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I come neither to praise Caesar, nor to bury him.

To paraphrase the late, great Chico Escuela: science been berry berry good to me. First and foremost as a 'civilian,' just another man-on-the-street who, like the rest of us, has escaped horrible deaths who-knows-how-many-times thanks to the timely administration of a vaccine or antibiotic. Thank you Drs. Jenner, Lister, Koch (no, not those Kochs, silly!), Fleming, and many more, mostly nameless today. Sitting here typing on this computer I, of course, benefit directly from the contributions of the likes of Faraday, Tesla, Edison, Shockley, and so many more.

Clearly, space does not permit me to thank everyone responsible for making me what I am today: something rather more than a scabrous, rock-wielding troglodyte. Suffice it, instead, to just say, "Thanks, science."

And thus concludes the Paean To The Giants portion of our program. Now let's get to the naughty bits.

In the interest of truth in advertising I should also briefly mention that science has been berry berry good to me professionally and financially, as well. At the tender age of six I announced to my parents, "I want to be a scientist when I grow up!" (much to their horror...Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps into the aluminum siding business). In my first career I was a university professor and biomedical researcher (so long, and thanks for all those grant dollars!). In my second career I was a biomedical entrepreneur (not a particularly noteworthy one, you understand...you've probably never heard of me...but I managed to make some useful things happen that might not have happened otherwise). Today, as mostly a small-time gentleman farmer, I consult in my 'spare' time for a variety of start-up biomedical companies, as well as biotech investors. These careers have at least kept the wolves from the door, put one kid through college and another into a well-paying craft, and were deeply satisfying when they weren't incredibly frustrating. On balance, I feel like my career gave more back to society than it extracted from it...though it's admittedly a close call, and Opinions Differ on this topic.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I've spent the better part of an increasingly long lifetime thinking a lot about the role and place of science in society today...particularly, though hardly exclusively, biological science...and have more than my fair share of passionately held opinions on this topic. Slowly but surely, I find that this body of opinions, for so long disparate and inchoate, have begun to crystallize (please don't say 'petrify'!) into something like (dare I say it?) A Theory, which just this morning on the can I decided to christen Science Disorder Spectrum (or, for short, SDS). Hereinafter follow some of the main postulates and, as I see them anyway, consequences of SDS.

Postulate I: Science Matters. A Lot.
Since I'm writing for DKos here I won't belabor this point; the odds are good that you already get it. Science is much of the reason why, like I say, we're not all scabrous rock-wielding troglodytes today, with 30-year life expectancies, mutely shaking our hairy fists at the stars and cursing the whims of angry, incomprehensible gods as we bury our broken children. Philosophy didn't grant us this great boon (except insofar as Philosophy...via the intermediate of 'Natural Philosophy'...was the mother of Science). Politics sure as hell didn't. Nor Economics (really, what's the difference between Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and the Flying Spaghetti Monster?). Religion? More often than not it has conspired to keep us troglodytes...or, worse: serfs (but see below). Art? Love it...wouldn't want to live without it...but I have found that I can't eat it. Law? Great stuff indeed but, without science, law is pretty much just random opinion with a gun behind it. Most everything we touch, every day, that lightens or benefits or bejewels our lives was/is the child, ultimately, of science, and science alone. You want to rail against Science-With-A-Capital-S? Dude, peddle it somewhere else. I'm kinda busy here figgering out how this assemblage of matter and energy works and how I can turn that understanding to our mutual advantage.

Postulate II: Science Sucks. A Lot.
Having long watched the sausage of science being made, from inside the grinder, by now I'm pretty well sick of it (which has a lot to do with why I'm now a farmer). When my kid went off to college I prayed to God that he wouldn't get seduced into a career in science, and most particularly not academic science. My prayers were answered: he became a lawyer (be careful what you wish for!).

Science is an activity designed and conducted by human beings, and hence in its day-to-day reality suffers from all the foibles, weaknesses, prejudices, ignorance, and avarice that people can bring to all the rest of their activities. Sure, to a certain extent it is superior to most other major human activities in this regard because baked into the paradigm of science (at least the way we do it here, today) is an appreciation of this problem and a systematic attempt to address it. Peer review of grant proposals and manuscripts submitted for publication are great examples. What have you overlooked? How are you beating your own drum or feathering your own nest? Did you do the right experiment? Analyze and interpret it correctly? Is this really the most important question to ask (and for society to pay for) at this time? In principle, peer review stands at the gate, demanding answers to all these questions before you get to enter into the Temple. But, of course, peer review itself is a human activity riddled with human foibles, and so too often it too is plagued by human weakness: cronyism, self-interest, group-think, narrow-mindedness, superficiality. It probably works right more often than it does not...which is something you can't say about a lot of other social safety mechanisms. But when it fails, it fails spectacularly, and it fails spectacularly too often, when one considers how important it is.

The same thing goes for the principle of reproducibility (others will attempt to reproduce whatever work has led you to make an interesting claim, so if you're wrong or if you just Made Shit Up, the truth will out). Meh. Works great when it works at all (a good example was the recent stunning claim that any type of human body cell could be quickly and easily turned into a stem cell just by exposing it to an acidic medium, which upon closer inspection turned out to be complete horseshit). Important, stunning claims do get tested, and there BS does get called when it's found. But most scientific findings aren't 'important' in that sense, or stunning; most are just another brick in the wall. And most of those probably don't get tested, ever, not directly anyway; you don't exactly build a proud career in science by testing other people's minutia.

"As scientists, much of what we know," I always liked to remind my students, "is probably wrong." Much of the "wrong" is wrong merely in the sense that it needs refinement, and that's OK; that's how science works. But too much is "wrong" in the sense that it's mostly just BS, and nobody knows it.

[Note to climate-deniers and creationists: both evolution and anthropogenic climate change are "stunning" claims, like Newton's theory of gravity, not "just another brick in the wall." Accordingly, these, and their foundations, are studied and tested and reproduced exhaustively...probably too much...and are found to be solid. So you don't get to say, "Well, DocDawg pointed out that most of what we know is wrong, so evolution is just BS." That's not what I said.]

So, anyway, one big way in which science sucks is that it too frequently doesn't work right. But, still, more often than not it does work...if it didn't you wouldn't be reading this now, you'd be gingerly teasing gazelle bones out of a fire at the mouth of your cave. Still, think where we'd be today if we were really serious about discouraging cheating in science, instead of just slapping it on the wrist.

Postulate III: Science Tends To Bring Out The Worst In Us
...in so many ways. Science is, unavoidably, big business: the ability to manipulate matter and energy is the ability to get rich and/or powerful fast, and who doesn't want a piece of that action? Thus, we have Big Pharma, Monsanto, directed energy weapons, the NSA, fracking, black markets for transplantable organs, human cloning (maybe not yet, but not for lack of trying), oxycontin, hydrogen bombs, dirty bombs, smart bombs, shoe bombs, and Paris Hilton (who, without the science that made electronic media possible, you never would have heard of). Science is supposed to be value-free; society is supposed to pick up its end of the load by deciding what science will and will not be used for. But society has been notably shirking its end of the deal for several hundred years now. How do we change that? I honestly don't know.

Less sinister, but still problematic, is the fact that becoming a Big Name Scientist is a ticket to fame and fortune, and this, plus constantly having adoring microphones shoved in your face, certainly helps to bring out the worst in scientists. Consider George Church's constant nonsense proposing to bring back the dinosaurs and Neanderthals, or pretty much anything Craig Venter has ever said. Endlessly embarrassing. But these are merely the few most egregious examples. Lower-powered examples abound. For every one modest, beautiful, selfless, brilliant soul I've known in science (on the order of an Albert Szent-Gyorgyi) I've known a hundred petty, grasping, climbing, tyrant wannabes. It's no different in this profession than in any other. Still, it's just more unseemly in this profession, because this profession actually matters.

Postulate IV: Science Wastes Enormous Time And Energy Competing With Religion
Just as religious belief should not (but too often does) trump scientific knowledge, so too science should STFU about religious faith. Sure, if some fundamentalist nut-job starts shooting his mouth off about how carbon dioxide isn't a pollutant because God meant people to exhale it, then ecologists and atmospheric chemists should chime in to point out the obvious fallacies there. Or if some Texas fundie wants 'intelligent design' taught in public school science courses as a theory co-equal to evolution, it's important for scientists to point out forcefully that intelligent design is pseudo-science, not science. But, as both a progressive Christian and a scientist (but not, I hasten to add, a Christian Scientist), I must say that when Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking go flapping their gums about the non-existence of God my eyes glaze over, as should every thinking person's.

First off, 'God' is a notably ill-defined term, even (maybe especially) as scientists like Hawking and Dawkins use it. If you mean 'omnipotent old man with beard and sandals hovering in the sky' then, sure, God's existence or non-existence can be addressed by scientists. But, loud-mouthed as they are, the fundies who believe in that God are but a tiny fraction of Christians (or, I would guess, Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus or Amerinds or what-have-you). So it's a straw-man (or should I say 'straw-god'?) argument; why bother arguing nonsense?

