Sunday, September 19, 2010

Picky's Thirsty: "What Everyone Knows" vs. Evidence

While grading the most recent student essays, I find myself marveling at the strength and resilience of students' preconceived ideas about a topic--"What Everyone Knows", even when faced with contradictory evidence. In my current Reformations class, students have seen evidence of both good and bad in the pre-reformation church; for every Tetzel there was also ongoing reform and dissent, alongside ignorant priests there were examples of ongoing and effective theological education (at least the basics, and yes, location, gender, and social class affected any assessment of an effective or corrupt church), evidence that the various Reformers were neither trying consciously to overthrow the Church nor were particularly tolerant of dissent from THEIR views, evidence that both laity and clerics could and did think for themselves, etc. In other words, they have seen evidence showing a much more nuanced view of religion and religious practice in the early Reformation.

Yet many essays reject the nuanced view--even when the evidence is discussed in the essay--in favor of the old stereotypes:. the Reformation was inevitable because of a thoroughly corrupt, ineffective Church that actively kept people in ignorance about theology and other knowledge; that people everywhere clamored to break free of the medieval church because it was superstitious; that the Reformation was inevitable because it brought the Truth to people, that all reformers encouraged free choice of religion and that the Reformation "allowed people to think for themselves for the first time."

For some students the issue is writing skill--these students have an all-or-nothing writing style, and are not yet able to communicate nuance as effectively as possible. For others, however, it seems as if there is a lack of connection between the body of the essay and the evidence therein and the conclusion.

In your disciplines, do you find that what students "know" about a topic continues to trump evidence, at least for a sizeable percentage? If so, how do you counter that tendency?


  1. I suspect that this topic is very particular in what people "know". I've been told with absolute conviction by otherwise intelligent students that Catholics aren't christians. For some prodestant sects, the evil ignorance of the pre-Reformation church is as much doctrine as if Christ is or is not actually present in the host.

  2. Confessional interpretations are very, very hard to shake, most definitely, and particularly interpretations that have been cemented by generations of confessionally-based polemics. I've been trying to think of things comparable in AMerican history ... myths about the Founding Fathers come to mind, particularly the idea that America was founded as a Christian country.

    And yes, I too have been told unblushingly by students (even one who was a *pastor*) that Catholics are not Christians (and they aren't real sure about Episcopalians or Anglicans, either).

    We've talked about Protestant views of pre-reformation religion vs. Catholic views of the same, but it often doesn't take. At least very fgew of them are (where I can read or hear it) judging late medieval Christian theology by modern Protestant standards. I finally pointed out that doing so was rather like taking a class, and five years later getting a change of grade notice saying that because your work 5 years ago does not match the current assignments that your A is being changed to an F, ktxbai.

  3. Oh my God, Picky, I KNOW!!!

    I have one assignment in my intro course that requires the precious dears write about the similarities of the rise of early Christianity and early Islam. Because, one could say that both were marginalized, then both were adopted by state powers, then both started oppressing other marginalized religions, until they tried to conquer each other to oblivion in the Crusades (this is my hit-head version of the story, obviously).

    So what do I get? After weeks of emphasizing these common trends? Statements about how Mohamed instructed his followers to kill everyone while Christians turned the other cheek from Day One. I receive a handful of purely proselytizing "cling to God" papers, lots of Islamophobia ("They believe that destroying the world is the only way to get to Heaven") and very few references to my lectures, their readings, or the very nice movie I show on the Crusades.

    It makes me want to focus purely on all the crazy genocidal shit that went down in Christianity's history.. which of course is not the point here, but when they start from a frame of mind of Islam = evil, I feel compelled to show that you could say the same about Christianity, kiddos.

    But... then every semester there are about 3 students who suddenly see the lightbulb of similarity. (sigh) if only it were 30 students paying attention instead of 3. Oh well.

  4. Well, there are those who take either side of the Browning/Goldhagen fight that can be pretty polemical. Not helped by the personalities of the two historians i might add. Or I should say one of the historians. The economic foundations of slavery can make otherwise reasonable historians (not just students) seem like crazy people.

    I think the best comparison I can think of in American history is actually the causes and nature of the Revolution itself. Students always think that the colonies were oppressively taxed even when presented with primary sources that crown customs officials in New York couldn't enforce their power to tax.

