Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blowhard of the Month: David Warren

I recently had the misfortune to stumble on a really revolting corner of the web, the not-so-modestly-named DavidWarrenOnline. Warren appears to be a journalist, and for the Ottawa Citizen, no less -- a newspaper that, back when Peter Calamai worked there, was sometimes worth reading. Judging from their employment of Mr. Warren, however, the Citizen has sunk into a swamp from which it will not soon recover.

Explore that website and you will find the very worst sort of ignorant bigotry: screeds against gay marriage, the validity of human-caused global warming, and (big surprise) evolution, all served up with a really insufferable helping of religious smugness. And the writing! I was raised by newspaper reporters, who never missed an opportunity to tell me how my writing could be improved. But it appears Mr. Warren received no similar assistance. His columns frequently wander and maunder, heading this way and that, but never actually arriving anywhere. Who in their right mind would give this supercilious dolt a weekly column?

If you, too, want to suffer as much as I did, you can start with four of Mr. Warren's columns about evolution. In his December 29 2004 column about Homo floresiensis, he reveals his doubts that it is a new species of the genus Homo. Informed doubt would be welcome, but Mr. Warren's doubts aren't based on anything more scientific than the fact that he once saw a woman in Calcutta about the same weight "and only slightly taller" than H. floresiensis. He then reveals that he suspects all hominid species are just varieties of Homo sapiens, and quotes one of his readers as saying, "Evolution? Probably a pile of crap. It seems to spring from the same faulty thinking reservoir as Marxism and other failed ideological constructs of the early 20th century." Dee-lightful!

In his next column, Warren says that " 'evolution' is not a science but an ideology a quasi-religion a colossal scientistic put-on; that 'evolutionary science' is a cant expression a pretence unworthy of a scientific researcher." (For some reason, all of Warren's columns before April 23, 2005 are missing commas. Perhaps someone bought him a big box of commas last May.) Not a single example is proffered to support this bizarre claim. He also says that "science cannot even tell you how a species is defined". I guess Warren has never heard of the "biological species concept" -- an idea taught in every introduction to evolutionary biology course. And yes, I am aware that the BSC is not universally applicable, but that is because biology, dealing as it does with billions of interacting complex systems, is not always clean and simple. I bet Mr. Warren cannot give a definition of "newspaper" that is universally applicable, but that doesn't prevent him from writing for one.

Warren also repeats the creationist lie that speciation has not been observed. Even the most cursory of searches would have led him here and here, where enough speciation events are provided to convince any reasonable person. If Mr. Warren is not a creationist, as he claims, why does he behave exactly like one?

In his third column Warren treads the same familiar ground again, claiming that "If [evolution] didn't exist biological inquiry would not be slowed in any way. It might even be accelerated." That is like saying, "If 1 equalled 2, mathematical inquiry wouldn't be slowed; it might even be accelerated." Yes, indeed, if one starts with a counterfactual premise, one can certainly prove anything.

But let's be charitable for a moment, and assume that what Warren really meant to say is that evolution is not germane to biological inquiry. That will certainly be news to those researching AIDS, bird flu, or working on reconstructing evolutionary trees, or trying to understand invasive species, or studying antibiotic resistance.

In Warren's fourth column, he discusses the discovery of Repenomamus giganticus, a carnivorous Cretaceous mammal. Here is Warren is all his self-satisfied ignorance:


As anyone familiar with the existing evolutionary charts will know a powerful warm-blooded mammal has no business being found in the early Cretaceous strata of about 130 million years ago. Especially one with a clearly organized carnivorous set of teeth like R. gigantus -- or like his smaller cousin R. robustus with the trademark slightly-displaced mammalian stomach and a little dino he just ate ripped up inside. Mammals of that epoch are supposed to be tiny mole and shrew-like jobs subsisting on seeds and insects....

It wouldn't necessarily bother the "Darwinists" theoretically if the whole evolutionary sequence were turned upside down: for the "theory" doesn't predict anything. It only explains things after the fact.


Now, PZ Myers has already explained why Warren and the creationists he echoes are talking out of their hats. But some additional points are worth considering:

First, note that Warren gets the name wrong: he calls it Repenomamus gigantus, whereas the correct name as published in Nature, is Repenomamus giganticus. This is pretty good evidence that Warren is getting his account from secondary sources (which frequently got the name wrong), rather than reading the original account. But you know, those smug and busy journalists just don't have the time to check the primary source.

Second, the very first paragraph shows that Warren doesn't have any idea what he was talking about. As the article in Nature clearly states, the largest previously known Cretaceous mammal was the size of an opossum, not a "tiny mole and shrew-like job".

Third, Warren brings up the old falsehood about evoution not making any predictions. Even the most cursory examination will show this is wrong. Consider, for example, Alexander's prediction of what a eusocial mammal would look like. Many other examples are known.

