For Science!

You can blame Sarah for this, since a bit of Skype chat got the pair of us bitching about the neuron-deprived morons who proudly proclaim “I believe in science”. Precisely how one believes in a process that’s based on observation, experiment, repetition, and deduction is another matter – except that the declaration labels the speaker as the kind of fool who regards “science” as just another religion.

One might as well say “I believe in logic”, or “I believe in mathematics”. You don’t actually have to believe in any of these things because they aren’t things. They’re observable processes that can be demonstrated to produce the same results from the same inputs every bloody time.

The entire point of the scientific process is that if you can’t repeat your results with the same inputs then you’ve got something wrong. The something could be that there are more variables you didn’t know about. Or it could be that your hypothesis doesn’t match what’s actually happening. Since all scientific knowledge starts with the hypothesis that the world – the universe – is governed by natural rules that can be determined by observation, experiment, repetition, and deduction it’s perfectly acceptable that more evidence causes rethinking and in some cases throwing out long-held rules and theories.

Newton’s laws lasted for a long time – but research and experiments in the 20th century determined that Newton’s laws fall apart when working on scales that are – for the most part – outside the ability of humans to understand. It’s actually not that different than the way recipes typically neglect to mention that they’re assuming the person doing the cooking is somewhere reasonably close to sea level, and in an area that’s neither utterly freezing nor horrifically hot. Trying to follow a normal recipe somewhere like the US badlands in summer or three quarters of the way up Mount Everest or somewhere in Antarctica would not produce the expected results.

The problem is that there are far too many people who don’t understand that if words don’t have clear meanings then there can be no communication. If there is no communication, then everyone is easy prey to a scammer playing semantic games with normal linguistic shortcuts. Don’t believe me? Listen to a politician speak – or better, read the transcript. More often than not, you’ll get a whole lot of words that luff and flap around the supposed topic but never actually say anything that means anything.

Of course, the benighted sods who claim to “believe in” science are likely to fall to the linguistic scams, because anyone who feels a need to believe in a process is not using the material between their ears to think with. Let’s face it, believing in science is on the same level as thinking that a statement like “No human is illegal” has any relevance to a discussion about illegal immigration. The shortcut of calling an illegal immigrant simply “illegal” is just that. A shortcut. It’s not saying the person is illegal, it’s saying their immigration status is illegal.

That kind of bad faith argument is typically not something the placard-wavers would understand. I’m sure they think it sounds wonderful and humane and all very enlightened. Except that what it’s really saying is that this country – and no other, because strangely enough you never hear arguments about how horribly inhuman anyone else’s immigration policy is – does not have the right to enforce its own laws.

It’s one thing to find a law objectionable. There are legal ways to deal with that, which can be escalated all the way up to constitutional amendments. That’s part of living in a law-abiding, high trust society (trust me on this, there is no way you can have a law-abiding low trust society. Rule of law goes out the window once trust levels drop enough because people don’t trust any government entity).

It’s another, and far, far worse thing to say that a nation, a state, or a city does not have the right to enforce it’s laws. And if a nation doesn’t have the right to enforce one law, what gives it the right to enforce any other law? I’m quite sure there’d be enthusiastic agreement from some of these people, right up until they found themselves the victims of criminals, at which point they’d suddenly see a need for law and order.

And yes, scientific processes can describe all of this. Not terribly well, because the amount of variability in human behavior is something that’s beyond our ability to model, but enough to be relatively predictable.

So after that little rant, have a cat picture. Today it’s the Husband’s much loved cat Tia Clawmarks.

84 thoughts on “For Science!

  1. I was going to say something snarky about witch-doctors wearing lab coats.
    And now I can’t stop visualizing the bloody metaphor.
    (The Muse remarks, “That’s a great visual. Seems like a good basis for a short story. Now I demand you consider how dogs undo buttons.”)

    1. That’s the worst part. Some ‘scientists’ Believe In Science!

      Only they’re not actually scientists, they’re political hacks with fancy titles. Sometimes with fancy degrees from colleges that should have known better.

      Government-supported ‘scientists’ say what they are paid to say. If they fail to toe the line, they don’t GET paid, or published. I’m not saying that all scientists are corrupt (yet), but only the corrupt ones are permitted to speak. When ’99% of scientists’ are saying the same thing, in almost exactly the same words, you know that something is rotten in the state of Science.

