Posts Tagged ‘bad science journalism’

Soooo, I go offline to write up some stuff, and I have so much stuff to write at the moment that the only thing that prevents me from having a complete nervous breakdown is the sense of duty (DUTYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY);

anyway I go offline, and the next thing I see when I stumble vaguely downwards in the general direction of the  back-to-the-internets and ah-fundies-hell

(or, rather, am summoned back from the seventh circle of hell – the circle reserved for people who have to write things, so that they can concentrate when the sweet, screeching sound of wailing of Xian sinners fills their dark bitter hearts with much needed warmth& warm fuzzy feelings of glee, schadenfreude and GLEE – by e-mails and messages asking me DID U SEE THAT DID U?????)

well, what’s the next thing?

This:

Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests


asdfasdfasdfghasdfghasdfghasdfghasdfghadfghasdfghasdfghasdfgh NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Well. Let’s start from the beginning

(and also make the necessary disclaimer that I can’t really say anything until I see the article in a proper scientific journal, because, LOL, this is how it works)

(unless you’re a fuckwit who believes Albright& Thiele  – as a typical person who deals with ANE, my first reaction was “WTF is Thiele?”, my second reaction was to google, my third was “Ah, USian fundies, OKAAAAY!”, my fourth to e-mail a Prof who is an actual Semitist just to make sure. The Prof’s first reaction was “LOL THIELE”, her second “LOL FUNDIES” so there – that Albright&Thiele are scholars whose research should be still taken seriously in the year 2010. For one, it’s terribly outdated, second, their methodology was, frankly, appallingly unscientific, third, they were both archaeologists, and as such, not really trained to interpret texts properly. The Wiki editors, though, seem to be strangely enamoured of them. It probably has something to do with noxious fumes and  sulfurous vapours from the influence of  Conservapaedia  >.>)

Anyway:

what Galil Gershom seems to claim is:

1. The inscription from from Khirbet Qeiyafa is written in Hebrew.

2. It can be dated to X century BCE.

3. The presence of writing in Israel at such an early period could prove that the Bible was written much earlier than heretofore assumed.

Ad 1> His interpretation seems to hinge on the presence of two verbs which, as he himself admits, do occur in other Canaanite languages, albeit with lesser frequency.

It has to be noted that the text itself is very fragmentary and heavily damaged.

Also, I’d like to remind everybody about the blunders that are in fact sometimes made when it comes to interpreting ancient texts, such as these, where a private letter was suggested to be a part of an epic poem.

However, even if Gershom’s interpretation is correct, it means very little for the chronology of the redaction of the  Bible.

Ad 2> I’d have to take a look at whatever was published about the excavations. If anything has been published at all.

It might not have been, yet.

Ad 3> Here, we come to the crux of the argument, and where it’s time to call bullshit.

Because, the lack of Hebrew writing system is NOT the ultimate proof for the late redaction of the Bible. There are multiple other arguments, and trying to turn the scientific consensus (VI century BCE and later redaction) into another false controversy replete with straw men and non-sequiturs is a complete, utter and total failure on the part of whoever did it, be it Gershom himself or the maverick journalist who wrote the press release(1).

There are multiple other factors that have to be taken into account when dating ancient texts, such as, for instance, the cultural background. Sometimes older words for garments, vessels, and the like, have to be explained by added glosses, because they are no longer comprehensible to later readers. There is  ample evidence for such “gloss-like” passages in the Bible. There is also plenty of other indirect evidence for the “traditional” chronology being, basically, drivel and complete bullshit, intended to alleviate crazy biblical literalists’ existential Angst about their favourite book(2) not being true.

Also, even if the Hebrew writing was a later invention, it doesn’t mean that writing was unknown in Syria and Palestine. There is evidence that the Egyptian hieroglyphics had been known since at least early III millenium BCE in Arad and Southern Canaan, where they were sometimes used as decorative motives, which might suggest the local population couldn’t read them yet. In the XIV century BCE Amarna several hundred letters to and from Syro-Palestinian kings were excavated, all of them written on cuneiform tablets in Akkadian. Also, this:

The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible’s Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)

Yeah. The Earth was thought to be first created flat, too.

(It most likely was indeed written in a Hebrew alphabet, but arguments like that? Oh, FFS)

Right. I’ll just go and do some work now.

(1) As usual and for anec-datal reasons, I’m a strict adherent of the “always blame the science journalist” theory.

(2) It never ceases to be amusing how some many people claim their favourite book is one they never read.

