A lot of us Fucking Love Science and I’m glad about that but overly romantic thinking about Science means we are naive in a world that exploits naivety. This (happily) working scientist explains the rat race aspects of vocational daily science with a special insight into the perverse role of journalists as sloppy, inaccurate promoters of studies in search of public attention. Journalists shake dollars loose with exciting stories that are sometimes even partly true. This cycle points to the danger of scientists getting sloppy too, rushing to publish, making headlines sound sexy, and emphasizing results that are rarely replicable just to keep playing the (now degraded) game. We should think about this stuff. Over a long enough period, that’s a death spiral for what we fucking love about science.*
People think my job is to search for deep truths, understand the meaning of life and how the world and the universe works.
In reality, my main job is to write papers and get grants so my institution can build its reputation and get money. Most research that is published is wrong in some way (except for analytical work on theory), and not because we are being dishonest. It’s because we need to publish a lot and there really isn’t time to zero in on some ultimate truth, we just need to get things right enough to publish. And even if we had all the time in the world, there is the issue of experimental design. For one thing, experimental design is very subtle and difficult and most of the papers I read didn’t really do the right experiment to support their point. You can ask them to do more experiments as a reviewer, but as you can expect, this is not your favorite thing to read when your paper is reviewed because it means more time and money you probably don’t have.
That brings me to the other problem, even if you do have the time, do you have the money? Enough people? The right equipment? An infinite number of just the right test subjects? You see where this is going…
So we write our paper and try to make as big a splash as we can so we can get promoted in our jobs, get tenure, and get more grants. (Also because we want to get the information out there for others to use, research that is unpublished is just a hobby.) The institution wants to peddle this work for more clout, so they write up a press release that over-simplified the research and over-extrapolates the possible importance of the findings. This is sent to journalists who don’t read the actual paper, but rather report based on the press release an even more overly simplified version of the paper, now with wildly speculative implications for humanity, the earth, and/or understanding the universe.
This is how you can publish a paper that shows that mice react kind of funny in a statistically significant way to being exposed to a chemical that is commonly used in ink, and then you read in the New York Times about how using ballpoint pens will kill you.
EDIT: My main point here is that people should be skeptical about science, particularly what they read that is written by journalists – whether it is news articles or actual books. Popular science books were once written by the scientists themselves, now more often they are written by journalists. And there are people who are motivated more by telling a good story than showing what science is really like – full of mistakes and uncertainty, and normal pressures of any career, it is not just the pure search for truth.
But I don’t mean at all to say that being a scientist is terrible (I feel the opposite), I just don’t like the over-simplified way people view science as some pure source of distilled perfect truth. It’s not, but that’s not a bad thing. Understanding life is not simple, nor is understanding how the universe works, the fact that it is so complex is what makes being a scientist fascinating – but what makes writing best-selling book that tells the whole story a bit harder.
*- Like so many other things that depend on stockholders for sufficient funding, the important work becomes hollowed out inside and drifts further from its purpose.
in European countries per 100.000 inhabitants (2016). (Phone users the info-graphic is at the bottom, in case it’s hard to see on your phone, the male numbers are to the left and females on the right.) I knew male suicide rates were higher but I had no idea the difference was this stark. The male suicide rate is at least double and often triple the female rate. In Russia, it’s 6X higher! We live in an absurd time where every opinion that could POSSIBLY have a political ax to grind is assumed to have one.
I want to turn that assumption around and ask questions:
- Why do I feel vaguely self-conscious and a need to clarify my motives when posting this? Is showing concern specifically for men seen as rejecting concerns about women? Has discussion of male-female issues grown to resemble the charged atmosphere surrounding discussion of Israel? I refer to the fear of being called anti-semitic that comes with any criticism of Israeli policy or show of concern for Palestinians. If so, how have relations between the sexes sunk low enough to mirror the most vicious and entrenched argument in the world?
- In general, why isn’t the cause of this situation (male suicide numbers) a bigger, more pressing public health question? If the numbers were reversed do you think would there be a higher level of concern and more discussion about what is happening to girls and women?
But outside of politics or any kind of moralizing, just pondering the composition of the human race, I think one of the most revealing questions we could ask to understand our species is simply:
Why is this so?
(with inspiration from the brilliant Robert Anton Wilson)
Add the next term to the series:
- Ride horseback
- Fly by jet
A certain job can be performed either by a human or a machine. We should
- Employ the human because “the devil makes work for idle hands.”
- Employ the human because otherwise he or she might be bored
- Employ the human because there is no way to organize society except by having most people work for wages
- Employ the machine because technology has no function other than to free people from toil.
