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2014: Taking no prisoners in the war on “science denial”

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In 2013 news that signalled a developing trend, a world science journalists conference panel was in a snit over “science denial,” that is, people following through on “When in doubt, doubt. If it sounds unbelievable, don’t believe it.”

Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci apparently went to a conference this year where denialism was soundly trashed and came back bound and determined to do something about it.

Bad idea. No one has a “right to be believed.” So such causes amount to unethical, illegal, or unconstitutional efforts to shut up opponents. Especially today, when “anti-science” so often just means “I think for myself.”

Here VJ Torley offers: The dangers (and odd consequences) of never questioning a scientific consensus – a reply to Chris Mooney. As in “Science denial,” politics, and religion, from a highly politicized science journalist.

Meanwhile, Mother Jones defends establishment science. Some authorities are not, it turns out, to be questioned.

Suppression of dissent has been increasing in frequency and volume, as we have noted, with university becoming an expensive form of babysitting for apparently fragile adults. (Read this before you go into debt for university.)

In one incident last year, a Scientific American blogger, Ash Jogalekar, started a Twitterstorm and got fired for un-PC comments re Feynman, despite the context.

Forrest Mims, who should know, has some interesting thoughts on SciAm’s PC police swoop. The News desk had some thoughts too: Scientific American may be owned by Nature, but it is now run by Twitter.

But in any event, naturalism’s strongest idea is that ideas are an illusion, which makes banning them sensible, for the same reasons as one would disinfect the hog barn.

Jogalekar was later heard to warn of the dangers of certainty in science.

Meanwhile, someone has noticed the usually ignored progressive war on science.

In a story that picks up some of the same themes, philosopher Brian Leiter was floating a trial balloon, Why tolerate religion?, though his cause may have fizzled somewhat when he was asked to step down from a philosophy program ranking post for uncollegial behaviour. Apparently, there are nooks and niches out there where behaviour  matters, not just feelings.

Speaking of which,  there was the uproar around a creationism conference that rented space at a university. A self-identified Christian who works in evolutionary biology somehow felt very fragile about that. – O’Leary for News suggested, “Either attend the event and write about it, or mind your own business.”

Really, it is getting to the point where hordes of otherwise intelligent people think they are either helpless victims or the PC police force. This can’t be good for the life of the mind.

The basic freedom of speech issue will get round to the intelligent design controversy too, of course, so stay tuned.

“Denialism” is currently in a dead heat with “creationism” for the I Think for Myself Stakes.

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22 Replies to “2014: Taking no prisoners in the war on “science denial”

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    AMEN. Freedom of speech concept will smash into creationism soon.
    It is all about some authority people deciding what is true and not true in certain matters.
    How can science be wrong they ask? Well its not science but incompetent mankind (or tailless primates as they see it).
    The history of “science’ is one long story of error being corrected.
    The winners get praised and prizes.
    Who decides what is true?
    Science denialism is just accusation against those who question some conclusion gifted up as settled proven science.
    Science is about proving things and not proving them by saying its science.
    Science should be the most bare knuckled proofing thinmg in the world.
    Not the speculation of origin issues and cimate jazz and so on.

  2. 2
    Mark Frank says:

    Every crackpot from holocaust denialist to believers in an imminent end-time can be congratulated on “thinking for themselves”. It is not an argument for adopting their beliefs or against confronting their errors.

  3. 3
    News says:

    Mark Frank at 2: No, but it is an argument against the sort of busybodying that sends people scurrying to “do something about it.”

    Ask me some time about the free speech wars in Canada: You know, “End hate now!” and all that … In such matters, constitutional government should be minimalist government.

    The presumption should be against interference unless there is truly a clear and present danger. Otherwise, the wrong people usually get empowered to do bad things in the name of good.

  4. 4
    Mark Frank says:

    News at 3. You seem to equate “doing something about it” with government action. I don’t know of anyone arguing that denialists should be suppressed by law. E.g. all that Massimo argues is that channels such as the media should be held accountable for the views to which they give airtime e.g. a concerted action to correct any falsehoods. If this is what you mean by “doing something” then it happens all the time – that is how arguments are won in the modern age – and similar tactics are adopted by denalist groups. If you were to deny the scientific community the opportunity to do something about it you would deny them freedom of expression.

