Because Denyse O’Leary is so much nicer than Jerry Coyne

I could have warned him. Jerry Coyne had an interview on Skeptiko, that nest of feeble-minded credulity, that was a hilarious collision of reason with idiocy. The last time I looked at Skeptiko was when he interviewed Denyse O’Leary, on her ghastly book, The Spiritual Brain.

Strangely, that interview went smoothly and without any argument. Clearly the problem must lie with Jerry Coyne’s temperament.


  1. says

    Non-spiritual brains are cantankerous things, insisting on making sense with observations. A spiritual brain, by contrast, absorbs any sort of detritus without any real opposition, being rather gaseous, ethereal entities.

    Mush your brain up, Jerry, and you’ll be so much more inclined to go with the slush flow.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Alex Tsakiris:

    I can’t imagine what would happen if I pushed him on near-death experience science.

    *bursts out laughing*

  3. Lycanthrope says

    I clicked on the Skeptiko link. Why would any webmaster inflict that background on an unsuspecting public?!

  4. ibyea says

    Yeah, the interviewer doesn’t know what the heck he is talking about. How does non locality and quantum entanglement defeat materialism? They are both real world phenomenon that happens to things that are real, and that can be described by quantum mechanics. Also, I am sick and tired of people going like: quantume mechanics, therefore consciousnes mumbo jumbo!!!11

  5. Sili says

    Well, I’ve never heard of O’Leary posting cats, cowboy boots or food pron on any of her websites.

    So there’s that …

  6. rrhain says

    A couple of thoughts I had:

    First, the debate about Wallace and Darwin seems to be comparable to the relationship between Brahe and Kepler. Brahe was a brilliant astronomer who, through diligent recordings of observations, came to show that the “immutable celestial spheres” were a bunch of hooey.

    But it was Kepler who took that data and came up with the laws of planetary motion. Kepler’s results rely on Brahe’s data, but we don’t consider it them “Brahe’s Laws of Planetary Motion” because he wasn’t the one who came up with it.

    Similarly, Wallace seems to have done a lot of work in biogeography, but it was Darwin who used that information to show that it was evidence of evolution.

    Now, the relationship between Wallace and Darwin is not the same as the relationship between Brahe and Kepler, but the concept seems similar that I think Tsakiris needs to step back and rethink his point: Yes, Wallace did a lot of work on biogeography. Coyne agrees. But Wallace did not use that as a basis to justify evolution. That was the work of Darwin. Thus, Wallace does not get the credit for evolution because he wasn’t working on evolution.

    A similar case can be shown with regard to relativity and Lorentz and Einstein. You can’t discuss relativity without referring to the Lorentz transformations, but it was Einstein who put it all together into a full-fledged theory.

    Second, the moment I heard Tsakiris talk about the Observer Effect, I realized that he doesn’t understand exactly what that is. Specifically: The Observer Effect has nothing to do with consciousness. The fact that Tsakiris brings up the Two-Slit Experiment proves it: No consciousness observes the photon. It’s all done mechanically. In fact, there is an extension to it where you can introduce another mechanism to the experiment that removes the results of the observation of the photon and the interference pattern re-emerges. All of this is done without a single consciousness taking part.

    Yes, the Observer Effect is real, but it has nothing to do with consciousness.

  7. mnb0 says

    “if they’re saying at the fundamental level of physics non-local theories are incompatible with what we observe, then I think it calls into question the things that we’re talking about in terms of Materialism, Determinism.”
    That Tsakiris guy really doesn’t know what he is talking about. Bohr’s Correspondence Principle describes the relation between quantum events, typically taking place beneath the nanometer level, and larger scale events since almost 90 years. Basically it says that what we experience as a causal relation is a actually a statistical correlation very, very close to 100%. In popular terms: when you try to walk through a wall there is actually a chance you will succeed. But I don’t envy you when you try to calculate that chance, so small is it.
    It other words: causality is a simplifaction with on daily scale often an error margin much, much smaller than that of your best measuring equipment.

    “We have no idea whether those apply on the mutational level.”
    The sensible thing for a non-biologist like me is to take Coyne’s word for it. It’s only when biologists are going to study phenomena like mutations on such a small scale that they can expect quantum effects. Btw neurobiologists are quite rapidly approaching that scale (factor 100 or 1000 or something, when they describe what happens in neurons).

  8. Doc Bill says

    I think that Coyne gets on better with people because he is a cat person and cats are closer to people than slimy things.

    Just saying, PZ, it’s the things you hang out with.

    And not to be snarky, but I think you are quite the fried calamari fan while, to my knowledge, Coyne has never dined on …

    It’s too horrible, I can’t say it!

  9. mnb0 says

    “So when Jerry wants to hold on to this really outdated idea that quantum entanglement only matters at the sub-atomic level.”
    Just follow Tsakiris’ advise and google on “quantum entanglement in biological systems.” You will quickly notice that this applies to phenomena like photosynthesis, exactly where we should expect it. Thus Dr. Coyne’s “really outdated idea” is only confirmed.

