Why should anyone care?

Steve Fuller, who is a sociologist at the University of Warwick, recently wrote an article in the Guardian called Science has always been a bit post-truth. I thought it was confused. Others were somewhat blunter

I’ve written before about the Science and Technology Studies (STS), and have often been unimpressed by what I’ve encountered (not all, though, to be clear). So, I thought maybe this article was just trying to be provocative; to stimulate some kind of discussion from which we might learn something. I tweeted the author to check if that might be the motivation. The answer appears to be not really, but we had a discussion anyway and, sadly, it rather re-inforced my negatives views about STS (also, Steve Fuller seems to prefer retweeting, and then commenting, rather than directly responding, which didn’t help either).

Part of the issue seems to be that some sociologists are jealous (bitter?) that science appears to be taken more seriously, or has more credibility, than they regard as reasonable.

Well, science/research is simply the process of gaining understanding of whatever is being studied. It provides information that we can use to inform whatever decisions may, or may not, need to be made. I’m not entirely sure in what way science is elite, but if it is, maybe that’s because it’s providing information that actually improves our understanding of systems that are of interest. If some socioligists would like their research to be taken as seriously, maybe they should make stronger arguments, rather than trying to normalise science as part of the larger social fabric. Of course, understanding something doesn’t define what we should do – given that information – but that doesn’t somehow imply anything about our understanding.

It also seems that some regard the response from scientists as indicative of a reluctance to be studied.

Well, I have to admit that it’s still not clear to me how we benefit from one group of researchers studying another, but I don’t think that’s really the issue. The real issue seems to be that STS researchers often seem to infer much more from their research than is reasonable. It may well be interesting to study scientists as a group, but it can tell you very little (if anything) about science itself. If you want to understand the systems being studied, you study those systems, you don’t study those who are doing the research.

However, some sociologists seem to think otherwise. I asked about using sociology to conclude things about our actual scientific understanding, rather than just about scientists, and I got this response.

This is really the tweet that motivated this post. It’s clear that scientists have biases that can influence how they interpret their research. However, part of scientific training is to minimise the influence of bias. Also, the scientific method involves reproducibility and replication; we shouldn’t trust individual studies, or individual researchers. We start to trust our understanding when there is a consistent picture across many different studies and many different researchers/research groups.

Now it is possible that biases might influence our understanding sufficiently that we’ll end up going down the wrong track for quite some time. Studying this may well help to avoid this in future. However, it cannot – as far as I can tell – tell us anything about whether or not something we are studying now might be being significantly influenced by the bias of those doing the research. We can’t determine the strength of our understanding of some topic by studying the researchers, but this seems to be what some in STS imply, even if they don’t say so outright. Also, going down the wrong track can be a perfectly reasonable outcome of scientific endeavours; we learn both from our mistakes and from our successes.

Furthermore, why should anyone care if some STS researchers have problems with both philosphers and scientists? Why should their views carry any weight? What research underpins their “problems” with philosophers and scientists? Also, if someone has a problem with aspects of science, or philosophy, they can become a scientist, or a philospher. Sniping from the sidelines is unlikely to be constructive.

Okay, this has all got rather long and I’m not sure I’ve expressed myself as clearly as I would have liked. The real problem I have with STS is the apparent over-reach; inferring much more from their studies than, in my view, is warranted. We really can’t say much about our understanding of some physical system, by only studying those who are doing the research. However, much of what I see from STS implies something close to this and, in my view, spreads more doubt about our understanding than is reasonable. As Michael Tobis would say, they’re swimming outside their lane and, mostly, confusing the public understanding of science. If someone wants to comment on our understanding of some system, they need some understanding of that system and to know something about how people study such systems, not just understand something about the people doing the research.

Update: I should admit that Michael Tobis has commented to point out that I have misunderstood his “swim in your own lane” post. The “swim in your own lane” was actually a reference to a social scientist arguing that physical scientists should not have opinions about public outreach, which – I agree with MT – is wrong. Maybe I’m going to get it confused again, but what MT is suggesting is that there are some social scientists who think that they should be at the interface between science and society. Science communication, however, requires an understanding of the science being communicated and so requires some domain knowledge, which many social scientists do not have.

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207 Responses to Why should anyone care?

  1. There was something that I wanted to add to the post, but couldn’t quite fit it in. There are clearly some quite serious issues with science (or, at least, with areas of science). For example, there’s a tendency to not publish negative results, there is potentially a replication crisis in some fields (although, I sometimes think this is slightly over-blown), and we probably publish too many papers. The solution is, however, to improve how we undertake research. Maybe some STS researchers can help here, but it’s not clear how they can if they don’t understand how the research is actually undertaken.

  2. Willard says:

    I had an exchange with MT on this a few days ago. My main beef:

    It led to this generalization:

    The answer to your question depends upon one’s tolerance to CRAP, I guess.

  3. Willard,
    Yes, I saw that exchange. What did you mean by “scientists misunderestimate”?

  4. I do like

    CRAP – Claptrap from some Region of knowledge to make Assertions for one’s Position.

  5. Willard says:

    > What did you mean by “scientists misunderestimate”?

    Most scientists I know cling to some form of realism, AT. Sometimes even the most naive one. Once you delve into metaphysical stuff, matters become less clear. This does not warrant the STS crowd to exploit that naiveté, more so when they sell CRAP along the way.

    Just take this latest newsie that the Moshpit found:

    “The team, led by Margot Brouwer, looked at the distribution of matter in more than 33,000 galaxies, and said that what they say could indeed be explained without dark matter if they used Verlinde’s hypothesis of gravity.

    Testing this involved studying something called gravitational lensing – the way galaxies closer to us bend the light of more distant galaxies. This is a well-established way of measuring the amount of dark matter in galaxies.

    But the team found that if they just factored in Verlinde’s modified gravity, then their results made sense without them having to add in the idea of dark matter.

    The team compared their results to the predictions made by Einstein’s general theory of relativity and those made by Verlinde, and found that both fit.

    But they found that Verlinde’s predictions matched their observations without needing to use any free parameters – which are values that can be tweaked to make observations match a hypothesis. The presence of dark matter, on the other hand, required four free parameters.

    “The dark matter model actually fits slightly better with the data than Verlinde’s prediction,” Brouwer told New Scientist. “But then if you mathematically factor in the fact that Verlinde’s prediction doesn’t have any free parameters, whereas the dark matter prediction does, then you find Verlinde’s model is actually performing slightly better.”

    That teh Lubos himself is against this idea may indicate it has merits.

    Both Kuhn and Popper’s conceptions of science could make sense of this episode. The opposition between these two has little to do with what SF is peddling. To delve into this, I’d need to do some “game theory” as they say over the tweeter these days. Not sure why anyone would want that, but it could be fun. Is SF’s crap that blogworthy?

  6. normalise science as part of the larger social fabric.

    Is that a euphemism for destroying the reputation of science to have one check less on the political and economic elites?

    If it is, Steve Fuller had better not called for seeing Intelligent Design as part of the scientific debate. Except for some Christian fundamentalists he only destroyed the reputation of STS studies.

    Personally I think that is a pity. STS studies could do interesting work that I would love to know more about. Maybe they should send some real anthropologists to accurate observe the science tribe.

  7. Jim Hunt says:

    This was my take on Twitter. No response from Prof. Steve yet though!

  8. Willard,
    I did see that newsie and I think that’s an interesting illustration. Most astronomers regard the evidence in favour of Dark Matter as being pretty strong. However, they are well aware that it hasn’t yet been directly detected and most (as far as I’m aware) are perfectly happy to accept that we may see a form of modified gravity instead of Dark Matter. That, however, is not a reason to dismiss Dark Matter as the preferred solution yet.

  9. Brigitte says:

    Love CRAP – thanks Willard
    Victor, some STS people have done extensive ethnography and have come to really appreciate science and scientists and what they do, such as Harry Collins and gravitational waves http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo10156686.html
    This immersion made Collins question some tenets of STS – the field he helped to found – http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0745682049,subjectCd-ED64.html

  10. Brigitte,
    Thanks, yes Harry Collins does seem to be an example of someone who immersed themselves within a field, and learned a lot as a result. I found this article very good.

  11. Verlinde’s theory is interesting, but as with most science there are other lines of evidence pointing towards dark matter. The ‘bullet’ galaxies are one of those other lines. Says Verlinde:

    The validity of (7.40) depends on a number of assumptions and holds only when certain conditions are being satisfied. These conditions include that one is dealing with a centralized, spherically symmetric mass distribution, which has been in dynamical equilibrium during its evolution. Dynamical situations as those that occur in the Bullet cluster are not described by these same equations.

    Consilience anyone?

  12. oneillsinwisconsin,
    Yes, the ‘bullet cluster’ is difficult to explain without Dark Matter. For those who don’t know, the observation is of two colliding galaxy clusters in which – after the collision – the luminous matter (gas) and the total mass (thought to be mostly dark matter) appear to separate, which indicates that the two forms of matter interact differently (gas collides, while dark matter is non-interacting). If there is only one form of matter, but a different form of gravity, this shouldn’t have happened.

  13. Brigitte says:

    ATTP, yes I almost included that article in my comment but didn’t want to ‘over-hyperlink’ things.

  14. Brigitte, ATTP, thanks.

    In the light of the sociologists in the mitigation sceptical movement, this quote of the article is lovely:

    I think it’s much easier to get published in physics than in the social sciences and humanities. Rejection rates are much lower in the physical sciences. Physicists don’t mind incorrect papers because they think that, over time, any incorrect results will be shown to be incorrect. Social scientists, in contrast, are a lot more political.

    That is not to say that physical scientists are saints; I have seen cases of too fierce negative refereeing in physics too.

    Fit to my view that peer review is not gate keeping (if only because there are so many journals good ideas will find a place in the literature), but that peer review helps fringe ideas gain credibility. At least in the natural sciences, I cannot judge whether that is different in the social sciences and humanities.

  15. mt says:

    “Stay in your lane” was not my advice. It was advice TO the scientific community, from, if I recall correctly, Ed Maibach. I see I didn’t make this clear in the article, but it was exactly that suggestion that finally crystalized the entire piece.

    Maibach suggested that physical scientists were not entitled to opinions in matters of public outreach any more than social scientists are entitled to opinions in matters of physics and chemistry. I cannot agree.

    I am very interested in finding ways to establish a level of trust suitable to a given academic community. I think claims from authority are only provisionally to be accepted. The trouble is establishing the appropriate level of authority that attaches to a given claim.

    I am perhaps as close to a professional dilettante as the modern world affords. I have a passing acquaintance with a wide variety of disciplines. (The kinder word is “polymath” – perhaps we need something in between the overly dismissive “dilettante” and the overly generous “polymath”.) If there’s anything unusual about my approach it’s that I have no apparent lane to stay in. But far from being opposed to lane-straying, I quite recommend it.

    In particular, I think the claims of social science on how to approach public outreach are arguably wrong but are almost certainly **woefully incomplete**.

    In the present world, the whole matter of intellectual authority has collapsed as far as great swaths of the public are concerned. What to do about this, I cannot say.

    But those of us who still are thinking ought to give serious consideration about what information to trust, and why. An excess of specialization cannot allow us collectively to make these crucial judgments.

  16. mt says:

    W: “Most scientists I know cling to some form of realism, AT. Sometimes even the most naive one. Once you delve into metaphysical stuff, matters become less clear.”

    It’s not “clinging”. An at least provisional acceptance that there’s an underlying reality outside perception that we can study by means of objective tests is a job requirement.

    We are, you know, pushing buttons in front of glowing screens in various countries and somehow communication is happening between us, mediated by very complex and intricate decisions based on the results of this objective logical inquiry into the assumed underlying reality. This along with very numerous similar examples justifies the provisional acceptance on utilitarian grounds.

    This hardly seems like “clinging”.

  17. Magma says:

    @willard

    That Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article by Michael Liston (Scientific Realism and Antirealism) seems like it is worth struggling through the unfamiliar jargon and concepts and the probably unavoidably complex writing.

  18. MT,

    It was advice TO the scientific community, from, if I recall correctly, Ed Maibach. I see I didn’t make this clear in the article, but it was exactly that suggestion that finally crystalized the entire piece.

    Apologies, I’ve read article a few times, but I missed that subtlety. I shall have to be more careful 🙂

    Maibach suggested that physical scientists were not entitled to opinions in matters of public outreach any more than social scientists are entitled to opinions in matters of physics and chemistry. I cannot agree.

    Yes, I agree. My issue with social scientists having views about physics and chemistry is not that they shouldn’t have them, is that they’re typically wrong.

    In particular, I think the claims of social science on how to approach public outreach are arguably wrong but are almost certainly **woefully incomplete**.

    My own view is that they don’t define the goals. Scientists often community publicly simply to inform, not to convince. Social scientists then often interpret that many are unconvinced as the public outreach having failed, when it wasn’t really the goal in the first place. The decision as to whether or not the public need convincing is not a decision that scientists can, or should, make.

    But those of us who still are thinking ought to give serious consideration about what information to trust, and why. An excess of specialization cannot allow us collectively to make these crucial judgments.

    I agree with you about the first part, but not sure what you mean at the end. Do you mean that the excess of specialisation does not mean that we should be all regarded as generalists?

  19. Brigitte says:

    Victor, the problem in some parts of the social sciences is that it is very difficult to decide what ‘incorrect’ means. This doesn’t apply to all social science research of course, only to some.

  20. Apart from the Evolutionary Biology conference organisers that didn’t invite proponents of ‘intelligent design’, Fuller seems reluctant to provide examples to support his argument. He makes it difficult to judge his position without providing the backstory.

    As I read his article I couldn’t help but wonder whether he’s a closet climate ‘skeptic’, but can’t find any evidence this reading is right. The fact he is a supporter of intelligent design [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Fuller_(sociologist) ] would tend to suggest he has an axe to grind about scientists, and is perhaps lacking in objectivity.

  21. mt says:

    “If someone wants to comment on our understanding of some system, they need some understanding of that system and to know something about how people study such systems, not just understand something about the people doing the research.”

    Absolutely. This applies to journalists as well. I put many of the problems of modern civilization down to the trivialization of journalism.

    related:

    Again, this is far from advice to stay in your lane. This is about taking the time to know what you are talking about when you write publicly, and to be scrupulously honest and forthright about what you don’t know that might be relevant. Fuller doesn’t do that.

    Also re “Well, I have to admit that it’s still not clear to me how we benefit from one group of researchers studying another” this is an interesting topic to me. I don’t know that there’s a simple answer to it. But the STS people need to be prepared to get as good as they give.

  22. Magma says:

    It seems to me that there are a few areas where sociologists of science could have rich and useful hunting grounds without getting in over their heads.

    Surveying mid-career and senior researchers in a given field how they evaluate the worth of new hypotheses and concepts, the competence of fellow scientists, and how they arrive at a consensus in a given area.

    In some fields (less commonly in the physical sciences at this time), what are consistent and significant errors or weaknesses that characterize a significant percentage of published research (abuse of statistical significance, weak and hard-to-test hypotheses, difficulty untangling multiple factors, focus on novel but possibly trivial results while negative results go unpublished, etc.)?

    Factors distorting scientific research priorities and practices. The most obvious one of these is more of an administrative one, namely the great pressure on academics to publish in order to be hired, promoted, and funded, which has led to a treadmill of quantity over quality, a dilution of the technical literature, and burnout among early career researchers hoping for positions at universities. This is a self-inflicted wound that universities and departments could heal at any time, if they changed their focus and priorities. (I’ve been told that in the life sciences in North America, a post-doc may now need as many as 30 publications to be considered for a tenure-track position. This may reflects an oversupply of qualified applicants to positions, but it still seems an insane waste of human time, effort and potential.)

  23. Of course, you guys are free to argue about my piece as you wish, and most of the comments are familiar. One or two, such as the remark about ‘antirealism’, is pretty close to spot on, at least as far as my position (this what ‘social constructivism’ usually means).
    Also, Harry Collins is indeed probably the STS person that practising scientists can warm up to most easily, since he basically wants to simulate scientific expertise (as scientists would recognize it) by sociological means (i.e. interacting with them, immersing himself in their stuff, etc.). It’s an intellectually interesting project, as far as it goes.
    The only thing I never get about these kinds of discussions is the accusations of ‘jealousy’ and ‘bitterness’ that are made about STS people (me, in this case). Perhaps your misunderstanding of our positions come from your reading the wrong emotional range into it.

  24. mt says:

    ATTP: “My own view is that they don’t define the goals. Scientists often community publicly simply to inform, not to convince. Social scientists then often interpret that many are unconvinced as the public outreach having failed, when it wasn’t really the goal in the first place.”

    Exactly.

    I would add that the single most important way to convince the public to do something is to maximize the extent to which they understand the necessity.

    Bad decisions carry equal weight to good decisions on any other method. Understanding selectively benefits reasoned outcomes over unreasoned ones. Very little else does.

    ATTP: ” The decision as to whether or not the public need convincing is not a decision that scientists can, or should, make. ”

    This is an interesting claim. I am considering retreating to this stance. It avoids a lot of discomfort. But I’m not very good at it.

    I recently wrote something like “This will amount to tens of meters of sea level rise. I hope you like that sort of thing.”

    Perhaps a bit of my opinion somehow leaks through this carefully constructed mask?

    Even if you’re good at it, I think this sort of dispassion can’t be for everybody who understands science. Indeed, this is the key fallacy behind Roger Pielke’s “Honest Broker” position, if I have parsed it correctly (*). The scientists report, the policy sector decides, a broker appointed by the policy sector weighs evidence.

    The trouble is that it makes real issues bloodless. The obvious scenario in extremis: discovering the meteor of doom and quietly submitting it to a planetology journal for peer review. “My work is done. Let the policy sector pick it up.”

    A strict separation between science as eyes and politics as cortex isn’t realistic. Our own eyes don’t really operate independently of our brain that way.

    If we see something, we have to say something.

    ===

    (*) My experience is that RPJr categorically rejects every paraphrase, so let’s take that as given…

  25. russellseitz says:

    Attempting a pre- election STS experiment, I asked the head of a 130,000 member tribe with several hundred full time employees if he could find 10 republicans within 100 feet of his office.

    This politically astute chieftan , who happens to be an ex-congressman, has yet to reply.

  26. mt says:

  27. Steven Mosher says:

    Thanks Willard.

