Chocolate Will Make You Thin! Or: How Should We Trust Science?

Human beings make science. They collect the data. They analyze the data. Other human beings peer review the science, edit the science, and publish the science, and still other humans report the science to the public, who then go around telling each other about the science on Twitter, and at the dinner table, and at the gym, and who knows where else.

Somewhere in this Chain of Fact, things can go wrong. As a recent spate of incidents—involving falsified data and deceived journalists—should remind us, the route from the laboratory to public knowledge is not a perfect conduit of abstract truth, much as we modern humans often imagine (or at least wish) it to be. Instead, the route from laboratory finding to public knowledge is comprised of people, working within particular systems—some of which, it seems, are not receiving the oversight they ought to.

Two recent cases highlight some recurring problems. The first of these has been the prolonged implosion, over the past few weeks, of a major study purporting to measure how one-on-one canvassing can substantially influence voters’ opinions on same-sex marriage. The study was published in the journal Science, and it received widespread media coverage, including on This American Life.

Also, the data turned out to be fake.

In part, this was the case of a rogue graduate student, Michael LaCour, who seems to have broken nearly every imaginable rule of research ethics. But it was also the case of a duped community. Donald Green, a prominent political scientist, helped with the analysis, and put his name on the study (“I am deeply embarrassed that I did not suspect and discover the fabrication of the survey data,” Green told New York magazine, whose coverage of the situation has been excellent). Princeton offered LaCour a faculty position. It took six months after the study’s publication before David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, graduate students at UC-Berkeley, publicly identified the fundamental issues with a landmark study in a major field of social scientific inquiry.

The second case is even weirder. Earlier this year, the science journalist John Bohannon set up a diet study—an intentionally terrible piece of research. What made it so terrible? For one thing, Bohannon had only twelve subjects, broken up into three groups. For another, he had no clear question that he was testing. He altered the diets of some of his subjects, collected a bunch of data, and then mined the findings in order to get something statistically significant. And, of course, he did. Eating a chocolate bar per day contributed to faster weight loss, according to Bohannon’s meaningless data.

Bohannon published the study in an open-source journal under the name Johannes Bohannon, made up a website for a fake research institute, and wrote a press release. Journalists interviewed him about his work. Bild, a major German newspaper, ran their article as a front page story. Other publications, including Shape magazine and the Daily Express, covered it as well. Nobody caught him; Bohannon came clean about the stunt last week.

The problem of fake science getting a pass is old, and human nature is fickle, but these aren’t isolated incidents. As a New York Times op-ed noted yesterday, “cheating in scientific and academic papers is a longstanding problem, but it is hard to read recent headlines and not conclude that it has gotten worse.”

Another recent Times op-ed, written by the editors of the blog Retraction Watch, argued that pressure to publish was leading to small-but-concerning rates of faked data, much of it slipping through peer review—or else, as in Bohannon’s case, getting swallowed up by gullible media.

What’s going on? Well, human nature of course; there are cheaters in this world. But the system is designed, at least in theory, to catch them. And while there isn’t a single, soundbite answer for how to avoid these kinds of situations, it’s worth highlighting a couple more blatant issues.

The first is that the incentive to accept high-profile or flashy findings tends to be high, while the incentive to challenge them is generally low. This is especially true for journalists, for whom a dramatic, surprising result—chocolate aids weight loss!—is excellent copy. The relationship can also be mutually beneficial for researchers and journalists, who get good press and good stories, respectively (Bohannon speaks, accurately, of “the diet research-media complex”).

Challenging a scientific finding, on the other hand, takes time and expertise, and it involves a substantial risk. Not everyone wants to be the journalist who tells the PhD that his research sounds fishy.

That same incentive structure can exist within scientific communities, too, if a bad paper slips through peer review (aka the anonymous system that’s supposed to catch bad research). The LaCour paper had the imprimatur of Donald Green, a leading scholar within the field of political persuasion research. Challenging the paper involved substantial professional risk, while the personal cost of saying nothing was low. Broockman, the graduate student who uncovered the issue, told New York magazine that an older scholar, and friend, had discouraged him from pursuing his initial suspicions. As Jesse Singal at New York put it, describing the potential payoffs:

The moment your name is associated with the questioning of someone else’s work, you could be in trouble. If the target is someone above you, like Green, you’re seen as envious, as shamelessly trying to take down a big name. If the target is someone at your level, you’re throwing elbows in an unseemly manner. In either case, you may end up having one of your papers reviewed by the target of your inquiries (or one of their friends) at some point…Moreover, the very few plum jobs and big grants don’t go to people who investigate other researchers’ work—they go to those who stake out their own research areas.

Scientific findings, like everything else, come within the context of a particular culture, with its own, very human, set of pressures.

An even thornier issue, though, is the peculiar kind of trust that we place in scientists.

Looking at all the creationism, climate change denial, anti-vaccination activism, and GMO skepticism, it’s tempting to conclude that people don’t trust scientists. But when you dig into these issues, it gets subtler. Even the skeptics are grounding their arguments in whatever science (or pseudoscience) they can. And when they look for an authority figure to back their claims, again and again they look for a scientist. It’s probably more accurate to say that people distrust certain scientific findings. They consider these findings to be bad or corrupted examples of actual science, which they like.

In other words, while we may argue over what good science actually looks like, we all want the science on our side. And when we encounter scientific findings that we do like, we may trust them completely. Chocolate will help you lose weight! You can change people’s minds on gay marriage, just by talking to them! Altering your posture will make you more successful (unless it doesn’t)! Yes, of course. Science says so.

So should we trust scientists less? I don’t think that’s the solution, exactly. Science is a powerful tool for understanding reality, with a remarkable system of checks-and-balances to prevent and catch error. When scientific consensus arrives about a specific phenomenon, such as climate change, we need to heed it.

But we can stop framing the issue in terms of Inalienable Science vs. Stupid Naysayers, and be more open about the particular, very human process by which laboratory findings become public knowledge. That openness might include teaching kids a bit of philosophy as part of their science classes. It will require scientists, and those outside the scientific community, to talk more publicly about the skewed incentives that confront many researchers and journalists. And it will certainly require wider acknowledgement that a single study rarely provides perfect proof of anything (especially in social science). Perfect solutions may be tempting, but we should all be careful when we go hunting for miracles.


