Discovery Institute Quote-Mines Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall

The Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — have undertaken to quote mine Lisa Randall. You already know how highly your Curmudgeon esteems Olivia Judson in the field of biology. Well, your Curmudgeon has even higher regard for Professor Randall in theoretical physics. Here’s Lisa’s page at the Harvard website, which says:

Professor Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. Her research connects theoretical insights to puzzles in our current understanding of the properties and interactions of matter. She has developed and studied a wide variety of models to address these questions, the most prominent involving extra dimensions of space. Her work has involved improving our under-standing of the Standard Model of particle physics, supersymmetry, baryogenesis, cosmological inflation, and dark matter. Randall’s research also explores ways to experimentally test and verify ideas and her current research focuses in large part on the Large Hadron Collider and dark matter searches and models.

We have heretofore kept our cyber passion for Lisa out of this blog, but now that the Discoveroids have written about her, we can restrain ourselves no longer. Their article is A Theory of Everything Is Not. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

In the New Scientist, Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall was asked about the concept of a “theory of everything.” The title of the article sums up her response: “A theory of everything won’t provide all the answers.”

This is the article they’re talking about: A theory of everything won’t provide all the answers. When you read it, you’ll see that she doesn’t disparage the idea of a theory of everything. Rather, she says:

I don’t think about a theory of everything when I do my research. And even if we knew the ultimate underlying theory, how are you going to explain the fact that we’re sitting here? Solving string theory won’t tell us how humanity was born. … It’s not that it’s a fallacy. It’s one objective that will inspire progress. I just think the idea that we will ever get there is a little bit challenging.

She says a lot of other things, especially about the Large Hadron Collider experiments, but the Discoveroids have zoomed in on the article’s unfortunate title and are running wild with it. Let’s read some more from the Discoveroid blog:

Randall’s answer points out the fallacy of the reductionist project in science. Would a theory of everything really be useful? Surely the most important things to us as human beings would remain unexplained.

Fallacy? What are they talking about? The Discoveroids continue:

For instance, suppose someone like Randall answered every question from her husband or teenage daughter with, “Because the big bang happened.” The husband asks, “Why were my car keys left in the car?” “Because the big bang happened.” The daughter asks, “Why don’t the boys at school ever ask me out?” “Because the big bang happened.” A neighbor asks in tears, “I don’t understand why, no matter how much I do for them, my kids don’t respect me.” Our scientist responds, “It’s easy to understand. It’s part of our theory of everything: the big bang happened.”

Aaaargh!! And yet, that’s the Discoveroids’ understanding of the function of science. Or at least that’s the idea they’re trying to promote. Here’s more:

An overarching goal by some scientists has been to explain particulars in terms of universal laws: to reduce lower-level explanations to higher-order principles. The basic idea is: biology reduces to molecular biology; molecular biology reduces to physics; physics reduces to particle physics, and particle physics reduces to the big bang. But it’s not clear that more isn’t being lost than gained by this reductionist project.

Okay, we’ll bite. What’s being lost? The Discoveroids explain:

Often in science, the pursuit of understanding focuses on a far more particular level than universal principles. …. The law of gravitation affects all bodies, but is so negligible in terms of cellular processes as to be useless.

What does that have to do with anything? Be patient. They’re getting to it:

Advocates of intelligent design would argue that a “theory of everything” that leaves out intelligent causation in explaining the history of life is doomed to failure. You cannot reduce the genetic code to hydrogen bonds or laws of mass action any more than you can reduce poetry to the big bang.

Oh. Okay. If a theory of everything — or a theory of anything — doesn’t pay homage to Oogity Boogity!, then it doesn’t do the job. Got it. Here’s their final paragraph:

ID advocates are careful, unlike materialists with their theories, not to slip into the fallacy of calling ID a “theory of everything,” to which everything reduces. ID explains some things well (e.g., specified complexity) but leaves many other phenomena to natural explanations. The quest for a scientific theory of everything is in fact a fool’s errand.

