Flat-Earthers, Dissent, and Conformity of Opinion

Flat-Earthers, Dissent, and Conformity of Opinion May 4, 2018

What’s the real reason science fans hate flat-Earthers? The answer may surprise you.

Image courtesy .earth Domain

According to Steven Novella at the Neurologica Blog, flat-Earthers aren’t just wrong, they’re sincere, numerous, and resistant to correction. He dismisses the notion that these are just hoaxers having us on:

Whenever I write about flat-earthers, those who, incredibly, actually believe in the 21st century that the world is flat, there are multiple comments to the effect that we are just getting punked. No one really believes the world is flat, they are just saying that to wind us up, and we are taking the bait.

But this view is demonstrably wrong. I have actually encountered flat-earthers out in the wild, so to speak – in meat space. They really do seriously entertain the theory that the earth is flat. Harry T Dyer also reports recently in Raw Story about a three day convention of flat-earthers. They weren’t tongue-in-cheek having a laugh. They were dead serious.

Pick Your Pseudoscientific Poison

While reading Novella’s overheated broadside, I wondered exactly what was so threatening about the flat-Earthers. As conspiracists go, these folks are on the harmless end. Anti-vaxxers, by contrast, could cause a significant amount of death and legitimate suffering by not vaccinating their children and therefore compromising the herd immunity that protects us from epidemics of treatable diseases. 9-11 truthers and other black-helicopter conspiracists push a really pathological view of human nature and society, as their beliefs assume an endless supply of people willing to kill, destroy, and lie for their soulless overlords. Creationists at least annoy podunk school boards periodically, pushing textbooks full of incoherent nonsense in lieu of natural history. But flat-Earthers just don’t seem that threatening.

Novella is flat-out wrong in one sense: the Flat Earth Society of Canada, for example, was set up in the 70s with very satiric intent by academics who wanted to demonstrate how willing people in our tech-obsessed age are to accept scientific theories as received wisdom. Even his implication that the flat-Eathers are legion is questionable. I can’t find any attendance figures for the flat-Earth convention Novella mentions in his post, but by the looks of the presenters for this tinhat hoedown, it’s probably not something that would excite much interest outside the fringe of the fringe.

So what’s the big deal?

The Problem with Power

Novella is well within his rights to debunk the flat-Earthers’ approach to empirical inquiry. But he makes the point in his article that he primarily objects to their approach to the power and authority of science in our society:

The modern flat-earth movement is one manifestation of the rejection of established knowledge as a tool of power. The idea is that those in power use knowledge to maintain and increase their power. “They” control the institutions, therefore any knowledge coming from those institutions is not legitimate and cannot be trusted.

This is a very different matter. Novella merely assumes that, in describing the idea that the institution of science has power and authority in our culture, he’s demonstrating its self-evident absurdity. However, he’s not dealing with the the fact that science has long been a tool of domination and control, he’s just dismissing it as if it’s not a fact at all.

Modern science came into being at a time when the European powers needed the ability to demarcate their colonial property from that of their competitors; natural hierarchies to validate the social order and their racial and gender superiority; and weaponry to do battle with their enemies as well as maintain control of their subjects. Nowadays technological progress is a boon to corporate interests and military powers, and scientific fields are specialized and inaccessible to laypeople except as spectators. We aren’t supposed to point out the close relationship between science and power.

An Inconvenient Truth

I’m not implying that this validates what the flat-Earthers say by any means. Conspiracism is not only a parody of the democratization of science, but also a symptom of powerlessness. People without influence in their communities maintain the illusion of control by rejecting dominant narratives.

The point of Novella’s scaremongering is clear. These people are dangerous not only because they don’t believe the right things, they reject the power and authority of science:

All this is what the flat-earth movement is really telling us. They are an extreme example of what happens when you go down this populist road. To deny the phenomenon is to deny the real battle of our age – the fight for facts, for expertise, and for the legitimacy of knowledge.

In other words, the burden isn’t on science to be more democratic, and less of a tool of the powerful. It shouldn’t have to work to gain the trust of the populace. In Novella’s opinion, people simply need to submit to the authority of science.

That’s not what freethinking is all about. If we respect science as a mode of investigating and understanding the world, we shouldn’t use it to crush dissent and impose conformity of opinion.

What’s more important? Freethought? Or getting everyone to think exactly the same way?

[Warning: This is NOT going to devolve into a debate on the shape of Planet Earth. There’s only about a million other places on the Interwebz where flat-Earthers and debunkers can have at it. Stick to the topic.]


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  • Bravo Sierra

    Re: “Submit to the authority”
    Maybe that’s the problem, the lack of trust, and the lack of trustworthiness in most authority figures nowadays. The social contract is unraveling.

  • Raging Bee

    Conspiracy theories that reject the consensus of accepted knowledge can seem like a took to empower the powerless — but they can very easily be manipulated, turned around, and used against them by the powerful. That’s what happened with all those 9/11-troofer stories, and the racist nonsense about Obama’s freedom-paper — oops, I mean birth certificate. THIS is why such fringe loonies are a threat.

  • Sure thing. The lack of trust in our institutions is shocking, but it’s also understandable. President Trump can’t just tell people to respect the office of the Presidency again, he has to earn it back. Similarly, science can’t just demand that people respect it, it has to answer questions about its relationship to power.

  • I agree. However, our debunker mentality did nothing to make the Obama birth certificate matter disappear. It wasn’t about a piece of paperwork, after all, it was about pandering to racist paranoia about multiculturalism and collectivism. In any sane society, a candidate who pushed this racist numbnuttery would have disappeared from politics; the guy who pushed it the hardest is now sitting in the Oval Office.

    We can fact-check and ridicule the conspiraloons all we want, but that doesn’t make the appeal of these hoaxes go away.

  • chemical

    What’s more important? Freethought? Or getting everyone to think exactly the same way?

    This question is loaded and sets up a false dichotomy. Freethought doesn’t require that I entertain wild conspiracies and flat earth lunacy. I see freethought as more of an advocacy to align your opinions with scientific facts and evidence.

  • Tawreos

    “That’s not what freethinking is all about. If we respect science as a mode of investigating and understanding the world, we shouldn’t use it to crush dissent and impose conformity of opinion.”

    Is that what we are doing when we fight to keep YEC and ID out of school classrooms? The YEC proponents would say that we are trying to crush dissent and impose conformity of opinion. Are we? Or are we saying that you cannot pick and choose which facts to accept and which to ignore to prop up the idea that you started from? Given what we are seeing in the political field in the US I don’t think that Novella is stretching when he says “the real battle of our age – the fight for facts, for expertise, and for the legitimacy of knowledge.” Freethinking should not mean that whatever you think should be given the same weight as the conclusions that all of the facts lead us to.

  • Childermass

    The flat earthers have every right to be utter idiots, to think that watching YouTube is “research,” and to express their arrogance in any way they choose. But while the FEers might be the fringe of the fringe, they are symptom of a larger disease that is a threat.

