, a good sense of smell can be used to locate dead animals as well as living animals, so it’s not a proof. Long story short, I (and most other people, for what I know) think that good ol’ Rex fed on both living animals and corpses, just like the vast majority (if not totality) of modern apex predators. No reason not to eat a dead animal if you have the occasion, not to waste time and energy in the hunt. No reason to wait for a corpse, if you have the occasion to easily overpower and kill a living animal that you located.This is the most reasonable hypothesis, and as far as I know there’s no reason not to think it’s correct.

However, what makes me suspicious about the reasons that took Horner to formulate this hypothesis is that, as far as I know (I could be wrong), it is only about Tyrannosaurus. There’s a bunch of giant predator dinosaurs with small arms (some even bigger than Tyrannosaurus), but Jackie talked only about T-Rex, because it was the most famous, a true legend – and while crushing a legend can make you famous, crushing, let’s say, Charcharodontosaurus certainly won’t. Horner even contradicted himself about the “big size=scavenger” argument when he was working as a consultant for that unworthy abomination that is Jurassic Park III. In the special features of the DVD, he said that he envisioned Spinosaurus as the hunter and Tyrannosaurus as the hunted because Spino was much bigger. What? That’s the exact opposite someone should expect from a man that argued that T-Rex was too big and slow to catch living preys.

So, was Jack’s theory all a stunt to become famous for destroyng the image of the most notorious dinosaur of all time? I don’t know, but this doubt somehow prevents me from taking too seriously even some of his more recent theories, because they all have the same characteristic: they try to subvert a previous idea. And again, while the mind must be open to new ideas (as Darwin certainly knew very well), this doesn’t mean necessairly that newer ideas are more correct than older ideas. Jackie recently argued that Dracorex and Stygimoloch are probably just juvenile forms of Pachycephalosaurus. This is counterintuitive since the first two have horns and the last hasn’t, but I have to admit that this doesn’t mean anything: we know of structures (like the one used by newborn sea turtles and other reptiles and birds to break the shell of their egg and hatch) that are present in the young and not in the adult, so this *might* be true in this case too. Another of his recent hypothesis of this kind, however, is that Triceratops is just the juvenile form of Torosaurus. Well, actually the hypothesis was made by John Scannella, but Horner approved it, and argued that ceratopsian skulls are made of metaplastic bone, capable of changing shape and size of the whole structure over time. What. The. Fuck. I mean, yeah, they share similarities, but a complete change of structure in the skull so late in the development, when the full size was already reached? I dunno, maybe. If you really have to consider them as part of the same species, isn’t it more likely that they’re of different gender (with Torosaurus, which had the largest frill, being the male)? I don’t know, on the light of what I think about Horner and the T-Rex, I can’t help but have a little suspect that this might be another stunt to gain notoriety by subverting what we know about Triceratops, another widely-known dinosaur. I’m probably wrong, and Horner may have a million good reasons for his hypothesis, but I still have doubts.

What I’m trying to say here is that I have the impression that some paleontologists (Horner is not alone; his “rival” Robert Bakker seems pretty crazy too) feel that they are free to make up whatever the fuck they want since nobody will ever see a living Tyrannosaurus or Triceratops to prove them absolutely wrong. And that’s a shame, because paleontology is a very fascinating science, and should be based on the principles of science, not thirst of notoriety and attention.

N.B. Once again, is what I’ve said is total bullshit, don’t take it too seriously; there’s a reason it’s called “Random incoherent rants”.

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 courseĀ  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.