    Though weirdly the most frustrating conversation I ever had was in a grad class about the Columbian exchange. The persistence of germ theory is so present in the minds of most modern intellectuals that there was simply no way to get people to accept that the intellectual Spanard of 1500 wasn't likely to attribute disease to contagian.

  5. And I thought I was the only one. . . I teach classes on Western European politics, which cover topics such as the origins and development of social welfare systems, industrial policy, labor market policy, and corporatist bargaining (basically, the varying ways in which labor, business and government do/do not negotiate aspects of employment policy). We go into excruciating detail on a variety of countries, look at the VAST DIFFERENCES among them - including the different roles of private, social (e.g., religious and charitable), and public actors in these policy areas, and work through a couple of bare-bones typologies that - at the very least - would give you the clear, obvious sense that there is a huge degree of variation among countries.

    What do I get on midterms, finals, and papers? "In socialist systems like the ones in Western Europe. . ." The students who write things like this never seem to read my comments (including the NO! NO! NO! written in the margins of their work). The only thing I can do, when these things crop up in class discussion, is politely but firmly say, "I'm sorry. That is not correct. Let us talk about why that is not an appropriate generalization to make."

    But frankly, when I see that crap on a final exam, after going through fifteen weeks of this in class with them, I just want to smack someone upside the head. Usually myself.

  6. Yeah, there's a wacky adjectival clause lurking in the post above, but I'm too lazy to delete/repost the whole thing. Sunday Snowflake Syndrome, I suppose.

  7. My students KNOW that punctuation always goes outside quotation marks.

  8. I am sorry to hear I am not alone, alas. (Don't get me started on the popular misunderstanding of medieval serfdom ... )

    We are seeing the consequences of ingrained ideas in politics, as well as in history classes, to an alarming degree. I'd love to hear about successful ways people have found to overcome this problem, both for students and for the occasional colleague! Especially when attempts to correct misconceptions are interpreted as :the professor did not accept alternative explanations." (My response to that one: I accept all that are defensible with, like, real evidence.)

    It may be an impossible task, but I will go down swinging.

  9. This doesn't just happen with the topic of religion and politics.

    To wit, Picky said, "For some students the issue is writing skill--these students have an all-or-nothing writing style, and are not yet able to communicate nuance as effectively as possible. For others, however, it seems as if there is a lack of connection between the body of the essay and the evidence therein and the conclusion."

    I used to have students write an assignment about plagiarism. The class was based on argumentation, and it was the argument and its strength that would be evaluated (not the stance they took).

    No semester passed without 1/4 to 1/3 of the class taking the position that punishments for plagiarism were harsh, and then support that position with really, really lame evidence (like making unsubstantiated claims about plagiarism being accidental) that often contradicted the statements in their source material (like, it's a writer's responsibility to get quotes right). Now, if they had posed those counterarguments BY CITING that source material and carefully dissecting it (like saying, "Although it's a writer's responsibility, here are 3 ways writers go wrong and accidentally plagiarize"), I probably would have accepted it as an actual argument. But the essay still often failed to support their thesis statement/position, usually because they never revise and often have no clue what they are actually writing about in their papers. (One student argued with me after getting his C that he had actually wrote the paper about the EXACT OPPOSITE of his thesis statement...which in a way he did).

    So, despite having spent one-half of the term teaching them how arguments are constructed (and how to write their own), they just didn't understand that you need to consider other positions when you approach a topic. Ignoring those other positions just makes a writer look stupid, ignorant, and/or ill-prepared and makes his or her essay look poorly argued. In the end, it's like they think all evidence is available to support every position, and specifically THEIR position. They just don't get it.

  10. I wonder if one could cast an entire course as having the specific goal of understanding that popular narratives are unrealistic and even impossible?

    I have a lovely memory -- one of those "aha!" moments -- when I learned in undergrad about Japanese internment camps. I had traveled Europe and attended numerous historically significant sites of Nazi Germany, but no one had ever told me about the Japanese internment camps. Follow that a year later with reading Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, and it became clear that pop history is a convenient story that has no resonance in reality.

    In such a course, weekly assignments could include a political piece that invokes untrue "historical evidence" and a requirement to analyze said piece based on lecture, reading, etc.

    A very interesting course, perhaps, but most likely impossible....

  11. Compared to mine, your students sound like fucking rocket scientists. That is all.

  12. Or you'd gets screeds about how useful and necessary those camps were.

    Although, Monkey, those are the sorts of courses we all SHOULD be teaching. We'd have a blast and probably open a few eyes. Nowadays, those eyes seem to be corroded shut for the most part.

