Stephen Talbott Doesn't Understand Randomness

Source:  Stephen Talbott Doesn't Understand Randomness    Tag:  cosmic mutations
Anyone who waded through Stephen Talbott's dreary, wrongheaded columns about the Internet 15 years ago know him as a tedious and remarkably uninformed writer.

Here we are treated to yet another case of Talbott's vapid maunderings-- this time about evolution. I don't see that Talbott has any professional training in evolutionary biology, and he repeats creationist canards uncritically. Anyone citing the creationist journalist Tom Bethell (whose work is filled with misunderstandings and falsehoods) favorably is hard to take seriously.

The most remarkable thing about it is that Talbott doesn't seem to have much understanding what the word "random" means in a physical and biological context. "Random" doesn't mean that every outcome is equally likely. For example, if I flip two fair coins repeatedly and write down "1" each time I see two heads, and "0" otherwise, the resulting list of outcomes evidently has a strong random component, despite the fact that any particular bit does not have a 50% chance of being "1" or "0".

Instead, Talbott prefers to give us crap like this: All we can possibly mean by “random occurrences” relative to an organism is “occurrences that have not yet been woven into the meaningful life story of the organism.”

No, that's not all we can possibly mean. There is not a shred of evidence that cosmic rays, for example, are anything but random. (The one paper Talbott cites is largely about exposure to intense man-made radiation sources, not cosmic rays.) Furthermore, Talbott seems to be confusing the role of mutations in germ cells (which are the only ones that are heritable) with others.

Talbott apparently has an aversion to hard science. He doesn't do any experiments, or report his finding in the language of science. His whole shtick revolves around some vague "holistic" analysis which has never produced anything of interest scientifically. That's why he's reduced to publishing his drivel in places like The New Atlantis.