Tuesday, April 29, 2008

IQ and pseudoscience

In the debate over Ben Stein's movie Expelled, which purports to argue that creationism/intelligent design has a rightful place in the science curriculum, some have argued that - to be blunt - pseudoscience of this sort is popular because people are dumb. Example - Jerry Pournelle argues that higher education is wasted on the proles:

As we go down the Bell Curve it becomes more difficult and eventually becomes impossible -- and all the educational effort expended in teaching "talent meritocracy" skills has been wasted. Those on the left side of the Bell Curve have talents and potentials, but they require a different kind of education -- and the United States public school system, with rare exceptions, not only doesn't provide it but doesn't want to provide it. We believe or say we believe what Bill Gates believes: that every child deserves a world class university prep education. And as I have said, attempting to provide that to everyone means that few will in fact get such and education, and much of the money and resources devoted to education will be wasted.

In a nitshell, this is why the IQ-is-taboo crowd has such a bad reputation - because they cannot resist the temptation to indulge their latent sense of superiority. In asserting their intellectual prowess, they wholly abandon the moral high ground.

The argument in defense of science is wholly separate from the argument about IQ. The former is easy: ExpelledExposed, RealClimate, TalkOrigins, etc. Yes, those who unequivocally reject the (in retrospect, obvious) idea that IQ has a genetic component are as guilty of pseudoscience as Stein et al.

But the other side of the fence, those who say "IQ has a genetic component" are also at fault when, and if, they propose policy. Such as Pournelle's horrific implication that higher education is wasted upon the plebes.

There is in fact no need to "consider" IQ when combating pseudoscience unless you are prepared to accept the fallacy that only dumb people fall for pseudoscience. Very, very high-IQ people are quite happy embracing pseudoscience for a number of reasons. One of them being simple calculus of self-interest (financial or otherwise). And another being genuine belief.

It is intellectual laziness to assume that disagreement is due to inferiority. You are implicitly assuming that super-rationality exists. It does not. The reason people fall for pseudoscience is not because they are dumb but because pseudoscience is Godelian - it cannot be disproved by reason and logic. Pseudoscience is a belief system.

The problem is not that there are low IQ rubes who slurp up pseudoscience. The problem is that there are high-IQ people who gladly dispense pseudoscience because unlike science, pseudoscence is very useful in promoting an agenda. Science is not quite so easy to push around to fit an a-priori.

Were reason and rationality truly objective, then pseudoscience would not exist. That is the problem, and there is no solution aside from the kind of solution to bad, but free, speech: more speech. More Science. Fight fire with light.

Proposing public policy to restrict higher education to the high-IQ-enabled is not only a moral travesty, but would also do nothing to erase pseudoscience from this world.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

a conspiracy of cartographers

This is inane.

SPEAKERS at a Doha conference on Mecca's importance said that the holy city, not Greenwich, should become the reference point for world time, reigniting an old controversy that started some four decades ago.

A group of Islamic scholars presented on Saturday “scientific evidence” to prove that Mecca was the core of that the zero longitude passes through the holy city and not through Greenwich in the UK.

Greenwich in England has been the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) since 1884. GMT is sometimes called Greenwich Meridian Time because it is measured from the Greenwich Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Greenwich is the place from where all time zones are measured.

The phrase scientific evidence has scare quotes around it for good reason. For one thing, they argue that Mecca has perfect alignment of geographic north to magnetic north. All well and good, but magnetic north drifts over time. The claim is false anyway, the true perfect alignment is somewhere around Kandahar.

Possibly the most hilarious aspect of this is their solution: reject the maps!

The participants recommended the unification of the time in the Arab world to the time in Mecca instead of Greenwich. They also called the Arab governments to abandon the new world maps “because they are forged to serve Western interests.”

yes, western interests like global trade, or navigation of oil tankers?

As I've said elsewhere, attempts like this to assert Islamic superiority in the arena of science by pseudoscience fatwa betray a deep-seated insecurity about faith more than anything else.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Talk Islam v2.0

I am very pleased to announce the relaunch of Talk Islam, an experiment in conversation between the members of the Islamic blogsphere.

Talk Islam was originally conceived as a "frequently asked questions" resource to combat public mis-perceptions about Islam, analogous to the Talk Origins archive on evolutionary theory. However, for various reasons, that goal was not realistic in its original form. The relaunch of Talk Islam is intended to be a long-term project, with a focus on promoting stories and initiating discussions that are relevant to our concerns.

This goal is achieved in numerous ways. First, the main page of Talk Islam is a group blog, that hosts a running discussion between leading bloggers in the Islamosphere. This conversation is open to all, and we are actively seeking participation from muslim bloggers to participate.

Second, Talk Islam hosts the Carnival of Brass, which highlights key posts by muslim bloggers throughout the Islamsphere. Anyone can submit links to the Carnival, and posts that are linked appear not just at Talk Islam but at dozens of other muslim blogs around the web.

Third, any regular participant of Talk Islam may request a free blog, at (username).talkislam.info. These user blogs are powered by Wordpress and equal in functionality to free blogs hosted on the Wordpress.com hosting service - except the URL is far cooler!

All in all, Talk Islam is an experiment in progress. The goal is to promote the entire Islamic blogsphere and forge stronger connections within it. Do stop by and take a look! We hope you join us.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Papacy and Jon Stewart

This is probaly one of the funniest segments I've seen in a long time on the Daily Show.

"OH MY GOD The Pope's plane in invisible!"

"yeah, not like that last pope.. that guy was a dick!"

"wait, I thought the Jews controlled the media?"

and my favorite, "awesome speech". But that was President Bush's line, not Stewart's.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

JStreet: pro-Israel, pro-peace

"We must establish boldly and forcefully that nothing is more pro-Israel than pressing for immediate, sustained and meaningful American action to end the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.This requires a dramatic change in the dynamic of discussion about Israel in the American Jewish community and in the American body politic. It demands an end to simplistic slogans and name-calling that effectively shuts down debate and discussion in a community not known as shy and retiring in expressing its opinions.

My history demands that I say this. Our future and Israel’s future demands that we act on it."

-- "For Israel’s Sake, Moderate American Jews Must Find Their Voice", by Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street and of JStreetPAC.

More information on JStreet at their website:

J Street is the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

J Street was founded to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israel conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. We support a new direction for American policy in the Middle East and a broad public and policy debate about the U.S. role in the region.

J Street represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own - two states living side-by-side in peace and security. We believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole.

sign me up!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I am converting to Scientology

It's been a great ride, oh ummah, but here's where I get off.

"goodbye, evrybody... I've got to go..."

"Bismillah NO! We will not let you go!"