Not very, I hope, because we need a swift and clean solution to the bad science journalism problem. Personally, I am willing to take one for the team and eat Russel Goldman*.

Yesterday PZ Myers steamrolled a pro-creationist** article about the Ardi fossil discovery. Because I was rather certain that Rusell Goldman, the author of this vile piece of, er, something, clearly must have done something similar before, or at least described the antics of intrepid Briton otters, I and my trusty Google-fu skills braved the dark enemy fortress, and here’s what we got:

1. First, nothing really scary, typical political stuff. A bit biased towards Republicans, I’d say.

2. Next is the article about depression in Utah that I think I’ve read before. However, when you reread you notice all sorts of things. Like, how many cliches do you see in this paragraph:

Take Wendy, a 40-year-old teacher and mother of three from Utah County. To all appearances, she led the perfect life. Just as she was expected to, she went from high school cheerleader to Mormon missionary to wife and mother.

Yeah!

3. And by the third article, we hit the jackpot. It relates the Gates fiasco, when a black scholar was arrested in his own house, because the police thought he was mean to them*** (or him, I don’t really remember). Goldman inserts the following commentary between other people’s opinions:

Some observers questioned whether the president should have so strongly backed Gates, a longtime friend, over the police who arrested him without fully knowing exactly what took place between the professor and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley.

“Some observers” LOL. This is stuff you can’t even get away with at the Wikipedia, but, apparently, with which ABC has no problems at all.

ALso, translation from batshit to English: I AM NOT RACIST NOT AT ALL BUT THOSE BROWN FOLKS THEY JUST (…).

He then quotes statistics saying how POC feel about their interactions with the police, but not statistics that would show that the police tends to really actually be unfair towards the POC. Because, duh, why write about those pesky facts, when you can show another minority group to be oversensitive and overreacting?

FAIL!

4. He also did the story about Sullenberger and his uber-competent emergency landing, but there’s no way you can fuck up that story****.

5. Finally, the gem I was saving for the end: the creationist-fellatioing piece of drivel wasn’t the first time Goldman was caught being incompetent, this time by religious people here.

Oops, it turns out he’s an equal opportunity hack, and not even an honest to god fundamentalist.

(Note: I’m not trying to turn it into a witch hunt. However, if you epically fuck up once, chances are this wasn’t your first fuck up.

And it wasn’t.

Think statistically!)

* How hard can it be? It’s like eating a human-sizes piece of sushi, really. NOM NOM NOM.

** It’s more than just pro, really. It’s like fellating and arse-licking at the same time.

*** AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA MEAN AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

**** There actually is. I could easily think of at least three. I just don’t want to harsh your squee.

Via Pharyngula

(Before I start, I want to make it clear that I think that both Hood’s and Boyer’s research is totally legitimate science, and something worth looking at more closely. What happened is a blatant case of bad science reporting, complete with the journalists’ ignoring the researcher’s pleas for accuracy and the journalist’s distorting the facts from start to finish)

The nays:

Next time, please do inform me of the upcoming Really Nincompoop and Idiotic Brain Science and Bad Brain Science Reporting Week in advance, so that I can prepare more visual aids.

Featuring myself, beating my head against the wall.

Anyway, to the point: when I checked this morning, fresh of out primordial oozing goo of pseudoscientific stupidity* emerged three homeopaths, one enema, and a really stupid article titled We Are  Born to Believe in God, by Jonathan Leake and Andrew Sniderman.

(Brief googling reveals that Jonathan Leake is a science journalist, usually writing about Those wacky scientists, making cows that give skimmed milk, lol, and also, about Intrepid Briton Otters. He’s also got environmentalist-themed articles here, but at this point, I’m afraid to look.

Also, I’m uncertain which of those people, or if all of those people, are the Andrew Sniderman. There appear to be at least two different people here, though; one of them from the US, one from Canada. This doesn’t really matter, because as we will soon find out, the whole mess is Leake’s fault, anyway)

Let’s just steam roll it with valid criticism, shall we?

ATHEISM really may be fighting against nature: humans have been hardwired by evolution to believe in God, scientists have suggested.

*Yawn* Translation from Idiot to English: opposing my cause may well be fighting against nature (…). Also, this time, no scientists actually suggested any such thing.

But, why need facts when you can have a shiny header?

They suggest that during evolution groups of humans with religious tendencies began to benefit from their beliefs, perhaps because they tended to work together better and so stood a greater chance of survival.

