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Softpanorama Lysenkoism and PseudoScience Bulletin, 2002

[Apr 30, 2002] NYT/dds Are Stacked When Science Tries to Debate Pseudoscience By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS

...at least half of Americans polled in a recent survey by the National Science Foundation did not know that Earth orbits the Sun, and that it takes a year to do so.
 

I vividly remember the first time I was hijacked on the radio. I had agreed to participate in a debate for a Florida radio program that specialized in alien visits and U.F.O. sightings. My better judgment suggested that I should be wary. But I thought if I kept my focus purely on the physics challenges involved in space travel, I might be able to persuade some listeners to be skeptical of the claims that aliens were regularly visiting, abducting and experimenting with our fellow earthlings.

I should have known better. After 45 minutes defending myself against the claim that I was close-minded, when I argued that science did in fact impose constraints on what is possible, and politely responding to demands that I must first scrupulously review all the specific claims of alien sightings before I could possibly have the temerity to make general statements about plausibility or implausibility, I felt that any uninformed listeners who might have been waiting to be swayed probably found themselves merely confused at the end of the show.

In a debate that confronts the results of science with pseudoscience, from alien abductions and crop circles on one hand to the health benefits of weak magnetic fields or young earth creationism on the other, the odds are stacked against science.

Part of the problem is uniquely American. We in the United States are constantly regaled by stories about the limitless possibilities open to those with know-how and a spirit of enterprise. Combine that with a public that perceives the limits of science as targets that are constantly being overcome, and the suggestion that anything is absolutely impossible seems like an affront. Indeed, modern technology has made the seemingly impossible almost ordinary. How often have I heard the cry from an audience, "Yeah, but 300 years ago people would have said it would be impossible to fly!"

Although true, the problem with that assertion is that 300 years ago people did not know enough about the laws of physics to make the assertion, so the claim would have been improper. Had they made a simpler claim like, "Three hundred years from now, if you drop this cannonball off the Tower of Pisa, it will fall down," they would have been right.

Although it is probably true that there is far more that we do not know about nature than that we do know, we do know something! We know that balls, when dropped, fall down. We do know that the earth is round and not flat. We do know how electromagnetism works, and we do know that the earth is billions of years old, not thousands.

We may not know how spacecraft of the future will be propelled, whether matter-antimatter drives will be built or even if time travel is possible. But we do know, absolutely, how much on-board fuel will be needed to speed up a substantial spacecraft to near the speed of light — an enormous amount, probably enough to power all of human civilization at the present time for perhaps a decade.

That means that aliens who want to come here from a distant star will probably have to have some better reason than merely performing secret kinky experiments on the patients of a Harvard psychiatrist.

As difficult as debating ultimate limits of the possible may be, there is another debate that is even harder to win. But it is a debate that may be even more important. It is a debate on the "fairness" of science. The reason for the difficulty is simple. Science is not fair. All ideas are not treated equally. Only those that have satisfied the test of experiment or can be tested by experiment have any currency. Beautiful ideas, elegant ideas and even sacrosanct notions are not immune from termination by the chilling knife edge of experimental data.

In Ohio, a debate is raging over whether to teach "intelligent design" alongside evolution in high school biology classes. Intelligent design is based on the belief that life is too complicated to explain by natural causes alone and that some intelligence, ultimately some divine intelligence, must have created the original life forms on earth or guided their development.

Proponents of that idea suggest that including it in the curriculum is simply a question of fairness. If a significant number of people do not believe that evolution provides an adequate explanation of the origin of species, they argue, then it is only fair to present both sides of the argument in a high school science class.

But at least half of Americans polled in a recent survey by the National Science Foundation did not know that Earth orbits the Sun, and that it takes a year to do so. Does this mean we should teach that Earth is the center of the universe? Of course not. It merely means that we are not doing a very good job informing the public about physics.

Science is not a democratic process. It does not proceed by majority rule and it does not accept notions that have already been disproven by experiment.

