Monday, October 22, 2018

Stupid Mail and Hate Mail

Any "Law of Gravity" that Stephen Hawking or Lawrence Krauss could propose as their creator god would be expressed in mass, time, distance, etc. which are all aspects of the physical universe as people have experienced it and from logical analysis of physical observations.  Any theorized ur-gravity that would have been present "before" the Big Bang couldn't be expressed in those terms because they didn't exist until the Big Bang.   While pure mathematics deals with objects that exist only in the imagination, science deals in things which exist in space, in time and which have properties that are known of and tested through their existence in the known physical universe.  That didn't exist "before" the Big Bang.  I've never even seen anything like a convincing "thing" for that "before".  Even to say "before" is problematic when you're talking about it because time is supposed to have started then, too.

I doubt that that physics or cosmology could come up with such a "thing" or that any proposed "thing" to be that ur-gravity could be meaningfully considered to be  even an imaginary product of scientists, science fiction written in equations.  I can't see that the known laws of physics could be relevant to it.   If someone proposes the existence of such a "thing" is testable by the claimed methods of science, I'd love to know what "things" about it they would propose they test.  I can't even see how they would apply the mathematics of probability to such a "thing".  How would they come up with a means of defining the probability of any of it and how would they know what other aspects of that "thing" they haven't included might be there. How would they know probability - which, itself is a product of our experience of the physical universe of experience - would have held for it?  My guess would be any proposed test of such a thing would not give rise to universal acceptance and would be prone to extreme instability as even a concept.  If you want to call that kind of thing "science" no one can stop you but without verification in the physical universe, I wouldn't believe it.

If any competent person would like to address those assertions, that would be nice for a change.


The citations in Does God Exist?  by Hans Kung cover about 92 densely crammed pages in small print.  None which I've found are of frivolous or pop writers.  You will find it full of some of the foremost writers of atheism and anti-religious criticism.  You can contrast that with the citations in extra-scientific scribblage of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins which is full of citations of the second rate TV writer Douglas Adams and Carl Sagan's pop crap - much of it going back to the light weight, even by Sagan's popular writing standard, crap he produced for Parade Magazine.  For anyone who isn't familiar with Parade, it's stupid and light-weight even by European tabloid crap standards.

The standards of review in academic theology are far higher than they are in the reviewed literature of the social sciences, if Retraction Watch is anything to judge by, and it is, the standards of review in science, in general, are not as sold.

I was stunned a few years back when I was reading about the Marc Hauser scandal how disgustingly lax the standards of review in science can get, considering the claims of rigor and the repute such rigor allegedly supports.  I'd never have dared trying to get away with that level of stuff. I asked a biologist friend who is quite diligent in her work and who has often been asked to review papers about how the reviewers just took Hauser's claims on face value without looking at what was behind his "data,"  the very thing that, when looked at, created the scandal.  She said they never look at that, they take it on trust.  And all of that was going on for years as his own grad-students said they knew something was wrong but they didn't dare say anything for fear of damaging their careers.  I've wondered, once in a while, how much of the science that cited Hauser's discredited publications was ever revised or retracted.  I don't know the answer to that.  I have called Marc Hauser a social-scientist in the past but from what I see, he was, perhaps still is considered an evolutionary biologist.  If that's what scientists considered him, biology will have to take the blame for including what he did in the science of biology for so many years.

So, don't give me the PR lines on that.  Science has let itself go to hell.  It has never been the pristine font of pure knowledge that PR crap claims, it is still as variously virtuous and grubby, rigorous and slip-shod as it always has been.

The first formal discussion of scientific misconduct was published in 1830 by Charles Babbage, who held Newton’s chair at Cambridge and made major contributions to astronomy, mathematics and the development of computers. In Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of Its Causes, Babbage distinguished “several species of impositions that have been practised in science…hoaxing, forging, trimming, and cooking.” An example of “hoaxing” would be the Piltdown man, discovered in 1911 and discredited in 1953; parts of an ape and human skull were combined, supposedly to represent a “missing link” in human evolution. Hoaxes are intended to expose naïveté and credulousness and to mock pseudo wisdom. Unlike most hoaxes, Babbage’s other “impositions” are carried out to advance the perpetrator’s scientific career. “Forging,” which he thought rare, is the counterfeiting of results, today called fabrication. “Trimming” consists of eliminating outliers to make results look more accurate, while keeping the average the same. “Cooking” is the selection of data. Trimming and cooking fall under the modern rubric of “falsification.” Scholarly conventions and standards of scientific probity were probably different in the distant past, yet the feuds, priority disputes and porous notions of scientific truthfulness from previous centuries seem contemporary.

I would note that the "Piltdown" hoax had its uses in anti-religious, specifically anti-Catholic polemics within science, even someone as generally forthright as Stephen Jay Gould used it to pin the scandal on a Catholic priest for reasons I suspected had nothing to do with the evidence, which he stretched too conveneintly.  Even the exposure of scandal can have its less than honest uses.

Update:  I thought later that I should have found some room for the next paragraph in that article I excerpted above, it is quite revealing as to the moral quality of science.

In the late 1960s I was eating lunch in William James Hall with a few fellow assistant professors in the Harvard psychology department when a woman named Patricia Woolf sat down at our table. Unbeknownst to us, Woolf was a pioneer in the study of scientific misconduct. She asked whether we had heard anything about the fabrication of data by one of our colleagues. When we said yes, she asked what we were going to do about it. One of us said something like, “Look, our chairman, Richard Herrnstein, is a war criminal. Why should we worry about T—— making up data?” I guess we didn’t take the issue that seriously. At that time Herrnstein was training pigeons to recognize people and sampans in photographs of jungle foliage. The work was supported by the Limited War Laboratory of the US Army and was done off-campus because Harvard prohibited secret research. (With Charles Murray, Herrnstein would later write The Bell Curve, which made incendiary claims about purported racial differences in intelligence.) Herrnstein subsequently managed to help the miscreant find a job elsewhere, forestalling the possibility of scandal at Harvard.

In the past few decades there have been a number of studies asking scientists at every level of research in a variety of fields, and under the cover of anonymity, whether they had engaged in fabrication, falsification or plagiarism, or had direct evidence of such misconduct by others. Although the results were variable and involved different survey response rates and methodologies, the overall picture is disturbing.

For those who don't understand what a total and dishonest scumbag Charles Murray's co-author of their neo-eugenic book was.   He died before their collaboration came out but if he'd gone on I have no doubt he'd never have been kicked out of science for what he did.  Science, by mutual agreement, exempts itself from moral consideration.  Which would lead a reasoning person to not be surprised that it isn't really, basically troubled by the sleazy stuff scientists do unless it becomes too much of a scandal to be convenient.   Theology doesn't.

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