But if, as many, many people of faith do, you mean by 'God' something fuzzy and unavoidably incoherent about First Cause, our unbreakable bonds to one another and to our world, life's boundless but frequently fickle and utterly undeserved kindness to us, or such-like, then No Scientists Need Apply. Even merely regarding God-As-My-Name-For-First-Cause (where the likes of a Hawking usually weigh in), scientists per se have nothing more useful or intelligent to contribute to the conversation than does Joe Sixpack. First Cause is the question of the origins of the physical universe and of our particular flavor of physical laws...the thing just the other side of the Big Bang poetically speaking, or whether there even was an origin, and what the hell 'origin' even means in this context. The issue of First Cause is thus outside of the physical universe and outside of physical law, and thus inaccessible to science by definition. Nowhere is this becoming more clear than in cosmology, where brane theory and multiverse theories are becoming ever more widely regarded as completely untestable and their consequences unobservable, which makes them (at least according to several notable cosmologists) Not Science (even if, in fact, they might be 'right'), but, in fact, Faith. Myself, I like to think of multiverse theories as Religion With Math. If Religion With Math makes you feel good or brings order or meaning to your life, fantastic. Go with it. But don't go telling me that your religion is superior to my own, because that's an old, old, argument and it is always, always b*llsh*t. You live your faith, and I'll live mine. Now let's get back to making God's world a better place through science, hmm?

Science is not the opponent of (or even the alternative to) religious faith. Science is the opponent of and alternative to religious pseudo-science. There's a difference. Any sensible scientist should be able to keep that straight, but too many of us don't.

Postulate V: Even With Science's Warts And All, There's No Going Back.
Properly applied by honorable folk of modest demeanor, science rocks. And we have no choice but to keep rocking it. Too many genies are already out of the bottle, from nuclear fission to robotics, asymmetric warfare to genetic engineering. They'll eat us alive if we turn our backs on rationality now, half-way across the stream. We must fight to protect science from, at one and the same time, its opponents, its pseudo-practitioners, and its self-serving boosters, all of whose numbers are legion. So if I get exercised about what I take to be your ill-formed views regarding, say, vaccination, or genetically modified crops, or when life 'begins,' or how old the earth is, or climate change, or homeopathy, or acupuncture, or 'God,' or whatever, please understand that mostly I'm not trying to attack you, but rather to simultaneously defend science and, paradoxically, to take it down a peg, too.

Because while we're still a long, long way from earning the species name 'sapiens,' there's no question that we've earned the name 'scientia,' and now we have to live with it.

To my mind, one of the most interesting unsolved problems today is: just how do we insure that science is "properly applied by honorable folk of modest demeanor?" I got nuthin'. You?

Originally posted to DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  re origins (15+ / 0-)

    The thing about what you call "Religion with Math" is that the math make predictions, which are now being very actively tested. The recent BICEP2 results (probably wrong, due to a problem with foreground subtraction), for example, would have been strong evidence for the inflation scenario. Between new results from BICEP, Planck satellite, South Pole Telescope, Keck, etc. we can test the various stories. So the idea that the Big Bang is an absolute barrier to tracing origins is false.

    Of course none of that will answer the deepest "why is there anything" questions.

    On another point, you seem to overdo the case that all progress is from science. Some of those other activities (e.g. politics) have a lot to do with both what comes of science and what science happens. Unique causation isn't really a feature of any modern picture of the world.

    On still another point, "Prof" was a wonderful guy but I'm not sure "modest" is the word you were looking for. It takes a lot of self-confidence to (incorrectly, in this case) advocate weird ideas about the structure of water, etc.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:34:50 AM PDT

    •  Thanks. (7+ / 0-)

      Regarding BICEP2: aside from being wrong (and it's OK to be wrong...wrong happens), the results seemed, as you say, to confirm inflation. But inflation is an event 'this side' of the Big Bang, not the other side. Regarding the 'other side'....things like multiverses and branes....sure there's math, and sure that math makes predictions (in brane theory's case, literally an infinite number of conflicting predictions...the so-called Alice's Restaurant Problem), but there is as yet no reason to believe that any of those predictions are testable or their consequences observable. I'm certainly no cosmologist, but a lot of cosmologists today argue that those predictions cannot be tested or observed, on first principles.

      Regarding "weird ideas about the structure of water." OMG...love it! I cut my teeth on the polywater debate, and later on what's-his-name's (the NMR guy's) wonderful and strange ideas about intracellular water. Fun stuff.

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:52:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hadn't followed the NMR story. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek, wader, Oh Mary Oh

        From Google- you maybe mean Enzo T? Yipes.

        Anyway, although inflation is post-BB, one of the main alternatives (ekpyrosis) isn't. It already failed the non-Gaussian test. So that's a definite counter-example to the claim that there's an absolute barrier to pre-BB tests.  Assuming that the B-mode results some day come in accurate enough, that'll be another.

        Michael Weissman UID 197542

        by docmidwest on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 01:00:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Raymond Damadian (7+ / 0-)

          It took me a while to fish that out of the memory bank.

          Fascinating guy. Reputed by some (most notably, himself) to be the father of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the Nobel committee snubbed him and awarded the prize instead to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield. Damadian just could never let go of it and seems to have carried a huge grudge on his huge ego the rest of his life. His interest in in vivo NMR quite naturally led him to an interest in the relaxation times of intracellular water molecules, which led him to theories regarding the central importance of structured water in biology (starting out fairly reasonable but getting ever whackier with time), which led to some really, really weird ideas about living things as ion exchange resins, which led him (IMHO) right over the edge. An endless chain of bizarro papers about life and water and ions. I think he was damn well determined to win the Nobel for discovering The Secret of Life, just to show everybody.

          But I sort-of think he really should have gotten the Nobel for MRI. Still, he's hardly the first person to get stiffed by Stockholm; he should have just let it go. But nooooooooo....

          The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

          by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 01:17:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Aha- I remember him now. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            G2geek, thanatokephaloides

            Nobels can go all sorts of ways. They could have given one to Norberg for first demonstrating the principle,...

            Michael Weissman UID 197542

            by docmidwest on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 02:25:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I can't recall now whether Purcell or Pound (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek, PeterHug, thanatokephaloides

              used to tell the really entertaining stories about inventing NMR, such as basically purloining the windings from a big subway generator for the magnet. The best story, I recall, was that he couldn't resist sticking his head in the machine, just to see what would happen. The true first in vivo NMR, circa 1947.

              The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

              by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 02:50:49 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The oldest trick in the book is actually the (4+ / 0-)

                flux paddle for decoupling a crossed coil probe-- described in Felix Bloch's paper on the Nuclear Induction Experiment (anno 1946 if memory serves.)

                Also Zavoisky, somewhere out in the wilds of Nosebleed, Kazakstan, did the first electron resonance experiments (and probably nuclear as well, tho' he published not) in 1943, at the height of the war.

                Brouwer (in Holland) failed to observe electron resonance at about the same time, because he underestimated the spin-lattice relaxation time, and didn't bathe his sample long enough in the magnet.

                The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

                by magnetics on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:33:43 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  One-point-two-three jiggawatts! (3+ / 0-)

                  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

                  by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 06:26:31 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Correction: (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    thanatokephaloides, psnyder

                    Hey, what's 0.02 jiggawatts between friends?

                    Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

                    by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 07:34:28 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  Just a note of thanks for your diary... (9+ / 0-)

                    You are right... good science is under attack both from without and from within!

                    As a health care advocate and medical writer I do clinical research reviews for physicians and counseling for their patients and families. I do hands on patient care and it is tough getting through the barrage of bullshit these days.

                    The religious fundies assault on science is frightening. Personally my God never had and problem with the Big Bang theory, quantum physics, or anything else science has produced. When I look at what science research is producing about our universe, from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely large, I am filled with awe and a sense of reverence for it all.

                    The corruption of research institutions and organizations like the FDA is equally frightening. The undue influence of Big Pharma's money on them is corruption from within... and confuses the hell out of physicians who trying to decide how best to treat patients.

                    So a pox on both their houses!

                    I know a lot of very good docs who want to throw in the towel on their practices because of this bullshit.

          •  The Nobel committee got it right when they (5+ / 0-)

            stiffed Damadian

            Unfortunately they were wrong about Mansfield, and should have given his share of the prize to Erwin Hahn at Berkeley, discoverer of the 'spin echo' which is used (in one form or another) in virtually every imaging experiment.

            Just sign me

            Elmer Ph(u)d

            The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

            by magnetics on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:28:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The more laureates you know (0+ / 0-)

              the harder it gets to maintain the illusion that the Academy has any particular insight into genius.  This is notoriously so for the Literature Committee, where the only folks more prestigious than the laureates are those passed over.

              Phoney Doctor.

              •  Right you are. (0+ / 0-)

                I've known...hmm...six laureates in Physiology or Medicine. By my account one of them was awesome, two were dicks, and the other three were just folks. Pretty much the same bell curve you'd draw from any other population by random sampling.

                But the money's good.

                Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

                by DocDawg on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 06:34:20 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  i've run across a few cosmologists and... (11+ / 0-)

        ... astrophysicists, in blogs but none the less;-), saying that as some of these theories are fleshed out in more detail, they are producing predictions that are indirectly testable at a few steps' remove.

        For which reason I've changed my outlook on multiverse theories (Tegmark et.al.) from "untestable " to "potentially indirectly testable," which keeps the subject on my radar.

        BTW, excellent diary/story, and exactly the kind of nuanced and reflective thinking we need on these subjects.

        I agree with you that there is no inherent conflict between science and religion to believe that a deity exists above/before/outside of the scope of measurable natural phenomena.  About which more momentarily...

        We got the future back. Uh-oh.

        by G2geek on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:28:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nuanced and reflective? (0+ / 0-)

          I'm not sure where the diarist was going. If I wanted someone to think about this stuff from a progressive direction, I would work very hard to make certain they did not read this diary. It's a mess. If I wished to confuse them as much as possible, I would send them here.

          Most people have an ill-formed idea of what science even is, and this diary pretty much exagerrates that. Science is good, bad, filled with chocolate... where the hell are we going?

