Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

In which we all laugh because there was something stupid on Conservapedia

So, on the den of iniquity and vice that is Conservapedia I recently noticed a headline that nicely captures the meaning of the term non sequitur:

Or, in plain human language:

The world's former 4th largest lake has shrunk by 90%, "clearly one of the worst ... environmental disasters of the world." Another Counterexample to an Old Earth? [emphasis original]

Okay, what? I get the first part of the statement- that a previously really big lake is... you know... not so really big anymore. I'm clear on that. But how the hell does it have anything to do with the age of the Earth? Well, the first thing you need to know in answering that question is that this headline was supplied by Conservapedia commandant Andrew Schlafly, so you're pretty much guaranteed that the logic will be torturous and littered with fairly obvious errors.* In this case, the first error is rather a bit more obvious than usual because if we follow the link to the article on which the headline is based, we learn exactly why the lake is shrinking... and it has nothing the hell to do with the age of the Earth at all:

Or, to transcribe the critical paragraph:

Once the world's fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.

Oh, right! So the lake has shrunk because of massive modern engineering! Well that makes perfect sense. But, then, how the hell does it have anything to do with the age of the Earth? I mean, shit, by that logic the fact that Holland uses a lot of dikes (not dykes, but that's a whole 'nother post) means that the world can't be more than a couple of hundred years old, right?

I was not, of course, the only person to notice this bit of weirdness and someone actually called Schlafly out about it. And the resulting conversation is even more of a trip into the bizarre:

The conversation gets started by user HectorJ who asks:

I'm a little confused on this one. The cited article clearly states that the lake has shrunk because the rivers that feed it were diverted by a project designed to boost cotton production. How is this a counter example to an old earth?

And is responded to by a muddled Schlafly. There's a brief and pointless exchange and then, finally, Schlafly gets to his point:

The Old Earth types claim that such lakes have existed for tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of years, and thus would be expected to exist for an additional thousands of years. Old Earth types would deny that a 90% drop would occur, because that would imply a short lifetime for the lake. The Young Earth view readily admits that such lakes have been here only a short period of time and may not last much longer.

And so the logic is clear: to Schlafly the argument that the Earth is old (i.e. more than 6,000 years of age) implies that anything that has been around for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years must, by definition, be around for additional tens or hundreds of thousands of years. So, an old earther cannot- in Schlafly's mind- accept that human intervention could drain a lake in a shorter period of time because that would- in his view- be contrary evidence. What the hell? By that logic anyone who accepts an old Earth should be unable to believe that tunnels under rivers or mountains can exist. And that ignores entirely that lakes are- geologically speaking- usually thought of as a transitory phenomenon. In other words, no old Earther would be troubled by this story, because old Earthers don't think the planet has looked just like it does now for geological timescales anyway. Now, user DanieleGusto is trying to make that point:

A 90% drop would only imply a short lifetime if the trend continued, which may or may not be a reasonable assumption. I was just as confused as HectorJ when I saw the news item. If the "Old Earth types" claim that the lakes have existed for tens to hundreds of thousands of years, then their untimely demise (at our hands or not) now would hardly amount to a short lifetime, right? Also, don't Old Earth arguments generally assume large changes over time (e.g. Pangaea to now, the American West was allegedly covered by an ocean millions of years ago, etc.)?

But I seriously doubt that it will come to anything. So, basically, what we see is that Schlafly has picked something to "invalidate" the old Earth model but somehow managed to pick something that has nothing to do with old Earth models and is easily explained- using his own source- as the result of human intervention.

And I'm forced to wonder: is there a functional difference between being unable to read and simply choosing not to make use of the ability?**

* Yeah, I know: I'm not sure there's really anything new about a post that makes the point that Schlafly is saying something silly online. Still, this thing is sillier than most and I'm allowed to pick on Conservapedia now and then since I've managed to kick the habit of blogging about them constantly.

** This is not to imply that Schlafly actually is illiterate- I know full well he can read and has several advanced educational credentials. I just feel the need to point out that in my opinion he so casually ignores printed information that is inconvenient for him that he labors under what amounts to willful ignorance. But, hey, it's the "Trustworthy Encyclopedia," so I guess it must be true, right?

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Blogger LemmusLemmus said...

Just to reassure you (re fn. 1): I enjoy these posts every time. Like a long-known melody they soothe my soul.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010 9:32:00 AM  
Anonymous socygurl said...

You know, sometime I wonder how many of the users on Conversapedia are just scientists trolling the shit out of Schlafly using logic and actual science.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010 2:08:00 PM  
Blogger afkafka said...

Reading these posts is certainly tempting me to start looking for things to laugh at. I doubt I have the patience... but it is tempting.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 12:24:00 PM  

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