Tag: Science

President Oprah’s Dingbat Appointees

 

In our pandemic era, the American press has deemed it its solemn — and urgent — duty to protect news consumers from pseudoscience and misinformation. Snopes, for example, has a comprehensive list of ratings for assessing various claims: true, mostly true, mixture, mostly false, false, and Obama.

Enter the words “Trump fact checked” into any Internet search engine and you’ll find more than 20 million results, from organizations such as factcheck.org and politifact.com. This is as it should be. The man was, after all, president of the United States and therefore should be held to the most rigorous standards of probity, as is President Biden (pause for laugh). And yes, if Trump were still president today, he would no doubt be saying things like “And thanks to my beautiful vaccines, you’re damned right you can gather for Christmas!”

In other words, we can all rest assured that the wealthiest, most prominent, admired, and powerful purveyors of pseudoscience in popular culture are vetted at every turn by fact checkers, right?

A Critique of Stephen Meyer’s ‘Return of the God Hypothesis’

 

I have struggled with writing a review of Stephen Meyer’s book, Return of the God Hypothesis, since I finished it a few weeks ago. Every time I pick it up to reread portions of it I find myself wanting to approach the work from a different perspective. The book is neither a straight popularization of science nor an attempt to frame a clear scientific argument. Rather, it’s a well-crafted work of reporting and speculation at the frothy margins of scientific theory that, combined with a few leaps of logic, is harnessed in support of a foreordained conclusion.

I suspect that the science in this book – and there’s quite a lot of it – will, despite being well-presented by an eloquent and talented author, largely elude most readers. Perhaps more importantly, the context from which the science is drawn will likely be unfamiliar to most readers, who will have little familiarity with physics and cosmology beyond what is presented in this book. If this book were merely a popularization of the science of cosmology, that would be fine: people would gain a feel for the state of the field, for its complexity and nuance, and for the remarkable accomplishments that have been made in recent years. But that’s not what this book is. Rather, it’s an attempt to support a metaphysical argument by portraying science as inadequate both in practice and in principle, and so leave no plausible alternative but the eponymous God Hypothesis. To frame that argument responsibly would require considerably more scope and rigor than this already science-heavy book offers. To do it convincingly, on the other hand, requires much less effort, particularly if the reader is inclined to be generous and knows little of physics.

It has been said of Stephen Hawking’s bestselling book A Brief History of Time that it was purchased by many and read by few. I suspect the same is likely true of Return of the God Hypothesis: for many, it will be a tough read. Yet it is an impressive book, and it has lent a great deal of talk-circuit credibility to its author and his premise. The fact that Mr. Meyer is an eloquent speaker and a clever and charming guest undoubtedly adds to that credibility, and it’s understandable why he and his book have received as much praise as they have. Nonetheless, as I will attempt to explain in this review, I think his arguments are weak and his conclusions unsupported.

Dogma Masquerading as Science Undermines Public Trust

 

“I believe in science, Donald Trump doesn’t. It’s that simple, folks,” Joe Biden tweeted during the 2020 election campaign.

Even by Biden standards, that was a deceitful remark. Not only did his opponent spearhead the unexpectedly efficient development of the Covid vaccine, which has been the cornerstone of pandemic suppression ever since, but the Biden administration has already done the most damage of any in memory by politicizing “the Science,” thus weakening its credibility.

Real science isn’t some facts approved by experts but a philosophical framework for acquiring and evaluating knowledge that originated in the Enlightenment. Science emphasizes reason, observation, and methodical analysis rather than loyalty to the teachings of authorities.

Musical Interlude: Telstar

 

Telstar satellite-CnAM 35181-IMG 5408-gradient.jpgSaturday, July 10, 2021, was the 59th anniversary of the launching of Telstar 1, a 170 lb. communications satellite launched for the purpose of receiving ground signals and re-transmitting them back to earth. According to britannica.com:

Following Telstar’s launch on July 10, 1962, a giant movable horn antenna near Andover, Maine, locked onto the satellite when its shifting orbit (apogee 5,600 km [3,500 miles]) reached an appropriate point. Minutes later the first television pictures were transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean and received, via relay stations in England and France, on European television screens. Telephone, telegraph, data, telephoto, and facsimile transmissions were also successfully made.

