Wakefield: Admit Nothing, Deny Everything, Make Counter-Accusations

That’s pretty much all Andrew Wakefield did on CBC Radio’s The Current the other morning. He has always acted in the best interests of his patients (The children! The poor wee sick bairns!), never did anything unethical, had no conflict of interest, the British medical establishment (enabled by muck-raking journos and no doubt spurred on Big Pharma) is out to get him, it’s lies-all-lies I tell you!, he’s a most noble and put-upon hero, yessirree.

I suppose it’s possible the self-aggrandizing fraud even believes all that bullshit about himself.

What’s adequate evidence for God in principle?

As an atheist, is there any evidence that I would persuade me to provisionally accept that God exists?

This questions has recently been dealt with by both PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne – who are both atheists and biologists, and usually agree on most things, as far as I can discern. This time they don’t, however. PZ argues that nothing would persuade him, and Coyne explains how he could be persuaded (two other bloggers I follow, Massimo Pigliucci and John Wilkins – both philosophers with a heavy interest in biology, and both atheists, even though Wilkins doesn’t know it, have indicated that they side with PZ on this one).

First off, the question as stated doesn’t completely make sense. In order to refute a concept/hypothesis, it must be adequately defined. And quite frankly, those people who say they will not be persuaded by any evidence whatsoever, are exactly the ones who seem to me not to own up to this problem. If I just say ‘God’, then one can always refute positive evidence for the concept by saying that something else could explain it, by pushing further back what ‘God’ means. For example, if we define ‘God’ as that which caused a particular person with leprosy to be healed, then evidence that this particular person with leprosy was healed would be evidence of ‘God’. Stupid definition, of course, but the problem is that all the definitions are stupid, in this sense. Events purported to be explained by some God-concept can all be explained in other ways, too. And this is exactly the problem, and the reason that tree quarters of people surveyed (see above) will say that no evidence is sufficient to persuade them.

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

Re: The Male Privilege Checklist

In our modern society men clearly have many privileges over women. See The Male Privilege Checklist at some blog, and on Pharyngula.

As a man – one of those who are not happy that people are treated badly in any way because of their gender – I find that I want to highlight some of the disadvantages there are to being a man.

Here’s is my list with immediate reactions to some of the points made on The Male Privilege Checklist. The fact that I react to them in this way does emphatically not mean that I disagree that men have many privileges over women. We obviously do. But women have some, too, and some of those I am quite honestly very envious of, particularly in regards to children. The numbers refer to points in the original list.

3. If I am never promoted, I cannot blame it on my sex.
4. If I fail in my job or career, it is more likely that it will disrupt my family.
5. I am far more likely to be sued for sexual harassment than my female co-workers are.
7. If I’m a teen or adult, it is less likely that I can stay out of prison (where my odds of getting raped increase dramatically).
9. If I choose to be a housespouse, my masculinity will be called into question.
10. If I have children but am not the breadwinner, my masculinity will be called into question.
11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, in public people will often ask where their mother is.
17. As a child, if I chose a hero of the opposite sex, I could be sure other children and adults would worry about me.

Read the rest at Pleiotropy.

Are We Busted, Irrevocably?

Cross-posted in two other places. Why? Because I can.

By we I mean students of the human sciences.

* * * * *

Sometime in the early 1970s I read an article in Linguistic Inquiry, the house organ of Chomskyian linguistics, lamenting the lost promise of the Chomsky revolution. As I recall, the lament went something like this: In the early days it seemed possible that a complete grammar of English, or French, or Russian, or Quechua, or any other language was right around the corner. Then the articles began to get narrower and narrower in scope until finally the cutting edge of research discussed mere fragments. And the prospect of a complete grammar for some language, any language? Forgotten.

Almost four decades have gone by, with perhaps as many major revisions in Chomsky’s views on language. I don’t know what the official line is on the state of the Chomsky revolution, but, as far as I can tell, the situation hasn’t changed. It’s not just that the Chomskyians have failed to deliver on early promises, but that linguistics itself remains many. Chomsky never carried the day completely and, while some of the holdouts just wanted to remain stuck with the old ways, just as many wanted to forge ahead, but not under the Chomsky banner. As far as I can tell linguistics is, say, a half-dozen or so competing and apparently mutually incompatible schools that, for the most part, simply ignore one another. Linguists hold no deep conception that is as significant to all of linguistics as evolution is to biology.

