Monday, May 1, 2017

The Science of Wool over the Eyes

People generally have faith in science even when science decries faith. Odd innit?  People believe scientists. Scientists believe they can find 'truth' and have faith in their methods even when the scientific method says 'do not believe: test'; 'faith needs evidence'; and the enterprise is mainly about disproving incorrect ideas. Not that these paradoxes, conundrums and contradictions stop the Tavern Keeper from serving them fine ales. We are all on the road and you are here at a rest stop.

And we have an almost religious regard for scientists. Not unreasonably to my mind. Many a Saint was a scientist. Some Priests laid the foundations for modern science. We have the 'Big Bang' idea from one, for instance. Genetics from another.  Einstein hisself, though not a priest, scratched his head a bit about the 'God' idea. They had Faith that the human mind and effort could shed light on God's Creation and thereby 'know the Mind of God', perhaps, as Steven Hawkins once mused.

But the field is ripe for the devil - the Prince of Lies - to cavort in and he has no end of fools and carpetbaggers who are eager to lend him a hand.

And we have some fine, erudite folk who insist on educating us. Many are real scientists. The smiling Prof Cox: the authoritative Attenbro bro; the enigmatic Kaku; Dr Venkman of Ghostbusters and Doc Brown with his time car. The latter is now more believable than Dr Who. Then we have Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

The consensus is that Bill is a scientist. He says so. So does his producer and publicist. Many, many American kiddies have been deliberately deluded into thinking so too, so it must be true. 

Oh ye Faithless !!

We have had 'science' in the wind lately, with even a small mob of intellectual giants outside the Tavern's hedges with banners, trying to peer over. I sent a tray of ale to them to help with their ailments. Meanwhile  Wesley J. Smith and Joanne Nova were inside having a giggle.  Wes was on his feet first. He has had a few words with Bill in the past, in Wes' role as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He takes exception to Nye's calumnies and false accusations.
The real anti-science

When Bill Nye the Science Guy complains of a war being waged on science, he should look in the mirror. Nye, who is actually the mechanical engineering guy—that’s his educational background—is more guilty of undermining science (properly understood) by politicizing it than almost anyone this side of Al Gore.

No one is attacking science. Why would they? 
Science is a powerful method for understanding the physical universe. Science’s tools are observation, careful measurement, testing, experimentation, falsification, and the like. Given the incalculable benefits that have arisen from applied scientific endeavors over the centuries, who on earth isn’t “pro-science”?

Why, then, did science become the subject of international protective protest marches? Blame political cynicism.
Hmmmmm. And why are we so cynical? Perhaps because of false claims. Bill is educated as an engineer - not a scientist - and has barely done any engineering.  His forte is as a comedian. A small forte at that. 
Organizers of the March for Science hoped to harness the authority of science to prevail in hot-button public policy and cultural controversies involving scientific inquiry. But politicizing science is the real subversion — if you convince people that they have to choose between “science” and their moral, political, or religious beliefs, support for science could well wane.

There are at least three means by which these supposed defenders of science actually undermine it through their political tactics:

Conflating “science” with ethics and morality: Science is amoral. It is very effective at deriving knowledge and learning facts, but it can’t tell us right from wrong, good from bad, or moral from immoral. 
Yet self-described science advocates often blur those crucial distinctions by accusing the people with whom they disagree on an ethical or public policy question of being “anti-science.”
Nye has been a prime example of this across a wide swath of public controversies, from climate change to abortion. With regard to the latter, Nye infamously appeared in a YouTube video promoting abortion rights in which he contended that pro-lifers lack a proper “scientific understanding” of “the facts.” 
But in fact he is the one who seems to be confused: Nye proclaims that “fertilized eggs are not human”—even though an egg, once fertilized, ceases to exist as the one-celled embryo called the zygote comes into being. He continues that the sperm joining the ovum “is not all you need. You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb.” It could be argued that implantation is the point at which a woman becomes pregnant. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the biological nature of the embryo itself. 
Besides, embryology textbooks—real science—tell us that a new organism or, to put it another way, a human being comes into existence once fertilization has been completed.
Update: Video.
This is not what Bill was saying a few years ago. Then he was saying what 'science' knows only too well. That a person is made at Conception. Here below, at 9min.30+, we hear Bill explaining quite clearly.  Check for yourself.

