Dear Playboy: Deepak Chopra is wrong

By Phil Plait | July 18, 2011 12:15 pm

Last month, Playboy magazine ran an interview with Deepak Chopra, well-known among skeptics as a man whose grasp of science is only enough to use sciencey-sounding words to bolster whatever bizarre claim he’s making this week.

I received an email from an editor of Playboy asking me if I’d like to write an OpEd about the interview to be printed in that issue. Given the long reach of the magazine (it sells more than 2 million copies per month) I agreed and quickly penned a response. The interview and my editorial, along with one by Michael Shermer, ran in that June 2011 issue [NOTE: Playboy had the interview online but now it's gone; I found transcripts but I'm not sure they're legal. If someone knows where the original link is, please let me know!]. Here is what they printed from me:

This captures the gist of what I was saying, but due to space limitations was not my entire rebuttal to Chopra’s word salad in the interview (or should that be Mad Lib?). I think it could be read as if I’m insulting people who aren’t scientists, but that’s not what I was saying. To make things clear, here, in its entirety, is what I wrote:

Deepak Chopra has once again failed to grasp the reality around him. In the interview, when asked why scientists argue so strongly against him, he says “…that’s because I’ve gone out on a limb, whereas other people have played it safe.”

That’s not quite right: it’s not that he went out on a scientific limb, it’s that when he talks about science he gets it utterly wrong.

Ironically, he’s so wrong all the time he’s even wrong about being wrong.

This also extends to his pronouncements about quantum mechanics, where he universally garbles even the most basic premise of the science. To someone unaccustomed to it, he sounds profound, but to someone who actually knows QM what he says is mumbo jumbo. And when he tries to defend himself he says things that are simply false.

For example, in the interview he claims that “… skeptics are all angry people. They’re mostly high school teachers with old science behind them.” Sure, skeptics are angry when someone, willfully or otherwise, grossly abuses even basic science. But skepticism is just demanding evidence for claims. That’s not anger. That’s common sense.

And as far as the second part of his statement about skeptics, that shows his own prejudice against those who question him. When I go to skeptics meetings I see speakers on the real cutting edge of science. And I also see an audience comprised of people of all ages, including many who are quite young, all sharing a joy of science, a wonder of the Universe, and a sense of majesty and awe at the view Nature provides us.

If you want to truly understand something, and grasp just how amazing the Universe truly is, science – and reality – win every time.

Dr. Philip Plait
Astronomer, author of “Bad Astronomy”, creator of the Bad Astronomy Blog

Too bad they couldn’t print that whole thing, but happily I can here. I hope that clears up my stance on Chopra. Of course, it’s true I’m unhappy he’s distorting reality to make a buck. But what makes me really unhappy — yes, even angry — is that he’s shortchanging the Universe. His Universe is small and scary and unexplainable. The real Universe is huge and magnificent and artistic and understandable using math and science.

Perhaps, in the end, that’s what motivates me to do all this. I want people to see just how grand the real Universe is. We’re a part of it, and we can understand it. And that’s just about the most magnificent thing I can imagine.


Related posts:

- Deepak Chopra: redefining "wrong"
- Deepak impact
- Deepak Chopra followup
- Royal Ontario Museum dips deep(ak)ly into nonsense
- Unpacking Deepak’s quantum god
- What a week for alt-med smackdowns
- The world is subtle, and that’s why it’s beautiful

Comments (242)

Links to this Post

  1. News From Around The Blogosphere 7.20.11 « Skepacabra | July 21, 2011
  1. Ad Hominid

    I only read Playboy for the pictures.
    /

  2. sorrykb

    >But what makes me really unhappy — yes, even angry —
    >is that he’s shortchanging the Universe.

    Perfectly put.

    - KB

    P.S. > The real Universe is huge and >magnificent and artistic and understandable using math and science.

    For a moment there you sounded like you were channeling the Doctor… (Although I believe he also said the universe was “ridiculous”. )

  3. Pedro

    Way to go Phil.

    It really bugs me when people try to use Quantum Mechanics to explain Woo Woo, like the absulote garbage that is “what the *Bleep* do we know?”. Please stop -raping- science people!

  4. Physicalist

    I like your full answer better.
    Well done!

  5. Missy

    I can’t remember what show it was but I heard he was going to be on some reality type special and was the science person. I think that I can not remember what it was for because as soon as I heard his name I blocked it from memory. That man drives me up a wall with the things he claims as scientific fact. The fact that he is so insulting and plain wrong about the skeptic society just adds to that feeling. Thanks for posting the full OpEd and the information about the whole article.

  6. All I know is that this is as close as I will ever get to my dream of seeing Phil Plait in a nudie mag.

  7. andyo

    “… skeptics are all angry people. They’re mostly high school teachers with old science behind them.”

    Jeez, what an a-hole. In so many levels.

  8. Stephen

    Great rebuttal! I recently found out there’s a Deepak Chopra video game in the works… http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/sports/the-deepak-chopra-project/index.html?tag=result%3Btitle%3B0 for shame

  9. Mejilan

    Can someone please provide the gist of what Deepak Chopra wrote for the Playboy article? I can’t help but feel that I’m missing quite a bit of context here…

  10. EdF

    Something is wrong with me if I pick up Playboy just to read Phil’s article. ;-)

    Well said by the way.

  11. david

    meh. i follow both of you and Deepak, and my universe hasn’t exploded yet. both sides are..passionate..about their beliefs. i just pick out the parts from each side that happens to coincide with my beliefs, gets me to live a better, more informed life, and marvel at all of the wonder in the universe. ultimately i’m open minded, but i can also make up my own mind.

  12. Steve Metzler

    Nice one, Phil. Too bad the full text didn’t make it into print.

    I’d like to see Michael Shermer’s rebuttal too…

  13. Deepak Chopra has fractal wrongness: he is wrong at every conceivable level of resolution. Zooming in on any part of his worldview finds beliefs exactly as wrong as his entire worldview.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Fractal_wrongness

  14. I stopped at the Montana Vortex on a recent vacation. It’s a tourist trap with a crooked house and various outdoor areas set up for people to appear to “shrink and grow.” One of their illusions apparently doesn’t always work, which they explain by saying, “Sometimes you’re a particle and sometimes you’re a wave.” Not even as an analogy, as an actual explanation.

  15. Wait a minute. This is the same science that ruins people’s careers for even thinking the word, “Intelligent Design,” let alone speaking, writing or discussing it, right? The same science who insists on blindly suckling at the crotch of Darwin’s poor logic regarding evolution? This is the same science who insists on throwing out the baby with the bathwater if the bathwater is tainted with even a hint of religion. Yeah. Got it. Science is SO superior.

    Deepak and the Dali Lama have made their millions fueling the imaginations of those who failed high school algebra and test tubes 101, but does it really matter if they can’t tell a particle from a wave (inside ha ha to those who grok the Copenhagen interpretation)?

    I mean really – Deepak and the Dali Lama are pushing world peace and love, woowoo and feel good philosophy/spirituality, not hyper-space and the origin of time – at least not in a configuration you could wire to a flux capacitor on a DeLoran. I don’t blame you for being pissed off, or simply skeptical about non-scientists talking about science. They probably feel the same way about science commenting on religion, soul travel, crystals and a hot rock massage.

    I’m a journalist, so everything fascinates me because I don’t understand anything well enough to talk or write about it in more than 300 word bites that no one agrees is particularly insightful or accurate. I can still appreciate the beauty of the Milky Way, and the elegance of crop circles without understanding the significance of Pi and advanced math as interplanetary language. Do I need to? Ultimately it all comes down to what happened at Roswell in July 1947 though right? Earth conspiracy or aliens?

  16. Somite

    @david if you ” just pick out the parts from each side that happens to coincide with my beliefs” your life is not better or more informed; just delusional.

  17. Damn, no I really will have to start reading Playboy just for the articles.

  18. Ubi Dubium

    @ Scott Sigler

    “All I know is that this is as close as I will ever get to my dream of seeing Phil Plait in a nudie mag.”

    He was in the Skepchick calendar once, standing behind a carefully positioned telescope. Is that close enough for you?

