Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

And now, quick answers to non-writing-related questions:

Anguadelphine: “My question is how do scientists effectively communicate facts to the general public without being discounted by people who don’t have the knowledge or patience to distill scientific evidence (or just don’t want to because of ‘belief’). I would appreciate any thoughts on this because frankly, it baffles me how people can discount science (as imperfect it is, it is still better than ignorance) because of their ‘belief’ mostly based on things they read on the internet or in literal readings of holy documents.”

With regard to ‘belief’ I think it’s important to remember that ‘belief’ is not monolithic — for example there are some evangelical Christian sects that believe in the universe was literally created in six days, but the largest Christian sect of all, Catholicism, is totally down with both cosmology and evolution. It’s worth pointing that out, and pointing it out to “literal” believers.

The best thing to do, honestly, is to hook people young: Get them used to the idea of science as early as possible. So this is a thing that requires planning, alas. As for the rest of it, my own thought is that people are perfectly good with science until and unless it conflicts with a political agenda — see climate change. I don’t know what the fix is there, because humans are political animals before they are scientific animals.

Pixlaw: “As a fellow Ohioan, I’m curious about your take on our very own Governor John Kasich’s various feints towards a presidential run. Frankly, I don’t like him or his politics very much, but my son, a budding Republican (…shudder…) thinks he would be fabulous.”

Kasich is in fact kind of a best case scenario for a GOP candidate for president, for anyone who is not a member of the GOP’s base. But I don’t think he’s strident enough for the base at the moment, and he’s not exactly charismatic enough to charm anyone else. I don’t really see him getting that far in a presidential run.

Sam: “Bruce Jenner coming out as a transgender person (even though it appears many people have known for years) and his desire to have gender reassignment but still be exclusively sexually attracted to women, does that make him a lesbian? The confussion, for me, lays in the fact that his brain is female but his DNA is male even if he changes his male bits to female bits. Or is he a heterosexual male that just had a sex change?”

I don’t know that it makes Jenner any one particular thing, nor am I personally in a huge rush to shift Jenner into one category or another simply for my own mental convenience. At the end of the day Jenner should be who Jenner wants to be, and love who Jenner wants to love, and everything else is fiddly bits. When Jenner wants to clarify or categorize and announce that to the public, great. Until then, I’ll just wish Jenner happiness and not concern myself about it.

PacoQ: “Do you agree with current copyright term lengths? Your daughter and her children will probably own the copyright for probably much longer than you will. Does it seem fair to you that your works will not enter the public domain until 70 years after you pass away?”

I’m on record in several places noting that copyright lengths are too long, and suggest their term be 75 years, in terms of corporations, and 75 years or life of the creator plus 25 (whichever is longer) in terms of individual creators. I think it’s fine for my wife to continue to benefit from my work, and to a lesser extent my child. My grandchildren can go work for a living.

Kore: “If an arbitrary stranger saved your life, what would you do? In particular, how would you deal with that person? Likewise, if you saved someone else’s life, what, if anything, would you expect of them or of yourself?”

Second answer first: I wouldn’t expect anything from them. I don’t imagine I would be saving their life for any other reason than that life is worth saving. If someone saved my life, I would be grateful and would let them know I owed them a debt. What that debt would be in many ways would be down to the person who saved my life.

Skippy: “How do you balance justifiable outrage at social injustice without becoming bitter or letting it color everything and make everything sad and angry.”

I don’t think about social injustice twenty four hours a day, in large part because I don’t have to. So the fact I have the luxury of not having to means the balance is easy to find. Of course, it is worth meditating on that fact of my life and what it means.

Noblehunter: “What are your thoughts on bad actors in anarchic/unorganized social movements? From looters hi-jacking civil rights protests to gamergate (some people seem to actually believe it’s about ethics in video game journalism) and Puppies (likewise), the stated goals of the group are undermined or by those calling themselves members of the group while acting in counter-productive ways. Can these groups police themselves despite a lack of central authority? Do you have any suggestions for people who are genuinely concerned about ethics in videogame journalism or other populist causes?”

Well, I’d first note that in the cases of Gamergate and the Puppies, the “stated goals” of the group were tacked on as afterthoughts/justifications for the precipitating action (harassment of women — and of a specific woman — in the case of Gamergate, personal desire for a bauble in the case of the Puppies). That’s not an insignificant thing, and it’s not something the fig leaf of a “stated goal” is going to cover up. This is a different situation, obviously, than looters attaching themselves to a protest movement already underway.