  13. If I have another earnest student widen her eyes and tell me that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, in that voice of "let-me-blow-you-away-with-insight!" well, I just might clock her in the face.

  14. @Meanest: How many students plagiarize their papers on plagiarism? I once caught two students who plagiarized a Math essay (yes, the two can go together). Then, one of them turned around and plagiarized the essay on plagiarism. She later dropped the class.

    @Academic Monkey: Just turn to her and reply, "And those who say that to me, usually get punched in the throat. I bet the look on her face would almost be worth getting called into the dean's office to discuss threatening students. Almost.

    As far as the original post goes, I don't have this problem too much in Math. Except that students know that Math and English don't go together. That is, they should never be required to write an essay for a Math class. Almost all of them turn the essay in and then get shocked when I penalize them for grammar and punctuation mistakes. I always warn them about it beforehand! Sometimes they just can't seem to get past the way most high schools seem to compartmentalize the subjects. *sigh*

    Mathsquatch *sigh* out.

  15. Teaching computer science, I get my fair share of kids who know things that aren't so. If they don't wise up in time for the exams, it is reflected in their grades. What really bugs me is that my C programming students used to go to the tutoring center to get help and the ^%*&^ tutors would teach them exactly the bad habits that I didn't want them to learn. Correcting these bad habits was a lot of effort and caused bad feelings which turned up in my evals. I could live with that. What really set me off about the tutors was when they did the assignment for the student (it was obvious because they used constructs that we hadn't covered in class) and when I asked the student why he did it that way, he innocently told me that the tutoring center wrote the program. I raised high, holy hell about the tutoring center helping the students cheat. It didn't help the students, either, because without having written the programs themselves, they fell down on the exam. What did I start talking about again?

  16. Students can understand nuances and discuss them all they care to, but when it comes to writing there's another problem thrown into the mix:

    They do research.

    If that research is the top ten hits of Google or even your favorite academic database, they are unlikely to find nuances there (or, if they do, they're entirely one-sided ones). I teach this every term, and I know that at least some of the students are gonna run off and be lazy again. But what can you do? I can't guide them by the hand for the rest of their lives, they (instead) have to figure it out by their own bad grades term after term.

  17. Oh, boy, well, in literature it's "Ever since dinosaurs walked the earth, people have [generalization about human emotion]."

    There's also the Cliffs notes "theme" or "moral" of a story that trumps all the evidence complicating said theme or moral.

  18. @Mathsquatch, I get the same complaints in my computer science classes when I have them write essays and count off for spelling & grammar. The majors are worse than the non-majors in this regard. It does no good to tell them that during my time in industry (as a software engineer!) I spent much more time writing design documents and documenting code than I did writing actual programs in an actual programming language.

    @College Boy, sounds like your tutoring center and mine hire the same people. Gah.

  19. @ Mathsquatch, my classes were 20-30 students and usually 2-3 (about 10% a class) would plagiarize the plagiarism assignment. Often this would be them writing the campus definition of plagiarism verbatim without quotation marks or even a citation.

    Gee, why I did they think I taught them how to avoid plagiarism BEFORE the assignment was due? Hmmm.... Think it might be so they WOULDN'T "accidentally" plagiarize?

    Did everyone know that it's perfectly ok not to cite definitions? Hell, I am happy-skippy when they pull Meisterburgher's tired ole "Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines the term 'family' as..."!

    At least I can turn that into a teachable moment - "Don't use a dictionary as a citation if you can use a scholarly source! Did you look for one? No? Why not?"

  20. Mathsquatch, doesn't reading three lines of undergraduate 'mathematics' make you want to drive pens through your eyes? What makes you want to read their English?

  21. Yeah, I think we have it pretty bad in psychology. No one argues with physics professors when they say that planetary orbits are elliptical in shape. But because everyone is more or less a lay psychologist - making guesses about why they do what they do, or why their boyfriends do what they do, or why their parents do what they do - they will frequently believe their own opinions over years of accumulated research on the topic, and possibly fMRI images. The best is when I have them write critical analyses of famous psychologists and they tell me that they don't "like" their theories and that they don't think they're right. How's THAT for critical analysis? After a hot 10 seconds of psychology training, they've figured out exactly where Freud, Erikson, Maslow, trait theorists, and all of positive psychology went wrong (although they're usually right about positive psychology). I try to take notes so I can learn from their vast wisdom, but it's too much for my feeble brain to handle. I also tried once to e-mail Sigmund Freud to let him know that the students didn't care much for him, but it turns out he's dead.

