Monday, October 12, 2009



This is why I like PZ Myers much more than Jerry Coyne.

When PZ decides to talk about philosophy, he at least manages to be very much in the ballpark, while Coyne has difficulty differentiating his gluteus maximus from his ginglymus.

Not only does PZ cite my favorite, much underlined, article of Stephen Jay Gould's, he creates this lovely metaphor of the relationship between science and philosophy:

Philosophers, sweet as they may be, are most definitely not the "arbiters" of the cognitive structure of science. They are more like interested spectators, running alongside the locomotive of science, playing catch-up in order to figure out what it is doing, and occasionally shouting words of advice to the engineer, who might sometimes nod in interested agreement but is more likely to shrug and ignore the wacky academics with all the longwinded discourses. Personally, I think the philosophy of science is interesting stuff, and can surprise me with insights, but science is a much more pragmatic operation that doesn't do a lot of self-reflection.

I would just tinker with the metaphor a little. The philosophers are not running alongside the engine ... they're more like journalists, sitting on the coal car, trying to report on what's going on, but every bit as interested in the results lest the train derail, with dire consequences to all, not least themselves.

Nor is there any engineer. Instead, there are thousands, upon thousands, of mechanics crawling all over the engine, even as it runs at full speed, each tinkering with some part of the machinery ... sometimes just tightening a bolt, sometimes pulling off a piece and throwing it overboard, and, very rarely, causing large parts of the engine to be rebuilt on the fly ... all without anyone in charge. A few of the reporters (like David Hull, Robert Pennock and Elliott Sober) can't resist jumping down off the coal car and lending a hand to the mechanics, sometimes to rather good effect. But they, most definitely, are not the arbiters of what is going on.

The reason that there are "longwinded discourses" is because the reporters are writing a vast, complex and nearly impossible to summarize story with millions of authors, and no end in sight short of the death of our species.

Also, PZ has a sense of humor which, as far as can be told, Coyne is seriously bereft of, self deprecating or otherwise.

Yep. Organized anarchy, that's science.

Which makes the claim of The Big Science Conspiracy to Keep Creationists Out all that much more silly.
Are you contrasting the blogger Jerry Coyne with the blogger PZ Myers or do you know them personally? I suspect their blogger personalities are much different than their face to face personalities.
Are you contrasting the blogger Jerry Coyne with the blogger PZ Myers ...

Mostly, though I "knew" PZ before through the talk origins newsgroup, which is much less formal than even a blog. I've also seen Coyne's other writings. It is their public faces I'm mostly talking about.
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