Monday, October 28, 2013

Total Accuracy As A Requirement For Thee And The Easy Side Order of Double Standard For Me

Recent experiences have led me back to the topic of science, what it is and what it isn't.  The experience was being cooped up with a loud-mouth who said the typical things, taunting me as if I were a biblical literalist, insisting that either the Bible is 100% accurate about everything or it falls before the superior oracle of science. The usual atheist lines about Genesis, Joshua, that kind of old stuff.  If it were not for loud mouthed atheists, I doubt I'd go much into the topic, though there are useful things to be thought on the topic.  And here I have never believed in either the creation account in Genesis or that the sun stopped for Joshua.   Though I see little harm in people believing in either, as long as they don't expect to teach those in public schools.

I felt well enough to point out that if something is either 100% accurate or it falls, then science can't possibly stand since science, at any given time, contains inaccurate, incomplete and outright false ideas that are presented as being temporarily,  "The Truth".

It didn't go down well but the truth is, thus has science always been, thus will it always be.  It does not build a wall of truth extending from the mists of time,to today and onward into the future. Science produces a series of tentative and contingent ideas that are only an approximation of what the nature of the reality sampled through physical evidence.  It is certain that none of it is an absolute and complete representation of that knowledge which recreates the one and only reality in our minds which will stand for all time.  If you want something like that, but not exactly like that, stick with math which can stand for absolute knowledge, if you ignore the entirely human context of that knowledge and what we may not be able to perceive or comprehend.   We talk about "science" as if it were a an independent entity when it is merely an agreement among an informally constituted group of human beings.  Science exists only on the content of that unstated agreement among people, it isn't "a thing," to use that rather superficial term which seems to be getting more use these days.

This is really not different from what some religious people mistake their religion to be, such people are generally considered fundamentalists, as people such as the guy in the next bed had no problem understanding.  But - of course unlike the religious fundamentalist - he knew he had the real and true oracle that can provide absolute knowledge.  In that is, perhaps, an even more invincible ignorance in this superficial and dark age which has made the artificial and human invention of "scientific method" a fundamentalist religion, its professionals and, even more so its popularizers, an infallible priesthood.   Only, not.  Not different at all in how religious fundamentalists view things, only in the objects they react to superstitiously.

The Bible is not a pure urtext edition showing exactly what God dictated to Moses and a series of other Jewish verbatim shorthand takers, it is a collection containing some very inspired text written by human beings with enormous insights but also with the complete human capacity to get things wrong or to have less than truthful intentions in what they are doing.   Some of it, such as the texts establishing the temple,  I strongly suspect were inspired by a priest caste looking to enrich themselves, as, perhaps, the later Prophets may have also suspected.  And it was not written in a time when the standards of history and science asserted in the 19th and 20th centuries were even known, standards which we, today, often breach instead of observe.  As my recent antagonist in this matter did in regard to both science and the history and recent events in science.

As mentioned, science has its own priest caste these days, and they have enormously more power than any religious priests have ever had in our history, with openly corrupt motives to lie.  They have created death and destruction, they have created, literally, the mechanisms that could bring about the end of the world, the human species and many others, at the very least.  No priesthood has ever accomplished anything as depraved as what science has given us.  The New Towers of Bable constructed in the modern world, the armaments industry, the oil and gas industries, the petro-chemical and just chemical industry and many others that are 100% reliant on the scientific priesthood which is from well to fabulously compensated for their efforts.  They lie about the dangers and the very nature of their professions, pointing to the beneficial side of things.   They claim the right to an indulgence from damnation, automatic and far more absolute than any which a Pope sold to medieval royals and nobles.  All of their actions are to be considered sacrosanct and above condemnation because, you see, it's science.  All of the evil done with their sacred and often proprietary revelation must be the work of those satanic legions, the engineers.

But the most hilarious thing about this assertion that, unlike the Bible, science is the sole channel of the truth is that the sci-guys are also always asserting that science is automatically self-correcting, overturning ideas that turn out to not be exactly what they were originally sold as being,  not infrequently entirely wrong and, also not infrequently, the product of outright fraud or incompetence.  It seems to me that as scientific publication has grown enormously in the past sixty or more years, the mechanisms of review, which are supposed to pre-sort the goats from the sheep, has earned our fully informed skepticism.  Science does a crappy job of keeping out false ideas, especially those which are profitable for the scientists peddling them or the companies or entities who pay them.   Have I recommended Retraction Watch recently*?

Rational scientists who aren't emotionally invested in the myth of the utter virtue of scientists and the absolute reliability of science and the total efficacy of its methods - and so the complete reliability of those ideas that constitute "science" at any given moment - don't lie about it being anything other than a totally human product, heir to all of the evils, intentional and inadvertant, which humanity is certain to produce.  To themselves at least.  There would seem to be a smaller percentage of those among scientists than there are religious folk who don't buy the fundamentalist line which is an exact parallel to the romantic view of science. Most religious folks aren't fundamentalists.   And I don't believe a lot of those who push that romantic fiction in either science or religion actually believe that lie, they couldn't if they were at all aware of what their faiths consist of. Many in both camps have an educational background and experience that proves the opposite.