  22. @Marcia Brady

    I tell my kids never to do any of the following:

    1) Use rhetorical questions (okay for more advanced writers, but I don't trust the Intro students with them).

    2) Use a dictionary definition, unless the discussion is specifically about lexical issues.


    3) Tell me that "from the beginning of time" that anything has been happening without a cited source supporting that claim.

    I once had a kid who hit a trifecta - all three in the first three sentences. Bam, bam, bam, and we're out. I had to stop reading it and get a drink before I could go on.

  23. I teach Intro-Astronomy-for-Non-Majors. My students don't come with preconceived notions, because they don't know anything whatsoever about the Universe. I have to teach them the cause of night and day, what a month is, and what a year is; that Earth's atmosphere ends 60-100 miles above Earth's surface, and above that is Outer Space, where there is no air; that one can't see stars in the daytime because the Sun is so bright, not because they aren't there; that the Sun is a star and Earth is a planet; that the only place humans have been is the Moon. Even Fox TV's 2001 show that claimed that Project Apollo was a hoax appears to have faded from memory: I did have several hard years there. (Note to historians: was there ever an event in human history as well documented as Project Apollo? What will it be next, the Holocaust?)

    My students have never even heard of -any- of the following:

    – It is a myth that Earth has seasons because it’s closer to the Sun during summer.

    – It is a myth that the Moon’s phases are caused by Earth’s shadow.

    – It is a myth that accidents and crime are worse during Full Moon—even though many smart, reliable people such as doctors, nurses, and police believe this.

    – It is a myth that astrology makes predictions that are more reliable than random chance. In fact, in any fair, objective test, astrology just plain does not work.

    – There is no validity to prophecies of Nostradamus, or the prediction (that the Mayans didn’t make) that the world will end on December 21 or 22, 2012. I am willing to bet everything I own on this: I will be partying on December 23. (I won't say nothing bad will happen in 2012, though. What if Sarah Palin wins the U.S. presidency, and a mob of her followers lynch me for teaching evolution?)

    – It is a myth that Mars will ever look “as big as the Moon.” This is an Internet hoax: the unaided eye can see the planets (except for Uranus and Neptune), but they look like bright stars, unless one uses a telescope.

    – It is a myth that a planetarium is the same as an observatory. A planetarium is a special theater that shows what the sky looks like. An observatory is a housing for a telescope.

    – It is a myth that astronauts on the Moon could see the Great Wall of China. (They couldn’t.) It is also a myth that the Great Wall of China is the most visible human-made object from orbit. (Farms and city lights are.)

    – It is a myth that objects float weightless in spacecraft because “there is no gravity” in space. If this were true, the spacecraft wouldn’t orbit Earth in the first place.

    – It is a myth that any high-energy physics experiment could create a black hole that could swallow Earth. If one could, natural high-energy cosmic rays would have done this long ago.

    – It is a myth that there is any reliable, physical evidence that alien life is visiting Earth, or that there were ever “ancient astronauts,” or that any human was ever abducted by a flying saucer, or that the so-called “lost” continents of Atlantis or Lemuria ever existed, or that crop circles are extraterrestrial activity. Don’t get me wrong: life in space may exist, but we haven’t found it, yet.

    – It is highly implausible the U.S. (or any other) government or military has a crashed flying saucer that it’s hiding from the public.

    When I was a boy, because of Project Apollo, every kid in America knew all of this. It was seen as a patriotic duty. Well, they don't do that no more. God help the U. S. of A.: Thomas Jefferson would be appalled by how we've descended into ignorance, and the obvious effects it's having on our politics.

  24. P.S. I'd estimate the fraction of students who can name the planets in order from the Sun to be about 1 in 100. Even physics grad students have trouble with that one!!!

  25. P.P.S. No, Pluto isn't a fucking planet.

  26. Froderick, if you haven't run into a Holocaust denier yet... count yourself lucky. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory by Deborah E. Lipstadt is a very good read on the subject and quite frightening. Professor Lipstadt was sued i the United Kingdom for libal by a particularly famous holocaust denier and because of the way such cases are judged in British law she had to prove the truth of the assertion. Her book on that bizarre experiance is History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.

