Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shameless Promises and Incoherent Predictions

During the 2004 campaign vice-presidential candidate John Edwards claimed that if his running mate were elected president people like Christopher Reeves, a quadriplegic, would soon be walking. It was the crassest sort of pandering and Edwards sounded so fatuous one may have been forgiven for thinking that no presidential candidate would ever make such a stupidly shameless promise again.

Well, one should never underestimate a politician's appetite for shamelessness. Now comes a promise from Hillary Clinton that:

...just electing her President will cut the price of oil. When the world hears her commitment at her inauguration about ending American dependence on foreign fuel, Clinton says, oil-pumping countries will lower prices to stifle America's incentive to develop alternative energy.

"I predict to you, the oil-producing countries will drop the price of oil," Clinton said, speaking at the Manchester YWCA. "They will once again assume, once the cost pressure is off, Americans and our political process will recede."

If that last incoherent sentence is an accurate quote then Senator Clinton apparently had too much Christmas eggnog. Perhaps high octane eggnog also explains the absurd promise. In any event, in the chilling event that she actually gets to give the next inaugural speech, the eyes of the world will surely be transfixed on the per barrel price of oil as it plummets like the apple in Times Square on New Years' Eve. Oh, happy day. Vote Democratic and the Millenium will be upon us.


Judge Jones and the Demarcation Problem

This month marks the two year anniversary of the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of education trial presided over by the distinguished philosopher of science Judge John Jones. We might observe the occasion with a brief reflection on the most salient of the questions the Judge sought to settle.

This is the question of whether ID is or is not "science." This question is a specific instance of the larger question, called by philosophers the "Demarcation Problem," of what distinguishes genuine science from non-science. It's odd that the former chairman of the Pennsylvania liquor control board felt qualified to take this matter up and even odder that the defense did not instruct the court that most philosophers of science believe the problem has no answer. There simply are no characteristics of science which are both necessary, in the sense that any science must possess them, and also sufficient to warrant calling any discipline which does possess them a science.

Thus the Judge presumed to stroll where almost every contemporary philosopher of science fears to tread and boldly proclaims to have discerned what none of them has been able to discern after spending entire careers studying the matter. Judge Jones ruled that ID is indeed not science, implying that he, from the vantage of his lofty perch, can see clearly the distinguishing characteristics of science that no one else who studies these things has been able to espy.

The classic paper on the futility of doing precisely what Judge Jones nevertheless deigned to do was written in 1983 by Larry Laudan. I wonder if the Judge ever read it.