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Friday, June 03, 2016

Science, Faith and Little Gods

In my opinion, many relevant questions and problems are so complex, often containing mountains of conflicting, orthogonal, and only partially relevant information, that no human or group of humans can or will ever be able to understand the problems, much less "solve" them. One large class of such problems are those which involve the interaction of science (especially "soft" sciences like social science and the "dismal science" that is economics) with politics/policy. Even if the science produces knowledge with a high degree of accuracy and confidence, how that knowledge affects the 7+ billion people inhabiting earth and how to optimize policy to take into account their dreams, desires, preferences and fears is an insurmountably difficult task.

I often cringe when I hear folks say things like, "because scientists/economists/experts say so, we should enact certain policies and anybody who disagrees is clearly stupid, ignorant and/or a denier of science." One of the most famous quotes along those lines is by Richard Dawkins:

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).
Science has been used to amass the evidence and knowledge upon which theories of evolution have been built. Those theories in turn, are works in progress, like most scientific knowledge, and will continue to be updated and refined over time. Evolution is a good example of the scientific method in action and may even be closely related to the actual explanation of the trajectory of the biosphere during the existence of life on this planet. But that isn't enough for Dawkins - I'm required to "believe in" evolution and I simply don't.

Now I want to introduce a term (from dictionary.com):
scientism/ˈsaɪənˌtɪzəm/
noun
the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation
I'm also going to add my (non-standard) definition and assume when I use the word below that I'm referring to this definition:
the belief that a large percentage of all personal and collective decisions should be based on science and/or analyses of empirical evidence
Note that the two definitions are not in conflict.

Evolution provides a good example. It's science to build theories like evolution. It's scientism to insist that people "believe in" the theory or even that this particular theory ought to be taught in schools. I realize that the latter half of the previous sentence is a very contentious statement, but ask yourself this: given that only a tiny fraction of useful science is taught in school (there's simply not enough time to teach it all), why is it so important that that particular bit of science be taught to the exclusion of something else? And note I'm not talking about DNA, RNA, genetic encoding of information and inheritance, and all of the other knowledge that's loosely related to evolution, I'm only talking about evolution, which, by itself, really isn't particularly useful for much of anything at all.

It's science to explore the relationship between the diffusion of various isotopes of oxygen and the diffusion of heat in ice cores from Antarctica in order to be able to put error bars on the historical temperature record in that locale. It's scientism to create laws that restrict people from discussing skepticism regarding the impact of global warming. It's also scientism to tell people how to live in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

It's science to understand genetic inheritance via DNA. It's scientism to decide to create a eugenics program in order to improve human genetics as has been done in the past.

It's science (sort of) to create models that retroactively can predict economic trends and events. It's scientism to craft policies with wide impact based on those models.

In other words, scientism is a quasi-religious view that takes scientific knowledge and strives to make it the basis of societal organization. Remember those dreams, desires, preferences, and fears I mentioned above? Nuh uh, not allowed or at least heavily discounted by scientismists (those that use scientism) as the basis for their outlook. Of course, I rather suspect that whatever the scientismists' preferences are just happen to align with that which they happen learn from science.

Since these problems are complex beyond human capacity for comprehension, scientism can be thought of as sort of a "folk-science" that relies on networks of people with similar beliefs:
There are many religious views that are not the product of common-sense ways of seeing the world. Consider the story of Adam and Eve, or the virgin birth of Christ, or Muhammad ascending to heaven on a winged horse. These are not the product of innate biases. They are learned, and, more surprisingly, they are learned in a special way. 
To come to accept such religious narratives is not like learning that grass is green or that stoves can be hot; it is not like picking up stereotypes or customs or social rules. Instead, these narratives are acquired through the testimony of others, from parents or peers or religious authorities. Accepting them requires a leap of faith, but not a theological leap of faith. Rather, a leap in the mundane sense that you must trust the people who are testifying to their truth. [...] 
Many religious narratives are believed without even being understood. People will often assert religious claims with confidence—there exists a God, he listens to my prayers, I will go to Heaven when I die—but with little understanding, or even interest, in the details. The sociologist Alan Wolfe observes that “evangelical believers are sometimes hard pressed to explain exactly what, doctrinally speaking, their faith is,” and goes on to note that “These are people who believe, often passionately, in God, even if they cannot tell others all that much about the God in which they believe.” 
People defer to authorities not just to the truth of the religious beliefs, but their meaning as well. In a recent article, the philosopher Neil Van Leeuwen calls these sorts of mental states “credences,” and he notes that they have a moral component. We believe that we should accept them, and that others—at least those who belong to our family and community—should accept them as well. 
None of this is special to religion. Researchers have studied those who have strong opinions about political issues and found that they often literally don’t know what they are talking about. Many people who take positions on cap and trade, for instance, have no idea what cap and trade is. Similarly, many of those who will insist that America spends too much, or too little, on foreign aid, often don’t know how much actually is spent, as either an absolute amount or proportion of GDP. These political positions are also credences, and one who holds them is just like someone who insists that the Ten Commandments should be the bedrock of morality, but can’t list more than three or four of them. [...] 
Many scientific views endorsed by non-specialists are credences as well. Some people reading this will say they believe in natural selection, but not all will be able to explain how natural selection works. (As an example, how does this theory explain the evolution of the eye?) It turns out that those who assert the truth of natural selection are often unable to define it, or, worse, have it confused with some long-rejected pre-Darwinian notion that animals naturally improve over time.

But much of what’s in our heads are credences, not beliefs we can justify—and there’s nothing wrong with this. Life is too brief; there is too much to know and not enough time. We need epistemological shortcuts.

Given my day job, I know something about psychology and associated sciences, but if you press me on the details of climate change, or the evidence about vaccines and autism, I’m at a loss. I believe that global warming is a serious problem and that vaccines do not cause autism, but this is not because I have studied these issues myself.

It is because I trust the scientists.
And there's the rub. I'm an extremely untrusting person and I don't trust scientists either. I especially don't trust people advocating for various policies and as soon as a scientist or group of scientists do that, I simply don't trust anything they say. In other words, I have no "faith" in them.

That's not to say I don't ever rely on experts. As Arnold Kling points out, we are all hugely dependent on expertise in this day and age:
I have faith in experts. Every time I go to the store, I am showing faith in the experts who design, manufacture, and ship products. 
Every time I use the services of an accountant, an attorney, or a dentist, I am showing faith in their expertise. Every time I donate to a charity, I am showing faith in the expertise of the organization to use my contributions effectively. 
In fact, I would say that our dependence on experts has never been greater. It might seem romantic to live without experts and instead to rely solely on your own instinct and know-how, but such a life would be primitive.
Once again, the problem is when expertise is linked to politics and power:
Expertise becomes problematic when it is linked to power. First, it creates a problem for democratic governance. The elected officials who are accountable to voters lack the competence to make well-informed decisions. And, the experts to whom legislators cede authority are unelected. The citizens who are affected by the decisions of these experts have no input into their selection, evaluation, or removal. 
A second problem with linking expertise to power is that it diminishes the diversity and competitive pressure faced by the experts. 
A key difference between experts in the private sector and experts in the government sector is that the latter have monopoly power, ultimately backed by force. The power of government experts is concentrated and unchecked (or at best checked very poorly), whereas the power of experts in the private sector is constrained by competition and checked by choice. Private organizations have to satisfy the needs of their constituents in order to survive. Ultimately, private experts have to respect the dignity of the individual, because the individual has the freedom to ignore the expert.
Because of the power, I call scientismists with access to political power "Little Gods." Most have at least a bit of a "Savior Complex," that is the need to change society to help people. That sounds like a good thing but there are some inherent problems with it. The first problem is that there is a fine line between he who helps people who may not even be particularly interested in that help and a meddlesome busybody. But the main problem is that they are playing god.

There is no policy ever that helps everybody. There are always winners and losers with every change and the Little God therefore actively creates losers. The Little God decides that hurting one person or group to help another is worth it and that is a position of great responsibility and power - in other words, the power of a Little God.

When they do so "Because Science!" they've turned science completely into a religion in service of being a Little God.

92 comments:

Hey Skipper said...

[Dawkins quote:] It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).

Ironically, the reason-based community often sounds just as creationist as those they, and Dawkins, love to hate: those clinging bitterly to reason.

I'll bet all feminists, progressive all, believe in evolution, and insist it stopped at the neckline. Although, come to think of it, they are all pretty much ignorant, stupid and insane. So maybe Dawkins is on to something.

Now I want to introduce a term (from dictionary.com):

I know I'm probably going to get in trouble again for quibbling with definitions, but IMHO scientism is also cargo-cultism. Doing sciencey stuff, with lab coats and mathifying and statisticing and stuff, is what is required to produce Science!™

Yes, Bill Nye, I'm looking at you. And you, too, Neil Tyson. Selective filtering of data to substantiate a preconceived conclusion isn't science, it is a cargo-cult masquerade.

Evolution provides a good example. It's science to build theories like evolution. It's scientism to insist that people "believe in" the theory or even that this particular theory ought to be taught in schools.