    As for the term “freethinker,” no flat earther is one. Oh they might claim they are. At best they are free non-thinkers. Take that back, they are not free either as almost all of them are fundamentalists of the worst sort. They constantly cite the Bible as evidence and when asked why so many would like about the shape of the Earth they say it is you can convince someone that the Earth is a globe you can convince them that God does not exist. I’ll will note that I am willing to use the term “freethinker” for those who are not atheist/agnostic as I don’t think the result of someone’s thinking should be enforced. But there does come a point where one must conclude that one is seeing dogma, not thinking. Look at what the flat earthers have to say, they are dogmatic. They argue pretty in the exact same way as dumbest of the young-earth creationists I observed in Internet forums in the the 1990s. Indeed I strongly suspect that the current rash of this nonsense comes from them taking satire seriously as people occasionally did satirize the YECs by arguing “for” a flat earth.

  • William Meyer (JrSage)

    Science, by its very nature, IS democratic. Anyone can run experiments; even students in high school can reproduce expensive drugs inexpensively ( https://www.sciencealert.com/students-have-made-martin-shkreli-s-750-drug-in-their-chem-lab-for-just-2 ), or overturn long-held scientific “laws” ( https://www.inverse.com/article/44254-high-school-student-george-wang-carbon-7-bonds ). Any scientist worth their salt knows that open distribution of data (like that from NASA probes or the Large Hadron Collider) is more beneficial to discovery than keeping it confined to the experts, and even when you try to lock away what you find through scientific inquiry it’s only a matter of time before someone else figures it out.

  • I understand. I’m not saying that any idea no matter how harmful (like the anti-vaxxers’ nonsense) has to be respected. But there’s different degrees of this stuff: the flat-Earthers aren’t poised to do any real harm in our society. I find it disturbing that science bloggers like Novello are outraged merely that they’re dissenting from the scientific consensus, and questioning the undeniable authority of almighty science.

  • Raging Bee

    One thing that CAN diminish the power of such hoaxes, is coherent strong leadership from the progressive left. Since about 1980, the left have been an undisciplined cacophony of voices, all saying the right things, but none sounding at all authoritative or rising above the background noise long enough to get everyone else in harmony, or get the attention and respect of most people all at once. People do want to hear mature leaders exposing and deflating hoaxes and loonies; but if no one is doing it with any gusto or backbone, then the people won’t trust them to stand up in a real fight.

  • More important: freethinking

    The ideas we get everyone to accept could be wrong, and who gets to determine them? Fundamentalist Christians would love everyone to accept their dogma, as would Salafi Muslims and Communists. I grew up in an environment that imposed conformity of thought, and it was stifling.

    I will also note that conspiricism can be a tool of the powerful, as Fundamentalist Christians sometimes blame the fact that they can’t get Creationism into schools on the Illuminati. (One such fundy went so far as to claim that the Smithsonian is hiding giant bones to bury evidence against evolution.) In addition, the Nazis spread antisemitic conspiracy theories to take over Germany.

  • But there does come a point where one must conclude that one is seeing dogma, not thinking.

    Okay, but if we don’t acknowledge the relationship between science and power, we amateurs are just using science as weaponized knowledge to wield against our online foes. Is our dogma better because it has science words?

  • I am not certain, as no matter what, people who commit a genetic fallacu by saying, “That is a liberal idea!”

  • Also: Nazism in the 1930’s.

  • Tawreos

    The FE crowd isn’t poised to do any harm today, but they seem to have been growing so they could be harmful in the future. At what point do we decide to start fighting against the ideas they put forth?

  • Raging Bee

    What’s more important? Freethought? Or getting everyone to think exactly the same way?

    At the very least, we need to get everyone to accept the same body of basic facts, from which arguments, reasoning and decision-making can progress. That, in itself, is not antithetical to free thought — it’s what makes free thought possible.

  • Raging Bee

    And part of the reason for that, is that liberals suck at message-control, which is an important part of leadership; and are easily put on the defensive by random potshots of stupidity such as that.

  • The YEC proponents would say that we are trying to crush dissent and impose conformity of opinion. Are we?

    Well, we define the whole creationist matter in terms of facts, but we ignore the political context of the matter. In a democratic society, a community should have some measure of self-determination when it comes to its schools’ curriculum. Why does that point never come up in these debates? I think evolution should be taught in science classes, but that assumes that we’re just going to impose it on schools whether they want it or not, right? Where do we draw the line?

    There’s a lot more to the matter than just facts and evidence.

  • I think the suspicion of institutions and authority figures is a good thing, and a defense against tyranny. In previous generations, people trusted their leaders. Look where that lead Germany.

    In his 1972 book Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Erich Ftomm discusses various forms of aggression. He mentions reactive aggression in response to threats. Fromm points out that leaders can exploit gullibility by bs-ing about threats, and if people are trusting, they will believe their leaders.

    Thus, I think skepticism of leaders is a good thing, and necessary for a free society and for human rights and world peace. (Also, remember the Dubya years.)

  • I personally don’t see the flat-Earthers as being any more of a threat than UFO researchers. I don’t have any problem battling it out with climate change deniers or anti-vaxxers. However, the worst that seems possible to say about the FE crowd is that they question the scientific consensus. It’s lunacy, without a doubt, but how is it harmful?

  • Tawreos

    If they continue to grow how long before they want the FE controversy taught in schools?

  • That is a bit paradoxical.

    I must dispute your claim that getting people to accept the same body of facts promotes free thought. First of all, everyone insists their dogma are “facts”. Fundamentalists think that the existence of God and sin nature are “facts”. White supremacists think that the inferiority of POC is a “fact”. In addition, totalitarian countries try to impose their “facts” on everyone, and they always have issues with human rights violations.

    This raises the question of post-modernism, with its skepticism, suspicion, and cynicism of truth-claims and objectivity. In their critique, post-modernists point out that racism and sexism were once defended as rational, scientific viewpoints. (I will note they still are.)

    That means that even if we accept certain “facts”, they must be held lightly, and should not be set up as sacred cows. After all, how we interpret things is influenced by our background, culture, experiences, etc., and all these make us prone to bias. Questioning dogma helps to expose and reduce said biases.

  • You tell me. Do the UFO people want their ideas included in public school curricula? Do the anti-vaxxers?

  • Raging Bee

    Just because certain people either did something incompetently, or did it dishonestly, doesn’t mean it cannot or should not be done.

    And no, there’s nothing at all paradoxical about what I’m advocating. This is how we keep people from getting isolated in their own respective reality-bubbles. Subjectivism isolates and neuters us; facing and understanding objective reality liberates and empowers us.

  • Raging Bee

    This raises the question of post-modernism, with its skepticism, suspicion, and cynicism of truth-claims and objectivity.

    Yeah, about that…what good did post-modernism do us?

  • Yeah, about that…what good did post-modernism do us?

    Well, since scientists and science fans welcomed research on things like the sociology of science with fingers in their ears, shouting, I can’t hear you la la la!, it didn’t do much good. But that doesn’t mean that taking a perspectival approach to truth, or acknowledging the constructed nature of our knowledge, is either wrong or useless to scientists. It just means that a lot of people prefer a very idealized notion of knowledge and science, a notion that doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to talk about how biases and power dynamics compromise the objectivity of inquiry.