    I dont think any of them picked up on this

    “But they found that Verlinde’s predictions matched their observations without needing to use any free parameters – which are values that can be tweaked to make observations match a hypothesis. The presence of dark matter, on the other hand, required four free parameters.”

  28. Steven Mosher says:

    mt

    “It’s not “clinging”. An at least provisional acceptance that there’s an underlying reality outside perception that we can study by means of objective tests is a job requirement.

    We are, you know, pushing buttons in front of glowing screens in various countries and somehow communication is happening between us, mediated by very complex and intricate decisions based on the results of this objective logical inquiry into the assumed underlying reality. This along with very numerous similar examples justifies the provisional acceptance on utilitarian grounds.”

    I think what I would point out ( and perhaps Wilard would agree ) is that most physical scientsts
    hold some form of naive realism ( there is a reality independent of our perception of it) and a
    equally naive representational notion of truth– sentences are true because they map or are isomorphic with this “reality” and they valorize the scientifc method as the sole means of
    producing this truth. From this you get a demarcation between science and non science, and an implied hierarchy. Science Rules. And within scientific ways of knowing you also have a bifurcation between the “hard” sciences and the Soft sciences.. or even between lab science and observational science. Physics being the queen of course and perhaps sociology is the bastard son of a concubine.

    Once you give up the notion of naive realism and naive representationlism and once you give up the quest to be the queen of all sciences– the final decider of things real and things true– you are not left with relativism. You are not left with “anything goes”, you are not left with subjectivism or a world were intelligent design stands on equal footing with evolution. You are left in a space, where there are simply different ways of knowing, different things worth knowing, where some ways of knowing work really really well (have adaptive value) like physics, and others, well, they stumble along and don’t always converge on univocal understanding.

    No useful purpose is served by attempting to create a hierarchy for other people of these ways of knowing or things worth knowing . If an organism comes to believe that lives in a world inhabited by the spirits of its ancestors and navigates the world based on this theory, and that theory works for the organism and has adaptive value, then my sense is we should let that organism be. It’s working, it;s functioning, it’s not bothering me. It lives in a world of spirits and looks to be doing just fine. Nobody died and elected me god and charged me with the task of correcting their metaphysics. I dont think science serves it self very well by sending missionaries to foreign lands ( other disciplines, or other cultures) to save them from “ignorance” or bad ontologies. Animals who can sense the infra red, never come to us and point out that our eyes are fucked up and only giving us a limited view of reality. Dogs dont call us out for being defective because we cant hear what they hear. Our hearing works fine for us. Dogs hearing works fine for them. Put another way, most of what you believe is false and that’s a good thing. When what you believe stops having adaptive value, then you are in trouble.

    Normalizing science as a part of the larger social fabric is just this.Recognizing that science is just one (very successful) way of understanding and coming to grips with the physical world. And perhaps more importantly, there are other aspects of our experience that may be just as important as the physical world.

    ########

    Willard, a while back you put up a very interesting Talk on different cultures and their views of reality… I’ve lost my link to it

  29. Steve,
    Thanks for the comment.

    One or two, such as the remark about ‘antirealism’, is pretty close to spot on, at least as far as my position (this what ‘social constructivism’ usually means).

    Can you clarify what you mean here. Are you saying that you don’t believe that science can tell us something about what the world is really like?

    The only thing I never get about these kinds of discussions is the accusations of ‘jealousy’ and ‘bitterness’ that are made about STS people (me, in this case).

    I don’t see why you don’t get this. It was exactly my first impression. It’s not the first time that I’ve had this impression. Based on your comment, I assume it’s not the first time you’ve encountered it. It might be wrong, but it’s what it is. You, of course, don’t have to take any notice of it, but that isn’t necessarily going to change it and I can’t see why it’s hard to understand why it’s the impression that others might have.

    Perhaps your misunderstanding of our positions come from your reading the wrong emotional range into it.

    If it’s important that your position is understood, then maybe the onus is on you to make it clearer. My own view is that researchers should be endeavouring to make their positions pretty clear. It’s not the job of those viewing it to understand what you’re suggesting; it’s really your job to do your best to present it in a way that isn’t easily misunderstood. You don’t have to, but I do find it difficult to take some research all that seriously if those who present it don’t seem to care if it’s being misunderstood.

    What I would really like to see is a robust analysis from an STS researcher that actually supports their position, because I have yet to really see it. I’d be really happy if you could present something that was more than essentially anecdote. I don’t have a specific issue with the concept of people researching other researchers. As I said in the post, I’m mostly unimpressed with what I’ve encountered. If I’m misunderstanding something, or if there is something more robust that I just haven’t seen, I’m more than happy to change my mind. Simply telling me that I don’t understand, is probably not going to be enough, though.

  30. MT,

    ATTP: ” The decision as to whether or not the public need convincing is not a decision that scientists can, or should, make. ”

    This is an interesting claim. I am considering retreating to this stance. It avoids a lot of discomfort. But I’m not very good at it.

    A caveat to this would be that there is nothing wrong with a scientist – acting as a member of the public – advocating that our policy makers make such a decision.

    I think the problem with the simplistic Honest Broker position is that there is nothing fundamentally unscientific about a scientist highlighting the consequences of various options.

    If we see something, we have to say something.

    I agree.

  31. Willard says:

    You made me do it:

    NB. “You” being defined recursively by whoever made me do it.

  32. Steven M.,

    I dont think any of them picked up on this

    Except, I don’t think it can explain the Bullet Cluster.

  33. mt says:

    Mosh>>: “I think what I would point out ( and perhaps Wilard would agree ) is that most physical scientsts hold some form of naive realism ( there is a reality independent of our perception of it) and a equally naive representational notion of truth– sentences are true because they map or are isomorphic with this “reality”

    Some sentences are true in this sense. That’s empirically demonstrable.

    >> “and they valorize the scientifc method as the sole means of
    producing this truth.”

    I agree that many people do think like this. I call it “naive materialism” not “naive realism”, but that’s my own internal representation. Anyway, it is NOT a job requirement. It is only a job requirement to understand that SOME sentences are true because they map onto those aspects of the world that do reveal themselves by objective tests.

    Some of the people who think like this are practicing scientists. It does their capacity as scientific professionals no harm. And I suspect it is not as common as some wish to think. But it is neither universal nor relevant to the epistemic status of what science can and does reveal.

    >> “From this you get a demarcation between science and non science, and an implied hierarchy. Science Rules.”

    Again, I think most of the people thinking like this are not scientists at all. Also it’s powerless as a critique of science as practice. It’s a strawman, irrelevant at best, even if true.

    The point is not whether pure physics-like science explains everything. The point is that it very effectively describes something.

    >> “And within scientific ways of knowing you also have a bifurcation between the “hard” sciences and the Soft sciences.. or even between lab science and observational science. Physics being the queen of course and perhaps sociology is the bastard son of a concubine.”

    (ymmv. I actually think climate science is paradigmatic of modern scientific research. Successful modeling is where the action is.)

    Again, none of this is to say that non-scientific disciplines are worthless. I would be the last to make such a claim. I am, for instance, intensely interested in art and architecture.

    But it is to say that any challenge to the epistemic value of specific scientific claims must be made within the scientific context.

  34. Steven M.,

    Recognizing that science is just one (very successful) way of understanding and coming to grips with the physical world. And perhaps more importantly, there are other aspects of our experience that may be just as important as the physical world.

    I think most physical scientists do recognise this. What I think most reject is the idea that these other aspects suddenly change what will probably happen in the physical world. We can choose to ignore that something might happen, but that is not going to influence whether it will happen, or not. We can choose to make a decision that may not seem optimal (given the information that we have about the physical world) but that isn’t going to change whether or not that information was a reasonable representation of the physical world.

  35. Chris says:

    Fuller is rather misrepresenting Kuhn. Incidentally, Kuhn is interesting but not necessarily particularly helpful in understanding modern science, and he’s very unlikely to be “the first port of call to learn about the history, philosophy or sociology of science” as Fuller asserts!

    Anyway, Kuhn does make a reference to Orwell’s 1984: After a discussion of an apparent (but untrue in my experience) tendency of a scientific community to repudiate past paradigms, Kuhn says: “Inevitably those remarks will suggest that the member of a mature scientific community is, like the typical character of Orwell’s 1984, the victim of a history rewritten by the powers that be.” [p 166 of Kuhn : The structure of scientific revolutions; Uni Chicago Press, 1962].

    However Kuhn carries on by explaining at length why this characterization is inappropriate. He says: “To do so [i.e. to purse the Orwellian analogy] would be to imply that in the sciences might makes right , a formulation which would again not be entirely wrong if it did not suppress the nature of the process and of the authority by which the choice between paradigms is made” He then has a long description of what (he considers) to be the characteristics of the peculiar community that assesses the validity/usefulness of paradigms – that the scientists must be concerned about solving problems about the behaviour of nature; the problems are likely to be problems of detail; the solutions that satisfy him must not be merely personal but accepted more generally; that appeals to authority are prohibited etc.

    Fuller seems not have noticed that bit and so completely misses the point of Kuhn’s reference to Orwell… And Fuller sadly tries to saddle Kuhn with his own tedious baggage about “truth” and “post truth” something that Kuhn was at pains to dissociate from : ”It is now time to notice that until the last very few pages the term ‘truth’ had entered this essay only in a quotation from Francis Bacon. And even in those pages it entered only as a source for the scientist’s conviction that incompatible rules for doing science cannot coexist except during revolutions when the profession’s main task is to eliminate all sets but one” [p 169]. Interestingly, Kuhn then proceeds to describe what he considers to be a strong analogy between the “goal-less” evolution of science with the “goal-less” process of evolution as formulated by Darwin, something that someone with creationist sympathies might not be too keen on…

  36. Willard says:

    > That Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article by Michael Liston (Scientific Realism and Antirealism) seems like it is worth struggling through the unfamiliar jargon and concepts and the probably unavoidably complex writing.

    Good! Note that not all philosophers agree on the style:

    How to create technical communication without relying on jargon is still an open problem.

  37. If I understand what MT is saying here a great deal of this issue relates to how scientists are regarded as perceiving the world. For example

    the scientifc method as the sole means of producing this truth.

    I certainly don’t identify with this and I don’t know that many scientists do (some might, but I don’t know for sure). Science, in my view, is simply a process of gaining understanding of whatever is being studied. It doesn’t tell us what to do with that information, or really allow us to quantify the “value” of our understanding. Clarifying the role of science in society would, I think, be very valuable (since it is often misunderstood, IMO). Undermining science’s understanding of reality, however, is not helpful (IMO).

  38. Ken Fabian says:

    ATTP – “The decision as to whether or not the public need convincing is not a decision that scientists can, or should, make. ”

    I would disagree. Perhaps there should be clear distinction between speaking as scientist from speaking as concerned citizen, but if the understandings arising from scientific enquiry are cause for concern and community ignorance has directly related consequences – and for climate change it does – I think it is a decision citizens who are scientists not only can but should be making. Expect criticism – but by now it’s clear that criticism will attach for informing about climate science as readily as for climate action advocacy.

    Convincing the public effectively is another matter, especially given the bread and butter of the dominant “informing” industry (news media) is persuasion via advertising – ie getting people to make choices that are in the advertiser’s, not the consumer’s (public’s), best interest and the distinction between news and commentary and advertising and persuasion is too often blurred.

    Convincing those in positions of trust and responsibility and decision making power effectively – getting them well informed and/or accessing credible expertise – really should be those people’s own duty and obligation but clearly that isn’t happening. That should not be seen as a failure of scientists.

  39. Ken,
    I did add this caveat. The decision is still not really – IMO – for scientists to make. However, I see no reason why scientists shouldn’t be speaking out if they think there is something serious that should be taken more seriously.

  40. mt says:

    Ken F >> “Convincing those in positions of trust and responsibility and decision making power effectively – getting them well informed and/or accessing credible expertise – really should be those people’s own duty and obligation but clearly that isn’t happening. That should not be seen as a failure of scientists.”

    Journalists have a to-me-peculiar explanation of why this isn’t their job. (Sometimes they invoke STS studies to back them up.)

    The trouble is that it has to be somebody’s job.

    It’s a failure of the system as a whole. We can’t have it be “not my job” for every class of job.

  41. Steve Fuller says: “The only thing I never get about these kinds of discussions is the accusations of ‘jealousy’ and ‘bitterness’ that are made about STS people (me, in this case). Perhaps your misunderstanding of our positions come from your reading the wrong emotional range into it.

    When I see a good piece of science, I am happy that I understand the world or scientific methods a little bit better and do not think about the person much beyond thankfulness.

    When I see a bad piece and especially when people consistently put out bad stuff, I start to wonder why this person does so. That is something that seems to need an explanation, isn’t it?

    Well, part of what #STS tries to do is to normalize science as part of the larger social fabric, so that it doesn’t appear so elite.

    When someone tries to take down scientists a few pegs and calls them “elite” for having put in hard work to understand nature it seems natural to assume the reason why is jealousy. There are naturally less friendly explanations like supporting irrationality and authoritarian rule. The political and economical elites will be happy to fill the void Fuller is trying to create.

  42. I haven’t followed the full exchange and will chase up the Fuller piece in The Guardian, but there is a long (and quite useful) literature about the sociology of science going back to Robert Merton (1942) and involving several different developments from (i) science as positivism, to (ii) the social constructionist critique from the 1970s, through to (iii) more nuanced understandings of scientific expertise (see in particular Collins, H. M. and R. Evans (2002). ‘The third wave of science studies: Studies of expertise and experience’, Social Studies of Science, 32, pp. 235-295 and the responses to that article in the same journal). Coming from a sociological background I think understanding how different occupations makes claims to legitimacy and expertise are inherently interesting and important re understanding social power and politics (which after all determine how scientific knowledge is used and misused!). My own work has focused on how managers, consultants and other ‘new professions’ have used such appeals to generate access to power within global capitalism. I’ve started reading back into the sociology of science as part of a future study on the harassment of climate scientists, of which attacks upon scientific expertise by vested interests and climate deniers are a key part. BTW this article is quite good on climate science and scientific expertise: Demeritt, D. (2006). ‘Science studies, climate change and the prospects for constructivist critique’, Economy and Society, 35, pp. 453-479.

  43. Pingback: ATTP takes on Prof Steve Fuller | Planet 3.0

  44. semyorka says:

    It read to me like someone had read Feyeraband, made a complete hash of it then tried to pass that hash of as their own. That would be wrong though as I doubt they have read “Against Method” or at least be consciously influenced by it.

    Post truth is making up a complete b*llox story like Pizzagate, a bunch of people including H Clinton are running a paedophile network from a pizza shop. It is deliberately fabricated news, not news. Spinning is putting a subjective emphasis on real information. Mark Anthony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Cesear is a great example of this very old and well trodden art of human interaction. “Friends, Romans countrymen..” and let the spin begin.

    But science lives under the brutal tyranny of the objective reality of the universe. Science gets things wrong all time, all knowledge is only held provisionally. But ultimately there is a physical reality that competing ideas have to measure against. The physical universe is bluntly indifferent to who came up with an idea or its political implications.

    If someone comes up with a set of ideas that better measures up to the tyranny of the objective reality than your ideas are going to the same grave yard as luminiferous aether, phlogiston, Lamark, Lysenko and Deutsche Physik.

    All the rest is posturing.

  45. angech says:

    Willard, should that comment be
    “Every tribe has it’ s own Dalek?
    Would make a lot more sense in context.

  46. guthrie says:

    My memory of Fuller and his part in the Dover trial is fading somewhat, since it was 11 years ago, but his parting shot in the guardian piece suggests he still hasn’t learnt anything.
    Roughly summarised, his argument at Dover seemed to be that it was alright to teach Intelligent Design in school because science needs alternative theories, and sometimes these come from outside the close minded self policing academia. But the alternatives need time and followers to get strong to overthrow the current paradigm, hence his support for ID.
    Naturally, this is totally wrong and indicates a complete lack of understanding of how science works and what it is. His ignorance of the filtering effect that reality has upon theories and the ethical issues with teaching children nonsense, not to mention the lack of scientific progress that has come from this approach in the past, would suggest that he shouldn’t get space in the Guardian.

  47. BBD says:

    Willard, should that comment be
    “Every tribe has it’ s own Dalek?
    Would make a lot more sense in context.

  48. kap55 says:

    I, for one, am utterly shocked that nobody in STS has thought to study the practitioners of STS, with a view towards integrating them into the larger social fabric of science. I’m sure there’s so much to learn there. Who’s up for a grant proposal?

  49. Let me give you a reality check on what’s been going on here.
    I see a lot of breast-beating about the nature of science but little engagement with the article as presented. There are links in the article to the various issues it raises. I actually never mentioned STS but that, and the final paragraph on intelligent design, seems to have aroused your interest. I was advised that the ID example would blind certain scientific readers (perhaps you lot) to the overall argument. But scientists shouldn’t need ‘safe spaces’ where they’re spared from accounts of the history of science that might place their current position in a less than favourable light.
    The problem is that you really haven’t engaged with the history, philosophy and sociology in any serious way over the very many decades in which these fields have been practised. And it’s biting you in the ass in the form of all this post-truth stuff, which you would have been prepared for, had you been properly schooled in these fields.
    Your ‘elitism’ is manifested in your outright dismissal of a body of long-standing research or claim to know something about it based on a Wikipedia article. (Would you allow this of an interloper in your own fields? If you did, you might come to love me!) Of course, there are people in STS who will be more diplomatic than me, but probably they depend more on your good graces to get funding for their own research.
    So if what you’re doing is more than just a cri de coeur about our living in post-truth times, you should stop this echo chamber and think about how you regroup to reassert whatever matters to you in some politically meaningful way in the turbulent times ahead.
    And in case you’re wondering: I was pro-Remain, pro-Hillary and I believe in climate change.

  50. semyorka says:

    “And in case you’re wondering: I was pro-Remain, pro-Hillary and I believe in climate change.”
    I dont give a frig.
    What attribute of the physically real universe do we have wrong that you have a better methodology of describing.

    “So if what you’re doing is more than just a cri de coeur about our living in post-truth times”
    We are not living in “post truth times”. Some politicians have chosen to lie or at least abandon empiricism in describing the physical world we live in.
    This is no more or less post truth than claiming only ””Germanic” people are Ayrian or claiming a mystical force guided evolution.

    When you have a clearly defined example of what science has observed wrong get back to us.

