Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cornelia Dean On Science and Law

Cornelia Dean has a "commentary" in today's NY Times about courts trying to decide issues of science. She draws a hyper-simplistic distinction between the methods of science and law:
The justices may also consider that when scientists confront a problem, they collect all the information they can about it and then draw conclusions.

Lawyers work in reverse. They know their desired outcome at the outset, so they gather arguments to support it. While it would be unethical for scientists reporting on their work to omit findings that don’t fit their hypotheses, lawyers are under no compunction to introduce evidence that hurts their cases; that’s the other side’s job.

You do not have to be a lawyer to know that lawyers begin with learning the facts and then develop a legal theory based on the facts. Dean's simplistic description may apply to litigation attorneys on the verge of a trial, but it is highly inaccurate as a description of most lawyers generally.

You do not have to be a scientist to know that her depiction of them drawing conclusions only after they have gathered all the facts is also simplistic and ignores the fact that scientists are human too. They have their own preconceptions and bias.

Having said this, the article is interesting nonetheless. Many point to Philip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial as a landmark moment for the modern Darwinian skepticism movement. A law professor, Johnson applied legal standards of proof and evidence to macroevolutionary theory, and found that the evidence for it was far weaker than many believed. It explored whether the theory was based primarily on facts, or whether it was primarily dependent on philosophical materialism for its plausibility.

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For links to previous posts about Cornelia Dean articles, check out Cornucopia of Cornelia.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What Does an Episcopalian Sound Like When He is Pretending to Be a Young Earth Creationist?

It may be speculation, but I think it would sound something like this:
I was considering making a donation to Quality Science Education for All but in reading about your recent activities I am still a bit confused as to what the mission of QSEA actually is. Specifically I would like to know whether or not you support the word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ being taught in our public schools. This is an issue I feel very strongly about and would need to know your position before making a decision to financially support QSEA.

I like this subject area, and I especially like stories that make me chuckle. This one does. You can get the background here and here and here. (I guess there is some dispute as to Farmer's motives in that email, although Farmer never seems to explain himself in his explanation.)

I wonder where he did his sociological research? Maybe by watching the Reverend in the myth of Inherit the Wind? Maybe by watching Ned Flanders on the Simpsons? However, even Ned Flanders sounds more authentic than this guy does. Or maybe he is just tragically misunderstood.

This story reminded me of my previous post: Eugenie Scott's Strategy: To Convert Baptist Kids into Episcopalians in Science Class?