You are right about the latter half of that sentence.

Pick something really obvious: the moon landings. Is it scientism to insist people believe they actually occurred? Or that the theory that moon landings actually occurred be taught in school?

I'll bet you go with no on both, because overwhelming evidence excludes any conclusion other than that they happened, and the theory the moon landings occurred amounts to, in effect, a matter of history.

Is it scientism to teach the theory of the moon landings in school?

Because the actual workings of DNA are still so mysterious (and, IMHO, getting more so the more we learn), I think it is impossible to say just how it is that life changes over time. However, it is far less of a stretch to comprehensively address first order knowledge and from that develop second order knowledge — the theory of evolution — and make a claim that natural history is explainable without recourse to immaterial agency.

So if secondary schools are to teach science, which is mostly a history class providing examples of how rational inquiry works, how is it scientism to include evolution?

Bret said...

Hey Skipper asks: "Is it scientism to teach the theory of the moon landings in school?"

No. And it's not scientism to teach the theory of evolution either.

It's scientism to insist that the theory of evolution be taught.

erp said...

Skipper, what made you change your view of Tyson?

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] It's scientism to insist that the theory of evolution be taught.

Then you have to explain to me why it is that it is scientism to teach the theory of evolution, but it isn't when teaching Copernican theory instead of Ptolemaic. Or, for that matter, every astronomical discovery since the invention of the telescope.

[erp:] Skipper, what made you change your view of Tyson?

IIRC, my view of Tyson is that he was qualified for being the head dude what's in charge of New York's Planetarium. Nothing I have read since has changed that.

However, he badly, as in Eagar badly, misquoted Pres. Bush. As in completely mangled meaning and intent.

And, when called on it, he quibbled, caviled, whinged, whimpered and prevaricated (that's all I could think of without resorting to the Thesaurus).

Sorry. Claiming the mantle of rational inquiry, then discarding it the moment it gets in the way of The Narrative, is a total fail.

erp said...

Tyson was installed at the Hayden Planetarium, one of my favorite places in the world where I spent a lot of time as a young person at the Museum of Natural History, for the same reason Obama was installed in the White House. Any criticism can be dismissed as racism, also Tyson is smoothly handsome and charming and a great asset at fund raising which is the major piece of work for his position.

He is however a real jerk and if you watched "Cosmos, TNG," you will be bowled over by errors even I with the most cursory knowledge of astronomy, picked up within minutes.

Isn't it odd Harry hasn't jumped in to set us straight about Bernie, Hillary and the Donald?

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "...why it is that it is scientism to teach the theory of evolution..."

I already wrote "... it's not scientism to teach the theory of evolution ..." so I'm not sure what you're getting at.

Hey Skipper said...

I'm getting at this: It's scientism to insist that the theory of evolution be taught.

Schools insist on teaching Copernican theory. Why is that not also scientism?

Peter said...

One reason is that Copernican theory is based largely on observations of the here and now. Point your telescope upwards, do some arcane calcs and Bob's your uncle. Evolution is basically a historical account of how we travelled a very twisted and complex road from a distant past to today.

The word evolution is used in two senses, with much resulting confusion (some intentional), heightened by the fact it has become a widely believed theory in the popular mind among people who are untroubled by the fact they don't or can't assess it critically. On the one hand, the word is used simply to describe the historical development of the phylogenic record and the genetic affinities we observe, which suggest common sources. This is science proper and is offensive only to biblical literalists who see scripture as some kind of alternative, competing natural history. It is not unfair to label these people as science-deniers and I assume many of them wouldn't object too strongly to the charge. The word is also used as a synonym for Darwinism, i.e. a description of the engine that drove/drives this process. It's proponents, especially the ones who worry about book sales, argue or infer that the process was random, undirected and meaningless, an untestable assertion which merits the description scientism if it is advanced as a scientifically proven fact.

There are many serious, reasoned objections to Darwinism as an all-purpose, all-encompassing historical explanation of life and its progression, especially (but not only) as it relates to human subjectivity and experience. However, it's popular advocates (including presumably most high school science teachers) prefer to present it as the one and only alternative theory to biblical literalism, low-hanging fruit indeed. There was a shrewdness to Dawkins's placing his arguments in dramatic counterpoint to those of American fundamentalists. It explains both his wild popularity a decade ago and his consequent steady fall to kook status among serious thinkers who have had time to reflect.

Americans may not be aware of how American this controversy is and how it is tied so closely to U.S. constitutional politics and religious controversies that have been around since the Revolution. Most of the rest of the world seems to be unengaged by it all past their undergraduate years, with the majority of students seeing Darwinism as about as exciting and gripping as the riveting tale of phloem and xylem.

erp said...

... Skipper, a quick search of scientific theory zeroes in on the problem. A theory, according to my understanding of the word, confirmed by Merriam-Webster is a hypothesis, thesis, conjecture, supposition, speculation, postulation, postulate, proposition, premise, surmise, assumption, presupposition.

IOW a theory is not a proven fact, however, the word has been co-opted by the master semanticists, especially in the social sciences including the media, to prove whatever nonsense is currently in vogue.

… Peter, The fundies would do well to revise their theories a bit so that the days of week G*d took to create the universe were not of the 24-hour variety with which we are familiar, but could have lasted billions of what we call years. In that way their theories and those of astronomers might not be that far apart. 

BTW- your comment is “spot on.”

Peter said...

Thank you, erp. Actually, I think the fundies should just be left alone. No matter how hard they try to find consistencies between scripture and science, and many very bright types among them try, the game is rigged against them. Here's how:

One of the most noxious characteristics of modern scientism is the insistence that any scientific theory, no matter how implausible, untested, counterintuitive or even downright loopy can only be challenged by a full-blown alternative scientific theory and that, until such emerges, it merits credence among us little people in the court of modern epistemology. This ultimately is a measure of faith that would impress a 17th century Jesuit. Intuitive knowledge, past scientific false starts, experience, history, tradition, common sense and certainly testimonies of faith just won't cut it. Before our Skipper got wise, he used to go on about something called "first order evidence" that trumped all other kinds no matter whether the issue was predicting eclipses, explaining genocide or accounting for poetry. Dawkins is a master of this, demanding material evidence of the immaterial to challenge his theories even though they themselves are beyond the purview of materialism themselves. This is the reason we can't go a day without reading how science has "discovered" some mundane fact nobody ever doubted, like teenaged girls tend to fret about boys and exams. Grandmother may have known all that with unshakeable conviction, but today we need confirmation from the scientific Delphi. Never mind that, with less literal timelines, the Genesis account is astoundingly close to scientific accuracy for a bunch of pre-historic patriarchs making up tall tales around the campfire to cement their socioeconomic control. If it isn't confirmed by the materialist priesthood, it counts for naught.

Nevertheless, I'd be careful of being too dogmatic about the fact/theory dichotomy. Evolution and especially Darwinism are histories and as such will always be technically theories, because they can't be observed and tested in real time. But their comes a point where the two concepts merge. Imagine two historians of antiguity--one says Rome declined because of inflation and the other says it was moral flabbiness. These are both theories and will remain so no matter what the "scientific consensus" thinks or believes. All well and good, but then somebody on the fringes comes along to argue that the very existence of the Roman Empire is "just a theory". This is the trick Holocaust deniers and Truthers try to use. There be intellectual dragons. To dismiss all of evolutionary biology as just theory is a kind of knownothingism.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Yes, there is the difference that evolution is historic and Copernican theory predictive. I should have picked a better example. Teaching evolution is scientism in the same sense that teaching plate tectonics is.

It's proponents, especially the ones who worry about book sales, argue or infer that the process was random, undirected and meaningless, an untestable assertion which merits the description scientism if it is advanced as a scientifically proven fact.

Not quite. If there is no evidence of external direction — and there isn't — then that counts as evidence there isn't. Sometimes absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence. Presuming there is no external direction by definition excludes meaning from the process.

Within the realm of rational inquiry those are completely logical deductions; it would be an inversion of the scientific method to impose that for which there is no evidence. (BTW, I'm not aware of anyone who thinks evolution is purely random.)

Just like evolution, Plate tectonics is completely historical. And, just like evolution, it appears to be undirected and meaningless. And there is no arguing that plate tectonics affects evolution.

So why is teaching evolution and example of scientism, while teaching plate tectonics isn't?

I think the answer you are reaching for is that some people are offended by the insistence on teaching it. But the offense caused by a scientific theory isn't part of "scientism's" definition.

There are many serious, reasoned objections to Darwinism as an all-purpose, all-encompassing historical explanation of life and its progression, especially (but not only) as it relates to human subjectivity and experience.

Fair enough, but I don't know that anyone poses Darwinism — in the sense you mean it — as the be-all and end-all explanation.

[erp:] Skipper, a quick search of scientific theory zeroes in on the problem.

This is why I was doing some definitional quibbling above. Scientism uses the trappings of science to make categorical claims based on the trappings of authority.

Teaching evolution isn't scientism.

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.

