Science Wars: The Battle of Five Armies

by John Quiggin on February 5, 2007

Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science has joined forces with Alan Sokal, scourge of leftwing relativism and pseudoscience, in an LA Times op-ed piece on the current state of the Science Wars.

As Mooney and Sokal note, the decline of antiscience views on the left

frees up defenders of science to combat the enemy on our other flank: an unholy (and uneasy) alliance of economically driven attacks on science (on issues such as global climate change, mercury pollution and what constitutes a good diet) and theologically impelled ones (in areas such as evolution, reproductive health and embryonic stem cell research).


Following up on the Mooney-Sokal piece, Tim Lambert notes that Norman Levitt (author of with Paul Gross of Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science.) is taking a similar line, saying

we weren’t all that worried about the fate of science; rather, we were concerned that the antics of the postmodernists would eventually drag down the “humanities” as a whole, the good along with the bad.

“Right-wing” abuse of science, on the other hand, as it has evolved under Bush, is an altogether different and far more dangerous phenomenon–dangerous in the bluntest and most alarming sense.

So, the realignment of forces sees the previously discordant defenders of science united against the powerful armies of the religious right and the business wing of the Republican party, along with the the dwindling remnant of leftwing relativists (represented in the Dover ID trial by Steve Fuller).

Of course, whereas the relativist left never exercised any real power outside a few university departments, the rightwing enemies of science control the Bush Administration and are well represented in the commentariat, here as well as in the US. Nevertheless the collapse of global warming denialism, and the exposure of the Big Tobacco-ExxonMobil machine suggests that even such powerful forces are not unbeatable.

{ 53 comments }

1

otto 02.05.07 at 3:15 pm

Well, anti-GMO activism in Europe and elsewhere would seem to be a much more live ‘anti-science’ movement on the left.

2

Brendan 02.05.07 at 3:42 pm

Oh give me a break, Otto. The so called ‘anti’ GMO campaign (which is usually not anti-GMO at all, but instead merely wants its use to be monitored and regulated) is BASED on science. This is very different from actually denying that global warming (or evolution) is actually happening.

In any case the whole science wars thing kinda pissed me off. Very very few social scientists ever actually proposed the extreme ‘it’s all a social construction’ idea that Levitt and Gross suggested (Sokal’s critique was a good deal more nuanced). Levitt’s idea that he wrote that book merely to help separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ in the humanities is also a new one on me: I was under the impression that he thought that almost all the humanities were worthless. In fact, did he not claim that HE could teach the humanities (all of them presumably) better than 99% of current humanities lecturers?

3

Andrew R. 02.05.07 at 4:27 pm

None of the fundamental differences have been resolved, though. What we’re seeing now is more like, say, fundamentalist Catholics and Protestants co-operating in the face of a larger secular culture. The two would be right back each other’s throats if they succeeded and achieved a culture in which Christianity was considered the default.

Certain disciplines still prefer, say, Jacques Lacan mediated through Judith Butler to any kind of methodology approaching science in a Popperian sense. That their practitioners have suddenly realized that there is a much more dangerous enemy makes only for an expedient alliance rather than a re-thinking of their methodology.

4

Seth Finkelstein 02.05.07 at 4:51 pm

I think it’s less like “in the face of a larger secular culture”, than “in the face of well-financed and state-sponsored violent religious radicalism”. :-)

And while the pomo humanities types may never convert to being hard-headed scientific thinkers, this is not a bad opportunity for a little, well, frankly, “consciousness-raising” by scientists to the academic left.

5

dearieme 02.05.07 at 5:47 pm

You really should be ashamed of this use of “denialist”. What next – The Protocols of the Elders of Science?

6

aaron 02.05.07 at 5:53 pm

You all might want to talk to your doctor about getting on some meds. This “War on Science” shit is delusional.

7

mds 02.05.07 at 5:56 pm

That their practitioners have suddenly realized that there is a much more dangerous enemy makes only for an expedient alliance rather than a re-thinking of their methodology.

Um, based on the track records of Messrs. Mooney and Sokal, it seems that it’s the “leftist academics are shit” school that has temporarily abandoned beating up on powerless gender studies professors, to reluctantly ally with those who have been screaming about the rise of the politically powerful anti-Enlightenment right wing. I mean, really, when’s the last time a President was putting pressure on the science agencies to declare the electron a social construct?