If I were truly interested in ethics in video game journalism — which is a laudable goal — or in seeing more representation of the sort of SF/F subgenres I liked in awards — less concretely laudable, but sure, why not — or whatever, I would probably start fresh, far away from those already tainted movements.

Maltsoda: “Advice for a beginner learning the ukelele?”

Practice and have fun with it. That’s what I do.

Mitchell Hundred: “Superheroes: Inspirational force for good or fascistic power fantasy?”

Why is this an either/or?

Ariane: “What’s your take on NASA’s new kind of engine, called electromagnetic propulsion drive, which brings us nearer to the vision of warp drive?”

I’ve trained myself not to get too excited. I’ll save my excitement for after a successful test zooms a spaceship, to, say, Jupiter. Or Alpha Centauri!

Allison: “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our growing tendency to store personal artifacts (photos, communications, and various writings) digitally. Specifically, I think about how historians rely on those kinds of artifacts to understand past cultures. The ephemeral nature of many aspects of digital culture makes me wonder what will be left to inform future historians of the daily lives of 21st century humans. Any thoughts on that?”

Here in the early parts of the 21st Century we are still generating an immense amount of physical personal artifacts. The vast majority of my photos are digital and yet I still print out the occasional physical copy. I very rarely give digital objects as gifts, but give physical objects all the time. There are still physical books and magazines and so on. Hell, vinyl has made a comeback. It seems very likely to me the issues for future archaeologists will not be lack of physical data, but trying to make sense of the immense amount of physical data we are leaving behind.

Christina Wodke: “Adventures in being an ally, including dumb mistakes, wins, and perhaps the seduction of mansplaining (I do it too and I’m not a man.) Guy friends of mine chicken out on being an ally sometime because they are afraid of being scolded. They might like to hear some of your experiences and realize it’s survivable.”

Well, I think the simplest thing to do is think of being an ally like you’re learning a skill, like a guitar or woodworking. You know you have an interest, but you lack experience, and as you work on it you’ll make mistakes and people with more expertise in the area will correct you and occasionally offer advice, which may work for you or may not. And over time you learn and you get better at it — but there will always be something new to learn. If you think about it that way, it becomes less ego-bruising to be called out, and when you are called out it becomes more productive. I think that’s a good way to picture it.

Dana: “You’ve heard of ‘speed dating’ where you spend 5 minutes with each of several potential partners trying to determine if you are compatible. How about ‘super speed dating’ where you’re allowed just three questions? What 3 questions would give you a sense of go/no-go?”

Ooooooh, I wouldn’t make any relationship decisions based on only three questions. But if I had to, I would ask three questions that required lengthy, complex answers and I would watch how the person answered them as much as paying attention to what the answer was. Because all of that would be just as important as the answer itself. No idea what those particular questions would be. I’d probably make them up at the time.

Neil W: “You live in Ohio. Ohio has a swallow-tail shaped flag. Do you have an opinion on the eccentricity of it, or any other thoughts on flag design or on flags in general? For example what would you like to see on a Scalzi flag?”

I’m not a huge fan of the Ohio flag, but at the same time I can’t muster any particularly negative feeling about either, so — meh? I don’t know what I would do to change it and I suspect that changing it wouldn’t be for the better, so it might as well stay as it is. With regard to a Scalzi flag, in fact, this is something I thought about a long time ago but unfortunately at the moment I can’t find the file for it. If I unearth it I’ll show it. It does include a phoenix.

Peripatetic Entrepreneur: “Money is a fiction. Opine.”

Uhhhh, yes, it is? But we all seem to agree to pretend it exists for our own purposes so I guess it’s okay?

Megpie71: “How do you feel about the sort of uncritical patriotism pushed by statements like ‘love it or leave it’? Do you think the best way to love one’s country, fandom, or whatever is to refrain from criticising it at all, or do you feel criticism has a useful function?”

I think uncritical patriotism is stupid in part because any patriotism I would feel is based on the idea that my nation is worth supporting, and that knowledge comes only from critical examination. So, yeah, if someone were to tell me to “love it or leave it,” I’d mark them down as not exactly a deep thinker. And yes, this also goes for other groups with which I feel some identity toward.