By that standard, evolution and plate tectonics are both scientific theories. They are both incomplete (by definition, all theories are incomplete), but they are both well-substantiated explanations.

Where scientism is really an issue is in AGW. It is scientism on steroids, and its manifold abuses threaten science's reputation.

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] One of the most noxious characteristics of modern scientism is the insistence …

Outside of climate "science" can you give me an example?

Before our Skipper got wise, he used to go on about something called "first order evidence" that trumped all other kinds no matter whether the issue was predicting eclipses, explaining genocide or accounting for poetry.

I beg to differ. Some problems are amenable to rational inquiry, others are not. The distinction is the existence of first order evidence. You attribute to me an argument about primacy when my point was ontological.

Evolution and especially Darwinism are histories and as such will always be technically theories, because they can't be observed and tested in real time.

Not quite. Because naturalistic evolution qualifies as a scientific theory, it has attendant deductive consequences, more of which, thanks to DNA sequencing, are becoming testable.

Example: If evolution is correct, then chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor. Unique among mammals, neither chimps or humans can synthesize vitamin C. So if the common ancestor claim is correct, then the mutation must be in the same place in both chimps and humans.

Absent evolutionary theory, there is no reason to make that claim. It's truth is vital to evolutionary theory's continued validity. That makes it a deductive consequence.

Having sequenced both human and chimp DNA, the deductive consequence has been satisfied.

erp said...

Peter, below is what I meant by semantics and the social "sciences."

Imagine two historians of antiguity--one says Rome declined because of inflation and the other says it was moral flabbiness. These are both theories and will remain so no matter what the "scientific consensus" thinks or believes.

There are, I believe, still flat worlders out there even though we have pictures from space of the spherical world on which we live. Of course, you and I know, those are photoshopped, but we'll just play along.

The odd thing about fundies is that they are so close philosophically to Islam. Lying to and cheating non-believers seems to by okay with their G*d. The first couple of times we were snookered by them, we couldn't believe it and thought it was a coincidence/failure to communicate, but after being cheated big time a half dozen times (we're slow learners), we are now righteous believers that our best bet is to stay far away from fundies.

Peter said...

Wow. Too many one sentence pronouncements from on high, Skipper. I'll have to be selective:

If there is no evidence of external direction — and there isn't — then that counts as evidence there isn't.

You can't mean no evidence, you must be using evidence as a synonym for proof and defining it in selectively. Either that or you've only been reading popular novels for thirty years. The cosmological constant, the hard anthropic principle, the fine-tuning of the physical laws, the fantastic odds against the random, spontaneous appearance of life, an astoundingly complex cellular, atomic and sub-atomic structure, the fact that the universe is racing from somewhere to somewhere and is grounded in time, the absence of life elsewhere despite massive searching over decades, etc., etc. are all evidence of some kind of design. And that's just material physical evidence without even delving into issues/mysteries of life and subjective human experience and consciousness that Darwinism can't explain without tautological just-so stories, starting with the observation that nobody lives as if their lives are random and meaningless. There's also lots of evidence pointing away from teleology. If you find the latter more persuasive, bully for you, but you can't say there is no evidence against your belief.

Where scientism is really an issue is in AGW. It is scientism on steroids

I don't get that. To me, scientism is a dogmatic belief that only one type of evidence is authoritative and all others are unreliable or even superstitious. It's not a synonym for bad or unproven science. AGW is basically a prediction where presently observed selective measurements are projected forward with many factors held constant and faith in the computer program. If it's wrong, it will join many previous scientific doomsday theories like Malthusianism, resource depletion, peak oil, etc. But what would that have to do with scientism? What non-scientific evidence is being excluded? It's basically a dust-up among scientific materialists. If anything, the impulse to impending catastrophe is redolent of religious millennialism of yore and undercuts their loyalty to science and its method.

erp:

I think I understand. A few years ago we were driving through East Tennessee and came across the biggest, most garish and offensive Triple-X porn mart I'd ever seen, right in the midst of a suburban community. It was the size of a small Walmart. On the adjoining land was the highest, thickest, whiteist cross I'd ever seen, placed strategically to shame and save souls next door. I remember having two thoughts. The first was that, if this were my community, I'd be with the fundies trying to get rid of the horror by any lawful means. The second was I'd probably enjoy lunch with the pornmeister more. :-)

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] You can't mean no evidence, you must be using evidence as a synonym for proof and defining it in selectively. Either that or you've only been reading popular novels for thirty years. The cosmological constant, the hard anthropic principle, the fine-tuning of the physical laws …

The example of scientism was the teaching of evolution. The problem space in question is that of evolution.

You said: It's proponents, especially the ones who worry about book sales, argue or infer that the process [i.e. evolution] was random, undirected and meaningless, an untestable assertion which merits the description scientism if it is advanced as a scientifically proven fact.

Every instance of evidence for design — very powerful, by the way — is completely outside evolution's problem space. I am happy to take as read that every example you have chosen is proof positive that the universe was designed. Fine. Evolution is still, based upon the evidence within the theory's problem space, random, undirected, and meaningless.

In other words, given that the universe exists in the first place (for which your shoutouts are absolutely essential), once life gets started, naturalistic evolution's sine qua non is that no further exogenous inputs are required to get where we are today. But evolutionary theory has no need, any more than does thermodynamics, of containing an explanation of those fundamental constants. Should we be discussing why does anything exist, then fine. But for anything beyond that, those constants are axiomatic.

That is why I insist that the teaching of evolution is emphatically not an example of scientism. Evolutionary theory is the product of rational inquiry, properly applied. Of course there are caveats: no one has anything like a remotely plausible hypothesis about how life started (anticipating your objection: that, too, is outside the problem space of evolutionary theory). Our ignorance of how DNA works is only slightly less than total.

But acknowledging those caveats has absolutely no impact upon the subject in question. Given the first order information in hand, then the second order information follows.

Hey Skipper said...

[HS:] Where scientism is really an issue is in AGW. It is scientism on steroids

[Peter:] I don't get that. To me, scientism is a dogmatic belief that only one type of evidence is authoritative and all others are unreliable or even superstitious.


That is why I got picky about the definition. IMHO, scientism is the adoption of science's (NB: science is such a loaded term I should use "rational inquiry" instead.) trappings, but not its rigor, to imbue otherwise poorly evidenced assertions with scientific authority.

My point is epistemological. Rational inquiry is a theory of knowledge. In order to be within the problem space of rational inquiry, first order knowledge is essential. That doesn't mean rational inquiry is the only source of knowledge — perhaps not even Dawkins is foolish enough to assert that. Rather, it means that assertions that do not rely upon first order knowledge are outside the problem space of rational inquiry.

It is not scientism to assert that theories deriving from, and confined to, first order knowledge are as authoritative as it is possible to be. It is scientism to take the trappings of rational inquiry and, in the absence of first order knowledge, use them instead as a mantle of authority.

The ability to decide between mutually exclusive statements is directly tied to the amount of first order knowledge embedded in those statements.

A pair of glasses on the floor. Art? (Perhaps overemphasizing the obvious, just because there is contradictory evidence in that regard does not mean Art does not exist; rather, it means that art is a subject outside rational inquiry's problem space.)

AGW is basically a prediction where presently observed selective measurements are projected forward with many factors held constant and faith in the computer program. If it's wrong, it will join many previous scientific doomsday theories like Malthusianism, resource depletion, peak oil, etc. But what would that have to do with scientism?

At the risk of repeating myself again, catastrophic AGW is scientism because it is cargo-cult science: it has the trappings of science, but none of the requisites.

Remember what I said about deductive consequences above?

What (other than circular logic) must be true in order for AGW to be true? What deductive consequences must follow? Unlike plate tectonics and evolution, AGW claims for itself extensive predictive powers.

Fine. What is the track record of AGW predictions that should have come to fruition by, say, 2020.

I propose a game, with two teams: Denialists and Catastrophists.

Here is how it is played. Track down a prediction, say Hansen about sea level. Team Denialist wins if reality was closer to stasis, and Team Catastrophy wins otherwise.

Score one for Team Denialist.

I'm willing to bet that every AGW prediction that can be assessed in 2016 will be a score for Team Denialist.

Yet Team Catastrophe continues to claim the mantle of Science! so shutup.

That, right there, is scientism.

Peter said...

Granted I slipped from biology to physics and cosmology, but isn't it bizarre to assert there is evidence of purpose in the construct of the universe but that life is just a random, meaningless, undirected accident?

Whether evolution "needs" anything depends on what it is trying to explain or account for. Evolutionary biology and psychology are, like Marxism and Freudianism, determinisms. As such, they assert our lives are the product of external, objective forces we are unaware of. They offer some insights that resonate with experience, but prove lacking as all-encompassing theories. What defeats all determinisms is not so much error as overreach (not to mention incompatibility with other determinisms). If they are simply trying to explain genetic history and progressions, perhaps, because we can conceive our genes developing by way of unguided processes we are unaware of. But if they are trying to account for all aspects of human consciousness and behaviors, they can't despite intense and valiant efforts. It is certainly fair and reasonable to assert that science has "proven" natural history is the product of natural laws and processes, but that's not the same as saying we fall in and out of love, write symphonies and seek vengeance on our enemies for genetically-programmed reasons.

