Why many scientists are so ignorant

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Mar 10, 2016.

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  1. river Valued Senior Member

    Agreed ; but philosophy was tied into science ; at the time.

    A PHD is about philosophy ; on that subject.

    I see your point though.

    The thing is ; is that ; Science ; has become so specialized ; then so has the philosophy , of that science.

    Hence in the end ; ironicly ; it will take a genius philosopher ; who is beyond the scienists themselves who gave and found the information to put it in its proper perspective. To put it all together.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Which isn't exactly the case. But let's say this was just a science spokesperson bashing supposed dragons rather than the real deal, so as to see where it goes. In that context, the essence of Gobry's title (ignorance of what philosophy is among scientists) could tentatively be contended to have at least one foot in a strawman.

    This particular "spokesperson" would just be another member of the population abroad. The latter ironically very much noted for needing a variety of "-isms", which may sometimes sport this or that messiah and bogeyman in their formulations. That some enthusiasts of science then likewise extract their own "savior of the world / humanity" conceptual statue-idol from their interest, an idea which wars with the "demons" of philosophy and "wrongs" of other traditional enterprises, is no surprise. Doubtless even fans of carpentry would spin an ultimate or master "-ism" off from that trade if the occupation had more pervasive arteries in knowledge institutions and technological progress.

    But as for the scientists themselves...

    Employees of the physical sciences[*] -- in the course of their "semi-personal" activities -- express their political, moral, economic, and other ideological affiliations, preferences, etc. Which should amply demonstrate their own inability to do without prescriptive agencies in everyday life. The latter being invented rather than found already existing under a rock or embedded in a geological feature. As well using arguments to support those prescriptions which may additionally appeal to what philosophical studies of those systems have outputted about them.

    IOW, even everyday life for the scientist is still apparently not satisfactorily fulfilled by this supposed "science as the all-pervading proper source of oughts and formulated guidances" idea which the mutated intellectual descendents of positivism and the rogue, happenstance brand of "ciencia addicts" genuflect to.

    - - - - - - - -

    [*] The "soft" sciences can be set aside. What with the reproducibility crisis in psychological disciplines and the aura of skepticism that's long swirled around the social sciences that they are just a skewered application of philosophical scrutiny itself, which then waywardly tries to output interpretation-free specific discoveries about human affairs rather than general products / directional hypotheses.
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  5. river Valued Senior Member

    Hmmm...I see ; the thing is that " scientist " nowadays are so focused on their specialality that they can't get head above the desk. Is not that they are not bright enough ; they are ; but that their ; our intellect ; Human intellect ; has become robotic; guided by a scientific while not so much flawed but easily manipulated method.
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  7. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The average scientist isn't a Sheldon, Mr Spock, etc. Most are "normal" people. What was addressed is the informal and supposedly more systematic zealotries abstracted from the science practice (commonly lumped under the tag of "scientism"). A label of valid criticism when adherents (action-wise) are encountered, but other times just pejorative. "Scientism" itself would conflictingly be a progeny of philosophical / prescriptive thought and distinction making. Thus its own internal problem revolving around any hunt and bashing of its own selected "dragons" in that territory -- either lacking awareness of its own membership therein or knowingly being content with dissonance in that respect.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
  8. river Valued Senior Member

    I think agree with you C.C. but not sure.

    I get the average scientist bit but the rest ; care to put in different words what you mean ?
  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Nye isn't exactly a scientist, though he does have a technical background. He was trained as a mechanical engineer and has a bachelors degree in that subject. He worked for a while in Seattle for Boeing, then switched careers, becoming a comedy writer. At that point he started his "Bill Nye, the Science Guy" TV program for PBS' local Seattle affiliate.

    To the best of my knowledge he has no formal education in philosophy at all. Given his attitude towards the subject, I'd guess that he hasn't put much effort into studying it informally either.

    That's a pretty cynical view of the general public. (Don't worry, sometimes I share it.)

