Saturday, February 07, 2009


Prepare to Inspect

Abbie at ERV has detected the infestation of the University of Oklahoma's student newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, with Sal cordovaitis. Abbie snaps on her surgical gloves, probes the infection in its nether regions, and determines that it has the usual symptom of making large numbers of people laugh.

What I noted was the presence of another symptom ... open and running quote mines, in particular this one taken from Jerry Coyne:

In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics.

The actual context can be seen here:

In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.

The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key--the only key--that can unlock our humanity.

What Sal seems not to understand (or is disingenuously papering over) is that "pecking orders" are not true measures of worth but, instead, rankings that have, as often as not, more to do with politics or social standing than they do with the values of the items being ranked. In the article, Coyne is reviewing, albeit colorfully, a book claiming to have discovered the "Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion," i.e. rape. He is comparing that claim to phrenology, not evolutionary biology as a whole, and bemoaning the book's tendency to add to an already unfair pecking order.

But for a beautiful bit of irony, Sal is so clueless that, for his original posting of this quote mine at (where else?) Uncommon Descent, he even labels it and others as "quote mines," apparently unaware at the time of what the term means.

In short, he quote mined "quote mines."


To judge from his behavior on ARN some time back, Sal not only knows what quote mining is, he's proud of being good at it. He's not clueless; he's malevolent.
I'm not a Sal watcher (so nmuch stupidity, so little time) but it did occur to me that his blatant usage at UD was an attempt to co-opt the term. I'd still call that quote mining "quote mines" though.

I try to maintain some ... um ... Christian charity towards quote miners and assume they're stupid rather than venal. The DI cohort (and their syncophants) constantly disappoint my impulse to think the best of people.
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