  19. truthspeaker

    david Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    meh. i follow both of you and Deepak, and my universe hasn’t exploded yet. both sides are..passionate..about their beliefs.

    That’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that one side’s beliefs are factually correct and the others are factually incorrect,

  20. Kirk

    Oh, Becky. You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of science, which is a process of testing claims and measuring evidence.

    I’ll let others dissect your comment, but I hope you’ve got your flameproof suit on. Just because folks here aren’t as fire-breathing as at, say, Pharyngula, doesn’t mean you’re not going to get singed for that bit of blather.

    Unless, of course, that’s a Poe you’ve written.

  21. Steve Metzler

    15. Becky Blanton

    What’s the harm of believing in a bit of woo, huh? The harm is that some people just don’t know when to stop:

    What’s The Harm?

    How about parents that let their kids die because they pray for them instead of getting them proper medical attention? A lot of us are skeptics because we don’t want people to get hurt (physically or financially) by the new age conmen.

  22. Justin

    @ Becky:

    “Suckling at the crotch of Darwin’s poor logic regarding evolution.”

    What does that even mean? And what’s this poor logic of Darwin that you’re referring to? Further, whose career has been ruined by simply thinking the words, “Intelligent Design?” Who?

    Speaking of poor logic, I love this nugget of wisdom from your website:

    “As a Christian I believe that “the great deception” of Satan will involve paranormal, UFO and other unexplainable phenomena and the Bible even says that events in the end times will involve “terrifying visions and events in the heavens,” and a gospel so compelling that even the elect (God’s own prophets) will experience a shaking or falling away of their faith.

    I have been abducted and I do know dozens of people who relate similar experiences to mine.”

  23. Dennis

    Oy, Becky – you are sooo in the wrong place.
    I’m sure there’s plenty of room for you on Sylvia Browne’s website.

  24. Sickduck

    @Becky Blanton: You’re a journalist, you say? And you can’t even spell Dalai Lama correctly?

  25. CWorthington

    ooo a nudie mag of skeptics…. yum. Especially the articles….

    I stopped sharing my love of the beauty around me a long time ago. I kept getting people asking me why I don’t acknowledge that beauty as a proof of the existence of god. It is proof of the existence of probability, not some imagined power that explains away the unknown. I have an education that helps understanding in all things biological. I love the plants and animals and fungi even more with greater knowledge of how they work. I love the stars and want to learn more about them. I love physics and geology, aeronautics, robotics, and logistics. I love it all. It is all beautiful knowledge. But it is limited. We don’t know everything. We don’t have the technology to discover it. We don’t have the knowledge to even think of a way to discover it.

    There is no woo woo in my understanding of the universe. There is no place for it. All I see are things I know and things I have yet to understand. Is there a place for the soul to go after the body dies? I am not sure. I hope so. I would like to live a different life, discover new things. This life isn’t quite long enough. But if there is or is not, I will find out one day. Is my mind a powerful thing? Why yes, yes it is. But it too has its limits.

    I can understand someone wanting to say they know all about the spiritual side of the universe. It is human to try to gain power. But I do not agree with Chopra. He attempts to inform the public that he has this overwhelming sense and knowledge of science that allows him to know the spiritual side of the universe far better than anyone else. And he does it wrong. I agree with Plait and many other skeptics in shooting him down about his use of science. If you don’t know, learn. If you can not learn, then do not assume you know. At least, this is my philosophy. Some of the ideas Chopra has may be worth investigating. But they have to be investigated. It has not been shown that these ideas are valid. It is still merely a hypothesis. Merely a thought.

  26. Keith Bowden

    By her own admission, Becky isn’t capable of being a real journalist, she simply writes factoids and soundbites, doesn’t understand something as simple and beautiful as evolution and seems to live in a fantasy world. (And that’s the without clicking on the link to her alien abduction site.)

    I’m sad now.

  27. W. Scott Whitlock

    As a philosopher, it makes me even more angry when scientists, trained solely in their discipline and in the scientific method, think they are philosophers. As atrocious as Deepak Chopra’s science is, Philip Plait’s philosophy is much much worse. Picking the low-hanging fruit here: Science and Reality are two different things and should not be conflated. Science is a method for knowing certain reproducible aspects of the world and nature, through the mostly reliable scientific method. It has a very specific scope, and it is an epistemology (a way of knowing) and a methodology (a way of collecting knowledge), not an ontology (a worldview, metanarrative, metaphysics, etc.). Reality is an ontological question, the circle than encircles everything. Reality includes both science as a subset and all the things that aren’t science, things seen and unseen, known and unknown. Theology is the study of reality, as is philosophy. The problem with the Dawkins (and the Plaits) of the world is, although they are brilliant scientists, they are mediocre and under-read philosophers, who don’t understand that science is not equipped to have a worldview (because it is simply, at best, an epistemology but even more specifically a methodology).

    At least, if you’re going to get “passionate” and call someone out for making a mumbled straw-man of science, please don’t do the same with philosophy, albeit under the table.

  28. david

    @Somite and @TruthSpeaker

    I’m pretty sure a lot of science is based on our best guess as to how things are based on our knowledge of other things, like physics. So both sides are convinced their side is right and based on “facts” (although really that’s a scientific word, the other side uses “beliefs”), but most of the time its all based on inference. It was a fact that the sun traveled around the earth, until it wasn’t. It was a fact that the atom was the smallest particle, until it wasn’t. Enjoy your “facts” while they last…

  29. As I’ve (boringly, probably) brought up before, several years ago I was involved in an exhibit design project for a big science museum in the midwest. Unfortunately, one of the media producers on the team was a follower/disciple of Deepak Chopra. Every time we’d be in a meeting with the museum people, who included molecular biologists and other very real scientists, this person would try to steer the conversation in some silly “Deepak Chopra sez” direction. It was so embarrassing. Several of us would regularly step in and publicly distance ourselves from the woo, but it never stopped. Little wonder that project ended before the actual exhibit could be built.

  30. @ W. Scott Whitlock:

    Reality includes both science as a subset and all the things that aren’t science, things seen and unseen, known and unknown

    I’m no “philosopher,” but isn’t that an example of flawed logic? You are making the assumption that there are “things seen and unseen,” without any evidence for this assumption other than your own opinion, apparently.

    That is the true difference between people like Deepak Chopra and scientists.

  31. BJN

    Hoooboy.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch…the fact that Chopra was interviewed by dusty old “Playboy” is a clear indication of his decline.

  32. @ David:

    It was a fact that the sun traveled around the earth, until it wasn’t. It was a fact that the atom was the smallest particle, until it wasn’t. No, no, you go ahead and enjoy your “facts”.

    No it wasn’t. It was a theory. Until those theories were disproved by contrary observations.

  33. Jeff Keogh

    Ah David, you deeply stupid little man,

    Get your “facts” straight. Indeed, get your definitions straight.

    It has never been a fact that the sun revolved around the earth. It was the hypothesis for a for most of human history; even the theory. Never a fact.

    With such a slight grasp of reality, it’s little wonder you are so susceptible to the arrant bullcrap of the likes of Chopra.

  34. truthspeaker

    ” Keith Bowden Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    By her own admission, Becky isn’t capable of being a real journalist, she simply writes factoids and soundbites,”

    Unfortunately, that qualifies her to work as a journalist at almost any outlet in the US.

  35. truthspeaker

    @David – science is based on observable, recorded evidence. Chopra’s claims are based on things he makes up. See the difference?

  36. david

    In reading some of these replies, I’m curious where Deepak got the idea that skeptics are angry? hahaha!

  37. truthspeaker

    W. Scott Whitlock: how, exactly, is theology a study of reality? Isn’t it a study of what humans believe, which is a tiny subset of reality?

  38. truthspeaker

    David, I haven’t seen any anger in any replies.

  39. david

    well, my buddy @Jeff Koegh seemed to be angry. or maybe just mean.

  40. Álex

    Deal Phil,

    I am very skeptic to claims made by scientists a like. Why every scientist on this planet makes irrefutable claims regarding the inner workings and nuts and bolts of the Universe is alarming. I understand the concept of theory and how it is limited, but many cling to theory as fact which to me, is counter productive to the anima of science.

