26-29 Sep – PZ Lies While We Take A Few Days Off

We had a last-minute chance to take a few days off and unwind at the beach, and we’re of the opinion that if you’re offered that opportunity you say yes immediately and don’t look back. We knew PZ wasn’t going anywhere, and while we expected to find a few more lies upon our return – he’s been uncharacteristically subdued in his recent political commentary – we have two to showcase for you today.

The subjects of both are frequent targets of PZ Myers – James Lindsay and Elon Musk. James has the temerity to question PZ’s evangelical progressive political dogma. Musk has the gall to use his fortune to try new stuff. PZ hates both of those things, and when he hates something you can be sure a lie will follow.

PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

James Lindsay, embarrassingly regressive acolyte of the equally embarrassing Boghossian, decided to explain to the waiting hordes of alt-right dopes how the Spaniards conquered the Americas in the 16th century using the Liberalism and Science of the 18th century Enlightenment.  They used the vast powers conferred upon them by Humean philosophy, apparently…Gosh. I thought Spain used the advantages of gunpowder and horses to murder and enslave populations that were decimated by exotic diseases that Europeans had unthinkingly seeded on the continents, which in itself doesn’t sound like an exactly “enlightened” act. But hey, you know if a different set of Europeans two centuries later invented some useful rationalizations for racism and colonialism (along with some genuinely good principles), and that makes it all A-OK to ahistorical pseudoscholars almost three centuries after that, it must have been a good thing.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/09/27/another-of-the-fruits-of-the-enlightenment-was-time-travel-i-guess/

Facts:

There are several lies here which, given our longstanding tradition, we’ll treat as one.

The ellipsis above are, in the original blog post, where PZ inserts a three tweet snippet from a much longer thread by James Lindsay. Our general rule of thumb for reading a PZ Myers blog post is: whenever he posts a quote from one of his perceived ideological enemies, there is usually way more to the story.

Was the point of Lindsay’s Twitter thread to explain to “waiting hordes of alt-right dopes how the Spaniards conquered the Americas”?

Yes and no.

First of all, there is no evidence that Lindsay’s Twitter followers are exclusively or even extensively “alt-right.” Given the tenor of the comments on this thread, one could hypothesize that his audience is a mixed bag of supporters and critics. But, to the causal observer, there does not appear to be the same number of sycophants on his Twitter feed as there are in the Pharyngula comments section, to choose a random example.

Second, the entire Twitter thread originated with this tweet:

Here’s something you can’t really say: A shocking amount of Social Justice Theory exists specifically to maintain a strict assumption of cultural relativism, which is to say to maintain the lie that all cultures produce equal outcomes.

https://twitter.com/ConceptualJames/status/1176676769153376257

His goal isn’t to describe how Spaniards conquered the Americas, but to describe his position on cultural relativism – a point PZ fails to bring up in his post. In the process of doing that, the example he uses is Spain in the Americas.

And it is here where PZ actually helps make Lindsay’s point. PZ says, “I thought Spain used the advantages of gunpowder and horses to murder and enslave.” That’s the same point Lindsay makes, with one exception. To PZ, those “advantages” spring up out of nowhere. “Gunpowder and horses” (which were by no means their only advantages) just appeared, not as a result of anything the Spaniards did, but due to something like luck. As Lindsay makes clear, he doesn’t believe that. He believes those advantages “came from developing superior epistemologies and ethics.”

Lindsay also never claims that what the Spanish did in conquering the Americas is “A-OK” with him. He appears to make no value judgement about it at all. What he does say is this, “The key actually isn’t that European ‘culture’ is superior. It seems to have some elements that are and some that aren’t, depending on what you’re measuring for.”

Analysis:

Were PZ Myers an intellectually honest critic, he would have addressed the overarching point Lindsay was trying to make about cultural relativism. Instead, he chose to infer a relatively minor historical inaccuracy to smear Lindsay instead. For our new readers – welcome to PZ’s argumentative style.

  1. Pick a target.
  2. Find a weakness.
  3. Lie about that weakness.
  4. Claim victory.

James Lindsay, consider yourself PZ-pwned.