  51. Greg Wellman says:

    I’m rather surprised that we made it this far into comments with no one suggesting this is a continuation (or rehash) of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_wars
    Indeed, Steve Fuller was one of the original participants.

    The wikipedia article covers it far better than I would, but the final quote is worth pulling out

    “However, more recently some of the leading critical theorists have recognized that their critiques have at times been counter-productive, and are providing intellectual ammunition for reactionary interests.

    “Writing about these developments in the context of global warming, Bruno Latour noted that ‘dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant?’

    Back to my own take on things, I believe that the reasons many scientists were offended by the conduct of the postmodernists can be listed as
    1. Postmodernists were far from clear that social construction of science doesn’t mean “wrong” or “any other point of view is just as valid”.
    2. Some postmodernists seemed to really be saying “any other point of view is just as valid”.
    3. By making themselves the researchers and the scientists the subjects, the postmodernists appeared to be setting up a dynamic in which their understanding is by definition superior.

    That last point was really the big one, but made more galling by the first two. People who did not understand the physics were claiming they didn’t need to understand the physics but could claim a meta-placement, a dominion, over it.

    Sure, many people live lives where they can get by with very different beliefs, such as believing in angels and demons. And it’s also true that the scientific process uses human language, human metaphors, and can go in the wrong direction for a while. We even know that there is something flawed in our understanding of the two most fundamental phenomena there are: quantum mechanics and gravity. But the wild predictive success of our current level of understanding, and the generally incremental sort of change in predictive success is a very strong argument for the existence of a true reality we are studying. The people who reject science in order to deny climate change are still scientific-realist enough that they would object to anyone pointing a gun at them and pulling the trigger. Anyone who accepts scientific realism when it benefits them (and that’s everyone) but rejects it otherwise is just a simple hypocrite.

  52. Willard says:

    > I was advised that the ID example would blind certain scientific readers (perhaps you lot) to the overall argument.

    It looks more like a sideswipe than an example, dear @ProfSteveFuller. It’s the last paragraph of your editorial and injects a pet topic of yours. Your “safe space,” “echo chamber,” and “elitism” indicate that you know how to throw loaded words around. Part of the charm of being a public intellectual, no doubt.

    An overall argument would have been nice.

  53. Harry Twinotter says:

    Social Sciences trying to drag the physical sciences down to their level? Using the old “Elitist” pejorative sounds a bit Marxist.

  54. If a special case of a theory (e.g. an Intelligent Design “example”) is wrong, the theory is wrong. There is no further need to engage with it to demonstrate this.

    It is really quite rich when a tenured sociology professor accuses science interested lay people and untenured scientists of being elitists. It becomes even richer when claiming your opponents are responding emotionally and just have not enough knowledge. “If only you would be an erudite person and well-read in history, philosophy and sociology like myself, you would see the brilliance of my Intelligent Design defence.” Talking about elitism. Additional problem: several people here actually are not that badly informed on this topics.

    In science it normally helps to go in depth and explain in detail why objections to your ideas are wrong, rather than each time write a comment that mostly ignores the arguments. When think Intelligent Design should not be seen as part of the scientific debate. Given your arguments why it should be or admit that it was a mistake to give that example. Then we can move on and make progress.

  55. angech says:

    This is a Pandora can of worms ATTP.
    “This is exactly what Kuhn meant by a ‘paradigm’ in science – a set of conventions by which knowledge builds in an orderly fashion to complete a certain world-view established by a founding figure – say, Newton or Darwin. Each new piece of knowledge is anointed by a process of ‘peer review’.”
    In essence one is being put under the microscope by other scientists, who don t care what your field of research is, only how you scientifically go about it.
    Or only how scientifically you go about it.

  56. S.F. writes: “Each new piece of knowledge is anointed by a process of ‘peer review’.”

    Is it? I don’t think so. Contradictory ideas are often published the very same day/week/month through the process of peer review. Peer review is at best (worst) a crude filter. It’s not a gatekeeper, more of a spam filter. There’s no sudden acceptance through peer-review; there’s no annointing going on. That will occur only after a cycle replication and reproducibility shows that the result is robust (and citations by those who build upon the result).

    The whole idea of “lions and foxes” is at best a weak metaphor for the history of science as I’ve learned it. Was Einstein a lion or fox? Is James Hansen a lion or fox? Was Galileo a lion or fox?

    Galileo is especially interesting to consider since S.F. also writes: “Self-styled visionaries present themselves, like Galileo, as the first to see what is in plain sight. Did Galileo ever make this claim? Galileo supported the Copernican view. I.e., he was supporting someone else’s theory! And ‘plain sight’ seems especially ironic since his most important observations required the use of a telescope.

    Believing in these lions and foxes how does one explain the whole field of particle physics? Einstein famously didn’t believe the implications of his *own* theory! Every particle physicist I’ve ever read wants to overthrow/supplant/revise the Standard Model. Yet there it stands. There’s no lion defending the Standard Model. Just results that fail to overturn it.

  57. Willard says:

    Lions and foxes will have to wait tomorrow, ONeill.

    Meanwhile, an interlude, courtesy of the Auditor, via Judy:

    “You can do anything as long as you talk with people and listen to people and talk with the intelligentsia of the community,” says Rosling.

    He is still trying to arm influential people with facts.

    Facts. Can you believe that?

    Let’s hope Hans Rosling does not prescribe any lion reality checks too.

  58. Steven Mosher says:

    “Again, none of this is to say that non-scientific disciplines are worthless. I would be the last to make such a claim. I am, for instance, intensely interested in art and architecture.”

    Damn with faint praise

    “But it is to say that any challenge to the epistemic value of specific scientific claims must be made within the scientific context.”

    I think I should have made the point stronger. Suggesting that one should keep in one’s lane,
    or suggesting that challenges to science should come from within science…Pre supposes the very thing I would ultimately have to question: the “independent”, “objective”, “existence” of a thing called science and a canonical method of separating what is inside or outside of it. To be sure we use the word “science” and we refer to scientists. In my mind there are just ways of coming to understanding. Culturally and linguistically folks come to use the word “science” to describe a field and a way of understanding.. it’s a useful fiction it’s ok as long as we dont attach too much value to it…. as in

    “any challenge to the epistemic value of specific scientific claims must be made within the scientific context”

    In one sense, yes. When a scientist who works at Big Oil, makes a scientific claim, the value of that claim should be divorced from the context of who he works for…. as an example.and only evaluated within the scientific context.

    hmm

  59. John Mashey says:

    MT & ATTP: “The “swim in your own lane” was actually a reference to a social scientist arguing that physical scientists should not have opinions about public outreach, which – I agree with MT – is wrong. ”

    Is there a source for exactly what Ed Maibach said/wrote, in context?
    I ask as there are two plausible interpretations of this.

  60. John, it appears to originate from this mt post on Aug 15, 2013: Swim in Your Lane: How the “Public Understanding of Science” Community Fails and Betrays the Climate

    Maibach was explicit about their claim to sovereignty in the conversation. “Just swim in your lane” he said. Someone (my apologies, I can’t recall who) pointed out to me that this was a clearly turf-defensive move. “If climate scientists move into any other lanes, theirs would be the first one.”

    Earlier in the post mt says,

    I have recently developed a better understanding of where this nonsense is coming from, after a few weeks of reading up on its history, and after a day of being exposed to no small amount of it at the Science Online Climate meeting in Washington DC today.

    There’s a link in mt’s post to ‘Science Online Climate’ — but it’s no longer an active domain, but the wayback machine has the schedule details. Maibach was a panelist on the main Plenary session: Testing Climate Communication Hypotheses.

  61. Arthur Smith says:

    I haven’t read Fuller’s article (given the complaints it didn’t seem worthwhile) but I do think there are positive things to be gained by studying scientists and the way they (we) go about the process of finding what we think are truths about the universe.

    First off, are the processes of science as they stand effective to ensure “accepted” assertions over time come measurably closer to reality? Doubts have certainly been raised about one field or another – string theory or psychological studies for instance, and it may be processes specifically in those fields that are cause for trouble, and which don’t arise elsewhere, How does the culture of rewards and punishments work? How generally does it happen that people with all their human faults and failings and biases can actually come to know profound things that, for example, allow predictions of certain atomic processes with precisions of parts per billion or better? There is benefit in trying to understand how science itself does generally work, and what its failure modes are.

    And second – it would be very helpful to know which processes of science really aren’t essential to its progress. Is peer review an essential piece or not actually making a difference? Are postdoctoral temporary jobs helpful or harmful? We think we know the answers, but some actual data and analysis that provides more concrete understanding could have a huge impact.

    But that doesn’t actually seem to be what this is all about so… probably just once again one group trying to tell another how to do their jobs…

  62. mt’s 2013 post includes a link to Bruno Latour’s mea culpa from 2004:

    What has become of critique, I wonder, when the New York Times runs the following story?

    Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused largely by manmade pollutants that require strict regulation. Mr. Luntz [a lobbyist for the Republicans] seems to acknowledge as much when he says that “the scientific debate is closing against us.” His advice, however, is to emphasize that the evidence is not complete. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled,” he writes, “their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.”

    Fancy that? An artificially maintained scientific controversy to favor a “brown backlash” as Paul Ehrlich would say. Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the “lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument–or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?

    In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact–as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past–but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always the prisoner of language, that we always speak from one standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not? Why can’t I simply say that the argument is closed for good?

    It would appear that many in STS don’t have the same qualms as Latour.

  63. > That teh Lubos himself is against this idea may indicate it has merits.

    Sort of the corollary of “if you’re taking flak, you’re probably over the target”, and other Texan Sharpshooters, Willard? E.g.:

  64. > [quoting Wikipedia] However, more recently some of the leading critical theorists have recognized that their critiques have at times been counter-productive, and are providing intellectual ammunition for reactionary interests.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to ask that question, Greg W. I do think it would be hazardous to make that a main critique of their critiques. Any intelligent and/or sufficiently motivated person not liking the results of some scientific conclusion will find a way to attack it. If not directly on its own evidence and arguments, then indirectly by going after the meta-commentary.

    In sum, if the rule is “let’s not say X because it’s been used against us by adversaries”, pretty soon we risk running out of Xs.

    … which is not to say that any old meta-critique of Teh Science ™ isn’t CRAP.

  65. Susan Anderson says:

    I was interested enough to read right through carefully, inasmuch as I am able to understand. The “tone” is consistently interesting, intelligent, and objective, open and allowing disagreement, until I got to Professor Fuller, who makes a variety of accusations and claims and accuses others of things like jealousy. It has often been my experience that people in a passion accuse their opponents of their own feelings, which seems to be the case here. Others have noted his loaded language and associated insults of nonscientific bugaboos like “safe spaces”. The responses seem to advance the conversation and be both observant and intelligent, leaving a pothole in the middle here.

    As a general rule, science requires years of study, setting aside preconceptions, learning things, and real skepticism. Professional people who provide justification for substituting what one wants to believe for observing what is really there are, as Latour says so eloquently, not helping.

    My question is simple: Should we be at war, too, we, the scholars, the intellectuals? Is it really our duty to add fresh ruins to fields of ruins? Is it really the task of the humanities to add deconstruction to destructions? More iconoclasm to iconoclasm? What has become of critical spirit? Has it not run out of steam?

    I couldn’t help but think of this, where President Obama plays with the problem of communicating important ideas to people who don’t want to hear or acknowledge them with his “anger manager”.

  66. > First off, are the processes of science as they stand effective to ensure “accepted” assertions over time come measurably closer to reality? Doubts have certainly been raised about one field or another – string theory or psychological studies for instance, and it may be processes specifically in those fields that are cause for trouble, and which don’t arise elsewhere, How does the culture of rewards and punishments work?

    If you don’t mind my weaseling, many have said that publish or perish cannot be a good system, Arthur S.

    As I’ve been reading this thread, I’ve been keeping in mind — mainly by virtue of its locale — that it’s taking place against the backdrop of climate science. Given the stakes, this is a field which would have inevitably faced exceptional … scrutiny … just by virtue of the unprecedented scope of the policy implications and the attendant ideological clashes arising out of the unavoidable and essential political conversations that entails.

    Perhaps I presume wrongly; but were Anders “just” an astronomer, Prof. Fuller’s piece might not have provoked such a sharply critical response from him. Speaking strictly for myself; were I not such a climate blog warrior, I might not be so acutely aware of (read: sensitive to) *potentially* undermining the public trust in science (and scientists themselves) as something which may be suboptimal.

    And had not almost half of the US voting population not given us Trump this past election … well … who knows. My eyes are certainly more than normally jaundiced right now.

    > There is benefit in trying to understand how science itself does generally work, and what its failure modes are.

    I don’t disagree, and I don’t think that’s what’s being disputed here. I do think there’s a problem with generalization here however … where is it … ah:

    johnrussell40:

    Apart from the Evolutionary Biology conference organisers that didn’t invite proponents of ‘intelligent design’, Fuller seems reluctant to provide examples to support his argument. He makes it difficult to judge his position without providing the backstory.

    And:

    semyorka:

    We are not living in “post truth times”. Some politicians have chosen to lie or at least abandon empiricism in describing the physical world we live in.
    This is no more or less post truth than claiming only ””Germanic” people are Ayrian or claiming a mystical force guided evolution.

    When you have a clearly defined example of what science has observed wrong get back to us.

    What I’m reading into these comments is: If Prof. Fuller were less sweeping and more specific, his words could be taken not as broad condemnation but rather as cautionary tales of where Teh Science ™ has been observed to go off the rails. Thing is, examples aren’t difficult for me to come up with. Where did I learn them? At university as an *undergrad* … in *physical* science courses. Perhaps not as deeply as a sociologist-philosopher would delve into them, but they *were* in the curriculum.

    Which may have somewhat to do with the backlash here.

    > Is peer review an essential piece or not actually making a difference?

    I’d say it’s necessary. Noting psychology’s particular replication issues, one place I don’t think there is a big issue is on cognitive biases. Even hardcore Nobel Laureate physicists like Feynman and Planck grokked that they weren’t infallible.

    But again, mine is a lay opinion … there are some expert excoriations of peer review published in refereed journals. The conclusion is particularly quoteminable:

    CONCLUSION

    So peer review is a flawed process, full of easily identified defects with little evidence that it works. Nevertheless, it is likely to remain central to science and journals because there is no obvious alternative, and scientists and editors have a continuing belief in peer review. How odd that science should be rooted in belief.

    Ditch that pal review! Well actually the paper doesn’t say that, but I know plenty of usual suspects who would make it say so to fit a narrative.

  67. > Sort of the corollary of “if you’re taking flak, you’re probably over the target” […]

    Exactly, BG. I’ve met Babette before, BTW, during the AstroSH haslitudes.

    Speaking of translation:

    An extension:

  68. izen says:

    @-SF
    “The problem is that you really haven’t engaged with the history, philosophy and sociology in any serious way over the very many decades in which these fields have been practised.”

    Those that have, might be aware that sociology as a new science in the 1950s in the US was largely funded and its research directed by the CIA as a means of finding out how to change communists into capitalists using methods borrowed from the advertising industry and Bernays. It has always been part of a politically and economically normative agenda.

    @-“But scientists shouldn’t need ‘safe spaces’ where they’re spared from accounts of the history of science that might place their current position in a less than favourable light.”

    While in Europe by the 1970s sociology had been captured by a mix of anti-capitalist left-wing ideology and a particularly nihilistic philosophical paradigm from semiotics. The science and technology of the 70s spawned the computer chip, genetics and the standard model in nuclear physics. Sociology spawned Pol Pot applying the ideas he had picked up as a student in France…

    @-“So if what you’re doing is more than just a cri de coeur about our living in post-truth times, you should stop this echo chamber and think about how you regroup to reassert whatever matters to you in some politically meaningful way in the turbulent times ahead.”

    Studying the history and development of Science and Technology over many decades would show what practises were most effective in producing success. Measured by utilitarian outcomes or some metric of increased predictive knowledge. I suspect that it may confirm what all the name-dropped economic determinists, Pareto, Marx, Trotsky… suggested. When society invests in science it gets results. The explosion in chemical research in the 1920s, or the expansion of electronics during the space race/cold war. A society, or Polity, that fails to grant science funds and privileged status but still succeeds is difficult to find either as a contemporary or historical example. Perhaps STS could discover why.

    (Is it a confirmation of Kuhn’s concept of scientific advances that it was rapidly replaced as the paradigm of how scientific discovery works ?)

  69. Steve,
    Nothing in this comment really addresses any of the criticisms. Part of my post was about our exchange on Twitter, which followed from your article. Telling us what’s biting us in the ass and why we’re elitist doesn’t really tell us anything. I realise that the internet is the perfect place for having people tell me what’s wrong with me, but that doesn’t really help me to understand what you’re getting at in your article. It’s not as if I’m alone in my criticism. That doesn’t make it right, necessarily, but simply being dismissive of all your critics is not going to be very convincing.

    You say this

    Your ‘elitism’ is manifested in your outright dismissal of a body of long-standing research or claim to know something about it based on a Wikipedia article.

    I’m not dismissing this. What I’m dismissing, at the moment, is that this research can tells us anything specific about science itself. I’m more than happy to accept that some knowledge of the history of science is an important part of understanding the scientific process. However, understanding the history of science doesn’t, by itself, tell you anything about (for example) physics today. My problem is with the apparent over-reach in which people who study something like the history of science think that they can then infer specific things about science today.

    (Would you allow this of an interloper in your own fields? If you did, you might come to love me!)

    In a sense I’m suggesting that you are an interloper, hence my criticism. However, what I would do is put some effort into explaining why I thought they were wrong, rather than just going around calling them elitist.

    Of course, there are people in STS who will be more diplomatic than me, but probably they depend more on your good graces to get funding for their own research.

    I don’t really care if you’re diplomatic, or not. What I’m looking for is for you to actually lay out your assumptions, your methods, discuss your results and draw some conclusions. It would be interesting just as an illustration that it can be done, because I’m not convinced that it can.

  70. Arthur,
    I agree, there are reasons for studying scientists, and the scientific process, that could be useful. However, that would seem to be mainly so as to inform the process and – as you say – highlight, for example, aspects that may not be necessary. However, this doesn’t really appear to be that, or – if it is – it’s tending to allow for stronger claims that may be warranted.