  5. 5
    mike1962 says:

    Mark Frank: Every crackpot from holocaust denialist to believers in an imminent end-time can be congratulated on “thinking for themselves.”

    Congratulated? Perhaps not.

    Encouraged to think themselves? Why not?

    If people don’t think for themselves, who then should do the thinking for them? Should people believe the majority or consensus just because it’s a majority or consensus?

    channels such as the media should be held accountable for the views to which they give airtime e.g. a concerted action to correct any falsehoods.

    Held accountable by whom? Who gets to decide what is “correct?” What sort of penalties should be allowed to be imposed by the Correction Police?

  6. 6
    Robert Byers says:

    Mark Frandk.
    This is not complicated. Either one has freedom of thought/conscience/speech or one has not.
    The bad guys are trying to silence/intimidate/bring a systematic control in the establishment over ideas and conclusions expressed loudly and some noted effect.
    They are always trying to censor people as they always did.
    We know what they mean.
    they mean conclusions have been settled by those who matter and the public need only accept same.
    Then uppity critics gain a foothole and these clowns ask for old mama censorship or a spirit of censorship.
    right and wrong conclusions are to be controled by those who reach the public.
    Thats their dangerous motives.
    not the first time.

  7. 7
    Mark Frank says:

    mike1962

    Encouraged to think themselves? Why not?
    If people don’t think for themselves, who then should do the thinking for them? Should people believe the majority or consensus just because it’s a majority or consensus?

    I did not mean that people should not think for themselves or they should be discouraged from doing so. All I meant was that “thinking for yourself” is not a reason for supposing you are right or for objecting to other people opposing your viewpoint.

    Held accountable by whom? Who gets to decide what is “correct?” What sort of penalties should be allowed to be imposed by the Correction Police?

    (These are my own views – I am not sure whether they are same Massimo’s)
    “Accountable” does not entail having a correction police to determine which views are right and punishing those that transgress. All it entails is that opinion formers, such as the press, should be exposed if they publish views without exerting due diligence as to whether they are true or not. i.e. they should do some research, should avoid the lazy option of giving equal weight” to all participants without evaluating the credibility of the participants, should not publish factually wrong stuff because it appeals to the political views of their readership (see UK Daily Mail for a prime example). It is about process not content and it is not necessarily enforced by anyone. It could for example be self-policing.

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    MF:

    First, a happy new year to you and to all.

    Next, in response to the above tone and substance, I ask you to ponder, slowly and carefully without the usual dismissive talking points, the implications of the following, from a member of the scientific elites, Richard Lewontin:

    . . . the problem is to get them [hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations [–> note attitudes, perceptions and presumptions] of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [“Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. If you imagine, dismissively, that all of this is “quote-mined” etc, kindly cf the fuller annotated cite, here.]

    Then, think carefully about what you would think if you were on the receiving end of that sort of ideological establishment.

    Then, think about how those who may not have been so privileged as you have been educationally and otherwise, and have had to fight their way up in life (perhaps, as a US Navy/ Army/ Air Force Tech or the like . . . and we have at least three fitting that exact profile in and around UD) will try to express their objections.

    Then, try to see, actually see the point they have tried to make.

    Without rhetorical triumphalism and thinly veiled snobbery.

    Then, look back above at the tone of your remarks.

    Next, go to a fishing tackle shop, and ask to inspect an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500 C3 or similar fishing reel. Ponder the functionally specific, complex interactive organisation it reveals and the linked information implied by the nodes-arcs wiring diagram. Try to bring yourself to the point where you can acknowledge some simple facts linked to the manifest FSCO/I in that fishing reel:

    1 –> FSCO/I is an apt descriptive summary of a readily observable phenomenon (the fishing reel being a particularly simple and intuitive case in point)

    2 –> There is only one actually observed cause of such entities, intelligently directed configuration, aka design.