    I recently had an online duel with a Astronomer that claimed that he knew for a fact, what the Sun was made of and the sequence of it’s ultimate demise. This was humorous to me. Even with light analysis and observation we can not for sure know the exact make up of the sun. Even recently there was limited discovery regarding the exact proton weight of the elements of the sun. He explained star creation and the science behind it, but still unconvincing that future discoveries will not refute current knowledge. For all intents and purposes we are a species that is still in diapers that has much to learn about our universe, but more importantly so, ourselves.

    Anyhow, I am not an expert in Astronomy or physics but not conceding that there is a gargantuan amount of data to be discovered and that you can never account for everything is quite narrow minded.

    Regarding Chopra, he is a mystic, not a scientist.

  41. DrWeirdo

    I wonder why all the vitriol is necessary? This does not seem like a rational approach. In fact emotional involvment is a detriment to scientific inquiry…

    Scientific vs Scientistic… look it up

  42. chris j.

    W. Scott Whitlock, um, reality is solely that which is measurable through science. if it is not measurable/observable/knowable, then it is not real.

    everything else – and i’m being generous when i say thing – be it chopra, intelligent design, theology, the flying spaghetti monster, the easter bunny, or harry potter, is nothing more than fantasy unless proved or disproved by science. which, of course, is the whole point of science.

    i had philosophical conversations with stoned buddies in college too, where we talked through the night about “the objective contents of thoughts” and other rubbish. philosophy can be lots of fun, no doubt about it. but not one of those conversations matched the utter “woo” of watching a total lunar eclipse, going out to the desert to watch a meteor shower, or lighting things on fire with my glasses, er, “studying optics.”

  43. lqd

    “I can’t believe all the special stories that have been made up to explain our relationship to the universe at large…it’s all out of proportion.”—Richard Feynman, 1981

    “I think nature’s imagination is so much greater than man’s…she’s never gonna let us relax”.—Richard Feynman, 1983

    That pretty much sums it up for me. Science is all about observations, evidence, and new ideas (IF these ideas are feasible and can be proven with verifiable evidence). Superstition and pseudoscience (which is what Chopra practices) are about clinging to ancient beliefs and manipulating facts to fool the public. A bit of advice to Chopra: if it can’t be proven by experiment, it’s not science, and shouldn’t masquerade as it.

    Not only that, but real science is so much more fascinating than anything man can dream up. Isn’t quantum mechanics fascinating and mysterious enough to amaze without being distorted by Chopra? Isn’t man’s relation to the cosmos so much more intricate than astrology says? I can go on and on, but I’ll end my rant here.

  44. Jeff Keogh

    I am angry. No question.

    The struggle that humanity has gone through to drag itself out of the cesspit of ignorance and superstition has been long, and marked with much effort and sacrifice. But you’re quite comfortable to spit on that. You, and the legion of fluffy-headed know-nothings out there, who seem to delight in undermining all the advances that have been made.

    And I’m not your buddy.

  45. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    @Becky Blanton:

    I mean really – Deepak and the Dali [sic] Lama are pushing world peace and love, woowoo and feel good philosophy/spirituality, not hyper-space and the origin of time – [...].

    Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai (note the correct spelling!) Lama said:

    My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.
    – from The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (2005).

    If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.
    – from The New York Times (12 November 2005).

    So there!

  46. Ut

    @davie 39

    No, Jeff Koegh was insulting, not angry. There’s a difference, just as there’s a difference between a belief, idea, or hypothesis, and a fact. You’ve already made it pretty clear that you don’t care about actual distinctions or honest, intelligent discussion, though. You just want to make it well known that you’re very comfortable with a fence post up your posterior, and that you feel the extra 6 inches that gets you off the ground somehow make you a better person.

  47. Calli Arcale

    Becky Blanton:

    I think you may be slandering the Dalai Lama rather severely in that post by equating him to Deepak Chopra.

  48. @ Scott Whitlock – There is a clear separation between reality and science, in that science is the study of reality. Phil Plait recognizes this, otherwise he wouldn’t have said “…science – and reality..” in the last line of his PB editorial. So anything that is real, that does exist, is in the purview of science. Science does provide a worldview, by providing an increasingly clear view of how the world really works. Science views the world as it is, or at least as well as we can see it for the moment. Furthermore, there are (epistemological yes) philosophies underlying the scientific method, and they are what gives science it’s validity. Philosophy provides the structure for science.

    Oh, and saying someone is factually wrong, or at best making empty claims, is not philosophy. It’s the truth, in this situation at least.

  49. Jeff Keogh

    Ut,

    Insulting, yes. Also, angry. :)

    The anger is important, because calm discussion does not get through the cloud of tripe orbiting the heads of a the intellectually malnourished.

  50. Ut

    I stand corrected, Jeff, though now I’m very tempted to just continue on believing whatever I wish, and telling you that your definition of “angry” is wrong.

    Nah… Too much effort.

  51. Tobin Dax

    I’d say that there’s more potential anger from the other side than from the skeptic side. If nothing else, the other side seems a bit more vehement in defending their position.

    (Potential anger because tone can be misinterpreted in print.)

  52. david

    @ut well, he said he was angry. and that we’re no longer buddies. so that seemed pretty angry.

    I definitely agree with you on the distinction between theory and fact. But believing in a theory on either side strongly enough doesn’t make it a fact. Both sides are guilty of preaching their cause as if it were fact, one in the name of science and one in the name of faith. But ultimately, it comes down to what you believe.

  53. They still print that magazine? AND have 2 million subscribers?

    But yeah, Deepak is a douche.

  54. andyo

    Ah, the good old “you scientists are bad at philosophy” canard, which usually comes with no justification whatsoever, just more blabbing about “other ways” of knowing, again without any clear mention of what these “other ways” have actually discovered.

    And of course, the “philosopher” in question is usually a drive-by. Or if he comes back, just expect more blabber trying to hide the obvious simple questions others have asked of him.

    So, Whitlock, just in case, what exactly have these “other ways” discovered about reality, that isn’t discoverable by science?

  55. Ut

    @david 51

    Ultimately what you or I or anyone believes is meaningless. It’s what you can demonstrate. That’s where you’re way off the rails – you think people are countering your, or Deepak’s, or anyone else’s beliefs with other beliefs. Deepak Chopra is demonstrably wrong on much of what he says, and he’s not bothered to demonstrate that he’s not talking out of his behind with everything else.

    Nobody here is “believing in a theory” and thinking it’s “a fact”. You’re the one who’s carted out the ‘such and such was a fact!!!one!!’ which conflates fact with belief, theory, hypothesis, and idea. If you understand the distinction, then you’ve just admitted to being willfully dishonest.

  56. @ andyo #55:

    Reminds me of the poster a few months back who was angry (and not a scientist! David, take note!) because his chosen major in college – philosophy – was not apparently very useful when it came to finding employment, post graduation. He seemed to be taking out his frustration on various regulars here at BA.

    I think one of his supporting arguments for his whole “philosophy discovers what science can’t” line was something to the effect of, “I don’t want to think my four years in college were a waste.”

    Edit: Mind you, I happen to enjoy philosophy, and believe philosophers can play a great role in defining the society we choose to invent for ourselves. But, historically, philosophy as it’s classically defined has not proven a great success in determining the nature of the universe. :)

  57. david

    @UT I think there are a lot of things that are being sold or misrepresented of fact that are probably really sound theories based on our knowledge of the universe. If you lived in 1974 before science proved the earth traveled around the sun, I’m pretty sure more people accepted as fact that the sun went around the earth. I’m guessing they didn’t walk around calling it a theory at the time. But maybe they weren’t as intelligently refined as we seem to be today…

    I’m actually pretty intrigued by some of the responses to this thread. I think a lot of assumptions were made to some of my comments (that I certainly didn’t dissuade) and it feels very much the same as how my old religion tried to convince people that their views are right.

  58. Hoku

    @ David

    Three differences between Science and Chopra:

    1) Science makes direct, testable predictions that can be reproduced. Chopra does not, though his retrodictions can sound like he does.

