When people proudly take ridiculous positions

November 8, 2017
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(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Tom Wolfe on evolution:

I think it’s misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals. I mean, actually, nobody knows whether they did or not.

This is just sad. Does Wolfe really think this? My guess is he’s trying to do a solid for his political allies.

Jerry Coyne writes:

Somewhere on his mission to tear down the famous, elevate the neglected outsider and hit the exclamation-point key as often as possible, Wolfe has forgotten how to think.

Well put. But I think Wolfe does know how to think.

You know what they say, right? “Any prosecutor can convict a guilty man. It takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent man.” Similarly, I think Wolfe takes it as a point of pride that, as a great writer, he can make the case for something as ridiculous as anti-Darwinism.

And, after all, who goes to Tom Wolfe to learn about science? The man’s an entertainer.

This is not to defend Wolfe’s statement, which is flat-out ridiculous, comparable to that of Kenneth Ludmerer, a professor of history and medicine at Washington University in St. Louis who testified that he had “no opinion” on whether cigarette smoking contributes to the development of lung cancer in human beings—and he said that in 2002, that’s right, 38 years after the Surgeon General’s report. I just think we take it in context: Wolfe doesn’t give a damn about science but he cares a lot about politics, so he probably thinks it’s charming to say something ridiculous with a straight face, his way to give a poke in the eye to those pesky experts who know more than he does about something.

That’s right. Tom Wolfe is a low-rent G. K. Chesterton (or, to put it in modern terms, a witty, intelligent, socially conscious version of Michael Kinsley).

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