Add the next term to the series:
- Hunt and gather
There is a magic machine with two buttons, each of which will create equality among humans. You will push
- The button that makes everybody equally poor
- The button that makes everybody equally rich
Working for wages
- Has always existed and always will exist
- Is ordained by God
- Did not appear on large scale until the Enclosure Acts drove the serfs off the land in the past 300 years
- Will become obsolete in the next 100 years
- Will become obsolete in the next 10 years
The best way to search for Higher Intelligence is to
- Find the right religion
- Support the search for radio signals from advanced civilizations in the galaxy;
- Investigate UFO’s
- Research our own nervous system
- Build a starship and go looking.
Add the next term to the series:
- Black Pride
- Women’s Liberation
- Gay Pride
There is a behavior within a distinct subset of Seattle drivers that causes a range of negative results from small nuisances to life-threatening. I’m referring to politeness. Actually, that isn’t right. Politeness is simple, lovely, correct. Politeness is the Tao of social interaction.
The problem behavior is Meta-Politeness, a self-conscious attempt to be witnessed personifying politeness. I believe it may be normal politeness tainted by the social media status update. We now include little unnecessary flourishes with our politeness in hopes of getting a “like”.
The tiny nuisance level is usually something like a driver expressing their profound open-mindedness that perhaps, evidence to the contrary, it isn’t their turn at the 4-way stop.
“Are you sure? It’s ok? Really?”
If this was as bad as it got, I would scarcely even notice, let alone ruminate over it…let even more alone write about it!
Here’s the real problem situation:
I’ve directly experienced this many times. Continue reading
There has never been a Chinese government that didn’t despise individuality and behave with monstrous cruelty. There has never been one that appeared to even recognize cruelty except to want more. Utterly callous and indifferent is only when they aren’t trying. China is a bloodthirsty, heartless oligarchy with an unslakable thirst for absolute social control that keeps them up nights worrying that they’ve missed somebody.
All credit to the makers.
There is a rather famous story about moths that you might well have encountered as a student. The class would have been discussing evolutionary theory.
The common form of peppered moth had a pale coloration suited to hiding on the bark of light-colored tree trunks. This camouflage apparently enabled it to avoid being eaten by birds. Then, in 1848 a specimen with black wings turned up, in the industrial city of Manchester, England. By the end of the 19th century, the dark peppered moth was everywhere, and the paler, mottled version had vanished, becoming virtually extinct.
This was perhaps the first clear instance of human behavior increasing environmental pressure on local species and observers noting and following it. The industrial revolution roared up to speed and the universal use of coal for heating and industrial production had blackened skies and forests. An editorial in an issue of Nature quotes an 1851 railroad guide to the English industrial midlands: “The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome…the few trees are stunted and blasted.” Continue reading
Tension Force is the name I give to the innate push and pull between progressives and conservatives. Physical tension force is a physics concept and can be pictured as the area of rope between teams playing tug of war. In a well-matched tug-of-war, that area doesn’t shift very much but that stability is reached by both teams trying their hardest to win.
Tension force is homeostasis achieved through intense opposing forces. If one of our teams wins the political tug of war it’s guaranteed to be a bad or even disastrous moment for society. One party systems have ugly results.
There are psychological patterns that are consistently reliable predictors of a progressive or conservative view on politics and culture. The personality test used to measure and correlate this connection is the famous Big 5 Test. Here is a quick visual to explain what is measured and the characteristics that typify scoring high or low.
These are the outcomes that populate our country with Progressives and Conservatives:
- High scores in conscientiousness trended conservative on both economic policy, (favoring hard work and organization) as well as social policy (strict adherence to traditional social norms).
- High scores in openness trended progressive on economic policy (favoring new programs and interventions) as well as social policy (favoring complexity and novelty).
- High in agreeableness leaned progressive on economic policy (wanting to help the disadvantaged) and but conservative on social policy (the desire to maintain harmony and traditional relationships).
- High scores in neuroticism leaned progressive on both (oh, shut up).
- High levels of the extraversion trait had no significant effect on predicting a person’s policy position but correlated strongly to being fun at parties.
Although nurture and socialization are certainly a part of shaping these political tendencies, the people nurturing you are your closest relatives and the culture you are being socialized to is the one they have chosen to live in. The matrix seals neatly around you. There’s bound to be a genetic relationship to these scores, and tests significantly confirm that. So every population produces a balance of people apparently fated to be in one camp or the other. Either group can be principled and logical, but those principles and logic are canalized by personality presets. Whatever play is in the system waxes and wanes with important societal upheavals and movements.
The consistent percentages of people born with these traits and concomitant beliefs is the underlying, invisible homeostasis that creates the Tension Force around us. As we plead with the other side to see reason or curse each other for hopeless blind idiocy we can take some comfort in the idea that humanity absolutely requires this struggle. Tension force is how we weigh the balance between the past and future, between tradition and reform.
However, technological change has dropped us into a new and unfamiliar medium for connection and communication. The new medium so completely separates us from engagement with the other side, that each side has become LIKE a one-party country unto themselves. The area of Tension Force has become the weak spot, attacked by opportunistic infections.
