From the Wrong Answer Is Better Than No Answer When We Have a Deadline files …

 A friend reminds me of this 2004 paper on the busted molecular clock:

For almost a decade now, a team of molecular evolutionists has produced a plethora of seemingly precise molecular clock estimates for divergence events ranging from the speciation of cats and dogs to lineage separations that might have occurred ,4 billion years ago. Because the appearance of accuracy has an irresistible allure, non-specialists frequently treat these estimates as factual. In this article, we show that all of these divergence-time estimates were generated through improper methodology on the basis of a single calibration point that has been unjustly denuded of error. The illusion of precision was achieved mainly through the conversion of statistical estimates (which by de?nition possess standard errors, ranges and confidence intervals) into errorless numbers. By employing such techniques successively, the time estimates of even the most ancient divergence events were made tolook deceptively precise. For example, on the basis of just 15 genes, the arthropod–nematode divergence event was ‘calculated’ to have occurred 1167 6 83 million years ago (i.e. within a 95% confidence interval of ,350 million years). Were calibration and derivation uncertainties taken into proper consideration, the 95% confidence interval would have turned out to be at least 40 times larger (,14.2 billion years).

Personally, I blame the pop science press for much of this.

Am I just too idealistic about human nature?

Maybe, but I think that many scientists would not pretend to certainty as much as they do, except for the sound bites propping up the media's evolution myth – that faith statement of complete and utter trust in the Beard. That certainty has nothing whatever to do with straightening out the tangles of life's history.

I used to have an editor like that. I was writing on topics unrelated to Darwinism, but his basic gist was, get me statistics, how gathered or with what reliability makes no difference.

The special punishment meted out to people like him by nature or God or whoever is that he always missed the naturally verifiable in his pursuit of the naturally unverifiable.

For example, the birth rate and life expectancy of  a given region tells you a great deal about what you might expect of the future under normal circumstances, but he wanted me to try to find out how many women would walk out on their husbands "if they could" – a classic meaningless figure.

Authors' Graur and Martin's quotation from Douglas Adams is most apt: ‘We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.’

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

3 thoughts on “From the Wrong Answer Is Better Than No Answer When We Have a Deadline files …

  1. Sorry, but I find the references to “The Beard’, well, just a little childish (almost as bad as O’l Brit Toff). Does Ms O’Leary want to be taken seriously as a science writer or is she intending to write for 12 year olds?

  2. Is it proper to judge the whole idea put forth as wrong because of one arguably offhanded remark?

  3. If you read O’Leary’s blogs regularly (and she seems to have hijacked Uncommondescent nowadays), you will see this stuff all the time. Frankly, much of the time many of her posts don’t even make sense. And for somebody who calls herself a “science writer” she seems to have quite a disdain for science. Usually her “writing” consists of quoting some science article and writing a snarky (and pointless) remark. She comes across as very embittered and has nothing of import to say. Salvomag deserves a better writer than this!

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