    3 –> A back of the envelope estimate of a plausible configuration space will show how atomic and temporal resources of solar system or observed cosmos will be massively overwhelmed in a blind search for FSCO/I, at just 500 – 1,000 bits. The upper end being all of 125 bytes of info, or 143 ASCII characters, the length of a Twitter comment. So, FSCO/I beyond that threshold is a tested, reliable index or sign of design as cause.

    4 –> Life forms are full of such cases of FSCO/I, and the von Neumann self replicator (vNSR) involved from the cell upwards, is even more of the same.

    5 –> Consequently, no-one has been able to provide a serious, empirically adequately grounded account of the spontaneous origin of life in Darwin’s pond or the like pre-life environment.

    6 –> Similarly, no-one (given info requirements of 10 – 100+ nm bases) has been able to give an adequately empirical observation grounded detailed account of origin of major body plans, features, organ systems etc, that fits well with reasonable pop sizes, generation spans, and mutation rates.

    7 –> Instead, we see a fundamentally ideological imposition, backed up by some very familiar and too often ugly tactics, turning origins sciences and linked science education into a morass of politically tainted, too often quite ruthless and censoring institution dominance.

    Then, please think again.

    KF

  9. 9
    Mark Frank says:

    KF – what you write is quite interesting but of course utterly irrelevant to my comments.

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    MF, with all due respect, your failure to see the relevance, speaks inadvertent volumes. KF

  11. 11
    Mark Frank says:

    KF – my comments were about the accountability of opinion formers – what it means and how it might be implemented. If there is anything in your comment 8 that refers to that I utterly fail to see it – perhaps you can point it out.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    MF, my remark, starting with the cite, is exactly about ideological domination, want of accountability before manifest facts by elites inclined to denigrate and censor those who disagree much less those they disdain, and the implications for not only news and views from the under-dog’s perspective [with particular reference to the controversies on Origins in a world of a manifest ideologically driven elite], but the implications of what is going on for democratic self government by a free people. Many more of whom will fit the former armed forces tech or similar profile than the graduate degree, jobs/careers with elite organisations profile. KF

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: If you wish to understand, here is an apt “warts and all” summary by RB above, expressing an obviously heart-deep pain anchored in more of history and current events than we are comfortable with:

    The bad guys are trying to silence/intimidate/bring a systematic control in the establishment over ideas and conclusions expressed loudly and some noted effect.
    They are always trying to censor people as they always did.
    We know what they mean.
    they mean conclusions have been settled by those who matter and the public need only accept same.
    Then uppity critics gain a foothole and these clowns ask for old mama censorship or a spirit of censorship.
    right and wrong conclusions are to be controled by those who reach the public.
    Thats their dangerous motives.

    Abusive ideological domination by an institutionalised elite, in the name of “Science,” in a nutshell.

  14. 14
    Mark Frank says:

    KF – I was writing about how to make opinion formers more accountable to the truth. As I wrote in #7 it is about process not content. If the truth that emerges is ID then so-be-it (although of course I don’t think that would be result). If you feel there is a “want of accountabilty” by elites then surely you should applaud my call for greater accountability, and maybe take an interest in how this might be implmented?

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    MF, On fair comment — in fact, for years, you have been an apologist for a domineering, lab coat clad elite that has imposed a priori evolutionary materialism as substitute for truth. It is probably not escaping the astute reader, that you have failed to address the inadvertent expose seventeen years ago by Lewontin, and that you have repeatedly side-stepped the empirically massively evident reality of FSCO/I and what it points to regarding origins science. Please, think again. KF

  16. 16
    Mark Frank says:

    #15 KF

    I am very aware of your opinions about me – there is little point in repeating them. Meanwhile to return to the discussion – are you interested in how to make opinion formers more accountable to the truth?