Intelligent design makes assertions that cannot be tested by experiment. Those assertions that can be tested, say about blood clotting or the claimed irreducible complexity of various components of cells, seem to have thus far failed those tests. So intelligent design does not belong in a science class. End of story.

Nevertheless, recently the Ohio State School Board felt it necessary to run a hearing on evolution vs. intelligent design in a debate format, with two proponents of evolution to face off against two advocates of intelligent design in Columbus.

One might think that I would know better than to agree to participate in such a debate. But I did, because I felt the education of schoolchildren in Ohio was so important.

Nevertheless, I tried to learn from my earlier mistakes. Merely having a debate inevitably suggests that each side has some credibility. As a result, opponents of the scientific method like creationists try very hard to appear in debates with scientists. Merely being on the same stage represents a victory!

I made sure that I emphasized this intrinsic inequity in my opening remarks in Columbus, and it colored much of the subsequent discussion, as well as the later reporting of the event. I do not know whether it was sufficient to let listeners focus on whether there was really anything worth debating in the first place. But it at least allowed for that possibility.

In the meantime, for those scientists who find themselves thrust in such public debates, I have found at least one useful tool. When debating U.F.O. experts, ask them whether they believe in "Young Earth Creationism." When debating young earth creationists, ask them whether they believe in alien U.F.O.'s. When they say no, ask why. Their answers will inevitably shed light on the weakness of their own positions.

Of course, as has once happened to me, you might find yourself debating a U.F.O.-believing creationist. But you can't win them all. My hope is that you can win at least some of the time.

 

Peer review system is flawed, scientists say - smh.com.au  The quote below does not explains what's really wrong. Paradoxically Tom Jefferson is not able to articulate his findings. Is this due to poisoning of the system with Lysenkoism or what ?  Or is this a joke as the following quote suggests ("But does their work cut the mustard? Asked whether it was peer reviewed, Dr Jefferson said: "Yes, and it was done through collaboration rather than in the adversarial way."  -- here he really looks like a complete idiot)

A report due out this month from an international collaboration of scientists will argue that the time-honoured system of peer review, which has existed in some form for at least 200 years, is possibly bunk.

Tom Jefferson, of the Cochrane Collaboration Methods Group, said: "If peer review were a new medicine, it would never get a licence.

"We have found little empirical evidence to support the use of peer review as a mechanism to ensure the quality of research reporting, and there is even more depressing evidence about its value in deciding what should be funded."

The study focused on biomedical research, but there "was no reason to assume that the inefficiency of this system would not pertain across other scientific disciplines".

Dr Jefferson's team scrutinised 135 studies designed to assess the evidence that peer review was an effective method of deciding what should be published.

"We had great difficulty in finding any real hard evidence of the system's effectiveness, which is disappointing, as peer review is the cornerstone of editorial policies worldwide," he said.

"Scientists compete with each other for space to publish in the most prestigious and most widely read journals, space is allocated by editors, and peer review plays a big part in the process.

"Publishing is the key to advancement and research riches. Nobel prizes have hinged on peer review, yet it may be seriously flawed. The problem is compounded because scientists can't agree about how the quality of peer review should be measured."

Dr Jefferson's team is calling for a large, well-funded program of research on the effects of peer review.

But does their work cut the mustard? Asked whether it was peer reviewed, Dr Jefferson said: "Yes, and it was done through collaboration rather than in the adversarial way."

The Guardian

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/01/17/1042520777393.html

Global Media pretty funny paper from Foreign Policy magazine. If you follow the author's logic, then there is nothing special in the fact that Fox can now be called a government channel ;-)

Big media barons are routinely accused of dominating markets, dumbing down the news to plump up the bottom line, and forcing U.S. content on world audiences. But these companies are not as big, bad, dominant, or American as critics claim. And company size is largely irrelevant to many of the problems facing today's Fourth Estate.

[Oct 15, 2002] Nice quote from George Orwell:

"The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity."