Mearsk: “Is your social media presence worth it? Jos Whedon quitting Twitter the other day because he was tired of the constant stream of ‘you suck,’ made me wonder if it is worth all the exposure to negativity and small-minded people. I know you’re very active on Twitter, but you frequently comment about ‘muting’ people, so that means you have to deal with it, so is the benefit worth the cost?”

I’m on social media because I enjoy it, and if I stop enjoying it then I’ll leave it. But I will note there are all sorts of ways to tailor one’s social media intake. So for example, if on Twitter I don’t want to see responses from random people, I don’t have to; likewise if I want to limit my conversations to only people who I like I can do that too. People can be negative (or not) all they like — but I don’t have to see it. In Whedon’s case, he left primarily because he found it a timesuck, which is a thing I can appreciate. That’d be a more likely reason for me to leave it than negativity, to be honest.

Cavyherd: “What I want to know is: Did you ever go through a period of being the Angry Young Man?”

Not really. I think the circumstances of my life could have given me ample reason to be angry, for various reasons, but I just… wasn’t. It’s not the direction my personality seems to default toward. I have been angry, but it’s situational, rather than a baseline emotion. And after a certain point in time — somewhere in college — my life started on the general upswing that continues to this day. It’s difficult for me to be angry because honestly what do I have to be angry about? My life’s kind of amazing, and I know it. I know this doesn’t stop other people, but it stops me. I don’t think you need to be angry to be passionate, or committed or whatever. Mostly, I’m happy. And when I think about it, grateful.

Thanks, everyone, for all your questions this week!

39 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

  1. > people who don’t have the knowledge or patience to distill scientific evidence (or just don’t want to because of ‘belief’)

    Anguadelphine: The first thing to understand is that the problem is often not a deficit of knowledge or patience. Leaving aside the people profiteering off ignorance–their motivation is pretty straightforward–here are three books I highly recommend to you and everyone. Along with answering your question, they are really useful for character-building.

    *Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson’s Mistakes Were Made: Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. By two leading social psychologists.

    *Bob Altemyer’s The Authoritarians . He’s a psychologist who has spent his career studying right-wing authoritarians. He’s isolated a few common variables including conventionality, respect for authority, and xenophobia. You can download it free here:

    *George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant. by a leading cognitive scientist, on conservative versus liberal frames.

  2. Peripatetic Entrepreneur: “Money is a fiction. Opine.”
    Uhhhh, yes, it is? But we all seem to agree to pretend it exists for our own purposes so I guess it’s okay?

    Money is an artifact, whether digital or physical, not a fiction. Laws and contracts are other examples. This watering down the word fiction to the point of uselessness is a pet peeve of mine.

    I think uncritical patriotism is stupid in part because any patriotism I would feel is based on the idea that my nation is worth supporting, and that knowledge comes only from critical examination. So, yeah, if someone were to tell me to “love it or leave it,” I’d mark them down as not exactly a deep thinker. And yes, this also goes for other groups with which I feel some identity toward.

    Exactly. Telling the Emperor his new clothes look great isn’t supportive, it’s cowardly.

    Cavyherd: “What I want to know is: Did you ever go through a period of being the Angry Young Man?”

    There’s also the distinction of outward anger vs inward anger. I wonder to which one it is Cavyherd refers.

  3. I certainly had enough curve balls thrown at me to be a Bitter Young Man back in the day but I was always too damn depressed to be angry, just sad. Considering who I am now and the way my life has turned out, I feel everything I went through made it worth it.

  4. For Skippy – It sounds trite but you stay motivated and happy by focusing on the positive change being made, and there’s a lot of it. (Which is one reason the right is so angry and obnoxious these days.)

    You also focus on the positive benefits of activism – you have a life of purpose and meet the best people.

    Also, be sure to hang out with (and work with) effective activists. This is crucial. (The effective ones also tend to be happier.)

    Finally, many “sad and angry” activists are actually suffering from compassion fatigue, a secondary trauma reaction. If you think you are, it’s important to see a therapist trained to help. Lots of info on this on the Web.

    I wrote a whole book on sustainable activism, and the whole text is here: . My core personal mission is helping progressive activists, so if anyone wants to contact me with questions or needs I will do my best to help.