BTW, aren't you a bit out of date, Mr. Scopes? Isn't the battle in most places to resist teaching alternatives to evolution, or even critiques of it?

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] Granted I slipped from biology to physics and cosmology, but isn't it bizarre to assert there is evidence of purpose in the construct of the universe but that life is just a random, meaningless, undirected accident?

No.

You have implicitly reoriented the universe to align with your position in it, so as to conclude that the universe's reason for existence is life on Earth.

Given all those astonishingly fine-tuned constants, my assertion is that they are the way they are so as to produce an unimaginable proliferation of galaxies. That life occasionally — if that often — occurs is just as likely to be a bug as a feature.

So long as we are sticking to rational inquiry, and concerning ourselves with what belongs in the problem space of evolution, then your imposition of the conditions necessary for the universe's existence upon natural history on Earth is a matter of philosophical preference, not rational inquiry.

Evolutionary biology and psychology are, like Marxism and Freudianism, determinisms.

I'm not sure what you mean by evolutionary biology, and evolutionary psychology is an intrusion at this point.

Presuming naturalistic evolution correctly, if incompletely, explains the change in life over time, then it can't possibly be deterministic. How could it possibly be otherwise? The explanation, came after the phenomena, not before it.

It is certainly fair and reasonable to assert that science has "proven" natural history is the product of natural laws and processes, but that's not the same as saying we fall in and out of love, write symphonies and seek vengeance on our enemies for genetically-programmed reasons.

I think you take modest determinism too far.

I cannot react to the world the way Rusty The Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog does: that is genetically determined. As a male, I can't react to the world the same way women do. Women will never commit crimes at anything remotely approaching the rate men do. That, too, is genetically determined.

That is modest determinism.

Beyond that lies, depending on vociferousness, speculation shading to scientism.

Isn't the battle in most places to resist teaching alternatives to evolution, or even critiques of it?

I have no earthly idea. I stopped paying attention almost immediately after Kitzmiller.

My point is that scientism is not, cannot be, the teaching of where rational inquiry has gotten us, regardless of the realm. It is not scientism to teach quantum mechanics, despite it being so weird that no one really understands it. Similarly, it isn't scientism to teach the current understanding of plate tectonics or evolution.

What is scientism is tarting up empty assertions as the products of rational inquiry merely on account of sciencey trappings and appeals to authority.

erp said...

... hey boys, isn't this where we came in Judd-wise????

Peter said...

Yes, and some things haven't changed. Skipper observes dispassionately and makes rational conclusions therefrom. Peter imposes conditions on the universe and reorients it to align with his preferences.

erp said...

... luckily you have an old nanny on board to keep you young rascals in line. Play nice or no dessert.

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "BTW, aren't you a bit out of date, Mr. Scopes? Isn't the battle in most places to resist teaching alternatives to evolution..."

I think that's yes and no. I think that those districts that simply didn't want to teach evolution were overridden.

Evolution is science, teaching evolution is science, but insisting that it be taught even though there's a huge amount of other science that could be taught instead, is where scientism comes in. Dawkins and huge numbers of other scientists dogmatically say that evolution must be taught no matter what. That's dogma. That's scientism.

Then the reaction was, "well, at least let's teach other creation explanations as alternatives." Those other explanations are definitely NOT science so that's not really a very good solution.

Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] ... hey boys, isn't this where we came in Judd-wise????

No, I don't think so.

Scientism is a thing, but it isn't the thing Peter and Bret think it is. Otherwise, they have no word for actual scientism.

Example: About 10 years ago, the National Institutes of Health, through statistical legerdemain, declared second hand cigarette smoke a health hazard, thereby greatly expanding the scope of anti-smoking regulations. That is scientism: adopting the trappings of science (essentially a version of a argumentum ad verecundiam, argument by authority) in order to impose a pre-conceived conclusion.

Another example: A University of Michigan study that shows marriage causes women seven additional hours of housework per week, but only an hour for men. They got to that conclusion by excluding every bit of work men typically do. Data juggled to achieve the pre-ordained conclusion is scientism.

In contrast, Evolution is science, teaching evolution is science, but insisting that it be taught even though there's a huge amount of other science that could be taught instead, is where scientism comes in. is mis-applying the concept.

In most, if not all secondary schools, the science sequence is biology, chemistry, physics. In teaching biology, it is not scientism to rather insist that skipping over the fundamental theory of biology -- how it got to be the way it is -- is a willful act of ignorance. It isn't scientism because it has nothing to do with adopting the rituals of science without the substance in order to provide imprimatur to a preconceived conclusion.

(Yes, I know I'm on record against arguing by analogy, but here goes anyway.) US History is taught in high school. Assume a substantial number of parents in a southern school district don't want the students exposed to civil war, reconstruction, or Jim Crow. Is it "historicism" to strongly suggest that is a willful act of ignorance that shouldn't be indulged?

I get local control of schools, and I certainly get not teaching certain things (sex ed, whatever the latest mathematics horror show might be) over parent objections. But it isn't at all clear to me how that should extend to elements of a field of study that would be glaring in their absence.

However, regardless of what the answer to that problem might be, it is isn't scientism to insist on teaching the current understanding of natural history. Now that I think of it, the conceptual problem is here: ...insisting that it be taught even though there's a huge amount of other science that could be taught instead ...

Does that mean it isn't scientism to teach evolution where the subject isn't controversial, but it is where people object?

If that is true, then scientism has nothing whatsoever to do with science; instead it is really another term for hecklers' veto.

Peter said...

That is scientism: adopting the trappings of science (essentially a version of a argumentum ad verecundiam, argument by authority) in order to impose a pre-conceived conclusion.

That's not what the word means, Skipper. That may describe bad, sloppy or even dishonest science, but it's not scientism. Scientism is when somebody claims there are no reliable truths in Shakespeare's plays because they haven't been tested by the scientific method.

erp said...

... Peter, I am second to none in my admiration for Shakespeare's ability to write stunningly accurate and beautifully crafted sentences describing the human condition -- the St James bible does a good job of that too, but science it ain't.

It well may be "social science," but the use of the word is about all that ties the two together which is why I am suspect of all studies, etc. which purport to prove one theory or another.

Science is seeking the truth through empherical, i.e. based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic evidenced by our own Clovis, Einstein, Newton, poor old Copernicus ...

erp said...

Skipper, I hope not. I still miss old Duck, of course, but Brit, David and Oro too. Once in while I check out BJ, but there doesn't seem to be the old fire there anymore. It's like everybody is just speaking their lines without much conviction.

Peter said...

This is getting very confusing. Nobody is suggesting Shakespeare is science. The issue is whether he should be considered as an authority on anything in spite of his writings not being science.

erp said...

Peter, who considers Shakespeare an authority on anything other than the artful use of the English language?

erp said...

... Sorry for another typo above. The word is, empirical. Perhaps we could have an edit function for the aged & addled among us.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "...fundamental theory of biology -- how it got to be the way it is ..."

Evolution is neither the fundamental theory of biology (except, of course, to scientismists) nor, since it's a theory, is it how it got to be the way it is. It may be close, it may be a good set of steps towards objective truth, but it is emphatically NOT "how it got to be the way it is." Too many holes that will have to be fixed before it even has a chance to be objective truth.

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] That's not what the word means, Skipper. That may describe bad, sloppy or even dishonest science, but it's not scientism.

Wow. I don't have very many talents, but a nearly photographic memory for words might qualify. I almost never use a word incorrectly.

This would not be one of those times.

From the link, and reading just a bit further than the headline:

Scientism may refer to science applied "in excess". The term scientism can apply in either of two senses:

1. To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims. This usage applies equally in contexts where science might not apply, such as when the topic is perceived as beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, and in contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify a scientific conclusion. It includes an excessive deference to claims made by scientists or an uncritical eagerness to accept any result described as scientific. This can be a counterargument to appeals to scientific authority. It can also address the attempt to apply "hard science" methodology and claims of certainty to the social sciences, which Friedrich Hayek described in The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) as being impossible, because that methodology involves attempting to eliminate the "human factor", while social sciences (including his own field of economics) center almost purely on human action.


So, near as I can tell, exactly the usage I pedantically insisted upon.

To be entirely fair, the second sense addresses your assertion:

2. To refer to "the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry", or that "science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective" with a concomitant "elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience"

However, to be completely entirely fair, since usage number two is an instance of making an empirical claim for which there is no empirical evidence, then it is merely an elaboration of the first sense of the term.

To wit: Scientism is when somebody claims there are no reliable truths in Shakespeare's plays because they haven't been tested by the scientific method.

Isn't scientism in the sense you claim, but rather in the sense I claim. Mr. (or Ms., Xhe, Xer, etc.) is, in effect, asserting that the set of non-empirical truth claims is empty. Which puts Mr. (or Ms ...) Somebody in the unfortunate position of not only having to prove a negative, but also in the even less enviable position of explaining why Quantum Mechanics, which is, near as I can tell, where truth claims go to die isn't, itself, true.



Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] Skipper, I hope not. I still miss old Duck, of course, but Brit, David and Oro too.

Brit tried a web publishing venture which was quite good, but being quite good (and, as for Brit, by far the best writer -- other than my daughter -- I have ever met.) doesn't look like being good enough. David seems to have gotten too busy, and Oro vanished.

[Peter:] This is getting very confusing. Nobody is suggesting Shakespeare is science. The issue is whether he should be considered as an authority on anything in spite of his writings not being science.

[erp:] Peter, who considers Shakespeare an authority on anything other than the artful use of the English language?


Shakespeare hasn't lasted this long because he had nothing to say that resonated with the human condition. Which, I would have thought perfectly clear, isn't a matter of measurement, and therefore proves that truth exists outside empiricism.

Never mind his god-like skill with language.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] Evolution is neither the fundamental theory of biology (except, of course, to scientismists) nor, since it's a theory, is it how it got to be the way it is.

I think I may have had too many words in there.

Let me rewrite it. Evolution is fundamental to why biology is the way it is. Take chirality as just one example.

If memory serves, essentially all proteins have a right hand twist. As it happens, proteins would also work with a left hand twist, but the combination of the two is disaster -- see prions.

Evolution is fundamental to answering why all life is one way, and not the other. And for the same reason, it is fundamental to essentially every element of biology.

Of course, it is absolutely true that one could describe any element of biology without reference to evolution, but evolution is the process through which biology became what it is.

Even with the holes. Of course our understanding of DNA is woefully inadequate. But there is precisely zero evidence that, once life got started, DNA became what it is through evolutionary processes, even if we don't know what precisely what they are.

erp said...

Skipper, I'm not following you here.

Yes, it is perfectly clear that Shakespeare is still relevant for exactly the reason that the empirical evidence of our own lives has proven that his empirical observations and artful depictions of the human condition are spot on.

Absolutely no argument here, but if this is science, I need a new definition.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "But there is precisely zero evidence that, once life got started, DNA became what it is through evolutionary processes, even if we don't know what precisely what they are."

Ummm. I'm not sure this sentence makes sense and/or has a point and/or is relevant. Could you explain it further?

Hey Skipper wrote: "Evolution is fundamental to answering why all life is one way, and not the other."

Did you have a few martinis before you wrote this particular comment? Say what? Not the other? Which other?

Hey Skipper wrote: "...it is absolutely true that one could describe any element of biology without reference to evolution..."

I agree, and therefore there's no particularly good reason to teach it as opposed to lots and lots of other useful things.

Peter said...

Skipper:

I still say you are stretching the definition to encompass intra-scientific disputes and ending up with nothing more than a definition of faulty or incorrect science, an issue that is written into the very definition of scientific inquiry. The context of the quote you bolded is clearly one where the very issue of the extent of scientific scope and competence is in play. Yes, many activists and politicians are accepting the party line about AGW uncritically, but as opposed to what? Either the climate is changing or it is not. If it is, it's the result of human activity or it isn't. Plenty to argue about, but who claims there is any way to answer those questions other than scientific study or that climate science is too narrow and failing to consider subjective experience or other non-scientific factors into account?

Allow me to try an illustration. If the medical establishment is divided over whether a disease is caused by an infection or a virus and one side claims the other is cherry-picking the evidence, ignoring contrary studies or even cooking the data for personal glory and gain, that's a scientific controversy and may even be an illustration of corruption or a herd mentality, but it's not scientism. But when Harry goes all squirrely about chiropractic and dismisses a priori the many, many testimonies from satisfied patients as to their relief and cures as manipulations or delusions and simply thunders over and over "There is no scientific basis for chiropractic", that is.

erp said...

More "Settled science."

Bret said...

Peter wrote: 'But when Harry goes all squirrely about chiropractic and dismisses a priori the many, many testimonies from satisfied patients as to their relief and cures as manipulations or delusions and simply thunders over and over "There is no scientific basis for chiropractic", that is [scientism].'

I would've modified that sentence by adding "and therefore nobody should use chiropractors and/or chiropractors shouldn't be allowed to practice" before the final "that is." That way, whether or not there is a "scientific basis for chiropractic" is immaterial and it's still scientism.

Peter said...

From the perspective of us amateur faux-sages trying to navigate through the rarified air of philosophical conundrums (or should that be conundra, Sir Nigel?), I'm not sure that matters, Bret. But for real people dealing with the practical fallout, I completely agree.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

What I find interesting is how you frame the discussion as to wether evolution can be a mandatory topic in biology classes - which would be scientism, in your view.

What about the other way around?

Suppose you have been hired as a biology teacher in a highschool. What are the
principles you will use to devise your course, to select topics? If you conclude evolution would be part of it, what would you think if the board tould you that you can not teach it?

erp said...

Good question and the reason a federal Board of Education run by the teachers' unions establishing a federal curriculum is so bad. Education gets politicized by the opposite of truth seekers and that's what has happened.

While kids aren't taught about those Jeopardy topics like history, geography, arithmetic, etc. and can't tell analog time, they are taught about global warming and how to put a condom on a banana.

Bret said...

Clovis,

If I want to work on robots, I don't get a job at a fast food restaurant. If I want to teach evolution, it seems that I would search for employment at those schools that wish to have it taught, not at the small fraction of those that would prefer it not be taught.

In the name of consistency, typically high school curriculums aren't created by the teachers themselves, but rather by district, county, and/or statewide folk.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

So please clear this one to me: if schools do not get decide the curriculum (but the district, etc), why is it scientism, for the ones who need to decide, to follow their best guess as to what constitutes a good curriculum?

You are right when pointing out that the content is so vast that, quite possibly, you can make a good course even if not teaching evolution. But the contrary is equally true, i.e. if evolution is as good as any other topic, why to single it out?

Not to mention that, quite possibly, a number of students may get interested in the topic by themselves - what should be the attitude of the teacher in class if he is asked about evolution in a school where it is out of the curriculum?

When I watch these debates, I am always amazed as to how people wrongly idealize a class as a room full of quiet and passive students, as if teaching were not dynamical and highly dependent on the students curiosity.

erp said...

Bret and Clovis, while it may be true technically that In the name of consistency, typically high school curriculums aren't created by the teachers themselves, but rather by district, county, and/or statewide folk, school districts set the curriculum for all grades, not only high school, under federal guidelines set by the Cabinet level (now called Executive) Department of Education which is itself controlled by the education cabal of academics and teachers' unions using the tried and true method of the "carrot and the stick."

Districts that comply - by now I'd bet few don't comply - get generous fed handouts, those that don't get a lot of grief.

Bret said...

Clovis asks: "...why is it scientism ... to follow their best guess as to what constitutes a good curriculum?"

If they're following their best guess as to what constitutes a good science curriculum then that is not scientism. In certain circumstances, it was NOT included primarily for its scientific merit, but rather to provide an alternative creation myth. That would be scientism.

As Peter pointed out earlier, I am referring to debates that happened quite awhile ago (decades). Now the debates are about how to teach evolution. For example, with what level of certainty should the Theory of Evolution be presented? Absolute fact? Theory with some inconsistencies that still need to be worked out? Theory that's still evolving? Theory that requires a bit of a leap of faith to believe?

These debates are ongoing, intense, and vicious, to the point that they often end up in court. In my opinion, once "science" ends up in court, it's no longer science, but scientism. Science needn't force itself on people.

Clovis wrote: "...a number of students may get interested in the topic by themselves..."

Again, as Peter pointed out indirectly, at this point, because it's so contentious, it really wouldn't make sense for schools not to teach it at all. So the debate is only about how to teach it now.

Clovis wrote: "... highly dependent on the students curiosity ..."

No longer. Not in the United States. Teachers are extremely limited in how they're allowed to deviate from the curriculum. The students are indeed required to be passive and restrict their questions to be exactly on topic. If, as a parent, you want more flexibility from the teachers, you send them to a private school (which we did for a while).

Just as a thought experiment: Let's say a student asked, "but what about what I've heard about Intelligent Design?" Do you think a teacher could engage that topic without getting his ass sued off? (The answer is no).

Hey Skipper said...

[Hey Skipper:] "But there is precisely zero evidence that, once life got started, DNA became what it is through evolutionary processes, even if we don't know what precisely what they are."

[Bret:] Ummm. I'm not sure this sentence makes sense and/or has a point and/or is relevant. Could you explain it further?


Yes. It is gibberish.

And a good reason to avoid negative logic.

And an even better reason to use that handy preview function.

Ungibberished: "All the available evidence indicates that, once life got started …"

[Hey Skipper:] Hey Skipper wrote: "Evolution is fundamental to answering why all life is one way, and not the other."

[Bret:] Did you have a few martinis before you wrote this particular comment? Say what? Not the other? Which other?


In fact, I had. Two.