  • Childermass

    Wow. Fucking wow.

    Our evidence is not words. That is how cranks usually argue. They toss science words and phrases without learning what they actually mean, not caring about the evidence and reasoning they are meant to represent. if one argues via mantras of “science words” then one are NOT using science, one is doing exegesis.

  • Raging Bee

    So you’re saying “scientists and science fans” refused to hear what post-modernists had to offer. Is there something specific that the post-modernists might have accomplished had they got a better hearing? Some particular insight, breakthrough or accomplishment that was thwarted by the establishment’s indifference?

  • Yeah, but at the amateur level we’re not using science, we’re just demonstrating an understandably vague and anecdotal grasp of very complex knowledge that derived from the work of experts in specialized professions.

    It’s like a baseball game where we’re rooting for the Science side. What does that have to do with evidence?

  • This is how we keep people from getting isolated in their own respective reality-bubbles. Subjectivism isolates and neuters us; facing and understanding objective reality liberates and empowers us.

    That assumes that objectivity even exists!

    Nevertheless, I find the evidence for this claim lacking, and even opposed to the claim. I was raised Fundamentalist Christian. Fundagelicals believe in objective truth, and their apologists have spent years defending the idea of objective truth against what they perceive to be relativism in society. (They especially want to defend the idea that Jesus is the Only Way to God against what they perceive to be a view that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere, and that all religions lead to God.) Anyway, I grew up in an insular church. They believed in absolute truth, and they were dogmatic about their views, which were sacred cows. (Such sacred cows included xenophobic conspiracy theories.) They were also very controlling.

    However, I left the group. I was empowered and liberated by *questioning* the dogma, and searching it out for myself, not by just accepting established ideas as truths, or following ideas that my environment urged me to accept.

    That is another point: autonomy liberates, and autonomy requires being allowed to question dogma. Insistence on accepting certain ideas can result in forcing people into cookie cutter molds. People need to be free to take paths that do not conform to cookie cutter molds.

    Thus, I suggest an alternative hypothesis that it is a more subjective approach that allows people to get out of their bubbles, as those who are isolated tend to dogmatically believe that they are right, and that those they disagree with are evil.

  • Well, I just explained many of the points that constructivists and sociologists of science have raised about empirical inquiry. There’s a sizable literature in science studies, and I’m not an expert on it by any means. But the popular idea is that philosophers, sociologists, and critical theorists have nothing to offer scientists, and whatever is commonly believed must be correct, right?

  • It did expose some of the more ugly aspects of things, and show that total objectivity is not possible, due to our biases.

  • Raging Bee

    Yes, there’s plenty of evidence that “objectvity” exists, even though none of us are able to see the whole thing all at once.

    Fundagelicals believe in objective truth, and their apologists have spent years defending the idea of objective truth against what they perceive to be relativism in society.

    Just because some people believe in the WRONG “objective truth” doesn’t mean objective truth doesn’t exist or can’t be better perceived or understood. People used to believe the Earth was flat; but that doesn’t mean the Earth didn’t exist.

    I was empowered and liberated by *questioning* the dogma, and searching it out for myself, not by just accepting established ideas as truths, or following ideas that my environment urged me to accept.

    You were empowered by making contact with an objective reality that you had previously not been exposed to. You asked questions, but then you got answers, which were reinforced by observation and experience; and that was a solid basis for future progress. Progress that would not have been possible without that firm(er) grounding in reality.

    Insistence on accepting certain ideas can result in forcing people into cookie cutter molds.

    Only if it’s taken too far. Within reason, mutual agreed-upon acceptance of certain BASIC ideas (along with basic FACTS) allows us to progress, either collectively or as individuals, instead of being isolated from each other by rejection of common reality.

  • I don’t want to go on record as saying that there’s anything liberatory or commendable in conspiracism. You’re right, most often it serves the powerful. The popular urban legend about massive voter fraud that motivates calls for voter ID programs and other attempts to suppress turnout in certain districts in the USA certainly doesn’t lend any advantage to already marginalized segments of the population.

  • Yeah, but at the amateur level we’re not using science

    Um, when the level of analysis is at “It sure seems like ships disappear over the horizon hull first and come back mast first” and “Huh, the shadow of the moon on the sun is always a circle” and the ever crowdpleasing favorite “Stars seem to shift as our latitude changes as though we were standing on a tiny marble”, uh, are we doing expert level science?

    None of this stuff is inaccessible to eyes-and-ears-on-the-scene empiricism, and none of it requires crazy complicated concepts.

  • I see no freethought in Flat Earthers. What I see is laziness, and that’s the part that makes me dislike them even more than YECs. I don’t know, maybe my standards are too high, but I do expect people to do research about things that are important to them—especially controversial matters. YECs at least have the excuse that they can’t really replicate the vast majority of experiments that support the age of the Earth or the evolution of life, but Flat-Earthism is a different animal altogether.

    It is childsplay to prove that the Earth is round. One does not need advanced technology or great intelligence or detailed knowledge or even skill in math to do it. Flat Earthers know that their belief is against the common body of human knowledge that extends to the ancient Greeks, but they lack the curiosity to bother checking for themselves. Consequently, I can think of no reason to put on kid gloves when dealing with this matter. These views do not deserve respect, anymore than, say, discovering an adult who believes in the Tooth Fairy.

    More to the point, perhaps, is that Flat Earthers are as “dangerous” as any other science deniers. I’ve yet to encounter one who did not also subscribe to the precise nonsense you described as “threatening.” So if you do consider those things dangerous on some level, how can you not see Flat-Earthism in the same light? Oh, maybe not all of them are anti-vaxxers (though every last one I’ve spoken with has been), and maybe they aren’t all 9/11 Truthers, etc. (though there do seem to be a wide variety of conspiracy theorists in the mix), but every last one of them is a Creationist of some sort. This is not a coincidence. These errors are all tied together and founded upon the same mindset. The inherent danger of them is not simply ignorance; it’s the lack of critical thinking ability and curiosity that leaves people vulnerable to these sorts of errors (and also to conmen, as far as I can tell; gullibility in one aspect leads to gullibility in others).

    Finally, I have to say that your comments about science and the powerful strike me as rather amusing for one very simple reason: Everything is used by the powerful to maintain and increase their power. There’s not a facet of human civilization that is not used and abused in this way. Science is not special or more dangerous in this regards. Quite the contrary, IMO, because science is possibly the most democratic form of knowledge. As Stalin demonstrated, when the powerful seek to control science, they’d best be careful—reality doesn’t bend to the wishes of tyrants and potentates. Science is not dogma; it is a process. It’s not based on Authority, but on observation and experimentation. The “power” of individuals doesn’t matter one damn bit. Even Einstein was wrong sometimes. With science, it is the evidence that matters, not the prestige of the relevant researcher.

