Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Science 1, Monkeys 0.

Two of my colleagues respond to Mary Weigand's letter to the editor about science over looking catastrophes. Now, of course, these guys are merely well established PhD's vetted by major graduate universities and put through the evaluative wringer on their way to tenure in the UW System and, so, there's no reason to expect Ms. Weigand will believe them.

Still, we can hope.


The science behind canyon erosion


This is submitted in response to a recent letter in this newspaper that contends that science ignores catastrophes when explaining the geological record. Actually, geologists frequently use catastrophic explanations to explain both large- and small-scale phenomena.
For example, a majority of geologists accept the evidence that an asteroid collision explains the extinction of the majority of dinosaurs 65 million years ago and that multiple glacial outburst floods explain the channeled scablands of eastern Washington. In fact, accelerated erosion like that caused by floods is a necessary part of geologic explanation that ranges from the slow, incremental deposition that dominates deep ocean environments to the more rapid, more changeable environments that occur on and near dry land.
The two catastrophic events that the author describes, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington and the 2002 Canyon Lake flood near San Antonio, Texas, were indeed associated with rapid canyon formation. But to say they were catastrophic does not mean that they were surprising or unprecedented.
Loose, unconsolidated volcanic ash deposits like those created by Mount St. Helens are prone to rapid erosion. And though the rapid erosion of the Canyon Lake Gorge came as a shock to the local landowners, this area is known for flash floods. And, once again, the ability for high stream flows to cut through, a faulted limestone with numerous bedding planes and preexisting solution channels is not unusual.
Equating the rapid erosion of these small canyons to a canyon the size and complexity of the Grand Canyon, however, is a scientific mistake. The physical evidence does not support such a conclusion. Any flood or floods capable of cutting the Colorado in a few short years would have scoured on the Colorado plateau, left thousands of feet of recent sediments near the mouth of the canyon, and cut a gorge with vertical walls.
Moreover, geologists further substantiate the age of the canyon with each new study. As recently as March 7, 2008, a study in Science magazine used uranium-lead dating to determine that the western edge of the canyon formed around 17 million years ago. This technique and, in fact, all dating techniques used to estimate the age of geological formations, depend on fundamental principles of physics and chemistry.
This information is what can safely be said. Teachers and textbooks sometimes present this information without explaining all the research work that led to this point. Please understand, however, that these conclusions are based on the careful analysis of data using solid scientific principles and examined and re-examined by thousands of researchers over many years of work.
(Chris Hays is an associate professor of Anthropology/Sociology and Alan Paul Price is an associate professor of Geography/Geology, University of Wisconsin-Washington County.)


Kevin Scheunemann said...

Isn't calling someone a "monkey" a logical fallacy?

Or are the application of logical fallacies "OK" when it comes to YOUR political opponents?

Just curious.

Mpeterson said...

Mary suggested that teaching evolution was "monkey" business, which I thought was rather clever, if wrong. :^)

Calling someone a monkey, if being a monkey is NOT relevant to the conclusion of your argument, would then be a fallacy. If they actually are a monkey, and being a monkey *is* relevant to the conclusion of the argument, then it isn't a fallacy.

I thought you took logic.

Kevin Scheunemann said...

Your "Science 1, Monkeys 0." headline is putting labels on both sides of the debate.

Clearly, a "monkey" label is meant to impugn as name calling.

Let me give your fallacy/no fallacy explaination a try. (I want to master impugning without being fallacious.)

So if I were to call you the "Imperial Wizard of Socratic Elitism", it would NOT be a fallacy if you actually are?


Mpeterson said...

Hmm, maybe, but I can't give you an answer because I don't understand what you mean by elitism in this context.

Local_MLIS_Student said...

An excellent retort.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin can't argue against the content, and instead reverts to some tangent about the reference to "monkeys" (which comes from the original source)

Mpeterson said...

Exactly so, but he enjoys himself while doing it. I was going to ask whether a quote like this would count as elitist or not.

"The exceptional men, the innovators, the intellectual giants....It is the members of this exceptional minority who lift the whole of a free society to the level of their own achievements, while rising further and ever further."

Looks a LOT more elitist than Socrates or little ole me.

James Dionne said...

It's nut jobs like these that make me ashamed to be a conservative. I consider them the hippies of the right, so caught up in the stuff they are smoking, they refuse to see the world in any way but one.

Kevin Scheunemann said...


What exactly did I say above to qualify for the "nut job" fallacy?

I was trying to learn from the to impugn political opponents without using fallacy.

I thought it was an interesting point, which is a constant problem in political discourse.

It's "nuts" to discuss that issue?

(It's also a fallacy to imply I'm a "conservative".)

DanBack said...

James - Which nut are you referring to? Kevin or Mary? Or both?


Mpeterson said...

Two obvious problems;

1) you aren't really a 'conservative' in any sense of the word Barry Goldwater would recognize


2) there is no universe in which you ever even tried to learn anything from me.

I don't mind you twisting the language into knots to amuse yourself, but you shouldn't tell lies. ;^)

Kevin Scheunemann said...


So does this mean I need to take my Goldwater speeech poster down off my office wall?

I seem to recall, you gave me an "A" in logic class. I was going to credit your brilliant instruction, but if I didn't learn anything from you, in this universe or any alternate universe, ergo, I must have already known it all.

So what you are saying is: no lessons are available on the specialized skill of impugning one's political opponent without using fallacy?

I was really looking forward to mastery of that skill. You do it very well.

James Dionne said...

You're nuts as well Kevin, but I was referring to the nut jobs in the original post, not you. Sorry to disappoint.

Mpeterson said...

I'm afraid privacy laws prevent my discussing any grade I gave you in public, but thanks for confirming that you did take logic.... which means you knew the answer to your question before you asked it.

As for your poster, no. Don't take it down. Read it. ;^)