"It is the unhappy fate of the scientist today that he must play the role of Cassandra in the body politic, sending his fellow men to bed with nightmares in the hope to be heard in time."

- Arthur von Hippel, in "The Molecular Designing of Materials" (h/t @upbeatprof)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bray of Fundies

Yesterday, I mentioned this in passing, in discussing the impending trainwreck at the Texas State Board of Education:
"It is interesting that while they don't actually accept science, they think they do. There's no expression of contempt for science, just some sort of implication that it is rife with anti-Christian conspiracies. Strange."
Some further thoughts following up from that:

When it comes down to it, they care whether a statement is consistent with their dogma, or neutral with regard to dogma, or antithetical to dogma. In their view anything in the last category is obviously a consequence of some sort of Dr. Evil Conspiracy. Accordingly no sort of scientific propriety informs their assault on the idea, which they take to be literally diabolical. They seem to mean well because they do mean well. They even want to save us poor sinners from our sins. This makes them all the more dangerous because they seem warm and reliable and familiar to their cohort.

They simply don't understand how humans arrive at truth. How could they? They are fundamentalists after all. "It's all wrote down in this hyuh book, son."

They don't play fair, but not because they are unfair. Rather it's because they have no concept of logical coherence. It's not that they don't want to play by the rules. They can't play by the rules we recognize because those rules are beyond them. Parliamentary, legal, political rules and stratgies are accessible to them. Pursuit of truth among messy evidence isn't and can't be. We allow them to pretend to play our game at our peril, and ultimately at theirs as well.

When we are at cross purposes with them, we should not be confused about the nature of the game we are playing. The truth eventually will out, I suppose, but sometimes it may not out in time.


eco101 said...

They simply don't understand how humans arrive at truth. How could they? They are fundamentalists after all. "It's all wrote down in this hyuh book, son."

Has anyone tried asking them how humans arrive at truth? I'm sure a lot of more open minded Christians would be a bit disturbed if they realised that the people who make decisions that will affect their kids' futures also take their entire concept of truth from the bible...

Then again, I have no concept of how many open minded Christians there are in Texas..

Michael Tobis said...

I am new here, and I will never fully understand Republicans.

If you are white and polite and avoid politics, you will find Texans to be a warm, accepting, generous, humorous, interesting and fun-loving people. There really is much to like about them.

But I don't push my luck.

I live in Austin and tend to spend much more time rubbing cosmopolitan lefties the wrong way than I do messing with the concepts of rural rightwingers. But after all, I'm a natural Austinite and not a very convincing Texan.

So while my insights about Texans are rather deeper than those of the average Montrealer, that isn't saying much.

The U of Texas (along with Rice and A&M and maybe even Texas Tech) struggles with recruitment. If this SBOE event goes the way it looks like it may go, it won't help matters a bit.

Dano said...

They can't play by the rules we recognize because those rules are beyond them. Parliamentary, legal, political rules and stratgies are accessible to them. Pursuit of truth among messy evidence isn't and can't be. We allow them to pretend to play our game at our peril, and ultimately at theirs as well.

Yes, exactly. "The truth is what one believes".

"They" approach the world from their worldview, which is framed in a particular way.

This frame is the scaffold of a segment of the population's thought process, and stuff under the scaffold can be apprehended. Outside the frame is Other Stuff, The Other. The worldview does not reach out, it withdraws to safe places. That is: a certain percent of the population is this way. Recent empirical studies back this notion.

That's it in a nutshell.

It's a fundamental difference, so to speak. Josh Marshall brought up this point in a different way ("different worlds"), today, and pointed out the consequence of this difference.

One segment of the human population has a thought process that reaches out, another segment has a thought process that withdraws.

This fact is, esp in this country, played out on the ground in our two-party system, with a chunk of our population calling themselves "independent" and not affiliating themselves with this binary sorting.

Here is an interesting and cogent essay that echoes your recent thoughts, Michael, and offers a hint at bridging the gap inherent in this post. It requires a large paradigm shift, but still.



Michael Tobis said...

Dano, the Curtis White piece is fascinating, but in the end I can't possibly agree with it. While rationality isn't everything, it definitely isn't nothing. There is no way out of our quandary that isn't quantitative. That means, yes, drawing arbitrary lines and not crossing them.