What we cannot see so clearly is what caused him to change his mind ! Lefty pressures, perhaps? His scriptwriter? His pay-cheque obligations? Toe the party line Bill or you are on the street as a stand up comedian again and your Batch in Eng is well out of date.

More to the point, science can only tell us the biological nature of the entity destroyed in an abortion; it cannot tell us whether the destruction is right or wrong.
Hence, it is a scientific fact that Nye and I are the same organisms today that we were when we came into existence as one-celled embryos. But when Nye tells us, “Nobody likes abortion. But you can’t tell somebody what to do!” in his YouTube mini-lecture, that is political advocacy masquerading as a scientific claim.
Wielding the term “anti-science” as an epithet to stifle legitimate debate: I have been the subject of such attempted stifling. As first discussed in these pages a few years ago, I was branded “anti-science” by Glen Hank Campbell, now the head of the American Council on Science and Health, who accused me of “hating biology” and viewing IVF “as a tool of Lucifer.”   
What had I done to deserve such public shaming? I opposed plans to use a novel IVF procedure to create a “three-parent” baby.

How was that “anti-science?” 
I may have been misguided—though I don’t think I was—but I most certainly wasn’t opposing science, biology, or even reproductive technologies per se.
I was making an ethical argument that it would be wrong to use this technique on humans, a position with which Campbell disagreed. 
But rather than engage in debate, Campbell tried to quash it with the “anti-science” slur—a strategy deployed often in moral and policy arguments around embryo research, climate change, evolution, abortion, human cloning, genetic engineering, GMOs, transhumanism, and other controversial areas.         

Using the authority of “scientific consensus” to stifle heterodox hypotheses and alternative fields of research: 
Science is never truly settled. 
Indeed, challenging seemingly incontrovertible facts and continually retesting long-accepted theories are crucial components of the scientific method.
Examples of perceived truths overturned by subsequent discoveries are ubiquitous. Here’s just one: So-called junk DNA that does not encode proteins was, until relatively recently, thought by a large majority of scientists to have no purpose, and was even used as evidence of random and purposeless evolution. But continuing investigations in the field led to the discovery that most “junk DNA” actually serves important biological functions.

Think what might have happened if scientists seeking to continue exploring this area of inquiry had been warned away because of the “scientific consensus.” 
What if the self-appointed guardians of existing perceived wisdom had gotten researchers to abandon their investigations for fear of losing university tenure, being scorned by colleagues, or having research funding blocked? 
The biological truth about non-protein-coding DNA might well have never been discerned. Yet these are the very anti-science tactics deployed today to chill scientific challenges to the theory of evolution and the questioning of “consensus” climate change conclusions.

Politicizers of science are not as clever as they think. People are watching, and the real victim of their abuse could be support for science itself. Indeed, the more vehemently establishment thinkers and their media camp followers seek to suppress alternate views and research, the more they attempt to crush ethical debates with the “anti-science” cudgel, the less people who are served by science will trust the sector. And that will be bad for everyone.
Jo Nova was eager to agree that those politicizers and their rent-a-mobs were not as clever as they like to think themselves to be. She had a few things to say too. 
Stand up and “March for Science” 
say people who don’t know what science is

The March for Science [was a few] Saturday [s ago]..
Will J Grant and Rod Lambert struggled with the message behind the “March for Science” at 'The Conversation'. We should march, they said a month ago, because “science is a human process”, which will be news to people who thought science was about evidence and reason instead. On Saturday they  marched for the kind of science that is  “passion” and “belief”.
There's that 'belief' again. They love to use it when it suits them. 
Don’t turn up thinking this is about the dispassionate Laws of Physics. You’ll be at the wrong rally.

Is the March to solve a problem or create one?

The March seems to be fighting strawmen. It is supposedly about “Encouraging scientists to share their research” (as if scientists like to hide their research). 
We know they hide their data, their methods and their adjustments, but when the ABC turns up to interview them, they don’t seem to hide their opinions. They hide their declines  but don’t hide their Nobel Prizes (even if they didn’t get them). Do they need encouragement?

