Two Cultures

Ever since C P Snow pondered the question of how the scientific and liberal arts cultures came to separate, various people have fussed about it, regretted it, and tried to devise cures - like forcing Caltech students to take a potful of "Hum" courses. After reading a dozen or so reviews of Tom Wolfe's new book, The Kingdom of Speech, all of them apparently by literary types, and only one of which displayed any grasp of the subject, the following crude explanation bubbled up from my subconscious: the literary types are just too fucking dumb to be worth talking to.

Bad pig! That was unworthy of me. But really, if a famous literary and journalistic figure decides to write on the history and content of the theory of evolution, couldn't Time, Kirkus, NPR, the NYT and numerous others find somebody who knows something about the subject to write about it? Apparently not. One such idiot wrote that the book was "sure to provoke a lively debate."

Maybe among the ignorant. Among those understand the subject, it just provokes anger that some famous ignoramus has chosen to pollute the language with his stupidities.

UPDATE: Finally, a major news source gets somebody qualified to review and demolish Tom Wolfe's ridiculous attack on evolution. Jerry Coyne, an emeritus professor of ecology and evolution takes out the trash in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, the NYT has given us reviews by two people who have no idea what they are talking about, the second (by Caitlin Flanagan) even more idiotic than the first. Countless other supposed purveyors of news have done the same, supplying idiotic reviews of dangerous nonsense by people who have zero qualifications to judge.


But in fact Wolfe doesn’t even understand the theory he so despises. Evolution, he argues, isn’t a “scientific hypothesis” because nobody’s seen it happen, there’s no observation that could falsify it, it yields no predictions and it doesn’t “illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science.” Wrong — four times over. We’ve seen evolution via real-time observations and ordered series of fossils; evolution could be falsified by finding fossils out of place, such as that of a rabbit in 400 million-year-old sediments; and evolution certainly makes predictions (Darwin predicted, correctly, that human ancestors evolved in Africa). As for evolution’s supposed failure to solve biological puzzles, Wolfe might revisit Darwin’s description of how evolution not only unlocks enigmas about embryology and vestigial organs, but clarifies some perplexing geographic ranges of animals and plants. Or he could rouse himself to read recent biology journals, which describe multitudes of evolutionary riddles being solved.


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