12-24-11, 07:50 AM #1
New book calls science a "Priesthood"
This opinion article by a recent author of a book on cranks, along with their editorial bias towards claims of the eminent demise of General Relativity and the Standard Model, has got to be a large part of the reason that New Scientist is associated with crankdom.
Science is a priesthood? This is a claim arising from nothing more than psychological projection from the cargo-cult of wannabes. If science were a priesthood, there would be organized worship rather than the disorganized affections of groupies and the unasked-for flattery of imitations of those that ape science's form without benefit. If science were a priesthood, there would be an initiation into its mysteries rather than open access journals and public libraries of books.
Mathematics is an obstacle? No, you dunderheads! The human brain with its grossly circuitous and inefficient function of thinking and understanding implemented in story-telling meat is the obstacle. That the thinking meat of cranks are of the opinion that untutored meat should have equal chances of discovery as the meat of scientists who attempt to work in with reliable abstractions of logic, math and evidence is without basis. Naive egalitarianism in this case is simple arrogance.
Science has to be a precise, useful and communicable description of nature. That the most precise and most useful descriptions are necessarily communicated in mathematics is not a bug, but a feature.
This post has been copied from my social media post. If you are subscribed to New Scientist you have my permission to repost on the comment thread there.
Existing comments seem to share my opinion:
Originally Posted by Eric KvaalenOriginally Posted by Crumple
Reviews of the book:
Michael Shermer in Wall Street Journal
John Horgan for Scientific American blogs
Last edited by rpenner; 12-24-11 at 09:20 AM. Reason: removed "Take It Up With God" -- the title of Eric's post, Fixed description of article, added review links
12-24-11, 10:57 AM #2
Science as a priesthood may be farfetched, since science is dependent and beholden on business, government and other special interest for funding. A priesthood would seek the truth first even if that means trying all things new. But since this might create a conflict of interest, for those holding the purse, science often default into mercenary mode. If you are an employee, you have to abide by the rules of employment. If you worked for a cigarette company, you can't do the opposite and still get paid.
If science was totally self sufficient in terms of resources, with no obligation except to the truth, a science priesthood would be possible. But if science is leveraged with a job paid by someone outside science, loss of prestige or funding hangs in the balance, so it is easier to be a mercenary.
How many scientists would support themselves to seek the truth? How many would prefer the comfort of a good job even if you need to jump some hoops? Dawkings is not a priest of science but more of hired gun who is in it for the prestige and fame.
For science to evolve a priesthood, it would need to be set up like a church, where it collects tax free donations for science. But small donations so there is no leverage.
In current mode, if government wanted the sky to be green and was willing to supply $100B in resources to do this, there would be many takers of this money, mercenaries, trying to make it green. The priesthood, would say save the money, it is blue.
12-24-11, 12:11 PM #3
If science were a priesthood, there would be organized worship rather than the disorganized affections of groupies and the unasked-for flattery of imitations of those that ape science's form without benefit. If science were a priesthood, there would be an initiation into its mysteries rather than open access journals and public libraries of books.
Mathematics is an obstacle? No, you dunderheads!
The human brain with its grossly circuitous and inefficient function of thinking and understanding implemented in story-telling meat is the obstacle.
12-24-11, 12:47 PM #4keith1Guest
The whole rational point I can see for a priesthood mentality is in the frugal disciplines of it's initiates--the meekness of accepting of the smaller paycheck garnered.
In this respect, plumbers, lawyers, all business admins, doctors, congressmen, etc., should all be of a priesthood.
Get thee to a nunnery, penner!!
12-24-11, 12:50 PM #5Regardless of the credibility of this claim, it is sociologically significant. In their militantly egalitarian opposition to what they see as a physics elite, NPA members mirror the stance of Martin Luther and other pioneers of the Protestant Reformation
Imagine if, decades ago, anthropological researchers (and members of physical sciences that learned of this) got upset over critical remarks that bushmen made (about how their traditional beliefs trumped the new conclusions of science) if bushmen could have blogged opinions, published papers, and had conventions back then. Such a very human departure from a methodological process supposedly above passion and personal grudges, gives the appearance of legitimacy to such attacks being indeed from a rival with a potent alternative view. Rather than merely being another socio-cultural object of an indifferent study, conducted by mainstream scientists.
12-24-11, 02:21 PM #6Originally Posted by wellwisher
Originally Posted by rpenner
Templeton Funding-Science and the Big Questions
12-24-11, 03:26 PM #7
I would define a (metaphorical) priesthood as an organization accepted as an unquestionable authority on a realm of questions ("mysteries"), whose membership is self-regulated, and that access to the "mysteries" is to be gated exclusively by fully initiated members of the organization. Worship of the "mysteries" is encouraged by the priesthood to enhance the priesthood's authority.
The profession of scientist -- one who does science -- is less regulated than many professions including lawyers, engineers and actual priests. In all jurisdictions, anyone may call themselves a scientist while impersonating a lawyer or engineer or priest may bring civil and criminal penalties. Organizations of scientists operation more like social networking sites to facilitate communications of common interest than as controlling bodies.
Science is all about testing supposed answers to questions. Any authority that science has in society is based on its track record of providing reliable and precise answers when being correct matters. Worship of science or its practitioners is not a symptom of the nature of science, but of the nature of humans; even those unconnected with answering questions like singers and athletes and politicians have fans, groupies and flatterers.
I do not think it is a good idea for science to strive to become more like a priesthood. Nor do I think it is evolving in that direction.