  • I come from a town that you might describe as “podunk” and have to disagree with the idea that such places should have this kind of self-determination. It may sound nice and democratic, but the effect would be to cripple the potential of millions of children. The citizens of such places would not simply wish to end the teaching of evolution (which is the very foundation of Biology); such people would also want to end the study of geology (which disagrees with their Young Earth beliefs), much of history (to replace it with their erroneous theocratic view of America’s past), anything positive about non-Christian cultures and who-knows-what else. As one who used to live there, I can say with confidence that those kind of places are already halfway there, and it can really ruin people’s lives and severely damage the potential of our up-and-coming minds.

    Our society has never been one of mob rule, and that is effectively what you’ve suggested here. The desires of people as individuals should not interfere with education anymore than they should interfere with civil rights.

    So where do we draw the line? Well that’s going to vary according to which subject we’re discussing, but for science it’s rather easy. If something passes the peer review process, then it’s good enough to be taught in school, and the basics should be covered long before high school graduation.

  • More to the point, perhaps, is that Flat Earthers are as “dangerous” as any other science deniers.

    But all you’re saying here is that, to the extent that they also subscribe to dangerous beliefs like anti-vaxx, they’re dangerous. Okay, I guess. All I’m saying is that flat-Earthism itself isn’t something I would imagine motivating the righteous scorn of science fans, unless (as Novello freely admits) the outrage derives from the notion that flat-Earthers have the effrontery to question almighty Science.

    The OP (like this blog as a whole) is just trying to say that science isn’t some sort of oracular source of unassailable Truth. The more I hear science fans making presumptuous claims about reality, the more I just assume that science has become a stand-in for the certainty and moral superiority people used to get from religion.

    Finally, I have to say that your comments about science and the powerful strike me as rather amusing for one very simple reason: Everything is used by the powerful to maintain and increase their power. There’s not a facet of human civilization that is not used and abused in this way.

    My point wasn’t that this is something unique to science. It’s just that scientific knowledge, far from being objective and bias-free, is just as sodden with cultural prejudices as the work of any institution that legitimizes the power structure of a society.

    Science is not special or more dangerous in this regards. Quite the contrary, IMO, because science is possibly the most democratic form of knowledge. As Stalin demonstrated, when the powerful seek to control science, they’d best be careful—reality [ahem] doesn’t bend to the wishes of tyrants and potentates. Science is not dogma; it is a process. It’s not based on Authority, but on observation and experimentation. The “power” of individuals doesn’t matter one damn bit. Even Einstein was wrong sometimes. With science, it is the evidence that matters, not the prestige of the relevant researcher.

    And this seems to contradict your admission that science is a tool of the powerful. Rather, you seem to be painting the same hilariously idealized, de-historicized, and sanitized picture of science that has become secular dogma in our not so new millennium, and you redefine evidence as a vague axiomatic expression you use to mean whatever you want it to mean.

    A reasonable grasp of what science is and isn’t should at least acknowledge the ideas that have been around for the past half-century, when Thomas Kuhn first described the social, political, and philosophical milieu of scientific inquiry. Saying, with science, it is the evidence that matters only tells a small part of the story, and you should know that.

  • I wasn’t saying that they should be free not to teach evolution in science classes. I even said that I think evolution should be taught in science classes, in case you missed it. What I was saying is that in all these debates, no mention is ever made that we’d ever need to acknowledge a community’s right to self-determination. It’s as if that democratic principle doesn’t even exist.

    In one breath, you’re saying that science is 100% democratic, and then in the next you’re saying that we need to impose ideas on communities that don’t want them, plain and simple. I assume it will take ingenuity and empathy to get evolution taught in these communities, but you seem to think that scaremongering about “mob rule” and the infringement of our “civil rights” will do the trick. Good luck with that.

  • The operation of science is 100% democratic. The operation of our form of government is not and cannot be. I am not scaremongering, and I’m rather sad that this is the tack you chose for a reply.

    By “mob rule” I meant, quite simply, that the majority does not have the right to strip others of their rights (that’s how our constitution is set up; that’s why we have a Bill of Rights). These exact same communities would also cheerfully outlaw gay marriage (hell, they’d outlaw non-hetero relationships), many of them would outlaw interracial marriage, some of them would doubtlessly like to outlaw “wrong” religions. Does the democratic principle give them the right to do these things? Does a community’s right to self-determination give it the right to control the lives of all of its citizens?

    In my mind, the right our children to receive a legitimate education is as innate as our right to assemble, have a free press, and all the rest. And the responsibility of the state is to give them this education; the desires of the parent are outweighed by the duty our nation owes to the next generation. This principle is identical to saying that an anti-vaxxer parent does not have the right to withhold medical care from their children. You can disagree with that, of course, but I’d like to know why.

  • I understand what you’re saying about science fans, and I agree with you, 100%. I’m no scientist—quite the contrary, I’m a blue-collar guy with little formal education—so I’d fit in the category of fandom, and I am often distressed by the behaviors you describe.

    Science is not an oracle, nor is it dogma. Hell, science isn’t even a thing; it is a process. This process does, though, help us understand the operation and behaviors of world around us. It is not reality itself, but it does help us understand things better than any other form of knowledge. It is better because it is repeatable and the basics can be understood by anyone of even moderate intelligence.

    As a teen, I spent many nights over the course of more than two years observing Jupiter’s moons in order to replicate Ole Romer’s 1676 observations that enabled us to first determine the speed of light. In this way, I used science to learn something about reality. For the past twenty years, I have been able to say that I know the speed of light—I have measured it, myself. These results of experimentation are what I mean by evidence, and I am consistent in that usage; it does not mean to me whatever I want it to mean, thank you very much.

    True, this particular experiment was filtered through my telescope and imperfect sensory organs, modelled and interpreted by my limited human brain and so therefore cannot be said to be reality in and of itself … but the repeatability of these experiments, the consistency of them, and the fact that the results are the same no matter who the researcher may be strongly indicates that c is not a figment of my mind, but an external reality that I am able to interpret through the methodology of science. This is why I must reject a position of relativism.

    Kuhn was not a relativist, either, as he made clear more than once. Instead, he took a more nuanced view that dealt with both the faulty nature of our understanding (and the limitations of consensus) and the concrete benefits of science. As he wrote:

    “Later scientific theories are better than earlier ones for solving puzzles in the often quite different environments to which they are applied. That is not a relativist’s position, and it displays the sense in which I am a convinced believer in scientific progress.”

    I, too, am equally convinced in scientific progress. To me, raw relativism fails what I call the “Frogger Test.” Regardless of one’s opinion regarding our ability (or inability) to understand reality, few sane adults would run across six packed lanes of speeding freeway traffic at night (like the eponymous amphibian in the classic game). We all behave as though we perceive reality, even if we know that our minds are merely interpreting sensory input. Evolution “gave” us these faculties for survival’s sake, and despite their weaknesses, they model reality close enough to enable our survival.

    So … (sorry for the verbosity) when I wrote that bit about reality not respecting Stalin, I was not using that word as a synonym for science. I could just as easily write, “Reality does not bend to the wishes of scientists or conform to their ideas.”