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    MF, Pardon, it is not just a matter of opinions. And the facts that are still being side stepped beckon, showing an elite that is in exactly the position that you would now wish to project to me through the rhetoric of turnabout. I am pointing to a capital case in point, MF. One that you have been an apologist for. When that is reasonably dealt with and there is some recognition of the key concerns on the table in light of the attitudes and behaviour of the Lewontinian, lab coat clad ideologised elites, then there is a basis for progress to step 2. KF

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Those interested in my views on accountability on truth and agendas in news, views, education etc, can cf here (yes, nigh on a decade’s standing) which MF long since knows or should know about. KF

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N 2: As it is already sliding away in the stream of comments, let me highlight by clipping:

    _______________

    >> MF:

    First, a happy new year to you and to all.

    Next, in response to the above tone and substance, I ask you to ponder, slowly and carefully without the usual dismissive talking points, the implications of the following, from a member of the scientific elites, Richard Lewontin:

    . . . the problem is to get them [hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations [–> note attitudes, perceptions and presumptions] of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [“Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. If you imagine, dismissively, that all of this is “quote-mined” etc, kindly cf the fuller annotated cite, here.]

    Then, think carefully about what you would think if you were on the receiving end of that sort of ideological establishment.

    Then, think about how those who may not have been so privileged as you have been educationally and otherwise, and have had to fight their way up in life (perhaps, as a US Navy/ Army/ Air Force Tech or the like . . . and we have at least three fitting that exact profile in and around UD) will try to express their objections.

    Then, try to see, actually see the point they have tried to make.

    Without rhetorical triumphalism and thinly veiled snobbery.

    Then, look back above at the tone of your remarks.

    Next, go to a fishing tackle shop, and ask to inspect an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500 C3 or similar fishing reel. Ponder the functionally specific, complex interactive organisation it reveals and the linked information implied by the nodes-arcs wiring diagram. Try to bring yourself to the point where you can acknowledge some simple facts linked to the manifest FSCO/I in that fishing reel:

    1 –> FSCO/I is an apt descriptive summary of a readily observable phenomenon (the fishing reel being a particularly simple and intuitive case in point)

    2 –> There is only one actually observed cause of such entities, intelligently directed configuration, aka design.

    3 –> A back of the envelope estimate of a plausible configuration space will show how atomic and temporal resources of solar system or observed cosmos will be massively overwhelmed in a blind search for FSCO/I, at just 500 – 1,000 bits. The upper end being all of 125 bytes of info, or 143 ASCII characters, the length of a Twitter comment. So, FSCO/I beyond that threshold is a tested, reliable index or sign of design as cause.

    4 –> Life forms are full of such cases of FSCO/I, and the von Neumann self replicator (vNSR) involved from the cell upwards, is even more of the same.

    5 –> Consequently, no-one has been able to provide a serious, empirically adequately grounded account of the spontaneous origin of life in Darwin’s pond or the like pre-life environment.

    6 –> Similarly, no-one (given info requirements of 10 – 100+ nm bases) has been able to give an adequately empirical observation grounded detailed account of origin of major body plans, features, organ systems etc, that fits well with reasonable pop sizes, generation spans, and mutation rates.

    7 –> Instead, we see a fundamentally ideological imposition, backed up by some very familiar and too often ugly tactics, turning origins sciences and linked science education into a morass of politically tainted, too often quite ruthless and censoring institution dominance.

    Then, please think again.

    KF >>
    _______________

    So now let us refocus the material case, issues and facts, as we look at transparency for news, views, issues, education, public opinion formation etc on matters linked to origins science.

    KF

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: If you want to know why I have taken so stringent a line with those who want to project a rhetorical line about “science denial” . . . look no further than the direct and patently intentional, slanderously loaded false analogy to holocaust denial.

  21. 21
    Mark Frank says:

    KF

    Those interested in my views on accountability on truth and agendas in news, views, education etc, can cf here (yes, nigh on a decade’s standing) which MF long since knows or should know about.

    I should know about something you wrote a decade ago on your own web site which I never visited until now?

  22. 22
    kairosfocus says:

    MF, I have brought that to your attention and that of your fellow objectors any number of times over the years. And, I am quite sure many such have known about that site with basic reference documents — it is directly linked from every comment I have ever made from UD through my handle. KF

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