And that goes across the board to all the human sciences. The cognitive revolution went flat in the 1980s. The neuroscientists have frittered away two or three decades taking pretty picture of the brain that benefit no one so much as the workers and stockholders of companies in the brain imaging business. Economists have been fiddling while the world economy burns and literary critics have been congratulating themselves on how revolutionary and counter-hegemonic they’ve been.

Up until recently I’ve believed this was the case because the problems are deep and compelling answers are hard to find. And, yes, that is true.

And, yes, I certainly have strong opinions on what approaches make sense, and which are garbage — not for the whole range of the human sciences, of course, but for those areas where I’ve been most active: literary studies, cognition and knowledge representation, cultural evolution. It’s not that I think all extant ideas and approaches are equally worthy. I don’t.

But I have thought that, after all, there is no other way to advance than to let 10,000 flowers bloom.

Perhaps I’ve been wrong. 1000 flowers? Sure, why not? 10,000? Really? Do we really need to sample the space of intellectual possibility at 10,000 points? Rather, are we really sampling the space at 10,000 points? Or are we only sampling the space at 1000 points, but pretending to sample it at 10,000 points by dressing up our ideas in funny but colorful costumes?

Are we bull-shitting ourselves about our intellectual productivity?

* * * * *

One of the standard ploys that curmudgeonly literary critics have deployed against newer ideas is that these new-fangled ideas with their technical terminology do not reflect any intellectual necessity. Rather, they are simply a response to institutional pressures for idea production. Institutions demand prestige, prestige requires publications, publications require new ideas, so let’s at least give them new terminology, which they’ll happily mistake for new ideas.

That’s the argument — it’s still alive and well. I’ve always resisted it despite the fact that, more often than not, it’s being deployed against ideas I don’t much care for myself. But, if those curmudgeons knew of my work, they’d deploy their argument against it as well, as I too employ abstract concepts and even a strange term or two.

But I’m beginning to wonder whether or not those curmudgeons have a point. Perhaps institutional pressures are bringing about needless over-production of useless ideas. It’s not that I’ve decided that our intellectual problems aren’t all that deep, after all. No, they’re deep. But these many ideas we’re tossing about aren’t plunging into the depths. They’re just padding out the CVs of the senior investigators.

What, then, can we do?

I wish I knew. As long as I can remember there has been calls for intellectual reconciliation and cooperation among disciplines. And those calls continue. E. O. Wilson has called for consilience. Herbert Gintis has called for the unification of the behavioral sciences around the idea of evolution. I’ve made a similar plea on behalf of cultural evolution.

But we are late-comers to this game. Calls for unification had become another genre of academic discourse long before we weighed in.

Can we do nothing? Nothing at all?

Come to think of it, doing nothing might give us a chance to chill out and do some real intellectual work.

The scare of genetically engineered crops

People are so scared of science, man. I think a huge part of the population even in well-educated countries don’t trust the scientists very much.

Ingo Potrykus is chairman of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, and writes in Nature about the trouble getting golden rice out to the people who really need it: Regulation must be revolutionized.

The potential benefits of genetically engineered crops is huge. Take golden rice, which has just two genes added that adds vitamin A to the rice. The benefits to malnourished children is huge.

Read the rest at Pleiotropy.

Communication is an Intersection

“Communication Is a Two-Way Street” is a trite metaphor that, although useful at times, is an incomplete description of the reality of the process of communications.  Yes, there are senders and receivers in communications.  The senders can only control how they present messages.  They can’t control how messages are received. Only receivers can control their reception.

In intro psychology courses, many of us spent weeks trying to get a solid grasp of the subtle differences between sensation and perception.  Just as two people can experience (perceive) a temperature of 55° F as either warm or cool depending on their preconceptions and other environmental factors, two people can also hear or read my message and either decide that I am “right on” or that I am “not helping.”

Continued at Quiche Moraine..

Say you’re wrong

Let me start by sharing just how much of an opinionated bastard I am. I was conceived out of wedlock, so I am truly a bastard. I treasure that fact on a weekly basis. But other than that, I am not really much of a bastard. I’m a nice enough guy, and if you think not being a scoundrel disqualifies me, pass along. As for opinionated, I was once called that because once no one could decide where to go for lunch, and that quickly drove me nuts and I plainly said where I felt like going.

[I’m a slow learner, apparently. Now go read the rest at Pleiotropy.]

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