Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rational anti-Science

Do fundamentalist Christians like James Dobson irrationally reject scientific truths or scientific consensus?

In general, it’s rational be skeptical of people who cite a “scientific consensus”, especially those advocating behavior or right-belief. Those people often use “scientists” interchangeably with “appeal to authority” arguments and misuse scientific terms to give unmerited weight to mere guesses. Most people understand “scientific truths” on faith alone, never honoring the distinction between empirical evidence and speculative inference. They often use faith-based claims of scientific truth as rhetorical cudgels to prod behavior and belief, to confirm biases, or to advance “greater truths;” Al Gore famously did that in his movie, admitting that its lies advanced the more important cause.

Besides that, though, its rational to be skeptical of science because science is untrustworthy.

1. What is a scientific truth? This isn't engineering or medicine (or parenting) where “it works” is the gold standard. Science offers hypotheses (an explanation) and theories (an internally logical and consistent explanation that has at least some empirical evidence in favor and none opposed). Theories can be strong or speculative. Do you trust a consensus built on such flimsy stuff?

I've been told that Karl Popper narrowed the definition even more, requiring that a scientific theory must be falsifiable. By that definition, most of psychology, climatology, economics, natural selection (not the same as evolution) etc. aren’t science because you can’t examine the counter-factual.

2. How reliable is scientific consensus? Historically, never. Scientific consensus is constantly disproved by new scientists. In our lifetime, the scientific consensus on viral cancer, global cooling, homosexuality & female hysteria (both mental illnesses in the DSM), origin of humans (many eves to one eve), interbreeding of Neanderthals, etc. have all fallen. National nutritional guidelines have changed dozens of times. Delusions of Gender listed lots of scientific consensus about female infirmities (their brain size, fingers, genitalia!) that have all fallen; the last one, distributional math & science results, isn’t reproduced in other countries and falling.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine you tell James Dobson that species evolve under pressure from their environment and he says that’s false. Dobson, not you, stands with the consensus scientific theory of Natural Selection. Genes, not species, drive Natural Selection. Or, the environment changes under pressure from species. Or, certain features are just random or biologically necessary. Frankly I'm not sure where Natural Selection applies, but that theory might change in 10 years.

3. Current science is more holey than people think. Quantum Man describes time wasted on string theory to establish how gravity works. Do particles exchange, like EM? No one knows. Neuroscience is the worst. They build a mountain of inferences on an MRI, which is the image made by software to represent the following: a radio frequency pulse is directed at hydrogen nuclei in the brains of paid subjects half-assing through some contrived task, that pulse causes the hydrogen nuclei to tip its longitudal magnetization (maybe, this is after all quantum physics), which releases energy collected by a coil. That's a magnetic resonance image, an MRI. A series of these detections, and proper interpretation, might show a local increase in the ratio of oxygenated to deoxygenated hemoglobin in the brain, which the software converts into "lighting up" that local area of the brain. That’s it, everything else is guesswork. God speed to those neuroscientists but I trust them as much as my personal phrenologist in dissecting behavior or beliefs.

4. How has science performed in organizing society and families? Utilitarians, Communists, National Socialists, Eugenicists, etc all tried to make politics and family life scientific but obviously failed. The Harvard economics department, Nobelist Paul Samuelson, among others taught that communism was functioning, legitimate alternative to capitalism. How could they be so wrong? They theorized that humans could be conscripted into the efficient production of desirable social outcomes, as easy as a radio frequency pulse can alter a nuclei’s magnetic spin. Oops!

5. Scientific regimes failed to understand or value human nature. People resisted, they wouldn’t relinquish personal objectives to serve a theoretical social utility as required by the theory (have you given all your money and comfort to poor Guatemalan children? Of course not). You know who doesn’t make these errors? Who calls each individual to account for the individual’s deed? Who asks them, not tells them, to follow their better natures? Today’s religions. And yesterdays-- fundamentalist delivered abolition, public schooling, public hospitals and, er, prohibition.

6. Finally, progressives oppose scientific consensus (whether rationally or not is up to you). Progressives prominently disagree with the scientific consensus on vaccines, animal research, nuclear power, bioengineered food, etc. The President Obama himself denied scientific consensus in 2008: "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it. He chose as an economic advisor a prominent advocate of the false “population bomb”. Good for them, they've found common ground with James Dobson.

Now, if science just means process and skepticism, not the assertions produced, well I'm all for it.