8

Walt 02.05.07 at 5:56 pm

Aaron: Don’t be a sniveling little shit. The world has enough already.

9

constablesavage 02.05.07 at 6:13 pm

5, what’s the shame in using a word with its literal meaning?

Or are you taking the postmodernist mickey and suggesting the word “denialist” is such a social construct, that to use it as the dictionary prescribes invites feelings of guilt?

10

Slocum 02.05.07 at 6:32 pm

Oh give me a break, Otto. The so called ‘anti’ GMO campaign (which is usually not anti-GMO at all, but instead merely wants its use to be monitored and regulated) is BASED on science.

No, the anti ‘frankenfood’ movement is based on more than that — it has a strong flavor of knee-jerk antipathy to capitalism, globalization, and industrial science.

And it’s also based on the ‘precautionary principle’ which suggests that we should be ban new technologies even though we have no empirical evidence that they are harmful (and even when we do have clear evidence of the potential for great benefits) on the grounds something scary ‘could’ happen that we haven’t anticipated.

The impact of this anti-GMO is arguably *much* greater than that of right-wing opposition to the teaching of evolution or stem-cell research. Banning GMOs doesn’t hurt rich Europeans, but how many poor people have died or suffered poor health (and will continue to die and suffer poor health) because of leftish, anti-GMO opposition to golden rice:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1160661,00.html
http://www.biotech-info.net/GR_tale.html

11

bi 02.05.07 at 6:53 pm

Slocum:

You’re probably aware of Monsanto, which is known for aggressively selling genetically-modified products which are known to be crappy.

But once more, Rumsfeld’s “we don’t know we don’t know” comes in handy here. Let’s just ignore what we know, so that we can’t criticize it.

12

Didi 02.05.07 at 7:02 pm

[#2] ‘Very very few social scientists ever actually proposed the extreme ‘it’s all a social construction’ idea that Levitt and Gross suggested (Sokal’s critique was a good deal more nuanced).’

I tend to think the same. Many people will attack, say, the strong programme without having the slightest idea of what’s in it (having taken the time to do so, I can definitely conclude that it’s nothing like ‘it’s all a social construction’).

The result seems to be that science wars tell us more about the ignorance of certain attacks than on the actual targets.

13

Scott Martens 02.05.07 at 8:13 pm

I’m inclined to see this in roughly the same light as if Dinesh D’Souza wrote a piece saying that the decline of pro-gay marriage forces frees up defenders of America to win the war in Iraq, having defeated the enemy within.

“But the abuse of science has lately materialized in an even more disturbing form, this time within the corridors of our own government. (…) How and why did the science wars move out of academia and reemerge in Washington, with political poles reversed?”

I haven’t read Mooney’s book. I sure hope it’s got a better sense of history than that. Just asking that question is stupid. After over a decade of right-wing snowjobs on global warming, at least 20 years on food safety, a solid 40 years on cigarettes and nearly a century of agricultural grade excrement on evolution, you would think it more likely that this fight neither moved nor reemerged, but that this has been a problem in DC for a long time. One might recall Senator Proxmire’s war on “government waste” back in the 70s, and how often his victims were scientists doing useful work; or the replacement of science with wishful thinking back in the 80s when Reagan started spending money on “Star Wars”.

It’s a fine thing to hear that the forces that were so vocal at the time of the Sokal hoax are united against Bush’s abuses of science. However, their power outside of academia is the same as that of the science studies people they castigated: exactly zero. And, unlike the small and easily isolated science studies community, their new foes are well-funded and pay the wages of a great many scientists.

So, just who is the public supposed to trust? A free market scientist who earns his wages, or an academic scientist who has tenure and lives off research grants? Why should they trust scientific claims to authority when scientists say different things? Global warming leads to lots of research grants, so maybe those university scientists have a vested interest in it. Besides, people don’t want to have to take the bus or pay more for gas.

I can hear them now:

Why should I stop eating Twinkies? Or stop smoking? Those scientists! One year their telling you saturated fats are bad for you, so you eat trans-fats; the next year they tell you trans-fats are bad for you. They tell you’re suppose to eat fish to get Omega-3, then they tell you that if you eat fish, you might get mercury poisoning. You can’t believe anything they say!