But no matter. The human eye adopt many different forms and still function as an eye. Why does it have the form it has, and not a myriad of others?

[HS:] "...it is absolutely true that one could describe any element of biology without reference to evolution..."

[Bret:] I agree, and therefore there's no particularly good reason to teach it as opposed to lots and lots of other useful things.


Fine — I disagree (a student asks "Why aren't human eyes like bees'?" Legitimate, obvious, question. And your answer would be?) — but that is a different discussion. It is not scientism to teach what the legitimate application of the scientific method has yielded with respect to natural history.

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] I still say you are stretching the definition to encompass intra-scientific disputes and ending up with nothing more than a definition of faulty or incorrect science, an issue that is written into the very definition of scientific inquiry.

Then I must not be explaining myself well enough.

I am not referring to, say, the dispute between Gallo and whoever the French scientist was over primacy about discovering the cause of AIDS. They both were engaged in science exactly as defined; the dispute was in an entirely different realm.

Assuming the trappings, but not the actual practice, of science to issue pronunciamentos is scientism, an entirely different thing.

When the Lancet proclaimed the US killed some yuuuuge number of Iraqis, it was engaging in scientism. (Using its reputation to enhance cargo-cult science claims that just happened to align with pre-conceived notions.)

The whole vaxxer horror show started with a doctor using his title as a means to provide credibility to fraudulent "scientific" claims.

Scientific socialism is scientism through and through.

Claims that conservatives are an inferior form of humanity are scientism on steroids. NB the "researchers'" response to discovering that a coding error had completely inverted their findings. Not that any response could fix the damage done by the initial scientistic claim.

Every time Bill Nye the "Science" Guy (he has a degree in Mechanical Engineering) opens his mouth on climate change, that is scientism. Same for Tyson. Every time Justin Gillis, the NYT propagandist for AGW writes the phrase "[fill in the blank] on record", he is engaging in scientism because he is obscuring the fact that the record is only forty or so years old. Oh, and everything else he writes on AGW.

Every time warmenists use the phrase "97% of scientists agree", that is scientism. Every time they raise the frightening prospect of some model or another, without so much as a nod in the direction of how predictions that have reached their verification date have fared, that is scientism.

Presenting evolutionary "just-so" stories as evidence based facts is scientism.

Allow me to try an illustration. If the medical establishment is divided …

Are we in violent agreement?

Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] More "Settled science."

Perhaps that is scientism, although I'd put that in the hype and premature enthusiasm buckets. Also, it raised moral questions beyond science, which reality — unfortunately or not, depending — has seemingly rendered moot.

Hey Skipper said...

Quick Analysis Finds Effect of Climate Change in French Floods.

Scientism?

Bret said...

Yes.

Peter said...

As a layman, I try to keep my mind at least a teensy bit open on climate change, recognizing that I am no more qualified to pronounce that it isn't happening than that it is. After all, the basic chemistry--pump enough crap into the atmosphere and there will be consequences--isn't crazy. But my cynicism breaks through when I note that the scientific fraternity reports only bad news. Floods, droughts, hurricanes--all manner of biblical-style plagues--, not to mention the cataclysmic horror awaiting Tuvulu. There should be lots of at least short term benefits, but where are they? Where are the bumper harvests, the northward march of fruit crops, the reduced heating bills, the crisis in the winter parka industry, etc. Also, while terrifying things are reported to be happening in remote and inaccessible places (often threatening the favourite playgrounds of wealthy Westerners), nothing much seems to have happened in my garden over the past thirty years.

I've long thought there was something very neurotic about so many Canadians getting themselves into a tizzy over global warming. It's like street protests in sub-Sahara countries over a threat of global cooling.

erp said...

Peter, well said.

Hey Skipper said...

[HS:] Scientism?

Regardless of the truth of AGW, the article I linked to is a case study in scientism:

The researchers, from a group called World Weather Attribution that is coordinated by the climate-change research organization Climate Central, used similar approaches to the methods employed by longer peer-reviewed studies. This includes analyzing historical temperatures for the region and running many computer simulations with regional climate models, including some in which it is assumed there is no human-caused climate change.

Okay, fine. I'll ignore that "climate research organization" is an interesting way to spell "proselytizing blog". On to the cited study.

To assess the potential link between the heavy rainfall in France and Germany and human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Climate Central, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the University of Oxford — as part of the World Weather Attribution (WWA) partnership which also includes Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and University of Melbourne — conducted independent assessments using multiple peer-reviewed approaches. These approaches involve statistical analyses of the historical temperature record, the trend in a global climate models, regional climate models, and the results of thousands of simulations of possible weather with a regional climate model.

Note the virtually complete absence of actual data. IIRC, global average temperature has increased about 2º C since the end of the LIA. If the assertion that more severe rain events are a consequence of warmer air holding more moisture, then it should be possible to discern that increase in the historical record, without regard to models, particularly in an area with very long term systematic observations. The esteemed scientismists appear to have explicitly avoided doing a statistical analysis of the subject at hand: rainfall.

Also, note the silence with regard to the recent rains and the central assertion. Was the airflow from the south any warmer than usual? If so, how much? Is that difference sufficient to account for the rain volume? (Independent of its spatial distribution)

There have been other claims of AGW increased severe weather events, e.g., following Katrina. Has the last ten years born those claims out, or not?

Hey Skipper said...

Overall, the probability of 3-day extreme rainfall in this season has increased by at least 40 percent in France, with the best estimate of about 80 percent on the Seine and about 90 percent on the Loire. All four climate model ensembles that simulated the statistical properties of the extremes are in good overall agreement.

Increased by 40% over what?

How good are the climate model ensembles with regard to historical rainfall?

How much have northern European temperatures increased over the pre-industrial average?

(to save you clicking: Europe Annual average temperature across the European land areas has warmed more than global average temperature, and slightly more than global land temperature. The average temperature for the European land area for the last decade (2004–2013) is 1.3°C above the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record.)

If there is a 40% increase due to a 1.3º increase in temperature, then the historical rainfall record must show such a significant change. Does it?

Do areas with warmer temperatures experience more severe rain than cooler areas?

Is the amount of water in the atmosphere driven more by air temperature, or the water (Mediterranean) over which the air flowed?

---

Perhaps this is nit-picking for a newspaper article based upon an executive summary. However, the reliance upon models, rather than data, is striking.

As is the complete absence of any contradictory opinion.

BTW, regardless of cause, I think it perfectly plausible that increased temperatures will lead to more sever weather. But if that is true, then it should be easy to demonstrate based upon data, not models.

erp said...

... end of the LIA?

Hey Skipper said...

Little Ice Age.

erp said...

What would I do without you guys to keep me au courant? :-)

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "I've long thought there was something very neurotic about so many Canadians getting themselves into a tizzy over global warming."

I worked with some Canadians from Winnipeg and they were of the opinion that global warming was a great thing and seemed to think that Canadians in general were much less worried about it than most other rich countries. I take it that I got the wrong impression from them?

Peter wrote: "There should be lots of at least short term benefits, but where are they?"

Those things are actually all happening and a lot more beneficial things as well (well, other than the crisis in the parka industry). If you google them, you can find links, and even links in scientific journals. They obviously don't fit the narrative (narrative's are scientism :-) so they are generally not reported in the mainstream media.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: '"Why aren't human eyes like bees'?" ... and your answer would be?'

Ummm. That nobody knows and it's not knowable. Evolution never answers the 'why' part?

What would your answer be?

erp said...

My answer would be, GG needs some trustworthy conservative biologists to supply answers to these weighty questions.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] Evolution never answers the 'why' part?

It does, and it doesn't, depending on what is meant by "why", which, in context also means "how".

At the most macro level, the why is either they were created that way, or they became that way.

That seems a fairly important distinction, about which you would, presumably, remain silent. Would you do that about an important concept in robotics?

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "It does, and it doesn't, depending on what is meant by "why", which, in context also means "how"."

Damn. More martinis or are you channeling Bill Clinton ("what the meaning of is is...")? :-)

Hey Skipper wrote: "At the most macro level, the why is either they were created that way, or they became that way."

Ummm. "They became that way" even if "they were created that way" (i.e. the creation caused them to become that way). And that would be more-or-less my answer (I'd probably say something like, "that's just how it is"). Since the exact sequence of mutations that occurred to form the DNA bits that create the eyes in various species in unknown and unknowable, that's really the only answer.

Note that I don't believe in other creation myths either (other than mine). On the other hand, my guess is that Evolution will evolve quite a bit from its current state in the next few decades. For example, as they sequence a gazillion species, my guess is that they'll discover horizontal gene transference much more common than is currently postulated and they'll come up with additional mechanisms for that to occur (of course, my guess isn't worth the paper it's printed on :-). So I'm hesitant at this point to say "Evolution explains it!" both because it doesn't really explain anything and I don't think it's yet adequately polished to be accepted as fact.

Hey Skipper said...

[HS:] Hey Skipper wrote: "It does, and it doesn't, depending on what is meant by "why", which, in context also means "how"."

