The red herring

Conclusion to “Sham Inquiry
The coelacanth is a red herring

Mainstream science, which is respected and functions very well with its current methodology, excludes those fields who don’t pass muster. For a theory to be considered as an explanation for observations of the natural world, even the public realizes it ought to be scientific. Using supernatural qualities as necessary components in your theory will get you excluded from consideration outright by the scientific community. The public, on the other hand, finds the paranormal quite fascinating and is willing to give consideration to those that put on a good show.

Science shouldn’t loosen up and accept subjective evidence. When pseudoscientists can’t get in to the scientific “party”, they will continue to denigrate it. Many pseudoscience proponents will jump at a chance to show that science, up on the pedestal, has a flaw. At the same time, they want room made for them on the pedestal.

In researching three forms of sham inquiry for this project: cryptozoology, ghost hunters and creationism, I was amused to find one example used for all three to the same ends. In an attempt to showcase how orthodox scientists are wrong, proponents of ghosts, creationism and cryptozoology all cited the finding of the coelacanth fish in 1938. Warren [1] highlights that the discovery was unknown and unexpected. Therefore, he surmises, there may be many more unexpected findings left in nature to come to light, maybe perhaps we are just around the corner from scientifically proving ghosts exists. Creationists [2] love the prehistoric-looking fish because it appears to not have evolved – looking much like it did from the last fossil find 65 million years ago. If evolution is true, why didn’t it sprout legs and walk by now? The coelacanth is an iconic species for cryptozoologists [3]. Though it was not actively being sought, it still was vindication that an animal presumed to be extinct survived but remained hidden since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The finding of the coelacanth was not an example of how science as an institution or method is misguided. Instead, the finding of the modern coelacanth is a testament to the wonder of nature to still hold surprises and to the fast-thinking museum curator who preserved the carcass as best she could then contacted a genuine expert to examine it before declaring the jaw-dropping discovery. One can only hope if the Loch Ness Monster is found, someone will be that diligent instead of negotiating a fee for viewing the remains and finding a “scientist” who will say what they wish him to say.

It is not valid for pseudoscientists to say they are subject to discrimination. Revolutionary ideas can receive serious consideration and acceptance if they follow conventional science protocol. Einstein’s work on relativity is an excellent example. [4],[5] Self-promoting fringe scientists may think very highly of themselves but it appears there really aren’t many Einsteins out there.

Evidence must be considered on its merits and discarded if not persuasive. Once a researcher has fallen in love with his theory, he is blind to disconfirming evidence. When a whole career is built upon research into a promising theory, he is loath to discard it. A genuine inquirer has intellectual integrity; a sham inquirer mainly has a goal.

The commonest examples of suspension of reason are those that validate one’s deepest beliefs while offering an illusion of privileged, insider status [6]. Therefore, we see sham inquiry that doesn’t get to the truth but instead makes a case for some proposition one wishes to be true. The end conclusion is already decided and enforced by a purposely closed community. The public is a willing follower if the story sounds believable or if it conveniently supports their prior held beliefs.
[1] Warren, J. (2003). How to Hunt Ghosts, Fireside.
[2] Issak, M. (2007). The Counter-Creationism Handbook, Univ of Calif. Press. p. 99.
[3] Coleman, L., J. Clark (1999). Cryptozoology A to Z, Fireside. p. 66-68.
[4] Gardner, M. (1981). Science Good Bad & Bogus, Prometheus Books. p. 5
[5] Popper, K. (1963). “Falsificationism”. Scientific Inquiry (1999). R. Klee, Oxford Univ Press. p. 66-68.
[6] Levitt, N. (1999). Prometheus Bedeviled, Rutgers Univ Press.p. 92-94.

3 thoughts on “The red herring

  1. Great article. Well done.

    My favorite bits:
    “highlights that the discovery was unknown and unexpected. Therefore, he surmises, there may be many more unexpected findings left in nature to come to light, maybe perhaps we are just around the corner from scientifically proving ghosts exists.”

    The enormity of that leap of reasoning boggles the mind.

    Don’t the creationists know that the theory of evolution states that forms will evlove where pressured by the environment? Just like that shark, this fish simply didn’t need improvement in order to survive. No big mystery there, and certainly nothing to discredit the theory of evolution.

    Cheers! Well done!

  2. It’s also not true that Latimeria has not changed. Not much, OK, but it has changed.

    Earlier coelacanths show a pretty amazing diversity.

  3. Yep. But it’s one of those goofy “living fossil” icons. Don’t care for those.

    Folks who want to use these critters for their own purposes leave out the details. Thanks for the comment. Once I reread it, I realized I didn’t make it clear that their evolutionary interpretation was in error.

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