New book calls science a "Priesthood"

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by rpenner, Dec 24, 2011.

  1. Telemachus Rex Protesting Mod Stupidity Registered Senior Member

    I am not sure it was being used in the sense of "worship," but rather by the notion of there being certain elites who get to control what is considered to be orthodox, what is heterodox, and what is so heterodox that it shall not even receive a hearing (usually for the good reason that it's obviously wrong, but surely not always).

    It is a fair question as to why string theory received serious discussion and so much study by trained scientists, whereas other theories are dismissed without a full hearing, The technical reason is just that string theory arose in a context where multiple people were pondering similar unanswered questions, and it was able to grow organically among people who were part of the established (forgive me) priesthood, whereas most other theories derive from people who are not established in scientific circles. Add to that, that giving a full hearing to every crackpot theory would have a substantial cost in time and manpower that could be more efficiently spent. That said, if string theory ultimately proves to be incorrect, oh my heavens! Future generations will quite rightly mock us over the waste of time in which we are presently engaged!

    (How did the early 21st-century scientist die while raking leaves? He fell out of the tree.)

    (An early 21st-century scientist and his buddy are at a bar after work. A video comes on the TV of a woman standing on the ledge of a building. The scientist says, "I'll bet you $10 she doesn't jump." The buddy takes the bet and the woman jumps to her death. When the scientist hands over the $10, his buddy says, "No, I can't take it. Truth is, I saw that story on TV earlier when I went home to eat lunch." And the scientist says, "I saw it earlier too, but I never thought she'd jump a second time!")

    That said, I have not read the book, so perhaps the term was being used in an unfair way, but from the context I am not certain that it is. I doubt she means to say "Science is a matter of belief." I think Shermer would take her to task if that were the point.
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  3. Trooper Secular Sanity Valued Senior Member


    I’ll read the book but I think RP is right. She’s artsy fartsy. But like I said earlier, her hyperbolic crochet coral reef project was cool.
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  5. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    Why "surely not always" ? An allegedly scientific paper is a signal. If this signal conveys mistatements of empirically known facts, logical gaffes and no reason to engage it as a precise and useful description of nature, the signal discredits itself as "noise". Most science fiction is painfully noisy to the trained professional. In Fox TV's Terra Nova every episode has caused people who know economics, biology, chemistry or physics to howl.

    If the goal is to convince physics insiders that their ideas have merit, physics outsiders must first train in empirical evidence, logical argument, and narrative to convince at least some of their own physics outsiders that the idea is useful and precise. As string theory was developed, it has found applications in physics (if not yet as a fundamental theory of physics). And interesting mathematics is it's own reward for mathematicians. So string theory is not a waste of time.

    If we are exploring a maze, we cannot know if an alley is a dead end or the goal without following it to the end. How so is it wasted time when we cannot know what we will find until we look?
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  7. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

  8. RichW9090 Evolutionist Registered Senior Member


    This may be true for dogs - I've never rigorously tested it. But the case of the monitor lizard (Varanus salvator was the one involved, I believe) is another matter entirely.

    Four chicken eggs were placed into a monitor lizard's enclosure, more or less hidden so that the monitor had to search to find them. This was done every day for some lengthy period.

    Then 5 eggs were hidden - but the monitor stopped searching after 4 had been found and eaten. Next, three were hidden - and the monitor would keep searching after having found and consumed the third egg.

    So, on some level, the monitor was able to keep track of the number of eggs found and consumed. It may be easier to implant a pattern on the brain of an animal than we suppose.

    I'll try to find a published report - but it was one of those things I saw in passing and thought "I'll never need to know any more about that" so didn't write down the reference in my journal.

  9. Telemachus Rex Protesting Mod Stupidity Registered Senior Member

    I say that because it seems likely that, much as with Shermer, most of the unaccredited scientific authors do not really get a fair hearing, but rather scientists make a (rational) judgement that certain claims are not worth their time, so the dismiss them without reading. If they read a paper and reject it because of errors they see, that's perfectly understandable, if they throw into a "crackpot" pile, that's not a fair hearing.

    Even actual scientists do not always get the a fair shake if their idea is new. Think of Alfred Wegener and his theory of continental drift, or Carlos Finlay's "preposterous" suggestion that mosquitoes spread yellow fever. How much harder would it be for a non-professional to have a novel theory taken seriously?

    I don't think the scientists should necessarily change anything. It may be that for every one insight being overlooked, there are 10,000 pages of nonsense. Scientists need to make judgments about how beat to invest their time, but that does leave them as the guardians of the orthodoxy. there are a number of ways this sort of rational time management can go wrong, at least in theory...For example, one of the shortcuts for time management many people use is "credentialism" (i.e., evaluating whether the person who wants to use one's time has the "right" credentials) and that's not necessarily logically related to whether the person with the new idea is in fact correct or not, though I'd not be surprised if there were a correation between the un- or under-credentialed an crackpot ideas.

    It's possible we're past the point where mere amateurs are likely to ever again contribute anything significant to science, but in that case it's not that unfair to view the professionals as a metaphorical "priesthood" since they alone hold the keys to finding new knowledge.

    But you can see how one might feel that the system is not always completely fair...I know that when CERN announced its "faster than light" neutrinos, most people were (rightly) skeptical...yet if an amateur had made a similarly bold announcement, scientists the world over likely would't have bothered even giving him or her the dignity of any serious thought at all about the new claim. Certainly no one called the folks at CERN crackpots...they were experts who happened to be wrong--so people set to work figuring out why. Anyone who never held an academic position who claims to have found a flaw in relativity, is likely to be labeled a crackpot first, and then be lucky if anyone within the establishment ever reviews his idea impartially.

