Of mice and science: Tying flies mystifies only until you look beneath the fur

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I tied my first fishing fly. And like so many first-time fly-tiers before me, I insisted on tying a drown mouse, one of the most difficult flies to tie.

Before a fly-fishing friend offered to teach me to tie the fly I thought it couldn’t possibly have been created without some sort of magical factory manufacturing trick.

In fact, when I first saw the drowned mouse, I peered though its puffy coat of deer hair, looking for a point where the hairs were directly fused into the metal hook shaft, or other signs that had been manufactured. I found no such signs. All I could find when I peered into the little fur ball on a hook was more hair, but I didn’t find anything that I thought indicated it had been hand crafted, either.

So based on what I perceived as the mystical nature of its creation, I defaulted to the assumption that it had been crafted using the magical means of factory machines.

Had I been more inquisitive and disassembled the fly, however, I would have discovered a series of tightly wound threads binding the deer hair to the hook’s shaft and unraveled its mysteries.

Now that I have made a drowned mouse of my own, I know that, although incredibly difficult to make, crafting a drowned mouse does not require some magical manufacturing trick.

When I first saw a one, however, I misled myself to believe otherwise because I drew a conclusion first and then inspected the fly, looking only for evidence that supported my conclusion, instead of carefully examining the fly for evidence of its origin and then drawing a conclusion.

OK, so even if I wandered throughout the rest of my life thinking a drowned mouse could only be made in a factory my life would probably be no worse off.

But what concerns me is that the faulty method by which I reached my conclusion is being promoted by politicians trying to argue God into science classrooms where it can do much greater damage.

Every time I start to think creationism, or its modern equivalent intelligent design, is in retreat it pulls itself from the prehistoric muck to push its agenda into science classrooms. Often this happens when political candidates seek greater support from religious voters, as in our state gubernatorial race.

In a recent debate, a candidate said teaching creationism alongside evolution would introduce a “healthy debate” to the science classroom.

The problem isn’t that creationism challenges a well-established scientific theory. Even the most long-lasting and resilient of scientific theories should be challenged and tested again and again. The problem is creationism isn’t science.

Science looks at evidence, uses that evidence to reach a conclusion and in turn uses that conclusion to make predictions.

Creationism argues life is too mystically complex to not be the product of some divine intervention and rejects evolution based on this conclusion. And like me with my drowned mouse, creationism begins with a conclusion and then seeks evidence supporting that conclusion, which should instantly sound the “not science” alarm.

Imagine Alaska Department of Fish and Game researchers conducted a study on whether the Kenai River could support a quadrupling of the sportfish bag limit on chinook salmon, but determined the conclusion would be positive before the study even began and only used the study to look for evidence supporting a positive conclusion.

Alaskans would be outraged (or at least those of us more concerned with the resource than our share of fish) and we wouldn’t call the study science, we’d call it corrupt.

In a state that relies heavily on keeping natural resources in balance, we need to extract politics from our science and seed our political decisions with more science. And to secure that path Alaskans need to teach their children to discriminate between science, politics and religion.

I am not advocating Alaskans discard their religious or political beliefs. But just as we do not let political parties write our children’s science textbooks, nor should we allow religious groups to write them.

There is a time and a place for both politics and religion, but it’s not in a science classroom or at the end of my fishing line.

Patrice Kohl is a reporter for the Clarion. She can be reached at patrice.kohl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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