So much that we take for granted these days. And yet, at the time, it was almost miraculous and portended a future of instantaneous communication, where no part of the world was disadvantaged by remoteness, and no person was out-of-touch. (Here at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it’s possible to look back from a “careful what you wish for” perspective, but at the time we had no such thoughts. The world was our oyster, science was progress, and we believed.)

Quote of the Day: Questions of Science

 

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” – Galileo Galilei

I hate appeals to authority when it comes to science. These always raise a red flag with me. “Trust the Science” is the technocrat’s version of “Because, shut up.” Science by its nature does not invite trust, it invites skepticism. Scientific progress is made by those challenging the science, and being convinced of its validity through reasoning.

Pushing Back on the Medical Establishment Is Not so Easy

 

I should have known that a big decision about changing my chemotherapy regimen, rejecting my oncologist’s recommendation, wasn’t going to be so easy. I wrote about it here, describing a discussion I will be having with him on Monday. But now I realize that there is more involved than just looking at the statistics and research. It means, from a big picture standpoint, that I will be bucking the “science,” telling the experts that when it comes to making decisions about my life, all the numbers in the world can’t determine what is best for me.

Only I can do that. And I am very anxious about telling him my decision to defy his recommendation. I’m even nervous about discussing my situation with my internist on Friday prior to that meeting. Am I just wanting the treatment to be finished? (Yes.) Am I tired of being tired? (Yes.) Do I want life to return to normal? (Yes.) And in spite of all those desires, I believe I know what the best course is for me.

Ayaan talks with Michael Shermer about the hijacking of the scientific method, science being used as a political tool, vaccine hesitancy, and more.

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

Ayaan talks with Michael Shermer about his journey in and out of religion, the ten commandments of freedom of speech, and the concept of moral politics.

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

Mr. Darwin Can’t Get a Break

 

It can’t be easy to be Charles Darwin right now. (I mean, for reasons beyond the obvious.) A meticulous researcher and a serious and deeply respectful man, Mr. Darwin spent years carefully documenting and refining his seminal* theory of evolution through natural selection, delaying its presentation until similar discoveries by fellow British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace prompted him to go public and secure his claim as the father of evolutionary theory.

(And what is it with our British cousins, that they should produce simultaneously two men of such insight?)

On Galileo

 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Galileo Galilei, the great astronomer and polymath, famous for advancing the idea expressed by Copernicus that the earth and other planets rotate around the sun  (heliocentrism).

The story goes that Galileo found proof of heliocentrism in his astronomical observations but was censured, threatened, and arrested by the Church because his ideas ran afoul of religious doctrine.  He was thus a great hero for the cause of science.

Member Post

 

On today’s Ricochet podcast, Peter and James interview guests Niall Ferguson and Stephen Meyer. I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing Mr. Meyer and the idea he puts forth in his latest book, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe. I recently wrote about an Uncommon […]

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Sarah Rose Siskind is a science comedy writer, psychedelic educator, comedian, and co-founder of Hello SciCom, a company that combines science communication and comedy to help scientists and tech companies revamp their content. She and Bridget discuss homelessness, how little we knew in our 20s, sobriety & pharmaceuticals, why D.A.R.E. is a terrible program, pandemic-induced anxiety, why mental health issues are like spousal abuse, and why people shouldn’t treat weed as a cure-all. They swap crazy Burning Man stories, discuss classism, agree that art is one of the things humans do right, commiserate over comedian-brain, and highlight the importance of knowing your audience in any given situation.

The Best of the Great Courses

 

I listened to my first Teaching Company courses, now known as The Great Courses, over 20 years ago. A dear friend suggested that I listen to The Great Ideas of Philosophy by Prof. Daniel N. Robinson. It was magnificent, and I soon had finished ALL of Prof. Robinson’s courses: The Great Ideas of Psychology, Consciousness and Its Implications, Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World, and American Ideals: Founding a “Republic of Virtues.” Every course was incredibly illuminating.