This is an idiotic statement, which might suggest 4 different things: 1) that the authors believe that every religious society has organised religion, which is as clear a sign of western bias as I’ve ever seen, 2) that religious people are morally superior to non-religious people, which makes them better cooperators, and LOL HOW DUMB IS THAT?, 3) that the authors are conflating correlation and causation, 4) that the authors somehow believe that cooperating groups whose membership is based on religion are somehow better at cooperating than other groups which begs the question of  LOL WHUT???

He (Richard Dawkins) has long argued that religious beliefs result from poor education and childhood “indoctrination”.

Because no argument against atheism is complete without at least one Dawkins straw man. I’m not even going to deign that with a comment, only? The scare quotes? The “indoctrination”? It actually should be indoctrination without the scare quotes. You know, moulding people’s minds in such a way that they won’t ever question what you taught them, which is especially despicable as it’s children we’re talking about.

Or at least I am.

It’s hard to tell what Leake&Sniderman are doing. What with them being so totally insipid.

His work is supported by other researchers who have found evidence linking religious feelings and experience to particular regions of the brain. They suggest people are programmed to get a feeling of spirituality from what is nothing more than electrical activity in these regions.

Who is the “he”? The “he” is Bruce M. Hood from Bristol Cognitive Development Centre, author of SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable. He is quoted as saying,

“Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works”.

Yeah. This is most certainly true. There are also lots of experiments that show that stories where there is one supernatural or abnormal thing disrupting the otherwise perfectly normal narrative, like talking bushes, horses on fire, tooth fairies and such, are particularly easy to remember when you are the owner of a human brain**.

This, however, by no means should be taken as a proof that “human brains are hardwired to believe”. What it means is that religious concepts are easy to remember and parse for a human brain, and nothing more.

In one study he found even ardent atheists balked at the idea of accepting an organ transplant from a murderer, because of a superstitious belief that an individual’s personality could be stored in their organs. “This shows how superstition is hardwired into our brains,” he said.

Uh-huh. The stuff about transplant was intended to illustrate the psychology of the contagion system in our brains, and the essentionalist leanings of our brains, and not that our brains evolved to believe.

Unsurprisingly, this is also what Hood himself says in his blog, when complaining about being completely misrepresented by Leake. Apparently, when Leake showed him what he wrote, Hood wanted him to correct the mistakes, but was ignored. Yay, science journalism at its most awesome!

WHY NEED FACTS DUH.

I’ll have to remove my sarcasm gland one day, because of the constant irritation caused by inaccurate science journalism and the resultant swelling. It’ll be all the science journalists’ fault.

I’ll sue.

Some researchers argue that humans’ innate tendency towards supernatural beliefs explains why many people become religious as adults, despite not having been brought up within any faith.

This is a joke, right? Because, show me a person from any western culture that was raised with absolutely no faith in their social environment, ahahahahaha. I’d be very thrilled to meet them.

I’d be also very thrilled to meet a unicorn.

“It is a small step from this to conceptualising spirits, dead ancestors and gods, who are neither visible nor tangible.” Boyer holds out little hope for atheism. “Religious thinking seems to be the path of least resistance for our cognitive systems,” he said. “By contrast, disbelief is generally the work of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions — hardly the easiest ideology to propagate.”

Yeah, sure, go and quote-mine Boyer, why not. He wrote a book too, though, and it’d be better to read the book than this.

It’s also very ironic, considering both of the above scientists seem to be atheists, as far as I know***.

And finally, for the Incoherent Opinion of the Better, Holier than thou Side:

“I am quite sure there will be a biological basis to religious faith,” Reiss said. “We are evolved creatures and the whole point about humanity is that we are rooted in the natural world.”

LOL WHUT. Does the reverend want to say that we’ve evolved in such a way as to hinder us from non-believing? WHAT ABOUT FREE WILL!

Well, that made baby Darwin cry.

Finally, the yays:

I’ll have to read SuperSense now, ’cause it seems interesting. YAY.

*At this point I’m half-convinced that the pseudoscientists engaged in brain science have a shared repository of Really Bad Ideas.

Or a hive mind.

** As usual, I’d absolutely recommend Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained, because it explains that and much more, and has a great bibliography.

*** See Hood for this post (hardly anything a theist would write, huh?). And Boyer writes in his book, scoffing at a Catholic priest, how he can’t see why it would be any more absurd to believe in witches with flying innards than in zombie carpenters (rough paraphrase).