    2) Science directly produces things that make the world a better place. Modern communications, travel, and medicine are all owe their existence to science. Chopra make people feel fuzzy inside.

    3) Fundamental honesty. The meat-grinder of science eventually rejects false claims and sniffs out frauds. Chopra misuses science language and terms to such a degree that it cannot be attributed to anything short of fraud.

  59. david

    @kuhn :)

    I love scientists! They created the s’more in a top secret government facility somewhere, and it’s delicious.

    Clarifying my initial comment, science is really great at what it does…science. Today’s facts are tomorrows theories, and today’s theories are tomorrows facts. Granted, that’s probably happening a lot less because of how far we’ve advanced, but we’ve never touched a black hole, or a nebula, or dark matter (although I might have missed that episode of The Universe). While we have a pretty good idea that this stuff exists using other knowledge we have, we’re really only inferring it to be true. Hence, theory.

    And science is cool. Not cool enough to get you laid unless it’s chemistry, but it’s still pretty cool , but I digress…

    But I look elsewhere when I want to learn about how to live my life. Some of Deepak’s thoughts in that area are intriguing, and that’s more of what I meant when I said I take nuggets from difference places. Just because I don’t agree on his views of the universe, doesn’t mean I have to disagree with him about everything. I’m reasonably certain that there were some great scientists that did some horrible things in the name of science, and we still benefit and acknowledge their contribution.

    There are some things that science isn’t meant to measure with data.

  60. David cgc

    @ andyo #55 – “So, Whitlock, just in case, what exactly have these “other ways” discovered about reality, that isn’t discoverable by science?”

    The precise conditions under which one is required to shove an extremely fat man in front of a runaway train.

  61. david

    @Hoku Science also brought us Rebecca Black, so I wouldn’t brag too much…

  62. @ David:

    And science is cool. Not cool enough to get you laid unless it’s chemistry, but it’s still pretty cool , but I digress…

    You didn’t take the right science courses.

  63. david

    @kugnigget obviously (and not just because of the luck with the ladies)

  64. jsb16

    Anyone claiming that our fundamental understandings are wrong because they were wrong before needs to read Asimov’s “Relativity of Wrong” as soon as possible.

  65. Michael Swanson

    Someone left a copy of one his books in a pile at work with a note that said “free.” I only recall that it had the word “quantum” on the cover and I chuckled. Then I threw it in the recycling bin. (If there were less than a few million copies of his books out there I suppose I would feel bad for throwing a book away.)

  66. I don’t want to see the word “suckling” used in here, ever again.

  67. truthspeaker

    I happen to enjoy philosophy, and believe philosophers can play a great role in defining the society we choose to invent for ourselves.

    Me too, although in my opinion philosophers articulate what many other people are already thinking as often as they influence thought. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – the same could be said about authors and other artists.

  68. truthspeaker

    Álex Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Deal Phil,

    I am very skeptic to claims made by scientists a like. Why every scientist on this planet makes irrefutable claims regarding the inner workings and nuts and bolts of the Universe is alarming.

    A good scientist will never, ever, under any circumstances, make an irrefutable claim.

  69. truthspeaker

    david Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    @ut well, he said he was angry. and that we’re no longer buddies. so that seemed pretty angry.

    I definitely agree with you on the distinction between theory and fact. But believing in a theory on either side strongly enough doesn’t make it a fact

    Either side? What makes you think there are two sides.

    Scientists have theories. They support them with evidence that everyone has access to and that other scientists review before they ever become theories.

    Chopra has lies.

    This isn’t a matter of competing theories. It’s a matter of one person making claims that are contradicted by the evidence and another making claims that are supported by the evidence.

  70. truthspeaker

    david Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    @kuhn :)

    I love scientists! They created the s’more in a top secret government facility somewhere, and it’s delicious.

    Clarifying my initial comment, science is really great at what it does…science. Today’s facts are tomorrows theories, and today’s theories are tomorrows facts.

    And that’s a far better track record than any other mode of inquiry. It’s certainly a better track record than lying, which is what Chopra does.

    That’s why all the anger and vitriol. Chopra is a liar who is making a living off of telling lies. People like that don’t deserve reasoned debate. They deserve as much anger and vitriol as the people sending you emails about Nigerian bank accounts.

  71. truthspeaker

    david Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    @UT I think there are a lot of things that are being sold or misrepresented of fact that are probably really sound theories based on our knowledge of the universe. If you lived in 1974 before science proved the earth traveled around the sun, I’m pretty sure more people accepted as fact that the sun went around the earth.

    And you meant a different year, right?

  72. Ut

    @david 58,

    Yes, there are many things that are being publicized as sound theory based on the observed evidence currently available.

    They are sound theories, at least in light of all of the measurements, all of the evidence – all of the facts – that are available to us today. These theories are not facts, though. They’re theories. They’re models. They’re interpretations of the world around us based on whatever reliable information (the facts) are available to us at the time.

    The fact (unarguable observation) that people once believed (held an *idea* they favoured to be true) that the Sun went around the Earth in no way meant that it was a *fact* that the Sun did so. Definitely not in the way scientists use the word “fact”.

    You are using “fact” in a very different way. You’re using “fact” to mean “something which people are just oh so sure of,” which means you’re talking past people here. You may as well start telling us that “theory” means guess, or that “theories” become “facts” once we stop being unsure of ourselves or something.

    You’re not so far off walking into an engineering convention with a conductor’s hat on and wondering why you’re getting dirty looks.

    Oh, and the ‘you guys are like religious zealots’ quip isn’t going to earn you any points. You’re the one who’s playing the ‘science can’t study my voodoo’ card. No one here is trying to convince you of anything other than that you know far less about what you’re talking about than you seem to think.

  73. I’ve been saying that for years, and thank you for putting it so well as usual. Chopra peddles mumbo jumbo with the odor of verisimilitude. If only he would just shut up. But he never will. He’s making too much money.

    Now do us old grammar hounds a favor and STOP saying that things are comprised of other things. As in “And I also see an audience comprised of people of all ages…” An audience can comprise people of all ages, or it can be “composed of” people of all ages.

    Really, it’s time for writers to stop doing this wrong.

  74. Liath

    Speaking of anger and vitriol I’m in the mood to share some of mine. I freelance edit papers for science journals and books. Two of my current pet peeves are scientists who do not check their math, and plagiarism. I am amazed at how often I come across both. Check your math before you submit your paper, and don’t plagiarize. Not even your own work. This may not be on thread subject but what the heck.

  75. Buzz Parsec

    I think David is on to something here. I remember when I was a little kid and the sun went around the earth. Watergate was a conspiracy by Al Haig and the Illuminati to distract the public when the change was made. It was in the papers, but you had to look for a small article in the back pages of the New York Times to find the details. Most people were oblivious.

  76. jaycubed

    I once tried to explain to Chopra exactly what a mirror neuron was & did; as compared to his bizarre ideas about quantum connections directly between individual “minds” mirroring each other at a distance (his spooky quantum thinking).

    He was unable to grasp the concept that the “mirror” neurons he was alluding to are adapted to copy, by visual observation, the physical behavior of an external model; and thereby provide a growth pathway for the neural rewiring which accompanies learning/practice of a new physical skill. Precisely the sort of learning system likely to evolve over a few million years among clever primates able to rapidly develop & transmit new skills to their offspring.

    He Believed that a mirror neuron in one brain was “quantumly linked” to the mirror neuron of a different brain, and communicated transluminally between brains. He was unable to explain how such information was transmitted: I offered Morse Code as a possible suggestion, since it is digital & could be transmitted via such a channel, but he didn’t appear to get the joke.

    He was unable to even grasp the fact that every neuron fires at random intervals just to keep itself alive.

  77. Zyggy

    @#13 Guy Chapman: HAHAHA! Fractal wrongness ….perfect

  78. Alex

    “I want people to see just how grand the real Universe is. We’re a part of it, and we can understand it. And that’s just about the most magnificent thing I can imagine.”
    So say we all…

  79. VinceRN

    Great, if quixotic, rebuttal to this snake oil salesman.

    @13 – Fractal Wrongness, love it. I’ll be using that one a lot.