  27. I second Katherine, and I'd add that not only is holocaust denial alive and well, but one of the most vociferous and active holocaust deniers is in our profession: electrical engineering professor Arthur Butz, the "pride" of Northwestern University.

    And Froderick, I have to teach many of the fallacies on your list as well. Sometimes I show a clip from a famous film on education that takes the camera around a Harvard graduation and asks an assortment of graduating seniors and Harvard faculty to explain the phases of the moon and the seasons. Almost nobody gets either right, faculty included, so, I'm not sure I buy your generational argument. Rather, I think the level of basic scientific literacy, even amongst science majors is shockingly low.

    Anyway, the list is almost endless: just ask a student how many people died in WWII and get ready for a shock when they low-ball it. Another favorite of mine is to ask them how much money you have to earn to be in the top 1% of income earners in the U.S. Again, it is shocking what some of them think.

  28. I try to preempt some of the most popular conspiracy nonsense, explaining why FDR didn't know about Pearl Harbor in advance, how we know Oswald killed JFK, why slavery was far more important to the start of the Civil War than tariffs, etc. My international students seem to be more prone to such nonsense, but maybe they're just more likely to speak up about them in class.

    I had a freshman in a class last year that was doing a paper on terrorism. His "sources" were mostly from an openly racist website. When I reviewed better news websites to check I recommended the BBC. He had never heard of it.

  29. I decided to go look up what explains the seasons and what causes the phases of the Moon. I had the seasons correct (phew) but got the phases of the Moon wrong. (I thought the new moon was when the Earth was between the moon and the Sun. WRONG.) In my defense may I please note that the last basic science class I took was when Nixon was in office and it's been decades since I watched Cosmos!

  30. I think Froderick's comment about the Holocaust was deliberately sarcastic. At least, that's how I read it.

    Back to the original topic, I have a student or two every semester who KNOWS that "research paper" means "I don't need to argue anything," even though I say in class every three minutes that what we're doing here in Intro Expos is writing papers that argue things.

    And, of course, I've had students KNOW that their plagiarism is acceptable because they did the same thing in high school, and no one stopped them.

  31. How is it that we've all missed the most obvious source of this BS: Here in Uhmurrikah, we are all entitled to our opinions...and because we are so entitled, said opinions are just as valid as anyone else's. If you challenge that emergent trope, you challenge the very fabric of our existance as the fairest and coolest and bestest and freeeeeee-est of all nations of all time. And if you don't "get" that, I'ma have my MOM call your BOSS!

  32. ARGH!

    Mrs C, you've brought up the worst part of snowflakery of all: the dreaded "It's just my opinion!"

    Students feel so very persecuted when their opinion doesn't find any evidence in fact (or at least the reading). I am currently commiserating with a colleague who has an extremely religious student. Every response paper is a 2 page diatribe about how the entire class needs to find god. No references to weaving baskets or the reading on weaving baskets or even popular conceptions of weaving baskets. And she's getting consistent zeros (sometimes a generous 20% if there is an introduction) and she feels persecuted for her faith!!!!


  33. Oh, Mrs. C, you have named the Worst of the Worst.

    I have banned the word "opinion" from my classroom. An opinion does not have to be supported or backed up--it just is. An argument or even a judgment has to have evidence behind it, or it is so much cowflop.

    @Prof. Monkey--OMG, your colleague must have some of my students. Unless their flavor of CHristianity is front and center, with nothing else mentioned, then they are "persecuted." Then there was the man -- in his forties, no less--who dropped my class and my colleague's (an ordained Baptist minister) because HIS minister had told him higher education, especially history and religion classes, would "damage his faith." (My snarky response: if his faith is so fragile, then I know where he can get some bulk cotton wool cheap.)

  34. This phenomenon is well known in physics. The tape that Archie refers to is "A Private Universe," distributed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

    In 1989, some spoilsports from Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory picked up a video camera, gate-crashed the graduation ceremony across campus at Harvard, and asked 23 just-graduated students, older alumni, and faculty two simple questions in astronomy: what are the causes of the seasons, and why the Moon goes through its apparent cycle of phases each month. Of the 23, 21 got these questions wrong, revealing misconceptions they'd had since grade school. The tape then pans across town, and shows some 9th graders saying giving exactly the same wrong answers to these questions.