I think their assertions are more like those surrounding another falsely elevated, pampered, flattered and rewarded priesthood, the judiciary, it is a professional danger to tell the truth that they are as open to corruption as any other inbred, invested group of aristocrats and their history is as sordid as any that can be written.  Eventually those lies produce a corruption that is impossible to ignore, risking damage to whatever good those institutions do on behalf of the corrupt motives of those in control of them.  Religion is brought into disrepute by the evil done by its hierarchy.  And I sincerely hope that the massive and increasing corruption of the federal and state judiciaries, up to and including the Berger, Rehnquist and, perhaps most corrupt of all, the Roberts courts, will soon bring an end to the danger that the undue deference to those pose for self-government, democracy, equality and freedom.   But I wouldn't bet on it.   The habits or respect built up during the all to brief Warren Court die hard, especially when surrounded by the liturgical and hierarchical trappings of the courts.   We are such suckers for shows of respectability, especially in a secular context.

But there is no sign that "science," the people who work in and hold science as a religion, is about to even admit the possibility that corruption pervades science.  If you look at the history of those honored with Nobel prizes in science it's a pretty mixed bag.  The motives and results of those discoveries, their existence in the real world outside of laboratories and the pages of scientific journals are not to be considered.  Neither is the fact that some of them are more appropriate candidates for international criminal tribunals than for a ceremony in Stockholm.  No, science honors some pretty putrid people and rewards them for some pretty evil work that they did for that kind of honor and profit.  And few people question that, exempting science and the scientists in which it resides from any kind of moral culpability because, you see, it's science.

The Truth, in a real sense, is what people believe it to be at any given time.  Or at least the truth in so far as it can be talked about and discussed.  Every single thing we can say about the world is the product of what we believe is true at the time we say it.   It is the product of our imaginations, even those things we think about the world which turn out to be accurate.  We couldn't talk about it, otherwise.

And, language being far more than merely a servant of information but of political and social intrigue as well, we can 1. be wrong about its accuracy, 2. be uncomfortable with telling the truth, 3. be consciously dishonest about it out of fear of consequences or in pursuit of personal advantage and gain.  That is the nature of all human discourse, all human thought, all of human social interaction. No one and nothing in our experience can avoid those, not even when, by assertion of a moral code or an intellectual methodology, they attempt to protect against them.  Forgetting that those codes and methods are imperfect and, in fact, don't prevent corruption of what is said makes them potentially far more dangerous for the attempt.  If you want an example of what that can produce, look at the massive crimes in the oil pollution of the Gulf of Mexico and spewing into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima nukes.  It wasn't the engineers alone who created those, they are the products of the reassurances of scientists as well. BP was headed by scientists, fully endowed by fully accredited science faculties at the time of the crime.

*  The headline today is about a retraction of a paper, not due to the quality of the data cited in the paper, but in a dispute over whether or not the authors of the paper stole it from another institution.   Pretty rum bunch, this priesthood of science.   And look, right below that is this story which asks, Can authors republish their own previous work as as review?

For some reason, that last one puts me in mind of something I recently read mentioning that Ann Coulter, in criticizing the conviction of Mark Fuhrman for perjury, backed up her assertion by citing the authority of Mark Fuhrman, convicted perjurer.

Oh, and, look, right below that one is, Sensing a pattern? Pattern Recognition Letters misses rampant plagiarism in modeling paper.   So, scientific review gets it 100% right, again, in an obvious display of analytic expertise in its reported specialty.

And, in old news for this blog, Marc Hauser is being allowed to publish a book, with glowing blurbs from, among others, Michael Shermer while not admitting to his documented misconduct.   In following up on the links, there is this interesting comment from Andrew Gelman:

I would think that, as a psychologist, Hauser would be interested in the psychological phenomenon that he acts as if his theories are so bullet-proof that he can never make a mistake, that somehow publication bestows upon a speculation some permanent air of authority.

But if I start going on about the rampant faith in the value of those promissory notes of materialism, among scientists, especially those which attract blurbs from the likes of Michael Shermer and especially those in the ersatz-sciences,  It will take another thousand words.

Note:  Preempting the remark made by Evelyn Waugh when Randloph Churchill went under the knife, they removed what might be the only benign thing about me.   So, all a lot less dramatic than my old quack presented it to me.   It has slowed me down, so, greatly reduced posting until the stitches disappear.   One thing I can say, convalescence is more painfully boring than getting cut up.   And I haven't touched an instrument in what seems like years. 

1 comment:

  1. I was going to say something about this besides "Welcome Back!" (BTW: Welcome back!), but I had to pass a great stone of a boulder of a blog post that touched (or thought it was going to) on some of what you said.

    And then I'm not sure it did at all. This, I think, is kind of a necessary issue:

    The Truth, in a real sense, is what people believe it to be at any given time. Or at least the truth in so far as it can be talked about and discussed. Every single thing we can say about the world is the product of what we believe is true at the time we say it. It is the product of our imaginations, even those things we think about the world which turn out to be accurate. We couldn't talk about it, otherwise.

    That needs further exploration. Plato was big on truth as some absolute which was knowable, and it has haunted Western culture ever since. Something that needs to be better understood, I think; especially in a post Sartrean world.

    Which does get close to what I finally said elsewhere, but anyway...

    Welcome Back!