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The London Libertarian

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Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

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Science is never settled

Science Posted on Mon, October 20, 2014 16:58:01

will never be settled.

This “defence” of science by Jonathan Bines is often
very bigoted and quite stupid. Science needs no actual defence, as common sense
accepts it as a vital corrective, but what this rather stupid fool feels about
science is not very realistic. He is in the right day job as a comic; at least
in the short run. But his real quest is not really to defend science but to get
his readers to think it right to adopt Green policies on Global Warming, or
otherwise we reject the whole of science he concludes, but that is simply silly
as science never can be about any policy but only about the external facts; or
the way how things are. As the Stoics saw 2500 years ago, no policy follows
from how things are.

Many people credit science for what technology does,
but technology will not wait for science, any more than science will wait for
philosophy. Science remains nearer to philosophy than to practical technology,
but technology would destroy society with white elephants if ever the price
system did not tame or control it. This comic needs to thank the market for
many things he feels science grants the human race.

Indeed, scientists have been
wrong in the past and thus should not be trusted now. Science is about testing
our ideas rather than trusting them. Trust belongs to dogma and religion. Trust
is about values rather than the external facts.

Indeed, scientists are biased by
personal prejudices that they might call assumptions or hypotheses. Bias does
risk error.

Financial incentives and costs aid
science as well as technology to remain realistic. Common sense is bigoted
about money, a far great invention than fire or the wheel. The compulsory
educated bigot has trouble with this, as daft religion rejects this world for
silly reasons.

Scientists often do aim at
personal or professional success. But success is not always in term of money.
Some scientists have been secretive as they feel in dire competition or in a
race with other scientists, but many have not been such. Most presentations of
the discovery of oxygen holds Joseph Priestley as naïve in showing Lavoisier the experiments where he discovered
de-phlogisticated air, that Lavoisier later called oxygen, but Priestley felt
he needed to aid anyone to test the experiments as soon as possible, that
science was team work and that his own prestige did not matter very much.

Scientific ideas are always
threated as if suspect. To be in science is to be re-tested. Science is never

Particular scientists often feel
quite certain. Science seems far more of a flux than it actually is, as there
is a diversity of ideas in science. Scientific journals, like Nature, reflect this diversity far more
than science, as a whole, making progress or moving on.

We do not have to accept science.
We are free to discount it if we wish to do so; but most of us will not do that

Science is more like organised or
disciplined common sense than another way of knowing that should be given
primacy over other rival ways, such as intuitive knowledge or personal
experience. Any scientist will use intuition or personal experience if it looks
scientifically useful, of course.

Most scientists
disagree with the consensus view in some things or to some extent and there is
no way to assess who is right when two scientists both have a good case. Such
deputes can continue for decades. But often evidence emerges that refutes a
strong theory like phlogiston and then the refuted theory gets universally
rejected. But this may be reversed later on. Science is never likely to ever be
an ended quest for the truth but rather a quest that continues, as Popper said.
Consensus simply does not matter very much. This is a fact about science that
makes the recent attempt to abuse science by the backward Greens look silly.
The democratic theory of truth is not one iota scientific.

has aided science way more than science can ever hope to aid technology.

make many dysfunctional suggestions that tend to waste wealth. The state needs
to be rolled back or even dissolved entirely. State policy is anti-social.

critique is a criticism limited to the terms of the target but most criticism
will never be so limited, nor need it be. The fashionable abuse of the word
“critique” is very silly. It is a sign of an ignoramus i.e. of someone who
needs to master his brief.

works”? What does that mean? It looks like a solecism. My best guess is that
the fool means that technology works. Science is nearer to literature than it
is to technology.

We are
told that science explains things but that looks like a personification of
science. Only persons explain. Sure, enquiry often leads to knowledge but that
is not really informative. Scientific enquiry is a pleonasm. Any enquiry can
be, roughly, called scientific.

author gets better on science as a process of re-testing thus:

“Science is able to achieve its
results by following a rigorous method of investigation involving the creation
and testing of hypotheses against observational evidence. At every stage, these
hypotheses are subjected to intense challenge. First, they are tested through
the process of scientific research. Then through the process of publication and
peer review they are subjected to challenge by the larger scientific community.
After publication, they continue to be challenged, corroborated, modified, or
refined by new research and new hypotheses. Science that has withstood this
onslaught of skepticism is seen to be accurate and trustworthy, and
consequently it earns the backing of a consensus of practicing scientists.”