    Of course, if Bill Nye isn't a scientist, and isn't in any position to speak for science or for scientists as a group, then his expressing some of his dumber views wouldn't merit the title of the piece that MR quoted in this thread's subject line (setting some knees on Sciforums predictably jerking).

    I don't know how anyone could go through life without opinions.

    But would somebody's being a scientist make that person's opinions about non-scientific matters more authoritative than they might otherwise be? One might try to argue that scientists in general have advanced educations and typically have PhDs. so we could perhaps expect scientists to be smarter than average and arguably better educated as well. Maybe that carries over to their opinions about matters unrelated to their science. (As for me, I'm doubtful about that. I've known too many scientists whose views about non-scientific matters were no better than anyone else's.)

    And there's the fact that in today's world, physicists and other scientists have been intruding onto philosophy's historical turf, trying to establish themselves as civilization's new metaphysicians, its authorities on what is and isn't ultimately real. So if scientists are going to play philosopher before their adoring audience, that public can be expected to think (falsely in many cases) that the scientists have some special insight into philosophy and philosophers.

    The reverse is true too and philosophers don't hesitate to intrude into scientific turf. There's the specialty area of the philosophy of science after all. So it isn't surprising to find some scientists expressing the opinion that philosophers don't know what they are talking about then they talk about science. Sometimes that's even true, since many philosophers lack the educational background in a science that's necessary to do the philosophy of science well.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2016
    river likes this.
  10. Bells Staff Member


    No more or less inflammatory than the comments made about philosophy and philosophers in general from many in the scientific community.

    I agree with the sentiments espoused in the articles linked. It was a stupid and ignorant comment to have made, just as the others who made similar comments were showing a level of ignorance that should not be ignored.

    My mistake. I thought I distinctly remembered lauding Sagan as someone you really loved to read.

    And you cherry picked quotes that basically denounced philosophy as something not worthwhile.

    Which begs the question.. Why did you decide to bag it?

    I find people who mock the scientific method are as lacking as those who mock philosophy. The reason being is that the scientific method and philosophy are deeply entrenched in each other. Put simply, the scientific method could not exist without philosophy. The very steps of the scientific method are deeply philosophical.

    You are yet to explain how one could take philosophy to the "nth degree". How is that even possible?

    It certainly seemed as though you did. Perhaps next time, you should take note of the message you are trying to convey and how you convey it.

    No it's not what? The Philosophy sub-forum? Err okay.

    Everyone makes errors of judgement, and even intelligent scientists make them in ways that are quite shocking and have to be seen to be believed.

    And you have philosophy to thank for it.

    Do you think scientists just stumble along into scientific discoveries? Tip toeing through the tulips until they just stumble upon something and voila!

    Scientists follow a certain methodology, from the conception of an idea or observation, they follow steps to get to an outcome. That is what is known as the "scientific method". If a scientist makes a discovery, they have to be able to trace back how they got there and they certainly have to track what use can come of said discovery. They have to be able to replicate it, describe what they have observed along the way. It is a process that scientists follow. Consider drug research on creating new medications. They follow those steps. Certainly, they might discover something in a plant, animal, etc that leads them down that road, but they must still follow those steps. It isn't just through genius and imagination. That forms a component of it, but unless you can describe, replicate, test a discovery or theory, then you pretty much have nothing that could be applicable. No one is saying that it is infallible. Mistakes are often made. But those mistakes cannot be picked up or found, they can't pin point it without following those steps.

    I think the belief that such steps are not taken in just about all fields of science is short sighted and naive. One only has to look at the field of biology and medical science to see just how the scientific method is employed, from the discovery of penicillin to vaccines for diseases like smallpox. To claim it is a myth would be to discount not just the discoveries, but the work that went into developing anti-biotics and vaccines that has gone on to save millions of lives.

    We certainly credit humans behind the discoveries. And the process involved in those discoveries and the application to medicine and other fields is through the scientific method. It isn't robotic. It can and does involve many micro steps and sub-steps, a lot of thought and investigation and various forms of testing. But it is a process. Edward Jenner did not come upon the smallpox vaccine on mere observation alone. He tested it on many people, and other scientists also tested his hypothesis and all came to the same result. Those steps were followed. And for good reason.