By a way out, I mean avoiding the worst disaster in history, which in practice will be named "World War III", no doubt.

White should read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Ethics, waking up to the enormity of our circumstance is necessary, but it isn't sufficient. The romantic opposition to classical precision is definitely something we don't have time for.

Marion Delgado said...


Out in the real world, my belief that the "realizations" derived from methodical and documented research were easier to transmit than the "realizations" that come through received doctrine and / or intuition has been a bit shaken.

I have had to defend vaccination lately, and I found it a much harder task than I would have ever imagined.

I don't in fact approve of letting conflicts of interest slide or having the fox guard the henhouse. People or firms with a financial stake in them shouldn't evaluate any food or drug, including vaccines.

But the feedback I always get is that I am elitist, as are all the scientists and doctors and nurses supporting vaccination, and that moreover I am denying there have ever been any problems with vaccines, ever, and upholding the goodness in a blind trust of any current and future vaccines.

I can't seem to shake the discussions off of this bizarre false dichotomy. I have pointed out that there is independent non-pharmaceutical-industry oversight of vaccines, at least to some degree. That the connection of vaccines to various potential ill effects like Giullain-Barre syndrome was not covered up but publicized, etc. And it's all in vain.

And I was not always discussing it with hidebound fundamentalists, either. People in all walks of life and of various political and religious views take this tack.

I use realization because what I usually hear is "I realized that vaccines cause autism because. ... I realized that MMR and other vaccines overdose the little babies immune systems, and ..."

Bear in mind that the anti-immunization movement has been around since 1802, and always failed to make its case, and in the 21st century we still have to defend immunization.

Dano said...

I'm sure we can agree to disagree, Michael. And I agree not to agree with you just to be agreeable ;o) .

I personally think that science provides us with direction but something else has to provide the motivation.

Change requires realization, galvanization, motivation and organization. Science is the realization part. Science informs us of likely ways to galvanize, motivate and organize, but isn't a primary constituent of these.

That's what the White piece argues and, along with Schellenberger and Nordhaus who say the same thing, we find a growing chorus of voices asking what that 'something else' is.

Including you, I might add.



Dano said...

Holy cow, I didn't see Marion's comment when I composed mine just now. Great thinks mind alike, I guess.



Michael Tobis said...

Dano, I surely agree that science cannot provide us with goals or values. White says many useful and inspiring things, but in the end, he seems intent on reinventing human society, a prospect which is totally unrealistic on several counts.

He sneers at regulations, compromises, limits on capitalism, as if he could do better with exhortations and inspirational talk.

We need to think quantitatively and implement gradually. That means regulations and incentives, not pixie dust.

Marion Delgado said...

fwiw dano i have an identical take on white's article to michael in every respect.

there's definitely germs of good ideas there but far too much baggage, really. it reminds me a bit of prof. john zerzan here in eugene oregon and his green anarchist disciples.

There are more Eskimos in Alaska, where I'm from, now, than there ever were, and the amount of fish and game available has crashed.

It's "our" (meaning russians, spanish, british, american dead people's) fault, but that's irrelevant - science tells us correctly that even if all the europeans left, if the inuit went back to the old ways 100% they'd starve, at least at first. most of them would starve.

no amount of millenial folk wisdom gets around ecology, and frankly, maybe that's white's biggest flaw there - pretending that culture and religion can trump the fact that we're animals subject to the laws of thermodynamics.

what we choose to do with what we know, dano, is a different story. and you correctly discern michael is in the chris mooney school, at least to a degree, of respecting that you have to communicate with people in terms they require and do so with respect and patience.

Dano said...

Thank you Marion.

I merely passed along the White article and I don't agree with all of it. Perhaps I should have taken a couple more minutes and said it echoed some of the thoughts here about the difficulties in framing and changing behaviors.

I disagree with the lack of a grasp of our burden. I think there are ~5.5-6.0B too many humans at current technology on the planet [YMMV], so I disagree with his implicit assertion that simply living more mindfully will do it. I = P x A x T.

I do, however, fully agree with his implicit assertion that we don't approach life in a way that allows us to adapt. Having a more moral approach will solve a lot of our problems and allow a far better QOL for many of us.

OK, I'll stop the prolixity.