That is not too bad. The process
of testing never ends, though we are told that it does. But then it declines
into the following:

“Because science is based on such
a strong foundation of evidence and analytical rigor, anyone who would
challenge science, particularly well-established science such as that on
evolution, climate, or vaccines (or, for that matter, gravitation and quantum
mechanics), rightly faces a very high burden of proof, a burden which most
science skeptics fail even to acknowledge, much less satisfy. “

But as the author told us,
scientists will be forever re-testing the ideas that remain within science.
Ideas can only escape reconsideration by being rejected by science. There is no
store of established science, free of future re-testing thus there is no real
foundation in science. Nor is science ever really finally established or
settled. Scepticism always re-enters science.

Our author continues:

“Science cannot be refuted by
appeals to intuition or personal experience, attacks on the character or
motivations of scientists, accusations of institutional bias, or by
“cherry-picking” a particular authority figure, alternative theory,
or research study.”

Ad hominem attacks
on mere persons are out but cherry picking is not, nor is intuition. They will just need to be presented as
hypotheses, that is all. They will face
attempted refutation, of course.

“It cannot be denied because it is
inconvenient, or because one dislikes the policy implications. “

Science can never have policy
implications. Science is about facts, not values.

“It cannot be dismissed on
supernatural grounds or through suggestions of conspiracy.”

Not within science, but this is
often done by the various Christian groups.

“It cannot be undermined by dreaming up
alternative hypotheses (unsupported by strong evidence), or by pointing to
remaining uncertainties in the established theory.”

There is no epistemological
support. No true observation can amount to anything stronger than a mere
assumption; nor can valid argument. So no hypothesis has ever been supported by
any evidence the last 2500 years, nor is the next 2500 years likely to find any
supporting evidence either.

“All these are utterly inconsequential as
refutations — not because scientists “know better” than the rest of
us — but simply because they fail to convincingly meet the burden of proof.”

Proof is best left to geometry
and logic. A true counter example refutes. The acceptability of that fact by
qualified scientists is not one whit germane to the de facto refutation.
Scientists are free to deny the facts.
If they are ignorant then they might well do exactly that. The status of
the observer does not matter to any fact. And science cannot make or change
facts, nor is scientific consensus germane to any fact. Scientists face what
the philosophers call the epistemological problem, which is dire, so that is
why the scientists never stop testing in their unended quest for those facts
that, by their current enquires, they consider to be germane.

Science is not about the acceptance
of anything, it is about testing as best as we can.

Jonathan Bines
continues: “Science works, and so we accept
its findings — not because we have “faith” in them or because they
are perfect — but because in an uncertain world, we wish to use the best
available information to solve our problems, improve our condition, and
understand our situation.”

But most of the general public do
not know what current science holds on this or that, and even many scientists
do not know other aspects of science that are outside of their own domain all
too often. The division of labour makes experts of us all, but also laymen of us
all too. There is no end of things that
we should know, and quite a few that we once did know, but have forgotten. Science
works but it continues to work, it does not even settle factual accounts beyond
future revision and remains utterly indifferent to policy and politics.

Jonathan Bines
is right that there is no faith in science and I would say there is none in
religion either, as the mind re-thinks much as science does, but subjectively,
tacitly and without the open public testing and attempted replication by
different teams which is attempted refutation too.

Ideas are never
sacred in science, or they should not be, but they are in religion but then
religion is about what is valued as sacred rather than what is believed or
thought to be the case. By contrast, science is profane; so is the reality
principle that is human belief. Loyalty is alien to belief and it should be to
science too. Loyalty is for people not for mere ideas. Some people may, or they
may not, accept the findings of science. It is not going to affect science any
more than science can affect the facts.

But what about
the funding of science, who will fund it? Science cannot affect the facts but the
funding of science might be neglected if it becomes unpopular, and there has
been a lowering of the prestige of science with the recent controversies like
mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt–Jakob
disease [vCJD] a human variant of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy that the cows had that spread by prions that were jinxed
proteins that had the ability to spread their jinx to the ordinary proteins of first
some cows then later some humans too.

Science lost public prestige in that vCJD affair and it is being repeated
in the current Global Warming affair too but it is not likely to lead to a permanent
lack of funding in science for more research, as some Greens have told me they
fear will be the case, for enquiry will always be needed, whether science is
popular or not. Charities and firms will most likely provide funds if the state
does not. That might be better than state funding. It would be freer for sure.