  80. @ goblog

    Really, it’s time for writers to stop doing this wrong.

    Wrongly? :)

  81. andyo

    62.   david Says:

    July 18th, 2011 at 4:09 pm
    @Hoku Science also brought us Rebecca Black, so I wouldn’t brag too much…

    Sigh… sorry Phil, but it’s this kind of thing that makes me prefer the “dickishness” of the Pharynguhorde.

  82. HvP

    W. Scott Whitlock,

    You are conflating “things many people like to think about” with the “study of reality”: note, they are not necessarily the same things.

    You can very easily pick up a copy of “The Philosophy of Star Trek” or join a “World of Warcraft” forum. You can go to a sci-fi convention and be entertained by heated debates over the “superiority” of the Star Trek or Star Wars universes. That doesn’t make any of the subject matter more real.

    Any philosophy is only as relevant its starting assumptions. If the initial assumptions are false then the argument becomes irrelevant. There is a saying for this in the programming industry. The polite version of this saying is C.I.C.O. or “Crap In = Crap Out”.

  83. David

    Wow, I’m gonna need to change my name, at least he doesn’t capitalize his.

  84. katwagner

    I don’t think Becky Blanton is a real journalist – the kind that went to college and took all these courses including news writing, creative writing, poli sci and government classes, photography and mass media. I think Becky is just a blogger. No serious journalist would apologize and say after 300 words, that’s it! Got no more! Becky’s a legend in her own mind.

  85. Bernie Mooney

    As much as I think he’s a new age dolt, I think you guys are even worse. He talks about “going out on a limb,” and I think I agree with that. I have a huge problem with the “science people” who can’t think beyond the currently “provable.”

    As we have seen throughout science history, paradigms change. What was impossible one hundred years ago is now common. Who was it that said science advances one funeral at a time? Or something like that.

    There is loony, but there is “ah we don’t know” as well. Being smart, many of you, *Phil* should know that.

    The “scientismists” ( i just coined a term!) can’t think beyond the current paradigm. And I think that science would be eons ahead of where we are if that hadn’t been the stance for hundreds of years. You guys play it safe. You only accept what is provable and known…right now. Look beyond that and consider what might be.

    I keep hearing from the science fascists, yeah fascists, that science is something that evolves, yet you treat the current paradigms as “it.” If anything comes along that challenges that status quo you knee jerk against it. Well, what is it? Is science settled or does it evolve? Is it possible that things can change and they will be found to not be what we thought they were? Oh, that never happened in science, has it?

    I think the scientific community is the biggest threat to scientific advancement.

  86. @ Bernie Mooney:

    You are a typical wooster. You prattle on about “current paradigms” and evil “science people” being such drags, and what a bunch of stick in the muds they are, but I’m willing to bet you’ve never looked into the really cutting edge stuff that goes on every single day in pretty much every single field of scientific inquiry imaginable.

    Knee jerk against change? Hardly. I live about a mile from Cal Tech. Their public lectures feature some of the most outrageously far out work imaginable. I can only guess what some of the private meetings are like.

    I suggest it is YOU who are the problem. I’m willing to bet you’ve never attended a high level physics symposium, or even a relatively tame astronomical conference. Instead, you probably churn the web for the latest ufo videos and crop circle shenanigans, then complain when all the “science people” don’t follow your lead.

    But please, prove me wrong. Show me some examples of that “fascism” you’re talking about. Specific examples, none of these grand proclamations and opinions. And make sure the examples you share are true cases where someone’s groundbreaking science was ignored because it went against prevailing opinion and not because it lacked convincing evidence to back it up, or the interpretation of that evidence was debatable.

    Come on. We’re all waiting.

  87. Richie

    If your answer to “But science doesn’t know everything” is “It will when it reaches my conclusions”, then I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong.

  88. Phil says Deepak is wrong, but his only example is whether skeptics are angry! That is lame. If Deepak is wrong about quantum mechanics, then it should not be hard to find a quote that is wrong.

  89. Jeff Keogh

    @kuhnigget,

    Bernie Looney will get back to you when he has finished sniffing his own small intestine.

    (I’ve concluded that that’s where he is, because that’s the source of his ideas about how science works).

  90. Jeff Keogh

    @Roger,

    You are correct; it’s not hard at all.

    Google “Deepak Chopra”. Anything with the byline “Deepak Chopra” is wrong. Easy peasy!

  91. andyo

    Roger, just because you haven’t looked, or don’t understand anything at all about physics, doesn’t mean that Deepak is right. And like Jeff said, it’s not hard at all. Even a “simple” snarky comedian can easily call out Chopra on his BS.

    And this. Note that Mlodinow recently “co-authored” a book with Chopra, and Deepak is shamelessly promoting Mlodinow’s “IQ” (among other co-authors’) to appear smarter to his fans (his critics of course know this is BS). And of course what he doesn’t readily say, is that Mlodinow fundamentally disagrees with him. That’s the premise of the book!

  92. Gunnar

    Nothing did more to undermine any confidence I once had in Doctor Oz than finding out that he actually takes Deepak Chopra’s views seriously!

  93. bad Jim

    The problem with this sort of woo is that it makes normal but unsophisticated people suspicious about quantum theory.

    Nearly 40 years ago a friend, the wife of another friend with regrettably mystic inclinations and an immense appetite for psychoactive drugs, like many of us, once asked me in an accusatory tone if I believed all that nonsense about quantum physics. Of course I accepted what I understood of the science, but it was hard to answer without knowing her objection. Social science majors, what do they know about electrons?

    Back then I could have noted that this wasn’t practically important. Now that we’re all walking around with gigabytes of flash memory in our pockets I’d give her the hairy eyeball and ask how, exactly, she thought this stuff worked.

  94. SkyGazer

    The june 2011 issue will go into history as Plaitboy!

  95. Deane

    I only look at Playboy for the letters by astronomy boffins.

  96. david

    Aww man you guys kept it going! What fun! I really do appreciate the, um, enlightenment. You insistence on calling something you don’t deem necessary “voodoo” is hi-larious. And oh boy, it must be a lot if work breaking down these posts in to bullet lists that you can refute. Its a lot of work defending your faith, I’m sure! But the fact is (I’m sorry, can I use the word “fact” here?) is that is this sort of one sided, close minded dogma that really, really makes me sad for our future. Great, science will take us yo the stars…where we can measure stuff, pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for how right we are. Call it science, call it skepticism, but your faith (it’s ok, it’s not a dirty word) doesn’t have all the answers either, but reading the comments here, I’m pretty sure this is yet another organized religion that I’m not interested in.

    And yes, I actually believe we figured out we revolved around the sun in 1974. (ok, not really. I meant 1984.)

  97. Stan9fromouterspace

    More fanning for the “fractal wrongness” phrase. It’s perfect here.
    And #2 sorrykb, I think you left out “wibbly-wobbly.”

  98. t-storm

    Holy crap Scott, #6, you literally make me laugh out loud and I am not one to ever admit that. Maybe I am because I’ve recently fractured my sternum and laughing hurts like listening to Jenny McCarthy read…well, anything.
    Good one.

    And electrons? What are those? I’m just glad we only have electrons every four years.

  99. Rift

    Bernie Mooney… Strawman alert in 5… 4… 3… 2…

  100. Kim

    @ #40 Alex “Regarding Chopra, he is a mystic, not a scientist.”
    But the problem is he is trying to explain science but his ‘facts’ and ‘theories’ are wrong. Then he complains that the skeptics are angry at him when they try to correct him. He doesn’t want to learn the reality, he wants to make up his own then doesn’t understand when those that are more informed don’t agree.

  101. “It really bugs me when people try to use Quantum Mechanics to explain Woo Woo, like the absulote garbage that is “what the *Bleep* do we know?”. Please stop -raping- science people!”

    Don’t even get me started.

  102. QuietDesperation

    Deepak Chopra has once again failed to grasp the reality around him.

    He says what he says to sell books and make money. His grasp of reality is as firm as any, probably more than his critics who think he’s serious.