    Brandon,
    Something that struck me about Steve’s tweet was that one of the general issues in science/research is the tendency to over-hype one’s results. According to Steve, it seems that the problems are so severe that something catastrophic might need to happen to change minds.

  71. > Speaking of translation […]

    Ah. And editors. I may yet find a role in all this mess. Thanks, W.

  72. Tim Roberts says:

    Slightly off-topic, but as an undergraduate I did a couple of units of psychology – don’t ask – and one of my tutors was insistent that it was a science “we use statistics in our analysis so we are a science” or somesuch. All my other undergrad units were either maths or a science, and the stats were the same but the use of them in experimental methods was not. I suspect social science has the same flawed understanding of what constitutes scientific research and discovery.

  73. > Something that struck me about Steve’s tweet was that one of the general issues in science/research is the tendency to over-hype one’s results.

    At risk of piling on, the plausible irony of that tweet did give me a chuckle, Anders.

    > According to Steve, it seems that the problems are so severe that something catastrophic might need to happen to change minds.

    It seems I was just having this conversation in a tangential kind of way … ah yes:

    But hey, let’s look on the bright side. At the rate things are (not) going, in the four decades or so the actuaries tell me I have left, I’d say there’s a better than even chance for the C you lot insist on prepending — against protest — to AGW to be unambiguously demonstrated. Then I get to be the one to wag my finger and say, “See, we ‘alarmists’ said this might not be such a good idea”, just before I croak and thus leave the rest of the world to deal with the unmitigated excesses of my generation.

    What a happy day that would be!

    I totally get the moral imperative (or is it a moral hazard?) of needing a catastrophe to win an argument for *potentially* catastrophic outcomes, but I’m not sure the clinical insanity belongs to me for pointing out the absurdity of that position.

    Anyway. Perhaps we really are living in a post-fact, post-truth, post-thought, post-Planck world where science requires more than one funeral at a time for advancement. I’m just not sure I can totally buy it. I know for sure I don’t like the implications … it, like, appeals to my emotions — something that is supposed to be a bad sign.

  74. Susan,

    until I got to Professor Fuller, who makes a variety of accusations and claims and accuses others of things like jealousy.

    Actually, I was the one who suggested that part of the issue was jealousy about the sciences.

  75. Susan Anderson says:

    Out of order, but if people don’t know, “misunderestimate” was a Bushism (the younger). It’s a classic reference to not knowing what one is talking about (pot meet kettle, mea culpa).

  76. Susan Anderson says:

    aTTP: quite right. After reading a lot, I misrepresented the source. But I stand by my complaint about the anger affect and resulting distortions. I realize that the science I’ve had to do with is at rather a high level (too high for me, though I did work hard briefly as an undergraduate at MIT, and know what work is, which seems all too often to go missing in these arguments).

  77. Willard says:

    Got the time to read back the thread and I’d like to issue a clarification.

    When I’m saying that scientists cling to some sort of realism, I’m not saying they naively believe there’s a reality independent from the agents that conceive it. That’s objectivism, or Realism with a big R. I’m rather referring to the social fact that scientists usually assume that our scientific theories offer a true description of the world. In other words, scientific realism. It is possible to have no qualms about the existence of an external world and still dispute that our scientific have any realistic bite.

    One way to interpret SF’s “bit of post-truth” would be to say that our scientific knowledge itself helped us get away from the idea that truth is some kind of correspondence with the world. I’m not sure if Realism-with-a-big-R implies correspondantism, but they often hang around together. Popper, for instance, held both, just like everyone before the appearance of humbler conceptions of truth.

    This interpretation doesn’t provide SF with what I think he’d need to pull a full Pareto on all this. Take the basic tenet of Lawrence Henderson’s philosophy:

    Matter and energy have an original property, assuredly not by chance, which organizes the universe in space and time.

    Such mechanicism looks quite Realist to me. I suppose it would be possible to reinterpret Henderson’s (or any otter’s) philosophy without the Realism with which it’s being conveyed. I don’t think this would change much of the scientific components of Henderson’s conceptions. If that is correct, then so much the worse for the idea that metaphysical disputes are more than academic.

    (Positivists got at least this right.)

    Look back at the actual conflict on Dark Matter. The established viewpoint is that Dark Matter needs to be posited to “save the phenomena,” i.e. to explain our observations of the world. Another viewpoint let go of that posit. In exchange of less generality and more bugs to solve (e.g. the Bullet cluster), we get less free parameters.

    There are at least two ways to look at this problem. The first is to insist in positing Dark Matter, in which case the existence of Dark Matter what matters. The second is to insist in the fact that Dark Matter is a needed posit to solve a bunch of equations, in which case it is the epistemic role of Dark Matter in the stoopid modulz that matters.

    The two stances may very well be needed. Neither will help solve that quandary. Only discoveries (formal or observational) can, and until then, if ever, we can live with many theories, ones being more dominant than others.

    So in the end, even if we live in a post-truth world, scientists will still pursuit truth however conceived. Science will remain a quest to understand the world, even if we accept that our theories are not replicas of the World.

    Back to more game theory in a few hours.

  78. MarkR says:

    Which quantifiable, testable predictions has this “science and technology studies” come up with? How did it perform and how was it tested?

  79. Susan Anderson says:

    It seems to me “post-truth” has opened the door to a whole lot of inexpert deconstruction of the hard and useful work of providing expertise. Unfortunately, the inmates are being put in charge of the asylum (Trump cabinet/Republican Congress and courts) and telling the truth to the best of one’s ability is becoming more dangerous by the day.

  80. Magma says:

    @brandonrgates

    “…I’d say there’s a better than even chance for the C you lot insist on prepending — against protest — to AGW to be unambiguously demonstrated.”

    For whatever reason I’ve just drawn a blank on who made the following very roughly paraphrased comment: “What’s the good of having accurate models and scientific understanding of what will happen to climate if we then just wait around until it happens?”

    A possibly useful anecdote: in the 1950s one of uncles was a navigator in a long-range submarine-hunting aircraft carrying out a practice mission over the Pacific. They were flying at night, under clouds and at low altitude, and were going to make a course change when they passed over an island (this was long before GPS was even a glimmer of an idea).

    Out of bored curiosity, he pulled out the relevant chart to see what kind of island was out there in the middle of nowhere. It was a volcanic island with a peak a couple of thousand feet above their flying altitude. (They climbed.)

    We seem to be in a similar situation but where the pilot feels he has plenty of time, the copilot doesn’t believe in volcanoes, and some of the business-class passengers don’t like the feeling of their ears popping and are threatening to take it up with the management.

  81. Grant Jacobs says:

    You can’t ask or ‘demand’ that a particular group of people read or consider your work.

    It’s up to you to make your work something that they would consider.

    Also you’ll also have to reach your audience – they’re not obliged to ‘find’ you.

    These are true of science communication, too (a much discussed topic) – and scientific papers for that matter.

    Perhaps it would be useful to reverse Steve Fuller’s

    “[scientists] really haven’t engaged with the history, philosophy and sociology in any serious way”

    to

    “what would be good things for historians, philosophers and sociologists do to present in a way that scientists will read and to reach scientist readers?”

    If sociologists want to be considered by scientists, I would suggest one helpful approach would be for them to present things using the standards scientists expect. I can’t offer suggestions on reaching the audience, sorry.

    Take Steve’s own article in the Guardian as an example. I realise it’s not a research article, but bear with me.

    None of the claims made in his article are substantiated with evidence. By evidence I don’t mean pointing at some other argument – I mean results from data, for example surveys of scientists showing what he says is actually typical of scientists.

    His statements then come across as instantiated ideas or assertions. In science instantiated ideas don’t have a lot of weight, in fact they are considered to a best be possible hypotheses.

    What matters is _testing_ claims. Science moved on from argument by ‘pure thought’ at long time ago, for good reasons.

    If you present a piece that takes as it’s underpinnings a small number of unsubstantiated assertions, then tries to argue from them, few scientists are going to take it seriously.

    Some, perhaps even many, might find it fun to critique the logic – but all the while bearing in mind that without a _sound_ base for the logic to spring from it’s not a lot more than having fun debating stuff at the pub. (Don’t get me wrong, it is fun debating logic, been there plenty of times. For that matter take this comment thread for example, lots of debate but almost no pointing at evidence that I can see!)

    As a pointer, a small number of scientists have surveyed scientists for a number of reasons, for example what scientists believe in, how scientists use social media in science communication, etc. IIRC, most of this work is done by scientists. They’re using an evidence-gathering approach. I don’t see scientists objecting to being studied in this way.

    A few loose thoughts, related to Steve’s earlier comments/claims.

    Steve Fuller: “Let me give you a reality check on what’s been going on here.”

    Adopting the deficit model! And shades of ‘arguing from authority’! Tsk, tsk 😉

    Steve Fuller: “I actually never mentioned STS but that,”

    You do in your twitter discussions about your article (and *you* raise it).

    You also wrote on Twitter, “Well, to me the reluctance of scientists to face sociological scrutiny is like religious believers who respond similarly (and they do).”

    – any *evidence* for this? My guess, and it is a guess, is that scientists have no problem with being studied, but they are reluctant to take seriously studies that aren’t based on good evidence — that is, after all, their standard. (See also my point re scientists surveying scientists earlier.)

    Steve Fuller: “and the final paragraph on intelligent design, seems to have aroused your interest.”

    Because of how you wrote your article, I believe (don’t blame everything on the readers!)

    Steve Fuller: “But scientists shouldn’t need ‘safe spaces’ where they’re spared from accounts of the history of science that might place their current position in a less than favourable light.”

    This misses why the likes of intelligent design aren’t accepted at conferences, as noted in the comments in reply to your article. It’s not because scientists want a “safe” space – science criticism is far more substantial, after all. (They do want to avoid stuff that would waste their time, though – conferences are very limited-time events.)

    Steve Fuller: “And in case you’re wondering: I was pro-Remain, pro-Hillary and I believe in climate change.””

    What is your position on intelligent design?

    I could offer more from other’s comments but this is already far too long and I have to move on back to my genetics!

  82. Greg Wellman says:

    Have the STS people ever tried this with Math? Study the way mathematicians do math and then make claims about the nature of math without understanding the math itself?

  83. Leto says:

    From my perspective, any scientific view that puts Intelligent Design in the same conceptual space as Evolution is broken. If it is possible for SF to survey the vast interconnected body of evidence supporting Evolution, and then draw the conclusion that ID is a worthy theoretical contender, then that is strong evidence that his cognitive filters are unable to distinguish between hard-won truth and facile BS. Accordingly, it seems unlikely that he will have any reliable insights into the scientific process. Obviously, it is possible for one person to believe BS in one domain and also have valuable insights in a different, unrelated domain, but SF is proclaiming insights into the scientific process while simultaneously revealing that he does not even recognise when it has been overwhelming successful.

  84. Willard writes:

    I’m rather referring to the social fact that scientists usually assume that our scientific theories offer a true description of the world.

    I think this is a little strong. Scientists assume that our scientific theories offer a predictive, observable, and repeatable description of our shared reality. ‘Truth’ connotes a finality that science never offers. I.e., proof is for mathematics and alcohol; true = proven ≠ time-tested.

    Einstein’s cosmological constant is, I believe, a better “epistemic role” example.

  85. > Have the STS people ever tried this with Math?

    Yes.

    STS does not stand or fall by SF’s work. By the same token, SF’s editorial does not stand or fall on his work in other fields. SF’s connection between Kuhn’s disciplinary matrices and Pareto’s theory about the circulation of elite is already thin enough. There’s no need to appeal to his ID work or his views on AGW

  86. dhogaza says:

    earlier, guthrie said:

    “My memory of Fuller and his part in the Dover trial is fading somewhat, since it was 11 years ago, but his parting shot in the guardian piece suggests he still hasn’t learnt anything.

    Roughly summarised, his argument at Dover seemed to be that it was alright to teach Intelligent Design in school because science needs alternative theories, and sometimes these come from outside the close minded self policing academia. But the alternatives need time and followers to get strong to overthrow the current paradigm, hence his support for ID.”

    Some folks might find the transcript of Fuller’s testimony at Kitzmiller v. Dover interesting:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day15pm.html

  87. dhogaza says:

    Oh, and here’s the cross-examination:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day15pm.html

  88. guthrie says:

    Grant Jacobs:
    “Steve Fuller: “But scientists shouldn’t need ‘safe spaces’ where they’re spared from accounts of the history of science that might place their current position in a less than favourable light.”

    This misses why the likes of intelligent design aren’t accepted at conferences, as noted in the comments in reply to your article. It’s not because scientists want a “safe” space – science criticism is far more substantial, after all. (They do want to avoid stuff that would waste their time, though – conferences are very limited-time events.)”

    Yes, that’s always an important thing to note.

    At the same time, actual historians of science (I paddle around the edges in an amateur way) are forever in despair, because most of the scientists who are embiggened by the media ignore the history of science or use it in a very old fashioned way to polish their egos or tell just so stories. Which is irritating for those of us with a scientific background who have taken the time and effort to actually learn history and how to think like a historian.
    But the lack of push back againt such scientists is down to several things, none of them really related to the scientists demanding, and getting, a safe space. Rather, modern media is determinedly one way, the customer is supposed to be passive, therefore channels to educate the scientists and correct their mistakes are narrow and tortuous, if they exist at all. This is not usually the scientists fault, although obviously there are always some with huge fragile egos.
    Then there is the popular denigration of expertise, which means the historians of science often congregte on twitter, bemoaning their fate, being ignored by everyone else. Also, the lack of a vigorous public culture of intercourse and exchange between science and arts in a way which makes a wider impact. There of course various venues and events where these interchanges can take place, but somehow they don’t seep out into and affect the wider world much.

    Meanwhile, Fuller is clearly even less good at public communication than scientists. I’ve yet to actually see someone support him on anything, whereas if he was right about something surely somebody would? Or maybe he is just really bad at communicating.

  89. > Scientists assume that our scientific theories offer a predictive, observable, and repeatable description of our shared reality. ‘Truth’ connotes a finality that science never offers.

    On the strongest readings of “truth” only. Even logical proofs can be undone and rely on a disciplinary matrix to be vetted. Besides, there’s no clear demarcation between our formal apparatus and our empirical theories. This was the point behind the example of Verlinde’s theory: on the one hand, we need to save phenomena, on the other, we got to simplify equations too.

    Kuhn’s overarching point is that there’s no way to logically infer which choice we can make in this kind of situation. This does not mean we can’t reach a rational decision over time:

    Scientific realism justifies why theories work. Theories work because they truly describe the things in the world. How can we explain science’s successes otherwise? There lies the rub.

    Einstein’s a scientific realist, BTW.

  90. guthrie says:

    Thanks, Dhogaza. A skim through that suggests my memory is roughly accurate!

    I found this amusing bit too:
    “Q. And I think, as you testified earlier today, scientists are willing to accept hypotheses from anywhere so long as they bear fruit experimentally. Do you recall saying that?

    A. Yes. And that’s — you know, that’s, yes, pretty obvious.”

    Indeed, so obvious that he ignores it at every opportunity.

  91. Willard writes: “On the strongest readings of “truth” only. ” If there are different meanings for the same word, then a different word or words should be used to avoid misinterpretation. ‘True’ in science has evolved to mean ‘unknowable’ or unrealizable’ or ‘indeterminate.’

    From the GUM, Annex D:

    The term true value (B.2.3) has traditionally been used in publications on uncertainty but not in this Guide for the reasons presented in this annex. Because the terms “measurand”, “error”, and “uncertainty” are frequently misunderstood, this annex also provides additional discussion of the ideas underlying them to supplement the discussion given in Clause 3. Two figures are presented to illustrate why the concept of uncertainty adopted in this Guide is based on the measurement result and its evaluated uncertainty rather than on the unknowable quantities “true” value and error.

    From B.2.3 (drawn from VIM:1993, definition 1.19

    true value (of a quantity)
    value consistent with the definition of a given particular quantity
    NOTE 1 This is a value that would be obtained by a perfect measurement.
    NOTE 2 True values are by nature indeterminate.
    NOTE 3 The indefinite article “a”, rather than the definite article “the”, is used in conjunction with “true value” because there may be many values consistent with the definition of a given particular quantity.

    Theories, measurements – everything is caveated. We’re stuck with the best we can do.

  92. angech says:

    Refreshing stuff.
    He actually says scientific theories may be wrong, oh, the heresy.*
    He actually says a consensus develops that may be overturned in a generation* [coughing a lot].
    He says we should think about alternative points of view and not dismiss them out of hand even when they appear to be wrong.
    Mind you he treads on my corns as well, just as badly.
    Every observation about an AGW’er is equally true for a skeptic.
    I should be prepared to believe his views ” pro-Remain, pro-Hillary and I believe in climate change.” are as valid [+/_] as mine.

    Paradigms do change, The medical scientific fads in diabetic diet [and diet in general] in particular over 40 years have always intrigued me.
    What he is saying is not really an attack on scientists or science just a critique. It offends one only so much as we put faith in our own particular scientific beliefs.
    Which is why a lot of people are initially upset.
    No-one here would actually disagree with the two points* he makes above.
    ATTP I think we should not see and respond to what he is saying as an attack, I think Willard and Moshe are sort of saying the same thing and you might be hinting at it.
    For the purposes of this discussion ID is an unwarranted distraction, worthy of a separate post by ATTP, but totally divorced from this complex subject.

  93. angech says:

    As an aside, re Trump, every time a pendulum swings severely to one side, we, the people affected, get a chance to see that side in action. The polarity becomes very clear and focuses our insight. If/when it does not work the support for the other cause of action becomes more immediate and focused and in a democracy at least empowers change. This should work in favor of AGW if over the next 4 years the world keeps warming at an unprecedented rate.

  94. dhogaza says:

    antech:

    “For the purposes of this discussion ID is an unwarranted distraction, worthy of a separate post by ATTP, but totally divorced from this complex subject.”

    Given that Fuller mentioned it himself in his article, it’s certainly not an unwarranted distraction. It speaks to his attitude about science in general. For instance, under cross at Dover we find that appeals to the supernatural ought to be considered in science (there’s far more than the snippet below in his testimony – he’s defending his earlier testimony that intelligent design, which posits an “intelligent designer” outside nature, is as much science as evolution or any other branch of what most would accept as science), and his testifying about the arrogance of science so many years past certainly fits with his notion that a goal of STS is to knock scientists down a peg or two … apparently some things haven’t changed a bit.