  •' cmbennett01 says:

    Fraud is not an indictment of science. It is an indictment of the publishing industry. It’s an indictment of the the media, or the “business model” of academic institutions, or scientific illiteracy of the public. It is not however a failure of science. Headlines in the media such as “Can science be trusted?” are a perfect example of where the problem lies.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    “Challenging a scientific finding, on the other hand, takes time and expertise, and it involves a substantial risk.”

    This really is key though. The method requires that results be repeatable, and if they aren’t, then there is a problem someplace. But this takes time, and in a social media wold, no one is willing to wait. One study does not = science.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    This is currently an important topic. Right now we are working on the issue of the study of the earth, and global warming. There is a battle between NASA and the Republican based senate science and space committee. They are cutting the budget for the study of earth from space, and NASA thinks this is the most critical part to keep funding The general consensus is the Republicans are tired of rejecting the science, so they want to just cut the science off so they won’t have to reject it any more.

  •' Rmj says:

    “That openness might include teaching kids a bit of philosophy as part of their science classes.”

    Don’t mention that to Lawrence Krause. He’s quite convinced philosophy is bunk.

    Something to do with a Chain of Facts, I’m sure. (And don’t begin to tell him that science is a philosophy. I suspect he’d hit you with something for such heresy.)

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I don’t think we are in a position to judge if any science is a fraud. Other scientists have to check on the science and make sure they uncover any fraud. We are not qualified to do that, so we need to accept the scientific consensus.

  •' NancyP says:

    Well, the publicizing of substandard work in the mainstream news media indicates that 1. sensation sells 2. science journalists are not necessarily well educated in scientific method appropriate to the specific field, not necessarily endowed with adequate statistical skills, and don’t (usually? Always?) have the time necessary to read the scientific paper in question, let alone any background. And why should science journalism be any better than ordinary world news or local political journalism? Now that most journalists are ill-paid freelancers instead of full-time employees, can we expect to see better work?

  •' cmbennett01 says:

    In spite of his opinions on philosophy, Lawrence Krause spends a lot of time engaged in exactly that. His advocacy and promotion of science as a worthwhile endeavor is a philosophical position. That said, there is a distinct difference between modern science and philosophy. Their origin is the same, but the methods are quite different.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    Exactly – one study does not equal scientific consensus. That is done through verification.

  •' cmbennett01 says:

    That’s a cop out. You have a responsibility to be able to alt least recognize legitimate authority in order to make reasoned judgments. The default position of many, on the other hand, to reject authority. This is a position that legitimizes ignorance and is the root cause of most of the anti-intellectualism and anti-science sentiment in todays society

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The important thing is just be careful of Republican science. Outside of that, science does a good job of judging itself.

  •' cmbennett01 says:

    Yes, science is self correcting. It’s built in. Republicans, however do not hold a monopoly on anti-intellectualism and irrational beliefs. If you let the weeds flourish in your own garden, they will quickly take over.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    Anti-vax is equally distributed.

  •' cranefly says:

    The problem is that the scientific publishing industry is (for one thing) the only way lay people can access the knowledge produced by science (in other words, the only way science does its epistemological job in some respects), but also has an impact on the scientific community itself: what future research is funded, what best practices and guidelines are produced, and how scientists think about their work. Half the papers I work on are literature reviews. Pure monastic science of the Gregor Mendal variety doesn’t really exist much these days, so we have to accept that if “science” is our epistemology, that doesn’t solve all problems or reveal all things. It may be the best we can do, but we can’t treat it like a religion.

  •' cranefly says:

    At the bottom of this is the fact that the popular scientific worldview has one thing in common with the popular religious worldview: It is mostly people believing what they are told, choosing authorities to believe based on perceived values, culturally-conditioned trust, and the method/aesthetic of the delivery. “Science,” as ultimate authority, has a curious similarity to the papacy; its apologists implore that we remember that being imperfect (as humans are) is an intrinsic part of the process. Yes, we should trust science. But we shouldn’t make of it an idol or a tribal identity.

  •' Tony Springer says:

    Nothing new here: remember the Piltdown Man.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Anyone ask about agendas and political positions of the people accused of defrauding “science” and the public? Was Michael LaCour gay, mentally ill or just seeking fame and fortune. I know very politically incorrect questions.

    For years science and polling told us for over twenty years that 10% of the population was gay. Everyone knew this to be false just by anecdotal evidence. No one most people knew could say that 10% of the individuals they knew were gay yet the press and so called sex researchers kept silent or promoted the lie and allowed this fiction to permeate the public consciencness because of a political agenda to support gay people and their acceptance into society. A decent goal that used “science” and fraud to advance their political end. Climate change might fall into the same slot when all is said and done. Science does not operate in a vacuum nor is it immune to the influence of money, celebrity and agendas.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Science is not some abstract concept that operates in a utopian universe. It is just a method of finding out something. It is operated by humans and utilized by humans for their ends or societies ends.

    Often the humans want to foist something on society and they use science to do it. Sometimes science, for various reasons, cooperates like in the eugenics fad, believing society needs this bit of fiction to move forward. Pure science like pure humans is a fiction used by scientists to isolate themselves from criticism or outside control. Much like doctors who were demigods for a time until lawsuits exposed their feet of clay.

    Science is NOT some esoteric world inhabited by perfect individuals dedicated to “truth.” They are dedicated people working within an imperfect world who would have us believe otherwise.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    In some of the social sciences the complex methods used are not easily repeated. Often it is information interpreted and analyzed by specifically trained individuals. Debunking it is difficult and dangerous to the reputations and careers of anyone challenging the “big boys.” It has been ever so in this closed insular world of reputations, tradition and peer pressured acceptance of experts.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    The same was said about religion and look where it has gotten us. No occupation or profession is so “above ti all” that it can or should function without some outside oversight or review. The “magic” is often not as complex and obscure as the magic makers would have us believe.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    There you have it! The insertion of political views and stereotypes into any debate is a sure way to poison any well of inquire. Republicans probably have more doctors, businessmen and non professional politicians within their ranks then Democrats, yet the sloganeers have successfully tagged them as ignorant anti-science morons.

    It was a Democrat who worried that Guam would tip over if too many people were allowed on the island. It is the Black Caucus that have come out with some of the stupidest political assertions anyone can remember.

