Sunday, November 9, 2014

Philosopher a fan of crackpot evolutionist

Biologist-philosopher Massimo Pigliucci did not like me trashing modern philosophers as having no worthwhile influence on physics, and wrote:
You have obviously read no philosophy of science whatsoever.
He did not like my reaction to this comment:
As for philosophical accomplishments, I can name two:
1) The Scientific Method — Science was not a separate field until recently; not until the 19th or 20th century, I believe. Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, along with all the other ‘scientific minds’ of the Scientific Revolution, were natural philosophers. Science is the child of philosophy.
2) The Sex/Gender Distinction — Unless I am mistaken, it is a firmly held belief in various fields (feminism, anthropology, psychology(?), etc.), and a common belief among lay men, that there is a distinction between one’s reproductive role (sex) and the cultural, behavioral norms they must follow qua sexed person (gender). This distinction was introduced by Simone De Beauvoir, an Existentialist philosopher. This seems like a big accomplishment for philosophy.
I did suspect that this comment was a joke. Sure, the scientific method was big, but that goes back millennia. But the sex/gender distinction? Really? Is that the best philosophy has done in 300 years? The distinction is of interest to a few trannies, but not much anyone else.

Pigliucci is a big fan of Stephen Jay Gould, and wrote a 1998 5-star review of Gould's most famous book, The Mismeasure of Man:
Steven J. Gould is most famous among the general public for his collections of essays from his long Natural History series, "This View of Life". But the best of Gould's writing is perhaps to be found in his single-theme books. And The Mismeasure of Man is arguably the finest among them. The volume is about the long history of the search for scientific justification of racism, and the many faux pas that science has committed when it comes to the study of human intelligence. ...

He illustrates this with an array of definitely intelligent people whose brain sizes covered almost the whole gamut displayed by non-pathological individuals. However, this is indeed one of the troublesome aspects of this book and, I dare say, of Gould's writing in general. He dismisses contrary evidence or arguments so fast that one gets the impression of seeing a magician performing a trick. One cannot avoid the feeling of having being duped by the quickness of the magician's movement, instead of having observed a genuine phenomenon. In this particular instance, I can vouch for Gould as a biologist, but I'm not so sure that the general public is willing to trust him on his word. After having dismissed both craniometry and the aberrant work of Cesare Lombroso on the anthropological stigmata of criminals, Gould moves on to his main target: IQ and intelligence testing. ...

That is, the scores on each test are correlated to each other, because they all reflect one underlying quantity, which Spearman named "g", or general intelligence. Spearman therefore provided one of the two pillars of the eugenic movement: there seemed indeed to be one way to rank individuals by their intelligence with the use of one number: this was the score on the g-factor, instead of the score on any of the available IQ tests. Burt's major achievement was a supposed confirmation of the second fundamental piece of the puzzle eugenic puzzle: his studies of genetically identical twins suggested a high heritability (incorrectly read as a high level of genetic determination) of intelligence. So, not only do individuals differ in intelligence, but this is easy to measure and genetically determined. Environment, and with it education and social welfare, cannot alter the innate difference among individuals, genders, and races. QED Well, not really.
No, this book is crackpot stuff. It has no scientific merit, and is wrong on almost every level. You can read the Wikipedia article for details.

Yes, there is overwhelming evidence that there are innate differences among individuals, and a lot of work on how much can be attributed to genetics and how much to the environment. Very few traits are entirely genetic or environmental. This stuff is not particularly controversial, except for Gould fans.

Pigliucci posts a lot of good essays and interviews, and of course he is on the warpath against pseudoscience and creationism. But he is just another philosopher of science with a warped idea of science.

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