    I'll put it this way, no drug or medical procedure is ever going to become available to treat the public if it has not been tested properly first. And with good reason. And the scientists who make the medical discoveries have to be able to show how and why the medication will work. And they can't do that without the scientific method. That is the process.
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  11. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    I tend to spend a fair bit more time browsing (lurking, mostly--I'm not much one for what passes as "conversation" these days) Philosophy fora than I do Science fora. Certainly, there are far fewer of the former out there, and a good number are, frankly, crap--you know, New Age-y shit and the like; still, a number of respectable ones do exist in the vastness of the interwebs.

    Interestingly, I do not tend to encounter this disdain and disregard for science, and the scientific method/methodologies, on Philosophy fora. I'm not sure what to make of the reverse being commonplace on many a science forum. Surely, there are those with a beef specifically directed towards Continentals--as per the essay turned book by whatsisname and whatsisname (Dywyddyr, help me out here--'cuz I ain't gonna look it up). This is a tad disingenuous, as most of the thinkers criticized in the alluded-to-but-as-yet-unnamed book do not even pretend to be scientists, or to be employing scientific notions in an orthodox manner. (Moreover, it should be noted that the authors specifically omitted Derrida, Lyotard, and Agamben from their critiques, as they simply found no faults in their employment of science).

    But the contempt for philosophy and philosophers one encounters on many a science forum seldom makes a distinction: it's like, philosophers in general have no relevance in today's world and contribute absolutely nothing to the advancement of whothefuckknowswhat! (And neither are they much inclined to question this very notion of "advancement.")

    Not sure what to make of all this: resentment towards those who haven't had to endure many semesters of difficult maths? Well, I had to plough through roughly twenty-odd pages of a Heidegger essay in German, which all previous translators had omitted and deemed... untranslatable; then I had to paraphrase--in English--said text, and make some kind of sense of it. My efforts didn't yield an Ipod, or a freakin' self-driving car (possibly the stupidest idea ever conceived), but it wasn't a pointless endeavor nonetheless.

    Perhaps it is simply that many a science-minded person takes Douglas Adams too seriously (though he sure as hell didn't: I don't think that he was really saying that hairdressers and the like do not have a proper place in this world.
  12. Bells Staff Member

    I think people view philosophy as a fluff subject without actually knowing or understanding philosophy in general. They seem to believe it remains stagnant, that it has not moved forward like science has, which is why I questioned Paddoboy's comments about philosophers taking philosophy to the "nth degree", because a) the comment makes no sense, b) it is not moored to reality and c) contradicts what some modern scientists seem to believe about philosophy.

    You will rarely see disdain for science in philosophical circles because there is no point to it.

    The scientific principals that scientists rely on today were formulated and first postulated by philosophers. Scientists prefer to ignore that today, because philosophy is not a hard science. The very scientific method that everyone grabs with with two hands came from philosophy. Science and mathematics itself was birthed from philosophers as they observed the natural world around them. There is a general lack of understanding of philosophy from many. This thread has certainly shown that.

    The irony it all is that in discussions where people show such disregard for philosophy and philosophers, they are actually participating in philosophical discussions without even being aware of it.
  13. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    (emphasis mine)

    Exactly. Though I would argue that while philosophy has most certainly not remained stagnant, the matter of "moving forward" is up for debate: what does that really mean anyway?

    Of course, I am in no way suggesting that most philosophers do not build upon (and tear down) the work of their antecedents--'fer fuck's sake, just take a survey of how many essays and volumes have been published on Spinoza over the past 15 years. Spinoza! Or for that matter, Yazata's recent thread on Parmenides, which I was very pleased to discover. (The pre-Socratics hold a special place in my heart, along with certain "ancient" pontificators on horses and early 20th century Austrian junky poets.)

