[Article] Who Will Debunk The Debunkers?

It is a remarkable article, and it seems so right. I wish he had gone into some of the modern scientific misconceptions, where the story seems frighteningly similar. For example, a guy called Ancel Keys, made his career by inventing the theory that saturated fat is bad for you. He did this by collecting data on about 20 countries - their consumption of saturated fat, and the amount of cardiovascular disease. The then picked out seven countries where the data fitted his hypothesis, and discarded the rest!

His deceit was exposed very shortly after his paper was published - all back in the 1950's.

You can find the story on the internet and many other places, but people are still warned off eating saturated fat (which often means they eat too much carbohydrate - which breaks down into sugar), but who knows if the medical profession will ever admit this 'mistake'.

The theory that high cholesterol is bad for you, seems similarly flawed! There is, in fact lots of evidence about this, for example:


There is, of course, one more twist to the Darwin story, because there is a lot of evidence that life can't have evolved purely by natural selection - as discussed at length here on Skeptiko!

I really start to wonder if science generally is veering way off course under pressure from human nature, politics, and big money.

Neither Darwin nor Wallace were the first to propose evolution by natural selection. Both acknowledged that Patrick Matthew was first.

Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette no. 16 (21 April [, 1860]): 362-363.
I have been much interested by Mr. Patrick Matthew's communication in the Number of your Paper, dated April 7th. I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew's views, considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the appendix to a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication. If another edition of my work is called for, I will insert a notice to the foregoing effect.
- Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent.1​

To my mind your quotations from Mr. Patrick Matthew are the most remarkable things in your whole book, because he appears to have completely anticipated the main ideas both of the "Origin of Species" & of "Life & Habitat".
Believe me
Yours very faithfully
Alfred R. Wallace
Matthew, Wallace, and Darwin all believed in some form of intelligent design.

Here Matthew expresses his views on design in nature:


From Patrick Matthew 12 March 1871

Gourdiehill, Errol, Scotland,
March 12/71

To Charles Darwin Esq.

Dear Sir,
There cannot be a doubt that in the scheme of nature there exists high design & constructive power carried out by general Laws, And the great probability is that these laws are everlasting, as Nature itself is, tho’ under these laws subject to revolution. It is also probable that the spark of life, like light, & heat &c., is radiated from the sun & has a power of building up to itself a domicile suited to existing circumstances & disseminating sparks of its own kind, but possessed of a variation power. That there is a principle of beneficence operating here the dual parentage and family affection pervading all the higher animal kindom affords proof. A sentiment of beauty pervading Nature, with only some few exceptions affords evidence of intellect & benevolence in the scheme of Nature. This principle of beauty is clearly from design & cannot be accounted for by natural selection. Could any fitness of things contrive a rose, a lily, or the perfume of the violet.
Patrick Matthew
It is well known that Wallace was a Spiritualist.

Here Darwin writes he believed natural laws were designed:
http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-2814.xml;query=brute force;brand=default

Down Bromley Kent

May 22d

My dear Gray.
On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.
Most deeply do I feel your generous kindness & interest.—

Yours sincerely & cordially | Charles Darwin

It’s an excellent article. Certainly, it’s better than this ramble that I’ve put together...

In the one hand, the article is about how scientific fallacies can spread but equally it's about Samuel Arbesman himself.

It seems to me that Arbesman has found a method of thinking about things that often comes up with interesting and worthwhile results, so now he’s applying that method of thinking to everything. It might be appropriate when investigating the origin of a story about decimal places, but perhaps less so when faced with something more complex.

Mind you, we all do this. I did it myself when I read this article: I tried to find as many contemporary sources as I could to understand how the controversy was understood at the time (and therefore how much of the current controversy is merely a result of the passage of time). And I tend to do this with most questions, without even considering if it’s an appropriate method.

I think most people do this. When faced with a topic that interests us, but perhaps we know little about, we rely on a successful method we have used before. As an example, an expert chess player might think he can use the same thinking in business or politics.

But as I write this, I’m aware that I don’t have the slightest inclination to change my method, since – like Arbesman’s method – it frequently throws up unexpected answers. In this case, there was someone else who pre-dates even Patrick Matthews in this controversy. In 1818 Dr William Charles Wells wrote about the colour of skin in regards to natural selection. And, just like Patrick Matthew, it was in an appendix in an otherwise unrelated work. For all I know, there may be someone who pre-dates Dr Wells.

Which is the point of the article: where do you stop asking questions and come to a conclusion? There have been times where I’ve found myself immobile with skepticism, as it were, because I was so keen to check every statement that even simple questions became a nightmare of complexity. It's frustrating when that happens but when I do finally come to a conclusion I can be fairly sure I'm at least halfway towards understanding the question.