  103. ND

    Bernie Mooney,

    You can’t “go out on a limb”, “look beyond what’s known”, not provide any evidence to back up one’s claims, and then call people fascists for not taking you seriously.

    Serious question: What is your area of expertise?

  104. ND

    Kim,

    These people who peddle woo are not into it because of genuine interest but can’t grasp the topics. They’re in it because it sells!

    Edit: What QuietDesperation said.

  105. Bernie Mooney

    @kuhnigget

    There is cutting edge science out there and it’s being time by what I call the “young turks.” They are looking beyond current pardigms. By their own admissions they are pretty much working outside the mainstream. I have to admit I’m a big fan of outsiders in any field. Innovation and progress don’t come from the mainstream, they come from the fringes. They come from people who look in new directions.

    “And make sure the examples you share are true cases where someone’s groundbreaking science was ignored because it went against prevailing opinion and not because it lacked convincing evidence to back it up, or the interpretation of that evidence was debatable.”

    First, if the evidence rises to the point of being ‘debatable, then I submit that it is worth exploring.

    Space considerations preclude a comprehensive list, so I’ll just list a few. Probably the most famous one is Semelweis.

    More recent we have Carles Townes and lasers. Even after it lasers were considered “a solution in search of a problem.” The scanning tunneling microscope (the names I forget) which when it was demonstrated the audience still ridiculed it.

    Lynn Margulis was turned down for funding by the National Science Foundation because her idea broke all the rules of biology. She went outside and continued her research and 8 years after she was turned down she won the Nobel Prize for her work.

    More recently, in the 2000s, Barry Marshall’s link between gastric ulcers and bacterial infections. In his Nobel acceptance speech he said, “”Before finishing I want to acknowledge all those scientists who failed to recognize HP…Without them I would have had a very different career.”

    Now, many will point and say,”See, these are examples of science correcting itself. Yeah, but it only corrects itself after being dragged kicking and screaming.

  106. @ #98 david

    Scott Adams? Is that you?

    Boring troll is boring.

  107. Keith Bowden

    @34. truthspeaker
    July 18th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    One part of why I was very sad, oh so true.

  108. ND

    Bernie Mooney,

    Are you defending Chopra? Are you putting him at the same level as the scientists you mentioned in #107?

  109. @ Bernie:

    First, if the evidence rises to the point of being ‘debatable, then I submit that it is worth exploring.

    And it usually is, which is what debates are all about. But debating something and accepting it wholesale just because it’s “out there” are two different things.

    Probably the most famous one is Semelweis.

    The antiseptic guy, right? Didn’t he publish in the mid-19th century? The state of medical science wasn’t exactly “modern” back then, was it? Bleeding and all? Humors? Not exactly the stuff of fascism.

    Lynn Margulis was turned down for funding by the National Science Foundation because her idea broke all the rules of biology.

    And the fact that she tended to stray into “alternate reality” theory a bit too often. Witness her siding with the 9/11 “truther” factions. Scientists are people, too. Reputations carry weight, like it or not. BTW, If you read the interview with Margulis in Discovery magazine a while back, you’ll find she makes some very “fascistic” statements regarding the people who disagree with her. The interviewer pressed her a couple of times to respond with something concrete, but she replied only with opinion. Tough to judge based on an edited interview, of course, but it does get back to the whole “reputation precedes you” idea, not to mention extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, a line she should have picked up from her former husband.

    More recent we have Carles Townes and lasers. Even after it lasers were considered “a solution in search of a problem.”

    Not sure that supports your thesis. How does skepticism about the practical application of an invention equate to science “fascism?” Look up the history of MRI technology. Similar thing. The basic research had nothing to do with medical technology, but once it was applied to that field the medical scanning industry took off.

    Now, many will point and say,”See, these are examples of science correcting itself. Yeah, but it only corrects itself after being dragged kicking and screaming.

    Or, it only corrects itself after sufficient evidence has been gathered to force it to correct. Again, this isn’t fascism, it’s erring on the side of the tried and true (that last word in invisible quotes).

    Are there cases of scientists getting too stuck in their own groove? Of course, Bernie! Name a field of human endeavor in which such things don’t occur. Scientists are people, too. But to jump from this recognition to the conclusion that “science” as a whole is a fascist conspiracy is utter bilge.

    I challenge you on the statement that innovation always come from the fringes. Innovation, I suspect, more often than not comes from creative thinkers building upon the foundations laid by others, year after year, month after month, scientists doing their work, one step at a time. Ever look into the science of chaos? Round after round of seemingly routine reactions and then…wham!…something that seems to break the mold. Only it doesn’t really, the mold is just much more complicated than it looks. Without all the seemingly boring stuff that came before, the “wow!” moments couldn’t happen.

    But thanks for responding to my challenge. I hope you keep at it, only broaden your search a bit for all the boring old mainstream science that leads up to those innovations you seem to think appear out of the vacuum.

  110. truthspeaker

    Lynn Margulis was turned down for funding by the National Science Foundation because her idea broke all the rules of biology.

    And because she failed to support those ideas.

  111. @ david:

    And oh boy, it must be a lot if work breaking down these posts in to bullet lists that you can refute.

    That line pretty much sums up david’s difficulties with science. Why bother analyzing anything? Why take the time to actually construct an argument that holds up? It’s so borrrinnnngggg!

  112. Bernie Mooney

    @ND

    The problem is many people, some of whom I noted in my one comment have provided evidence, but even when that evidence is presented, they are rebuffed. I’ve read plenty of stories of the many scientists, later proven right, who were ridiculed by their colleagues and threatened with loss of funding. There were actual symposiums convened to debunk Wegener’s theory of continental drift.

    And since we’re on an astronomy site, what about the travails of Louis A. Frank and Clayne Yeates and their discovery of “ice comets? They actually changed the standards of proof for them. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong but from what I read, the standard of proof is two images. Yeates provided a journal with two. Then they said it wasn’t enough. He needed three. In fact, he had six sets of images.

    I remember reading comments on that discovery and man were they vicious. Some called him nuts and a fraud. One guy blasted NASA for their willingness to allow him to place cameras on some spaceshot to take images saying NASA had lost all credibility. Astronomer’s said, “If these things exist, we would have seen them.”

    Frank himself said, soon after his discovery created controversy, “For the past two years I paid the price for being wrong. Now I’ll pay an equal price for being right. After all, you can’t just tip the scientific world askew and expect everyone to cheer.”

    And it seems that because I have a problem with what I perceive to be a huge problem in mainstream science, I get dismissed as some woo guy or a troll or anti-science because you can’t question the behavior of the scientific community.

    I’m not in science, but I like science and read enough to know that science, like pretty much any other field, refuses to entertain new ideas that shake up the status quo. And I think it is a worse thing in science since science is the main field that helps us progress as a society.

    I still stand by my belief that science stands in its own way. Think about how far science could have advanced; where we would be progress-wise if there wasn’t a vigorous defense of the status quo that dismisses anything that challenges it.

    Granted, you can’t entertain every crackpot idea that comes down the pike, but the way I see it there is no discernment since any different way is dismissed out of hand.

    As an outsider looking in, I see a mainstream scientific community that discourages thinking outside the box.

  113. ND

    Bernie Mooney,

    kuhnigget did a fine job of summarizing how scientists being human fall victim to their own human fallibility. There is no way around it other than to minimize it. It’s going to continue to happen. But for you categorize this as fascism is an attempt to discredit the scientific community as a whole in a dishonest manner. This triggers a warning bell for many in this forum that the person is seriously into woo and is threatened by science and critical analysis. That’s just a gut feeling of you based on many other wooers who have graced this forum and behaved the same way.

    You’re also ignoring those scientists who came up with “alternate” ideas and evidence has piled up against their idea and rightly have not been accepted. You were cherry picking examples to discredit the scientific community as a whole.

    “I’m not in science, but I like science and read enough to know that science, like pretty much any other field, refuses to entertain new ideas that shake up the status quo.”

    Yes but that’s a moment in time. How does the scientific community deal with such new ideas as the evidence piles up?

    Are there any non-mainstream ideas that you see as not being taken seriously by the scientific community currently?