    Rather, it's simply the notion of "progress" which I find problematic--not to mention dangerous--and this is a matter which many a scientist ought to consider seriously. And they don't even have to read those dammed lowly philosophers they so disdain, they can look to some of their own, i.e. Thomas Kuhn, et al. Sure, he was a Philosopher of Science, but that doesn't mean he didn't know his science.

    Try and imagine some parallel universe in which philosophers, of all stripes, had been universally banished from public discourse: would the scientists have ever even formulated these methodologies upon which their work is built, and built upon? Heidegger, rather infamously, stated that scientists and theologians do not think; rather, it is only the poets and thinkers (philosophers) (and dogs, but not according to Heidegger) who possess and utilize this faculty. A bit of an overstatement, for sure, but there's something to it--you know, presuppositions and all that...
  14. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

  15. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

  16. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    Scientists are specialists.
    Much like idiot savants, brilliant in one discipline, not so much so in others?
    Add in that each discipline has it's own lexicon, and the field of view narrows.
  17. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    A bit... strong, perhaps, but not entirely off the mark. In my own limited experience I've found that proper scientists, i.e., the ones with the degrees and the ones who work in such fields, are generally cognizant of the limitations of science--and of everything else. It is the dilettantes and amateur "enthusiasts" who are most prone to scientism.

    Were logical positivism not held in such low regard by serious philosophers, I might understand the disdain so many have for philosophy. But it (positivism) is, and one would think that most of us living in the 21st century would be well aware of this. And, for that matter, likewise be aware that positivism is very much a direct parallel to scientism.
  18. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The zealotry ("scientism") of some science enthusiasts and even some off-duty scientists should not be conflated with the practice of science itself. But on the flip-side, cultural opponents of an area of scientific knowledge (say evolution being dissed by creationists) should not dispense a lame accusation of scientism against such researchers for the sake of furthering their own ideological agendas or personal biases. The latter situations are where charges of "scientism" become pejorative and misused. If you need a lengthy definition of scientism, in terms of a stable link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

    Positivism is variously considered either a contributing ancestor to or an earlier example itself of scientism.

    Werner Heisenberg: "The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can any one conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies." --Positivism, Metaphysics and Religion

    There were various strains of positivism, but Auguste Comte arguably introduced its first cult-like aura of "all human intellectual development culminating in science", with particular emphasis on the traditional empirical aspect of naturalistic investigation (raised up another notch by Ernst Mach's version). Late 18th and early 20th century mutations of positivism went to the extreme of even denouncing any theoretical physics pursuit which could not cough-up direct observational phenomena or even indirect association. It's historically rumored that Neil Bohr's view that "there is no quantum world ... only abstract description" was influenced by the positivist climate of that era. But Bohr probably had interests in other metaphysics-evading philosophical schools which it could also be attributed to.
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  19. PhysBang Valued Senior Member

    Those of us living in the 21st Century with a penchant for accuracy might want to note that the disdain for logical positivism is not as widespread as the mythology of the 20th Century would have us believe.
    It may be parallel, but it isn't scientism.
  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Bells' disagrees with MR over a view that I'm inclined to tentatively agree with MR about, namely "The Scientific Method" being something of a myth. (No, I'm not "mocking" 'The Scientific Method', I'm expressing intellectual doubts about it. There's a difference.)

    Scientists do all kinds of things, they conduct observations and perform surveys to learn what physical reality consists of, they conduct all manner of physical experiments to try to determine more precisely how it behaves, they perform dissections of biological specimens, they perform statistical analyses, they derive this bit of mathematics from that bit, and yes, they often put their scientific intuition and imagination to work to form new hypothetical speculations.

    I'd prefer to say that scientists have a whole tool-kit of methods, that they employ as situations arise. Often scientific originality consists of an unexpected choice of methods and using established methods in new and creative ways. Occasionally scientists will invent entirely new methods to address scientific problems that they are faced with.