  5. You can’t be guilty of mansplaining without being a man. It’s the male privilege that makes it Mansplaining in the first place. Recognizing the effect of privilege is what makes it a useful term.

    Not to say that a non-male person can’t be guilty of some other type of condescending explanification (e.g., whitesplaining), but yeah.

  6. Digital storage isn’t just affecting personal archives. I work for a 400+ year old organisation that has records going back to its foundation and which can and does give qualified researchers access to those records. We are increasingly moving to doing things online though and running into the problem of how we can store the results in a way that will last and that will still be readable in another 400 years.

  7. Eric @ 11:59: No, offense, but “Catholic Answers” isn’t exactly an authoritative source for Roman Catholic theology. It may operate with the permission of the Diocese of San Diego, but it’s a lay-evangelical organization, in my opinion aimed at questioners who aren’t really all that interested in complexity. For example, the article you link to cites an encyclical by Pius XII from 1950, and not John Paul II’s 1996 analysis and extension of Humani Generis. As I read that document, the Catholic Church doesn’t really have problems with any discussion of the evolution of the human body, reserving the soul for divine creation . . . though I imagine that that’s over-simplifying the situation. Still, given Francis’s more recent comments on evolution as well, I suspect John’s statement in the OP is fair enough. At least in the US, Roman Catholic high schools teach evolution in science class, and they teach it as a reputable science supported by concrete evidence.

  8. Thanks for answering my stupid flag related question. The Ohio flag looks like a (very American) cavalry guidon, pennant, or, as it is officially described, burgee. This is unsurprising as that was the inspiration; for that matter in 1902 when it was adopted, horse cavalry were still a serious military arm.

  9. Since I have somehow gotten the job of unpaid promoter for Charlie Stross: Glasshouse’s premise is that our period in history might be fuzzier than others for future historians because of the nature of our data storage and artifacts.

  10. Ok, my post has disappeared; I assume because it contained a link to a physics blog. The link, I mean, not the physics blog.

    It featured the guy popularly described as the Pope’s Astronomer, wearing his t-shirt printed with ‘And God Said’ followed by the Maxwell Equations, ending with ‘and there was light’.

    It’s pretty safe to assume that he’s happy with Big Bang…

  11. As a Catholic and a scientist, I’m always happy to point out that my church is okay with some of the (annoyingly) controversial scientific theories. Sadly, those who aren’t Catholic are often ANTI Catholic, so pointing out this fact to evangelicals is probably likely to just make them double down on their literalist beliefs. Sigh.

  12. Just wanted to say that I’m enjoying these little reader submissions, and that both John and Mary Frances have the right answer in what we Catholics believe about evolution.

  13. Stevie: technically he’s just one of the Pope’s several astronomers. But he did recently win the Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science, so he’s probably the most high-profile astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, though not the highest-ranked one.

  14. Thanks to all for further enlightenment on Roman Catholics and science; I suspect that as the years go by the further accumulation of scientific evidence will result in changes in attitudes towards things like same sex marriage.

    Which is good, because people who believe that God wrote the James VI Bible in English are unlikely to respond to scientific evidence…

  15. Stevie: Let’s hear it for Brother Guy! He is a Jesuit, one of the more rigorously logical Orders, and seems to have little problem reconciling his faith and the requirements of science. One might wish all of the faithful were able to see both sides.

  16. The Bruce Jenner question reminded me of the party after I passed my oral exam in grad school (in biology). The wife of one of my committee members was a sex researcher and told us about the attempt to sex test in the Olympics. After some hijinks during the cold war, the Olympics tried to determine the sex of its athletes. They tried visually and failed because of the high percentage of ambiguous genitalia. They tried Barr bodies (inactivated x chromosomes) but failed because people are chimeric so most men carry a few or a lot of “female” cells in their body and vice versa for women. They tried hormonal levels, biomarkers, etc… and human variation plus the chimera issue thwarted all of those. The researcher said the problem was that they were assuming that sex was a binary rather than a distribution. Add the complication of gender… do infertile people retain a sex if they can’t father or mother a child? Can a dead body be said to be male or female if it can’t procreate. Biology has little problem with using operational definitions so this is much less a problem than one thinks.