  114. Zucchi

    Modern woo-mongers like Deepak Ch0pra abuse the jargon of quantum physics and chaos theory the same way their predecessors in the 19th century pretended to have the new science of electricity and magnetism on their side. (Actually, they’re still spouting nonsense about magnetism.)

  115. truthspeaker

    And it seems that because I have a problem with what I perceive to be a huge problem in mainstream science

    And there’s your problem. What you see as a huge problem in mainstream science is science working the way it is supposed to.

    Before an idea is accepted it has to make it through a rigorous uphill battle. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, to prevent kooky, unevidenced ideas – like Lynn Margulis’s – from gaining traction.

  116. Bernie Mooney

    @ND

    NO! Absolutely not. I am not defending him. I said in my first comment he is a new age dolt.

  117. Yojimbo

    @ Bernie Mooney
    Wegener’s theory of continental drift is not a good example of the point you’re trying to make. His theory was (1) wrong, and (2) based on weak reasoning (the continents “looked” like they fit together). The fact that the theory of plate tectonics mirrors continental drift is almost coincidental. Continental drift was rightly rejected because the idea was not backed by good evidence – just as plate tectonics was accepted because it had good supporting evidence.

    Anyway, I think you’re missing the point; science should be relatively conservative about accepting new ideas. A system that flitted wildly after every enticing new hunch would not be very useful. But being slow and careful about changes is not at all the same as rigid and dogmatic. And, as has been said, the fact that scientists are human and might be resistant to change or in love with their own ideas, that doesn’t mean that science is. No matter how wild an idea may seem, if presented with solid supporting evidence it will eventually be accepted. Which brings us back to the objection to Chopra and his like – they toss out ideas without supporting evidence and then whine because they don’t get the acceptance that they have not earned and don’t deserve.

  118. ND

    Bernie Mooney,

    The first sentence from your first post says: “As much as I think he’s a new age dolt, I think you guys are even worse. He talks about “going out on a limb,” and I think I agree with that. ”

    You call him a dolt but then you said you agree about him “going out on a limb”. You then tied going out on a limb with scientists who were rebuffed at first. Chopra does not provide good evidence to allow him to be taken seriously. The way I read it, you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    I have a feeling you’re conflating just coming up with new ideas and coming up with new ideas with evidence to back it.

    You’re not seeing the scientific forest from the controversial trees.

    Also, kuhnigget took the effort of answering you in detail. Anything to add?

  119. Bernie Mooney

    @ kuhnigget

    “And it usually is, which is what debates are all about. But debating something and accepting it wholesale just because it’s “out there” are two different things.”

    That’s not what I am saying. I am saying they dismiss it outright without even entertaing the thought. And I’m not talking about the crackpot guys with no evidence. I’m talking about the people who have evidence that should at least get people to say, “Hmmm…this looks interesting.”

    “The antiseptic guy, right? Didn’t he publish in the mid-19th century? The state of medical science wasn’t exactly “modern” back then, was it? Bleeding and all? Humors? Not exactly the stuff of fascism.”

    Yeah, that guy. And it doesn’t matter whether science was modern or not. It’s that he suffered due to the fascist nature of the science community. He was hounded, fired, his career ruined and he wound up in the nuthouse where he killed himself.

    “And the fact that she tended to stray into “alternate reality” theory a bit too often. Witness her siding with the 9/11 “truther” factions. Scientists are people, too. Reputations carry weight, like it or not.”

    And there was some geneticist around the turn of then century, whose name I can’t remember who founded the racist eugenics society. William French Anderson was a child molester. That doesn’t negate their work.

    ” BTW, If you read the interview with Margulis in Discovery magazine a while back, you’ll find she makes some very “fascistic” statements regarding the people who disagree with her.”

    Can you point me to that?

    “…extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, a line she should have picked up from her former husband.”

    Ah, but is the definition of extraordinary quite often subjective? What exactly constitutes an extraordinary claim? Is there a standard you go by? It seems a vague construct which allows you to change the rules of evidence. It’s like I wrote about Yeates. The standard was two sets of images and when he produced them, they demanded three sets. Either there are standards or there aren’t. Why the need to demand more proof from one guy as opposed to another?

    “Not sure that supports your thesis. How does skepticism about the practical application of an invention equate to science “fascism?”

    He was ridiculed for pursuing something they said was impossible.

    “Look up the history of MRI technology. Similar thing. The basic research had nothing to do with medical technology, but once it was applied to that field the medical scanning industry took off.”

    You leave out the part that he was ridiculed by colleagues at Princeton and they even held “roast” mocking him and he started having his funding canceled.

    “Or, it only corrects itself after sufficient evidence has been gathered to force it to correct. Again, this isn’t fascism, it’s erring on the side of the tried and true (that last word in invisible quotes).”

    You used the word, “force.” They should come to it without having to be forced. And erring on the side of “tried and true” is a very conservative stance.

    “Are there cases of scientists getting too stuck in their own groove? Of course, Bernie! Name a field of human endeavor in which such things don’t occur. Scientists are people, too. But to jump from this recognition to the conclusion that “science” as a whole is a fascist conspiracy is utter bilge.”

    I disagree. Maybe fascist is too strong a word, but there is a real institutional group think that derides new ideas. As I wrote earlier, who was it that said “Science advances one funeral at at a time?”

    “I challenge you on the statement that innovation always come from the fringes. Innovation, I suspect, more often than not comes from creative thinkers building upon the foundations laid by others, year after year, month after month, scientists doing their work, one step at a time.”

    Maybe not always, but most of the time. Breakthroughs rarely come from the mainstream. The mainstream is too steeped in its own status quo. You yourself wrote about “erring on the side of tried and true.”

    “But thanks for responding to my challenge. I hope you keep at it, only broaden your search a bit for all the boring old mainstream science that leads up to those innovations you seem to think appear out of the vacuum.”

    I never said they appear out of a vacuum and I never said mainstream science was boring. The mainstream is by its very nature, well, mainstream. And the innovations come from people who take that mainstream and turn it upside down. It’s like Picasso. he had to know the basics of painting before he could veer off and create his own thing.

  120. @ Bernie:

    That’s not what I am saying. I am saying they dismiss it outright without even entertaing the thought.

    Unfortunately, that’s a hard statement to back up. Just because someone disagrees with something, and comes to that decision fairly rapidly, doesn’t mean they haven’t given it due consideration.

    it doesn’t matter whether science was modern or not. It’s that he suffered due to the fascist nature of the science community.

    Hm. I think it does matter that it wasn’t modern. Do you have an example of something similar happening in modern times? Because, I’m sure you could find examples from 19th century politics, academia, religion, art, whatever, in which similar people with “out there” ideas were treated poorly. Pointing to “the science community” and excoriating it 150 years after the fact seems a little unbalanced.

    And there was some geneticist around the turn of then century, whose name I can’t remember who founded the racist eugenics society. William French Anderson was a child molester. That doesn’t negate their work

    True, but as others have said, the evidence, if it’s there, will ultimately triumph. I know it seems like a slow process to you, but there you go. You, yourself admitted science was a powerful force in shaping and improving society. There are reasons for that, and one of them is its very conservative (to use someone else’s expression from above) approach. It might seem glacial at times, but that’s what makes it so powerful.

    Can you point me to that?

    http (colon slash slash) discovermagazine.com (slash) 2011 (slash) apr (slash) 16-interview-lynn-margulis-not-controversial-right

    Ah, but is the definition of extraordinary quite often subjective? What exactly constitutes an extraordinary claim?

    Sure, to a point. But generally speaking, the more the merrier. If someone is draws a conclusion that is wildly out of sync with the mainstream, they’d better have a lot of really good, solid data to back it up. One or two observations, for example, probably isn’t going to cut it. Again, are there personalities and human foibles involved? Of course. Will people’s feelings get hurt, or careers take a turn for the worst? Yeah, possibly. Nobody here would deny that. But to extrapolate from that the idea that the process itself is fascist is somewhat silly. It’s just an inherent aspect of any human endeavor.

    Maybe not always, but most of the time. Breakthroughs rarely come from the mainstream. The mainstream is too steeped in its own status quo. You yourself wrote about “erring on the side of tried and true.”