    Democrats are as silly and ignorant as anyone else yet you choose to inject your political claptrap into a debate regarding science. This is why science is often a creature of some political party or another and not some “above it all” pure system of knowing something. Politicians have used science since forever to discredit the opposition. You are just another functionary operating within and for some political party or maybe you are just a cliche when it comes to political thinking.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Individual Republicans can be as dumb as anyone else. The entire Party is not dedicated to some anti-science agenda. There are 535 elected Congresspersons. Any sample of 535 Americans would turn up a larger percentage of scientifically uninformed or misinformed individuals then dwell within Congress. The media chooses to focus on the a*shat Republicans and give a pass to Democrats that might be just as uninformed.

  •' cmbennett01 says:

    I have never claimed it is any thing more than a method, a means to an end. That is precisely why the question of whether science can be trusted is ludicrous. I have never heard a reputable scientist make claims to absolute truth based on scientific observations. They make observations, develop theories that fit the observations, and make predictions. That is where science ends. Those who fail to follow that paradigm are liable to error.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    At least the Pope asserts infallibility ONLY regarding specific utterances about faith and morals within the Catholic Church. He has only asserted this idea a few times over the years. Science on the other hand, despite many errors, too often asserts its’ infallibility and relies on itself to “prove” its own assertions.

    The Pope is often the subject of ridicule where as science, a collective human institution, is venerated and in some precincts worshiped. At least the Pope NEVER asserts his infallibility, unlike science, regarding ALL things under heaven.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The Republicans represent special interests that have money to make from keeping things as they are, and not facing the problems we are causing.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Of course science has evidence, and is not just in the business of making things up.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It just seems like absolute truth when compared to religion.

  •' cmbennett01 says:

    Science does not have an epistemological job. The nature and possibility of knowledge is the domain of philosophy. The scientist begins with the assumption that there is an external reality, and that it is intelligible, for the same reasons everyone else does. It is the scientists job to observe it and develop theories to make future predictions. A scientist who claims to reveal all things or solve all problems is not a scientist. If there are those who treat science as a religion, they have a poor understanding of what it is.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Where have you been? The head of NASA, an Obama functionary, has said over and over that NASA’s mission is to enhance Muslims self image by promoting the roots of the math and science origins underlying America’s and NASA’s accomplishments. NASA can be used by the Party in power to advance some POV or another.

    Obama is even using the DOD as a point of the spear agency on climate change. What makes you think NASA is immune to his charm’s and directives? Oh, that is right Republicans are to blame for ALL ills plaguing science and its wonders to behold. BTW Pres. Obama stopped the space program dead in its tracks to divert NASA to bolster his climate change agenda. I was around when NASA was formed and don’t remember it being some broad based earth monitoring agency or “feel good” social service project.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Climate change might fall into the same slot when all is said and done. We might find a different reason for why the poles are melting.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Just what was the evidence behind eugenics, blood letting, and horrific operations to cure ulcers that were just plain wrong for years.
    “Evidence” is in the eye of the beholder and seems to change over the years.
    Todays evidence is tomorrows punch line on late night TV.
    Science does its best but it almost NEVER looks back and admits its errors it just moves on, with unbridled confidence in its self and a bit of hubris, into the future.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Science does look back and corrects all the errors

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Climate change is probably the main factor. It is man made or cyclical. Whichever no amount of taxation or silly recycling programs by one or two nations will “cure” the problem.
    Cassandra’s beware you might have to move on to depletion of clean drinking water that will bring on the end of times. At least there is some direct threat that can be dealt with by current technologies.

    With all the currently emerging nations as well as China and India going full steam ahead with industrialization just what program or policy will change the world into a Garden of Eden? Are the current solutions a tax scam or actual solutions? Is the freight train of climate change unstoppable and will run humanity down no matter what we do?

    Maybe the entire climate change movement is an opiate designed to keep us calm, like the frog in the slowly boiling pot, until the elites and government officials can save themselves. Good since fiction story line. Or is it?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Big oil is trying to make the train unstoppable because they have money to make. The rational thing is to look into other sources of energy. New energy solutions would be cheaper than our war in Iraq, or the possible next war in Iran, and would permanently fix the energy problems for the whole world. Big oil will need to forgo their profits so we can save the world.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Country Club Republicans is a stereotype from 50 years ago. With Hillary and Bill milking millions and millions from the system and taxpayers and Obama bending over for Wall Street I wonder how you can keep a straight face when indicting Republicans.

    Nancy alone could buy and sell most Republicans. Unions are huge businesses that outright own the Democrats. Judging by campaign contributions both parties are of and for the rich. The Democrat Party you support died many, many years ago. They ALL drink at the same trough and support the same lobbyists. Republicans just don’t seem to have as good as an advertising agency shaping their image. Are you so easily fooled by smoke and mirrors. The Clinton Foundation alone is a criminal enterprise worthy of most of the robber barons from the past.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The real republicans are not the politicians. They are the billionaires behind the scenes. The Democrats are flawed and often not working in our interests, but the Republicans are always in favor of tilting the game more in favor of the rich getting richer in every possible way.

  •' claynaff says:

    A deft summary, but the prescriptive conclusion? Not so much. “But we can stop framing the issue in terms of Inalienable Science vs. Stupid Naysayers, and be more open about the particular, very human process by which laboratory findings become public knowledge.”
    First, it’s a straw man. I suppose you might find some clod who believes that science is “inalienable,” but under no plausible interpretation of that word can I find the mainstream of scientists or their advocates. Is there contempt for science deniers? Sure, when they are paid shills like Marc Morano or elected officials like Sen. James Inhofe. But the contempt does not extend to the victims of science denial.
    Second, it’s non sequitur. While deplorable, the existence of fraud in science, as this article notes, has been known for a long time, as have problems with credulous, corrupt, or hasty media. Openness is not at issue; today, anyone can publish anything. The issue lies in the tattered professional ethics of journalism, which have been torn asunder by corporatism at one end and the “information wants to be free” ethic of the Internet at the other.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Cliche –pre- packaged thought passed off as original!. Obama and Wall Street, Hilary and Wall St. and 100’s of millions in speech fees. Sure Republicans are the problem!! Try a dose of reality!!!