    If one watches what scientists spend their time doing, it's quickly apparent that they aren't all doing the same things in the same order. There's no single algorithm, no single flow-chart or methodological procedure, to which the practice of science invariably conforms.

    That's not to say that scientists employ their methods randomly. The method chosen needs to be relevant to the problem at hand, it has to have a reasonable likelihood of contributing to the resolution of that problem, it needs to be logically and epistemologically justifiable as well as being justifiable in purely scientific terms, and it needs to provide results that are objective (true about the natural world itself) and not just subjective (imaginary, true about the beliefs of the individual talking and not about the world that he/she is ostensibly talking about). Establishing that last is seemingly where the testing and verification steps become so important.

    A theoretical physicist deriving a string of mathematical symbols from other strings, in hopes of achieving the outcome of conceptually unifying two areas of physics, is doing something very different than a desert ecologist turning over rocks in hopes of achieving the outcome of learning what kind of small organisms are sheltering in the moist soil under them in the hot dry Australian afternoon.

    The phrase "The Scientific Method" is often used in such a way as to suggest to the public that 'science' is distinguished from, superior to and more authoritative than other human activities due to its possessing some magic algorithm. Supposedly it's the discovery of this 'method' that explains the scientific revolution in the 17th century and the extraordinary success of the natural sciences since then. It's the use of this 'method' that supposedly demarcates real science from religion, pseudoscience and superstition. During the 18th century, it was believed that if the scientific lightening exemplified by the success of Newtonian mechanics could just be trapped in a methodological bottle and applied to social problems, then obscurantism could be swept away and the world could be transformed into a paradise. In the 19th century new (and largely unsuccessful) "social sciences" were invented so as to realize that program.

    Basically, I'm skeptical about most of that.

    To the extent that an overarching epistemological structure exists above all of science, it seems to me to largely be trial-and-error combined with steps to ensure objectivity. There's nothing really unique to science in any of that. We see the same things in prehistoric humans learning to salt meat and in the craft-tradition practices of ancient potters, textile weavers and blacksmiths.

    So what did happen in the 17th century to create what was interpreted (with considerable justification) as a scientific revolution? That's a much harder and more subtle problem and it's still an open question in the history of science. I'm inclined to think that first off, it was the use of mathematics to address physical problems in new and fruitful ways. But perhaps most importantly, it was just luck. The scientific revolution jumped out of the gate because mathematics were applied to classes of physical problems where the underlying principles were simple enough that they could be discovered and understood with the means at hand. It was assumed (largely for theological reasons) that nature behaved according to "laws". And examining the motions of the planets or geometrical optics, early science discovered that relatively simple mathematical regularities do in fact underlie the complexity observed in nature. Chemistry and biology proved far more resistant to these early efforts, not because there aren't regularities embedded in them as well, but because their underlying principles aren't nearly as obvious or simple. Today psychology is what's still resisting this kind of understanding. And when it comes to history, there don't seem to me to be any simple underlying "laws" governing how it unfolds at all.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2016
  21. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    "Philosophy" is label for a diverse terrain, too. Distinctions which militant non-authorities would be blatantly blind to in their "shoot 'em all and let the future Archailect sort them out" agendas.

    So-called Anglophone philosophy, with its roots in the analytic school, tends to proclaim itself as being a satellite of science or naturalism. Despite that being somewhat questionable since it has spread out into an eclectic mess since the '60s and '70s erosion of the language genres, the collapse of the "empirical consensus" slash positivist phase, and the return of interest in pre-analytic times or traditional philosophy (history). The North American, UK, and Australian distinction tried to distance itself from certain European trends and local oddities (like Rorty) by introducing the Continental and Postmodern classifications. Then there's all the developing intellectual eccentricities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that are probably largely ignored by the Anglo and Euro academic markets.