    This has happened again and again in all branches of science, and not so much in other fields. The scientific method gives us the most reliably self-correcting means of trying to understand our surroundings that human beings have ever devised. Yeah, it still has to overcome our human stubbornness, arrogance and attachment to familiar ideas, but the method in and of itself is superior to those particular quirks. Does it reveal “true reality” to us? Of course not; our limitations are very much a part of our being. We will never be able to understand “true reality,” but that does not mean that we can’t gain some idea of how it operates through observation and experimentation.

    But maybe a part of our disagreement is simple semantics. When I googled that Kuhn quote a moment ago (I’m at work and so do not have my library with me) this bit stuck out, too:

    “One often hears that successive theories grow ever closer to, or approximate more and more closely to, the truth. Apparently generalisations like that refer not to the puzzle-solutions and the concrete predictions derived from a theory but rather to its ontology, to the match, that is, between the entities with which the theory populates nature and what is “really there.”
    Perhaps there is some other way of salvaging the notion of ‘truth’ for application to whole theories, but this one will not do. There is, I think, no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like ‘really there’; the notion of a match between the ontology of a theory and its “real” counterpart in nature now seems to me illusive in principle. Besides, as a historian, I am impressed with the implausibility of the view.”

    So perhaps my vocabulary has limited my expression.

    Finally, in regards to science and the powerful. It seems to me that the problem lies not with science, but with the manipulations of the powerful, and with our common habit of falling in line with authority. And unlike other fields of the human endeavor, the scientific method contains its own self correcting mechanism that can aid in quashing the overreach of the powerful. When powerful figures attempt to subvert or manipulate the evidence of science (as Stalin did with Lysenkoism, and as the GOP is doing right now regarding climate change), reality itself ends up proving them wrong. It does the same thing to faulty scientific notions (for example, phlogiston), so please do not think I am ascribing magical powers to science itself. Reality is independent of us and our knowledge, and the best we can hope for is to kind of get to know it.

  • Bravo Sierra

    I wasn’t advocating for blind obedience so much as I was lamenting a lack of leadership and an overabundance of selfishness.

  • It doesn’t seem to me that you really understand what I’m saying here, because you keep mentioning that you’re opposed to relativism. I may be skeptical of appeals to “objective reality,” but I’ve never said that reality is just a figment of the imagination. I’m not impressed with science-fan rhetoric about science bringing us closer and closer to the Truth, but I’ve never said science is some sort of futile endeavor. I’m not saying anything more radical than Kuhn did (and I never claimed he was a relativist either): the practice of science is about much more than just “evidence.” It’s a cultural, institutional human endeavor that produces useful knowledge and involves argumentation as much as observation; it encodes and codifies bias as often as it corrects it.

    The words you quoted from Kuhn make sense to me: the idea of a correspondence between our description of reality and reality itself is only a useful illusion, not a reasonable way to define the aims of inquiry. But is that something you agree with?

  • These exact same communities would also cheerfully outlaw gay marriage (hell, they’d outlaw non-hetero relationships), many of them would outlaw interracial marriage, some of them would doubtlessly like to outlaw “wrong” religions. Does the democratic principle give them the right to do these things? Does a community’s right to self-determination give it the right to control the lives of all of its citizens?

    Once again, it doesn’t seem like you grasp what I’m saying. I was wondering whether a community should have a say in its school curriculum. I wasn’t declaring that they should have the right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. The point is that we need to figure out where to draw the line, not that anything goes. You could make a better effort to argue in good faith here.

    In my mind, the right our children to receive a legitimate education is as innate as our right to assemble, have a free press, and all the rest. And the responsibility of the state is to give them this education; the desires of the parent are outweighed by the duty our nation owes to the next generation. This principle is identical to saying that an anti-vaxxer parent does not have the right to withhold medical care from their children. You can disagree with that, of course, but I’d like to know why.

    I’ve said twice now that I think we need to come up with a way to persuade these dissenting communities to teach evolution; I just think we should have qualms about flat-out imposing evolution on them. There’s something disturbingly religious about this the-Truth-will-set-you-free attitude, as if communities are supposed to thank us for our patronizing indifference to their standards. If this isn’t imposing conformity of opinion, I submit that nothing is.

    I absolutely disagree that refusal to teach evolution is some sort of abrogation of civil rights, or can be compared to not vaccinating children. That kind of hyperbole is unnecessary, and just goes to show how easy it is to take a matter that we should be approaching with reason and empathy, and drown it in cheap moralism.

  • JSloan

    There you go again with your horse manure about some imagined authority of an almighty science. Talk about conspiracy theories.

    The fact that we live on a spheroid planet is more than a scientific consensus. It is a fact. The concern is not that in their denial of this fact, the flat-Earthers are somehow posing a challenge or an affront to science, nor does it matter that their number is currently small. What is a concern is that they are one facet of a seemingly increasing trend in some parts of society toward a disregard for critical thinking. On their own they do not pose a threat to our well-being, but they are part of the phenomena that includes anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, and black-helicopter conspiracists. A lack of critical thinking skills and and dogged anti-intellectualism helped to bring about the calamity of the last presidential election in the US.

  • This isn’t a debate on the shape of the Earth, amigo. If you didn’t read the article, don’t post a video.

  • OV

    Flat-Earthers, Dissent, and Conformity of Opinion, right? IMO the link broadens the discussion. Sorry for the intrusion.

  • Phil Rimmer

    Crumbs, You do like to spout this-

    ” it encodes and codifies bias as often as it corrects it.”

    Its an aphorism without merit. It implies a lack of progress or it is an incomplete or disingenuous aphorism.

    You still seem to muddle the two modes of knowing in science. Understanding which essentially comprises a narrative account of what appears to be known, hinged on metaphor and familiarity to which some of your arguments can apply. It is what gives a sense of familiarity to the thing and therefore a sense of completeness and ends that all important need to ask again “but why?”.

    And second, Mastery. This is, most often, the mathematical expression using terms and parameters defined ostensively in the lab, say, that is reliably predictive of new aspects of reality. This may or may not come with Understanding. In fact we may expect the latest masteries, though they may merge and become contiguous in their descriptions of the world, may well elude satisfactory Understanding, as metaphor, our primary mechanism for gaining familiarity, runs out of human-scale road. This is not affected in the least by cultural sensitivity. Indeed we observe mathematics and physics to be astonishingly uniform in its treatments around the world.

    There can be no witholding of mastered science because, local culture. We must have a society of uniformly educated folk if we are to vote coherently on technical matters. What is obvious though is that transfer of Understandings, those narrative accounts, may well benefit from cultural sensitivity and nuanced metaphorical vocabulary. This happens but is often not in the direct hands of scientists but rather journalists and educationalists.

  • Chris DeVries

    Plenty of things are used by the powerful to maintain and increase their power. Science is surely one of them. But the idea that people are manufacturing scientific ideas and using the mantle of authority science possesses to promote them and thereby help themselves and their cronies fails in the modern era (i.e. it’s really not a thing that happens and when it does, it harms everyone) because of two things:

    1) Bad science harms the powerful too. If scientists are lying about their research, eventually the lies are exposed and the power of science as a tool of power is weakened. And if scientists are just plain wrong, and there is no corrective applied to the science they’re doing because the ideas they have come up with conveniently support the power structure that exists already, those bad ideas lead to time and money wasted on programs that won’t work because they’re built on incorrect assumptions.