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    So accepting science as absolute and always correct might be a little premature. Quoting science as an end to debate could be just a tactic to win and argument without addressing the reality of “what works.”

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    I could be wrong but the ROI enjoyed by oil companies is under 7% which is reasonable. I hope they are not run by stupid individuals who want to commit suicide since that would negate even what opponents call “obscene profits.”

    Truthfully big oil while a problem is not as difficult as big coal when discussing pollution. America’s regulations don’t really matter since much of our dirty coal is shipped to China and elsewhere. Natural gas could provide a solution if the anti- fracking factions would try a dose of reality.

    NYS is blocking the drilling for natural gas strictly on some misguided political campaign that scared the pants off Gov. Cuomo. The Party of science has decided to ignore science in favor of political points to be scored with the enviro absolutists. Again science is utilized as a club to advance an agenda until it is not useful— then it is ignored.

  •' cranefly says:

    The purpose of science is to find things out. Let’s forgo a debate about terminology. My point is not that scientists claim to know everything, but that science reporting is part of science, in more ways than one. It’s a cop-out to scapegoat publishers or non-scientists for an intrinsic vulnerability in the ongoing scientific process, which any good scientist will prefer to be well-aware and cautious of.

  •' cranefly says:

    Well, arguably the church has come along way too. At least it doesn’t burn people for resting on Saturday, anymore.

  •' cranefly says:

    I don’t know if I would give the pope too much credit, and I’d hate for us to conflate movement atheism (science polemicists) with science itself. I’m happy to grant both religion and science the concessions they ask, of being flawed and human. I think that making an idol of science is part of what gives us climate deniers, young-earth creationists, and anti-vax people, who learn that science is a flawed process and throw it out completely, or who put an inordinate amount of faith in one questionable scientist or study.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Burns people for resting on Saturday. That is a new assertion. And I thought I had heard every possible oddball slur against religion. Just what “church” are you referring to. “The Church” is pretty broad. What happened if you rested on Friday did you get a hotfoot?

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Oh, how odd, considering the discussion on another thread where it was pointed out that science can’t even tell you that it’s better to tell the truth than to lie or commit fraud. Religion can, science can’t. Show me the paper where science has shown that absolute truth.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Science is only as reliable as the review of it is and the review process is definitely not working as advertised in a disturbing number of cases. And that is entirely in the hands of scientists to fix, though the professional incentives to not fix it will not be outmatched by the need to unless the media and other information sources push the issue of fraud and incomptence that gets though review.

    And there are entire fields that are called “science” which have never, really practiced rigorous methods. Psychology’s accepted practices are frequently appallingly bad and could only produce a reliable result on the most unlikely of chances, and its methods have pretty much invaded some branches of biology these days. And then there are cosmologists demanding to be excused from the process of comparing their theories to actual observed aspects of the natural universe because they want to, essentially, get by with writing science fiction with numbers and calling it “science”.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Some arguments are not worth fighting about.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    In other words, you can’t answer that point, though it pretty well destroys your contention.

  •' cranefly says:

    In the height of the Inquisition, any suggestion of Judaism was enough for an investigation, if someone turned you in. Resting on the wrong sabbath, forgoing the wrong foods, celebrating passover.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “…science can’t even tell you that it’s better to tell the truth than to lie or commit fraud. Religion can, science can’t.” – Camera Obscura

    What if it is not “better” to tell the truth? (Leaving out the fact that you have not even given the criteria for “better.”) Have you not lied to someone or obscured your true thoughts in an effort spare their feelings? Yet you state “telling the truth” is an “absolute truth.”

    And further, what “reason” does religion give us for “telling the truth is better?” I have seen the commandments, but I seem to have missed the footnote section where god explains the reasons for the commandments. Unless you are referring to some unfounded assertions of rewards in an afterlife…

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Oh,yeah, the “would you tell the Nazis where the Jewish children were hidden” question. Well, it’s a valid question but science can’t tell you the answer to it.

    Yes, religion can tell you why it is better to know and tell the truth. In your specific case telling the truth is always a good but it isn’t the only good in real life. The protection of innocent people at risk for their lives, for example, is a higher moral duty than to tell those who want to kill them how to find them. There are examples in the Bible of concealment for that reason. Off hand, I can think of this passage in Psalm 31

    In the cover of your presence you hide them
    from the plots of men;
    you store them in your shelter
    from the strife of tongues.

    A passage provided by those people of unsurpassed self-examination and moral self-criticism, the very ones who the Nazis hated for that and who they hoped to wipe out, along with their religion and its descendant, Christianity.

    If I had more time to think of it, I could find other instances.

    Science, on the other hand, can’t say anything about it. It is totally and absolutely useless when that question becomes important.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “In other words, you can’t answer that point…” – Camera Obscura

    When I saw your response to me above, I realized you are a true believer and further conversation was irrelevant, as Jim probably realized, as well.

    Your interpretation of Jim’s response said a lot about you, though.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Without getting into an elongated debate about the “Inquisition” it should be noted that well after the events surrounding the Inquisition a single book was written by a non-scholar. It was popular literature and played into the hands of the strong anti-Catholic feelings and writings of the time in England I think. Like “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” the book became a completely false narrative of events at the time.

    Later scholars debunked the popular, but false, notions about the Inquisition. It did in fact happen and was no “gold star” on the chart of the Catholic religion. Much was done by civil governments in the name of the Church. The Church itself settled some scores and was by no means unsullied by these events.

    A reading of scholars inquires and writings would present different narrative. Purges by governments or churches are never pretty or fair. The popular depiction of the Inquisition is a largely overblown and sensationalized account that exists mostly in the public imagination driven by popular books, movies and the like.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Neither science nor atheism, your clear ideological holding, can tell you why it is better to tell the truth than it can to lie. If you are going to assert that what science says ” just seems like absolute truth when compared to religion.” when science can’t even assert that it is even better to tell the truth, as religion constantly asserts that it is, then you are calling into question that holding of religion. It’s a form of scientism such as Bertrand Russell’s self-contradicting statement about what science can’t tell us can’t be known, since that, itself can’t be a statement that science can tell you, and as a self-contradicting statement, it is invalid.

    I assume you didn’t follow that but that’s not my fault.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “Neither science nor atheism, your clear ideological holding, can tell you why it is better to tell the truth than it can to lie.” – Camera Obscura

    You can’t even tell me what you mean by “better.”