[Bret:] Damn. More martinis or are you channeling Bill Clinton ("what the meaning of is is...")? :-)


No, just noting that the lexical distance between "why" and "how" can be vanishingly small. If your answer was "Because of random, beneficial, mutations over a great deal of time" is that "why", or "how"? If your answer was "because it came into existence ab nihilo" is that "why" or "how"?

Ummm. "They became that way" even if "they were created that way" (i.e. the creation caused them to become that way).

Yes, I suppose. If, that is, you are willingly to completely ignore time. Considering there is so much of it involved in the former, and none in the latter, that seems to me some epic disregarding.

On the other hand, my guess is that Evolution will evolve quite a bit from its current state in the next few decades.

Of course it will. But that isn't the point. It is not scientism to explain how the scientific process led to the theory of evolution as we understand it today. And since all life -- and the Earth's environment -- in its current form is a consequence of evolution, IMHO it is a glaring omission to ignore it in a HS biology class. In what other subject would we accept that?

Well, English at Stanford, apparently. Seems some English majors students don't want to read the DWM poets, playwrights*, and novelists. Is insisting upon their continued inclusion in the curriculum an example of scientism, or the prevention of fundamental ignorance?

After all, there is plenty of other English to be read out there, and it isn't as if the students can't function without knowing any Shakespeare or Shelley.

--

*English can be a real horror show. Definition for playwright: a person who writes plays. Fine. So why the heck not playwrite?

erp said...

I heard from two young (ages 30-40) relatives who have doctorates in biology and each said they learned evolution as factual and no other theories were presented. Also National Geographic magazine had an article animals eyes.

Hey Skipper said...

erp:

Presuming one is within the realm of rational inquiry, naturalistic evolution is a completely sound theory. It is the most plausible way to organize all the available data. It has, unlike AGW, many deductive consequences.

Therefore, even though, as with all theories, evolution could be shown to be utter bollocks tomorrow, at the moment it is very much the fruit of rational inquiry.

Anticipating Peter, that doesn't include just-so stories. Yes, given such-and-such and adaptation, a stirring account is as true as the theory itself is.

It isn't.

Avoiding the tag of scientism requires stating as much as we can think we know: life as it exists now is the consequence of random mutations, some of which are beneficial, over an unimaginable expanse of time. We will remain ignorant of almost all the details, but so far as we can tell, life is self-organized complexity without any need for external intervention.

erp said...

Skipper, I totally agree, but even so, I think to to give students as much information as possible about all that is known, a review of other theories including the fundy without snide remarks, would be useful. I learned totally fascinating creation theories in school that led to me find out more about primitive peoples, etc. that led to great admiration for their abilities to observe and make sense of what they saw with only the naked eye. Quite amazing.

Like Bret, I have my own theory that makes sense to me, but I make no claims that it is the one and only way the universe and we could have arrived in this place at this time.

:-)

Peter said...

...they'll come up with additional mechanisms for that to occur...

One of the articles of faith of science is that it is progressively discovering and resolving gaps and mysteries and leading us to greater understandings of the world around us. True in some cases, but not always. Sometimes the path is more solve one mystery, uncover several more. The universe and its history are much more confusing than they appeared to the scientific establishment in the fifties. String theory was supposed to lead to the one grand unified theory of everything, but according to Smolin and others, the best and brightest minds of a generation have discovered nothing more than an infinite number of incompatible string theories.

I have to wonder whether the same isn't happening to evolution, at least that part of the theory that posits mechanisms. One of the criticisms of Darwinism is that it is basically tautological--nature selects for survival and the evidence for this is that some things survive and some don't. If natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, random mutation, etc. are now supplemented by horizontal gene transference and whatever new mechanisms emerge in the future, is it fair to wonder whether it's all just the arbitrary imposition of classifications and categories on chaos and doesn't really constitute a deeper understanding of natural history?

Bret said...

Peter asks: "...is it fair to wonder whether it's all just the arbitrary imposition of classifications and categories on chaos and doesn't really constitute a deeper understanding of natural history?"

It's fair to wonder anything. :-)

But I agree with that and that's why I don't think it's particularly important to teach evolution, i.e. no more important than many other bits of science that aren't taught due to time constraints.

And this brings up another point. There isn't just one possible theory to explain the tree/web of life. There are potentially an infinite number of theories, many of which could never be disproven. That we pick one current one and call it scientific fact is lame, in my opinion.

Peter said...

Interesting read.

Bret said...

A friend of mine who works for the government and provides funding for scientists enlightened me a bit on a fundamental problem of science funding.

Each professor usually has one PhD candidate at a time (sort of average). Over his career he'll graduate around 10 PhD students. One-quarter to one-half want to be researchers. Thus, every generation, the number of researchers doubles to quintuples. Scientific funding rises but at nowhere near that rate (that's unaffordable).

Thus research funding is extraordinarily cutthroat and EVERY possible way to get ahead is aggressively pursued. One of the best ways to get ahead is to get your type of science to be political important. Then congress will increase your budgets ahead of others. Thus many researchers are willing to distort or even completely lie about the science in order to get results that will sell politically.

The survival of the researchers is at stake (not literal survival as there's always the safety net, but rather career survival). People put in that position cannot be relied on to focus on truth and knowledge. Instead, not surprisingly, they focus on survival and are willing to sacrifice truth and knowledge, at least to some degree, in order to survive.

I believe this is a fundamental factor in science being on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

erp said...

Bret, the problem is those who can write the grants, get the jobs in university departments, not those who might actually make a contribution to science. Your friends, the scientists, not being concerned with these peripheral things, might not realize this.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

You just successfully applied natural selection and survival of the fittest to the academic world itself, congratulations.

I am betting on your robot revolution to save us all: once survival is no longer a cause of concern for too many people, some of them may go back to do science for the sake of science, instead of this farcical turn of events we've been witnessing...

Bret said...

erp,

Funny you should mention that. I recently sat on a grant reviewing National Robotics Initiative panel (I know, I know, what the heck was a libertarian doing sitting on a government panel - I don't know what I was thinking when I volunteered (it was unpaid)). There was this one proposal that was the most amazingly well written proposal EVAH!!!!! Based on the proposal alone one would certainly fund the research. I know the guy who wrote it and his actual progress over the years has been really, really, painfully slow, and he never shares his code and data with anyone. So he's exactly the guy you're talking about: amazing proposals but accomplishes little.

I had never seen one of his proposals before and given his record I'd always wondered how he managed to get so much funding.

Now I know. He spends all of his time writing really fantastically written proposals and not much time doing work.

The good news is that the funding agencies do catch on to that after awhile. The bad news is that there are so many funding agencies that all he has to do is cycle through them as each one catches on.

Bret said...

Clovis,

Yes, no doubt, and it's a good example how Evolution doesn't necessarily produce morally good results.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting all or even most researchers short change truth and knowledge. Fortunately, many of them are so nerdly that they don't have the social/political awareness to figure it out and, of course, many researchers actually do have some strength of character to resist temptation. The only point is that there is temptation to do the politically expedient thing instead of the right thing.

erp said...

Bret, ... the surprising thing about your presence on this panel is that you were allowed in. Obviously your politics weren't known to them.

We've been retired for almost 30 years, but before that my husband was in the financial administration of a couple of the top institutions in the northeast and a number of national boards, etc. and I was, in a much narrower way, in on the process from an academic/administrative angle. I'd be surprised if it's not worse now that things have gotten more regulated and complicated.

Perhaps Skipper might be able to tally just how much of our money has been spent on all scientific and medical research over the past, let's say, 50 years and then we can wonder that the results are so meager and how in the recent pass, almost all breakthroughs are not in the U.S.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Fortunately, many of them are so nerdly that they don't have the social/political awareness to figure it out
---
It is actually something more pernicious than that, in my opinion.

Many young and bright students are too nerdly to be aware of the social/political influences behind the choices they are given to follow on.

The ones successful at the political/social sphere are not only getting grants, they are above all getting students and followers, which in turn will propagate their lines of research (a bit like the selfish gene idea, or memes).

Some of those youngsters will only wake up when they already invested too much effort and years on that, becoming a bit of captives of the whole scheme, which is then repeated in the next iteration.

That, in my opinion, explains to some extent string theory and their ever successful paper/citations industry, to stay with one example I know better.

Peter said...

To be fair to the scientific community, this isn't because they are any more dishonest or greedy than anyone else. It's because they tend to be in denial about the fact they are human beings and respond to the same self-interest imperatives as anyone else. You can see the same corrupting influences affecting bureaucrats and public interest NGO's.

That's what is so great about being a conservative and more in tune with human nature. When leftists accuse us of being scummy and selfish, we can just look at them and say "And your point is?".

Bret said...

erp noted: "Obviously your politics weren't known to them."

True dat.

I was the token industry person. Other than one other person, everybody on the panel was an academic.

I will say that I've been overall quite pleased with the government funding in the area of robotics over the last few decades. The work that's done has advanced the state of the art steadily and has been disseminated and adopted across academic institutions and industry. I think it's at least partly because robotics has a very large engineering component and the results of much of the "research" has practical and testable value and that tends to work against folks who just do a lot of hand waving.