    Q. So you approach this issue philosophically?

    A. Yes.

    Q. And philosophers want to keep a more open mind than scientists on the rules of science?

    A. I don’t know if I’d exactly put it that way, but let’s say — I certainly warm to that suggestion.

    Q. So philosophers don’t want to close down alternative assumptions, including an appeal to the supernatural?

    A. That’s correct. I mean, again, not all philosophers, but I would say that that is kind of the — you know, would be a majority view if you looked at most philosophers.

    Q. But as you said in your expert report, most philosophers have resisted the charms of naturalism?

    A. That’s true.

    Q. And you say this is an allergic response to guild-like arrogance of scientists?

    A. Yes.

  95. > If there are different meanings for the same word, then a different word or words should be used to avoid misinterpretation.

    What is a sound advice for a prenotion may be suboptimal for what lends to its own set of theories:

    The problem of truth is in a way easy to state: what truths are, and what (if anything) makes them true. But this simple statement masks a great deal of controversy. Whether there is a metaphysical problem of truth at all, and if there is, what kind of theory might address it, are all standing issues in the theory of truth. We will see a number of distinct ways of answering these questions.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/

    I emphasized the bit to show that truth may refer both to things and to theories.

    Theories and things is a good book.

  96. An update on my game theory, which guthrie may find interesting:

    I think I’m starting to understand why should anyone care.

  97. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky says:

    Willard, I’m fairly updated on the dark matter controversy, and in fact I have done a bit of original research int the field which I am just now writing up, therefore I must say that from my position unskilled but informed AND aware of it, whatever it is you think you are arguing in your comments, you are indeed arguing from a position of CRAP.

  98. > “What’s the good of having accurate models and scientific understanding of what will happen to climate if we then just wait around until it happens?”

    Well then they’d be validated, of course, my dear Magma. Which is Sound Science ™. What’s not to love?

    Your uncle’s navigation anecdote works for me, not least because it reminds me of one of my own sea stories: foggy night, we still managed to hit the buoy everyone aboard knew was there.

    I have this feeling that many a business-class passenger thinks they’re too important to die. The plane could be in an unrecoverable spiraling dive with half a wing gone, on fire … and these guys would be reassuring themselves that it’s just a bit of rough turbulence. Totally natural. Happens all the time. What’s all the screaming for, and where’s that drink I ordered already? Stewardesssssssss!!!

  99. > you are indeed arguing from a position of CRAP.

    Show me.

    ***

    > whatever it is you think you are arguing in your comments

    That’s one way to bypass the effort to formulate in your own words what you think I’m arguing.

    What the authors themselves declare in the press release suffice for my argument to hold.

    But what’s my argument, again?

  100. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky says:

    You appear to be arguing for breakthroughy truthiness in science, using dark matter as your example. This is perhaps the worst choice you can make for post-normal post-truth science.

    By choosing this one example, you not only reveal your ignorance of the subject, since it is the ideal domain in which to observe science in action. Something, like, for instance, neutrinos, that is about to be definitively solved and ultimately detected, and then manipulated, and then used to devise devices. Devices which then can be utilized to clearly demonstrate the veracity of the hard scientists to the woo woo of sociologists and economists and the like. And of course, crank theories and failed hypotheses. Also quite useful in hard science endeavors. In no way to be compared with other well known hard science endeavors involving physicists. For instance, climate science and planetary astrophysics.

  101. > You appear to be arguing for breakthroughy truthiness in science, using dark matter as your example.

    Wrong. Poor try. Better luck next time.

    Here’s a hint: sentences.

  102. angech says:

    Leto says:December 19, 2016 at 10:37 pm “From my perspective, any scientific view that puts Intelligent Design in the same conceptual space as Evolution is broken.”
    Being Australian I am not quite up to speed on the ins and outs of ID.
    It has a certain fundamentalist anti evolution feel about it.
    On the other hand there is a a school of thought that the world we live in could be a computer simulation which would imply Intelligent design of a different type, not a god in the religious sense.
    [Philosophically there is a a lot of hype/hope in the thought that one is so important one could be a central playee in the game. It might be a puzzle to get out of or on a darker note a trap that one is in.]
    Quite agree with Leto if it is the first choice, but not if it is the second choice.

  103. Grant Jacobs says:

    angech,

    ID is creationism in drag. They’ve chosen the different name for legal reasons, as teaching creationism was banned in schools in the USA.

    From my comment at the Guardian:

    “What those in the ID camp do is to nitpick to try find excuses—in their eyes—to dismiss evolutionary theory, so that they then don’t have to deal with that evolution contradicts their religious beliefs. Note there is no offering a theory or similar in doing that, and that the aim is to “remove” something that if accepted as true would make their religious beliefs untenable.”

  104. Willard says:

    Here’s what Doc tries to peddle, GrantJ:

    This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

    http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.pdf

    I’m not sure it’s related to evo, but it does echo this TED talk slide:

    I need another slide from that talk for the third and last part of my game theory.

  105. Grant,
    I think you hit the nail on the head here, in particular

    You can’t ask or ‘demand’ that a particular group of people read or consider your work.

    I’d actually be quite keen to see Steve defend what’s he suggesting, but without making accusations that his critics are elitists who are being bitten in the ass.

  106. Grant Jacobs says:

    guthrie,

    I can sympathise with historians watching people butcher history! – but, as I’m guessing you already agree, it’s a different issue to the one Fuller was trying to suggest.

    If you can forgive me exploiting the opportunity to waffle a little, biologists get a related thing, where people make wild claims of, say, gene editing (GMOs, epigenetics,… the list goes on).

    There was a nice example from Fuller just a few days ago, incidentally. He touted an article hosted at motherboard (correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it’s known as a source of conspiracy theories) that argued that ‘Genetic Editing Could Cause the Next Cold War’.

    Fuller tweeted that “This is really quite interesting and should be taken seriously,” when the reality was that it was rubbish. The argument rests on statements about gene editing that are just wrong. With the foundation points wrong, the rest was meaningless. (Garbage in…) A deeper concern to me was that Fuller didn’t stop and ask himself if he knew enough about gene editing to be touting it (never mind the question the source or be cautious about it having a conspiracy angle).

    Similarly historians would wish people with little real knowledge would take more care. Fair enough. There are countless examples of this for biology unfortunately. It’s a reason we have a whole raft of dodgy claims about GMOs, various “natural” remedies, and whatnot.

    (We all have our off moments online, and Twitter with it’s “instant” nature is probably a source of more of these than most. I could grant Fuller some leniency but for how he continued. For one thing, I wasn’t impressed with how Fuller closed tweeting, “Both of us were trying to make points but they were different. I got yours but you don’t seem capable of getting mine and life is short.” Aside from the he can’t read my mind [in fact what he wrote was straight-forward to ‘get’ and was side-stepping or avoiding the points I’d raised] it has him trying to declare himself “winner” after the fact in a way that seem quite childish. He’d have done much better, and look much better, to have stood corrected. I suspect historians have similar stories to that, too! :-/ )

    “Meanwhile, Fuller is clearly even less good at public communication than scientists. I’ve yet to actually see someone support him on anything, whereas if he was right about something surely somebody would? Or maybe he is just really bad at communicating.”

    One simple piece of advice might be that old chestnut “say what you mean”. His article in Guardian doesn’t actually _say_ whatever his point or points were, but rather gives a bunch of stuff where he looks to be hoping people would infer his points from them. FWIW, the meaning he’s offered in his paragraph starting “The problem is that”), to my reading, is *not* the meaning conveyed in his Guardian piece, whatever meaning he intended to convey there. More on that if I ever find time (unlikely).

    Living dangerously I’ll close with: I wonder if other sociologists consider that Fuller is contributing to the problem, by writing so badly that his writing encourages scientists “not to go there” – ?!

  107. Grant Jacobs says:

    Excuse the typos in my comments, I know they’re there but I have too much else to get on with :-/ (It’s what I get from a mix of fast typing and editing-on-the-fly.)

  108. Grant,
    You highlight a couple of things that I’ve also been pondering. One relates – I think – to what Michael Tobis was getting at in his post (that I misinterpreted in mine). My experience of STS is that they aren’t very good communicators. I had initially thought that their research was to try and understand how to better communicate science, but it seems that it’s more to do with placing themselves at the science/society, science/policy interface. Yet I’ve rarely seen examples where they seem capable of communicating effectively.

    The other issue relates to the research itself. I asked Steve Fuller if he regarded what he did as research, to which he responded “yes, of course”. However, when asked to provide actual evidence, or lay out an argument, it wasn’t forthcoming. I would expect researchers in a field to provide evidence and to be able to lay out an actual argument that includes their assumptions, the method they used, a discussion of their results, and some conclusions, but I don’t see this coming from the STS community.

    Your comment on style is also interesting. I expect those kind of tactics when I’m commenting on blogs about climate science (for example) I don’t expect it when communicating with an academic about their own research area.

  109. Here would be something that could look like research:

    The globalization of social sciences? Evidence from a quantitative analysis of 30 years of production, collaboration and citations in the social sciences (1980-2009)

    Something more interpretative: The Role of Argumentation in a Sociology of Misunderstanding.

    If you can digest Bourdieu or anything on Bourdieu, then you are good to go.

    I would not only consider the first instance as research. Mileage varies.

    More examples over there.

  110. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky says:

    Sentences

    You could use that advice yourself. How about a link then, with some nice music.

    http://cosmic.lifeform.org/whats-going-on-planet-earth-the-cosmic-qcd-axion/

    That should help clear this matter up. The hard sciences in action. Very messy. Enjoy!

  111. You may want to check my moderation policy, in particular the bit about sockpuppeting.

  112. BBD says:

    TLE -> 8c -> KT 🙂

  113. mt says:

    “what Michael Tobis was getting at in his post (that I misinterpreted in mine).”

    You misinterpreted nothing of note, except the title, which in the rush to write the article (it did get discussed at the same conference the next day!) I did not explain. Any failure here is my own.

    “Swim in Your Lane” was advice from Ed Maibach to domain scientists from social scientists, advice which I reject. It is however somewhat tangential to the matter of S Fuller, insofar as I expect neither he nor Maibach would claim that what he and Maibach are doing is the same thing. Nor would I.

    Maibach at least collects data, though like many others he is quick to flatten the data rather than looking at its full dimensionality. S Fuller as far as I can tell just seems to pull random things out from random openings.

  114. mt says:

    Willard. Aargh.

    I’ll go with 2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof) as the true one.

    Claim 2 leaves unstated the strong AI position that objects in a simulation can have experiential existence. Even if this is true, a single simulation including billions of such experiential threads would be impractical in a simple computational sense.Then we consider the actual physics, which any climate scientist will patiently explain, cannot fully be resolved in a simulation system that is not much larger and more complex than the system it resolves. We definitely observe an intricate and consistent system that is more complex than can be computed in toto. (Possibly this is a delusion inculcated in the AI program, but then it’s hardly a “simulation of evolutionary history”, it’s just a momentary AI dream state. In which case, it hardly matters what we do.)

    Of course, it is possible that you, the reader, are one of only a very small number of experiential simulacra. But that is far from a “simulation of the evolutionary history” of a real world, never mind its physical phenomenology. In short, proposition 2 is trivially true.

    Again people with a weak grasp of what the physical universe actually looks like are coming up with impossible hypotheses that depend on their broken understanding of the physics.

    The nice thing about the “simulation” idea is that it handily allows the introduction of miracles, though. So to the extent it’s plausible, we really should be praying, trying to get the attention of the bastards running the code in the next level of reality above ours. Can we get a patch please?

    On the other hand, while admittedly I’m not sure what’s happening, I’m pretty damned sure it’s not that.

  115. Susan Anderson says:

    Prof. Fuller earns a salary doing what he does, and was published by The Guardian. It is, as always, shocking to see posturing rather than reasoning in a professional, particularly when it involves insulting others who appear to be more broadminded and tolerant than he is. Making oneself important is not the same as doing research. Sad.

    On truth, it’s such an unwieldy word. I don’t think real scientists think they are describing Truth with a capital T. Most of them know their own limitations better than their critics do, and they don’t pretend. The methodology of science is a continuing process of trial and error, but their standards of evidence, which evolve, are as good as they can make them. It would be silly to refuse to build on the work that went before, but in general these assumptions are treated as such, not infallible but useful.

  116. Willard says:

    > Prof. Fuller earns a salary doing what he does […]

    I’m not sure he gets paid as a public intellectual, SusanA. Just like I’m not paid to audit his CRAP. I wish I was, but I’m not. While I welcome some literary license in his interpretative dances, his misreading of Kuhn and his handwaving to Pareto are a bit too post-truth for my own tastes.

    That being said, there are matters of fact which should not be a matter of taste, like his claim that most philosophers are not naturalists. I’d like to know where he got his data. My own anecdata would be that a big majority are indeed naturalists. To pull a number out of thin (h)air, I’d say “in the high nineties.” Incidentally, I am more naturalist than MT, and my avatar wrote an essay suggesting that we naturalize epistemology.

    There is so much interesting work going on, including in STS, that there’s little point to care for SF’s work for SF’s sake. I just wish Brigitte could cite stuff that costs nothing once in a while. Her latest comment alone entices me to spend between 40 and 150 bucks. I’d charge at least thrice that just to skim these.

    The whole ideation industry is in dire need of a revolution. From that perspective, how SF is supposed to play the role of a fox is far from obvious to me. More on that later.

  117. Grant Jacobs says:

    re lions and foxes,

    I mentioned this in my comment a The Guardian – cutting and pasting from there:

    “I have to admit I don’t agree with the rest of his argument either! It reads as too simplistic and looking to speculate or ruminate from extreme examples, rather than look at what happens by surveying the scientific community as a whole (which would be working from evidence, rather than philosophising). My experience is that most working research scientists see themselves as adding small chunks of knowledge to a larger narrative — this majority would then be neither lions nor foxes. It also leaves out commercial science, which is a sizeable fraction of the total research activity. Just loose thoughts and all.”

    No idea if it’s a useful thought, but I think I’ll chuck it in 😉

  118. Willard says:

    > this majority would then be neither lions nor foxes

    How SF personalized these concepts is indeed a thing of beauty.

    Readers who have little experience with public intellectuals could start here.

  119. Would “public voice” be a more accurate term than “public intellectual”?

  120. Grant,

    My experience is that most working research scientists see themselves as adding small chunks of knowledge to a larger narrative — this majority would then be neither lions nor foxes.

    Mine too. My impression that he is partly describing his impression of science, but not something most would identify with. There may well be examples that fit his narrative, but they’re probably the exception, rather than the rule.

  121. Willard says:

    Michael Brown suggests thought leader, VictorV, which makes sense because, TED and BI.

    Pop Quiz:

  122. Willard says:

    Via email:

    [Estr] One of sociology’s “forgotten founders”? Is he kidding?

    My response:

    [Vlad] Hard to tell.

  123. Topical video from “Veritasium” that is getting a lot of views (100k+ in just 5 hours so far…)

    He is just “talking out loud” about it, but thought I would share…

    In case my cut&paste html codes don’t work, a link: https://youtu.be/dvk2PQNcg8w

  124. (also, given the “meta-topic” of this blog, interesting fact that he describes wrestling with during the Q&A (at ~ 11:00): half the lifetime emissions from an automobile – any automobile, EV, hybrid conventional – come from the production of the vehicle,,, so even if you buy a zero-emissions vehicle, you aren’t dramatically reducing your emissions… interesting on its own, but also how he tended to automatically reject that input… )

  125. guthrie says:

    Hmm, is Willard trying to tie Fuller into the authoritarian right but pretend not to be, wave that is currently growing? As a dupe or a fellow traveller?

  126. guthrie says:

    MT- I tend to use the universe is a simulation idea to help sort out people who are interesting and knowledgable, from people who like shiny ideas but aren’t deep or useful or interesting. Naturally the latter tend to like the idea the most.
    Same with Roko’s Basilisk.

  127. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Rust,

    Lifecycle GHGs from a vehicle production are about 5-8% of the typical vehicle’s lifetime emissions. Good discussion here on the difference between convential ICEs and EVs :http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cleaner-Cars-from-Cradle-to-Grave-full-report.pdf.

  128. hvw says:

    Took me a long time to take this hypothesis serious but now I do: Some STS people believe that science is about making things up. In an elaborate way, using a special language, must be original, a tad provocative and read like a nice convincing story. That is what they do and what they believe natural scientists do. Of course those particular academics are shockingly uneducated. But we all know examples exhibiting a shocking lack of knowledge and capability among natural scientists too, right? Except that those spend their time being politely ignored at conferences whereas the respective STS personnel writes in the Guardian. Tells something about the strength of the field.

  129. Michael 2 says:

    Willard asks: “ask yourself if it’s a fox or a lion”

    Yes. He’s a Flion!

  130. Willard says:

    > trying to tie Fuller into the authoritarian right

    SF set his own cage up:

    No need for lions to outfox a fox.

    Something’s fishy about Paretian ecology.

  131. John Mashey says:

    mt & oneillsinwisconsin thanks

    In all this, I’m still not exactly sure what Ed meant by “swim in your own lane”, but maybe mt can add some more context.
    There is:
    1) doing physical science, in this case climate science
    2) communicating the science
    3) studying the communications/media for process and effectiveness
    4) studying the recipients, as in segmenting the public, polling, etc.

    Now:
    1) Has to be be done by climate scientists

    2) Some has to be done by climate scientists, and nobody beats the best scientist-communicators. (Steve Schneider was amazingly good … but then, one of his relatives told me Steve emerged from the womb already speaking to anyone who would listen.).
    But often, good science writers are better than average communicators(scientists), and combinations better than either alone, and people can learn to do better (I’ve heard Ben Santer many times, and he has worked very hard and successfully to do better talks, which do not come naturally.)

    3) The best here tend to be social scientists, such as psychologists, media studies folks, etc. (Max Boykoff might fit, as might John Cook)

    4) Again, social scientists, esp. sociologists or political scientists.(Ed Maibach, Larry Hamilton).
    NOW, if SWIM IN YOUR OWN LANE meant
    a) that climate scientists should stay out of 2), that’s clearly nonsense,
    b) But it meant that climate scientists should stay out of 3) and 4) … I’d strongly agree.
    The skill sets can be acquired, but they are different.
    Example: how many climate scientists are skilled at creating good polls/surveys?
    (In many areas, I get nervous when teams don’t include both domain experts and relevant methodology experts.)