In college, I could count the number of Great professors on one hand: my Trig/Statistics/Calculus professor, an American History professor, and the great David Bell, an English professor. Daniel N. Robinson had all the qualities of a great teacher, primarily the ability to present a survey class, like The Great Ideas of Philosophy, which included the Western philosophers from the pre-Socratics into the 20th century, as if he were a full believer of the philosopher on whom he was lecturing.

I have since listened to (and occasionally viewed, but I much prefer listening while driving or walking) dozens more. Here is a list of some of the other professors I find to be great, “great” meaning I will listen to their courses again and again with unfailing pleasure.

Heather Heying is a scientist, educator and author. She and Bridget discuss the possibility of a vaccine passport and why they’re so unsettled by the idea. They reflect that nothing good comes from being told that in order to do something you have to show your papers, that once you give up a certain amount of liberty or power, it’s much more difficult to get it back, how being against the idea of a vaccine passport does not make you an anti-vaxxer, and the dangers of being called a conspiracy theorist when you dare to ask questions. They also cover the death of credibility, why you should spend time in nature moving fast, how it’s easy to radicalize people when they’re lost, why Joe Rogan is so awesome, and why we should all remember that on some level, we’re all self-righteous hypocrites. Be sure to check out Heather’s podcast with her husband Bret Weinstein, DarkHorse Podcast.

The Computer Age Turns 75

 

In February 1946, the first general-purpose electronic computer, the ENIA, was introduced to the public. Nothing like ENIAC had been seen before, and the unveiling of the computer, a room-filling machine with lots of flashing lights and switches–made quite an impact.

ENIAC (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was created primarily to help with the trajectory-calculation problems for artillery shells and bombs, a problem that was requiring increasing numbers of people for manual computations. John Mauchly, a physics professor attending a summer session at the University of Pennsylvania, and J Presper Eckert, a 24-year-old grad student, proposed the machine after observing the work of the women (including Mauchly’s wife Mary) who had been hired to assist the Army with these calculations. The proposal made its way to the Army’s liason with Penn, and that officer, Lieutenant Herman Goldstine, took up the project’s cause. (Goldstine apparently heard about the proposal not via formal university channels but via a mutual friend, which is an interesting point in our present era of remote work.) Electronics had not previously been used for digital computing, and a lot of authorities thought an electromechanical machine would be a better and safer bet.

On the Nature of Poetry

 

Its stuff that rhymes. Only it doesn’t always rhyme. Usually the stuff that doesn’t rhyme is bad, but then if you look at poetry in other languages and traditions sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme at all. Hmm… maybe I should back up a bit. What I’d like to do is try and characterize poetry from a scientific perspective. That means I’ll be observing three samples of poetry captured in the wild to see what we can learn about them. Let’s move right to the first:

I come home during the 2016 campaign and @MattBalzer says to me “Hillary Clinton just called Trump supporters a ‘basket of deplorables.'” You know how I responded? “I don’t often have a good word to say about Hillary Clinton, but that’s a good phrase right there.”

The Emperor’s New Mind

 

Mathematical truth is not a horrendously complicated dogma whose validity is beyond our comprehension. -Sir Rodger Penrose

The Emperor’s New Mind is Sir Roger Penrose’s argument that you can’t get a true AI by merely piling silicon atop silicon. To explain why he needs a whole book in which he summarizes most math and all physics. Even for a geek like me, someone who’s got the time on his hands and a fascination with these things it gets a bit thick. While delving into the vagaries of light cones or the formalism of Hilbert space in quantum mechanics it’s easy to wonder “wait, what does this have to do with your main argument?” Penrose has to posit new physics in order to support his ideas, and he can’t explain those ideas unless you the reader have a sufficient grasp of how the old physics works. Makes for a frustrating read though.

Member Post

 

It seems our planet Earth is rotating around its axis faster than it has in decades. (Something to do with its core, the motions of oceans, and its atmosphere.  I’ll leave it to others to explain the nuts and bolts of it).  Since the definition of a “day” is tied to the completion of a […]

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