All this ignorance coupled with arrogance means that Warren is my nominee for Blowhard of the Month. (Readers, feel free to nominate additional names deserving of this accolade.) Now, after four columns of this tripe, do you think readers of the Citizen kept quiet? Of course not. According to Warren's own account in the Idler, readers sent in objections in droves. What was Warren's reaction? Did he back down, admitting that perhaps his knowledge of evolution has a few gaps and holes?

Of course not -- blowhards never concede anything. Instead, he crowed that "I took care not to write anything that would be scientifically naïve". Yeah, right. And, of course, he repeated the tired old "Evolution has grown into a rival religion" line.

A couple of weeks ago, Warren reflected for a second time on his experience of critiquing something he knows very little about. He labeled the criticism he received as "hatemail" [sic]. (Blowhards have trouble distinguishing the two.) He then implied that evolution "is a more dangerous enemy than twisted Islam over the longer run." What a public service Mr. Warren offers: Run, quick! Here comes the local evolutionary biologist!

Finally, Mr. Warren leaves us with this thought:


The popularity of "Intelligent Design" is growing because it offers a way for science to get out of the face of religion. This is also why the Darwinoids hate and fear it: because the whole point of their Darwinism is to get in the face, of Christianity in particular. “ID" uses exactly the same fact-sets as all the biological disciplines; it merely leaves God to open minds, rather than consciously trying to “eliminate that hypothesis”. In time it will prevail, for the truth always does.


Arguing with pompous blowhards like Mr. Warren is a waste of time. He can't be convinced of any error, because he already knows the Truth. Facts aren't important.

As an ironic postcript, I recently learned that the Ottawa Citizen was founded by Elkanah Billings, one of the originators of Canadian paleontology. I wonder what Billings would have thought of the Citizen pushing the smug ignorance of Mr. Warren.

31 comments:

David McCabe said...

Preach it!

You can't argue with him, but can you get him fired?

Zeno said...

You're right: Arguments with people like that are futile because, hey, they know the Truth so you must be Wrong. End of story. I call them "the people who know", and they drive me crazy.

budak said...

I thought such crap was found only south of the border!

Jeffrey said...

I think you overestimate my power, David McCabe. My little blog couldn't get anyone fired -- even if I wanted to. And I don't want to see Mr. Warren fired--his own columns discredit his position so much that it is useful to have him around. In the same way, Pat Robertson discredits his own brand of Christianity so much that it's always a delight to see him spout off.

Phil, England said...

Does the paper have another columnist giving mainstream science views about evolution? If not, has it been pointed out to the editor that if they're going to publish nonsense like this, they could at least balance it out with a scientific viewpoint containing things like facts?? As budak said, I'm surprised this kind of thing is found in 'enlightened' Canada....

Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind would give this supercilious dolt a weekly column?

I was going to ask the same question about this blog entry. Who in their "right mind" would give such an illiterate and ignorant dolt free PR via their blog?

lloydletta said...

He's actually rather mild in terms of wingnuttery on the gay marriage issue. I've seen much worse.

I agree with the commenter who asked whether there is another columnist to balance this IDiot?

Jeffrey said...

Dear anonymous:

David Warren, being a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, has a audience of between 200,000 and 350,000 readers at his disposal. My little blog, on a good day, gets about 1000 readers. It's a bit silly to complain that I am drawing significant attention to him, when he already has a readership far, far greater than mine.

Apesnake said...

Anonymous said:
Who in their "right mind" would give such an illiterate and ignorant dolt free PR via their blog?

I am tired of this "any comment is publicity" meme. Bad arguments need to be exposed and criticized not ignored. Creationists (You say Warren claims not to be one? No evolution and no creationism means what... no life forms actually exist?) will always claim that people who ignore their nutbagery are unable to refute them.(Are there 2 "g"s in "nutbagery"?)

Forget "blowhard of the Month". I think you have identified a new genus and species. Might I suggest that you name it Hacknoramus extrudius? I am sure that that was not too clever by half but it surely beats "Darwinoid" in the humor department.

Anonymous said...

I see the Ottawa Citizen still publishes nonsense, just like it did when I used to go to U. of O.

If you want good science journalism you have to read Jay Ingram's latest column in the Toronto Star: Evo-devo next big thing, not intelligent design.

spencer said...

Are there 2 "g"s in "nutbagery"?

I'm pretty sure there should be, yes.

J-Dog said...

Dr. Shallit. You are so TOTALLY wrong about David Warren.

He can NOT be blowhard of the month, not as long as Casey Luskin is hard at work at the DI, experimenting and theorizing with new ways to maximize HIS essential blowhardiness. Granted, Warren is an idiot; smarmy and deserving of all the wedgies he received as a lad, however, Luskin is as Luskin does, and NOBODY does stupid as well as Luskin.

However, I AM willing to concede that Warren would be a solid monthly recipient of the Luskin BLowhardiness award.

Congrats on the new blog BTW!

Anonymous said...

"...a really revolting corner of the web"

Come, come now ... you may want to get out a bit more! If this qualifies as "really revolting," words must fail you at some of the other sludge that's out there.

