The Privileged Planet

[Amazon Link]

I was prodded to read this book by this article at the Weekly Standard website, alleging that one of the authors, Guillermo Gonzalez, was denied tenure at Iowa State due to his outrageous personal views, as expressed here. As it turns out, the UNH Library was broad-minded enough to score a copy, so it was a low-risk venture to check it out.

Gonzalez is an actual astronomer, but the book's viewpoint is well outside scientific orthodoxy. It makes the argument for so-called "intelligent design", at least in in a (non-biological) specific area. The argument is that our lovely planet is the result of a long combination of extremely unlikely events, way too many to be the result of accidental chance. Not only is our environment well-suited to intelligent life, but it's also well-suited for that intelligent life to make discoveries about itself and its universe.

While Gonzalez is a member of the Discovery Institute, a well known anti-evolution organization, there's not much of that in the book; theology only raises its head to be disclaimed. Instead, it's a wide-ranging examination of the science behind "all the things that had to go right" in order to put you and me in the here and now. And there's no denying that it's a pretty impressive list.

Unlike (say) creationists, Gonzalez comes off as pro-science; he's very willing to look at all the evidence, and he knows his way around the literature. But he doggedly wants to put "design" on the table as a valid scientific hypothesis, anathema to just about everyone else in his field. It's too bad this sort of thing can't be openly hashed out without it being painted as yet another instance of the yahoos versus the scientific martyrs.

Amusing side note pointed out here: while Harvard prof Steven Pinker recently wrote an op-ed in defense of "dangerous ideas", this only came a month after his letter to the Boston Globe excorciating that paper for daring to print an article in defense of Gonzalez's views, likening them to—I'm not kidding—Holocaust denial. Anyone reading this book will know, at the very least, how inappropriately stupid that analogy is. Apparently some ideas are just too dangerous for Pinker's sensibility; maybe he should wait more than a month before contradicting himself so obviously.

Having said that, however, this Wikipedia entry on Gonzalez details the history and argues that his current performance may not have been adequate for a grant of tenure.

Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:32 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-08-12 Update

While other campaign weenies examine the entrails from the Ames Straw Poll, Pun Salad brings you its continuing coverage of the only poll that matters, the Google Phony Poll. Today's standings and 3-day trend:

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/9
"John Edwards" phony434,000+25,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony377,000+1,000
"John McCain" phony297,000+16,000
"Barack Obama" phony269,000+9,000
"Ron Paul" phony267,000+27,000
"Mitt Romney" phony224,000+13,000
"Fred Thompson" phony199,000+10,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony183,000+20,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony122,000+6,000
"Dave Burge" phony55+6

Sober-minded analysis:

  • Edwards' lead seems very safe. Is the race his to lose?

  • Has Clinton's phoniness stagnated? Troubling, if true! But her hold on second place seems secure for now.

  • Paul is threatening Obama's fourth place position. If today's George Will column is any indication, however, Obama should "arugulably" be getting a boost over the next few days.

  • Yes, that was a pun. Sorry.

  • Burge had a huge percentage increase in hits! Unfortunately, a lot of that is due to Pun Salad. Sorry, Dave.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 9:50 AM EDT