    2) Any idea can be criticized with opinions, but scientific ideas can be TESTED. The principle of falsifiability means that all ideas that are scientific must also be falsifiable, in theory. If your idea is scientific, there is some experiment or observation that could be done that would prove it wrong, otherwise you’re not doing science. And you don’t need to be part of the academy or approved by the power structure to DO science and falsify an idea that is wrong (either intentionally or unintentionally wrong). The bad is weeded out whether the powerful want it to be or not.

    To put it bluntly, “The Earth is an oblate spheroid” is a falsifiable idea. And there are enough flat earth chuckleheads out there that someone would have falsified it and done it right, were the theory of the round Earth actually incorrect. Nobody has yet demonstrated this. Science is self-correcting, even if some scientists have an agenda that goes against the very principles of science itself.

    To conclude, I am reminded of the Soviet idea of Lysenkoism. Genetics was deemed a Western idea, a bourgeois pseudoscience (this is 1920s-1960s). Instead, this dude called Lysenko decided that you could affect the kind of progeny an organism produced by exposing it to the conditions you wanted the progeny to be resistent to during its lifetime. If you exposed wheat seeds to bitter cold temperatures, the plants would be resistant to cold and their descendents would be too. If you chop off a mouse’s foot and it reproduces, the mouse offspring will also be missing that foot. In other words, he promoted the heritability of acquired characteristics (he also had other insane ideas, link: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/12/trofim-lysenko-soviet-union-russia/548786/ ). Lysenko was a fraud, but because his work was of Soviet origin and espoused Soviet ideals, genetics were banned and Lysenkoism was promoted throughout the USSR. And millions of people died because during this time crop yields decreased markedly due to the use of Lysenko’s methods and not modern genetics (in trying to improve the quality and quantity of grains scientifically). This was bad for the people of the USSR, but it was also bad for the powers that be. Now they have to come out and admit that all of that which happened before was wrong, and genetics was correct, and even if they spin it and propagandize effusively, the people know what’s going on. They saw how things went, they know that their government screwed them over. They may not have the power to do anything about it, but it effectively made the government even less trustworthy than it already was. The truth came out…eventually…and nobody benefitted.

    So science can help powerful people achieve their agendas via promoting bad ideas…in the short term…but in the long term, doing so harms everyone. And with ideas like a round Earth, who is benefitting from promoting them, if they’re so wrong? Cui bono? People have known about a round Earth for millenia really (3rd century BCE). Nobody’s getting rich off the round Earth. The powerful can abuse science to get more powerful, I agree, but flat Earthers are just…a circus act at this point. Entertaining and slightly bewildering.

  • Did you ask for crumbs on your word salad, sir?

  • Phil Rimmer

    I’ll very happily take you through it.

    I didn’t want to condescend and used single ideas from Popper and Wittgenstein without introducing them. Or later I can expand those bits.

    Much as I love salad it actually hangs together.

    Croutons are the thing.

  • Chris DeVries

    Plenty of things are used by the powerful to maintain and increase their power. Science is surely one of them. But the idea that people are manufacturing scientific ideas and using the mantle of authority science possesses to promote them and thereby help themselves and their cronies fails in the modern era (i.e. it’s really not a thing that happens and when it does, it harms everyone) because of two things:

    1) Bad science harms the powerful too. If scientists are lying about their research, eventually the lies are exposed and the power of science as a tool of power is weakened. And if scientists are just plain wrong, and there is no corrective applied to the science they’re doing because the ideas they have come up with conveniently support the power structure that exists already, those bad ideas lead to time and money wasted on programs that won’t work because they’re built on incorrect assumptions.

    2) Any idea can be criticized with opinions, but scientific ideas can be TESTED. The principle of falsifiability means that all ideas that are scientific must also be falsifiable, in theory. If your idea is scientific, there is some experiment or observation that could be done that would prove it wrong, otherwise you’re not doing science. And you don’t need to be part of the academy or approved by the power structure to DO science and falsify an idea that is wrong (either intentionally or unintentionally wrong). The bad is weeded out whether the powerful want it to be or not.

    To put it bluntly, “The Earth is an oblate spheroid” is a falsifiable idea. And there are enough flat earth chuckleheads out there that someone would have falsified it and done it right, were the theory of the round Earth actually incorrect. Nobody has yet demonstrated this. Science is self-correcting, even if some scientists have an agenda that goes against the very principles of
    science itself.

    To conclude, I am reminded of the Soviet idea of Lysenkoism. Genetics was deemed a Western idea, a bourgeois pseudoscience (this is 1920s-1960s). Instead, this dude called Lysenko
    decided that you could affect the kind of progeny an organism produced by exposing it to the conditions you wanted the progeny to be resistent to during its lifetime. If you exposed wheat seeds to bitter cold temperatures, the plants would be resistant to cold and their descendents would be too. If you chop off a mouse’s foot and it reproduces, the mouse offspring will also be missing that foot. In other words, he promoted the heritability of acquired characteristics (he also had other insane ideas, look him up). Lysenko was a fraud, but because his work was of Soviet origin and espoused Soviet ideals, genetics were banned and Lysenkoism was promoted throughout the USSR. And millions of people died because during this time crop yields decreased markedly due to the use of Lysenko’s methods and not modern genetics (in trying to improve the quality and quantity of grains scientifically). This was bad for the people of the USSR, but it was also bad for the powers that be. Now they have to come out and admit that all of that which happened before was wrong, and genetics was correct, and even if they spin it and propagandize effusively, the people know what’s going on. They saw how things went, they know that their government screwed them over. They may not have the power to do anything about it, but it effectively made the government even less trustworthy than it already was. The truth came out…eventually…and nobody benefitted.

    So science can help powerful people achieve their agendas via promoting bad ideas…in the short term…but in the long term, doing so harms everyone. And with ideas like a round Earth, who is benefitting from promoting them, if they’re so wrong? Cui bono? People have known about a round Earth for millenia really (3rd century BCE). Nobody’s getting rich off the round Earth. The powerful can abuse science to get more powerful, I agree, but flat Earthers are just…a circus act at this point. Entertaining and slightly bewildering.

  • Chris DeVries

    Oh, one more thing. Disqus keeps flagging my posts, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. I initially posted my long missive below with a link to The Atlantic (a story about Lysenko), and it was flagged, so are links not allowed (I reposted it without the link)? And on another blog, I edited a post a couple times – it was allowed to stand after the initial post, but after 2 edits, it got flagged – why have an edit feature if doing so means you are marked as a spammer? And other times I’ve used words that aren’t even swear words, just emphatic sort-of cuss words, and get flagged there too (and also when I use legitimate swear words…but sometimes I swear a lot in a post and it’s fine, no issues, no auto-flagging…it’s so inconsistent). Anyone else having issues with this? Do blog owners have a say in the type of activities that get you auto-flagged? It’s really frustrating to spend 20 minutes writing a post only to have it never appear (and even more frustrating when I don’t notice that it got auto-flagged for several hours!).