      Far too many of today’s ‘scientists’ really are witch doctors in lab coats.
      Mollari: “Everyone is cute! But in purple, I’m stunning!” [collapses on the table]
      Vir: “Ah! He has become one with his inner self!”
      Garibaldi: “He’s passed out.”
      Vir: “That too.”

      1. The Geology department of my alma mater was purged in the late ’90s for objecting to the anthropogenic global warming hysteria the University president was pushing.

        There was, of course, no media coverage.

        1. In the 80s my first college had a Geology professor who insisted – with a lot of detail that didn’t *quite* ring true – that tectonic plate theory was wrong and the Earth was expanding. He was also quite certain that the greenhouse effect was a good thing because we were in an interglacial and a runaway greenhouse effect could offset or prevent the next ice age.

          Mind you, the geology department of that college was full of those who could kindly be described as “eccentric”. When the nickname (NEVER to his face) of the department head was “Doctor Death” because he looked kind of like a walking corpse, well.

    2. Alfred Bester, “The Stars My Destination.” The Scientific People colony in the Asteroid Belt:

      “You are the first to arrive alive in fifty years. You ae a puissant man. Very. Arrival of the fittest is the doctrine of Holy Darwin. Most scientific.”

      “Quant Suff!” the crowd bellowed.

      J♂seph seized Foyle’s elbow in the manner of a physician taking a pulse. His devil mouth counted solemnly up to ninety-eight.

      “Your pulse. Ninety-eight-point-six,” J♂seph said, producing a thermometer and shaking it reverently. “Most scientific.”

      “Quant Suff!” came the chorus.

      1. Ahh, that takes me back. I were but a wee sprout when I found Mom’s copy of ‘A Treasury Of Great Science Fiction’ on the shelf. The title was no lie. Each volume began and ended with a novel: Re-Birth (aka The Chrysalids), The Weapon Shops Of Isher, Brain Wave, and The Stars My Destination. Along the way were more stories by Heinlein, Bradbury, Sturgeon, Clarke and Kuttner.

        Hard to find now, and expensive, but it sure was good.

      1. Different synaptic pop rocks.
        But combining them could work…
        And that’s more than an entertaining visual, with at least of a bit of an implied story…
        I don’t have a handle on a plot, but there’s something there, niggling. If I can tack down the corner, maybe…

        1. False start. The tone is wrong for the effect I want. I’m going to have to approach it from a different angle.

          The lab tech smiled at me. She couldn’t help it, she liked people, and she smiled at everyone. Not that she’d turn me loose. I’d asked. She’d just cocked her head, and looked at me pleadingly with her big, brown eyes. Her boss didn’t like that, and he growled at me. He was a bulldog, and I was sure his bite was worse than his bark.

  2. To my dissertation advisors’ [all but one] chagrin, I approached both my MA thesis and PhD work as a scientific proposal. “X is true. Disprove X.” So a lot of my MA work was trying to prove a null hypothesis, including metaphorically pounding a library table with my forehead when I found data that challenged my lovely, hand-crafted hypothesis. I included the data, even though I didn’t like it. Same thing with the dissertation: “This change was observed, and though to have been caused by D. Prove/disprove D.” Granted, I wrote it in Historian, not Chemistry or Physics, but the approach worked well for that specific sort of work.

    At least in fiction we can legally fudge our data to match the curve we drew! [warped climatologist smile here]

    1. My diss was based on a chi-square model trying to get an idea of democratic longevity in newly democratic states. I got dinged because none of my case studies (all Eastern European new democracies) had failed. I did ask in the defense how I was supposed to have failures…I still passed. The dude who asked was a true believer Marxist. He was only on my committee because my first chair absconded and abandoned about 5 of us in the middle of our dissertations. That was SUCH a fun year!

    1. That’s because the silly buggers have forgotten that words exists to communicate not to obfuscate. Their predecessors neglected to teach them this.

      And anything they don’t like is “fascist”. Because they think fascism is the opposite of communism and their simple comprehension falls apart at anything beyond “communist good, fascist bad”. The tantrums that follow when you provide them with evidence that fascism is on the spectrum leading to communism can be immensely entertaining as long as you stay out of range.

  3. “…the neuron-deprived morons who proudly proclaim “I believe in science”.”