    That's unavoidable given the low odds that such a person would have a valid insight, but one can lament that there's no better solution to the problem of finding the one needle in the enormous haystack of crazy people.
  10. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    The CERN team are not crackpots proposing that neutrinos taste of gravy and therefore travel faster than light so noone steals the ladle. They are experimentalists who are attempting one of the longest time-of-flight experiments. They are perfectly aware that they got the "wrong" result, but can't trace it to a fault in their plan or measurements. Therefore they felt the duty to publish.

    Cutting edge experiments with brand new experiments are hard. And if we learn that the OPERA team in some way got invalid results, then at least we won't need to repeat that mistake.
  11. wellwisher Banned Banned

    Science is definitely not a priesthood, since priests are suppose to listen and help especially the weak and poor and not just hobnob with the connected. Mercenaries don't care who they talk too, as long as that converesation means a job or a career boost. A priest is not suppose to be overly attached to money and prestige, since these cloud the mind. He is suppose to humble and open minded, not arrogant and dogmatic.
  12. Telemachus Rex Protesting Mod Stupidity Registered Senior Member

    No doubt, never said otherwise. I am just saying that if someone outside the "priesthood" had made a similarly improbable claim, that claim would have been dismissed with far less consideration and analysis. Rather than "Let's figure out where this went wrong," there would have been eye-rolling followed by deafening silence.

    Again, that's probably a sensible reaction to the fact that amateurs don't have anything useful to add to science any more, and 99.999% of work done by amateurs is rubbish. So the work of amateurs is dismissed out of hand.

    That's the sense in which the analogy to a priesthood is likely being used.
  13. pocketnap Registered Member

    scientists are filling a role in our society once reserved from priests- they tell fortunes based on reading omens in the weather, they tell the future (inaccurately) based on models they create, they punish unbelievers and reward those agree with them without questioning, they build themselves great temples on universities designed to add prestige to their profession, they advise people regarding the proper sacrifices to make in order to appease the angered science gods, they peddle myths and run secret societies, and they hold to a worldview that does not allow any other challengers.

    It should be no surprise that scientists are filling this role- for thousands of years, humans have turned to priests, shamans, fortune-tellers, soothsayers, magicians, witch-doctors, and religious types of all sorts. These sorts prey on those who are looking for hope, looking for direction, looking for someone to tell them the right way to live their own lives, and these scientists fill that role- many have, after all, devoted their lives to killing the Christian God and subverting his people, and now they rush into that vacuum with their own creation myths, sacred beliefs, sacrifices, and class of keepers of the eternal flame of truth.

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  14. Dr Mabuse Percipient Thaumaturgist Registered Senior Member

    'Science' is indeed a religion for those work in it, and even more so for laymen worldwide. They exchanged one religion for another, and talk about, discuss, and defend 'science'(whatever that means to any person) in the very same way they did or would have another religion 50 years ago.
  15. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    If "science" can kill the "Christian God" then "science" must be stronger, right? Such a claim is not based in empiricism, so must originate from religious fears and not science.

    What has not been done is a demonstration that science is dismissing any worthy amateurs. If scientists are not tossing out the baby, why complain when they have gotten efficient at tossing out bath water?
  16. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Welcome to Sciforums.

    What's a Pocket Nappie?
  17. ughaibu Registered Senior Member

    I think this characterisation is incorrect. For example, the claim that smoking tobacco is an indicator for lung cancer, heart disease, etc, is imprecise but useful. On the other hand, some activities which certainly seem to be science, are apparently useless, cosmogony, for example.
    If we assume metaphysical naturalism (though scientists needn't so assume), the descriptions of nature are observations and observation is independent of science. It seems to me that science is better characterised as the construction of theoretical models which allow scientists to predict the probabilities of making certain specified observations, given certain other specified observations. So, scientists aren't concerned with communicating descriptions of nature so much as with models, which entail no ontological commitments.
    The nominalisation program of Field and Balaguer casts doubt on this assertion too.
  18. arauca Banned Banned


    Girl this is one of most beautiful statements I herd .
  19. Trooper Secular Sanity Valued Senior Member

    Is it a copy & paste job to sell diapers or is she the author of A Conservative Teacher?

    Either way, it’s shitty.
  20. Telemachus Rex Protesting Mod Stupidity Registered Senior Member

    You're too down on science (while happily partaking of its benefits, since you are posting to an online message board). If your shamanistic tribal ancestors could see us now they would think we were magical beings living the lives of gods. If I decided that winters were too cold for me, I could strap myself into a chair and fly several miles above the surface of the world, crossing mountain ranges and vast oceans to be in Australia meeting you in about a day. But who needs that? My voice is so powerful that you can hear it on the other side of the planet, and my thoughts so mighty that you are now absorbing them at the same distance without my needing to give them voice.

    At the same time we no longer need to fear that diseases or calamities occur because a god is angry at some aspect of our lifestyles (not to mention fearing disease and calamity a bit less than our forebears).

    Religion didn't bring us these benefits, science did. Religion promises us magic. Science actually delivers it.
  21. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member


    A crank general assault on science--exposing ignorance of the field and a host of irrational phobias, coupled with an indoctrination into the fundamentalist-right wing anti-climate science sloganeering--crying over the spilt milk of evidence that continues to wash away the Pollyanna foundations of the Sunday school.

    Welcome to Sciforums.
  22. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Oh, scratch my earlier post - you nailed this to the wall.

    Yes, that article, A Conservative Teacher, is a bogus rant against science by someone who purports to be an educator, but who only portrays the worst ignorance of science, who should therefore be banned from teaching or required to take remedial studies in earth science and biology.
  23. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Plagiarism AND spam in one post...
    Although it has brought out the cranks. Look at those who agree with it.

    Tell me, exactly how much supervision do Modern Cloth Cloth Nappies require?
    Are they generally badly behaved?

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