Mooney & Sokal: “To avoid nature’s punishment, we must take steps now to restore reality-based government.”

If anyone on the right cared enough to respond, their response would go something like this:

See, there’s those liberals again, expecting the government to solve their problems. If people needed science, the market would provide it. It’s just like a bunch of college professors living off the public’s money, thinking that restoring some government department full of overpaid do-nothings will do anything except keep them employed.

We’re doing fine without any reform of government science institutions. See: The economy is just fine! American science is the envy of the world! It’s those academic liberals who are the danger to us all.

Now, compare and contrast:

Mooney & Sokal, when confronted with right-wing abuse of science: “To address this new crisis over the relationship between science and politics, we propose a combination of political activism and institutional reform.”

Arnold Rimmer, when confronted with a mind-sucking, killer mutant in Red Dwarf, series 3: “Now call it extreme if you like, but I propose we hit it hard, and we hit it fast, with a major, and I mean major, leaflet campaign.”

Consider: The war in Iraq was built on pure lies – many of them transparent lies. Unlike discussions of biology, nutrition, or the environment – areas where significant amounts of arcane knowledge come into play – this issue involved no complex thinking. War is very bad. War for nothing is criminal. War for distant and difficult to define goals in a place you nothing about, against the advice of those who know it well, is stupid. The period leading up to the war in Iraq was greeted with some of the largest demonstrations in several countries histories. It was opposed by large, organized activist groups. It went against the very institutional structure of American government to undertake this war.

And yet the American public, its media, and its state apparatus backed the war. So overwhelming was the campaign for war that doubt was cast into the minds of the very people who actually knew better. Even now, when you’d have to be an idiot not see that it’s all gone very, very badly, sizable parts of the American public back the war.

If people have changed their minds about the war in Iraq, it’s because it has been an unambiguous failure. Is anything less likely to work against mendacious science?

The war in Iraq is a lot more important to people than evolution. It’s impact is more obvious and immediate than global warming. It’s far easier for most people to fundamentally change their minds about the Iraq War than to eat right, stop smoking or drive their cars less. Is activism on behalf of stuff people don’t want to hear likely to even sink in in a world where the idea of leftist activism itself is a barrier to being heard?

If “junk science” and “astroturfing” are being exposed, it’s because of the work of reporters and activists, not good science. If companies like Exxon and Philip Morris are finding their lies harder to sell, it’s because large impersonal corporations enjoy very little esteem from the public; if government science is being questioned, it’s because people question the government. Science and scientists have played very little positive role in it, and enjoy no special esteem from the public.

There used to be people who cared a lot about public and institutional responses to scientific claims, and who made careers studying exactly that. They were the social scientists best positioned to work out how physical scientists might actually influence political policy – people who’d made their careers studying science as a social and political phenomenon. They used to work in a field called “science studies”. Maybe there still are a few, but there can’t be many left who haven’t been brushed off as ignorant pomos.

14

Sebastian holsclaw 02.05.07 at 11:40 pm

“There used to be people who cared a lot about public and institutional responses to scientific claims, and who made careers studying exactly that. They were the social scientists best positioned to work out how physical scientists might actually influence political policy – people who’d made their careers studying science as a social and political phenomenon. They used to work in a field called “science studies”. Maybe there still are a few, but there can’t be many left who haven’t been brushed off as ignorant pomos.”

And that is because of how they did their work, yes?

15

albert 02.06.07 at 4:49 am

Seb-

If you have to ask that question, even rhetorically, then you don’t really know much about science studies.

16

Brendan 02.06.07 at 12:44 pm

‘And it’s also based on the ‘precautionary principle’ which suggests that we should be ban new technologies even though we have no empirical evidence that they are harmful (and even when we do have clear evidence of the potential for great benefits) on the grounds something scary ‘could’ happen that we haven’t anticipated.’

You know, that would be a much stronger argument if it wasn’t for the fact that we invaded Iraq on, very much, the grounds of ‘the precautionary principle’ and that it tended to be precisely the same sort of people who were so vehemently in favour of GMO who were also in favour of the invasion of Iraq.

Moreover, we are now told that ‘we’ must now invade (sorry, ‘intervene’) in Iran because, again, of the precautionary principle: in other words because Iran might (or might not) want to develop nuclear weapons and that, therefore, they might (or might not) be capable of doing this in a time period which might (or might not) be between 3 and 5 years.