          I do know what science is, and I care about it. And I care about our national discourse, and the crappy way we reach our decisions. This blog is designed to make it worse.

          Ignorance more frequently begets confidence then knowledge. Charles Darwin

          by martianexpatriate on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 11:24:00 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  "Science is good, bad, filled with chocolate... (4+ / 0-)

            where the hell are we going?"

            Thank you for this quite good précis. Contradictions and indeterminacy are a bear, ain't they?

            Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

            by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 11:30:18 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Contradictions and indeterminacy (6+ / 0-)

              are a big part of life. I enjoy dealing with them, when there is a point.

              The reason all this indeterminacy exists is for one very simple reason. Very few people know what science is, but they don't fully admit to themselves that basic fact. So when people use the term imprecisely, all kinds of weird issues come up.

              Science is not a gadget, or technology. Science is the method we use to figure things out. It results in gadgets, occasionally, but conflating the machine with the method is a bad idea. Its because people do this too much that we have a lot of problems in our culture. I wish we would stop.

              Because people don't know what science really is, it's easy for idiots to construct creationist museums and argue that the world is 6000 years old. They find something they wish to believe and look for arguments to find their way to that idea.

              The scientific method involves studying the world, then making a hypothesis about why the way things are the way they are. Then you test it, theorizing how changing some variable will alter the result. Then you actually change the variable, and you record the results rather than simply counting the results that support your argument, and ignoring those that don't.

              There are a lot of other things you can do along the way, but that is the core of it. It's because we are a culture of people who think of science as being the tools which scientists gave us, that we are in this mess. If we taught people critical reasoning rather than memorization, all this bickering over climate change would have been over decades ago.

              Ignorance more frequently begets confidence then knowledge. Charles Darwin

              by martianexpatriate on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 11:45:12 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  This we agree on. (9+ / 0-)

                Most people really don't know what science is.

                This really came home to me when I taught my first course (cell biology) as a green professor. Helpful faculty offered me suggestions on the syllabus, and a very hands-on dept. chair pretty much told me exactly what to cover. "Wait...." I found myself thinking. "This is just a catalog of factoids...those are important, but when do I get to the science?" So I threw the chairman's syllabus away and winged it (I could have taught macrame and the dept. wouldn't actually have cared as long as I kept the NIH grants coming in, which I did). For every major conceptual cluster of related factoids the students needed to learn I'd introduce it as a question (for example, "how do cells move?"), then present a couple of early and tantalizing observations (some that ultimately proved beside the point, others spot-on), then I'd introduce the technical tools available with which to perform experiments in this field, how they worked and what their weaknesses were. Then I'd lead the students through the formulation of various preliminary hypotheses, and we'd talk through the design of experiments that could test those hypotheses (trying to steer them toward the experiments that were actually done, but giving them enough rope to hang themselves with, because that's how we learn). No easy task, standing before a class of 350. Then I'd present them with some of the findings from those experiments, and walk them through their interpretation. Finally we'd distill that all down to the factoids.

                Long story short, I developed a reputation as the worst teacher in the biology department. These were mostly all pre-meds, attending the research university with the best record in the country for getting its pre-meds into medical school. They didn't want this sh*t...they wanted that unadorned list of factoids to spew back out on the MCATs. My course became the most feared course in the major...the one you just had to survive to make it into med school. Many of them despised me for not just playing the game. I'll never forget the one instructor evaluation that pretty much said it all: "Dr. Dawg wants to teach us how to think, but it's too late."

                That said, after I left academia and entered industry, there was hardly a pharma or biotech I would visit on business where, walking down a hallway, I wouldn't hear someone say "Dr. Dawg?" and come up and pump my hand vigorously, thanking me profusely. They were the 40-percenters; those who hadn't gotten into medical school and had become scientists instead. The rest are off lancing boils and managing their portfolios somewhere, I guess.

                Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

                by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 12:45:26 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  hot damn! Excellent! (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kfunk937

                  Dude, all I can say is, that's the kind of course that makes me itch to get in.

                  Good for you sticking to it regardless of the pressure.  That takes guts, and more importantly it takes principles.

                  We got the future back. Uh-oh.

                  by G2geek on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 12:08:58 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Love it... (0+ / 0-)

                  I do hope some of the pre-meds learned how to think
                  They would become the best physicians.
                  I think that when non-scientists talk about 'science" what they really are thinking about is "logical positivism,

                  Necessity is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.-- Wm.Pitt the Younger

                  by JeffSCinNY on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 06:41:15 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  I probably TA’d biochem lab for those students (0+ / 0-)

                  and it was a real eye-opener. I came into grad school from a small state school in the midwest that taught like you do and where top undergrads helped TA from their sophomore year. There is no better way to learn the material than teach it. I landed in a chemistry dept. which was basically a BA degree factory for pre-meds. Students took the labs a full year after the associated lecture course and had to be spoon-fed everything because, heaven forbid, they would be expected to retain something that long. They would contest 1/2 point deductions on lab reports, wouldn’t show up for office hours, ripped articles out of the journals in the library to keep other students from reading them and expected cookbook experiments with “right” answers at the lab bench. That they were expected to explain what happened and what they might have done wrong in narrative form rather than just spew back fill-in-the-blank answers was shocking to them. The professor who issued final grades used a curve that tailed at the low end with C’s which were awarded to just 2 students out of 75—two I had reported for blatantly cheating and yet were not sanctioned with expulsion under the Honor Code because “it would reflect badly on the program.” There were probably 3 students who would have earned A’s at my school. While this school has strong graduate programs and turns out some excellent scientists and physicians, the whole think left me with a bad taste in my mouth and concerns that a lot of science being done by basic researchers isn’t making the transition to the bedside quickly enough (or in some cases too quickly) because the physicians delivering healthcare are scientifically illiterate.

                  •  You forgot (0+ / 0-)

                    the best pre-med chem lab trick of all time: when it comes time to turn in their synthesis products for grading, they swap their own crappy samples of glop with the smart kid's beautiful pure crystalline product. A classic.

                    There's a reason I don't go to hospitals unless something is either falling off or growing to obscene proportions.

                    Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

                    by DocDawg on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 06:43:40 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

              •  Recced for: (8+ / 0-)

                THIS:

                If we taught people critical reasoning rather than memorization, all this bickering over climate change would have been over decades ago.
                Another Kossack (I'm not sure which one at this point) suggested that we should teach mathematics instead of critical thinking.

                Unfortunately, it cannot work that way. To get any further into mathematics than basic arithmetic, you need critical thinking. Consider this simple critical thinking exercise:

                Is this really a theorem?

                Is this proof really a proof?

                As you pointed out in the above quoted passage, one cannot do that via memorization; one needs to do active critical thinking.

                It's why, as Euclid stated, "there is no royal road to geometry".

                "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

                by thanatokephaloides on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 02:59:15 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  agreed, and what I think science is... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                kfunk937

                ... is the set of methods and mindsets, theories and models, and empirical findings, that describe and seek to describe the natural universe accurately and parsimoniously.

                Observe, hypothesize, test, publish, refine.

                Test & control, alter one variable at a time.

                Descriptive statistics and inferential statistics (I'm a frequentist but I am seeing some usefulness in Bayesian methods for certain purposes).

                Seek out the most parsimonious explanation.

                Do not postulate unnecessary explanatory mechanisms.

                Etc.

                Facts are measurements.

                Hypotheses are supported or falsified but not "proven."

                "Proof" is relevant to mathematics, not to empirical research.

                Supported hypotheses contribute to theories.

                Theories are collections of facts and supported hypotheses that logically produce more testable hypotheses that usually end up being supported.   Theories are considered the most powerful explanations for large collections of observations, as for example the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, the quantum theory, etc.

                Models are not theories, but are similar to analogies that can be used to reason toward more testable hypotheses.  There are exceptions in the language such as "the Standard Model" which is a large body of theory.

                Anomalous observations and other things that (apparently) "don't fit" (such as the relationship between gravity and electromagnetism) should first be seen as opportunities to expand existing bodies of theory rather than being used to prematurely throw out existing bodies of theory.

                Our best current knowledge is always capable of being refined as new findings come in and check out.

                And another thing that I believe and use in "general method" in my own life, "walk in the gray," by which I mean, don't seek premature certainties, but exercise self-skepticism and recognize that knowledge is always subject to uncertainty.  Keatsian negative capability.

                Etc. etc.

                And I agree about the hazard of memorization as compared to teaching people how to think.

                But for folks who have at least a rudimentary understanding of these things, it's not impermissible to engage in speculation and philosophizing about meanings and boundaries of knowledge.  That activity does not serve our political goals but it is interesting in and of itself for those of us who are inclined.

                We got the future back. Uh-oh.

                by G2geek on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 12:06:00 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  The misinformed think science is devices (0+ / 0-)

                The really horribly misinformed think it is a cult or cabal whose ulterior motive is to destroy religion.

                Tell people science is a process or a method and prepare to receive strange looks.

                Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it.

                by The Termite on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 10:21:26 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  politics vs. philosophy. (0+ / 0-)

            For the sake of politics we need to be clear and decisive about what constitutes science and what its boundaries are, and its applications to public policy.

            But for purposes of philosophizing among oddball intellects outside of political discussions as such, I think it's quite OK.

            We got the future back. Uh-oh.

            by G2geek on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 10:25:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  thought-experiment: (12+ / 0-)

        If one believes that there is a deity, ask what would be different if there was not.

        If one believes that there is not a deity, ask what would be different if there was.

        One fairly common answer is, "a universe with a deity would have more love and less cruelty than a universe without a deity."  The problem of course, is that we don't have another universe to compare: so the amounts of love and cruelty we observe could be less than, or more than, those in some other universe, but we have no way of knowing.