    I’ve often cited the Six Americas reports, and I’d say its focus is 4) and maybe 3), not doing 2).

  132. Susan Anderson says:

    UCS is excellent; that’s a reality check on the claim that manufacturing costs large emissions, so why bother. Too bad “Veritasium” didn’t have access to that, those figures are worth knowing about.

    I was tempted to look at another video, which led me to the most pungent and piquant about all this here: George Orwell. Skip to minute 12:30 (I’m going to hope this doesn’t imbed if I don’t put it on a line by itself): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZTuyo7tIQk

    One would say that this is stupid propaganda … the listener is bound to see that he has been deceived. But in fact there is no such reaction. You can go on and on telling lies, and the most palpable lies at that, and even if they are not actually believed, there is no strong revulsion either.

    We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. …. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on and off like a tap according to political expediency. …. I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are all powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.

    A caveat: most physical scientists are trained observers, who have learned that if they don’t put their prejudices aside it will affect their results. Prof. Fuller has it exactly backwards; it is he who is arguing starting from his conclusion.

    So I’m off topic here; fear of phony arguments providing a false basis for wrong actions no doubt gets in the way. But the very real takeover of worldview by marketing is disturbing, and academics in the social sciences with agendas aren’t helping.

  133. Grant Jacobs says:

    ATTP:

    “You highlight a couple of things that I’ve also been pondering. […] I had initially thought that their [STS] research was to try and understand how to better communicate science, but it seems that it’s more to do with placing themselves at the science/society, science/policy interface.”

    I’m just not familiar enough with that field to comment. My original interest was SF’s depiction of scientists, which didn’t resonate with my own impressions – nothing ‘defensive’ I should add, it just seemed at odds with how science was, and that he didn’t seem to have data to show his depiction reflected reality.

    Having said I don’t know the STS field, my impression from little glimpses is that it’s involved in studying the social aspects of the science and technology industries/fields. I’ve mostly seen it in the context of studies of how science communication is done, as I put a little effort into trying to read at least some of the studies on this. (Having said _that_, i err to looking at those studies aiming to yield practical ‘advice’, as useful things for a science communicator to know, rather than yield social science theory, etc.)

    “The other issue relates to the research itself. I asked Steve Fuller if he regarded what he did as research, to which he responded “yes, of course”. However, when asked to provide actual evidence, or lay out an argument, it wasn’t forthcoming. I would expect researchers in a field to provide evidence and to be able to lay out an actual argument that includes their assumptions, the method they used, a discussion of their results, and some conclusions, but I don’t see this coming from the STS community.”

    Again I don’t know enough of social science, philosophy, etc. to comment, but I have been struck in the past by the tendency of disciplines outside to sometimes (still) be working with something close to argument by pure thought – something that is regarded with caution in science for good reason.

    I want to add I’m not saying all STS practitioners are bad. I’m sure there are some decent efforts in the field, and I’m sure there are at least some who can communicate well, too. Generalisations are a bit of bitch like that, I think. It’s a bit like the generalisation I often hear from some journalists that scientists are poor communicators. There are enough examples to show it’s false if talking about _all_ scientists, but the generalisation still gets made!

    “Your comment on style is also interesting. I expect those kind of tactics when I’m commenting on blogs about climate science (for example) I don’t expect it when communicating with an academic about their own research area.”

    Defensiveness, I suspect.

    There may be an element of not being used to being criticise in the open, as it were – on social media, blogs, etc. I’ve seen several biologists complain about other biologists writing blog posts criticising their work, saying that criticism should be limited to commentary via journals. (Lots there for social scientists to think about, perhaps?! There’s more than a “safe house” in what they’re saying – they partly object to that critiques can confuse non-scientists, who [they say] can wrongly come away with the idea that all science is uncertain, etc.)

    “My impression that he is partly describing his impression of science, but not something most would identify with. There may well be examples that fit his narrative, but they’re probably the exception, rather than the rule.”

    I wondered something similar. There are a couple of people I know of in science whose work is on the outer (to be polite) who are wont to say things like “science won’t look at all views”. You get the distinct impression that’s at least in part because their work has been rejected and they’ve blaming the community rather than considering why their work isn’t considered up to scratch.

  134. Grant Jacobs says:

    Sigh. “I don’t know even” should read “I don’t know enough”. Sorry.

  135. Grant,
    I think what I’ve found a little unfortunate in some of my interactions with some STS people (not all, of course, and my experiences are limited) is that it is rare to end up in an actual discussion, rather than in the kind of exchange where (as has largely happened here) you’re being told that you just don’t understand, or that you’re elitist. If Steve Fuller thinks that science should be normalised as part of some larger social fabric and that this requires it being challenged by people like himself, then he should recognise that the same can apply to his own research. If he doesn’t realise this, then his accusations that others are elitist become rather hollow. I would like to have more detailed discussions about this in case I am misunderstanding what’s being suggested, so if Steve Fuller is still reading this, he’s welcome to come back and present some kind of argument in favour of his thesis. He may feel that the discussion has diverged somewhat, though.

  136. Chris says:

    A bit more about Fuller’s post-truth misinterpretation of Kuhn – it’s easy to show (just read the book) that Fuller completely misses the point of Kuhn’s reference to Orwell’s 1984 (see my post above) [https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/why-should-anyone-care/#comment-89408 ].
    Apart from that it’s also easy to see (just read the book) that Kuhn’s discussion of the embedding of new knowledge and apparent neglect of previous world views (paradigms) in textbooks is part of his (Kuhn’s) exploration of the “Invisibility of Revolutions” – i.e. his interpretation that although Revolutions in science assuredly occur, this isn’t so obvious from contemporary textbooks since these may reinterpret past understanding in the context of new understanding (at least in Kuhn’s day apparently). This isn’t really a problem for Kuhn and there’s a certain inevitability about this since the point of textbooks is to convey current knowledge [see Kuhn; Structure of Scientific Revolutions section XI “The Invisibility of Revolutions”]. There’s nothing particularly “post-truth”-like about this. Kuhn is discussing embedding of knowledge in contemporary textbooks, rather that deliberate factual misrepresentation to support dodgy agendas.
    That was 1962- we’re on the cusp of 2017. Things are different now science-wise and one might hope that professional-studiers-of-science would consider the nature of science from a 21st rather than a mid-20th century perspective. With respect to the topic that Kuhn was exploring things are very different. Some gifted professional-studiers-of-science have explored revolutions in science from a very detailed perspective [my favourite is Horace Freeman Judson’s “Eighth Day of Creation” an amazing account of the revolution in molecular biology (Watson & Crick et al.) through the first 3/4ths of the 20th century.] I’m reading David Wooton’s “The Invention of Science” now –unbelievable detail of scholarship on the development of modern science and its revolutionary nature. There’s tons of this stuff in the Popular Science sections of bookshops.
    Kuhn’s 1960’s was a rather old-fashioned time where, apart from gee-whizz science on TV, discourse on the nature of science and its revolutionary progression was quite academic. Nowadays we can explore the ugly/fascinating/car-crash nature of scientific revolutions in a way that wasn’t really possible in Kuhn’s day.

  137. Michael 2 says:

    Chris wrote “one might hope that professional-studiers-of-science would consider the nature of science from a 21st rather than a mid-20th century perspective.”

    That would be nice. No more trotting out Galileo to try to make a point.

  138. If SF could just make a point, that would be nice too. Public intellectuals don’t need no stinkin’ theses!

    There is still lots to learn from Galileo da science man. Reading his wiki entry already reveals that his explanation of tides was crap, that he tried to uphold it using fancy arguments that seemed to have impressed the Albert himself. Just to make him more sympathetic to ClimateBall players, he took part in a sockpuppet fight about comets full of nasty invectives and wrong conjectures. It even ended in a flame war about the *nature* of science, in which I can almost predict everyone accused the otters of being bad communicators.

    Ah, the good ol’ days.

    Thank you for your comments Chris. Blending Kuhn with Pareto is even stranger, for Vilfredo was not a fan of revolutions at all. He was more the kind of chap to claim that it always was political sameol sameol. Elites come, elites goes. He still believed in progress – the notion of equilibrium attributed to him should make that obvious. Intriguingly, he already rejects Ammon’s and Lapouge’s aryanism right at the beginning of his Les systèmes socialistes. His points about elites, aristocracies, and force are more technical. Most are laid out in his introduction. I can see why fascist freaks may like what he says, but they did the same with Nietzsche. You may like the article where Gingras revisits the debate over the Strong Programme, cited above.

    It is more a public intellectual thing to me. Here is my favorite piece on Friedman:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/taibbi-reviews-thomas-friedman-book-thank-you-for-being-late-w453529

    The next six months are going to be critical.

  139. Brigitte says:

    Willard, sorry I was a away from the internet for a bit
    More accessible stuff on Collins and gravitational waves:
    http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/harrycollins/sample-page/
    and here
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/05/25/book-review-are-we-all-scientific-experts-now/
    Hope that helps

  140. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Susan,

    It is indeed ironic that Veritas uses EV lifecycle emissions as example for an incorrect belief that he then corrects when his new belief (half of an EVs lifetime GHG emissions come from production and assembly). It’s not even close to that for EVs or conventional vehicles. He claims to have looked ‘it up’ after being prompted by his friend but I find that hard to believe. So he’s basically peddling a false claim while claiming to be an open minded and capable fact checker when the opposite appears to be true.

    The same sort of false beliefs often crop up wrt to biofuels. Lots of people cling to the idea that they’re worse than gasoline/diesel, when in fact the vast majority of estimates in the literature suggest otherwise.

    I guess the idea is that any idea that provides ammunition for hippie punching is hard to dislodge.

  141. Willard says:

    Thanks, Brigitte. I note this from Harry’s interview:

    Some sociologists of science, fewer than most people imagine, have an animus against science. But these are distinct from sociologists of scientific knowledge, such as myself, who feel comfortable with it. I certainly would not have spent the best part of my life hanging around on the fringes of something I didn’t enjoy. Of the sciences I’ve studied, gravitational wave detection is by far the most exciting. Gravitational radiation has become my chosen “career project” and, all being well, the story from first experiments to the establishment of the new astronomy will have coincided with my professional life. If I can do it justice, it will make a unique case study. Incidentally, my children seem to have inherited my dual enthusiasms: one is studying sociology, and one engineering.

    SF could dismiss the emphasized judgment as “reading the wrong emotional range into” CRAP, I suspect it may be harder for him to dismiss it because he “really” hasn’t engaged with the history, philosophy and sociology in any serious way.” Would “animus” capture what you have in mind, AT?

    There seems to be a good summary of Collins’ classification of expertise here, and here‘s the kind of work that is the most interesting to me. I don’t think one should need to buy a book to get access to a scientific theory developed by someone who got research grant to develop it. Otherwise, most of science enthusiasts will need to work from reading notes like these or reviews.

    Not that I mind working from notes. It’s great practice. It’s just that we need more readers, and sometimes we need to get to the source.

    ***

    For good measure, here’s another anecdata:

    My introduction to postmodernism was at a liberal-artsy conference at the University of California at Davis, where an attractive and stylishly dressed woman, Donna Haraway, gave a talk, her voice seething with disdain and hostility consisting of slides of ads from Nature magazine selling complicated biological equipment using women and animals as models. I was completely flabbergasted. During question and answer period, I asked here, “If you took a picture of a native with a bone in his nose on South Sea tropical island, would you make fun of him? Of course not—that would be the height of impropriety. So why do you mock the culture of Nature magazine? What are you trying to prove?” Her answer was very simple. “I’m not trying to prove anything.” That was it!

    During coffee break I was told by others that Haraway was a “postmodernist” who was “deconstructing” modern biology, showing that biological theory is “socially constructed.” I was still confused, because obviously all of modern science is “socially constructed.” What else could it be? The next speaker was the formidable Professor Stanley Fish, now a brilliant commentator for the New York Times, but then the guru of the postmoderns, told us that even arithmetic is socially constructed. His example was the venerable denizen of the lumber yard, the two-by-four, which was in fact one-and-a-half by three-and-a-half. He concluded that “two” means “one-and-a-half” sometimes, so numbers don’t mean what they say. During question and answer, I confronted him not with a question but a statement: the “two” in “two by four” refers to the unmilled size of the stock, not the milled size, so “two” does really mean “two.” Similarly, the “four” really does mean (unmilled) “four.”

    I’ve never seen Herbert mince his words. That’s still one of the kindest reaction STS people should expect when uttering CRAP. More so when it comes from public intellectuals.

  142. This article might be a bit old, but it does suggest that

    The upshot is that – despite common claims to contrary – the embodied emissions of a car typically rival the exhaust pipe emissions over its entire lifetime.

    I think the point Veritasium was making was that it is possible that the remaining emissions on your current vehicle may be less than the emission from an EV, in which case you might not switch cars if your goal is simply to reduce emissions.

  143. This is bizarre, if true,

    He concluded that “two” means “one-and-a-half” sometimes, so numbers don’t mean what they say. During question and answer, I confronted him not with a question but a statement: the “two” in “two by four” refers to the unmilled size of the stock, not the milled size

    and is consistent with my impression that sometimes people don’t bother to understand what terms refer to (or how they’re defined) before deciding on their interpretation.

  144. Willard says:

    I don’t think many ever wondered about how numbers are really defined, AT. It it’s still a matter of controversy.

    If you go buy 2x4s these days, you’ll notice they’re mostly 1 1/2 by 3 1/4 inches. My renovating guru told me that 2x4s really used to be 2 x 4s. According to that reading, what [Fish] is suggesting makes some sense.

    OTOH, these mundane observations can’t replace real studies of how we represent numbers.

  145. My renovating guru told me that 2x4s really used to be 2 x 4s. According to that reading, what Fisk is suggesting makes some sense.

    Even so, there’s probably a reason for the change. I doubt people really think that the 1 1/2 by 3 1/4 are somehow identical to those that were once 2×4.

  146. Willard says:

    > I doubt people really think that the 1 1/2 by 3 1/4 are somehow identical to those that were once 2×4.

    Right, and I hope [Fish] does not believe otherwise. I personally thought they were closer to 2 and 4 inches than what I bought to renovate my kitchen. For 2x4s, it matters little. But when you rely on planks that are 10 inches wide to cover a pipe, not being able to buy 10 inches (or so) planks suck. We finally ended up gluing two planks together to create our beam. It was cheaper than to buy 12 inches planks. By chance my renovating guru was there.

    This example hints at the fact that our words and our facts are not as crisp as we may imagine. This can have some impact on our theories. Take any prediction that relies on some kind of measurement, like the Verlinde hypothesis. The authors cited earlier said that

    The dark matter model actually fits slightly better with the data than Verlinde’s prediction.

    That’s a judgment call. Even a perfect fit would be, actually. To have an idea of what to consider a perfect fit, we need a community.

    Not everything is that black and white, including our concepts of black and white.

  147. This example hints at the fact that our words and our facts are not as crisp as we may imagine.

    Isn’t this the point, though? If you’re going to comment on something, you should understand the terminology and the context.

  148. angech says:

    mt says: December 20, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    “Claim 2 leaves unstated the strong AI position that objects in a simulation can have experiential existence. Even if this is true, a single simulation including billions of such experiential threads would be impractical in a simple computational sense.Then we consider the actual physics, which any climate scientist will patiently explain, cannot fully be resolved in a simulation system that is not much larger and more complex than the system it resolves”
    Yes, however in a complex computational sense with infinite time repeated simulations would be possible*.
    “The actual physics cannot be fully resolved”
    Not sure. “If” we were a computer simulation there would be no need to have the universe outside of our set real or fully detailed, just to appear so on the macro scale.
    One of the ways we might tell we were in a simulation is if we experience a glitch in the working of the program. We have all experienced this.
    One of those how did the keys turn up on the car seat when I definitely left them on the chair at home moments.
    The other is when things do not add up to the parameters, cue the dark matter mentioned above, or my favorite, the two particles reacting simultaneously when far apart, which is against the speed of light theory but which would be completely explainable by a computer program.

    ” a simulation system that is not much larger and more complex than the system it resolves”
    This is the final unexplainable problem. Something has to exist outside of the object being observed. * Semi resolvable by the universe is both inside and outside the bubble and a mirror image of itself but does nothing to explain why.

    “we really should be trying to get the attention of the bastards running the code in the next level of reality above ours. Can we get a patch please? ”
    Obviously not, part of the fun, hence Steve Fuller in the equation.

  149. Francis says:

    Would Fish be willing to exchange 4 $50 bills for 15 $10 bills?

  150. Susan Anderson says:

    aTTP: UCS is as good as it gets; I know a fair amount about their history (my father, and they’re in Cambridge). There are as always people who claim they are biased, because they want the information ignored, but for credibility and real science and numbers they’re hard to beat. I looked at the link, which goes into detail about its methodology and the numbers. 6% is not even close to 50%.

  151. Steven Mosher says:

    “If you go buy 2x4s these days, you’ll notice they’re mostly 1 1/2 by 3 1/4 inches. My renovating guru told me that 2x4s really used to be 2 x 4s. According to that reading, what Fisk is suggesting makes some sense.”

    Green lumber is cut to the nominal dimension. Finished lumber is of course smaller. Used to swing a mean hammer.. Didnt pay well

    http://www.alsc.org/geninfo_history_mod.htm

    Stanley Fish is usually smarter than that

  152. Steven Mosher says:

    Mt is usually smarter than this

    “It turns out that there is a social science community staking out expertise on “Public Understanding of Science”. As with any social science, they have no fundamental principles on which to base their reasoning, in the sense that physical scientists can rely on mass conservation, momentum conservation and the like. The usual coherence checks of the physical sciences do not apply, and problem complexity is intrinsically enormous. One has to be very careful in the soft sciences to ensure that one’s abstractions and generalizations have utility, to define them with precision and without ambiguity, and to determine when and where they apply and where and when they don’t. This being much more difficult in the soft sciences, failures are relatively common, and in considering a given study the first thing to be sure of is whether the postulated phenomenology is the only way to explain the evidence.”

  153. Steven Mosher says:

    mt is usually smarter than this

    Yes, think of economics where we have RBCs, and heterogeneous representative agents, and Efficient Markets; Kind of serve the same purpose in economics as the flat earth theory, geocentrism, and LaMarckian evolution do in the physical sciences.