I have little sympathy for most of his political views, and his columns on science are ... peculiar and uninformed to say the least. However, it's not a science column, the stories you select are a pretty small fraction of his columns, and the amount of indignation being generated seems out of proportion.

...Scott

Anonymous said...

I am mostly just surprised to learn that Marxism and Evolution are "constructs of the early 20th century". Or maybe "early 20th century" is just some new term for the 1840s-1860s that I'd not yet heard.

Anonymous said...

In case you're thinking that Warren at least has an "original style" -

Nope, not even that. He's basically trying to imitate William F. Buckley.

Steve said...

Bigotry against global warming?!?! Uhhh okay, so I guess it is fair to say that Howard Dean is a bigot too. Man, if ever there was a need for a rolling eyes icon....

Doug said...

I am an Ottawa scientist who has witnessed the decline of our once credible local paper. The Citizen is, regrettably, a natural home for David Warren - on most days it could be mistaken for a church newsletter. If this seems like hyperbole just check today's edition. The cover story is about Judas, and whether he was simply acting out his role in God's great plan (if anyone can explain in what way this qualifies as front page news, I would love to hear it). On the front page of the city section we are treated to a story about an evangelical couple who bought a former convent to provide a place for visitors to influence political outcomes through their prayer. I kid you not. Elsewhere we have Harper claiming religious persecution, even a policy statement from the Christian Heritage party (not very helpful - I am not aware of any candidates here, but hey). Oh, there is no mystery regarding the Citizen's employment of David Warren. The mystery is why anyone would be the least interested in his opinions on science.
Great to see your blog - I will be a regular reader.

The Eternal Gaijin said...

I hadn't read the Citizen for years, being away, and have to admit that I was surprised that a formerly respectable paper had sunk to the lowness of having Warren working for them, let alone giving him the veneer of respectability he gets from being on the editorial page.
My first encounter was a column he wrote on how he had just converted to Roman Catholicism. It was a worthless little fingernail scraping of a column that summarized his theological struggles to find a religion more intolerant than his previous ones. He settled into R-C and with a convert's zeal became more Catholic than the pope.
The few occasions I bother with him are cringe-worthy.

Anonymous said...

" I hereby supply one hundred facts about myself, in the order in which they occurred to me:

1. I walked across the Hungerford footbridge over the Thames River in London, England, in the presence of Christ, on Thursday, April 15th, 1976. "

1976? ... I suspect BORN AGAIN.

lt.kizhe said...

Bah, the Citizen years ago turned into a rag spouting the smuggest sort of conservative fluff. If Warren (whose pompous narcissism I find well-nigh unreadable) is typical of their current style, I'm glad we dumped our subscription when we did.

I'm glad to see Peter Calamai landed on his feet, though.

Harry said...

Hey, don't knock the guy. He is much more amusing than the Citizen's comic strips, and about as factual.

Big Dean said...

Keep in mind a ntation's capital city always has a very high concentration of idiots. David Warren prooves my point.

lt.kizhe said...

Ironic postscript (and personally startling):

I happened to peruse the Citizen yesterday while getting my car serviced. On the Letters page was a rant from some wing-nut complaining about the "liberal editorial board". I mean, this guy must be so far out in right field he can't even see "liberal" from where he is.

Now for the personal part: I recognized the name of the wing-nut as someone I used to know back in my religious days. Geez, what a bad crowd I used to hang with.....

Nik said...

I have recently learned to hate David Warren, and was doing some searches on the web about him. I just wanted to thank you for an excellent post about this bizarre columnist. I posted a link on my blog to your article about Warren.

susan said...

Why don't you get a job on the Ottawa Citizen?

It's hard to believe that in Canada, in this day and age that someone as reactionary and just plain stunned as David Warren is published, and taken seriously, by like-minded people.

susan said...

Bets he belongs to the Christian Missionary Alliance Church - the same one that Harper and all of his "true" followers belong to.

Stealth Evangelism
Talibangelism

terms in use today.

I wonder what happen to these people's brains to render them useless, and more suited to doing embroidery than living in the world?

Craig said...

warren is gross, horrible ideological atavism, disgusting closed-mindedness and some of the worst psuedo-intellectualism i ever come across. its sad that the citizen (and the rank and file there are not raving conservatives) still gives this chud a platform. his arrogance is almost unparalleled in Canadian journalism, unless you count David Frum. These people don't deserve their jobs, make specious arguments and ultimately reflect the dying light of christian and neo-liberal fundamentalism.

LJM said...

They give him a platform 3 times a week...it's giving this guy way too much...he should be a once-a-month at most...it's infuriating...

Anonymous said...

WELL YOU DID NOT GET HIM FIRED BUT
HE HAS OR HAS BEEN ASKED TO

R E S I G N.

PERHAPS HE WILL NOW BECOME A PRIEST AND FINALLY CONFESS ALL HIS SINS.

Anonymous said...

well you did not get him fired but he has been asked to resign.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately he has been asked to resign.