        --

        Where I stand on this is, any entity having the characteristics ascribed to a deity, could confound any experiment performed to test its existence; therefore no such experiment can be valid, a-priori.  The existence of deities and immortal souls is untestable, therefore science can't address them.  

        However, individuals vary as to the neurophysiological correlates of religious belief and experience, and that variation is natural, so from this we get the necessity for freedom of belief, just as our other core rights and freedoms have foundations in the nature of our existence as conscious organisms.

        --

        We got the future back. Uh-oh.

        by G2geek on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:35:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  First ask what is it that makes a deity what it is (6+ / 0-)

          and then ask what is it that makes it not something else.

          In most discussions of deity its considered infinite and eternal, is and was and will be what it is unchanging and absolute.

          If that's your definition then deity can be Real but not exist in that everything which exists changes if simply by growing older.

          Nothing which exists and changes and thus is becoming or creating rather than Being can be a supreme Being.

          If when we cease to exist we are through with Becoming I suppose that could make us a part of a Supreme Being along with everything else that's finished Becoming whatever it is.

          On the other hand when we start talking about a personified creator Father deity Pitar, Ptah, Peter, Zeus, Jesus, Ju Pitar; living on a throne somewhere in the heavens surrounded by the Mitanni Zoroastrian winged angels, cherubs and griffins and opposed by an envious Satan (sa Aten or son of the luminous horizon of the sun) and an army of disenfranchised angels that are the sons of god who married the daughters of men that's one of a number of mountaintop/sky god pantheons filling a whole separate multiverse from the matriarchal model of the goddess She.

          "la vida no vale nada un lugar solita" "The Limits of Control Jim Jarmusch

          by rktect on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 05:23:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  interesting distinction; seems to come down to... (0+ / 0-)

            ... the distinction between being and becoming, and changing vs. unchanging.

            You're also describing the difference between a highly abstract model of the deity, and a much more concrete one that is more common in history.

            To my mind the key characteristics that describe a deity are that it is all-pervasive in the universe, and thus all-knowing, and that it has a causal relationship with respect to natural phenomena.   (NOTE, I am not saying that I affirmatively believe in any such entity, that is a different issue.)

            Thus a hypothetical deity can willfully interfere with any experiment one would seek to perform about it.

            We got the future back. Uh-oh.

            by G2geek on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 12:16:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Your correct in your distinction (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek

              Being and Time are the subject of the discussion.

              I expect what I'm describing is a relative absolute process, Becoming Being.

              Think of that distinction in process terms.

              Anything which is capable of an action, capable of Motion or of being a prime mover or any other act of creation has to deal with the change as a limit on its infinite and eternal absolutism because what existed before the change is older and different.

              Things which are Eternal have no Motion or Time they are at Rest. Nothing gets created or has a causal relationship.

              Becoming is all about Motion and Time but the causal relationship isn't at Rest, Nothing is over till its over...

              The more concrete mumbledegook which passes for religion should be encapsulated in concrete and wharehoused with the elder gods we no longer believe in.

              "la vida no vale nada un lugar solita" "The Limits of Control Jim Jarmusch

              by rktect on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 04:18:38 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  have you written this stuff up anywhere? (0+ / 0-)

                Not necessarily for DK obviously, but anywhere including in your own personal notes?

                I encourage people to write up what they believe is "true, right, and good," and lay claim to that as their religion, whether it does or doesn't comport with anything else out there under that heading.

                This is something each of us has an unalienable right to do, and we should.

                As a pragmatic matter we should, to preserve our rights.

                As a principled matter we should, to contribute to the evolution of ideas and praxis in the culture at-large.

                We got the future back. Uh-oh.

                by G2geek on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 05:21:19 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Its my standard rap number five (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  G2geek

                  with my disdain for believers coming after my thoughts on climate change and rising sea levels and before all my odes to Obama as the real life Frank Underwood.

                  "la vida no vale nada un lugar solita" "The Limits of Control Jim Jarmusch

                  by rktect on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 10:58:11 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  Oy. (4+ / 0-)
          Where I stand on this is, any entity having the characteristics ascribed to a deity, could confound any experiment performed to test its existence; therefore no such experiment can be valid, a-priori.  The existence of deities and immortal souls is untestable, therefore science can't address them.  
          Then what's the point? That's like an excuse to make shit up.

          And what is the point of any deity except to fill in the blanks - Because...because...God!

          I was just reading this little blog piece on cosmic dust, I mean, what is that in the scope of a universal deity? Dust bunnies? God doesn't/didn't bother to clean under the furniture?

          I just don't get why anyone, particularly those involved in science, would think in our grand, spectacular, and very, very, very big universe there can, or even should be, some sort of deity...what; bouncing around from planet to planet? Fixed on just our tiny little speck called Earth? A 'force' that somehow encompasses the whole of our universe (in which case the fact that the distances between bodies are so outrageously enormous that it would take quite the imagination to assume such a force/being could somehow be aware that we even existed on a scale equal to that of a human being aware of one, tiny little, short-lived virus in our blood)?

          Where does this desire for such a fanciful Being come from?


          "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis Brandeis

          by Pescadero Bill on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:37:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Tat tvam asi, maybe? [nt] (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            delver, thanatokephaloides, G2geek

            Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

            by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:42:29 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  where that desire comes from: (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            penguins4peace, The Termite

            Ogg and Zogg are cavemen walking back to their cave.

            Ogg looks down the path to the left and sees two dots and a line in a tree, and says "I see a mountain lion looking at us, let's take the longer path to the right."

            Zogg says "Oh bullshit, there's no mountain lion, I'm going that way, see you at the campfire."

            Ogg lives to tell the tale, Zogg becomes dinner for the mountain lion.

            Fast-forward over darwinian time and what you get is a pattern-sense and personification-sense that are tuned to a level that is sufficient for natural selection.  

            But it also has a side effect:  "Oh look, I see a person in the clouds!  With sandals and a long beard...."

            Fast-forward @ 2,000 more years, and it has another side effect:  SETI.

            ---

            The point is to demonstrate that there is a natural origin for the cognitive characteristics that contribute to some of the experiences upon which religions are founded.  Another hypothesis (indirectly testable) is that near-death experiences (NDEs) also contribute to the basis upon which religions are founded.

            These experiences (seeing personhood in aspects of nature, NDEs, etc.) are "real" in the subjective sense, but the thing they point to (deities) is not testable in any sense.

            And, there is natural variation in brain structures & chemistry that correlate with religious experiences and beliefs (some of this has empirical findings to support it, some of it is hypothetical).

            Theists perceive a universe with a deity in it.  Atheists perceive a universe with no need of a deity in it.  Empirically there's no way to tell.  All persons deserve equality under the law regardless of their beliefs in this matter, and the conduct of government must take a neutral hands-off approach that does not endorse any above any other.  

            Since science doesn't deal with deities, government policy toward science education can be to exclude theistic interpretations from curricula.  However it is permissible in that context, to teach comparative religion courses in public schools, so long as they show no favoritism.

            As for me personally, my history of mystical experiences ("personal encounter with the ground of being") in conjunction with relentless self-skepticism and a decent grasp of scientific method, has led to naturalistic explanations and a naturalistic view of the universe.  Some of which ideas, I've recently discovered, are convergent with those of various scientists in the mid 20th century, right down to using the same language.  (This is not the "Galileo game," it's "holy cow, all these much-smarter people figured this out decades ago!")

            We got the future back. Uh-oh.

            by G2geek on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 12:36:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  And, alas, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, wader, pixxer

      I'm pretty sure that winning a Nobel Prize is an insurmountable barrier to modesty. I can easily forgive him for that.

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 12:07:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Without history, and the people who wrote it, (0+ / 0-)

      law, and the people who observed what works and what doesn't and figured out why, called jurisprudence, and philosophy, which asked the questions that started science on its way, there would be no science as we know it, but only a rudimentary empirical knowledge of crafts and practical technology.

      Patriotism may be the last refuge of scoundrels, but religion is assuredly the first.

      by StrayCat on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 07:41:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the interesting take. I think (6+ / 0-)

    you're right about the  frequent fecklessness of traditional science vs religion argument.

    Almost nothing has a name.

    by johanus on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:50:19 AM PDT

  •  Make Sure? Who? We Occupants? (5+ / 0-)

    If you're into science you may know that after about half a century of hippie whining, academic studies have finally been applied to the US and found that government did indeed stop representing and advancing the people back when the Beatles were still recording.

    So everyone here who's too young for gray hair does not personally remember a United States where questions like yours were any of the people's business, in a practical sense.

    So if this is an oblique version of our twice daily lectures on why we need to leave food GMO science a secret of the corporations, I would say, check your calendar, and if the year starts with a "2" you have nothing to worry about from the people or the liberals.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 12:13:32 PM PDT

  •  Personally, (6+ / 0-)

    I think, since the existence of "God" can neither be proven nor disproven, arguing the point is great conversation, but does little to move us toward where we need to go.

    My sister went into chemistry because her first love, music, was too much of a long shot for making the kind of money she hoped to earn.  She sometimes bemoans the fact that the chemists who invented "smelly stickers"  are most likely millionaires by now.  

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 01:54:53 PM PDT

    •  Funny how we choose careers. (14+ / 0-)

      I went into biology because my first love, computer science, was just too annoying, what with all the punched cards and having to schedule a time to run your program on the mainframe and the reams and reams of printouts to wade through.