    Despite its diversely exotic and tortured geography, one of philosophy's overall contemporary services should be as a general level of inquiring scrutiny which is "prior in rank" to our specific, invented systems (which includes the science disciplines / methodologies). There has to be a stratum of thought which is not restricted by the individual regulating templates or operating suppositions, working prejudices and conditions of each human enterprise. A category of thought liberal or unencumbered enough for handling the task of "studying the artificial systems" so to speak (including itself).
  22. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Scientists themselves have intermittently tossed in their ten cents about that[*]: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/bridgman.htm

    But as someone once brought up, it's hard to say whether they all agree with the myth-busters among their own or not. When spokespersons for science (who are scientists themselves) try to explain what science is to the public, certain ones actually will reference a concoction outputted by philosophy of science. While others like Steven Weinberg will wail and moan about the uselessness of PoS conceptions and interpretations of what science is -- even when it's a scientist who is the author of a philosophy of science product. [It's tooted today that most PoS'ers have a background in the particular science discipline which they research, or are outright practicing scientists when they're not publishing such and jaunting about on a lecture circuit.]

    - - - - - -

    [*] I've yet to catch up on this whole thread so apologies if the Bridgman excerpt has already been posted or quoted elsewhere.
  23. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Scientists tap into that same reservoir of creativity that all humanity has tapped into since the dawn of time. Imagination, inspiration, intuition, and logic seem to be the true driving forces here. The scientific method as it is elevated and lauded in the scientism community even assumes this in its assumption that the scientist can come up with an accurate theory, can gather facts in an unbiased manner, and can test the theory accurately. But often times theories cannot be tested right away. It took years for us to get to the point where we could test many of the implications of Einstein's theory. The same is true for quantum theory. That's how pivotal mathematics was in confirming these theories. It provided a highly intuitive, nonempirical means of validating a scientific theory. When Alfred Wegener formed the theory of continental drift in 1915 he was laughed at by his peers. Noone could buy into the notion that the land masses of the earth had moved around over millions of years. But later on it was confirmed by actual evidence. So obviously the scientific method isn't the sole arbiter of truth in science. Sometimes the explanatory power of theory is enough to warrant its acceptance, at least until we advance to the stage of actually being able to test it.
    "It’s probably best to get the bad news out of the way first. The so-called scientific method is a myth. That is not to say that scientists don’t do things that can be described and are unique to their fields of study. But to squeeze a diverse set of practices that span cultural anthropology, paleobotany, and theoretical physics into a handful of steps is an inevitable distortion and, to be blunt, displays a serious poverty of imagination. Easy to grasp, pocket-guide versions of the scientific method usually reduce to critical thinking, checking facts, or letting “nature speak for itself,” none of which is really all that uniquely scientific. If typical formulations were accurate, the only location true science would be taking place in would be grade-school classrooms.

    Scratch the surface of the scientific method and the messiness spills out. Even simplistic versions vary from three steps to eleven. Some start with hypothesis, others with observation. Some include imagination. Others confine themselves to facts. Question a simple linear recipe and the real fun begins. A website called Understanding Science offers an “interactive representation” of the scientific method that at first looks familiar. It includes circles labeled “Exploration and Discovery” and “Testing Ideas.” But there are others named “Benefits and Outcomes” and “Community Analysis and Feedback,” both rare birds in the world of the scientific method. To make matters worse, arrows point every which way. Mouse over each circle and you find another flowchart with multiple categories and a tangle of additional arrows.

    It’s also telling where invocations of the scientific method usually appear. A broadly conceived method receives virtually no attention in scientific papers or specialized postsecondary scientific training. The more “internal” a discussion — that is, the more insulated from nonscientists —the more likely it is to involve procedures, protocols, or techniques of interest to close colleagues.

    Meanwhile, the notion of a heavily abstracted scientific method has pulled public discussion of science into its orbit, like a rhetorical black hole. Educators, scientists, advertisers, popularizers, and journalists have all appealed to it. Its invocation has become routine in debates about topics that draw lay attention, from global warming to intelligent design. Standard formulations of the scientific method are important only insofar as nonscientists believe in them..."===http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/10/28/scientific-method-myth/#.VuXE5-IrLIU
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2016
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