    And, absolutely, we could conduct a scientific study to show if it is “better” to tell the truth or lie, once you decide on what you mean by “better.” Monetary success? The more subjective “happiness” factor? The happiness of those around you?

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Oh, that game of endless hair splitting over the meaning of words, an old atheist favorite. Well, you can say the same about almost all of the words in any scientific paper, not to mention blog atheists. Tell me what you mean when you use the word “what”.

    Morality is not treatable with science because it is far, far, far too complex in the context of human experience and human history to be reducible to terms that science can manage. Science can only successfully be used when the things it attempts to examine can be honestly characterized through the results of that reductionist process. That doesn’t mean what is being talked about isn’t real. Science can’t really tell us what our experience of red is or our experience of the word “yes”. Your assertion that you could conduct a scientific experiment that would show that it is better to tell the truth or lie would depend on a fake definition of the word only shows you know absolutely nothing about what it takes to really do science. Though if you are a soc-psy kind of guy, you can do what they do and pretend to do that. Don’t expect your findings to last more than a few decades, at most, because they will go the way of all such “science”.

    You can’t even assert that science is better than snake handling, strychnine drinking Pentacostalism with science.

  •' pennyroyal says:

    that should be the 11th commandment

  •' David Bell says:

    Evolutionary psychology can tell you why it is better to tell the truth – humans evolved and were rewarded for small scale trusts/communities after developing the ability to conceive of other minds (theory of mind) and produce empathy. Much has been written on evolution and morality to answer Camera Obscura

  •' pennyroyal says:

    I answered that days ago.

    Human values derived by living collaboratively and cooperatively soon tell you what works to enhance civil societies. Don’t kill your neighbor doesn’t need to come from a fear based god.
    Check out my earlier post on Virtue Ethics. I doubt you even read my comments then, for you confused French philosopher Comte with the present day author British author, Andre Comte-Sponville. Really, it is just not good enough.

  •' pennyroyal says:

    what patronizing nonsense you write, your superiority complex is wearing thin, at least on me.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    As long as we can continue to disagree on which arguments those are.

  •' pennyroyal says:

    religions, esp. Christianity has never gotten over the movement in universities of the departments of moral philosophy, which was under the sway of theologians, to the secular study of philosophy. That move enabled philosophy to free itself from the dominion of religion and return to the Ancient Greek philosophers and humanistic philosophy. And that gives us a god-free discussion of human virtues and ethics. God becomes extraneous.

  •' pennyroyal says:

    I was thinking of my own personal actions. I should live by my motto not to suffer fools gladly.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    You should listen to what that atheist judge of good and evil, Steve Weinberg said when Rebecca Goldstein asserted that evo-psy based substitute for morality at Sean Carroll’s

    “Moving Naturalism” confab


    … “There are competing things which are all good like happiness and truth. For example, we sacrifice some happiness when we accept the truth that we’re not going to have life after death. Should we tell other people that they’re not going to live after they die? It probably will reduce their happiness on the other hand truth has a value of its own how do you balance truth and happiness there isn’t any algorithm for balancing that. I think you just have to accept that there is no postulate that allows you to judge how much happiness you’re willing to give up for how much truth.

    Even people who accept all this will say, all right we’re not going to agree on what is the good but at least we can agree on the fundamental principle of morality that something like Rawls original condition [I think he meant “Original Position”] that we should not treat other people worse than we treat ourselves. Rebecca [Goldstein] was saying something like this that everyone equally deserves whatever is good, happiness or whatever it is. That’s not the way I feel either. And I think it’s probably not the way most of you feel if you think about it because. I could probably increase the total amount of happiness by making my family live on rice and beans and live in a one room apartment and just barely keep enough money to keep us alive and healthy and send all of the rest of the money to poor parts of the world where it would do to me. I’m not going to do that I’m not going to …. and I well, I’m not confessing immorality. I’m saying that my moral feelings tell me I should be loyal to my family.

    Similarly when my university tries to recruit a bright young star in physics I suppose I could calculate, well, he could do more good for some other university and the greater good would imply we shouldn’t go after him let some other university go after him. I don’t care, I care about my university I’m loyal to my university similarly. So there loyalty is a value it’s not an absolute value I wouldn’t cause, like Edward the Third, I wouldn’t cause the hundred years war to advance the interests of my family. But it is one of these things where we have no algorithm for balancing loyalty against distributive justice.

    And I think we have to live with that. I think we have to live with the fact that although we can reason and try to uncover what our moral feelings are. And if we get into that I think a very good example would be arguing about abortion … maybe I’ll come back to that in the discussion.

    We can reason, the reasoning uncovers how we feel morally and perhaps allows us to identify areas of agreement so we can cooperate with each other and bring about what we want.

    I think in the end we have to live with not having a moral philosophy that really works in a decisive way. I think we have to live the unexamined life. I think this is part of the tragedy of the human condition just like we have no absolute way of determining that Mozart is better than Led Zeppelin we feel it but it’s not something that we can argue, we can rationally show. We have to live with the fact that… this came up yesterday…. when we discover the fundamental laws of physics from which all in some sense follows, that all other principles follow, we won’t know why they’re true. This is something that we have to accept, that the position of human beings is tragic and part of the tragedy, that there is no way of deciding moral issues on the basis of – well there is no way of deciding moral postulates which should govern our actions. And in fact we don’t have moral postulates that govern our actions when we behave morally.”

    Steve Weinberg, Moving Naturalism Day 2 Morning 1st session beginning at about 7:25 ( you can hear it on YouTube if you think I’m misrepresenting what he said).

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Well, I’m not going to apologize for having studied the claims of atheists and found them lacking, in detail. I’ve stopped apologizing for talking about things like an adult used to be expected to do. And I’m not going to apologize for identifying what I’ve come to now, very well, as the typical blog thread atheist tactics.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    And I refuted what you said days ago. If you want more, read my transcript of what the atheist icon, Steve Weinberg, Mr “Bad Religion” said when his fellow famous atheists tried to assert their artificial substitutes for morality.

    Atheists can refuse to believe any assertion of morality made by atheists by exactly the same means they use to refuse to believe in God “prove it”, “why should I,” “so what,” which all boils down to the crux of your dilemma if you want to create those atheist substitutes for the real thing, “Who’s going to make me?”