But Jonathan
Bines feels that science means we all ought to accept this or that: “ This means, in the year 2014,
accepting the current scientific consensus that vaccines are well-understood,
safe, and effective. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that
humans are causing the climate to change through the emission of atmospheric
carbon and other greenhouse gasses with results that will almost certainly
range from bad to catastrophic. It means accepting the current scientific
consensus that evolution through natural selection is the theory most likely to
describe observed biological diversity at all levels from DNA to species,
including human beings.” But most of that is what they used to call “academic”
in the 1960s, so most people are completely indifferent to it and it simply
does not interest them. Does that mean that science is not working as far as Jonathan Bines is
concerned or is it rather that it hardly affects science much whether most
people know about it or not. The latter looks to be basically the case.

But Jonathan
Bines wants science to have way more authority than it ever did have in the
past and he seems to overlook, too, that science, since the founding of the
Royal Society, in the 1660s, wants to reject authority not to crave after it. The
scientific motto is “take nobody’s word for it.”

But then Jonathan
Bines changes his tune. He says:

“Certainly, we should maintain a ‘healthy
skepticism,’” but then he immediately changes again thus: “but we should focus that
skepticism, not on the science, but rather on the claims of those who profess
to be in possession of some special knowledge or authority outside of the
formal scientific process.”

Traditionally, science welcomes
scepticism on the science too. But any idea, sceptical or otherwise, is good
enough to go on with. But to get it tested in science it needs to be testable.
If it is not capable of being tested it is not yet scientific. But to test is
to attempt to eliminate false ideas. Science is out to reject ideas as false.
But it is particularly not the case that if it passes a test then we must
thereby accept it. Instead, science will test it again.

Science rules out religion in
hypotheses to be tested but not religious adherents in science. Their religious
opinions do not keep the religious out of science, so the various religious
groups can, often, get qualified scientists to join them, and to occasionally speak
for them.

A public indifference to science
is not to reject science but simply not to accept it. This has not harmed science
much up to now, but the comic, Jonathan Bines, seems to be more of a Green than a
scientist, and the Greens, even if they are right, have been abusing science of
late and that is what Jonathan Bines is doing in his pretended defence of
science. He is attempting to get it to endorse Green policy.

He concludes: “ To do otherwise would be to
deprive ourselves of the greatest tool for human advancement mankind has ever
known, at exactly the time when such a tool is needed most.” But, clearly, despite
the public being more sceptical of what they roughly think of as science than
ever, owing to the vCJD affair and the like, science is not in trouble today,
let alone being abandoned. What Jonathan Bines seems to want is a Green
agenda but no policy agenda whatsoever could ever quite be scientific.


Of mice and men

Science Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 11:47:52

From the University of McGill in Canada this week there
has come a report that a research team under Dr Jeffery Mogal that mice are
repelled by the smell of men but indifferent to that of women.

A Journal called Nature
published findings that men repel mice or even worn clothes with
seat remains repels them but women do not affect mice at all.

Men cause mice to produce increased levels of
corticosterone, a hormone that increases when the mice are stressed that tend
to enable them to bear pain during troubled times. Mogal and his team hold that mice and men
share pheromones such that it could be that the smell of a man might be taken
for many hostile mice. This phenomenon might involve women revising many experiments
done by men if ever the earlier results seem to be affected by the difference of the human sexes.

All in the Mind

Science Posted on Thu, November 28, 2013 09:34:28

THis should be psychology really but we lack a slot for that.

In the special anniversary programme of All in the Mind radio 4 UK, Claudia Hammond looks at developments in neuroscience and how our understanding of the brain has changed. The main theme has been that they now feel that the brain is more plastic later so that adult training is more viable than earlier thought. The all too common idea in the 1930s but still popular in 1970 that no one does any thinking after 30 that Keynes expressed in his 1936 book seems to be as false as the economic theories that he put in that book.

In 1988 scientists predicted that new techniques of scanning the brain that they thought would lead to exciting innovative treatments for diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers were enthusiastic about the possibilities of seeing what went on in the brain. Many had high hopes that this would even help us understand how and why, in many cases, merely imaginary mental health problems develop, that Szasz was most likely right were only merely moral problems anyway.

The programme asked how much progress has been made?

Professor Irene Tracey, Director of the Oxford Centre for functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, and Professor Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, discuss with Claudia Hammond the major advances in this fast growing field. They also take a sceptical look and ask whether with highly ambitious big brain studies the science is still promising more than it delivers.