    If only it was because they’re stupid.

    When somebody is consistently doing something completely insane, and it is hurting their bottom line but they keep doing it anyway, you have to assume they’re getting paid to do it.

    Every time one of these trolls starts in here their arguments are so -weak- that I have to assume they’re getting paid somehow. Either in money or Virtue Points.

    1. That would be my battery hog of a digital camera which is mostly unused these days because phone cam is so much more convenient.

      It is a lovely photo of her in one of her better moods. (This was the cat who had a “wear armor” notation in her file from every vet she ever saw).

  4. Maybe “I believe in science” is a shorthand.

    Maybe it is a short cut to “I believe that I am perfectly correct in these strongly held feelings that I have cherrypicked support for from the journalists’ regurgitation of selected parts of the scientific literature”. 🙂

    1. I am fairly certain that if backed into a corner they’ll claim that they believe in the process. But you can still catch them with the word “believe”. Too many people substitute “believe” for “think” or “know” without recognizing that they’re changing the meaning of their statement.

      1. Not to mention the ever-weaseling “I feel…” or “I have faith in…”

        I’ll sometimes use any of these as a shorthand, and I commonly use “I feel” as shorthand for “this is what I might think if I had more evidence” … but it still makes my teeth itch, because I do not “believe in” science, even when it’s defined as “reproducible results”. To “believe in” is to have faith, which can be defined as belief without proof.

        1. “I find the scientific method to be the best way to…” is what I strive for. But, yeah, shortcuts do come into it. That, and trying not to sound like the raging academic I am…

          1. Oh, I hear you… I love playing with words and I’m perfectly capable of using the poly-syllabic gob-stoppers in conversation. I usually don’t because I get a combination of incomprehension and people think I’m trying to sound superior when I do. Darn it.

            And yeah, the scientific method has a lot to do with current Western standards of living beating practically all of history.

  5. Two university professors, one of Physics and the other of Philosophy, both got annoyed by people professing a belief in science and were alarmed by how often honest questions about certain topics were getting shut down because “the science was settled”. They published a really interesting article on this topic titled ‘Science as Storytelling’. I’ll put a link to the article below. Definitely worth reading.

    1. “The science is settled!” statement would have sent my late father well into the stratosphere with fury and exasperation. The science is NEVER settled! Scientific understandings are always in a state of evolving, as they are re-researched, examined, and expanded.
      Yesterdays’ “scientific” dogma is today’s laughable dead end.

      1. Mr. Galileo, the science is Settled!
        Mr. Copernicus, the science is Settled!
        Mr. Newton, the science is Settled!
        Mr. Einstein, the Science is Settled!
        Mr. Hubble, the Science is Settled!

      1. Scientistic cargo cultery seems to be a common disease – but then humans in general seem to be rather vulnerable to most forms of cargo cultery. (Shut up spell-checker. I do not mean “cutlery”)

        1. Autocorrect is a tool of the Devil, and whoever invented it should go straight to Hello

  6. > Precisely how one believes in a process that’s based on observation, experiment, repetition, and deduction is another matter

    Uhhh… seen a K-12 curriculum lately? Or for all I know, a collegiate one.

    Their “science” is credentialism and Narrative. And those change with the winds.

    Couple that with the tendency most people have to dislike uncertainty. There can only be one “truth”. There *must* be one truth. They have to latch on to something, which they’ll then defend past the point of absurdity. The facts must then be twisted to fit the Official Interpretation, or ignored.

    1. Oh, that refusal to accept that the may not be one “truth” drives me insane.

      There are facts. There are best approximations about what those facts mean. And of course, there are lies, damned lies, statistics, and modern education.

    2. There is always one truth. Our understanding of that truth may not be accurate or complete.

      Science is a method and a process for improving our understanding of the universe. Like any tool, it can be misused, and such misuse is generally harmful to the user and bystanders.
      Can not run out of time. Time is infinite.
      You are finite. Zathras is finite. This…is wrong tool.
      No, no, no. Very bad. Never use this.

      1. This is where semantics and precise definitions come into play. There may be one Truth (as in the ultimate knowledge of how everything works) but each person forms their own truth – which I think is equivalent to your comment that “Our understanding of that truth may not be accurate or complete”. There are also a whole lot of arguments because we all wind up using different words to mean the same thing.