The situation makes us “fish in a barrel” for those aiming to divide and conquer us, then gather riches from the ruins left behind.
(I’m talking about Putin you idiots!)
With President Trump!
We know he never tells the truth about anything but lying doesn’t get to the root of what is wrong with everything he says. Under every lie, there is a deeper shade of bogus. This is the KungFu of duplicity and misdirection, The bullshit magic of bullshit smoke and bullshit mirrors. And this is the first draft of something I admit is incomplete for now.
“Bill McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations, who led the operations, commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden, says that your sentiment (Trump’s attacks on the news media )is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime,” Wallace said, as Trump interrupted him to call the former top commander a “Hillary Clinton fan and an Obama backer”.
- Irrelevant conclusion: Irrelevant conclusion, also known as Ignoratio Elenchi (Latin for an ignoring of a refutation) or missing the point, is the informal fallacy of presenting an argument that may or may not be logically valid and sound, but (whose conclusion) fails to address the issue in question. “Your attacks on the media are dangerous for America!” “Hillary Clinton!”
- Ad Hominem: Rather than refuting an opponent’s argument the person attacks the individual instead. This can be directed towards their character, morals, intelligence, reputation or credentials. The main thing to remember is that they are not addressing the actual argument being presented but relying purely on feelings and prejudices to win their case. Guilt by association is the specific Ad Hominem fallacy here. “Your attacks on the media are dangerous for America!” “This guy likes Hillary Clinton!”
“Every single Democrat in the U.S. Senate has signed up for the open borders, and it’s a bill, it’s called the ‘open borders bill.’ What’s going on? And it’s written by, guess who? Dianne Feinstein,” Trump said Oct. 6 in Topeka.
- Strawman: Substituting a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument.
- Alternative Truth: (also, Alt Facts; Counterknowledge; Disinformation; Information Pollution) Ths is pushing your Strawman so hard that he turns inside out. You can’t lie if there aren’t any facts!
“Our press is allowed to say whatever they want and they can get away with it… I’m a big believer, tremendous believer in freedom of the press. Nobody believes it stronger than me. But if they make terrible, terrible mistakes, and those mistakes are made on purpose to injure people … then yes, I think you should have the ability to sue them.” Trump in 2016
- Inconsistency: A person commits the fallacy of inconsistency when he or she makes contradictory claims. “I fully support a free press and it must end now!”
Aerial time lapse of the Nam Pan market, Myanmar
To the right is a relationship flowchart by the elegant artists and thinkers of Information is Beautiful. They have a lot of fun and interesting stuff to explore. The image is linked to a full-size version, it may take 2 clicks to open it fully.
All these forms of intimate relationships are going on around us right now. Some are movements and subcultures, some are just deeply personal rabbit holes. Many are virtually invisible through fear of disapproval. Polyamourous people are probably as low profile now as gays and lesbians were in the late sixties. These varieties can be understood as a range of human love styles but also as strategic experiments running parallel to the accepted norms. The norms are pretty obviously the mating styles that do the best job of creating robust and stable populations. That has clear evolutionary significance and suggests a reason for cultural pressure to stay inside the lines. Yet these variations show up within every generation of people. Perhaps life maximizes chances for success by keeping alternate pathways running should fortune suddenly favor them. Since these variants are visible as an emergent, bottom-up effect from the desires and needs of individual people, we can predict them appearing in some ratio within any population, in any circumstances, anywhere on earth. If we imagine small tribes in many different challenging conditions attempting to survive, it’s easy to see how one of these variations might prove more advantageous than straight up monogamy. That makes it evolutionary common sense to preserve these alternate strategies inside the human heart.
Different strategies can become the social norm in different cultures, and be seen as the ideal, natural version of love and marriage. Monogamy is the widest spread, most successful pattern historically but the fact that it isn’t universal and is seen as less than ideal in various other cultures has an important implication. It means that the cultural machinery doesn’t come with a preset mating strategy installed but adopts whichever mating pattern becomes dominant and reinforces it. Apparently, the larger survival value is in a culture-wide agreement about our common strategy. A culture without a dominant strategy is not a fully defined culture.
It’s intriguing that in America the variations in the chart are all legal to pursue…as hobbies. But illegal as forms of marriage. Gays and lesbians have finally been recognized as normal citizens with a right to marry, but only within the one, true marriage pattern. This shows the intense cultural defense of the dominant strategy. There’s a fear of society losing definition and becoming nonfunctional without a law of marriage. Polygamy (multiple wives) and polyandry (multiple husbands) are illegal here along with group marriage. But as long as you don’t try to stick a ring on it, the law isn’t coming after you. That’s a job for your fellow citizens, creeped out by your weird arrangement which looks to them like the marriage equivalent of a person with three arms and seven eyes. Continue reading