Science Abuse

More on the dangers of extrapolating back. I talked about this a bit before in the context of global warming. Today I have to discuss a brand new example of science abuse. Most have heard of Moore’s Law, that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years, and so we will eventually get too small for lithography to work, and computers will hit a wall. Well, if you plot transistors on a chip versus year, and look at where there should be ‘0’ on a chip, this works pretty well. Well enough that you could say that the relationship is realistic. The article also gives the example of scientific publications working out to right around Newton’s time as ‘start’ for scientific publications.

Here is the kick though, the article is about extrapolating back life to calculate a ‘start’ time for life. Origin of LifeThe most abusive part of this article is that it conflates measured and verifiable data, like on average how many transistors were on a chip in 2000, or when might be the ‘first’ scientific publication with unobserved theoretical data, as if they have the same value. There are layers upon layers of reasoning for why biologists date Prokaryotes before Eukaryotes but I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons is that Prokaryotes are simpler than Eukaryotes and therefore must have come first. Basiclly, it should be redundant that these complexities fit a log scale if, in fact, they were dated by a log scale fitting depending on how complex they were with the initial assumption that evolution 1) happens and 2) works exponentially.

The other obvious issue is that even if we had incontrovertible data to prove when different organisms evolved you still cannot scientifically extrapolate beyond your data points and obtain anything useful. There is one way that using such a plot would be scientifically correct. If evolutionary dates were measurable (but difficult to measure) you could use it to estimate  a new species’ ‘evolution date’ which then might be verified if needed. However, all suspicion about the data aside, this is actually abuse of science. It is basically like using bad science to impress the woman in red; it is picking up an ignorant date by showing off what you know. (And the reality is so much less interesting than The beginning of all life calculated by SCIENCE!)

Of course the hilarious part of this article is that life is supposed to start way before the earth, so the article ends on a bit of a stammer trying to explain how that might be.


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