        On the other hand there is precisely one set of facts. Facts may appear to contradict each other, but they don’t stop existing because someone disagrees with them.

        And yes, science is a tool and can be misused – and is being misused by the twits who treat it like a religion. Which always irritates me, because I see science as being about discovering how the universe works. Religion is about why we are here.

  7. I once read a book titled (IIRC) “What Would a Martian Look Like”.

    By the end of it, if it was a dead-tree book, I’d likely thrown it against the wall.

    While the authors were apparently scientists, they gave this “big word” lecture on “why Aliens Can Not Look Even Vaguely Like Humans”.

    That basically was the entire book.

    Looking at popular ideas about aliens and Screaming This Is Wrong “Because Science”.

    As one example, they talked about that “alien autopsy” film and never said a word about any of the problems I heard about the film. It was all about “The Alien Is Too Human-Like” and thus Because Science it is a Fake.

    Of course, the major problem with their “big word explanation” is that we haven’t encountered any intelligent alien life so it’s not possible to “prove” what aliens are like.

    I suspect those authors would stand in front a a True Intelligent Alien and whine about it can’t be Real because it is too human-like. IE: Two legs, Two Arms, Upright Body and Head at the highest point of the Body.

    Oh, they never did describe what a Martian would look like. 😉

    1. So they ripped off every “I wanna hate on Star Trek because it’s popular” self-appointed hard science rant and acted like it was real science?

      1. Yep.

        They also showed an anti-religious bias when they talked about the third book of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. 😦

        Oh, the authors were Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

        The title was “What Does A Martian Look Like?”

    2. A Martian would probably be a microbial organism, in all honesty.

      That said, an intelligent alien is going to have a number of physical features in common with humans unless its biology is so different it’s not comprehensible (which is unlikely, given that we have the same building blocks, as it were). It will almost certainly have a large brain-case in a highly protected part of its body (like our skulls). That may or may not be the head, but stands a good chance of being a head, because the sensory processing needed for communication is the most intense brain-work – much more intense than movement. It’s going to have something that works similarly to fingers because the ability to manipulate tools is something that’s rather essential to being able to communicate effectively across a large population – and a single intelligent organism or small population of intelligent critters isn’t likely to push to a level where we’re likely to meet them.

      The whole two arms, two legs, upright body and head at the top is a relatively efficient setup. Locomotion, tool manipulation, the ability to scan the local environment quickly and quietly, all in one reasonably compact package.

      There’s no *guarantee* an intelligent alien would follow the same pattern, but there’s also no compelling reason why they wouldn’t. One way or another a heck of a lot of critters follow that pattern, and most of the rest have four legs and an elevated head.

      1. I like the “two arms, four legs” alternate body shape. 😉

        The four limbs is the default number for “higher lifeforms” here on Earth but we have no reason to believe that will hold true elsewhere.

        Oh, looking up the authors & book, apparently “What Would A Martian Look Like” was the American Publisher’s decision not their decision.

        1. *laughs* I was just finishing up reading the comments before commenting: “So, centaurs?”


          Can actually think of more reasons against centaurs than against vanilla humanoids…..

          1. There is a question about how the classic centaur could eat enough via its human mouth to feed its horse body. 😉

            Of course, I implied the idea that four limbs for “higher animals” may be more common than six limbs for “higher animals”.

            1. I was thinking more in line with the difficulties in giving birth– horses are a pain in the patootie right now, adding something to their necks to make it even EASIER to get stuck?

              1. Ouch!

                I see what you mean.

                Of course, an intelligent alien with two arms and four legs likely wouldn’t look like a centaur (with a large body sticking upwards from the main body).

                Likely the arms would be the limbs nearest the head of the alien.

                1. Yup, very likely.

                  In a sufficiently high-oxygen environment I could see an intelligent crustacean with evolved pincers – I have a never-finished piece of writing that involved something along those lines, where the pincers worked as arms/hands and were also crucial to the language. It would have to be high-oxygen because IIRC the breathing mechanisms of crustaceans are rather less efficient than the way our respiratory system works.

                  The centaur “model” of 4 legs plus 2 arms could work. So could centipede/millipede models – multiple legs with a set nearest the head being repurposed as arms. The classical centaur not so much… although it’s probably not that much more challenging for birth issues than a giraffe with that long, long neck.