      I'll never forget my undergrad advisor refusing to sign off on me doing a double major in computer science and biology. He felt there should be some synergy between the two disciplines of a double major, and to him it was beyond merely obvious that there was no possible synergy whatsoever between computer science and biology. Years later, when bioinformatics became A Thing and I had many bioinformaticians working for me, I really wanted to go back and rub his nose in that. But by then he was dead.

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 02:20:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah (10+ / 0-)

        I hate when that happens.

        "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

        by NancyWH on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 05:02:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Sometimes the advisors get it right (5+ / 0-)

        As a naive, young and aspiring scientist interested in neuroscience, I told my advisor that I had absolutely no interest in taking a course in Genetics. It was frankly irrelevant to my careers plans.  You can guess the outcome of that discussion and he was right.  Many years later, in a situation that appears remarkably like yours, I had a group of bioinformaticians and molecular biologists working for me, running next generation sequencing platforms, searching for variants involved in genetic disorders. Much of what was taught in the early '70s is now in the trash bin, but that course did give me a foundation for much of the work that I did in my career.

        I also had early exposure to Postulate IV. My graduate advisor was a Mormon, and an excellent scientist. At the time I was (and I still am) a humanist, but I quickly concluded that religion was irrelevant to science, and vice versa. The problem is that it can be made relevant by the interaction between those who choose to make the argument in order to further some generally dystopian objective and a media that thrives on amplifying and accentuating disagreement because it is profitable.

        •  Parallel story (5+ / 0-)

          As part of my biochemistry degree, there was a language requirement.  I was raised in the midwest, at a time when English was the only language used.  I could see no good reason to study a foreign language.

          I arranged a meeting with the student dean, with the aim of convincing her that my time would be better spent learning Fortran, a computer language.  Computers were the future, I argued.  I will never use my German, etc.  The dean had none none of it,  and I graduated with the bare minimum of 3 semesters of German.

          Fast forward to today.   I married a German.  Better language skills would be a great help when visiting the in-laws.  Fortran, not so much.  

          Not from the infinite and not from the nothingness--but from where the infinite and nothingness meet.

          by YankInUK on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 09:06:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My high school counselor told me to study Russian (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NancyWH, thanatokephaloides, kfunk937

            since I wanted to be a scientist, and "Russian will replace English as the international language of science."

            Oops. The only use I ever found for it was in passing notes to a few other rudimentary Russian-speaking kids like myself, written in English but transliterated into the Cyrillic alphabet. Utterly impenetrable to those not in the know...which is to say, nearly everyone west of the Urals.

            Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

            by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 09:34:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Postulate IV sucks. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Volt3930, G2geek, p gorden lippy, NancyWH

    I don't understand why Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking talking about the non-existence of any deity needed to get conflated to all of science.

    No, science doesn't need to prove that any gods exist, but I'm a thinking person, and my eyes don't glaze over when they start "flapping" about the non-existence of any gods and they sure  never will.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

    by terrypinder on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 05:24:43 PM PDT

    •  I guess because it's such a meme these days. (10+ / 0-)

      I run across so many religion-haters in the progressive movement, with a lot of anger to work out, who seem to see science as the opposite of religion. To me, this is like claiming that a brick is the opposite of tomato soup.

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 05:30:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It might be better to say.... (5+ / 0-)

        ....religion is tomato soup that fancies itself a brick.

        No wonder many people who try to think with some rigor hold it in contempt.

        This is the landscape that we understand, -
        And till the principle of things takes root,
        How shall examples move us from our calm?

        (Mary Oliver, "Beyond the Snow Belt.")

        by sagesource on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 06:07:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The left has just as many religious fanatics as (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NE2, duhban

        the right.

        Key difference is that the ones on the left leave God out of their religion.

        For example, would you like to comment on the claims that GMOs have some kind of intrinsic health risk to humans?

        •  I might diarize my take on GMO (4+ / 0-)

          some time. But I'd have to sort through my thoughts much more carefully first. Plus, I'm not sure I'm ready for a flame war just now.

          The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

          by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 05:15:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  First off, (4+ / 0-)

          This:

          The left has just as many religious fanatics as the right.
          is ridiculous.

          I don't see the "leftists" trying to force anyone to have an abortion, for one thing. No one is trying to mandate the teaching of evolution in the churches. And there's no movement to ban Christians from getting married (unless they're gay Christians. And you can hardly blame that on the "left").

          You'd have to come up with a single example of this kind of overreach to even begin to prove your "both sides do it" fallacy.

          And please explain what this:

          would you like to comment on the claims that GMOs have some kind of intrinsic health risk to humans?
          has to do with anything.

          Patriotism is the FIRST refuge of the scoundrel.

          by Tony Seybert on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 10:59:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The left has other religions with other sacred (0+ / 0-)

            beliefs.

            A few worth noting:

            1. The anti-GMO clique which replaces Satan with Monsanto

            2. The fixation on organic - organic costs more because it requires more inputs, which means higher impact on the environment

            3. The fixation on local consumption - but transport is a tiny fraction of the environmental impact of food and large scale factory farming is much more resource and energy efficient

            4. The fixation on increasing the minimum wage instead of using a negative income tax.  A negative income tax will obviously have the same welfare increasing properties as a minimum wage without any negative impact on employment.  Costs should be the same if we use it to generate approximately the same net improvement in welfare.  Since it would increase total US output (because people now on welfare would be doing things like working in garment factories for $3/hour) it would increase our total supply of goods and services meaning that there would be more toys to go around.  But since it was suggested by the evil duo of Milton Friedman and Ronnie, Lord of Evil, the left will not consider it.

            5. The obsession with forcing people who oppose gay marriage and contraception / abortion to somehow admit in some way that these things are OK - forcing people to provide goods and services to same sex weddings, forcing faith based organizations to at least fill in a form as part of the process to get their staff birth control, etc.

    •  Dawkins claims to speak for all of science. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      magnetics, houyhnhnm, Yonit, delver, oslyn7

      He also tends to make statements that are deliberately inflammatory.

      That combination produces polarization of the discussion, and brings out the dogmatists on both sides, who polarize it further.

      We got the future back. Uh-oh.

      by G2geek on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:20:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dorkins I calls him. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KJG52, thanatokephaloides

        I am a scientist and engineer and he sure don't speak for me, or many of my colleagues.

        The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

        by magnetics on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:36:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  eng. here too, and... (4+ / 0-)

          ... he doesn't speak for me either.  (I think for myself and speak for myself, which also means running afoul of all kinds of dogmatists on many sides of many issues.)

          I find his idea of "memes" is very useful so I give him credit for that.  I also find that his ideas about "selfish genes" explain certain things about the behavior of some humans, but not everything and not about all humans.  

          The fact that he's given many atheists the strength to come out of the closet and demand equal rights is a good thing.  

          But I consider propositions about theology to be empirically untestable.  Thus no firm conclusions about theology (for or against etc.) are possible within empirical science.

          In general he's had some good ideas, he's over-generalized some other stuff, and he's had a salutary effect on the issue of equality.   But it would be far preferable if he qualified his statements with the relevant uncertainties where these exist, and exercised a bit of negative feedback toward some of his adherents who have become dogmatists in their own right.

          We got the future back. Uh-oh.

          by G2geek on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 12:00:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  nah, he doesn't. he is a jerk (thus my sigline) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        thanatokephaloides, G2geek

        but he doesn't claim to speak for all of science. I think even he'd reject that claim.

        Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

        by terrypinder on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 01:15:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  non-numerical, data free assertion (0+ / 0-)

    No data is provided for the assertion quoted below.
    What is a "tiny fraction"?

    A good example of a non-numerical, data free assertion,
    the type of thing hopefully avoided by scientist.

    "If you mean 'omnipotent old man with beard and sandals hovering in the sky' then, sure, God's existence or non-existence can be addressed by scientists. But, loud-mouthed as they are, the fundies who believe in that God are but a tiny fraction of Christians (or, I would guess, Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus or Amerinds or what-have-you). So it's a straw-man (or should I say 'straw-god'?) argument; why bother arguing nonsense?"

    •  I was speaking as a person, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      T P K, G2geek, KJG52, PeterHug

      not a scientist, in that statement. And as a person I have personal experience. We all do. And, obviously, it can be quite valid in the personal domain. And as a progressive Christian it is my personal experience that people of faith who think God is an old man in sandals in the sky are actually scarcer'n hens' teeth in the Christian communities I circulate in.

      Did you make any non-numerical, data-free assertions of personal experience today? Shame on you!

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 05:55:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Your anecdotal data (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JosephK74

        doesn't fit with the world of midwest non-academics I interact with.  Given consistent polling data showing that about 40% of the U.S. population are literal young-earth creationists, I don't think it fits with objective facts either.

        Michael Weissman UID 197542

        by docmidwest on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 07:27:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Last I checked (0+ / 0-)

        evangelicals were one of the largest religious voting blocks in the country and they overwhelmingly advocate fundamentalist principles.  It's fine for you to say they aren't representative of all Christians, but a small group they are not.  Dig around at Pew on this.  Leftist Christians are, in fact, an incredibly small minority, making up something like 4% overall.

  •  Thank you for this diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, barbwires, NancyWH
  •  One answer to your question... (9+ / 0-)
    To my mind, one of the most interesting unsolved problems today is: just how do we insure that science is "properly applied by honorable folk of modest demeanor?"
    Way back in the 1950s, A.E. van Vogt strung together a series of 4 stories about "The Voyage of The Space Beagle" (Digital versions here.) He was working with several shorter stories previously published, and he rewrote them enough to tie them into one larger story arc centered around Eliot Grosvenor, the only Nexialist aboard an exploration star ship bound for one of our neighboring galaxies.