But we should invade (‘intervene’) anyway because….the precautionary principle!

Which should now, apparently, be interpreted as ‘If any state could perhaps do something (anything) that harms our national interest (as decided upon by the Republican party) in the next….ooh….twenty to thirty million years, we should RIGHT AWAY invade that country.’

After all, you can’t be too careful.

17

aaron 02.06.07 at 1:31 pm

Invading Iraq was an easy call, even if it degenerates into a violent cival war state, like many people believe it is, we’re still better off than befor.

18

SG 02.06.07 at 2:54 pm

I made a comment about this topic in Deltoid too but I feel a need to repeat it here, because these guys give me the shits. For years they have been watching the astroturfing and the religious attacks on creationism, they have sat by watching while the Kyoto protocol was ignored or attacked, and their only contribution to the whole debate was to join the side of the astroturfers, criticising global warming scientists for “group think” or “alarmism”. Now these guys suddenly realise what the rest of us have been saying for years – that science is under attack from the people who control its purse strings, i.e. the people with the power – and they want us to do what exactly? It’s like listening to a republican senator staring down the barrel of an election loss suddenly deciding that they want to question the Chimp’s Iraq policy.

You know exactly why both these types of characters have suddenly changed their tune – because it was convenient for them to ignore the obvious before, and they were so stupid and devoid of critical thought that they didn’t realise the problem was going to bite them on the arse in the end.

And these people thought they could separate the wheat from the chaff in humanities?

19

Brendan 02.06.07 at 3:22 pm

‘Invading Iraq was an easy call, even if it degenerates into a violent cival war state, like many people believe it is, we’re still better off than befor.’

And who is ‘we’?

20

Seth Edenbaum 02.06.07 at 4:01 pm

Clean water saves more lives than high-tech medical research.
The latter invokes the romance of the unending search for truth the other involves no more than techical skill, bureaucracy and giving a shit.

Steven Weinberg’s zionism is as based in science as his preference for a SuperCollider over water treatment plants. The metaphysics of scientific “truth” bore me to tears. More truth is “…just over that hill!” “We need more facts!” “Onward to the facts!”
Facts don’t protect us from the questionable benefits of Donald Rumsfeld’s atheism. Self-knowledge can save us from such things, but it can not be taught. The rule of science is not the rule of law. The rule of law is the rule of tradition. Please explain why someone can get off on a technicality when it’s known as a matter of fact that s/he is guilty of the crime. Please explain how we still allow ourselves to be guided by such barbaric formalisms in the age of science.
Please explain. Or stop lecturing me about science and the fucking humanities.
9th grade chem lab discussions of philosophy. jesus fucking christ.

21

bi 02.06.07 at 5:01 pm

Seth Edenbaum:

Well, even a discussion on the subject of “clean water” is going to touch on the “metaphysics of science” at some point. Is it better for clean water to be a public good, or a private service? How do you tell? On what grounds do you make your claim?

The rule of law. Which laws? Should laws be changed? Is it true that more guns means less crime? How do you know?

And so on.

22

Seth Edenbaum 02.06.07 at 5:36 pm

No a discussion of clean water is not going to touch on the “metaphysics of science” it’s going to hinge on logic, morality and risk assessment in a democracy. A government of scientists however would be predicated on the metaphysics of science and that I oppose, defending instead popular representation and one man one vote. I’m sorry I don’t have time to explain why such governments are considered necessary. Again, go back to high school civics.

23

John Landon 02.06.07 at 9:16 pm

The leftist critique of science, which has always been in a state of confusion, might consist, questions of the methodology of science apart, of a critique of Darwinism (as natural selection)and its well-known relationship to the core of classical liberalism. This hard-core ideological issue, which is apparently beyond the collective abilities of science and academia to resolve, has handed the conservative right an easy target, a circumstance frittered away, fortunately, by the hype of Intelligent design.
Part of the problem here is the crippled Feuerbachian mindset that fixed the left in an exceptionally obtuse perspective on the issues of religion.
It should be noted that Marx’s views on Darwinism began by being critical of natural selection (cf. Bellamy’s Marx and Ecology}, whatever else happened after that. So I think the left here is a pack of fools to embrace the tail end of the donkey of Whiggish Darwinism. This embrace has made the critics of ideology into a source of legitimation.
Pathetic.