~ George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)

What is Secular Humanism

Secular Humanism is a term which has come into use in the last thirty years to describe a world view with the following elements and principles:

  • Global Village Idiocy

    I was taken aback when Dini Djalal, a reporter for The Far Eastern Economic Review, suddenly launched into a blistering criticism of the Fox News Channel and Bill O'Reilly. "They say [on Fox], `We report, you decide,' but it's biased — they decide before us," she said. "They say there is no spin, but I get dizzy looking at it. I also get upset when they invite on Muslims and just insult them."

    At its best, the Internet can educate more people faster than any media tool we've ever had. At its worst, it can make people dumber faster than any media tool we've ever had. The lie that 4,000 Jews were warned not to go into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was spread entirely over the Internet and is now thoroughly believed in the Muslim world. Because the Internet has an aura of "technology" surrounding it, the uneducated believe information from it even more. They don't realize that the Internet, at its ugliest, is just an open sewer: an electronic conduit for untreated, unfiltered information.

  • Independent Media Centers Cyber-Subversion and the Alternative Press by Gene Hyde
    First Monday, volume 7, number 4 (April 2002), URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_4/hyde/index.html
     
  • When the World Trade Organization met in Seattle in November 1999, hundreds of journalists and thousands of protesters converged on the city. The journalists represented, by and large, a handful of corporate media organizations, while the protesters represented a diverse group of interests with complaints against the WTO and its policies.

  • Concerned that the major news organizations would fail to cover the WTO protests adequately, if at all, a group of Seattle media activists planned a proactive approach. Months prior to the WTO meeting, they formed the Independent Media Center (or Indymedia). They gathered donations, organized volunteers, registered a Web site, www.indymedia.org, and set up a newsroom with computers, Internet lines, digital editing systems and streaming audio and video.

  • When the WTO showed up, Indymedia offered volunteer journalists a place to file stories, photos, and videos of the protests and upload them to the Web. As Indymedia's behind-the-scenes reports of the protests came online, "an amazing thing happened," reported the Christian Science Monitor. "In an end run around traditional media, the Internet became the key player in dispersing information to a world hungry for details about the events in Seattle" [1].

  • Two years later there are now over 60 Independent Media Centers scattered across 20 countries and six continents, each dedicated to providing an unabashedly liberal counterpoint to the mainstream press [2]. From grassroots beginnings in Seattle, this online alternative to corporate media has spread like wildfire. That's not bad for a loose collection of non-profit, volunteer-staffed journalists and activists.

  • University Reform, Inc.
     
  • Mentoring Not Abusing the Graduate Students ACADEMIC CORRUPTION: SWIMMING IN THE UNIVERSITY CESSPOOL
     
  • I. PROFESSIONALISM TIPS FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS AND OTHERS
    (10/14)
     
    A. Funding
    B. Publishing
    C. Job-Getting
    D. PSO Services
     
    II. SOME ABUSES OF GRADUATE STUDENTS (10/22)
     
    III. CREATIVITY AS THE KEY TO SUCCESS (11/29)
     
    IV. PRODUCTIVITY AS ANOTHER KEY TO SUCCESS (12/9)
     
    V. ABUSE OF THE GRADUATE STUDENTS BY THE POLITICAL SCIENCE
    DEPARTMENT (12/15)
     
    A. Lies and Gross Distortions of Reality
    B. Reckless Charges and Allegations
    C. The Plummeting Department
    D. Despicable Misuse of Graduate Students2
     
    VI. STILL MORE ABUSES OF GRADUATE STUDENTS (12/27)
     
    A. Further Devaluing Their Degrees
    B. Further Using the Graduate Students to Get at Nagel
    C. Sexually Abusing Graduate Students and Then Cover-Up Activities 283
    D. Still Other Abuses of Our Graduate Students
     
    VII. MENTORING MEMO #5 AND #6
     
    A. Stimulating Professionalism (4/18)
    B. Assistantship Available (1/14)
     
    November 2, 1996

  • Cargo Cult Science -- Revisited  link was restored.
     
  • Careers In (and Out) of Science - Articles -- a very nice collection, unfortunately with some dead links...
     

  • Etc

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