    “that’s just easily provably false.”
    Which begs the question: how stupid is Tsakiris exactly?

    “did this guy publish on this date?”
    What about following your own advise and do some googling, Mr. Tsakiris? Or consulting Wikipedia?
    One again: how stupid is Tsakiris exactly?

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    rrhain @ # 8: … Wallace does not get the credit for evolution because he wasn’t working on evolution.

    As I understand it, Wallace did come up with the concept of species change over time through natural selection, basically on his own.

    Knowing that Charles Darwin had similar interests, he wrote to him – thus forcing Darwin to “go public” with his theory much earlier than he had intended. They wrote a paper and gave a Royal Society presentation together in 1858.

    Darwin, who had been working on the idea for about 20 years, then followed up with Origin of Species the following year. The greater impact of that book – which indeed had much more material and thought in it than did Wallace’s work – gave Darwin the recognition his prior insight deserved, but to claim Wallace wasn’t “working on evolution” in his own way distorts history.

  11. says

    My favorite part of that interview was at the end when Alex asks, ” If they claim that we may be receiving messages from the future don’t you think we should look into that.” Or that “we may be receiving information from somewhere outside our biological brain.” Can you say Really one hundred times.

  12. No One says

    Alex Tsakiris; so “open minded” his brain fell out.

    All this cloying asshole was trying to do was get Jerry to admit that he could be wrong. About anything… So fucking desperate and pathetic.

    Alex, ya shoulda asked him to pick a number between one and ten instead.

  13. says

    I subscribe to Skeptiko, I suppose because I’m an intellectual masochist, but this interview nearly made me pull out my safe word.

    To those who don’t care to listen, here’s how it went, just repeat this ten times or so:

    SKEPTIKO: “What do you say about your critics who say x?”
    COYNE: “What’s their evidence for that?”
    SKEPTIKO: “I don’t know, but they surely have a lot!”
    COYNE: “Can you give me some?”
    SKEPTIKO: “No.”
    COYNE: “Okay, let me obliterate x with a, b, and c.”
    SKEPTIKO: “Why are you so hung up on this point?”
    COYNE: “You brought it up.”
    SKEPTIKO: “Okay. Well then, explain this intricate point on a technical paper on quantum mechanics.”
    COYNE: “I haven’t read it, and I’m a biologist not a physicist.”
    SKEPTIKO: “You are a scientist and therefore have an obligation to know everything about every topic I’m interested in.”

  14. Rip Steakface says

    The first couple dozen comments on the Skeptiko link are beautiful. A ton of people (some possibly from here?) swooped in to assist Jerry in ripping up this Alex dude. It’s truly a wonderful showcase of badass skeptics tearing into a very, very woo-inflicted little man.

  15. Lou Jost says

    The interviewer was terrible and Jerry stood up well to the abuse, but I think he downplayed Wallace too much. #8, rrhain, says something similar to what Jerry said:

    “Wallace seems to have done a lot of work in biogeography, but it was Darwin who used that information to show that it was evidence of evolution.”

    No, Wallace used biogeography all his life to inform his thinking on the origin of species. He even published a paper on the subject in 1855, BEFORE Darwin and Wallace’s joint 1858 publication. The paper was entitled “On the Law which has regulated the introduction of new species”, and it uses biogeographical evidence to suggest common ancestry of neighboring forms. His “law” was this : “every species has come into existence coincident in both space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species.”

    All of Wallace’s work on biogeography, which began long before 1858, was aimed at understanding the origin of species.

  16. nemothederv says

    @10 doc bill

    regarding cats,

    All I want to say is don’t knock until you’ve tried it. They’re quite good roasted with string beans.*

    *[No, I do not eat cats. This is humor,even if it’s in poor taste(poor taste……get it?). There is nothing to see here. Move along.]

  17. nemothederv says

    Skeptico kind of reminds me of Coast to Coast except more self-serving and rude. What an asshat.

    I don’t go calling myself a priest because, well, I’m not a priest.
    Why does this guy call himself a skeptic?

  18. Muz says

    I only heard any of this Alex guy because of Monster Talk and he was bad enough there. But on this one he’s cemented that impression of a supercilious arrogance of ignorance toolbox.
    He’s always going to that “I’m a nice guy! I’m just asking questions!” tone while dismissing everything you’re saying out of hand and elevating alternate theories with nothing more going for them than he likes them better.

    Is there a really good wiki or article or something that shows all of this new age quantum bollox up? ‘Cause that’s what he’s doing here; some quantum paper in Nature proves ‘reality’ doesn’t exist as we know it, there’s other forces at work etc.
    Quantum physicists probably think there’s no need to address the idea that this doesn’t apply at all scales, or whatever. But these clowns will jump on these ideas all the same. How do we tell them?