    Has anyone ever had an auto-flagged post that wasn’t spam released from Disqus jail (they say they’re “working on it” but I’ve never seen it happen)? Sorry for the rant, it’s happened like, 3 times in the past 2 days for me, so I am quite bewildered.

  • Jim X

    Too much over thinking. Flat earthers are just stupid and gullible.

  • aвѕolυт clancy

    I read your post a few times throughout the day and tried to give some honest thought to why flat-earthers bother me. This was another of your topics that made me squirm a bit while I looked in my figurative mirror : )

    I’m going to argue quantitative vs qualitative types of harm here. Quantitative first: I do agree with your assessment that flat-earthers are less dangerous overall than other groups like antivaxers. Also, it’s fairly straightforward to measure refusals to vaccinate, associated people who are affected, and spread of vaccine-preventable disease through a community. You’ve made good points.

    I think the flat-earther harm comes in a less tangible – more qualitative – way. I recognize that I may be tiptoeing along a fine line on the edge of appeal to authority. But human learning has to be based on a foundation of knowledge from those who’ve gone before us. If each generation had to reinvent the wheel there would be obvious problems with lack of advancement. The danger I see from the flat-earthers isn’t so much an insult to science as it is an insult to a wider field – the general human knowledge base.

    (And a brief digression – I’ll admit the inconsistencies annoy me. Banging away on a cell phone keyboard busily denying accomplishments making that phone, keyboard, and wireless communication possible – gah!)

    Free thinking is critical to our advancement, but it has to be applied. Fundamental principles of human understanding are demonstrated every day in the things we do and use, and questioning those principles isn’t beneficial to self or others. Brain power applied that way is analogous to what someone like a Ted Kaczynski might have been able to contribute to humanity had he directed his creativity differently.

    I’ve known only one flat-earther, so it’s not a significant sample size. Her reasoning was based on her senses (“When I look at the horizon, it’s flat”) and the Old Testament. But just as a side item of interest, my final conversation with her before I left Texas had me staggered. Due to a medical issue she’d had to get a blood transfusion a couple months previously, and she and her husband now wanted to try for another baby. However because of the transfusion, she told me she was concerned that the baby would be someone else’s. I walked away from that conversation just distressed that she felt tormented so unnecessarily.

  • aвѕolυт clancy

    I’ve seen comments with links go into moderation but I’ve never heard of a number of edits causing it. I just edited my comment several times but it doesn’t look like it’s flagged. On Disqus channels the owner doesn’t have any input into the word filter or auto-flagging. I’d guess these commenting sites are the same way, but AFAIK only the moderators can release the comments once they’re flagged as spam.

    I’ve also seen comments get posted – because I upvoted them – and then a few hours later I come back and look at the admin panel, and the comment is in Pending. No idea; none of these comments were flagged by another user. Just buggy I guess.

  • aвѕolυт clancy

    Well, before reading this exchange of comments I’d have likely said that along with a number of other topics, evolution was a necessary part of education and absolutely should be covered without regard to a community’s wishes, but you’ve made me think.

    I can identify with PartialMitch’s comments about growing up in an area that might be called “podunk.” My brothers and I paid a high price getting caught up in college and later in life, and that’s been a strong influence on my thinking – stronger maybe than I realized. Your comments remind me of when I first saw the film Out Of Africa back in the 80s – its release was perfectly timed with a Scandinavian lit class in undergrad which included some works of Karen Blixen.

    While in Kenya she actually did start a small school for the children of the Kikuyu who worked on her farm. I don’t know if she really had the conversation with Denys Finch-Hatton shown in the film, but he eloquently expressed some concerns that the natives should have a say in their own education and not get turned into little Europeans.

    This is a tough one. On one extreme we have situations like the textbook alterations in Texas. Obviously that’s not the way to go. But you make a valid point about imposing educational topics on people. There should be a balance – people should be participants, not passive recipients. Maybe kids – and their parents – would be more enthusiastic about school if they felt heard a little more.

    One thing I do think we could do better in science education is to help people understand that science isn’t a tool about proof. It’s a tool for examination, and its changeability isn’t a weakness, it’s one of its strengths. Given how few people I run into who understand that, we’ve done a poor job getting this message across. Anyway, I’ve rambled enough in your comments! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  • No, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    The problems with public education are many, and it has always been a politicized minefield. You hit the nail on the head when you say the aim should be able to make the educational process (particularly when it comes to science) more participatory, where students feel like they’re discovering things rather than just regurgitating factoids.

    I fully admit that it’s religious demagogues who keep the creationism thing alive, and that’s just one more nauseating thing about religious culture. But the way we approach this isn’t necessarily scientific and fair-minded either, and displays a lot of outrage over having to tolerate the dissent of people we consider our intellectual, moral, and socioeconomic inferiors. This should be about science, after all, not a cultural pissing contest.

  • Chris, thanks for the substantial post.

    First off, no one here is saying that people are manufacturing scientific ideas and using the mantle of authority science possesses to promote them and thereby help themselves and their cronies. The issue here is that science and knowledge have a social role in civilization, one which entangles them with power in a way that compromises their supposed objectivity.

    Since you brought up the Lysenko matter, I’ll ask why this qualifies as a refutation of my statement in the previous paragraph. After all, Lysenko’s ideas held sway in the USSR for decades. I’d say that’s very persuasive evidence in favor of the way science acts as a legitimating institution. The fact that Lysenko’s ideas fell out of favor in the 60s, after doing irreparable damage to Soviet agriculture and its genetics program, hardly seems like a vindication of science’s magically “self-correcting” nature. It would make just as little sense to declare that the disgraceful incident proves that totalitarianism is “self-correcting.”

  • Incidentally, your previous post did end up in the spam filter because of the link. I try to check the to-be-approved posts once or twice a day, but you posted just after I logged off for the night. Thanks for reposting, and sorry for the inconvenience.

  • I want to emphasize that I think flat-Earthism is a crock. But people’s equally unsubstantiated belief that their likelihood of winning the lottery is great enough to justify buying lots of tickets probably does more harm to families and society in the long run than their opinions about the planet’s shape.

    What concerns me about Novello’s post isn’t his disdain for flat-Earthers’ unscientific claims, it’s his condescending dismissal of the idea that science and power don’t always make a great team. To my way of thinking, that’s the only kernel of truth in any of the weird, anti-expertise conspiracy theories you could name: the idea that funding and attention only get paid to ideas that benefit the prevailing social order. If Novello thinks that any qualms we have about knowledge and power are totally unwarranted, that’s a pretty weird belief in itself.

  • I didn’t mean to be dismissive, but I just felt like you’re either being abstruse or dishing out extremely ivory-tower stuff: There can be no witholding of mastered science because, local culture.

    I keep having to remind people that I’m not claiming science isn’t worthwhile or it doesn’t provide us with useful knowledge. I just question the hyperbole about its algorithmic and self-correcting nature, that’s all.