  •' pennyroyal says:

    Scientists are proven wrong all the time when the outcome of their research proves not to be reproducible. Then it’s back to Square One. That’s the difference. Science can admit it’s mistakes and take it in stride, as all part of the scientific method. Religions just double down on their truth claims. The only difference now is that religions like Christianity can’t convert, control, silence, and use violence and force to maintain its ‘truth’ claims.

  •' pennyroyal says:

    You refuted nothing. You failed to continue the discussion and substituted more hate speech against atheists. You refused to engage in a discussion after I offered you some middle ground.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    I refused your “middle ground” because it was logically incoherent, as I recall.

    Tell me how any atheist substitute for religious morality wouldn’t be vulnerable to rejection on the basis of that atheist question, “Who’s going to make me?”

  •' cranefly says:

    The Inquisition kept very good records, and I didn’t read whatever book you’re talking about. I am not anti-Catholic, I am Catholic. There is no point in denying that the Catholic royalty of Iberia, with the assent of the papacy and the monastic orders as staff, took violent coercive measures to destroy or expel Judaism, among other undesirable beliefs and practices. We don’t learn from denial.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “Morality is not treatable with science because it is far, far, far too complex in the context of human experience and human history to be reducible to terms that science can manage.” – Camera Obscura

    LOL. Are you trying to use the ID “irreducible complexity” argument on morality?

    “Science can’t really tell us what our experience of red is or our experience of the word “yes”.” – Camera Obscura

    And, by all means, please continue to use SUBJECTIVE examples as if they are analogous to your OBJECTIVE claims. Because confusing those two really sheds some light on your thought processes.

  •' pennyroyal says:

    “Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality.” Theodor W. Adorno, German philosopher (1903-1969). Your question assumes the use of force. Apparently, you can’t conceive of people accepting truth without the use of forth. I pity you.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Your assertion was unambiguously illogical.

    Your statement asserting conceiving of people accepting the truth without use of force, is logically incoherent. You can’t give me an answer, as Steve Weinberg showed when Rebecca Goldstein asserted the evo-psy substitute for morality, any atheist can use the basic methods atheists use to refuse to consider the reality of God to dispose of any atheist substitute for morality. He also disposed of utilitarianism that way in the same comment, though I can’t recall if I transcribed it. You can go to Youtube and listen to his atheist demolition of morality in full if you don’t believe me.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    I think anyone who knew what they were talking about would admit that morality is too complex to be treated scientifically. Which has been known for ages. Arthur Stanley Eddington, a better scientist than anyone who does evo-psy, pointed out

    ” Now the thought of “7 times 9″ in a boy’s mind is not seldom succeeded by the thought of “65.” What has gone wrong? In the intervening moments of cogitation everything has proceeded by natural laws which are unbreakable. Nevertheless we insist that something has gone wrong. However closely we may associate thought with the physical machinery of the brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as soon as we consider the fundamental property of thought – that it may be correct or incorrect. The machinery cannot be anything but correct. We say that the brain which produces “7 times 9 are 63″ is better than a brain that produces “7 times 9 are 65″; but it is not as a servant of natural law that it is better. Our approval of the first brain has no connection with natural law; it is determined by the type of thought which it produces, and that involves recognising a domain of the other type of law – laws which ought to be kept, but may be broken. Dismiss the idea that natural laws may swallow up religion; it cannot even tackle the multiplication table single-handed.”

    A. S. Eddington: Science and the Unseen World

  •' Roger says:

    We should approach science in mass media like we should view many things, including religion, with a skeptical eye

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    I am not even close to denial. Just point out that many popular conceptions are just plain wrong. Reviewing the records of the Church and cross checking available civilian records is a tedious task best left to scholars NOT popular writers whether for or against the Church. The book I was referring to was popular at the time and is probably long out of print. It shaped much of the people of the times conception about this stain on the Church. As I said movies and popular books added gas to what was a bad time.

    Your idea about “records” kept by the Inquisition is also a bit off. The Inquisition was not an institution itself nor a record keeping agency.
    But you are right there were many undesirable practices within Iberia but many people attribute this inquisition to the entire Church existing at the time. The Spanish Inquisition was just that a localized purging of many innocent and sone not so innocent opponents of the Catholic church. Jews took the brunt but Catholics and others were subjects of this witch hunt.

  •' cranefly says:

    There is no such thing as an unbiased source. One of mine is Henry Kamen, an actual scholar long considered one of the most generous towards the Inquisition(s) and oft cited by apologists.

    My only point was that the Church has come a long way, and indeed it has. To try someone for the crime of Judaism is unthinkable to us now.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “Arthur Stanley Eddington, a better scientist than anyone who does evo-psy…” – Camera Obscura

    Ah yes, one of those objective claims again…and since there has not been any progress in the sciences in the last century since that quote was published (psychology, neuroscience, or physics), we will just have to say Eddington gets the last word.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    There are millions who still would try and punish Jews for being Jews. Yet we are warned to be tolerant and we still deal with entire governments practicing their own form of inquisition. The UN is loaded with nations living in the 1500s. They get to vote and influence policies and programs of the civilized world. Maybe the UN is part of the problem and not a solution.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “I assume you didn’t follow that but that’s not my fault.” – Camera Obscura

    Your assumptions are not your fault?

  •' NewAndImprovedCM says:

    It seems important to me to draw a distinction between science as a method or discipline and science as the accumulated results obtained from the use of that method. Certainly, anyone who is performing science in the first sense, and doing so carefully and rigorously, almost by definition is not committing fraud. But the media, the public and, yes, many scientists or spokespersons for science use the word mainly in the second sense, and in doing so open the door to a lot of assertions about what is “scientific” that are dubious. “Science says …” is all too often used as a debate-stopper, and all too often is just not true.