    Likewise, people are unique in that we can define our selfs. Someone can ask Bruce Jenner about a personal gender and sexually identity and have the assurance that you are talking to the only one expert enough to give the most correct answer. On an aside, the director of the film, Ex Machina, loves how viewers perceive the gynoid EVA as a women even though it is shown as an assembly of parts.

  17. Interesting things to consider on all of the comments on my question.

    I am having a hard time describing my deepest issues with science and the public, though. I may have skewed it in the wrong direction by introducing the religious texts point into the question. While there is some of that in the equation to be sure, I am more concerned about people who choose to believe things like the autism-vaccine link, for example. There is a load of data discounting this, but people CHOOSE to believe that there is a link or “vaccines are bad” based on dubious websites and/or other non scientific sources. They don’t understand the science, and don’t want to, because they think what they believe trumps actual data.

    I know science isn’t perfect. Believe me I know how people can try to manipulate their data to fit their model, instead of letting the data form the model. The need for critical thinking is essential, but people need to think critically about data, not beliefs.

    I am sure i am not explaining this properly, i think about it a lot but in this particular instance expressing it clearly is eluding me.

    There just seems to be no respect for scientists who have spent their lives thinking about and analyzing experimental data. It seems that experts in other fields get the benefit of the doubt because they are the experts, but scientists don’t get that benefit because…I don’t know really. Intelluctialism? SJWism? Some darker deeper ulterior motive?

    I give you an example of type of things that cause my frustration. My husband watches the TV show “The Blacklist”, I watched an episode with him the other week where some russian scientist developed a designer virus that killed in SECONDS and was only for one specific person. Not only were they able to do this impossible thing, but ANOTHER scientist with no experience in the development was able to decipher the evil intent from the russian scientist’s notebook in a few minutes. The levels of impossible were completely staggering on a scientific standpoint. It wasn’t even science fiction as far as i am concerned.

    The worst part of it was i was looking at a recap of it online and the only thing people were concerned about in the whole episode was how the russians could know that the heroine would be the one to save the intended victim so she could infect him. Everyone commenting had zero issues with the ridiculous premise of the virus’s existence.

  18. Implicit in the science question is the assumption that the science involves matters of public policy. One good academic source that looks at that issue in current events is The problems of “science” through the lens of public policy becomes very interesting and complex when you examine the full range of issues and experiences where science and public policy interact.

    If the concern is about the ability to communicate basic chemistry, physics, etc. that’s a very different educational problem. But folks who are concerned by low educational standards for math and science don’t usually bring up religion as a source of those problems.

  19. @anguadelphine: Sometimes it looks like willing suspension of disbelief can become pathological. Who knew?

  20. “the director of the film, Ex Machina, loves how viewers perceive the gynoid EVA as a women even though it is shown as an assembly of parts.”

    Does he? Well, it surely helps that Ava (not EVA) is given a female-ish name, referred to by its designer/builder as “she”, and is played by a woman with CGI inserts. I take more notice of the fact that Garland evidently (to go by what he says in interviews) already views machines as living, sentient creatures. Why even bother with the “Turing Test,” even a rather messed-up version of it, when you’re already convinced that your computer is a person?

    I saw Ex Machina last week, and was quite put off by it. (Can you tell?) Despite the PR claim that many people are ‘afraid of AI,’ it seems to me that at least as many people are already surrendering to their AI overlords, and completely happy about it. Which is odd, because Ex Machina is basically another cautionary tale (like Frankenstein as it’s commonly understood) about the consequences when Man meddles in things he ought not to meddle in.

  21. As an engineer with scientific training, I would like to comment on the first question. As John says, you have to develop scientific curiosity early.

    I think science has been doing itself and us a disservice by publishing “new discoveries” before they have been appropriately verified. The new force drive is a good example. I love reading about this stuff, but it is way too soon to be selling trips to the stars. In this case, a theory of operation isn’t even given, nor are sufficient details given to be able to properly evaluate this. Our family loves to speculate on things like this. But science needs to clearly identify what is, and maybe encourage, speculation as speculation.

    Things like the above can stimulate an interest in science. Science cannot be taught as if Moses handed down all this information on stone tablets (too much of that going on). It makes “teaching” easier, but kills the desire to learn. The history (not the mythology) of how various discoveries were made is very useful. Applications for the science help show that this information is useful and not just abstract hard to do stuff. The limitations of scientific knowledge are important and can make learning a lot more interesting.