  154. Willard says:

    > Isn’t this the point, though? If you’re going to comment on something, you should understand the terminology and the context.

    Fish’s point could be simpler than that, AT: the word “two-by-four” does not refer to a piece of wood that measures two inches by four inches. That’s an indisputable fact. From that fact, we can infer that the meaning of (numerical) words like “two-by-four” depends upon context, just like you said. Similarily, my own understanding of that episode depends upon my knowledge of Herbert Gintis and Stanley Fish. I know that Fish’s pet topic is that texts don’t carry meanings that are independent from their writer and their readers. (Meanings aren’t in the head, after all.) I also know Gintis is prone to incredulity and that he may not know where Fish comes from.

    The milling convention doesn’t refute Fish’s point at all. It only reinforces it. Not that this needs much reinforcement – it’s not far from being a truism. That truism gets lost when a reader asks about the meaning of the text he reads without recognizing that his very act of reading that text will influence what he’ll get out of it, because to understand the text he relies on his own background and his own community.

    Fish’s insistence on that quasi-truism may be more relevant than I thought at first (I’m more a fan of Gintis than Fish) since terminology and context misreadings oftentimes explain inter-group misunderstandings like the ones we’re witnessing in this thread, in ClimateBall, and in general. If everybody waited to UNDERSTAND ALL CONTEXT AND TERMINOLOGY before commenting, ClimateBall would be all work and no play, and Jack would become a dangerously dull boy. Heck, I’m not even sure science would be possible at all – we’d waste all our lab time reading everything otters did and we’d obsess over the need to make sure all our technical concepts are equivalent to everyone else’s. Even if this would be possible (it’s not even true for the concept of isomorphism), we’d still have to account for when theoricians from two different fields suddenly realize that they study the very same thing but with different tools.

  155. Marlowe Johnson says:

    ATTP,

    that guardian article you linked to is awful. Berner-Lee’s ‘input-output’ approach is horseshit.

  156. I have no dog in the hunt – save that I posted the video – and maybe Veritasium is somewhat imprecise in his wording.

    But even the UCS reference on offer here supports his general point that production emissions for BEV’s contribute their having lifetime emissions of about 50% of conventional vehicles:

    “Global warming emissions occur when manufacturing any vehicle, regardless of its power source, but BEV production results in higher emissions than the making of gasoline cars— mostly due to the materials and fabrication of the BEV lithium-ion battery. Under the average U.S. electricity grid mix, we found that producing a midsize, midrange (84 miles per charge) BEV typically adds a little over 1 ton of emissions to the total manufacturing emissions, resulting in 15 percent greater emissions than in manufacturing a similar gasoline vehicle. However, replacing gasoline use with electricity reduces overall emissions by 51 percent over the life of the car. A full-size long-range (265 miles per charge) BEV, with its larger battery, adds about six tons of emissions, which increases manufacturing emissions by 68 percent over the gasoline version. But this electric vehicle results in 53 percent lower overall emissions compared with a similar gasoline vehicle (see Figure ES-2). FIGURE ES-2. Life Cycle Global Warming Emissions from the Manufacturing and Operation”

    And do check out that Figure ES-2, which makes the same point – lifetime emissions from BEV’s are about 50% of those of conventional vehicles. And – separate point – about 35% of those lifetime BEV emissions come from the production of the vehicle (which Veritasium mangled as 50% as well.) (But also not the “5 to 8%” Marlowe claimed based on the same source. Veritasium was much closer to the numbers in the UCS reference.)

    I think the takeaway(s) are that he was prone to automatically rejecting the claim that EV’s don’t make as large a dent in his (our) overall emissions as he thought/wanted to believe. Which he did change his mind on after checking. But he mangled the contribution from production (but not by a huge amount).

    Another takeaway was that I was a tad too eager to credulously share the quote, because he has established a reserve of credibility with me, and probably also because I am genuinely skeptical about the breathless claims made by boosters of renewable energy and EV’s. (I want them to be true, but they’re inevitably not.)

  157. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Rust,

    The 5-8% I was referring to was with respect to lifetime production emissions for conventional ICE vehicles not BEVs. In the USC modelling manufacturing does indeed make up a much higher proportion of total emissions (about a third as you say) for EVs. That’s it’s higher than the proportion for conventional vehicles has more to do with the much lower operating emissions; in other jurisdictions with lower carbon electricity (Quebec, BC, Ontario) than assumed what was assumed in the USC analysis, the proportion would be much, much greater, likely over 90%. Talking about the proportion of production emissions doesn’t really add any value to understanding the problem or the solution when your goal is to get to 99% of total lifetime emissions and yet that’s framed as a bad thing.

    So when he says ‘half of the emissions from any vehicle comes from the production of the vehicle in the first place’ he’s mangling the situation because:
    1. For conventional vehicles it’s closer to 8%
    2. For BEVs it’s closer to a third; and
    3. The higher the proportion in either case is better because it likely means that your lifetime emissions are lower not that production emissions are increasing.

    It’s numerator denominator thing.

  158. Marlowe,
    Okay, thanks, but how much of the 8% is country dependent? In the US, a car that can do 30mpg is seen as fuel efficient. In the UK, it’s seen as pretty poor. Presumably the 8% depends on whether you are considering gas guzzlers, or small fuel-efficient compacts. However, I would guess the key point is still that if you were wanting to switch to an EV simply to reduce emissions, there might be cases where the remaining emissions of your current car would be less than that of a replacement EV?

  159. I must admit that I’m now a bit confused, as I can easily find sources claiming that manufacturing can be 50% of total emissions for a typical gasoline car, and yet the UCS document does indeed go into quite some detail and suggests it is quite a bit less. Looking at Figure 8 in the UCS document, it seems manufacturing could be about 5 tonnes CO2e (which is similar to what was suggested in the Guardian article). My current car is quite low emission, but still does 1kg CO2 per 10 miles. So if I drive it for 150000 miles, then that would by 15 tonnes, and 25% of the total would be manufacturing. But this is already quite a fuel efficient car, so a more standard one would probably have a lower percentage manufacturing emissions.

  160. hvw says:

    Life Cycle Assessment is a fantastic thing. The number of assumptions you have to make, the number of reasonable choices you have for most of them, and the high sensitivity of the output to many of those choices make this method quite challenging, also for the reader. It is easy to abuse, to come up with a desired result so that the doctoring is difficult to see. It also can deliver a lot of precious multi-dimensional insight. One thing is for sure: Just the number, the end-result, is useless. The Guardian is completely useless because it doesn’t get anywhere near the necessary methodological detail. And I assume that must be true for any newspaper article reporting an LCA result. And the guy in the video is the ideal typical “I am so smart cuz I have numbers” – clown. But that is a distraction — he doesn’t make sense no matter what the “true” numbers might be.

    That said, from some quick check I would bet (if forced to) that the “vehicle only” (includes production, end-of-life, maintenance, ..) emissions are about 30% of the total for a BEV and about 5% for a fossil-fuel driven car. And the decision about your next car should be completely free of any related deliberations. Just get a Tesla.

  161. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==>> I think the point Veritasium was making was that it is possible that the remaining emissions on your current vehicle may be less than the emission from an EV, in which case you might not switch cars if your goal is simply to reduce emissions. ==>>

    Of course, included with the other complications, would be the consideration of whether you would eventually be replacing you current vehicle, in which case you would be adding manufacture-related emissions to the atmosphere eventually either way.

  162. Marlowe Johnson says:

    ATTP,

    In the EU the proportion of production emissions for conventional vehicles are going to be higher than in north america simply because the fleet there is more efficient so operation emissions are lower. For an EU specific breakdown that’s closer to your car’s efficiency rating see slide 11 of this presentation: http://ee.ricardo.com/cms/assets/Documents-for-Insight-pages/Transport/08.-LowCVP-conference.pdf

    hvw,
    +1

  163. Marlowe,
    Thanks, that makes sense.

    hvw,

    And the decision about your next car should be completely free of any related deliberations. Just get a Tesla.

    Indeed, this makes sense, but isn’t quite the same as whether or not you should replace your current car now, given that the manufacturing emissions are sunk.

    Joshua,

    Of course, included with the other complications, would be the consideration of whether you would eventually be replacing you current vehicle, in which case you would be adding manufacture-related emissions to the atmosphere eventually either way.

    Indeed, but I think (as I said in response to hvw) the manufacturing emissions from your current car are sunk, so whether or not you should replace your current car now should depend on the future annual emissions from your current car, compared to the average future annual emissions from a replacement (which would include its manufacturing emissions). My current car is supposed to do 120g/km which (based on Marlowe’s slide 11) seems comparable to a BEV car in 2010, but higher than what would be expect in 2020.

  164. Marlowe Johnson says:

    The UCS report addresses the ‘payback’ issue explicitly;

    “the extra emissions associated with electric vehicle production are rapidly negated by reduced emissions from driving. Comparing an average midsize midrange BEV with an average midsize gasoline-powered car, it takes just 4,900 miles of driving to “pay back”—i.e., offset—the extra global warming emissions from producing the BEV. Similarly, it takes 19,000 miles with the full-size long-range BEV compared with a similar gasoline car. Based on typical usages of these vehicles, this amounts to about six months’ driving for the midsize midrange BEV and 16 months for the full-size long-range BEV.”

  165. Marlowe,
    But doesn’t that refer to the extra emissions associated with production (i.e., production of a BEV emits about 1 tonne more than an equivalent gasoline-powered car).

  166. We are now getting into the same fallacy like “oh! look! new solar is at grid parity! we are saved! rational investment and paybacks will ride to our rescue!”, that tends to overlook the sunk costs of existing generation plant & equipment. (from an economic sense).

    But in this case we are more about looking to excuse ourselves the emissions of a new vehicle purchase because of a netting out against a smaller amount of additional emissions from operation, Which seems to be operating in a world where that “trillion tonne budget”-thingy isn’t operative nor urgent.

    One thing that Veritasium* did conclude correctly – maybe the personal use-EV solution is not really sufficient. Maybe he should be considering other soultions – ride-sharing, car-sharing, etc.

    * I really regret focussing on the one comment, because the initial unrelated commentary at the beginning was quite good, if not entirely original…

  167. Marlowe Johnson says:

    yes you’re right, that offset is strictly in terms of the incremental BEV manufacturing emissions. Back to your original question, as you say, the payback period depends on the efficiency of your current vehicle compared to the one you’d be replacing it with. Of course this also assumes that you’d be scrapping your existing vehicle rather than reselling it, which may or may not be the case.

  168. * I really regret focussing on the one comment, because the initial unrelated commentary at the beginning was quite good, if not entirely original…

    I think Veritasium is normally pretty good and his basic point is valid; try to check whether or not what you believe to be true is actually consistent with the evidence. I’ve certainly learned things from this discussion, so it wasn’t a waste 😉

  169. Of course this also assumes that you’d be scrapping your existing vehicle rather than reselling it, which may or may not be the case.

    Yes, that’s a good point.

  170. Marlowe Johnson says:

    “I think Veritasium is normally pretty good and his basic point is valid; try to check whether or not what you believe to be true is actually consistent with the evidence.”

    I agree and while I not trying to beat him up over it, it’s important to recognize that in trying to correct a misconception he’s committed exactly the kind of mistake that he’s trying to discourage.

    As hwv pointed earlier, LCAs are complicated beasts and their results are prone to abuse and misunderstanding in the public sphere. Now I do this sort of thing in my day job, so it was easy for me to see the mistakes he made in framing the issue.

    What he should have said is ‘it’s complicated, it depends, don’t just read one article and assume you know what you’re talking about, etc.’

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and what gets you in trouble is not what you don’t know, it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.

  171. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and what gets you in trouble is not what you don’t know, it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.

    Well, yes, the online climate debate is a very good example of exactly this.

  172. Willard says:

    > I really regret focussing on the one comment

    Embrace crappiness, Rust. It too never sleeps. It may be more awake than ever.

    ***

    A tidbit to show why mathematical realism is still alive and kicking:

    3:AM: Now your idea of ‘mathematical realism’ was thought to be an account that answered the problem – can you say what this position claims about the status of maths?

    PM: The main problem my early realism was intended to solve arises before you even start to worry about justifying axioms. When faced with the sad fact that CH [the Continuum Hypothesis] can’t be settled from the standard axioms, some reacted by denying that there’s any further question to be raised: the only question that makes sense, this line of thought goes, is whether CH or not-CH follows from the axioms; once that’s settled, as it has been, there’s nothing more to ask — case closed.

    Gödel thought CH was still in some sense a real mathematical question, and he espoused a strong sort of realism about sets to defend that view: there is an objective world of sets where CH is either true or false; the axioms we now have aren’t enough to fully describe that world; we need new axioms to settle the question. CH also seemed to me to be a real question that I wanted answered, and as a novice philosopher, I figured I could do worse than following Gödel’s lead. Unfortunately, Gödel’s realism apparently relies on a kind of ‘mathematical intuition’ that strikes most observers, including me, as disconnected from anything we know about human cognition; one of Benacerraf’s seminal challenges is aimed at just this point. So I tried to replace Gödel’s intuition with something based on ordinary perception, with appeals to experimental psychology and neuroscience.

    Not everyone was convinced, to put it mildly. But the resulting account, if it worked, would not only certify CH as a real question, but also provide a framework for approaching the problem of justifying axioms: as Gödel suggested, we would think of set theory and theoretical natural science as roughly analogous; perception is to science as intuition is to set theory; and theoretical confirmation is to science as a corresponding sort of argument (often termed ‘extrinsic’ considerations) is to set theory. I hoped this set-theoretic counterpart to scientific theorizing would be the necessary key to assessing axiom candidates by something other than their ‘obviousness’, etc.

    http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-stuff-of-proof/

    Penelope Maddy has a great writing style.

    Oh, and I’d take these 15 $10 bills any time if I can give 200$ back in 50 years.

  173. Steven Mosher says:

    “Stanley Fish. I know that Fish’s pet topic is that texts don’t carry meanings that are independent from their writer and their readers. ”

    Fish is known for what is called the reader response theory of textual meaning. The meaning of a text is the response to the text. From one perspectve you could call it a behaviorist theory of meaning. the meaning of a stimulus is thee response to the stimulus.

  174. Willard says:

    Under “community” in my 3:07 comment:

    Interpretive communities are a theoretical concept stemming from reader-response criticism and publicized by Stanley Fish […] Fish’s theory states that a text does not have meaning outside of a set of cultural assumptions regarding both what the characters mean and how they should be interpreted. This cultural context often includes authorial intent, though it is not limited to it. Fish claims that we as individuals interpret texts because each of us is part of an interpretive community that gives us a particular way of reading a text. Furthermore, he claims, we cannot know whether someone is a part of our interpretive community or not, because any act of communication that we could engage in to tell whether we are part of the same interpretive community would have to be interpreted. That is, because we cannot escape our interpretive community, we can never really know its limits.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretive_communities

    Under “reader-response criticism”:

    Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or “audience”) and their experience of a literary work, in contrast to other schools and theories that focus attention primarily on the author or the content and form of the work.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reader-response_criticism

    ClimateBall indicates some rough limits for our communities of interprets, even if we could say that, in principle, communities are not exactly research disciplines or faculties. Moreover, it also shows that within communities, all things are seldom rosy. Auditing Veritasium’s crappiness illustrates why.

    More generally, take any headline. It is trivial to question its truth, its accuracy, its relevance. It is too broad. It provides a misleading angle. It lacks context. It does not take this or that dataset into account. It is meaningless. It says too much.

    Ad lib concerns about the author’s competence can be raised. Social networks unfold. Ad hominems fall on authors, journalists, journalism, newspapers, editorial lines, party lines, policies or lack thereof, political systems, politicians, politics, the human kind in general.

    It doesn’t end there. Let’s also discuss psychology, experimentation, statistical significance, morality. Let’s bait and switch from our fate to our faiths, let’s embrace the meaning of it all, or lack thereof, and of course let’s spend our Christmas concurring on communication without an ounce of self-reflection. Srsly, why should anyone care? Nevermind. Audits can never end.

    ClimateBall ™ – Billions upon Billions of Topics.

  175. John Mashey says:

    On EVs and economics during transitions: moral, skate to where the puck will be.

    China Electric Cars Sales = Record 43,441 In November

    If Steve Chu can be believed, battery costs are going to keep dropping, and not just from cost/volume learning curves, but new tech.

    While current carbon intensity of grid matters, when purchasing asset that should last 10-20 years, people might think ahead, and if longer-lived, even further. For instance, in 2015, Stanford turned off its cogen plant in favor of this Central Energy Facility, which gets moderately clean electricity from the grid, but of course that is improving anyway), and then, a year and a half later, Stanford unveils innovative solar generating station.

    Wathc this panel session last year for the sorts of options and analysis serious folks do.

  176. Susan Anderson says:

    As life happens, one sometimes has to step back. The important part of my post to me was the quotation from Orwell’s diary but I am only one writer, sometimes running sideways to the general discussion here, which I wish to respect. Yesterday’s Monbiot, “Celebrity isn’t just harmless fun – it’s the smiling face of the corporate machine” touches on the underlying flirtation with fake ideals – more appropriate to the tipping point discussion. My overarching fear is the isolation and dumbing down of the general population.

    That said, two comments. Sometimes it is hard to convey the reliability of sources, and regardless of the exact figures on the tradeoffs of new versus carbon intensive, I hoped to make clear the reputation and standing of UCS, which is a superb resource on many current issues.

    Another is, again stepping aside from the exact figures, I think infrastructure is important. It may be an exercise in futility, given the stark scale of the progress we need to make, but supporting backward looking infrastructure means more of the same. This is the problem with fracking, tar sands, deepwater and Arctic drilling. There is an argument for the former as being “cleaner” than coal, but the infrastructure lifetime is not counted in as a liability.

    Also sideways, currently too much electricity depends on coal, but electric cars open the door to cleaner sources.

  177. Douglas Bostrom says:

    I took the title of the Guardian opinion piece in question to be a semaphore inviting extended spluttering and so did not bother to read it.

    It’s a long thread here and late in the day, so in reaction to ATTP’s final sentence while at the risk of being redundant: in defense of the science of communications between humans (a part of social science), we’re learning properties and generalities of the material at hand (human cognition) that may be applied to predictably improve communication of many topics. What metallurgists tell us of the properties of metals may find application in the construction of Swiss watches, bullets, artificial joints and more. Just so, our dawning ability to engineer more effective and reliable communications between people is improving, albeit more slowly because the subject of study is comparatively more elusive and challenging than describing and predicting the behaviors of inanimate materials. Slow progress doesn’t mean no useful results to hand; we’re getting better at building communications in more formally designed ways.