                  1. *trying to envision the problem she can sort of sense for centaurs*

                    I think the biggest difference from giraffes would be the shoulders– giraffes aren’t very strong, weight-bearing wise, related to the sort of triangle shape. A baby giraffe is born sort of like pulling the letter ‘y’ through a hole. Something like Ұ, or ҂? Harder.

                    1. /sigh

                      Yes, I am actually looking around for videos of giraffe births and trying to figure out what you would need for a centaur….

  8. I would like to think that science progresses one fatal heart attack at a time but that doesn’t happen either. Stuff gets set in stone and everyone believes it when it isn’t true at all because the original experiment was twisted and lied about to make the facts fit the theory. There was that experiment that crawled out of a California university in the 60’s (can’t recall the specs anymore) that ‘proved’ that good people were evil at the drop of the hat. In the last few years, some of the participants have revealed that’s not what happened at all.

    Science seems to be just as fad-driven as any other area. It’s fashionable to believe until it’s not and then the next new big thing takes over.

    1. There was that experiment that crawled out of a California university in the 60’s (can’t recall the specs anymore) that ‘proved’ that good people were evil at the drop of the hat. In the last few years, some of the participants have revealed that’s not what happened at all.

      There were actually several of them; you’re probably thinking of the prison guard one, although there’s several others mentioned here:

      Oh, and the “bystander effect” which I’m sure someone did papers on, which was based on reporting by someone who never actually talked to anybody but the department head of some of the cops who were there, and he made a story around it.

  9. The “I believe ____________” thing seems to be a human brain pattern thing– where the … chain of thought, assumptions, the WHOLE THING is rolled into a single unit, so if you disagree with any aspect of the claim, then you disagree with the conclusion.

    This is one of the things that they hammered on in my logic class, especially the part where just because a thing was not supported logically did not mean it was wrong, it just meant the argument based on the stated assumptions didn’t support it.

    What they MEAN by “science” is the conclusions they hold that they have been told are supported by science, and they believe this because it was told to them by those styled as scientists.

    “This guy is a scientist, and he said this thing, so it must be true.”
    “No, because I just showed you that what he said is wrong based on this specific evidence. It doesn’t MATTER who or what he is, the evidence goes the other way.”
    “Science denier!”

    1. One ‘fun’ troll is variants on the ‘if scientists said to jump off a bridge’…

      If you can find two scientists to endorse a theory chosen solely for its offensive value to an audience, you can do ‘scientists say’ back at a given debate opponent. Bonus if the theory has a deliberately designed and carefully worded flaw that exactly parallels one in the argument you expect to deploy the troll against.

    2. They “effing love science”. I’d be happier if they had a basic understanding of it.

      1. They only “effing love science” when the conclusions they see match their prejudices. These folks would be all in favor of eugenics in the 20s.

        I “effing love science” too, but I’m well aware it’s a discipline practiced by humans who are fallible and have a distressing tendency to fall to groupthink and other such pressures. I’m also well aware that many scientists are extreme specialists and as such don’t know everything outside their chosen field of study. So when a chemist goes on about global warming I am skeptical. I would be equally skeptical of a climatologist going on about chemistry, which curiously doesn’t happen all that often.

        1. Well, akshully, climate models are at least implicitly making claims about chemical reactions, so…

          It seems like it would be interesting to see a climate modeler who can explain and demonstrate how to use their techniques to produce a good design for an airplane or for a nuclear power plant.

          1. The problem with climate models is the problem that bedevils a great deal of climatology: a mix of GIGO and the models not being built by people with the right expertise.

            On the GIGO front, climate involves a ridiculous number of variables whose interactions aren’t fully understood, plus there’s doubt that what’s being compared is measured the same way.

            Then the models aren’t built by programmers with guidance from people who understand the chemistry, physics, etc. involved. Which means who knows what bugs are buried in there? Especially since they don’t get the kind of usage that would surface a lot of said bugs.

            1. On the GIGO front, climate involves a ridiculous number of variables whose interactions aren’t fully understood, plus there’s doubt that what’s being compared is measured the same way.

              One of the sources, in the US, is the temperature recordings from fire-watch towers.

              My mom nearly hurt herself laughing at that, because she is familiar with it in the 60s and 70s. It was strange for them to NOT be manufactured a half-hour before the guy who is supposed to pick up the records got there, and in those cases where you got someone as precision fixated as my mom, it would still be based on a thermometer that is in either two or five degree increments, not down to half a degree or less.