  22. To build on the last question, have you ever been a blue collar man? Or had too much time on your hands?

  23. Okay, firstly, I have just done the chair-bound version of the Snoopy dance (in my fuzzy grey dressing gown and muppet feet), accompanied by much squeeing, at having my question answered. My partner is amused.

    Secondly, it appears your opinion of these things is much along the same lines as my own. Which is probably why I tend to find the nincompoops in my own country who keep saying things like “Australia, love it or leave!” somewhat annoying. I love my country all right – but at times I don’t particularly like it – and unfortunately most of the past couple of decades have been those sorts of times.

    On the whole “money is a fiction” – I’d be defining it as more of a shared conceptual framework than anything else. Money is one of those abstractions (value) that we’ve reified by giving a measurable physical form (coins and banknotes) and also since de-reified by putting into a virtual realm (online banking, share market trading etc). Unfortunately, as with many abstractions humans have made to help us understand and measure concepts, we’ve got sidetracked by chasing the side-effects of the reification, such that this is now taking our attention away from the original problem (which was, incidentally, “how do we ensure distribution of resources is done in a way which isn’t going to cause world-ending[1] arguments?”).

    Further evidence of our getting sidetracked by watching the side-effects (the indicators) and ignoring the original problems they were put their to track comes in such things as: frantically tracking the unemployment indicators while ignoring the number of people who either don’t have enough work, or have too much work; looking to share market indicies as indicators of overall economic health while ignoring the way they’ve been effectively decoupled from external realities; focusing on ever-rising house prices as evidence of a healthy housing market while ignoring the growing number of people who don’t have homes. Et flippin’ cetera.

    [1] For assorted values of “world”.

  24. Dear Sam,

    If this is a subject that genuinely interests you, I strongly recommend reading WHIPPING GIRL by Julia Serrano. She does a superb job of explaining the multidimensional playing field that gender and sexuality operate on. A reviewer described it as “the unified field theory of” sex. It’s not quite that good… And it’s nowhere near that difficult! But it is exceedingly enlightening.

    If you’re not so interested as to want to read an entire book on the subject, operate on the following principle: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, treat it as a duck. Do not attempt to analyze why it might or might not be a duck. You and the duck will both be much happier.

    (If it also tells you it’s a duck, DAMN well treat it as a duck!)

    If trying to do so ties you up in mental knots, then go back to paragraph 1. It will unknot your brain for you.


    Dear Ariane,

    The experiment is very poorly designed (I could not explain in what ways, concisely; you’ll just have to take my word for it) and the effect it purports to measure is at the limit of the experiment’s sensitivity. When that happens an ordinary science, 95 times out of 100, it means the results are wrong. Now, that’s in ordinary science. For this propulsion system to work requires a major and fundamental change in what we know about physics––it violates the laws of conservation of energy and momentum, which we have never seen violated any circumstance, in any part of the universe (quantum fluctuations at the Planck’s length don’t count). The device involves no particularly novel technology which could explain where such a new and unprecedented physical effect could come from.

    In other words, the experiment would almost surely be wrong even if the physics weren’t unprecedented, and when you factor in the fact that it requires amazing new physics, well… The odds of it being right get so close to zero as doesn’t matter.

    One useful way to look at such experiments–– if rather than predicting a future one desperately wants to see happen, the experiment were predicting the end of the world, would one treat the results with considerably more skepticism? If the answer is yes, then it means one is letting one’s hopes cloud one’s judgment.


    Dear Kristy et al.,

    It’s worth noting that in large-scale surveys done repeatedly over the last 70 years or so, the majority of scientists identify themselves as being “religious.” What they mean by that, of course, is all over the map. But clearly there are hundreds of millions of individuals on the planet who don’t have a problem reconciling science and religion in some fashion or another.

    How that reconciliation occurs is a question in sociology and psychology. I would strongly recommend Brother Guy’s book GOD’S MECHANICS for some insight into that. He did a field study, interviewing about two dozen techies to ask them just how they dealt with religion. Very interesting reading!

    “Religious scientist” is not the stereotype one hears. But the stereotype is wrong for the majority, as stereotypes often are, and the “war” between science and religion is a rather recent invention––it didn’t exist for most of the history of what we would call modern science.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery
    — Digital Restorations

  25. I’m glad you enjoyed your Snoopy dance! And I agree that there are massive disconnects.

    I am economically privileged and rising house prices have resulted in my home being worth a very considerable sum of money.