I reject that scientific knowledge is "gnostic" -- because nothing distinguishes knowledge gained from scientific research from knowledge gained in any other human activity. I am not an excellent welder -- is this because professional welders are a priesthood? No, the fault lies with myself and the choices I made.
Priesthood is not necessarily defined by frugality and humility. A practical reason for scientists to be humble is that ego gets in the way of communicating reliably or testing ones own ideas.
C_C, it's unnecessary to blacklist cranks because they aren't actually doing science. Many of them build castles in the air and then defend those castles in a manner incompatible with science. Others set fire to their own reputations in other non-scientific ways. And the thing about blacklisting is there has to be an actual blacklist. Never have I seen a scientist thank another scientist for passing on a crackpots name. All too often the crackpots own work is passed on without comment. Also, I am not slighting Margaret Wertheim for studying crankdom, but for commending it.
12-24-11, 04:03 PM #8
Mathematics may be like hieroglyphics, but they are hardly magical and like hieroglyphics are meant to be understood. This requires your meat to be good at thinking in a particular manner.
12-24-11, 05:00 PM #9
Dawkings is not a priest of science but more of hired gun who is in it for the prestige and fame.
12-24-11, 05:06 PM #10
It's like providing grounds for a further study of Mormons, to be conducted by applicable social sciences, but then the response is all about the "bunk" of Mormon beliefs. As if they should be blacklisted in regard to being candidates for such research because their "backward and traditional opinions" rub some scientists in other fields or their advocates the wrong way. A scientist studying the bushmen of decades ago would document their beliefs as one part of the endeavor, but hardly enter the situation giving a flip about wasting time on a personal passion of refuting their "outlandish" traditional beliefs (even without today's political correctness or respect of other cultures being in vogue).
Footnote: Add to this Wertheim's concluding comment: "While we may not agree with the answers outsiders give, none of us should be sanguine when some of the greatest fruits of science are unavailable to most of humankind." I.e., studying such groups might provide more insight into why science alienates the majority of people, if a department requires some bloody applied justification for research rather than merely the purist acquisition of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, whether it is useful or not.
12-24-11, 06:27 PM #11Originally Posted by C.C.
Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”
On the other hand, when left unchecked it spreads quickly. This report shows that the belief in pseudoscience is rampant in America. The media’s misrepresentation combined with the public’s lack of knowledge in the scientific method, could lead to less government support for research, greater public susceptibility to scams, and public risk perceptions, e.g., global warming.
Last edited by Trooper; 12-24-11 at 10:33 PM.
12-25-11, 09:17 AM #12
Ah but will this thread be censored?
12-25-11, 09:59 AM #13
12-25-11, 01:02 PM #14
12-25-11, 02:02 PM #15
I read the article and here are the takeaways:
* Cranks reject mainstream science.
* Cranks don't like math.
* Cranks have not yet contributed to science.
* Cranks are organizing themselves into a unified force of... um... cranks.
Cranks are positioning themselves for psychological study but will still be systematically separated from science until they start performing real science. This would of course entail taking the time to get a real education.
12-25-11, 02:52 PM #16
Everyone likes to sit back and complain about pseudoscience, but I feel that it should be confronted. Just because scientists are able to discern between the two, doesn’t necessarily mean that the general public is capable of making the judgment. People can easily be manipulated if they are unacquainted with logic and the scientific process.
Let’s take a look at a David Hilster, who designed the Sagnac Award for the NPA, and who also, continues to ask for donations.
Does philosophy have some sort of veto power over science? Does philosophy have the right to reject scientific evidence? I think not.
“It's not surprising science would want to distance itself from philosophy. The historical relationship between science and philosophy has not been a friendly one. Philosophers like to start with their conclusions, and work to prove them. When it came to trying to figure out what the world was like, philosophers tended to argue about what the world should be like. Science was born as a rejection of this method. Its goal was to figure out what the world was really all about, and its primary tool was actual experimentation.”~ Joseph Rowlands
Last edited by Trooper; 12-25-11 at 03:44 PM.
12-25-11, 04:39 PM #17
Most birds have more types of photoreceptors than we do and they have almost no rods, so to them the universe is a riot of color. They can see ultraviolet so the color of the sky is certainly different to them. (This is how they can so mysteriously distinguish males from females: ultraviolet pigmentation in their feathers.)
12-25-11, 04:54 PM #18
12-25-11, 05:00 PM #19
The first generation of these completely innumerate Americans has grown up and risen into managerial positions. This explains the current state of our economy. Even bankers believed their own bullshit about the subprime mortgage being a perfectly reasonable transaction. My wife has a degree in English but even she figured that out.I think that it's true that human brains are optimized by evolution to process natural language and to interact socially with other human beings.Thinking about the highly abstract world of mathematics is kind of a brand new direction for human cognition, one that it has only embarked on recently. We still aren't as good at mathematics as we are at hanging out socially with our friends.
Many primitive languages (including Proto-Indo-European) do/did not have the singular-plural numbering paradigm of most modern languages, but instead had a one/two/more-than-two paradigm. Does this mean that earlier in our development we did not have quite as good a grasp of larger numbers?
Dogs don't seem to be able to count past two. If I train one to take two biscuits after dinner, he knows that the first one was the first one because one did not come before it, and he knows that the second one is the last one because one did come before it, so he knows he's had two. But if I try to train him to take three, once he gets to two he has no idea how many he's eaten so far, so he doesn't know when to stop expecting another one.
12-26-11, 11:42 PM #20
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