Conservatives mostly come in two broad varieties: infuriatingly stupid and amusingly stupid. (Note: “stupid” embraces “racist”, “religious nut”, “economically ignorant”, and other sub-categories.)
“Vox Day” – normally the amusingly stupid kind – today manages to be so stupid as to defy categorization. It’s just kind of depressing.
He’s a snotty gleeful wingnut of the Limbaugh variety – spouts off on anything he comes across in the most deliberately offensive way possible, because it amuses him. Apparently he’s also a creationist, which is hardly surprising. Today, he notes research reports that estimate a degradation half-life for DNA in dead animal tissue of 521 years (that is, DNA samples in the natural environment slowly breakddown at an exponential rate, with a half-life of 521 years). The researchers estimate that even under ideal conditions an ancient DNA sample would be essentially unreadable after about 1.5 million years, and completely degraded after less than 7 million years. This is perfectly in keeping with what everybody already believed, but this is apparently the best hard-number estimate of rate anybody has gotten yet. It has absolutely nothing to do with evolution theory as such, but being randomly crazy is not a barrier to anything on the right wing. In that tradition, here’s Vox’s voice on this burning issue:
About five years ago, I publicly predicted that genetic science will eventually rule out the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis and the Theorum of Evolution by Natural Selection. Now, it would appear that we have a potential mechanism for doing precisely that. . . . [C]loning a dinosaur or other ancient species from theoretically nonexistent DNA would not be a directly conclusive debunking of evolution, but would be a sufficiently devastating blow to the evolutionary timelines as to render it every bit as temporally dubious as it appeared when its earliest advocates were worrying about how the time-consuming process could have taken place in only 6,000 years. . . . I would be interested to hear from those who seriously subscribe to the theory of evolution and learn if, given this announcement of a 521-year DNA half-life, the successful cloning of a dinosaur known to be from a historical epoch well before the 2-million year readability limit would be enough to cause them to abandon their belief in the theory.
He appears to be completely serious. It’s hard to know what he’s talking about, although, after reading it several times, I recognize that it’s actually pretty straightforward – it’s just so staggeringly stupid that it can’t mean what it obviously appears to mean.
He honestly seems to think that the fact that DNA material can’t (except perhaps in extraordinary circumstances) typically survive more than 1-2 million years in the natural environment threatens the entire fabric of evolution theory, apparently by threatening the fact that the earth is very old, because reproducing supposedly ancient species from preserved DNA specimens would prove that those species couldn’t have been millions of years old (or the DNA would have degraded). In other words, he apparently seriously believes that if “Jurassic Park” comes true, that will disprove evolution, and that possibility is a serious challenge to the theory. The presumptive refusal of non-crazy people to take this seriously proves that evolution theory is not scientific. (The comment thread is equally staggering.)
Nowhere in the post (or the comments) is there any acknowledgment that you can’t, in fact, clone dinosaurs from ancient DNA! I really can’t understand what he thinks he is accomplishing here. “If fiction were true, then the actually true things that determine that it is only fiction would not be true!” Yeah, OK, but is there perhaps some salient fact in there that indicates those true things aren’t actually in danger?
There seem to be two things happening here, both characteristic of the bizarre thinking that drives wingnuts desperately committed to anti-science: the first is the frantic search for anything that seems to contradict their comic-book-level understanding of what science is, and the immediate presumption that even the most trivial or tangential such issues completely derail entire swaths of well-established scientific theory; the second is the pervasive assumption that science is in some way a conspiracy or a cult, and that the tiniest crack in the facade exposes an entire structure of lies and dishonesty.
So, the imaginary possibility of cloning dinosaurs is real scientific evidence (because anything’s possible! – scientists can’t prove you can’t clone dinosaurs, so they have to admit that you can!), and has to be taken on an equal footing with actual laboratory data which indicate that DNA doesn’t survive long enough to clone dinosaurs; this proves that the claim that dinosaurs lived long ago is false, because we know both that their DNA couldn’t have survived that long and that that contradicts the idea of cloning them from their DNA, and both of those are proven scientific concepts one of which just happens to be imaginary! Furthermore, not admitting that this would – if it were accomplished, notwithstanding that it won’t be – utterly disprove all of evolution theory, or suggesting that an average rate of decay doesn’t mean that every sample in existence would degrade, or that theories can be revised to accommodate new data rather than thrown out entirely, makes you dishonest and part of the conspiracy, because obviously God exists and all of evolution if false if there is any single unexplained aspect of imaginary evolution theory that is not just what religious nuts claim it is in their comic-book versions of science.
Neither of those thought processes is new, or unusual on the right wing. This particular example catches the attention just because it’s so weird. Is there really anyone that stupid? Does he really believe that things that don’t actually happen disprove the facts that explain why they don’t happen?
It’s hard to set a limit to how dumb the anti-science religious right can be. But this is a new kind of low.