  19. fredbloggs says

    I listened to this interview yesterday and found it painful. This interviewer didn’t have any real arguments, he just kept making casual references to Quantum Theory and hinting that they had implications for Natural Selection, but at no point does he actually say what those implications are.(no suprise there)

    But Jerry’s style doesn’t help. He was clearly ambushed by the interviewer who repeatedly asked him questions about research that was outside Jerry’s domain, or papers he hadn’t read, but instead of simply stating so and curtailing pointless lines of questioning, Jerry allowed the interviewer to get under his skin. He seemed stressed by the encounter.

    Alternatively, Jerry could have thrown the questioning back in his face “I’m not aware that quantum affects have any implication for natural selection. Please explain what you think they are”.

  20. Chris Booth says

    rrhain at #8:

    I think that what you are missing is that Tsakiris is basing his Wallace info on a Discovery Institute publication. Not the facts of Wallace’s career or accomplishments, but on Discovery Institute mendacity and spin. The DI IDiots want to boost Wallace because he couldn’t accept that the same impersonal physical laws that produced the tail of the peacock also produced the human mind. Like so many Victorians, Wallace clung desperately to the concept of an aetherial Platonic “soul” in humans and unique to humans, and claimed that a divine intervention was necessary to explain it.

    Wallace is dear to the IDiots because he felt life had to get a jump-start from outside and because he felt that evolution didn’t account for the human mind and soul. The IDiots therefore wish to push him past Darwin in importance, and claim him as the greater of the two. As usual, they spin Roman candles of mendacity to support this, and a credulous person looking for verification of scientifically unsupportable claims is going to swallow their tract undigested and leap on it as the rock on which to build an appeal to authority.

    The more Wallace can be boosted, the more they think they can claim authority.

    Wallace was also an ardent anti-vaxer and a practitioner of mesmerism, phrenology, and spiritualism.

    Ah, now we see why Alex Tsakiris is so enamored of Alfred Russel Wallace: Seances, communication with the other world, the liberal use of the word “spiritual”. Maybe he likes the mesmerism, too.

    Apparently, there were people who felt that Wallace was underhanded in how he got spiritualism tabled (in the UK sense) at a meeting of the Royal Society. He was also criticized for using erroneous data in his anti-vaccination campaigning, and later for re-using the same bad data even though it had been pointed out as having been inadequate.

    We must judge by a person’s best work. If we go by a person’s sanitary habits, for instance, Beethoven and Szilard are [monty_python_voice] right out.[/monty_python_voice] But we must judge them by their great contributions, and dismiss their personal quirks when assessing their work. Wallace did great work and wrote wonderful, eloquent exciting books. He was one of the great populizers of science. He was at times breathtakingly brilliant. He devised a delicious proof of the curvature of the earth to challenge a flat-earther and he shot down Lowell’s silly canals-on-Mars stuff (though, to Lowell’s credit, he made the Barsoom stories possible thereby…). His biodiversity work and his evolution/Darwinism thinking and writing were hugely influential in his day. Perhaps his spiritual backpedaling made evolution itself more palatable to some. He was an extraordinarily prolific writer on many subjects, and the breadth and depth of his research is astonishing. He is one of the towering figures of biology and of the general history of science, without a doubt.

    But, science does not stand on a foundation of distortion of facts, popularity, or appeals to authority, and pseudoscience does–and that is what is afoot here. Its a dirty business.

  21. Chris Booth says

    Lou Jost @ #19:

    Thank you for the info. Wallace was a giant, but fell into some woo also. The woo has greatly diminished his reputation, and that is unfortunate. When he died, the year before the Great War, he was mourned as the last of lion of a great generation. Malay Archipelago was in print without a break from 1869 into the 1920s, I think I read somewhere. It is currently in print (and available in Project Gutenberg and in the works in LibriVox).

  22. erikthebassist says

    I actually spent quite a bit of time trying to debate the believers at the Skeptiko forums before realizing the futility and giving up. Alex and his followers are absolutely convinced of the reality of mind / brain dualism. They cite all kinds of crappy research to back this up and refuse to accept the idea that anecdote != evidence.

    They are all huge fans of quck pseudo scientists like Rupert Sheldrake. Alex himself seems to lean on NDE’s as his primary line of evidence.

    It’s odd because most of them actually attempt to approach the question from a scientific viewpoint. They all agree that evidence is required to believe things, it’s just that they have no desire to actually examine the evidence with a critical eye. If it fits their preconceived notions, it’s good science no matter how shitty it actually is. It’s very frustrating.

    A good number of them actually appear to exhibiting some signs of mental illness, although I’m no docotor and not in a position to make such a diagnosis. It’s just MHO from having spent some time there.

    There are several legit skeptics who maintain a presence there and at least try to keep them honest. The back and forth is actually sometimes interesting and lively.

    There’s a lot of pearl clutching and swooning so I don’t think many pharyngulites would escape the ban hammer for very long.