24

Steve LaBonne 02.06.07 at 9:25 pm

Is there a Landon Law analogous to Godwin’s Law?

25

Fledermaus 02.07.07 at 3:30 am

Nevertheless the collapse of global warming denialism, and the exposure of the Big Tobacco-ExxonMobil machine suggests that even such powerful forces are not unbeatable.

When reality meets denial it’s kind of like a jackrabbit meeting a semi. Reality is the most powerful force of all.

26

bi 02.07.07 at 4:38 am

Seth Edenbaum:
And “risk assessment” will be based on what exactly? Certainly not numerology.

Steve LaBonne:
Hmm. I’m curious too. And what is this “Darwinism” thing and is there a church for it?

27

Seth Edenbaum 02.07.07 at 5:40 am

“And “risk assessment” will be based on what exactly?”
Are you so fucking stupid?

Risk assessment in a democracy is not the same as risk assessment in a monarchy. Think about it (just a little) please.

28

bi 02.07.07 at 8:24 am

Yes, I’m stupid, thank you very much. I just can’t manage to see this whole thing as a Big Struggle Between Democracy And Monarchic Elitism.

Your underlying assumption is that The People as a whole will ultimately decide everything, and we shouldn’t even try to _explain_ things to them, clear up their thinking, to explain to them how this “fact” thing behaves, etc. Because explaining things to people is elitist or something.

Or alternatively, we shouldn’t need to explain anything because whatever The People decide is axiomatically correct. _Vox populi, vox Dei._ If The People feel that the Earth is flat, then it is flat. If The People feel that the Earth is round, then it is round. Again, this arcane art of “fact finding” using the “metaphysics of science” smacks too much of high-brow elitism. As Colbert taught us, knowledge comes not from books, but from the gut.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll prefer to keep explaining. Because by jove, a democracy works properly only when there’s an _informed_ population.

29

John Quiggin 02.07.07 at 11:29 am

As a general point on the thread above, I’m no fan of Gross and Levitt, but the fact that even such prime sources for rightwing participants in the Science Wars no concede that the real enemies of science are in the White House is good news.

30

Seth Edenbaum 02.07.07 at 2:28 pm

“Your underlying assumption is that The People as a whole will ultimately decide everything,”

No idiot, my point is that we use systems that are based on formal relations because we trust no one, not even scientists, not to pursue their own self-interest. We as a culture assume not that the people are correct but that power corrupts.
The justice system is predicated on the assumption that there is no “reality based community.” If there were they would have every right to rule us.
There is no left-wing critique of science; none that isn’t an academic joke. There is a realist critique of the prerogatives of power.

In the US the hyper-intellectualism of the academic elite goes hand in glove with the anti-intellectualism of the populace. Each looks to the other with contempt [but you all love the same movies!]
That’s a question of history and sociology not mathematics, but it’s no less obviously a statement of fact.

31

bi 02.07.07 at 3:10 pm

Seth Edenbaum:

“Science” doesn’t mean just blindly trusting in a bunch of people in white garb. “Science” means _we_ apply the scientific method ourselves to find out stuff, and _we_ sort out the wheat from the chaff, and that applies equally well to the work of people in white garb and people not in white garb.

I say there’s a reason why it’s called the “Republican War on Science”, not the “Republican War on Scientists”. Because this is an attack not just on the scientific community, but on the very underpinnings of the scientific method itself — meaningfulness, falsifiability, verifiability. You don’t need to be part of an “intellectual elite” to see that “Creation Science” is just rhetoric, not science.

32

bi 02.07.07 at 3:58 pm

Dang, is ExxonMobil at it again?

http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2004397,00.html

We at Neo-TeX hereby invite everyone to submit spoof essays to the AEI. Everyone — especially Alan Sokal.

33

Richard 02.07.07 at 4:41 pm

Dear Seth Edenbaum

I’m very sorry to hear about your boredom, but your rage seems to be a larger issue right now. You’re clearly very upset about something, it seems to have a basis in social injustice, but that might be masking other, more personal, frustrations.

I’m curious about the particular crime that you feel went unpunished, because of a technicality.

Please note that I have refrained from appealing to jesus fucking christ, calling you a fucking stupid idiot, or telling you, again, to go back to school. I’d appreciate it if you’d extend the same courtesy to me.