So there you are. The Discoveroids, in effect, claim that one of the highest goals of science is a “fool’s errand,” and they even suggest that Lisa Randall would agree. Somehow, we doubt that. But we like their phrase — fool’s errand. It has more relevance to the Discoveroids’ activities than they know.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Discovery Institute Quote-Mines Lisa Randall

  1. Randall’s answer points out the fallacy of the reductionist project in science.

    One wonders whether a theory of everything could predict when the ID proponents would stop trying to knock down that strawman.

  2. It’s nice to know the ID people also read New Scientist. They’re going to have fun with the latest issue. On the cover in big words it says “Missing Links Evolution’s biggest gaps…” So full of quote mine potential, one of them has to read the article. Reading work like this is probably the hardest part of their job.

  3. Any formula that allowed for Oogity-Boogity to be held as the source of all things would be forced to attach some form of “as a function of oogity-boogity” notation to every variable in the formula. Any sane mathematician would recognize the commonality of the notation and remove all occurrences of them as the first step towards solving the equation.
    You can assume it is an important factor or you can choose not to, either way you need to eliminate it to move forward.

  4. Somehow, we doubt that. But we like their phrase — fool’s errand. It has more relevance to the Discoveroids’ activities than they know.

    Oh, they know. They just don’t care. They have thrown their lot in with the crazies and even if they figure out they were deluding themselves I am guessing being as saints to a bunch of bufoons, and probably being very well paid at that, must be compensation enough for the fact the rest of the world thinks that they are utterly retarded.

  5. The Discoveroids claim that reductionist scientists try to explain every detail of existence by referring to the Big Bang. Is this projection? This straw man seems to be a parody of the creationist explanation for everything. Notice this revision of the fourth paragraph you quote:

    My aunt answers every question from her husband or teenage daughter with, “Because it’s in God’s Plan.” The husband asks, “Why were my car keys left in the car?” “Because it’s in God’s Plan.” The daughter asks, “Why don’t the boys at school ever ask me out?” “Because it’s in God’s Plan.” A neighbor asks in tears, “I don’t understand why, no matter how much I do for them, my kids don’t respect me.” My aunt responds, “It’s easy to understand. It’s all part of God’s Plan. We can’t understand it, we just have to accept it, because God works in mysterious ways.”

    You can see how apt Dean’s concluding sentence is to this situation.

  6. Aargh! The colon at the end of my first paragraph was supposed to come after “quote,” with the following two words deleted. [The clouds parted and a Curmudgeonly Hand descended from the heavens. It's fixed.]

    By the way, SC, I hope you didn’t allow Lisa Randall’s photograph to color your assessment of her intellectual qualities.

  7. Retired Prof says: “By the way, SC, I hope you didn’t allow Lisa Randall’s photograph to color your assessment of her intellectual qualities.”

    Photograph? Oh, I hadn’t noticed.

  8. ID explains some things well (e.g., specified complexity) but leaves many other phenomena to natural explanations

    The Discoveroids are now claiming that the designer-god did not create everything? Some things came about by natural forces? That poses some interesting theological questions…

    Only a Discoveroid would think of saying “because the big bang happened” in response to a question. Is that because they are accustomed to stating “because it was designed” to every possible question, that they would assume an actual scientist would respond the same way?

    They seem to be arguing that the search for an underlying theory that ties the known forces of nature together and improves our understanding of the observed universe is somehow challenging to their philosophy. Perhaps they understand that the more we know, the less room remains for their designer-of-the-gaps.

    If they weren’t so vile, it might be possible to feel sorry for them. It must be frustrating to continually fight the advancement of science on so many fronts.

  9. @Retired Prof – you beat me to it!

  10. Our Curmudgeon confesses:

    We have heretofore kept our cyber passion for Lisa out of this blog

    Mayhaps–but Olivia rumbled yer cheatin’ heart years ago.

    But don’t worry, she is indeed far, far happier with me…

  11. Megalonyx says: “But don’t worry, she is indeed far, far happier with me.”

    Yeah, sure. By the way, now you too are getting snared in the spam filter. The thing is out of whack. Not my fault.

  12. Well it does lend itself to humor: Why are creationists such reality challenged, lying morons? Because the big bang happened.

  13. Lisa Randall! Rrrrrrrrrrr! Hubba-hubba! Be still my throbbing baryons!

    Now what was it The Curmudgeon was jabbering about?
    ;-)

  14. Tangle with Richard Feynman at your own risk!

    Why?