    As for who plays what role in disseminating scientific fakery, a browse of the excellent quickly shows that researchers themselves are to blame for quite a bit of it. But there’s also an interesting recent study published in the British Medical Journal that implicates university publicity departments and, yes, complaisant journalists in spreading exaggerated claims about the significance of health-related research findings. ” Improving the accuracy of academic press releases could represent a key opportunity for reducing misleading health related news,” according to the authors.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    CO is all about anecdotes to try and prove sweeping generalizations. He/She does this regularly – as if somehow this can prove the larger point.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    Within institutions this may be an issue. But competing universities or research institutions would be more than happy to challenge a wonky research paper. People don’t stop being people because they are academics – the process will eventually weed out bias and failed hypotheses – it is just slow.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    In the long term – how often has science trumped the utterances of the Popes? How often has the reverse happened? Not sure who has claimed science if infallible (it is run by humans after all). Einstein overthrew Newton and Plate Tectonics replaced an older model that did not fit the data as well. The very fact that that any scientific principal can be overthrown through the acquisition of additional data – is a bedrock principle of the method.

    Worship implies that there is some authority to be worshiped. The only authority science has is through it’s ability to acquire verifiable knowledge. Something religion has had a difficult time doing.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    So you confirm my assumption. That’s nice of you.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Science can’t tell you that, either.

    It is always so fascinating to find out how the greatest fans of science are the ones who are most totally ignorant of what scientific methods are, what those can’t do and the limits of what they can do and the limits within which those work.

    The reason religion says it’s better to tell the truth is that it’s the right thing to do. Here’s a short sample of how religion can advocate the truth, even as science and atheism can’t.

    Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart Psalm 15:2

    Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Psalm 25:5

    O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; Psalm 43:3

    In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right; Psalm 45:4

    You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Psalm 51:6

    You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth

    Psalm 52:3

    Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth Psalm 86:11

    Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your ordinances. Psalm 119:43

    The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

    for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. Proverbs 8:7

    Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness speaks deceitfully. Proverbs 12:17

    Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. Proverbs 12:19

    A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer. Proverbs 14:25

    Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23

    Which is a demonstration of what religion can do which neither of your god substitutes, materialism and scientism can’t do.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Einstein was mighty impressed with him, as were others who worked in physics at the time. And he did real science instead of making up Just-so stories about things in the lost past. I am pretty sure he won’t be forgotten when Richard Dawkins is just a footnote in some books about 20th century science that will be discontinued. Daniel Dennett will be seen as a clown.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I am not sure what you would be skeptical about. Real science is pretty careful of how it works and what it concludes, and the scientists themselves are going to find any fraud or other mistakes. They work hard at this, and it doesn’t seem like they might be missing something, but you found it.

    Certainly there is science commissioned by big oil companies, or religious institutions that are going to find what their sponsors are paying for, but outside of that, I think all we can do is trust science to do its job.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I remember that case. It was fraud from 100 years ago dealing with a reported fossil ancestor of man that was eventually discovered as fraud, and then became permanently enshrined in Christian apologetics as a reason not to believe in science that contradicts Biblical Christian teachings. It makes people confident that they can reject millions of other pieces of scientific evidence.

  •' Roger says:

    My point was to be skeptical of “science in mass media”. Legitimate scientific findings are often simplified or misrepresented for the biggest appeal to a paying audience.

  • Actually, social science could come up with a lot of reasons and test them. telling the truth makes you perceived as trustworthy, in some cultures gives you status, and enables you to keep track of what you’ve said. Each of those are testable by asking a community which person is trustworthy, etc. Science can’t establish absolute truth — but then, neither religion nor more generic philosophy can either. Because there are many religions. What I’ve seen the last 20 years is people who come from a religion which enjoins its followers to tell the truth supporting hypocrisy if it helps their ends. I suspect that’s true of many religions. Me? I’m an academic. I’m shocked at people who are dishonest with themselves, let alone other people, but then, I’m eccentric.

  • “There are 535 elected Congresspersons. Any sample of 535 Americans would turn up a larger percentage of scientifically uninformed or misinformed individuals then dwell within Congress.”

    I do hope you’re right.

    (Sorry about the font if it appears extra large; problem with pasting and won’t let me change.)

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Font was adjusted and looks fine. Same as all the rest.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Don’t forget the nexus between poor journalism and the medical/scientific publishing journals. These so called professional publications are a world unto themselves. The few individuals who have tested their integrity by submitting totally fraudulent and sometimes idiotic & funny articles have “passed muster,” been “peer reviewed” by a few journals then published as scientific or medical “fact.”
    Since we don’t know how many articles are in fact submitted that are false, fradulent or a sham we have no way of knowing the error rate. Might surprise the entire field of science and medicine to find out how much misinformation and or fraud is contained in their precious “scientific” journals. Most is probably just innocent mistake or poor testing method that is peer reviewed by incompetent or lax peers. Just what goes on behind the curtain at these corporate bottom line publications.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    To the best of my knowledge, the Pope has only invoked the infallibility clause once: to proclaim the Assumption of Mary. It is notable that there is not a single shred of historical or scriptural evidence for that doctrine. In contrast, I am not aware of any scientific doctrine that claims to be infallible. All science claims is provisional understanding based on available evidence. The contrast is telling.

  •' Camera Obscura says:

    Social science is, 1. not science, 2. never uses valid methodology, just never using a valid random sample representative of the human species alone would disqualify it as science, 3. cannot come up with a reason for someone to tell the truth or do anything that is not vulnerable to the basic methods atheists use to reject God and religion. No matter what they come up with it will a. not be invulnerable to that, b. evidence of a scientific nature, c. convincing to anyone in a way that would alter their behavior.

    Acting according to the teachings of religion is voluntary, of course, but it at least makes definite statements about moral truths, it is powerless to force people to follow them. Yet that is supposed to be the fault of religion which at least asserts the immorality of lying and, according to atheists, an argument for atheism which doesn’t even argue that lying is wrong.

  • LOL, if your moral truth is that social science isn’t science, then it’s easy to argue that it can’t do anything. However, there are many scientists and specialists in the philosophy of inquiry who would disagree with you. Without knowing the extent of your scientific credentials, or your evidence for your claims other than a tautology, I’ll side with them.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Religion and science are completely different. Religion seeks to know man and his relationship to the universe, if any. Science seeks to explain our world using its methods to do so.

    Exploring love, hate, empathy and the spectrum what it is to be human in a vast universe is not something suited for the methods of science. Just how does one quantify our universal tendency to embrace the metaphysical and or our belief in “something” outside ourselves. Truth is NOT always contradictory when appearing to be at loggerheads about something or other.