And the March is there, apparently, “affirming science as a vital feature of a working democracy”, who says it isn’t? 
Like voters have been asking for witchdoctors instead? 
Absolutely no one is questioning science’s role in democracy. Science has such an incredible halo, it is considered to be so-above-question that everyone wants to brand their version of reality as “science”. There are no marches for stone-age solutions, no “anti-science” movements (except inadvertently by those who think models produce evidence). 
But those who falsely cloak themselves in the science flag want us to think there is an anti-science movement, so this feeds their own comfortable delusion.

There is major muddying going on here.
What does it mean to “advocate for open and accessible science?” 
These are the same people who fight to the death to prevent heretics from publishing a paper, or from doing a radio interview, or from opening a research centre. The point of including statements like that is to blur the reality for onlookers and fool the puppet marchers. 
It’s just more “fog”.

It’s a march for “robust funding” (give us the money)

Those who can’t discover something useful have to march in the streets instead. The March is one big Pat-on-The-Back for the crusaders for taxpayer funds.

It’s a feel good March: feel good about your IQ
The organisers want Marchers to feel like they have the high ground, the smarts, but check out the advice to the noble superior mind:
"Don’t pick fights (either verbal, physical or metaphorical) with people who you think are dumb, wrong, dangerous or unpleasant."

That ugly sentiment gets repeated (in case you missed it):

But do stick to your guns. [Whatever they are, eh?.] Appealing to broader interests doesn’t have to mean pandering to interests that you think are dumb, wrong, dangerous or just plain unpleasant.

People with a different scientific opinion are obviously dumb, wrong, dangerous or just unpleasant. Plenty of smug warfare going on here.
Grant and Lamberts advice includes telling Marchers “Now is not the time to try to “correct” the misconceptions and “woo” of people who might not be as scientifically informed as you. ” 
He might as well put out a clickbait advertisement for a free booster shot of scientific ego. This march is for the A+  science students who never got A but know they should have. 
Come march with us, we are all so clevah. And they’ll need to be clever if they are going to simultaneously follow his advice and “not correct misconceptions” while they also “stick to their guns”. 
Advice, point 7, is to bring sex workers: 
Publicly embrace others, and get them to embrace you. If anyone should stand out at this march, it’s people who aren’t scientists. Do you know a group of firefighters, senior citizens or sex-workers who’d be prepared to march with signs saying “[non-science group of people] for science”? Give them a call and get them on board. Maybe get them to dress in uniform!

Well of course. You cannot have a public declaration of your moral and scientific purity without some prostitutes along with you. I hope they pay the going hourly rate. 
Lamberts and Grant wrote this article a month ago but openly admit they were struggling to explain why they were marching. 
Don’t miss the clarity in the closer: 
Now get out there
There’s still a bit of time to think about this and get it right. Of course, what “right” means will differ from person to person, so let’s get that clear before rushing out on April 22 and making all kinds of different noises. 
For skeptical scientists, if we were Marching for Science we wouldn’t have to work out what we were marching for with four weeks to go. 
It’s a wonderful feeling to unite with like-minded people, but let’s strive to show we are united for something that non-science people can relate to as well, or we’ll be portrayed as being united against those very same folks. 
So even when you are making “different noises” in a march that no one knows what the mission is, it’s good to unite with “like-minds” — people who are just as confused. 
As for being afraid of being portrayed as being united against “those very same folks” — the Marchers might stop calling them dumb, wrong, dangerous and unpleasant maybe?
 It takes one to know one, as the old saying goes.

I sometimes remind my customers that there are people beyond the hedge that think you are as stupid as they are. 

To those beyond the hedge (and sometimes even to m'self) I say, "Do not believe everything you think".

Have a drink instead.

Pray for the deluded. And the liars.



  1. Preaching to the converted here, [fellow] young man.

    1. Long time since anyone called me 'young ' man. :) I am supposing you are feeling your age at the moment. Decrepitude creeps up.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..