Think about it (just a little) please.

34

Seth Edenbaum 02.07.07 at 4:42 pm

One more time: The republican ‘war’ is on scientific methodology, the left-wing criticisms, concern the absurdity of false moral imperatives of technical progress. Big science is sexy. Water purification is not. Which gets more funding and which would save more lives?

Your inability to distinguish between what people say and what you think they must be saying just proves my point. People are fallable, that’s why we choose the anti-idealism of the rule of law.

35

bi 02.07.07 at 4:53 pm

Excuse me, Seth Edenbaum? This is what Mooney and Sokal said in their op-ed:

“At the same time, journalists and citizens must renounce a lazy ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ approach and start analyzing critically the quality of the evidence.”

Maybe you should check the facts yourself before accusing others of not doing so.

I don’t know what colour the moon is in your universe where scientists are conspiring to create an oligarchy of white garbs, but I’m quite sure I live in a different universe.

= = =

Again: submit spoof essays to AEI now!

36

Seth Edenbaum 02.07.07 at 5:01 pm

“I’m curious about the particular crime that you feel went unpunished, because of a technicality.”
Plenty of them, and I’m glad of it. “The ACLU is a conservative institution”

I’d ask you to join us but you’re too fucking stupid.

37

Seth Edenbaum 02.07.07 at 5:03 pm

I’m done.

38

bi 02.07.07 at 5:16 pm

Oh jeez. Getting guilty people into jail is important, but you know, stopping people from being poisoned by mercury and Frankenfood is also quite important.

39

Crystal 02.07.07 at 5:33 pm

I’ve never liked Gross and Leavitt either, and anyone who sides with Dinesh “I’m glad the British colonized my country” D’Souza is suspect in my book.

Still, I’m glad Sokal and Mooney know where the real danger lies. A few professors flapping their gums hardly make an impact outside of academia. Global catastrophe, on the other hand, impacts each and every one of us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (har har) to see which is the urgent issue.

40

Seth Edenbaum 02.07.07 at 5:59 pm

“My Trade”.

“At the same time, journalists and citizens must renounce a lazy ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ approach and start analyzing critically the quality of the evidence.”

No. Journalists in this country should stop taking themselves seriously, stop pretending to be intellectual, and admit that their job is no more or less than to be adversarial. I don’t want newsmen trusting politicians any more than want defense lawyers palling around with prosecutors. Sokal and his ilk pretend that things would be better if people would just grow up. But people will never grow up. Look at you and richard, neither of whom no how to read. Speaking of which you should read the book above. It’s fun trash but the title points to its importance. Ot maybe go pick up a DVD of “The Front Page.”

I’m not opposed to science, but as I’ve been pointing out for 4 years on this site, academics discount the importance of tradecraft in human interaction. Lawyers, journalists and politicians are craftsmen. The new model of academic life as technocratic geek school discounts social and cultural sophistication. It discounts formalism and adversarialism in favor of reason and collaboration, and that sets a dangerous precedent.

It says something about the limits of human intelligence that in 4 years I haven’t made a dent in the culture of this blog. The American web has an overrepresentation of economists, political ‘scientists’ and others who interests overlap with technofantasy. Self-knowledge or self-doubt [or even an interest in either] are hard to come by. I have a portfolio to manage, a business to run, a moribund art career and an equally moribund social and sexual life to resuscitate. I have no more time for any of this.
I did my best. I wiped my blog and I’m done here.

41

bi 02.07.07 at 6:19 pm

Seth Edenbaum:

You accuse people of having an “inability to distinguish between what people say and what you think they must be saying”, and then when I point out that what they’re actually saying is what I’ve been saying, you still insist you’re right.

Ergo, I hereby officially declare you as stupid.

Yes, I know about science and facts. But I also know about rhetoric, and I know that rhetoric’s what lawyers and politicians deal in. And I don’t need some wiseass artist to remind me of that, thank you very much.

42

bi 02.07.07 at 6:26 pm

And once more, everyone submit spoof essays to AEI now.