    Two things that in particular get me when watching this tape are: (1) That supremely confident tone that goes with just having graduated from Harvard, as they spout their nonsense, and (2) How they'd rattle off their qualifications, having taken courses in planetary motion, electromagnetism, and relativity. I took those courses too, and I thought they were hard, but then that's an important component of this phenomenon: it can be easier to teach something unfamiliar, since students have fewer misconceptions to get in the way.

    This is why any teacher of introductory physics would do well to read Aristotle's Physics. As Bertrand Russell noted, scarcely a line of it is known now to be correct, but that's not why physics teachers should read it. Rather, it's wrong in exactly the way that many people often incorrectly think the world works. Aristotle thought that things move because of impetus, which doesn't exist, no more than levity, which Aristotle thought was the opposite of gravity. Aristotle didn't known about inertia, which in the absence of force will keep an object moving in a straight line forever. This isn't at all an obvious concept: have you ever tried to keep anything in motion forever?

    Another tape I highly recommend is "Minds of Our Own," in which another spoilsport crashed the graduation ceremony at M.I.T., and asked random graduates how to light a small light bulb, given a wire and a battery. Only one of them could do it: mercifully, an electrical engineer. I'll bet that every last one of them could analyze the circuit with Laplace transforms.

  35. P.S. The problem I mentioned in my three posts from last night were that my current students are SO ignorant, they have no preconceived notions, or indeed no notions of any kind. This is what happens when one spends one's life watching American Idol and sports on TV, and playing video games. "A Private Universe" came out in 1989, not even a generation ago, counting a generation as 33 years. Project Apollo was abruptly canceled by the Nixon Administration in 1972, ten years before "A Nation at Risk" came out. Keedos, our future is hosed. As no less than Carl Sagan observed in 1994:

    "Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and [chaos]."

    By the way, I highly recommend the "Cosmos" TV series. I watched all of it again recently, and I'm delighted to report that it's aged well.

  36. P.P.S. Pluto still isn't a fucking planet.

  37. I didn't even know Pluto was capable of sex. :P

    And I second the recommendation for "Cosmos," as well as anything else Sagan wrote. I usually hand out to students his material on bullshit detection, but the students almost always derail when it comes to religious issues. In vain I tell them that, while some scientists do see religion and science in opposition, others do not. What it takes, however, is the ability to understand that faith is simply that: faith -- and to be comfortable with ideas that don't line up. What's that you say? The Bible is literally true and totally inerrant? .... I would say go over to your dark little corner, but the people who do that *breed* ....

  38. Well, nobody will probably check back to this post again, but in case you do Froderick, at the cost of outing my specific field, I do teach Aristotle's physics to undergrads, which is why I show them a clip of "A Private Universe,"--because it handily demonstrates how most people still live in an Aristotelian universe.

    My only gripe with what you're saying is that while we now reject Aristotle's cosmology and his theories of motion, they did provide a compelling and powerful account of how the universe works; one that has the advantage of corresponding quite closely to what we think we are seeing when we look around us. It was also a remarkably durable cosmological theory, precisely because it was both compelling and powerful. And despite that, it is still tough sledding for most undergrads. Even when the cosmology corresponds to their common-sense perceptions of the world, they can't quite figure it all out.

    All I'm saying is just cause old Ari was wrong about some stuff, I wouldn't put him in the same category as the American Idol addled fucktards we face on a regular basis.

    p.s. Even Galileo got the phases of the moon wrong, and his account of comets remains laughably weird.

  39. Dear Archie,

    I did nothing of the kind. I don't even mention them in the same posts!

  40. I'm just amazed that no one picked up on my gratuitous Sarah Palin joke. Perhaps it hits a little too close to the truth?

  41. Yeah, sorry, you're right. It was really late here when I wrote that and I'm actually at a conference that is about half scientists and half scholars who study the science practiced by the scientists (many of whom are trained both in their home discipline and in the science in question, if that doesn't make it all too complicated to follow). Anyway, the scientists had spent the day saying some of the most ignorant, positivist, whig bullshit about their discipline. So when I saw Aristotle I had a bad reaction from a day of trying to point out to a bunch of jackasses that you can't use the standards of twenty-first century basket-weaving science to judge what basket-weaving theorists thought three hundred years ago, because those basket-weaving theorists made a whole different set of assumptions about how the world worked, as well as what basket-weaving science could and should achieve.

    Stay Froddie my man.


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