    People often hold beliefs that can not be proved by scientific method. How do you prove love or how dreams effect our lives, yet they exist within individuals. Science can observe them and describe them but to deconstruct and recreate these things might not be doable. Are our lives bound by only what science can or cannot prove or reproduce in a lab??

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    I certainly agree that religion and science are completely different. I also agree that the exploration of love, hate, empathy and other emotions is not exclusively the domain of science. However, that does not mean that religion has any special expertise in the area either.
    Where I disagree with you is the claim that there is a “universal tendency” to embrace the metaphysical (and here, I assume you mean spiritual or non-physical.) I certainly feel awe and wonder when presented with a starry sky or spectacular landscape, but I don’t feel any inclination to relate that feeling to anything metaphysical.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Your anecdotal personal observation is fine as far as it goes. The thing is the vast, vast majority of the worlds humans seem to in fact “feel” the spiritual components of their humanity as being very real. Religion and worshiping nature MIGHT be manifestations of this human quality seemingly intrinsic to the human psych.

    Science could explain the psycological sources of this desire or inclination but that does not negate the next step in that people want to KNOW why this somewhat universal trait of humanity exists. Is it part of our biology or some sense of something beyond humanity that is just beyond our understanding or reach?

    Seems to have been and is part and parcel of humanity since before recorded time. In today’s world it has morphed into everything from new age spiritism to yoga, and onward to countless variations of metaphysical inquire.
    Just viewing ourselves as walking, talking masses of MEAT that exist for a moment in time then cease seems to be a an extremely minority POV. Can science actually give humanity any answers as to the ultimate meaning of life and the purpose, if any to the universe.
    If there is INFACT nothing but vibrating atoms that will stop moving at some future date humans might have to make up some meaningful explanation just to stay sane. Can science EVER trump this drive in the vast majority of people?

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    In the atheistic world an individual who struggles and leads a “good” life is, in the end, the same as a Hitler who murders millions, lives a pain free life where he wants for nothing but then dies without any consequences for his actions. Both existed for a time then died.

    Seems virtue might not be its own reward and existing like an animal without humanity would be the way to go. What makes us human? Something divine within us or just having extra cells in our heads. Could ANY animal ever invent and build a computer?

    Whether anyone likes it or not WE ARE basically different and contain something within us that is “god” like when viewed from any point of view. Question might be is that quality within us or given to us by something outside our selves. We seem to be more then the sum of our biological parts so just what is that “extra” that makes us millions and millions of times more able to do the actual things humanity has done over the years that NO OTHER life form on this planet has even come close to achieving.

    We are so different in our intellectual capacities that a case can be made that we did not even originate here. NOT a case I would try to make.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    I cannot rebut your contention that many, if not most, people feel some kind of spiritual urge. However, just like Plantinga’s invocation of sensus divinatus, it does not provide sufficient warrant for belief in the existence of the spiritual or metaphysical. As with the majority of scientists and philosophers, I look for more evidence than commonly held belief. After all, most people believed that the earth was the center of the universe, but that didn’t make it so.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    As you might have observed the academic world is loaded with two things, atheism and ethically challenged people. Universities are hotbeds of self serving, ego centric, children playing at being adults. The academic world is insular and a society onto itself that could only exist within the hothouse of a protected environment. Dishonesty and careerism are the lifeblood of that artificial world.

  • Well, when I was a professor at a university, my neighbors were the Department of Religion (it was a religious university) so I didn’t actually run into a lot of atheists, though a wider range of belief than is usually available to a community dedicated to a particular religion. and yes, it had ethically challenged people, irrational people, etc… as does industry, as does government. I have found more blindness and rigidity in private industry than elsewhere, which is a result not so much of their economic philosophy as it is the failure of others to check the silliest.I would not say “loaded” with idiocy because I prefer to believe good of people rather than bad, in general. In my field (Rhetorical studies) I was taught to say they were “wrong,” not evil. Or as my beloved advisor, ex-seminarian said to my little marxist self, “The good Jesuits taught me to be tolerant of error.”

  • Okay, I see where you’re coming from (though there would be probably plenty of room for late-night coffeehouse argument about “valid methodology.”) I was speaking to a particular kind of inquiry: what is the community consensus on if truth is better than lying?” A lot of social scientists would, in my view, not go about finding the answer in a way I found acceptable, and they would think my methods were not science, since my research is qualitative. Since I’m in the humanities, they’d probably be right.

    However, they would be able to find out what community norms are. I realize that you are committed to a moral absolute, and would require something beyond community consensus; but those of us of a different religious background (as I am) would consider it helpful and a good place to start from. Every philosopher, after all, builds on the backs of the opinions of those before — Aquinas couldn’t have done his work without Augustine’s previous exploration some centuries earlier, and Platonic principles were embedded in the church until Ramus. and Descartes at the very beginning of Rules for the Right Direction of the Mind says while he’s trying to figure it out, he’s going to follow the authorities because they’ve been pondering what’s right and what’s wrong much longer than he has.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    “After all, most people believed that the earth was the center of the universe, but that didn’t make it so.”

    Most of those people were the scientists of their time. Everyone else just followed their lead. People of the time would have bet their lives on the earth being the center of the universe. We don’t know today just what our limitations are and what we don’t know. In the future we may appear as uninformed and simple as those scientists of old. Our predictions and climate change studies as well as the certainty which they are asserted might prove to be hubris driven by political and commercial interests. Could provide a good laugh for future generations. If not maybe there will be no future generations.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Your right my brush was much too broad. Just my experience with some secular Universities and the individuals who hide behind the ivy covered walls. The sublimated aggression is channeled to turf battles and gamesmanship while climbing the career ladder on the backs of others. Could be just an anomaly or anecdotal but no real outside studies have been conducted by social scientists into this insular netherworld and the truncated personalities that live and die within that milieu.

  • I think that’s where fiction writers are a blessing. I’m trying to remember the name of the writer who lampooned faculty politics at Iowa State… she wrote a Thousand Acres, Jane someone… and since I’m an sf fan, my favorite go-to writer for critiquing faculty is Terry Pratchett, though his faculty are (British disguised) wizards… Someone once wrote that faculty politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. I once saw three of the four professors in my department (I was the fourth) in a shouting argument about who deserved the office which was six inches larger…

    I should have specified, when I identify as an academic, I don’t think the majority of professors any more are. It’s an ideal I live up to… or fail to of course.

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