              1. Gosh. Color me surprised. I bet the thermometer never got checked for calibration issues either.

                Like I said, GIGO.

                And given the insanely long cycles involved in global climate (I think the shortest is the 11 year sunspot cycle) plus the side effects that come from a dynamic magnetic field with a tendency to switch polarity irregularly, there’s no way a hundred years of data at current accuracy levels can cover what’s going on.

            2. Frankly, the ‘not built by programmers’ probably applies to everything done by graduate students in non-CS fields using computer solving that isn’t wholly off the shelf. Some of the CS graduate students, and possibly a rare few of the faculty in non CS topics might qualify as programmers by the standards that I expect you are using.

              Temperature measurement is definitely interesting.

              The question I think most interesting goes as follows. At some of the scales the modeling is trying to address, large scale atmospheric motions are being influenced by the body force of gravity acting radially inward. How would that fluid mechanics situation be duplicated in empirical testing? What experimental measurements exist of such flows? Electric charge seems the obvious alternative body force to gravity, but would that be a truly comparable flow? How about magnetic particles?

              1. Oh, quite. To get anything close to an accurate climate model, you’d need cooperation from top-notch programmers, physicists with expertise in fluid dynamics, physicists with expertise in magnetics – particularly magnetic dynamo effects – geologists, astrophysicists… The list goes on.

                There are still climactic effects that people have videoed which can’t be reproduced in a lab environment and can’t be accurately modeled. I don’t see that changing in a long time – after all, we’ve all felt the temperature difference moving from under a shaded tree to full sun. That difference is enough to set up a small air circulation flow. Enough of those with the right setup can produce larger effects, and there is no way there will ever be monitoring stations a few feet apart all over the planet. It’s not practical.

            3. Then add in deliberate corruption of the data going into it, and software designed to facilitate the fraud, and not sharing any of that with any scientist who hasn’t sworn fealty to the cult…..

    3. Asking the “I believe in Science” crew how many sexes* there are can be fun as well.

      *In humans.

    4. “This guy is a scientist, and he said this thing, so it must be true.”
      “No, because I just showed you that what he said is wrong based on this specific evidence. It doesn’t MATTER who or what he is, the evidence goes the other way.”
      “Science denier!”

      And after you’ve had that convo in all it’s variations over 20 years, the temptation to say “Kill them all, God will know His own.” gets overwhelming.

      Why, yes, I am a misanthrope. This stuff is why.

      1. Caedete Eos is definitely one answer, but in theory in may not be the only answer. Hypothetically, if one had a Phd scientist level troll on tap, you could divert the tediousness to a differently tedious credential debate. Which may well not be a practical answer.

        “The problem is obviously coupled economics and computer science, so your chemistry professor and my geologist are equally useless. Economist versus computer scientist would also not be a decisive fight.”

  10. Convincing the scientists to agree is its own ball of fun. I recall a fun discussion in the Denver Worldcon green room with a biologist that started with the question “Have dogs speciated?”

    What it summed up to was that if you put three evolutionary biologists in a room and ask them to define “species” you’ll get at least five definitions and possibly none of the evolutionary biologists will leave. There might be agreement that evolution is happening, but there’s a lot of discussion over the rest. There’s no consensus over species being distinguished by “can’t breed and produce viable offspring” vs “don’t breed” – and never mind whether the latter is a matter of lack of opportunity rather than lack of ability.

    There was no answer. And the last I heard, there isn’t going to be an answer.

    That was a fun discussion with a lot of insight into how scientific research actually works.

    1. Oooh, the species thing is FUN!

      No, really, at least if you can find folks who aren’t defending their ego, they want to talk about the actual stuff– there’s so many fun variations on the don’t breed thing, too, and of course on the flip side I support recognizing that wolves, dogs and coyotes are different species, BUT I also recognize that they’re more of a genetic blob than three strands, and “subspecies” just really doesn’t cut it.

      I am still squeeling like crazy over stuff like ligers and the “ring species” where it turns out they CAN cross, just no opportunity, but this is so cool because you can breed in captivity variations that almost never show up in nature…..

      1. And I just got closer to my meaning of species, which happens to overlap with what I MEAN when I’m talking about stuff like dinosaurs where we can’t do a genetic thing.