    Unfortunately this also means my daughter is unlikely to be able to buy a home of her own, because the prices have gone up so much that she can’t start, as I did, with a very cheap property which I did up at weekends.

    For people who lack my economic privilege it’s likely to result in no home at all, and yet people will still tell you that high home values are a wonderful thing and we should all congratulate ourselves…

  26. Scientism is a problem, not science. Scientism is an unacknowledged religion, the worst kind, as thinkers like Michael Crichton and Rupert Sheldrake and others have warned. And even true science requires belief. Anyone who believes they can evade belief is deluded. How many of us ever verify what scientists tell us?

  27. Wouldn’t presume to speak for all trans women, but my roommate is trans, is attracted to women, and considers herself a lesbian. Ditto with a mutual friend of ours. It is, pretty much, something to let the individual define.

  28. . If someone saved my life, I would be grateful and would let them know I owed them a debt. What that debt would be in many ways would be down to the person who saved my life.

    Oh don’t give us a wishey-washey answer life that. You know exactly what you are supposed to do – you join your rescuer as galactic smugglers, set a speed record, take on a mysterious old man, save a princess, and help blow up the government’s superweapon.

  29. David:

    My understanding of scientific journals is that they mostly publish work that demonstrates new knowledge and discoveries. Getting published is the way scientists get grants, recognition, and research positions. Therefore, there’s a pressure for scientists that have results that are almost, but not quite, statistically significant, to nudge them a bit to be publishable.

    This encourages new discoveries, but discourages the (essential!) studies that confirm findings. Luckily, some journals are switching around to fix the problem.

    However. Laypeople do not read scientific journals, but some media people do. Depending on the education and scruples of the reporter, a new but untested scientific discovery can get blown all out of proportion all over the newspapers and internet. This is what most people hear about.

    (My understanding of this comes from a recent book by Jordan Ellenberg, which talks about statistical significance and paper publishing, among other things.)

  30. anguadelphine

    >There just seems to be no respect for scientists who have spent their lives thinking about and analyzing experimental data. It seems that experts in other fields get the benefit of the doubt because they are the experts, but scientists don’t get that benefit because…I don’t know really. Intelluctialism? SJWism? Some darker deeper ulterior motive?

    OK, when you phrase it this way I will add another book to the list, Hofstadter’s classic Anti-intellectualism in American Life. Unfortunately, he published this in **1963** so this problem is old. I still believe the other books–by psychologists and cognitive scientists–go deeper into the reasons for the phenomenon that Hofstadter, an historian, described.

    Please note, though, that he described anti-intellectualism, not anti-science. So it’s broader than science.

    A couple of years back, I heard another of my favorite sf authors, Joan Slonczewski, talk on combatting creationism. She teaches at Kenyon in Ohio, not far from where John lives, I imagine, and not far from some celebrated instances of creationist lunacy. (Like the physics? teacher who literally carved a cross in a student’s arm.) She’s been active in combatting creationism in schools in her area.

    Joan gave a brief overview of the history of creationism upsurges, and guess what–they correlate with periods of great social progress. The 1920s (Scopes), now, and I think there were also a couple of other dates that matched. This would indicate that anti-science is a reaction to progress, which makes sense because it’s “privilege fighting back.”

  31. Dear johntshea,

    No, scientism is not a religion. It is a philosophy. Even a belief system, if you like. That is not the same thing as a religion. Not all philosophies and beliefs systems constitute religions. Even scientific materialism (stronger than scientism) and atheism are not religions. Even if they comment on/in opposition to religion, that doesn’t make them such. By that reasoning, creationism could legitimately call itself “creation science,” because it comments on/place itself in opposition to science.

    Scientism, simply defined, is the belief that everything will turn out to be scientifically describable. Most scientists, honestly, don’t concern themselves with the question. If you asked them, their answer would be to shrug and say, “Hey, so far it’s worked.” A pragmatic observation is not the same thing as a belief system! It’s also entirely possible to be a scientismist and religious; one can hew to a religion and hold that, if somehow the particulars of that religion were to become mundanely knowable (as the unlikely as that might be) they would be understandable in terms of scientific principles.