    Grosvenor got added to the crew at the last minute. Nobody is quite sure what Nexialism is, so Grosvenor has his work cut out for him proving its value. Essentially, he's the product of intensive training drawing on new understanding of the human nervous system and how humans learn. He's effectively the equivalent of a polymath or an encyclopedic synthesist, able to make connections between highly disparate branches of science, which thanks to his training, he has at his fingertips. (Hence Nexialism.)

    In the course of encounters with increasingly dangerous life forms, Grosvenor's contributions to surviving them gain him  recognition - and also inspire professional jealousy. One of the threads in the story are the political struggles between the scientists over leadership of the scientific side of the expedition. (It has some unnerving parallels to our current state of disunion, as does van Vogt's added story element of cyclic history.)

    The ultimate test comes when Grosvenor is able to put together a coherent picture of a galaxy-spanning threat to all life, and how to deal with it - but he's the only one aboard who can understand the evidence and make the connections. What can he do - especially since an integral part of his training was a large dose of ethics and conditioning to keep him from using Nexialism in unethical ways? Potentially the entire human race is at risk, and there's no one else but him capable of coming up with the right answer.

    Without giving away the ending, one of the things van Vogt promotes in the book is that in the long run, there's no excuse for anyone not to understand as much of science as they can - and Nexialism increases that potential by orders of magnitude. There is this about Grosvenor - he's perfectly willing to share Nexialism with anyone willing to overcome their prejudices and admit they have more to learn.

    The Voyage of the Space Beagle may be anachronistic by today's standards, but it was pretty cutting edge at the time, and the ideas in it keep coming up - because the same kinds of problems keep coming up. How do we chose wise leaders capable of making informed decisions, and how do we ourselves develop the resources to chose those leaders and evaluate their performance?

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 06:24:57 PM PDT

  •  Good ideas always happen (6+ / 0-)

    on the can.

    The first practical video tape recorder (Quadraplex) owes it's existence to a side view of a TP roll.

    Reducing Oil Imports One Volt at a time.

    by Volt3930 on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 06:43:30 PM PDT

  •  This diary is charming. Glad it was rescued. trnt (6+ / 0-)
  •  The conflict between science and opinion... (7+ / 0-)

    has been around since the ancient beginnings of science:

    "Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance."

    Hippocrates

    I am proud to be able to say that I got the chance to vote for Ann Richards for Governor of Texas, twice!

    by dewtx on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 07:04:25 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for an interesting look (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DocDawg, G2geek, Steven D, houyhnhnm, wonmug

    into the ongoing dilemma of scientific ethics, and the increasingly strident (and useless) arguments between science and religion.  It's also good to know there's actually a progressive scientific religionist here; who would have thought.

    I would think true science should have no lasting quarrel with true religion.  The scientific method is an intellectual yardstick wherewith to measure the physical universe.  Being material and wholly intellectual, it is utterly useless in the evaluation of spiritual realities and religious experiences.  It seems to me science should do for us materially what religion does for us spiritually: extend the horizon of life, and enlarge our personality.  But we can all appreciate that science is weakening those religions which are largely dependent upon fear, superstition, and emotion.  Those based on truth, beauty, and goodness will be just fine.

    Unfortunately, ethics has simply not kept pace with the growth of science.  Although I would like to think that scientists as persons would naturally be interested in the ethics of what they do, I would also like to think that the higher any scientist progresses in his chosen science the more he would abandon the theories of materialistic fact in favor of cosmic truth. But then, I'm a romantic and an artist with a head full of non-material stuff.

    That non-material stuff tells me that the ideal human estate is one in which philosophy, religion, and science are welded into a meaningful unity by the conjoined action of wisdom, faith, and experience... We should so aspire.

    You're Gonna Hafta Serve Somebody.

    by T P K on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:02:42 PM PDT

  •  An extraordinarily well written diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, JerryNA, duhban

    But I must confess that you lost me at Postulate IV:

    Postulate IV: Science Wastes Enormous Time And Energy Competing With Religion
    If a pastry chef argues against the existence of God we don't accuse the food industry of being anti-religion. So why do you characterize science as being anti-religion? It is not Science that is wasting time and energy, but rather individual scientists. An evolutionary biologist writes a book that explains his atheism and suddenly it's Science attacking Religion. This makes no sense. It's Richard Dawkins, a human being, attacking religion, not Science. Bertrand Russel also did so, but somehow that didn't taint Mathematics. Neil deGrasse Tyson has expressed opinions (albeit more gently than Dawkins) unfriendly to religion, but we don't conclude that African Americans are anti-religion.

    I rec'ed the diary because I think it has a great deal of merit. IMHO, Postulate IV could (and should) have been omitted. You are picking a fight that has no relevance to your main topic. To use your analogy, Postulate IV is a bit like a tomato soup recipe embedded in a treatise on how best to lay bricks.

    Primo pro nummata vini [First of all it is to the wine-merchant] (-7.25, -6.21)

    by Tim DeLaney on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:51:48 PM PDT

    •  Point well taken. Thank you. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tim DeLaney, NancyWH, Yonit, duhban, rsmpdx

      I guess part of my confusion here, in confusing Dawkins (et al.) with Science reflects my confusion in attempting to define "what is science?" and "what is religion?" Two really hard questions, when you take time to consider them. I've long-since been reduced to defining science as "what scientists do," which is a mightily dissatisfying definition. Hence, confusing Dawkins and science.

      But perhaps you can still agree with me that a whole lot of people...young progressives, particularly...do see science and religion as in opposition (thanks largely to the obnoxious fundies who fan these flames). In human affairs appearance often is reality...or becomes reality. So in that sense, anyway, I do think science opposes religion too often.

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 09:10:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Replying to this: (5+ / 0-)
        But perhaps you can still agree with me that a whole lot of people...young progressives, particularly...do see science and religion as in opposition (thanks largely to the obnoxious fundies who fan these flames).
        Yes, of course I agree, but I would put it a different way. The young progressives (and old progressives like myself) see religion, as currently practiced by some, as incompatible with democratic ideals. We get our hackles up when the practice of religion works a genuine hardship upon others. We blame religion in general -- perhaps too readily -- for decisions like Hobby Lobby.

        As an atheist, I agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything. I could write several thousand well-chosen words ridiculing Christianity. (In fact, I have.) However, I don't think that has anything to do with science.

        Primo pro nummata vini [First of all it is to the wine-merchant] (-7.25, -6.21)

        by Tim DeLaney on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 09:51:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well-stated with admirable precision. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Tim DeLaney, side pocket, Yonit, oslyn7

          Thanks. Though I would challenge you back on the statement,

          As an atheist, I agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything.
          For isn't this to confuse certain religionists with 'religion,' and thus tar it all with the same brush...the same mistake I made regarding Dawkins v. 'science'?

          Did Martin Luther King's faith poison everything, or was it foundational to his life's work? Will Rev. William Barber's faith poison Netroots Nation when he keynotes there this year, or did it help lead him to found and build the Moral Mondays movement? Are we, as progressives, to merely grudgingly tolerate as an annoying aberration the faith of progressive Christians (and Muslims, and Buddhists, and etc.) who contribute to the movement, or might we respect it as yet another perfectly respectable path to loving our neighbors as ourselves?

          I greatly respect the contributions atheism has made to progressivism...it has cleared the collective mind of so many cobwebs of an ugly history. But, speaking strictly for me, I can't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

          The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

          by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 05:34:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I read it as (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DocDawg, side pocket, NancyWH
            As an atheist, I agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that [the institution of organized] religion poisons everything.
            Faith is certainly not what I meant. Pope Francis could be added to your short list, but he presides over an evil organization.

            A while back, I learned how deep is the chasm between Islam and Christianity when I saw a Muslim bristle at the mere mention of the word "crusade" when used in a purely metaphorical sense. And today many Americans react the same way to "Muslim". Billions of people hating each other solely because of organized religion.

            So, yes, I can admire Martin Luther King. His speeches never contained even a hint of hate. Organized Christianity or Islam, not so much.

            Will you be at Detroit? If so, perhaps we could hoist a brew.

            Primo pro nummata vini [First of all it is to the wine-merchant] (-7.25, -6.21)

            by Tim DeLaney on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 07:59:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wow, what a kind invitation. Thank you! (6+ / 0-)

              I'm almost tempted to hop the next plane to Detroit just to take you up on that. But, alas, there are horses to be fed, and clients to be kept happy; I can't make it.

              Please be sure to attend Dr. Barber's keynote speech. Black or white, gay or straight, atheist or Christian, you are in for a rare and wonderful treat. Here's a sample:
              I can never listen to the man preach without tears of joy streaming down my face. If faith is anything, to me it is a talisman against despondency.

              Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

              by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:20:55 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Buddhism is not a religion (0+ / 0-)

            And its practice does not involve "faith".  The Dalai Lama agrees with me on this.  But that does not mean you can't be a Buddhist and also believe in God.  

            •  Yes, I've been told by the authorities (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kfunk937

              that my own mushy naturalist a-theistic take on Christianity isn't a religion either, and isn't even Christianity. Funny though how I keep finding myself in church on Sundays, I tithe, we go on mission trips, attend church suppers, my wife's an elder, and we raised our kids in the church.

              If it walks, quacks, and poops like a duck, there's an ideologue out there somewhere who will assure you it's not a duck.

              Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

              by DocDawg on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 05:11:10 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Postulate IV has it exactly backwards (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JerryNA, docmidwest

      Religion wastes enormous time and energy competing with science and making assertions about the world that are demonstrably false. Also, the author's claim about what rank and file Christians believe is at odds with what opinion polls have consistently revealed: there's plenty of biblical literalism in the minds and practices of Christians. And for muslims and their holy book, there's even less wiggle room. Jerry Coyne at his website has recent post about the phenomenon:
      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/...

