Reactions to Collins vs. The Gnus

Over at the blog, dangerous idea, there has been some reaction to my previous posting about Collins and the Gnus.

There is a really bad comment and a really good comment.

First, the bad.

Someone named Matt writes:

Conveniently, whoever this author is ignores the fact that Dawkins, Harris, PZ, and Coyne are popular authors who don’t really attempt to “publish papers” but are far more interested in public advocacy.

And also adds in another comment:

They also happened to chose “Gnus” that weren’t actually scientists – but as I pointed out, Dennett has published more than Collins.

So the defense here is that Dawkins, Harris, PZ, and Coyne are not actually scientists and don’t do science, but instead are popular authors and advocates.  If I was a Gnu, I would read that and say, “With defenders like that, who needs opponents?”

Matt also adds:

It’s comparing apples to oranges. Of course, the author knows this, and if they were being fair they would have compared Collins to another “Gnu”: Daniel Dennett (400+ articles, 15+ books).

No, adding Dennett would be comparing apples with oranges.  Collins, Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, and Harris are all biologists, with the latter four being the most high profile biologist Gnu activists.  Dennett is a philosopher.  It doesn’t make sense to compare the publication history of a biologist and a philosopher.  What’s more, Coyne, Myers, and Harris have a history of attacking Collins for being “anti-science”  and worse.

Finally, Matt adds:

Not that any of this is relevant – ability to publish papers has no bearing on “knowledge contributed to science” (after all, # of papers =/= amount of knowledge)

This is silly.  In biology, publishing papers is part of something called…..the scientific method.  Those papers typically contain the results of experiments and the results represent new scientific knowledge.  Yes, one can write and publish theoretical papers, but it is the experimental work that is core to biology.  And to science.

Now, the good.

Someone named Luke writes:

Therein lies the harm that Coyne, Myers bring to Science. No longer is a Scientist to be judged by the scientific work they produce but what they believe. They seek to appease the stultified conscience of the fundamental atheist mind, rather then the benefit humanity going forward.

That’s a very interesting insight.  When you listen to the Gnus and all their attacks on Collins, you get the distinct impression that his accomplishments as a scientist are secondary and barely worthy of mention.  They seem to think the truly important issue is that Collins is not one of them; that he actually believes in God.  Who cares if he identified the gene for cystic fibrosis, helped find the gene for Huntington’s disease, and played a lead role in sequencing the human genome?  He believes in God, dammit!

So what’s more important in judging Collins as a scientist?  His history of scientific discovery and accomplishment?  That is, objective reality.  Or the subjective reality of some litmus test about his beliefs?

You would think that a movement that praises itself for its commitment to empiricism would focus on what someone has done and not what they believe.  But that is not the case, now is it?

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7 Responses to Reactions to Collins vs. The Gnus

  1. Nick says:

    The quantity of papers published really doesn’t reflect the total “knowledge contributed to science”, that would imply that all scientific papers are of the same quality.

  2. Jim says:

    Collins’s most cited scientific paper has been cited over 13,000 times.

  3. “The quantity of papers published really doesn’t reflect the total “knowledge contributed to science”, that would imply that all scientific papers are of the same quality.”

    Unless you have good evidence to support the assertion that the majority of Collins’ numerous papers are either insignificant or fraudulent, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME the gnus’ scientific papers are all extremely highly cited gems of inspirational scientific brilliance and wisdom, your statement is rubbish.

  4. “Conveniently, whoever this author is ignores the fact that Dawkins, Harris, PZ, and Coyne are popular authors who don’t really attempt to “publish papers” but are far more interested in public advocacy.”

    I am stumped that anyone would consider this a defense of the gnus. So are the gnus now willing to accept that their revered leaders are actually just apologists with self-defined agendas, instead of serious thinkers? And they claim that they are smarter than religious people.

  5. Nick says:

    I wasn’t really making any statement about the particular individuals that the author is talking about, I was only addressing the metric used.

    “The quantity of papers published really doesn’t reflect the total “knowledge contributed to science”, that would imply that all scientific papers are of the same quality.”

    Notice that there are no proper nouns in the above sentence. To properly refute it, you need to address the general principle.

  6. johnny5 says:

    But Nick, that any papers were published shows that something was contributed to science. Given that we’re not spelling out the content of any of the papers (gnu or otherwise) it’s a wash.

    “To properly refute” – get off yourself. You didn’t present any stunning challenge. You missed the point (intentionally?) and tried to redirect the focus.

    What are Myers, et al going to claim? “well sure, Collins might have contributed many published papers… but it’s the content of those papers that matter. And since we haven’t probed the depths of those papers who’s to know if there’s actually any merit?”.

    No refutation needed. That’s just silly.

  7. ““The quantity of papers published really doesn’t reflect the total “knowledge contributed to science”, that would imply that all scientific papers are of the same quality.””

    And there is nothing wrong with assuming that all scientific papers are of the same quality, since we’re talking about the total number of papers published by a scientist. It’s fair to assume that the quality of a scientist’s papers will follow some kind of normal distribution.

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