Vocabulary for the day: “favorable enumeration”

Inspired by recent miseducational shenanigans in Texas, On the Media runs a great piece on the latest Creationist strategies for shoehorning fundamentalism into science class. NCSE‘s Eugenie Scott interviews well, and sparks fly when Bob Garfield talks to Casey Luskin, a “policy analyst” from the anti-science Discovery Institute:

BOB GARFIELD: What are the issues?

CASEY LUSKIN: Well, the issues are that there is a scientific controversy over evolution. And, of course, some scientists will tell you that there is no controversy, but the reality is that during the hearings of the Texas State Board of Education, we saw a number of Ph.D. biologists from top institutions come and testify about their scientific doubts about evolution.

BOB GARFIELD: Are you familiar with the fallacy of favorable enumeration? It says that you find a handful of examples that support your premise and you focus on them to the exclusion of the vast preponderance of circumstances that don’t support your premise.

CASEY LUSKIN: Cherry picking is what you’re saying.

BOB GARFIELD: That’s called cherry picking.

CASEY LUSKIN: Okay, got it.

It’s not the punch line, but you have to love “Well, the issues are that there is a scientific controversy over evolution. And, of course, some scientists will tell you that there is no controversy …” That’s right. You certainly can’t trust us scientists to tell you about science. No sirree. We’re biased.

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On the Media on Science 2.0: Sounds good to us!

[Rant alert – I’m starting to get real tired of this nonsense. Although it is proving to be good blog fodder, and it got me published in the letters column of Science. Maybe it’s not so bad. And but so …]

Wired editor Chris Anderson is on this week’s On the Media, talking up the Petabyte Age. And OTM pretty much swallows it whole.


Photo by Pixelsior.

The Petabyte Age, as Anderson describes it, is the present time in which massive volumes of data (petabytes, in fact) are supposedly marking the end of the scientific method. If you actually read the Wired story, you’ll discover that Anderson has a pretty shaky grasp on what the scientific method actually is, and apparently thinks that “statistical analysis” is not hypothesis testing. As it turns out, it is.

On OTM interview, Anderson recants the sensationalist headline, possibly in response to the long string of critical comments it drew on Wired.com. But he repeats all of the mistakes and nonsense that generated the criticism: Craig Venter sequenced some seawater without a prior hypothesis, and Google summarizes lots of data to look for patterns without prior hypotheses; ipso facto, no one needs hypotheses anymore. (Anderson insists on talking about “theories” rather than hypotheses, which only highlights his unfamiliarity with basic philosophy of science.) The interviewer, Brooke Gladstone, pretty much lets him have his say. Does she then consult an actual working scientist, or, better yet, a philosopher of science? Not so much.

This is not the sort of coverage I’ve come to expect from OTM, which is basically in the running with RadioLab for the title of My Favorite Public Radio Show. Normally, OTM specializes in pointing out exactly this sort of failing in other news shows – interviewing pundits without actually talking to people who work in the fields in question. But it would seem that they don’t feel the scientific freaking method is important enough to cover properly.

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