  •  i would argue that philosophy has been useful: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PeterHug, side pocket, cardinal, oslyn7

    Useful in understanding how we reason, how we think, and what the relationships are between various objects of thought and observable realities.  

    Philosophy can bridge the gap between science and religion: for example between observables and meanings, between what is known and verified and what is important in human existence.  It can postulate certain of the objects of religion as elements in thought and action, without having to take sides as to whether they are ontologically true.  It's highly useful as a tool kit for thought, and making conscious choices about values and actions.

    Re. what you said about "picking up the weight."

    Science can tell us what's real, and as you said, the other end of the deal is that society has to make value judgements as to what to do about it.  

    In the same way, our military can deter aggression and use overwhelming force against any attacker, but society has to make the judgements as to when and where it is appropriate to fight.   Our economy can produce any goods and services we desire, but society has to make the judgements as to what is desirable to produce.  

    Society, by which is meant most people, has been slacking on these things and numerous others as well.  

    In short, our powers of knowledge, force, and production, have exceeded our cultural maturity.  

    The next steps in the evolution of humans aren't physical in any observably overt sense (though perhaps in terms of the subtler characteristics of human brains), but are primarily cultural.

    We got the future back. Uh-oh.

    by G2geek on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:57:47 PM PDT

  •  say more about Szent-Györgyi: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PeterHug, side pocket

    I just read the article in Wikipedia, and as it turns out, he was the originator of an idea that is important in my own way of thinking.  I never knew he was the source of that. (I've been finding a bunch of these lately, it's really interesting!)

    What else can you say about him and why he's important to you?  

    And, were there ever any controversies around any of his ideas being less than scientifically rigorous?  That is, how is he regarded by the current mainstream of scientific consensus?  

    Lastly, what's the proper pronunciation of his name?

    We got the future back. Uh-oh.

    by G2geek on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 09:05:28 PM PDT

    •  I'm not really sure I can hold forth intelligently (6+ / 0-)

      On Szent-Györgyi. I was a dewy-eyed hero-worshipping grad student when I met him at Woods Hole (where he is pretty much revered as a god). He attended a seminar I gave on my research, asked great questions, and said some very kind things to me afterward. He died not too long after. I never knew him well...mostly through the stories of those who did. But what's not to like about a Nazi-fighting scientist who discovered vitamin C and founded the field of cell motility and vigorously protested the Vietnam War? I'm told he declined to patent vitamin C because he felt it belonged to mankind, not to him.

      His Nobel Prize diploma is on display in the library at the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole (or still was the last time I was there). It's pretty much my shrine.

      Let me guess...you find his quantum mechanics/cancer thing interesting, yes? It never really got much traction, and nowadays it seems the mechanisms of cancer are rather less exotic than that...just random mutations in genes meant to control cell growth. People mostly just humored him on that.

      I've always heard his name pronounced zent georgie. Not sure how he pronounced it.

      The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

      by DocDawg on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 09:33:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  very interesting; and nope, not his cancer item. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, side pocket

        Interesting that you met him & talked together in person.  Agreed, he sounds like someone who was exceptionally thoughtful and principled, and lived his principles even at cost to himself.  That counts for a lot in my book too.  There are a bunch of people of his generation who I'd have liked to have met and asked questions.

        Re. his ideas & mine: it's not the cancer thing, it's something he has in common with Schrödinger having to do with the paradigm of how organisms gain complexity over time.  I can't use the keyword here without outing myself, but I'll be publishing at length on my own site later this year.  

        I see that some creationists have also grabbed some of his ideas to support theirs.  I have no firm conclusions about theology other than it being untestable by empirical methods and thus outside the scope of empirical science.  (So are artistic beauty and other aspects of value and items of subjective qualia; this does not diminish science or these other areas; "different does not mean better or worse.")

        "Zent Georgie" works for me, I'll keep it in mind if I ever have to bring him up in spoken conversation.

        We got the future back. Uh-oh.

        by G2geek on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:47:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  We stayed at his guest house (5+ / 0-)

      one summer when I was about about 11. He'd knock on the door about 7 am coming back on his motorcycle with a string of bass he'd just caught that morning.
      At dinner one night James Franck, maybe having had a bit to drink, pointed to Szent-Gyorgyi and said (approximately) "This is a wonderful man, but in science he is a complete loon."

      Michael Weissman UID 197542

      by docmidwest on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 07:19:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wonderful. Thanks for adding to my trove (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NancyWH, G2geek, kfunk937

        of Prof stories.

        Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

        by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 07:22:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Profny (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          G2geek, kfunk937

          tried to teach me how to make Hungarian dumplings. It worked so long as she actually held my wrist. As soon as she let go, they'd come out flour soup.

          Prof told my folks that all the trash went in one container. When he was out of earshot, Profny explained how to properly separate the different types for separate pickup.

          Michael Weissman UID 197542

          by docmidwest on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 07:31:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I enjoyed your diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NancyWH

    In my view, the best thing about a scientific worldview is the opportunity to challenge non-critical thinking. I believe it is truly tragic that more people can't or won't apply simple logical principles to their thought processes.

    'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none go just alike, yet each believes his own. - Alexander Pope

    by liberaldad2 on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 09:26:46 PM PDT

  •  Richard Dawkins... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JerryNA

    has written one book about atheism.  Francis Collins has written no less than three books about religion.  You'll have to explain to me how Dawkin's opinions about god are less valid than Collins's.

  •  The atheists are just as tedious as the .... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OHdog, PragmaticDem

    fundamentalists and neither has a scientific case that is empirically testable. Science is an amazing tool, and some scientists are amazing tools, just like in any other academic or professional discipline. Technical competence in one area of endeavor does not guarantee general competence in all endeavors and all of us should keep that in mind every day.

    I like your essay and generally agree with the tone, if not all the content; however, I think you are asking humanity generally, to not act like humans specifically, in some of your observations. A long term lament, that I think was perfectly crystallized by the wag that once said, "I love humanity, it's people I don't like." I think in this instance it could be rephrased, " I love Science, it's the scientific community I don't like."

    I enjoyed reading this piece.

    "Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are..." George Santayana

    by KJG52 on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 03:02:49 AM PDT

  •  Miracles are awesome but science is more powerful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    side pocket, NancyWH

    This is what I used to tell my students.

    I would bring in my laptop, turn the screen to the class, and start it up.  I'd ask them to describe what's happening.  "Electricity", they'd say.
    "That's right.  Moving electrons, yes?"
    "Yes."
    "Moving electrons doing a brilliantly choreographed dance.  And they do it the same way every time I turn my computer on."
    "Does it ever not work?  Do those electrons ever fail to move?", I'd ask.
    "Computers fail all the time.  You could hit that switch one day and nothing would happen."
    "True enough", I would say, "but science can explain that too.  It can explain exactly why those electrons aren't dancing this time, which can also lead to a possible fix.  And after that fix - a fix that's well within your power and mine - the dance will continue again, exactly as before."
    "Miracles, on the other hand may or may not happen.  Why is one city punished by a flood, but not another one?  Or if two cities are punished by a flood, why is one deemed to be an act of god, but not the other?"
    "Miracles are both seemingly out of our control, as well as unpredictable.  My laptop, on the other hand, is perfectly reliable and predictable - it will always work, unless it's broken.  Even then, science, reason and logic can easily get it to work again."

    Aren't they ever going to, you know, do their jobs?

    by thenekkidtruth on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 06:27:22 AM PDT

  •  I'm glad to see the discussion of what science is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NancyWH

    and how it works,  Alas, sorry to see it get bogged down in the comments (as it predictably would) in yet another silly debate about religion or the lack of it.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 09:13:18 AM PDT

  •  I'm not a doctor, I'm not a doctor's son. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rsmpdx

    But I can ease your pain until the doctor comes. But seriously, great post. Thanks for your even-handed approach.

    "Onward through the fog!" - Oat Willie

    by rocksout on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 01:45:27 PM PDT

  •  I got sumthin' ! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DocDawg, raincrow
    To my mind, one of the most interesting unsolved problems today is: just how do we insure that science is "properly applied by honorable folk of modest demeanor?" I got nuthin'. You?
    I got sumthin' !

    On my dresser is a volume very dear to my heart. It was published in 1960 by Scientific American magazine.

    It's title: The Amateur Scientist.

    One of the most important ways we have of insuring that

    science is "properly applied by honorable folk of modest demeanor?"
    is being almost completely NON-utilized. To wit: we should pay more attention to folks who perform science as recreation and/or to satisfy their own curiosities. Maybe even incentivize recreational scientists to repeat experimentation, so there will be a layer of science out there carried out simply for the love of science.

    The resource exists. Hell, most of the computer software I use today (POSIX Open Source) was created by amateur computer scientists. (I may be verging a little close to amateur engineering here rather than amateur pure science, but you get the basic drift.)

    Again, I say: The resource exists. We should be using it. In all the sciences.

    What do you think?

    "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

    by thanatokephaloides on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 03:14:34 PM PDT

    •  Finally! I've been waiting two days now (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      thanatokephaloides, rsmpdx, kfunk937

      for someone to mention amateur science. I like it a lot.

      Obviously some fields are more amenable to it than others.

      Astronomy has long enjoyed important contributions from amateurs. For just a few thousand bucks (and a home under dark skies) you can become a comet- or asteroid-hunter, doing meaningful work that most professional astronomers and their telescopes just don't have the time for. It's pretty easy to learn, and it doesn't involve experimentation, so I expect it is highly accessible to most all those with the desire.