        I’d use “species” in the broad sense to mean naturally occurring true-to-type strains of animals that can be identified by non-genetic physical examination, especially of bones.
        Have an over-arch of interfertile species, to recognize dogs, coyotes and wolves.
        Phrasing of natural to avoid different dog breeds, and dairy-vs-beef, and similar exercises in extreme breeding being identified as different species, but doesn’t ignore that feral dogs, etc, are possible. Feral vs long-term wild horses are, from memory, not identifiably different.

        Has the additional benefit of allowing species identification without genetic samples, so people canidentify Neanderthals as a different species even though we know we’re related/descended from them and we can recognize dinosaur species.

        1. Oh, the species thing is definitely fun! The whole “can breed”, “don’t breed”, “will breed but usually don’t get the chance”, “can breed but just TRY to get them to do it in a controlled environment” thing (and the ring species, and the crosses that are usually sterile but sometimes produce a viable result that can successfully produce offspring with either parent species, and…) is a big part of why there are biologists and geneticists who think that species isn’t really a viable differentiator any more and the classification system should move up a notch rather than argue for hours over whether the endpoints of a ring species should be considered separate species or not.

          All of which is complicated by the truly astonishing variety of breeds and sports produced by humans practicing selective breeding (which we’ve been doing for thousands of years with some critters) – and we haven’t even started on plants!

    2. If you really want to have fun with the biologists, try classifying bacterial “species” some time, where none of the usual rules apply.

      Though really, based on everything I’ve heard, just about every species has its equivalents of the Hugh Heffners who will screw anything that will stay still long enough–and a surprising number of those crosses are fertile! A part of me wants to dismiss the loons who are saying, “There’s no such thing as species,” but another part of me is whispering, “They’ve got a point…”

      1. Oh, yeah. Bacteria are weird.

        Re: screwing anything that will stay still long enough – there’s an old documentary about cane toads which falls somewhere between humor and horror. One of the observations made was a toad spending an hour attempting to mate with another toad – which had been squashed flat under the wheels of a car (in Australia, cars are generally held to be the only natural enemy of the things, which says more about the Oz sense of humor than anything else).

        As far as “There’s no such thing as species” goes, the impression I get is that species is a useful morphological and normal breeding partner distinction. It doesn’t appear to be a particularly useful genetic distinction because of all that fun stuff with ring species, bacteria, the individuals that will screw anything they can fit it into, etc.

  11. All of the above about the problems with distinguishing species is true… but OTOH there’s also evidence that when we talk about a species we’re talking about a real “thing”, even if we can’t exactly define that “thing” in a way that satisfies us. The late Stephen Jay Gould once wrote an essay about “folk taxonomies” and how people who have never heard of “science” and know nothing about anatomy beyond “stab here to kill” can nevertheless classify organisms and distinguish species with great precision and accuracy.

    Something else that I’ve observed while birding is that the critical test isn’t whether WE can tell the species apart; it’s whether THEY (the organisms in question) can tell the species apart. For example, the _Empidonax_ flycatchers make birders tear their hair out: 15 species of bird that are so similar inside and out that the only reliable way to distinguish them is by their songs. But they don’t seem to have any trouble finding a compatible mate for breeding.

    1. For some reason I am reminded – strongly – of Ogden Nash (I think).

      A wonderful creature, the flea.
      You can’t tell a he from a she.
      But he can, and she can, whoopee!

  12. If anyone wants to cringe a bit more about “believing in science” (and the level of ignorance that “believing in science” entails), I’d like to offer Merriam Webster’s first definition for science (and yes, the rest are also bad): “the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding”

    1. Thing is, going by roots, that one is defensible. Assuming my memory isn’t mistaken.

      Take the Latin word scio, and IIRC the definition, sci ence, would have that definition. But very much older than the current sense, and not really overlapping with the narrower last 200 years or so definition.

      1. If it were turning into the Oxford and doing things in historical order. . . .

        (That is the root word in “con-science” and also in “con-scious-ness.”)

  13. The Kaymar Award is given for work for the benefit of the club and its members. The recipient is decided by a vote of prior winners. The award, which may only be won once, is a memorial to long-time Neffer K. Martin Carlson (1904-1986) who originated, maintained, and financed it for 25 years.

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