Sure, there have been some notably poor decisions over the years, but all-in-all, if all research areas were done as well as robotics, I'd be much more pro-government - at least for research.

Bret said...

Clovis,

That's a pretty good explanation. You're obviously a lot closer to the research thing than I am.

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] One of the articles of faith of science is that it is progressively discovering and resolving gaps and mysteries and leading us to greater understandings of the world around us. True in some cases, but not always. Sometimes the path is more solve one mystery, uncover several more …

Absolutely.

I recently read convincing evidence that DNA is somehow altered by experience — a Lamarckian notion that would have been rubbished even a few years ago.

That demonstrates a few things: Our infantile understanding of DNA, the usefulness of the scientific method in leading to greater understanding — although in this case it isn't clear whether the result is more mystery, or a little less — and that a deus ex machina is still unnecessary.

If natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, random mutation, etc. are now supplemented by horizontal gene transference and whatever new mechanisms emerge in the future, is it fair to wonder whether it's all just the arbitrary imposition of classifications and categories on chaos and doesn't really constitute a deeper understanding of natural history?

It is certainly fair to wonder; however, I suspect that if natural history was really chaos all the way down, then randomness would triumph and there would be no change over time.

[Bret:] But I agree with that and that's why I don't think it's particularly important to teach evolution, i.e. no more important than many other bits of science that aren't taught due to time constraints.

I think you are missing something here. Would you teach an introductory astronomy course without spending time on our present understanding of the universe's origin? Of course not. Or at least I hope not, because you would be ignoring existence itself.

Similarly, the theory of naturalistic evolution is of existential importance to biology. A HS biology class that ignored evolution would make no more sense than an introductory astronomy course that ignored the big bang.

"Teacher, why is red-shift correlated with distance?"

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] And this brings up another point. There isn't just one possible theory to explain the tree/web of life. There are potentially an infinite number of theories, many of which could never be disproven. That we pick one current one and call it scientific fact is lame, in my opinion.

That is charging scientism. But I don't think the charge sticks. If there are, in fact, an infinite number of theories, all of which explain the observable data equally well, then the scientific process itself is a dead end. Your claim, in essence, demands all evolutionary research stop because it is completely futile.

The one "we" pick is superior to others, at the moment, because it does whatever they may be don't: it does a better job of encompassing observation. And it has more of what they don't: deductive consequences.

[Peter:] Interesting Read

You are right; thanks for the link.

[Clovis:] You just successfully applied natural selection and survival of the fittest to the academic world itself, congratulations.


Well played.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper: "Teacher, why is red-shift correlated with distance?"

Ummm, because more distant stuff is moving away faster? Is this a trick question?

Hey Skipper said...

Why is the more distant stuff moving away faster?

erp said...

... because shut up.

Bret said...

Nobody knows for sure (without a leap of faith).

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "That is charging scientism."

Yup.

Hey Skipper wrote: "But I don't think the charge sticks."

I know you don't. Your faith in Evolution precludes that.

Hey Skipper wrote: "Your claim, in essence, demands all evolutionary research stop because it is completely futile."

I don't think so. The main part of the research is figuring out the progression of life, which is at least somewhat interesting and possibly useful regardless of what caused the progression.

Hey Skipper wrote: "The one "we" pick...

I'm glad you put "we" in quotes since I'm not part of "we". So apparently "we" is those who tell us what we ought to believe?

Hey Skipper wrote: "... is superior to others ... because ... it does a better job of encompassing observation."

Does it? For example, does it do a better job than the panspermia hypothesis? I don't think so.

And things like panspermia and widespread horizontal DNA transfer fundamentally change the theory of evolution to the point of being unrecognizable. The latter makes the "tree of life" into a "web/network of life" and the two together (or possibly the first on its own) potentially reduces the random mutation component to potentially almost nothing. There are many other hypotheses that, if they had the funding behind evolution, might have "evolved" into serious contenders, that again, are fundamentally different than evolution.

Hey Skipper said...

I know you don't. Your faith in Evolution precludes that.

Remember that part way at the top where I got all pedantic about definitions?

There is a set of data that is relevant to natural history. Naturalistic evolution encompasses the data, and, as a bonus, also has deductive consequences.

My faith isn't in evolution, but rather rational inquiry itself, which in this case yields naturalistic evolution as a result. You have cause and effect bassackwards.

Hey Skipper wrote: "Your claim, in essence, demands all evolutionary research stop because it is completely futile."

[Bret:] I don't think so.


That's as may be. But the moment you assert there are an infinite number of explanations, that is the consequence.

I'm glad you put "we" in quotes since I'm not part of "we". So apparently "we" is those who tell us what we ought to believe?

Must you be so bloody literal?

I put we in scare quotes because I didn't want we without out them to be mistaken for some sort of vote, when we really means what people who are experts in this sort of thing have come to collective agreement upon.

Does it? For example, does it do a better job than the panspermia hypothesis? I don't think so.

Then you are unclear about my concepts. I know that up above somewhere I pretty explicitly stated that no one knows how life got started, but once that happened, by whatever means naturalistic evolution is the most scientifically supported theory for what has gone one since.

... widespread horizontal DNA transfer fundamentally change the theory of evolution to the point of being unrecognizable.

Is horizontal DNA transfer systematic, or random?

If the latter, then in what significant conceptual regard is it different from random mutation? If true, then horizontal DNA transfer is a theory that illuminates what random mutation actually means in practice.

In other words, if DNA transfer actually exists (and, fwiw, I think it very likely), and it is systematic, then naturalistic evolution collapses completely, because some deus ex machina had its fingers in the pie.

On the other hand, if it isn't systematic, then it adds detail to how evolution works, but leaves the basic concepts untouched.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: " You have cause and effect ..."

Cause and effect are circular in this case. Lots of things can encompass the data.

Hey Skipper wrote: "...people who are experts in this sort of thing have come to collective agreement..."

Collective agreement about what science is is scientism. Or at least you seem to think that when it comes to catastrophic climate change. So why isn't it scientism when it comes to Evolution?

Hey Skipper asks: "Is horizontal DNA transfer systematic, or random?"

Yes. Or something else.

Look, I threw out a couple of alternative hypotheses/conjectures/whatevers to what is taught as Evolution. There are many more.

In a nutshell, Evolution as taught is a single common ancestor developing to the current biosphere via homegrown (earthbound) mutations caused by radiation, mutagens, quantum fluctuations, and the like with the aid of natural selection. Add in some hand waving like punctuated equilibrium here and there and wallah, you have more-or-less the modern synthesis (as taught).

The hypotheses I put forward, which I'm sure are readily falsifiable in and of themselves since I don't have an army of scientists behind me, is that many, most, or all of the genetic building blocks came from extraterrestrial sources with many common ancestors and propagated via horizontal transfer of genetic material with far fewer or perhaps even no homegrown mutations that added useful functionality. In addition, the adoption of the extraterrestrial genetic code which arrived as useful building blocks was inevitable in any species that could adopt it making it neither random nor wholly systematic.

You seem to think those are the same. I think they are fundamentally different and the latter is certainly fundamentally different than what's taught.

If they're the same to you, I feel that you're saying, "Yup, we ended up with the current biosphere by some mechanism, details TBD." Ummm, actually, I guess that's what I'm saying! And to teach some particular set of details as fact isn't accurate.

And that's just these hypotheses. I'm sure we can come up with others that differ more, especially if "we" had an army of scientists to help us.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] Collective agreement about what science is is scientism.

No, it isn't. Adopting the atmospherics of science and then insisting claims are scientific is scientism.

Evolution, in contrast, and just like everything else you would call science, is the theory that best fits the available data; it is no more scientism than Big Bang theory is. And the other difference, which you keep ignoring, is that Evolution, just like the Big Bang theory, has deductive consequences that must be true in order for the theory to be true.

Scientism never has deductive consequences. What must be true in order for AGW to be true?

The hypotheses I put forward ...

The hypotheses are interesting, but have shortcomings. They offend Occam's razor, have no evidence that I am aware of, and no deductive consequences.

I feel that you're saying, "Yup, we ended up with the current biosphere by some mechanism, details TBD."

About the origin of life, that's fair, but the ToE isn't dependent upon any explanation for the origin of life. Even if it was found that God provided the spark, that, in and of itself, wouldn't affect the ToE at all.

And of course there are some, many, details about evolution that aren't determined -- mostly, IMHO, due to our nearly complete ignorance of how DNA works.

But there is are reasons the ToE and Big Bang theory are taught, and panspermia isn't. The former two have deductive consequences, and the latter doesn't answer anything.

Let's say panspermia is true. So we then have the answer to how life got started on Earth, but it leaves the central problem completely untouched: how did it get started elsewhere?

It isn't the army of scientists, it is evidence, process and consequences that distinguish science from scientism.

erp said...

ToE. Any chance this guys knows what he's talking about?

Hey Skipper said...

ToE := theory of evolution

I got tired of typing it.

erp said...

OH.