      Other fields, such as my own (molecular cell biology), I can't readily see how you could hope to do anything useful without first dropping a couple hundred thousand bucks on basic equipment...call that maybe $75K if you buy used online and are super frugal. I can't imagine getting into the game for less, and even that's a big stretch (but I'd love to be proven wrong). And, as well, this is almost exclusively an experimental science. Never underestimate the difficulty of designing and executing a good experiment. It really does, I think, require some time as an apprentice studying at the bench under those who know how. That, plus learning how to avoid killing yourself or someone else with the chemicals (bio labs tend to be inherently hazard-rich places). But by now lots of folks out there have served a stretch in a university lab as an undergrad, so could probably pick it back up later in life once they have the bucks and the time. Though I still think it's a stretch.

      Between these two extremes of low and high barriers to entry, I think there's a fairly large unexplored middle ground. Field ecology comes to mind. An old friend of mine is one of the world's leading butterfly population biologists (hi, Art!). His study sites are in the Sierra foothills, accessible by public transportation (he doesn't drive). I don't actually know what the hell he does, but he leaves for a few days with a net and a backpack, comes back, analyzes population data on his computer, and publishes widely acclaimed papers (the incredible oversimplification I've just indulged in reflects mostly that I don't know squat about this field). Other than a desktop computer, his 'lab' is mostly just huge disordered piles of paper as far as I can tell, so I can't imagine it would cost much to put together the infrastructure to do whatever the hell he does. Here, of course, as elsewhere, the biggest challenge is finding an interesting and accessible question to study.

      Most fields also present some systematic barriers to entry for amateurs, including:

      1. Access to the majority of the current and past scientific literature. You can't do much science without reading a lot of science. If your local university's library will sell you a user ID for a couple hundred bucks a year, you're golden. Everything's online nowadays. But if not, you're pretty much screwed. Sure, there are some open-access (free) journals (such as PLoS One), and these are nothing to sniff at, and some for-profit journals grant free online access to articles more than, say, a year old (in my field of biomedical science, anyway, thanks to the NIH leaning on them to do so). And in physics there's arXive.org. But, from my perspective as a biologist without current affiliation, it's dang hard to see the whole picture without spending some serious change for online access to a bunch of journals.

      2. Publishing. How are you going to disseminate your results? It ain't 'science' if other scientists don't know about it. In terms of publishing in the conventional scientific journals, I've gotta say I don't like your odds if no one's ever heard of you and you don't have any institutional affiliation. It's been done, but it's rare. Science is, in part, a trust-based business, and one more easily trusts people one knows, or at least people from institutions one knows. The solution here, I guess, would be to launch some online amateur journals with sufficient credibility (selectivity, peer review, etc.) to lend legitimacy to the works they publish (maybe this is already being done?). It could be done, but it would take long-term dedication, and organization, and a few bucks. It won't count if the journal pulls the plug after two or three years...scientific knowledge is supposed to be forever. Sustainability is always the challenge for things like this.

      Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

      by DocDawg on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 04:35:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  amateur science (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kfunk937

        I agree with your assessments about amateur science. In fact, you've hit a lot of the very things I was talking about when I said that we (as a society) need to incentivize amateur science.

        The resource is there, at least in some sciences. We need to encourage the resource to be "more there", and to be and become the very useful thing it can be.

        One other thing with specific regards to astronomy and cosmology: The Vatican Observatory makes a lot of these very contributions to these sciences today specifically because it can do the very things that the "big boy" observatories don't have time to be bothered with. Today, the Vatican Observatory has partnerships with several observatories in Arizona, too; it isn't just one telescope at Castel Gandolfo any more.

        Looking at the Vatican Observatory website, I see Pope Francis making a statement apropos to our discussion. He said:

        that it is a question of justice that all people can have access to Science.
        source

        Seems our ideas regarding amateur science just might have friends in very high places indeed!!

        (Of course, this is Pope Francis, after all!)

        ;-)

        "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

        by thanatokephaloides on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 09:44:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a bit like you (0+ / 0-)

    though a chemist. I have yet to really go back to academia after seeing a lot of bullshit with grants and funding.

    I will say I think you over emphasize a bit how bad peer review is. True it's not perfect but as you also say no system designed by humans ever will be.  That said when you start talking about hundreds of different studies looked over by hundreds of scientists I think the system overall holds up. Especially because as I think we both know nothing brings grants and recognition as fast as being able to show how a study was wrong.

    Der Weg ist das Ziel

    by duhban on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:21:32 PM PDT

  •  Amazing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oslyn7, DocDawg

    I was going to  (and still might) write a similar essay entitled "A Buddhist Looks at Science." Argument would be similar- science is (a) a method for obtaining knowledge and (b) a body of knowledge derived from that method.

    The major problem with science is that science is done by people, and people tend to suffer from the Three Poisons - anger, greed and delusion.

    PS. Buddhists have different interest than scientists (or it might be more accurate to state that when people are studying Buddhism their method and intent is different than when they (often the same person) is studying science) ) However, both Buddhists and scientists object to the fundamentalist cry of WE HAVE THE TRUTH. This is delusion of the first order, and leads directly (Buddhists have highly developed theories of causation) to intense suffering, both for the fundamentalists and others.

  •  Science is GOOD! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rsmpdx

    I was a chemistry nut. By the age of 15, I could name every particle and sub particle in the atomic pantheon, and knew their traits, qualities, and what not. I ate and drank physical chemistry up, and Isaac Asmiov and George Gamow were my heroes.

    I wasn't interested in much else, so I was not a great student. Middling SATs in English (a different story) and much better in Math, but I scored an almost 800 in my Chemistry SAT and got into college fairly easily.

    I was fortunate that my high school recognized my aptitude for science and put me on what today would be an AP track in science. My high school Chemistry teacher, Mrs. Corcoran. was one of my favorite teachers.

    In addition to teaching chemistry, she was also fond of teaching the ethics of science, though her essential tautology is a bit tainted, shall we say.

    She was very fond of saying that "Science is truth, and all truth is good, therefore science is GOOD!" We were fond of debating her endlessly, and she was just as fond debating with us. I learned a ton of chemistry to boot, and it was a fun class.

    I probably would have been a physical chemist, as I was driven to find the root cause of our universe. But as it was, I was driven into a brick wall in my freshman year of college. Chemistry class was at 7:30am, and my chemistry professor was fond of claiming how many student he could fail (hello WPI!) As a person with a diurnal clock dedicated to nocturnal living (while you folks were sleeping after your gazelle feast, my ancestors were probably keeping watch...) I rarely was able to make it to class, in spite of enormous intention to do so.

    No real point to make here, just thought after reading this diary, it'd be cathartic to share.

    My story does have a fairly happy ending though, I'm currently an IT project manager at a major research university.

    What separates us, divides us, and diminishes the human spirit.

    by equern on Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 10:04:06 PM PDT

  •  So I love this diary but you could have summed ... (0+ / 0-)

    So I love this diary but you could have summed it up with "I hate psuedo science hacks." Or "I'm tired."

    •  The latter would be an untruth. (0+ / 0-)

      I work harder nowadays, both as a science advisor and as a farmer, than I ever did as a 'practicing' scientist. Now, if you had said "I'm tired of people screwing with science," that I could agree with 100%. That's pretty much what this rant comes down to, alright.

      Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (Maurice Ogden)

      by DocDawg on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:23:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  LOVE the content AND writing style (0+ / 0-)

    of this article!  So refreshing to read these statements from a scientist who does not feel the need to bash religion (except perhaps in those instances where it is virtually begging to be bashed)...  Thought you might enjoy my blog along these same lines, specifically, "religion is not science."
    Another Look at Religion

  •  I love science (0+ / 0-)

    Scientists, not so much. And religion is ruined by the religious. Yet, somehow, we progress, technologically and morally. Whether this progress helps us to survive or to join the wooly mammoths, while taking a bunch more with us, remains to be seen.

    Sometimes I think that it would be nice to leave science, but is there anything better to do? Besides, it's still my best source of income, and that is not much. I am working in programming, mobile apps, and big data. Perhaps that will be sufficient to wean me off of science in the future. Then I'll only have to deal with business, management, and banking types, as if that would be an improvement.

    I like vickijean's signature. Yet, it can be difficult to maintain joy in working in science with scientists. Much of this diary resonates with me. Science and the ideals of practicing science are great. Personal experience illuminates the imperfections. For example, I have had a manuscript rejected for flimsy reasons that appeared to be protection of the good old boys network and/or cool kids club. I know others with similar stories or worse.

    A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss is good. It is well written and taught me things such as dark energy is associated with the cosmological constant and quantum fluctuations that permeate all space. Plus, inflation does not violate the speed of light limit, because that limit is for travel through space, not the expansion of space itself. To truly understand those things I would have to study the math and physics for years. Until then, I'll settle for pop books.

    One thing lacking in that book is that it seems to argue against a creator, but in the end, it simply kicks the can past the big bang to a possible multiverse model. Something might come from nothing, but then what caused the fluctuations in nothing, and was it once or multiple space times?

  •  Science Disorder Spectrum-SDS (0+ / 0-)

    Beware Mr. Scientist, in the old Soviet Union a person who was vociferously anti-Soviet could be confined to a mental hospital and labeled with phoney diagnosis and thereby constricted from political activism, according to medical authorities they were malajusted, possibly insane.  I would oppose those diagnosed with SDS,  confined to a testing laboratory so they can be re-educated about the glories of science, know that people made climate change is real, women and men are both able to make health care decisions for themselves and the majority minorities in America are ready to grow America with our own vision for the future.  Get used to it!

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