    It is hence a bit sad to hear ATTP’s complaint end up sounding like a generality applying to all of social science, because to do so creates the hazard of ignoring an entire toolbox full of implements we very much need to be fully employing at this time. It is quite clear by now that repeating “2+2=4” ad nauseam is missing key factors required to produce more effective communications leading to improved cognition, understanding and decision-making in the minds of the general population in charge of shaping our future.

    Tarring with a narrower brush would be a more sensible choice.

  178. Doug,

    Tarring with a narrower brush would be a more sensible choice.

    Yes, a fair point. I do think that good social science is very difficult (there are no conservation laws, for example, that help to constrain what is plausible) and physical/natural scientists could certainly learn from social scientists (I have, and have even now published some some social science 🙂 ). I have, however, encountered some STS research which I find very unimpressive.

  179. Douglas Bostrom says:

    Yah, every field has its ringers, true enough.

    I left out a couple of key bits. Metallurgists don’t know much about horological technology, ballistics or osteopathy but all of those domains have something useful to gain from listening to metallurgists. And brushes should always be wide enough but not more. 🙂

    Social science is a bit off-putting in the sense that many applications of the science are useful only when dealing with bulk material properties. We can say how groups of people may behave but predicting the behavior of individuals is often hopeless. A similar situation as with atomic physics and U-235; nobody can say what an atom of U-235 will do at any given instant but we still build fission reactors. (and to stretch an analogy to the snapping point, atomic physicists don’t know much about plumbing)

  180. Doug,
    The whole relationship between physical/natural scientists and social scientists is something I have been thinking about a bit. What I’ve found surprising is how some of what goes on is not very constructive. There is a lot that is. Lawrence Hamilton, who writes guest posts here does really interesting work trying to understand the public perception of science. There’s John Cook, and others, trying to see if consensus messaging can influence public perception. Even Dan Kahan’s cultural cognition ideas are interesting (although he can oversell it a bit, IMO). However, there are others who seem to want to displace science from where they seem to think it is, because they seem to see it as having undue influence. Firstly, I’m not even sure in what way it has undue influence; it’s simply a process of understanding our environment. Secondly, if some think that there are important research results that are being ignored, maybe they should do a better job of presenting their results, rather than spending their time undermining others. It’s also not clear to me why it even has to be adversarial, understanding physical/natural systems, and social systems, are both important.

  181. It surely is not necessary to be adversarial but it is more amusing.

    A relevant thread:

  182. Douglas Bostrom says:

    Personally I find it odd that scientists are often criticized for their communications skills by writers working for popular publications when those writers and publications themselves have not lifted a finger to ensure that they are cognizant of and employ state-of-the-art, superior communications methods. It’s puzzling that the difficult job of translating and packaging highly specialized, domain-specific information is accepted to be the primary responsibility of those for whom communications with the general public is not a primary pursuit, while professional communicators themselves don’t bother to keep up.

    The role of journalists and popular publications is key to our potential success in being around in a reasonably pleasing condition 100 or 500 years from now, yet we see a lot of costly carelessness leading to substantially less useful communication of urgently important information. It’s fairly obvious by now that mindful application of mental models research and all the rest is as important to the optimally effective practice of journalism as is knowing the rules and conventions of decently communicative grammar. As it stands, with regard to the practice of formally optimal communications techniques journalists and popular publications in general perform poorly, obliviously.

    We all need to up our game.

  183. John Mashey says:

    Social scientists: as I learned very early at Bell Labs (from top managers) – find the real experts and learn from them, which takes work when outside your own discipline, but is especially valuable. Experts usually know more than what you can get reading the literature.

  184. Willard says:

    A Christmas gift:

    Holy Tu Quoque, Pomoman!

    Yet in his latest piece, our public intellectual dropped Kuhn and Pareto to return to STS itself, about which we hope he knows a bit more. After some necessary Latour bashing, there is at last something that could look like an explicit thesis:

    My own view has always been that a post-truth world is the inevitable outcome of greater epistemic democracy. In other words, once the instruments of knowledge production are made generally available—and they have been shown to work—they will end up working for anyone with access to them. This in turn will remove the relatively esoteric and hierarchical basis on which knowledge has traditionally acted as a force for stability and often domination. The locus classicus is the Republic, in which Plato promotes what in the Middle Ages was called a ‘double truth’ doctrine – one for the elites (which allows them to rule) and one for the masses (which allows them to be ruled).

    https://social-epistemology.com/2016/12/25/embrace-the-inner-fox-post-truth-as-the-sts-symmetry-principle-universalized-steve-fuller/

    There’s nothing very original there, and SF just can’t resist namedropping. He also gets the whole post-truth thing upside-down: even if one day post-truth could get more epistemic democracy, teh Donald Tweeter Show certainly shows this is far from what we’re getting right now. SF should be in a good position to know that the Intertubes give tools to block exchanges as much as to favor them, e.g.:

    “Contrarian” is too neutral to qualify a sociologist in a very loose acception of the term who pretends in his public intellectual persona to carry any authority in the history of science or in philosophy the way he does. It’s just mostly CRAP.

  185. Dan Riley says:

    The “Missing mass” problem has been around for almost a century. Once it was well-established that rotation curves didn’t agree with the observed matter distribution, the obvious explanations were either invisible matter or a modification of gravity at large distances. However, until recently there weren’t any observations that could distinguish between the two hypotheses, so it remained an open question until gravitational micro-lensing observed in large-scale sky surveys came along, supporting the existence of something that looks like dark matter. The question then shifted to the nature of the observed dark matter, and whether it had the right distribution to account for the discrepancies in rotation curves. That looks to me like science the way it is supposed to be done, leaving the question open until there are relevant observations.

    Verlinde(2016) starts from his “emergent” derivation of GR in Verlinde(2011), adds in the assumption of dark energy, and makes a bunch of seemingly arbitrary choices about how dark energy interacts with emergent gravity. The result replicates the phenomenological MOND fit from Milgrom(1983). Whether this does away with dark matter is, I think, a matter of interpretation–I’m more inclined to see it as explaining dark matter as an emergent phenomenon from the interaction of emergent gravity and dark energy. Through the interactions, it adds a new source of gravitation rather than modifying the underlying force law, which sounds like dark matter to me.

    Verlinde(2016) is an incomplete theory, covering only present-day isolated static spherically symmetric matter distributions. It can’t (yet) say anything about galactic collision events like the bullet cluster. Verlinde thinks a more complete realization of his theory can account for the observations, but that’s speculative.

    I’m unconvinced by the claim that it has no free parameters. To the extent that the interaction term choices in Verlinde(2016) really are arbitrary, those are free parameters. That they may have been pre-tweaked by the theorist rather than fit to experiment doesn’t make them any less free. There’s at least the possibility that this is an example of Gelman’s “garden of forking paths”.

    I don’t understand the fuss over Brouwer et al. The modification to gravity in Verlinde(2016) has the same functional form as Milgrom’s MOND, which was constructed to match the galactic rotation curves and has been tested before. Brouwer even tell us that “the lensing profile of apparent DM in EG is the same as that of the excess gravity in MOND”. So what’s new there?

    We also know that Milgrom’s MOND doesn’t agree so well with the observations at larger scales. Verlinde thinks he can account for that, but there’s a lot of hand-waving involved.

  186. Unfortunately, Vera Rubin (who did pioneering work on galaxy rotation curves and was regarded as someone deserving of a Nobel Prize) died today.

  187. Dan Riley says:

    I hadn’t heard that Rubin passed away, there isn’t much in the news. Sadly, it seems that even in death her contributions to astronomy aren’t receiving due credit.

  188. Dan,
    Yes, I was trying to find an article to link to and – as you suggest – I couldn’t find one.

  189. Susan Anderson says:

    Came across a reference to Vera Rubin via Twitter (I’m not active) and was interested to find several references. A search “Vera Rubin Twitter” found a few references (Guardian, among others). One included this quote from an Adrienne Rich poem:
    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46568

    Planetarium

    Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
    astronomer, sister of William; and others.

    A woman in the shape of a monster
    a monster in the shape of a woman
    the skies are full of them

    a woman ‘in the snow
    among the Clocks and instruments
    or measuring the ground with poles’

    in her 98 years to discover
    8 comets

    she whom the moon ruled
    like us
    levitating into the night sky
    riding the polished lenses

    Galaxies of women, there
    doing penance for impetuousness
    ribs chilled
    in those spaces of the mind

    An eye,

    ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
    from the mad webs of Uranusborg

    encountering the NOVA

    every impulse of light exploding

    from the core
    as life flies out of us

    Tycho whispering at last
    ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

    What we see, we see
    and seeing is changing

    the light that shrivels a mountain
    and leaves a man alive

    Heartbeat of the pulsar
    heart sweating through my body

    The radio impulse
    pouring in from Taurus

    I am bombarded yet I stand

    I have been standing all my life in the
    direct path of a battery of signals
    the most accurately transmitted most
    untranslatable language in the universe
    I am a galactic cloud so deep so invo-
    luted that a light wave could take 15
    years to travel through me And has
    taken I am an instrument in the shape
    of a woman trying to translate pulsations
    into images for the relief of the body
    and the reconstruction of the mind.

  190. guthrie says:

    Willard – that’s a useful little quote from Fuller, and fine as far as it goes within STS/ sociology, but yet, the earth is an oblate spheriod orbiting a star and CO2 absorbs radiation, and humans can’t fly by mere willpower.

    So is he just incapable of admitting there are domains of knowledge which are different from others, or that there is some sort of reality which we imperfectly map, or what?

  191. Susan Anderson says:

    re Vera Rubin and Nobel, I asked my father this morning (thought it might interest him – he’s pleased to be again closely associated with a Nobel – Thouless Haldane and Kosterlitz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4zzG9nt2KU (minute 3:10 for 93 year old PW!)).

    He said the Nobel is not likely to be awarded for astronomy in “physics” – he suggested other prize(s) had been designed to remedy the omission.

  192. Susan,
    Just had a chance to look at your youtube link. For those who don’t know, Susan’s father is Philip Anderson, who won the Physics Nobel in 1977, and one of the 2016 Physics Nobel Laureates is Duncan Haldane who was Philip Anderson’s PhD student.

  193. John Mashey says:

    Susan: you might ask your father about Arno Penzias & Bob Wilson, since their1978 cosmic background radiation Nobel was in physics, also.

    (Of course, Arno says ~most people get Nobels for things they were looking for, we got one for something we were trying to get rid of. )

  194. Pingback: 2016: A year in blogging | …and Then There's Physics

  195. Susan Anderson says:

    John Mashey, continuing to make a public spectacle of myself, thanks for the query. He’s talked about Penzias (Wilson too, no doubt) and I will ask and report back, no doubt when this thread is dormant. (I think there’s an oral history that covers a lot of formational issues about the remarkable Bell Labs which gave scientists an open ticket (Brattain (& Bardeen/Shockley as well).) I’m back home in Boston, go down to Princeton every other week, which gives me unparalleled access! He loves talking about anything interesting and we need distraction from current events these days. Haldane is more than a student, a close colleague and friend, and PWA has always said Duncan is brilliant and likely we’ll be hearing more from him, as this was older work.

    aTTP, thanks, he worked closely with Thouless at Churchill College in Cambridge in 1961 (sabbatical, I was 13-14) and they remained friends, and he worked with and hiked/climbed with Kosterlitz, and was involved in some publications in that field. Val Fitch was a close family friend. Brian Josephson was his student (PWA feels other people should have received more recognition on that work). The threads of modern physics (way above my head) are sometimes intertwined with my old man, but I mostly do things like cooking and dishes! He’s been forced to give more respect to string theory due to his friendship with Witten.

    There will likely be a biography coming out next year which might cover some of this.

  196. Susan,
    Thanks, a veritable who’s who of Nobel Laureates. I don’t often read biographys, but maybe I should make an exception.

  197. Susan Anderson says:

    aTTP, I suspect you will have an interesting bio yourself when you have a full career behind you, but now you are doing a variety of work and have collected an interesting community of thinkers and that is in this real present. One thing that is fascinating is the extraordinary freedom and creativity that revolved around giving a variety of young scientists a lot of rope to design a working environment at Bell Labs. It really sounds like a interestingly fascinating crazy place. Another thing that came out of it was the laser, but that was another department. AT&T was the good kind of monopoly and made good use of its wealth. Sadly, the new powerhouses that arose out of the “baby Bells” after the breakup, like Verizon, are not as public spirited. (When there is a pool of wealth there are interested parties – I’m wrapping it up a bit here – who see an advantage which is not necessarily a common benefit. Selling off assets provides temporary benefits that may not be best for the long term or the whole community (your UK government looks to be a case in point). A simple premise like making long distance calls cheap may in the end cost the basic users dearly. Privatization is often costly.)

    Having strayed far from the topic, I’m sitting here thinking about how people think, and how people like Steve Fuller are so determinedly resistant to accepting knowledge that they find inaccessible. It is so easy for a person who knows what they don’t know to evaluate quality without being able to do it themselves. Aside from his professional interest in promoting himself, he is likely convinced that he’s got something. To me this looks silly, and yet he might be less maths challenged that I am. I did enough hard work in science before I met the barriers (that damned epsilon, so useful and elusive, and endless pipetting) that resulted in my quitting to acknowledge that the work itself is more than worthy of respect. I’m happy to leave it to experts.

    Aside from the barriers of politics and predisposition, I think there’s a barrier of resistance to admitting lack of knowledge. I remember quite distinctly my breakthrough in art to this day: my instructor was patient and cared enough to insist that I stop pretending and he put up with my tears and fears. (Science isn’t quite like life drawing, but many of my students were scientists and the best scientists were also the best students, open and modest and eager.) Most people don’t like to get to the “tears and fears” moment and will do anything to avoid it. As a teacher I worked to reassure students that this fear is normal and human and much better than the alternative. People would much rather believe in “the secret” or indulge in some kind of magic thinking that bypasses the daily hard work and rewards of reality. Arguing and finding fault is another easy and shallow alternative: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

  198. Dan Riley says:

    Susan, (still off topic) you might find it interesting that John Mashey overlapped with PWA at Bell Labs, of course in very different divisions…Mashey was there 1973-1983 working on early UNIX development, another Bell Labs innovation.

  199. Susan Anderson says:

    Yes Dan, thanks for the dates. To me John Mashey is a climate hero, doing the hard slogging of digging around the financial underpinnings and associations of climate denial and other corruption ably described in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and her articles in The New Yorker etc. He can be found at DeSmog blog nowadays.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=john+mashey+desmogblog

    Amongst the wealth of information there, I found the lawsuit particularly interesting:

    Even with me as the only listed defendant, the case was rapidly removed to US Federal Court, but it did not last long.
    On 04/30/15, before the first hearing, Milt Johns ended the case with voluntary dismissals by Wegman and Said.
    The next day, Johns joined another law firm, Fluet Huber + Hoag, having left his own firm Day & Johns.
    Since they filed “voluntary dismissals without prejudice” they theoretically could try again, but see our Motion to Dismiss.

  200. Brian Dodge says:

    Susan Anderson, as you’re “…. sitting here thinking about how people think, ” it might help to bear in mind that most people who have little (or less) scientific training conflate thinking (type 2, rational, conscious mental processing) and gut, emotional, feeling/believing (type 1, automatic/autonomic, subconscious mental processing). Type 1 is in our nature; highly evolved, and generally effective – the relatives of our ancestors whose instincts were lacking didn’t survive to have descendants. Type 2 comes from nurture (or lack therof); learning and emulating the intellectual behaviors of our family, our social/religious/political tribe, our schools, and for a few of us, by standing on the shoulders of giants. Messages are passing back and forth continuosly and seamlessly – (type 1;”Oooh, redhead!!!”: type 2; “6’4″ male companion, looking around jealously. Down, boy.” Nonverbally, of course). When you hear lots & lots of messages from your conservative redneck friends, and your Republican leaders about terrorist Muslims, and raping/pillaging/drug dealing Mexicans/blacks, and you’re untrained in rational decision making, when a Trump comes along, your lizard brain goes “OOOOH, TRUMP”, and the part of your brain that controls your dick, your digestion, or whatever, decides your vote.
    I often ask people a trick question – “Do you believe in global warming?” I don’t. I know the fundamentals of how polyatomic gases absorb and emit infrared radiation. I know why I get different readings on my 20$ infrared thermometer when I point it at the sky, enough so that I know what to expect if it’s a cold dry winter day, or a warm muggy summer day, or cloudy, or in the mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even if I didn’t know enough about physics to trust that Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann do know what they are talking about, the fact that all professional societies, national acadamies, and the vast majority of the scientists they represent accept the fundamental physical processes that are causing global warming should suffice. Some people (Richard A. Muller leaps to mind) are harder to convince. I believe that people who trust their gut, make their own reality, and believe that they know more than the generals, scientists and other experts are incapable of knowing the truth.

    I also know the difference between counting and measuring, and why a 2×4 is; and I know that anybody who argues “… that “two” means “one-and-a-half” sometimes, so numbers don’t mean what they say.” or ““There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” needs to be whopped upside the head with one.

  201. Susan Anderson says:

    Thanks Brian Dodge. I’d add, some of us on the left have kneejerks on Trumpians going the other way too, though he often fails to disappoint in lowering the bar.

    I don’t “believe” in climate change either. I’m neither fish nor fowl, being scientifically literate but unable to pursue the maths part very far: balked at differential equations.

    Language is an interesting bar to understanding. People forget that it is a tool rather than an absolute. No description is perfect, as we see from the endless discussions about denial and climate change/global warming. For example, global warming is a shortcut for the shortcut, increase in energy (heat) in the system.

    NYTimes obit on Vera Rubin, quite long: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/27/science/vera-rubin-astronomist-who-made-the-case-for-dark-matter-dies-at-88.html

    Anyone who liked the Rich Herschel poem might prefer to read it from the link, and removed spaces slightly alter the reading.

    OT alert, again: Anyone noting the removal of the US gov’t ethics office today may not have noticed the connection to one of Democrat’s only tools for delaying confirmation of Trump cabinet. Oops!

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