    Apologies for belaboring this point (I’m not sorry––that’s different) but it just bugs the hell out of me when people talk like there are only two kinds of intellectual spaces––sciences and religions. So badly wrong!


    Dear Hillary,

    “…anti-science is a reaction to progress, which makes sense because it’s ‘privilege fighting back.'”

    The Scopes trial does not make that case. Rather, I would argue it is to the contrary. The reason William Jennings Bryan (the preeminent progressive and populist of the time) took on the prosecution is because Darwinism had become the tool of the privileged–– phrenology, eugenics, social Darwinism, and the like, those were all powerful forces at that time. Just like sociobiology (and it’s not-really-rehabilitated offspring, “evolutionary psychology”) today, they were used as bludgeons by the privileged and entitled to justify their place in the world as being the natural and logical order of things and the consequences of forces in nature that were beyond human control.

    We’ve done a revisionist job on the cultural history to make it sound like it was a battle between knowledgeable science and ignorant religion. That is not remotely what it was about. Any more than Giordano Bruno’s dustups with the church were about science.

    Science is not inherently progressive nor inherently anti-democratic. People can use it to either end. Ditto, anti-science.

    Me, personally, I’m a fact-oriented creature (I’m also religious), and so I resent it when people build arguments based on lies and anti-facts, and I truly detest it when they manage to establish social policy based on falsehoods. But that’s because I don’t think you are likely to get to a better place by lying or believing something that is demonstrably contrary to fact.

    But that doesn’t put facts on the side of the angels. Humans are the ones who use them to their own ends, and they are anything but.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery
    — Digital Restorations

  32. I’m a little amused by this thread, as it’s not even close to how cool things really are.

    You’re all actually striped cats with various patterns all over your skin (and yes, straight into the depths of your organs). Imagine if you could see yourselves as you actually are…

    3:25 if you want to skip to the fun tattoo stuff.

  33. I don’t know enough about Jenner specifically to speak to that situation, but the questioner seems uninformed about transgender people in general, so:

    It is appropriate to refer to trans people by the appropriate pronoun, which corresponds to the sex they identify as. If someone who was identified at birth as male announces that she is a woman, the appropriate pronoun is she. The appropriate identifier is woman, with “trans woman” as an additional clarification when relevant or necessary. (It’s most often necessary when talking about purely biological details; “Cis women and trans men should have gynecological exams”, for instance.) The correct pronoun applies even when talking about their life prior to publicly transitioning. Sexual orientation is orthogonal to gender identify; a woman who is sexually attracted exclusively to other women is lesbian, regardless of what sex she or her partners were assigned at birth.

    Very few people actually know their chromosomal composition, and it’s very rarely used to determine biological sex – actually the only people I’ve seen attempting to do so are explicitly anti-trans, so this is pushing buttons you probably don’t intend to push. If someone says she’s a woman, then you call her a woman and use the pronoun “she”. You don’t demand a chromosomal test first.

  34. “. . . but the largest Christian sect of all, Catholicism, is totally down with both cosmology and evolution.”

    That is not completely accurate and can be misleading. The Catholic Church’s official position regarding the evolution of life on Earth includes the Christian God intervening at a certain point in the course of human evolution. It also includes the Christian God having contrived evolution in such a way that humans were a purposeful, inevitable outcome. The RCC also maintains that Adam & Eve were real people, “monogenism” and all. There are more examples. All of these positions conflict with the Modern Synthesis of Biological Evolution. Not just that they are not supported by the modern science, but that modern science is contrary to them.

    The RCC’s official position on modern cosmology is similar. On both cosmology and evolution, neutral on what modern science shows, except where that conflicts with what they have decided are crucial aspects of their religious explanations of reality. This is not acceptance, or understanding even, of what modern science has shown regarding these phenomenon.

  35. Thanks, Ctein, but I disagree. We define things differently. Scientism can be classified as a belief system, religion, AND a philosophy. Such classifications are not mutually exclusive, but different ways of looking at the same things. Some scientists refuse to concern themselves? Indeed! Hence ‘unacknowledged’.

    And I most certainly do not divide intellectual spaces into only sciences and religions. On the contrary, the vast overlap between those two has always fascinated me. Likewise their overlap with other intellectual spaces.

    In any case I again defer to the likes of Sheldrake and Crichton, who critique scientism rather better than I do.

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