    “Why are my keys in the car,” Klinkleklopper asks? Because you’re a creationist and a dumbass! I think in Klonkleklapper’s case that would be the standard answer for everything he does. Seriously, is he the Louie Gohmert of the Disco Tute, or what?

  15. Darn, longshadow. Now you got caught in the spam filter. The thing is out of control!

  16. Curm –

    note that the Discovernaughts are once again attacking “reductionism”. I hope you are keeping track of all their attacks on “reductionism”, the way you keep track of their attacks on ET life.

    This is interesting because it’s such an old idea. In Germany during the Eclipse of Darwinism, roughly late 19th to early 20th century, there were a lot of cultural cranks (I would say conservative cranks but Curm might be offended) who attacked Darwinism and “reductionist, materialist science.” Their solution was a mixture of Vitalism, Holism, and Orthogenesis– all that crappy German pseudoscience.

    All of these late 19th century ideas– Vitalism, Holism, Orthogenesis– have been brought back by the ID movement. The ID movement uses “information” in living things (which they will not define and cannot compute) as a substitute for the “vital force” of the 19th century vitalist anti-Darwinist cranks like Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Vitalism was quite popular with American creationists at that time as well.

    Whenever scientists report the evolution of new complexity in the lab (you recently wrote a post on this), the ID people and creationists simply assert that the change occurred due to information that was invisible, hidden in the species somewhere, and that the species directed its own evolut– I mean its own adaptation, using hidden, pre-programmed, invisible “information.” The idea of a species directing its own change was called Orthogenesis by German philosophers.

    As for reductionism, many late 19th century/early 20th century cranks attacked reductionism and favored Holism instead. This was eventually conflated with German fascism, because Holism was interpreted to mean that just as an organism is made up of cells working together, so the State is an organism and each person (or family) in it is a cell.

    Anti-reductionism has political overtones; that’s why we must keep track of their usages of “reductionism” and “materialism” as pejoratives.

  17. Oh, and if you want to read up on early 20th century German Holism and Vitalism, I recommend Anne Harrington’s Re-enchanted Science.

  18. Diogenes says: “I hope you are keeping track of all their attacks on “reductionism”, the way you keep track of their attacks on ET life.”

    Not specifically. They’re just flat-out against every aspect of science, the Enlightenment, and reason itself.

  19. One of the characteristics common to all the Disco Tooters is that they are consummate assholes. In their article they refer to someone “like” Dr. Randall talking to her husband or teenage daughter when, in fact, someone “like” Dr. Randall would be unmarried with no teenage daughter.

    Where does one start with the total lack of sympathy with real human beings. Who are these Tooters who are so self-absorbed in their tiny superstition-infested world that they have no empathy with the rest of humanity. If only there were a word …

    Oh, yeah, sociopath. Yes, they are sociopaths, all. And they would want us to be like them. I think not.

  20. Ceteris Paribus

    Just because SC does not know how messages disappear into the spam filter does not mean that Lisa Randall could not explain the cosmology of black holes to the DI authors.

  21. SC: “Now you got caught in the spam filter. The thing is out of control!”

    Perhaps WordPress has been hacked by the Chinese military.

  22. Ceteris Paribus says: “Just because SC does not know how messages disappear into the spam filter …”

    How ironic that your comment was snared by the filter. You’re the fourth regular commenter to be entangled in this techno-mess. I still have no idea what’s going on.

  23. Dean writes: “Any formula that allowed for Oogity-Boogity to be held as the source of all things would be forced to attach some form of “as a function of oogity-boogity” notation to every variable in the formula.”

    Complex Specified Information is presented as just such a formula. It’s actually the same form as a statistical Likelihood Ratio Test, a common tool of statistical theory and analysis. There is a very good reason why Intelligent Design does not attempt to define the designer; If they did, they would need to specify this function, it’s parameters, what values of those parameters correspond to design. Without those definitions, it’s not even a hypothesis, much less science.

    Less technically, CSI requires assigning a formula and numbers that define God, or whomever the Designer-a-la-mode might be. How simple is that?