43

GrumpySleepy 02.07.07 at 8:10 pm

Mr. Quiggin,

Of course, whereas the relativist left never exercised any real power outside a few university departments, the rightwing enemies of science control the Bush Administration and are well represented in the commentariat, here as well as in the US.
In regards to your comment on the ‘relativist left’, I am interested in knowing how you view the emergence of entities with decidedly unscientific agendas that ally themselves on the multiculturalist side of the political spectrum, which invariably is the political left.

Consider, for instance, the Art of Living Foundation. Here is an extract from their own website (click on Ayurveda -> An Overview).

Life has Four Characteristics. It exists, evolves, expresses and extinguishes. And for it to exist, evolve, express and extinguish it depends on the five elements : the earth, water, air, ether and fire. To make it easier to understand you can say the five senses and its objects. Sight, smell, taste, sound and touch.

That was the Art of Living worldview of chemistry, one which has, no doubt, been given a great deal of thought! On to their worldview of biology :

Even this five elements of which the whole universe is made up of is not tight compartments of defined objects. They flow into one another. Each one of the elements contain the remaining four. So the approach of Ayurveda towards life is holistic – the sum total. The subtlest element is space of which the mind is made up of and the gross is the earth element of which our bones , marrow, skin and structure is made up of. It is further divided into 3 doshas – Vata, Pittta and kapha – the way to understand the physiology, its characteristics and its reflection on the mind.

The downstream effect of such beliefs is that the wrong sort of medical approaches are promoted and funded. Ayurvedic medicine have generally not found much acceptance in clinical trials, and it is clear that there is a social cost to the advertising, marketing and use of these “medicines” in parts of the world which don’t have access to doctors and reliable medical information.

This sort of scientific nonsense is a massive problem when you are talking about a 1.5 billion dollar foundation with branches all over the world. The Foundation site says that ‘in rural areas, health and well being need to be developed and promoted through ayurveda. It seems to me that some of the supporters of “alternate views of the world” are politically, if not ideologically, affiliated with the very same cultural studies mavens. The founder has been nominated for nothing less than the Nobel Prize for Peace for 2006, by no less than a United States Congressman. In this case, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D – NY). I would be interested in learning your opinion on this very interesting parallel phenomenon.

44

GrumpySleepy 02.07.07 at 8:25 pm

I should have addressed him as Prof. Quiggin, of course. Apologies.

45

Richard 02.07.07 at 10:24 pm

SE (40): my bad, sorry, I haven’t been religiously hanging on your every utterance for the past 4 years, I rely on individual posts to form some sort of internal, decodable coherence.

Discounting formalism and adversarialism in favour of reason is dangerous indeed: look at the advantages of simple adversarialism we see playing out on this very comments thread!

Oh, and you’re right. I don’t no how to read. Good job I only have to rite.

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Richard 02.07.07 at 10:24 pm

hello? hello?

maybe after several false alarms, he really is done.

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mpowell 02.07.07 at 10:34 pm

Is Seth finished demonstrating his mastery of the tradecraft of human interaction yet?

48

bi 02.08.07 at 3:33 am

GrumpySleepy, stop that act already. Just go ahead and snark openly. I know you want to.

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John Quiggin 02.09.07 at 2:39 am

Grumpysleepy, if you’ve quoted these guys accurately they sound like loons. On the other hand, I follow debates about science policy reasonably closely and I’ve never heard of them, so either they have very little influence or they are doing a good job of concealing it.

50

bi 02.09.07 at 5:06 am

Me, I certainly don’t understand why one should try to shoehorn the Art of Living into the US’s Left-Right spectrum, when the group’s HQ is based on India (!).

(Question: From India’s viewpoint, is Ayurveda considered to be Leftist, Rightist, both, or neither? Well, I don’t know.)

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Ersatz Glee 02.10.07 at 4:32 pm

What’s the definition of a nerd/geek?
Someone who assumes that history will have the same view of him that he has of himself.

I said I was done and I am, but I just thought that one up and I thought I should post it somewhere.

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clew 02.10.07 at 10:15 pm

I’m bewildered by the claim that we don’t need science to tell us how to provide clean water. It looks to me as though we need more knowledge about where to find it, as well as where to preserve it, as well as a political and moral system to do the provisioning and a legal system when we screw up.

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bi 02.11.07 at 4:50 am

Ersatz Glee:

I’ll say the real geeks are those have better things to do than to speculate on what future generations think of them. The term for your particular description is, as always, “crank”.

Once more: submit spoof essays to the AEI!

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