It’s sort of like eavesdropping

I feel a bit peculiar watching these “bloggingheads” episodes — it’s like sitting in on two people’s private conversation, and by the nature of the medium, you can’t even join in. And then the recent Althouse spectacle made me cringe — it was just too Jerry Springer, and I half-expected a tall bald bouncer to show up and make sure the trailer-trash harridan didn’t actually claw anyone’s eyes out.

The recent science episode with John Horgan and George Johnson makes me feel a little better about it, though; it’s more of a chatty and casual intellectual conversation. It’s still a bit limiting that no one else can join in, but I can appreciate that a thousand people chattering on a page would be much worse.

When I heard them, though, I knew their remarks about string theory would set off an informed but indignant response somewhere. What do you know, I was right!


  1. says

    I have a great big rant brewing about how this whole String Wars: The Popper Menace nonsense tells us much more about the media than about the scientific community, let alone the Universe itself. . . expect bile and vitriol.

    I recall that John Horgan’s name came up on Pharyngula once before, when he tried to list the Ten Worst Science Books. PZ agreed with Horgan’s choices, at least for the books which PZ had read, but a good many of us dug into Horgan’s choices in the comments. For example, “poke” said the following:

    I recall Horgan’s own book “The End of Science” being unmitigated dreck from start to finish. It’s not even that I disagree with the central thesis; science does seem substantially complete from a lay perspective. It was just poor. In that respect, I’m not in a position to judge string theory, and I doubt Horgan is either: so I’m sceptical about his inclusion of “The Elegant Universe.” I don’t agree with “Consilience” either.

    Several people also defended Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, saying that it explained currently known and established science pretty well. Of course, most everybody commenting at Pharyngula is smart and honest enough to say that they’re not in a position to judge string theory, and they also chimed in with the observation that Horgan probably isn’t qualified either. I wrote the following on Horgan’s blog and re-posted it for the Pharyngulans.

    From the original post:

    Greene, Brian, The Elegant Universe. Through this book and the spinoff TV series, Green has duped millions of innocent people into believing in things about as plausible as leprechauns.

    OK, at the risk of bringing the String Wars here, I have to call this a gross mischaracterization. Leprechauns were not invented by applying the concepts of quantum mechanics to the motion of wiggly objects defined to obey special relativity. Both quantum mechanics and special relativity are bodies of knowledge in which we have extremely high levels of confidence, assuming we discuss them within their range of applicability. No shrunken Celtic gods arose in the enchanted forest because someone combined two very good ideas to build a structure for generating more ideas.

    Leprechauns do not respect energy conservation or Lorentz invariance. Leprechauns do not reliably reproduce known features of the universe — gravity and electromagnetism both fall out of string theory, when one considers closed and open strings respectively — while tantalizing us with the difficulty of getting the rest of the details exactly right. Leprechauns never gave a physicist tools for understanding quark-gluon plasmas, never blessed a mathematician with a result in knot theory and never let students understand non-Abelian gauge theories in terms of overlapping Dirichlet branes.

    The AdS/CFT correspondence ain’t no lucky charms.

  2. says

    PZ, this is a great blog, and I almost always enjoy reading your posts but I do wish you’d rise above the name-calling. I don’t care who started it, the ad hominem stuff stops the debate being about argument or evidence, and makes it easy for your opponents to dismiss you, and people who share your views. It’s tactically ineffective and also just kind of icky and graceless. I can hear all the playground namecalling I need on right-wing blogs – it ought to be beneath you and this blog.

  3. QrazyQat says

    If you watched the Althouse vid, you’d know there was no name calling. AA made AtlasS look relatively sane.

  4. says

    Althouse herself has adopted the mean drunk trope and is having fun with it at her blog. She has also pointed out that she had two sips.

    Ann gets testy at times, and tends to be defensive. Especially concerning her daughter and personal trauma (she was a victim of spousal abuse). I haven’t seen the interview, I doubt I will ever see the interview, but I suspect there was more than a little misunderstanding on both parties’ parts, and some trolling on the part of the interviewers. Kneejerk reactiorns on the part of certain viewers is par for the course.

  5. stogoe says

    The Reich Wing blogs love Ann Althouse because she’s all too willing to blather their talking points for them.

    Frak her. She’s not worth paying attention to.

  6. jackd says

    I suspect there was more than a little misunderstanding on both parties’ parts, and some trolling on the part of the interviewers.

    Alan Kellogg, I have seen the notorious part of the interview. Your suspicions are kind and understanding and absolutely wrong. In the context of discussing Althouse’s status in the blogosphere, her single interviewer mentioned a particular incident from last fall as an example and Althouse started raving about character assassination. She kept doing so even while the interviewer was attempting to apologize. It was a ridiculous and unprovoked display on Althouse’s part.