  • Phil Rimmer

    Schroedindger’s equation or Eintein’s equation encapsulating his general theory of gravitation written in their few equivalent ways are not “sodden with the same personal and cultural biases of any other”.

    Apart from the trite observation of nomenclature, what personal and cultural biases do they betray? Please, you must illustrate your point.

    Mastered science is written most often in its most pared down form specifically to strip away cultural sophistry. The ladder climbed so to speak is thrown down to see it the thing is self supporting, can be corroborated by others using who knows what sort of ladder then our confidence in its utility can grow the faster.

  • Once again, I’m not saying that scientific theories are just a matter of opinion or that empirical inquiry is futile.

    All I’m saying is that scientific inquiry is a human activity, carried out by historically and culturally situated agents. Inquiry presupposes a perspective. I don’t see how you can deny that the society and culture in which inquiry is performed affects the process.

  • aвѕolυт clancy

    I think the science-as-a-tool-of-beneficence idea gets heavily sold in our culture and schools, and folks who don’t go further in it may not see a lot of the reality: just because it can serve such a role doesn’t mean it always does, or even often, because human nature.

    I work in generic drug development and while there are many beneficial aspects to generics, the industry isn’t focused on those considerations when projects are chosen. It’s a business run by humans, subject to all our foibles and whims, and labeling it “science” provides no protection.

    For example, the first generic on the market typically gets 80% of the total generic market share, and inferences are clear from that stat alone about manufacturers who come in later.

    My last consulting project before I took this new job was for an old hypertension drug that already has 14 generics on the market. I worked on it at another company 12 years ago. So why did this client want to launch one? The CEO had a few college friends who got the idea into their heads. Hey, what’s a few million bucks, two clinical studies, and his employees’ time between friends, amirite?

  • Chris DeVries

    I was mainly commenting on the short-term nature of the benefits of bad science to powerful people. Any gains that are had by misappropriating the mantle of scientific authority are eventually lost, as science is ultimately self-correcting. Sure, you can enjoy the fruits of illegitimate science for awhile, but you should fully expect the people to turn against you when the truth comes out. This is a poor strategy for the aspiring autocrat to use, unless said autocrat has an exit planned that will take him far away from the people he deceived. There is absolutely no doubt that misusing science as a tool of power harms the little guy more than the leader, in the end. Not only is there the wasted time and resources, there is a loss of trust in a powerful tool for building a better society. Misusing science hurts everyone – only people who are true sociopaths, and not merely ideologues will find lasting value in doing this.

    Ideologues are propelled by devotion to dogmatic ideas, and because the “science” that shows their sacred ideas to be correct will be overturned eventually if it’s not, in fact, science, they can only hope to keep people following them by denying the legitimate science and/or denying people access to it, and both are losing battles in the long term (especially in the present day when information is accessible to basically anyone). If they are truly devoted to their dogmatic ideas, it’s better to support those ideas using methodologies other than science, with no self-corrective measures and which cannot be proven false by anyone who does the experiment (liberal and moderate Christians, and especially the Catholic Church, have figured this out…NOBODY understands the Trinity, and they like it that way because if you can’t understand something, you can’t prove it wrong, but you can make it sound all mysterious and authentic using meaningless deepities so that people who want to believe have something to prop up their belief).

  • I don’t usually bring up the Lysenko matter because it’s such an egregious case that I don’t feel it typifies the way science and power interact. However, if you use it as a clear example of the wonderfully self-correcting nature of science and how science rises above petty politics, I have to object. As I explained in the post you wholly ignored, I think it supports the view that science which validates the prevailing power dynamic is more likely to dominate, rather than that the “true” science always prevails. The science doesn’t necessarily have to be utterly fraudulent, as Lysenko’s was; it just has to appear to suit the agenda of those in power.

    Rather than acknowledge what the Lysenko matter does to your Pollyanna view of science, you continue to ignore the problem and spew science-affirmations. It’s hilariously ironic that you don’t recognize “science is ultimately self-correcting” as the same sort of vapid deepity that you rightly mock when it comes from the religious.

  • Chuck Johnson

    “It’s hilariously ironic that you don’t recognize “science is ultimately
    self-correcting” as the same sort of vapid deepity that you rightly mock
    when it comes from the religious.”

    “Science is ultimately self-correcting.” is the wrong way to state it.
    “Science is continually self-correcting.” is a more accurate way to state it.

    This is because scientific exploration has such a strong reliance upon and respect for empiricism.
    When empiricism is honesty and competently exercised, then errors in the discovered truth will become recognized and the errors will be replaced with better ideas.

  • When empiricism is honesty and competently exercised, then errors in the discovered truth will become recognized and the errors will be replaced with better ideas.

    I’m not sure it’s just about “errors.” It also has to do with how scientific inquiry has to navigate on the shifting landscape of theory. To say that new theories will eventually supersede older ones is another pretty obvious statement. Only in hindsight, and with an immature sense of idealism about science, can this be considered “self-correction.”

  • Chuck Johnson

    Only in hindsight, and with an immature sense of idealism about science, can this be considered “self-correction.”

    You can understand the “correctness” of scientific exploration better if you analyze and resolve it into two parts.

    The ‘factually correct” part of scientific exploration should be seen as one way to view science.

    The “socially and morally appropriate” part of scientific exploration is another way to analyze science.

    Scientific self-correction “factually correct” happens fairly quickly and easily.

    Scientific self-correction ” socially and morally appropriate” takes longer, requires more consideration.
    Cultural adaptive evolution helps to guide the directions of scientific research. Many factors must be considered to provide good guidance.
    Deciding upon the appropriate directions for scientific research requires more kinds of thinking than just scientific thinking.

  • You can understand the “correctness” of scientific exploration better if you analyze and resolve it into two parts.

    The ‘factually correct” part of scientific exploration should be seen as one way to view science.

    The “socially and morally appropriate” part of scientific exploration is another way to analyze science.

    That’s not even remotely relevant to the point I was trying to make, and it’s not true anyway. As I said, I dispute the notion that “self-correcting science” works through correcting errors. New scientific theories replace old ones not by being more “correct,” but by presenting more useful frameworks for further research.

  • Chuck Johnson

    “New scientific theories replace old ones not by being more “correct,” but by presenting more useful frameworks for further research.”

    A big part of being “correct” is presenting more useful frameworks for further research. There are other aspects of being correct as well.

    As so often happens, Shem, you are just arguing for the sake of argument. When you do this, you are showing disrespect for the English language.

  • Reasoning is not based on “sense”. It’s based on logic. One may be reasonably sensible or other-way-to

  • The problem with flat-eathers is that they have the vote and use it stupidly to elect more un or anti-scientific assholes to further dumb down the populace with climate denialism and anti-evolutionary rhetoric and legislation.

    Other than that I agree with your take–mostly! {;>)

  • aвѕolυт clancy

    True. For clarity, I was referring to the human senses such as sight, not sense as in being sensible.

  • Well, that was very sensible of you and insensitive of me! It’s been a week!