PZ Myers Lie #2 [in bold]:

A couple of years ago, Elon Musk bought a company called Neuralink, which is trying to build a bigger, better brain-machine interface. The hype was incredible. Here’s a small sample (note: the author confuses a concept called a “neural lace” from Ian Banks’ science fiction novels with Musk’s Neuralink over and over again, which tells you how unreal every thing is)…Nope. None of that is true. It serves Musk’s interest to have these absurd claims floated about. I wrote about this nonsense at the time. 

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/09/26/neuralink-is-99-hype/

Facts:

The ellipsis above once again denotes where PZ inserted a snippet from the linked article on Neuralink. Here it is:

As an immediate application, Neural Lace could potentially help patients suffering from brain injuries and certain illnesses. However, the utimate goal and mission of Neuralink are to successfully merge the human brain with machine, fusing human intelligence with Artificial Intelligence. As a result, this is expected to bring humanity up to a higher level of cognitive reasoning. 
At some point, Neural Lace is going to enable humans to upload and download information directly from a computer. Just in a similar way how Neo from the Matrix does in order to learn new skills and acquire new information. 
In order to insert Neural Lace, a tiny needle containing the rolled up mesh is placed inside the skull. The mesh is then injected and unveiled upon injection, encompassing the brain. 
The Neural Lace integrates itself with the human brain. It creates a perfect symbiosis between human and machine. This technology could be the catalyst for the technological Singularity.

https://interestingengineering.com/neuralink-how-the-human-brain-will-download-directly-from-a-computer

There are two lies in PZ’s post.

First, author of the Interesting Engineering article does not confuse “neural lace” with Neuralink. At the very beginning of the article he says, “Part of Elon Musk’s inpiration for the creation of Neuralink is a science-fiction concept called Neural Lace that is part of the fictional universe in Scottish author Iain M. Banks’ series of novels The Culture.” He then uses Neural Lace as a rhetorical device throughout the rest of the piece. Far from confusing the two concepts – which PZ thinks illustrates the hype surrounding Neuralink – the author understands the two concepts better than PZ does.

Secondly, PZ offers no evidence that any of the potential applications of the “Neural Lace” technology are impossible. Will it enable humans to upload/download information from a computer? Maybe. Will it help patients suffering from brain injuries? Perhaps. You can’t falsify a prediction without some pretty hard evidence it’s not possible.

For example, if Elon Musk said he could get a pig to fly to Mars using only its tail as propulsion, then PZ Myers would be on firm ground calling that a lie. If Musk says he’s on the brink of developing new anti-gravity technology allowing that same pig to leave the Earth’s gravity, then the refutation of that prediction would involve a deep dive into the technology before one could proclaim it will not work.

PZ doesn’t do that. He says, “I wrote about this nonsense at the time,” but all he’s really doing is recycling the same criticisms over and over again: It’s all hype. It’ll never work. It’ll take a miracle. He never digs into the science – probably because he’s not qualified to do so – but he wants to proclaim it as false anyway.

Which is a lie.

Analysis:

If PZ had said something like this instead – “Elon Musk is more smoke than fire. I don’t think the reality will live up to the hype.” – not only would we not call it a lie, we’d agree with him. We’ve listened to Musk and aren’t convinced he’s as smart as everyone makes him out to be. But, his success to this point is undeniable, and that’s really what irks PZ Myers. Musk thinks and dreams big, and sometimes achieves those dreams. If people, especially those without a PhD, can do that, then it invalidates a huge chunk of PZ Myers’s worldview which says people get ahead and stay there unfairly due to racism or sexism or some other type of privilege.

This brings us to another point we probably don’t make often enough here at PZWatch. Just because we think PZ Myers is a liar doesn’t mean with disagree with him about everything.

We don’t think Elon Musk’s signal-to-noise ratio is very high, but just because we agree with PZ on that point doesn’t prevent us from calling out his lies. Truth is truth, and we should strive to be as accurate (or more so) in our criticism as we are in our agreement. But, when everything is a zero-sum game and power is the only metric for success, then the side you choose to belong to is incredibly important. And once you pick a team, you always have to side with that team, no matter how dishonest they become.

It’s fascinating for us to watch that world in action.

Final Tally:

26-29 September: 3 science-related posts, 11 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 112 science-related posts, 406 non-science posts.

22% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science. 

26-29 September: 2 PZ Myers Lies

Since 30 May 19: 127 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.

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