What to Expect When the Evolution Bubble Is About to Pop
by Casey Luskin
There may be some lessons about the evolution debate in a recent Wall Street Journal post, “When does a bubble spell trouble?” The article focuses on the stock market, but its general purpose is to help people tell when something is overvalued, and there’s a “bubble” that’s going to pop. It goes something like this.
First, people buy into an idea (say, stocks or maybe neo-Darwinian evolution), and the idea grows in stature in the public’s eyes.
Then, some big shots who are part of the establishment begin to think that maybe the idea is overvalued — i.e., maybe the idea is not as good as many people now think. A few prominent folks then back out of it. In the context of stocks, that might be people like Warren Buffet selling off because they believe certain stocks are overvalued, and they foresee a crash. In the field of evolution, it would be prominent scientists and scholars like Thomas Nagel, Jerry Fodor, or Lynn Margulis, declaring that they have doubts about Darwinism.
At first these big shot defectors are given some respect (e.g., Margulis). But then, many rank-and-file proponents of the original idea (e.g., in stocks, these would be investors; in evolution, they are scientists who have invested their own most precious capital, their own lives, in the idea) respond to the defection by “ridiculing” or “demonizing” the big shots who broke ranks. The investors fear that thanks to the mavericks, their investment is in peril and they react accordingly, in a fury. This is exactly what we saw with Thomas Nagel, Jerry Fodor, and many others. In essence those within the establishment fear attack from those who have broken rank.
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According to the article, when you get to this stage, you should beware because the bubble is close to popping:
Another sign to watch for: In every bubble, there are always people trying to burst it by declaring that financial assets have become overvalued. At first, Prof. Goetzmann says, such skeptics earn respectful attention. But eventually, investors turn on them with anger and ridicule.
Just think of Warren Buffett, who in 1999 and early 2000 was widely derided as “a dinosaur” and “out of touch” for his refusal to buy technology stocks. When I asked him in January 2000 how he felt about that, Mr. Buffett replied calmly: “I know what will happen. I just don’t know when.” Two months later, the Internet bubble burst.
In investing, as in life, ridiculing the people who disagree with you is a fairly certain sign that you don’t have the facts on your side.
“Once people buy in, they start to discount evidence that challenges them,” Prof. Goetzmann says. “There seems to be a hinge point where investors go from thinking about quantifying economic trade-offs to a kind of binary framework where anybody who disagrees with them is demonized,” he says.
That is when a bubble becomes trouble.
Is this where we are with Darwinian evolution today? The ridicule directed at Darwin-dissenters has reached a fever pitch, seeking as it does to compensate for a lack of good pro-Darwin arguments…