    Yes, and I also wrote that out of that mainstream, which most often goes unobserved by the general public and unreported, comes the solid foundation upon which breakthroughs occur. Without that foundation, there could be no progress, slow or rapid.

    And the innovations come from people who take that mainstream and turn it upside down. It’s like Picasso. he had to know the basics of painting before he could veer off and create his own thing.

    And Picasso’s cubist work was roundly criticized by the mainstream art world when it first appeared. Ditto the work of the Impressionists, whose art is now admired all over the world. And what about Vincent van Gogh? The poor guy went nuts, chopped his ear off, dealt with depression and mental illness, and eventually died from an infection after shooting himself. Your example shows how this “fascism” is not just an aspect of science, but is a tragic part of the human condition.

  121. HvP

    Bernie Mooney,

    Give Kuhn a rest please. Scientific conservatism and unconventional experimentation can, and do, work quite well together right now. They are NOT at odds. Established science is simply what has already been accepted. That doesn’t stop people from researching seemingly outlandish hypotheses.

    Quantum mechanics, relativity, black holes, the inflationary universe, Bose–Einstein condensates, and dark matter are all examples of “far-out” ideas that have been accepted and incorporated into the scientific mainstream.

    But here’s something that you are forgetting. They all started with the evidence FIRST – the conclusions came after careful research. That limb your favorite scientists go out on? They at least have the advantage of being attached to the tree of established science. Chopra has no tree. If he’s out on a limb then it’s one he’s constructed out of bailing wire and Papier-mâché.

  122. That limb your favorite scientists go out on? They at least have the advantage of being attached to the tree of established science. Chopra has no tree. If he’s out on a limb then it’s one he’s constructed out of bailing wire and Papier-mâché.

    Stealing that! :P

  123. ND

    And Chopra is trying to sneak this papier-mache tree into the scientific forest and hope no-one notices. Or am I pushing the metaphor too far?

  124. Lars Bruchmann

    Becky, you don’t understand the significance of PI? It’s in your Bible: it says the value of PI is 3. So yeah, um.. science is superior.

  125. Bernie Mooney

    @ND

    “But for you categorize this as fascism is an attempt to discredit the scientific community as a whole in a dishonest manner. This triggers a warning bell for many in this forum that the person is seriously into woo and is threatened by science and critical analysis. That’s just a gut feeling of you based on many other wooers who have graced this forum and behaved the same way.”

    I’m not trying to discredit the scientific community, only point out what I think is a serious flaw, a flaw that impedes the progress of science. I didn’t make up my belief out of whole cloth. I came to it honestly after years of reading how mainstream science has been, in too many instances, acting in the manner I’m talking about. I guess fascist is too strong a word, but I don’t really know how else to describe it. Herd mentality? Authoritarianism?

    I’m all for science and critical analysis. In fact, I’d bet I’m more of a real skeptic than most on this board. One of my favorite quotes is from Aritostle who wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I am less willing to use the word “impossible” than the folks here. There have been too many things that have been deemed impossible throughout history that we now take for granted.

    As to what you call “woo?” Sure, why not? Do weird things exist? Sure. Do all of them have rational explanations? Most do, but not all. Do I believe in ghosts, ufos etc? I believe there are weird things that happen.exist out there. But do I think apparitions are departed spirits? I have no idea. Do I believe ufos are ET? No clue again. Nobody can explain what they are and they seem to be so fleetng there doesn’t seem to be a way to measure it. The fact that so many millions of people throughout history have experienced these things should encourage science to study it. But how, I have no idea. I don’t think you can you chalk it all up to hallucinations and delusions. There many things, Horatio…

    For the most part, I’m open to most anything, no matter how weird. If some evidence comes along that explains it. Then, there ya go. I believe in the saying, “Don’t be so open minded that your brain falls out.” On the other hand I believe in, “Don’t be so closed minded that your brain shuts down.”

    “You’re also ignoring those scientists who came up with “alternate” ideas and evidence has piled up against their idea and rightly have not been accepted. You were cherry picking examples to discredit the scientific community as a whole.”

    If the evidence piles up, so be it. All scientific ideas should be vetted, I’m not saying they shouldn’t. You have to weed out the frauds, charlatans and sloppy science. I’ve seen bad science in regards to “studies” that have found armageddon in GMOs. Those studies were found to be sloppy or just downright fraudulent. And I’m not cherry picking. I just used a few examples. There are hundreds of examples.

    “Yes but that’s a moment in time. How does the scientific community deal with such new ideas as the evidence piles up?”

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”-Ghandi Then we have Max Planck, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    “Are there any non-mainstream ideas that you see as not being taken seriously by the scientific community currently?”

    Well, yeah. I nnow what you’re going to say, but I find Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments interesting. In fact Wiseman replicated his telepathic dog thing and got essentially the same results then tried to deny it. I mean, how do you explain all the stories of animals finding their way home from hundreds of miles away?

  126. I mean, how do you explain all the stories of animals finding their way home from hundreds of miles away?

    Occam’s Razor would suggest, “the same way you explain a dog being able to track a fleeing suspect through miles of swamp.” If a hound dog can do that after only one whiff of the subject’s clothing, doesn’t it seem reasonable that a dog that has lived all its life in one place, with one group of people, could smell his way back to it and them? Unless the poor beast has been teleported somewhere, he’s going to have a trail to follow.

  127. Bernie Mooney

    @HvP

    “Scientific conservatism and unconventional experimentation can, and do, work quite well together right now.They are NOT at odds”

    Going to have to agree to disagree on this.

    “Established science is simply what has already been accepted. That doesn’t stop people from researching seemingly outlandish hypotheses.”

    It does if you can’t get funding.

    “Quantum mechanics, relativity, black holes, the inflationary universe, Bose–Einstein condensates, and dark matter are all examples of “far-out” ideas that have been accepted and incorporated into the scientific mainstream.”

    True, but it took generations for it to happen. When they were first proposed the scientific establishment balked.

    “But here’s something that you are forgetting. They all started with the evidence FIRST – the conclusions came after careful research.”

    So, let me get this straight. They started with evidence, but were shunned by the establishment because what they were proposing was impossible or crazy. But you say they had evidence. So, near as I can figure is that the establishment didn’t care they had evidence?

    “Chopra has no tree. If he’s out on a limb then it’s one he’s constructed out of bailing wire and Papier-mâché.”

    Who cares about Chopra? I said in my first comment that he was a new age dolt. I just happened to agree with one line of his.

  128. Gary Ansorge

    127. Bernie Mooney

    Scientists often go out on a limb, extrapolating from available evidence, then other scientists tear their theory apart. That’s the nature of the scientific method. It’s a METHOD that compensates for our human tendency to go with our “gut” feelings. Just because an idea seems to agree with our “common sense” doesn’t mean it’s correct (and vice versa).

    I’ve known a lot of people who were into psychedelic “research”, attempting to define the limits of our intellectual capabilities but just because we can “see” it doesn’t mean it’s real. Imagination has no limits(as far as I’ve been able to detect). Unfortunately, the real universe doesn’t have to accord with our imaginings(Dang, no aliens visiting us).

    Steven Hawking said he “suspected” that the root cause of consciousness would prove to be quantum mechanical in nature. He presented no evidence for this, so of course he was roundly criticized, mainly because we had yet to detect quantum entanglement in anything larger than single atomic particles, quantum effects were deemed too small to affect neural functioning.
    Since that time we’ve been able to demonstrate quantum entanglement in large, complex molecules AND we’ve discovered that a simple molecule(N2O) is a very powerful neurotransmitter so perhaps Steven was correct. More research is obviously required.

    The more adventurous among us seek the edge of our understanding. Sometimes they find something really amazing,,,other times(MOST of the time) their “discoveries” are illusions, having nothing to do with the way reality actually works. Sometimes, they fall off the edge, devolving into chaos. We call this insanity,,,

    Deepak has fallen off the edge,,,

    Gary 7

  129. truthspeaker

    “Quantum mechanics, relativity, black holes, the inflationary universe, Bose–Einstein condensates, and dark matter are all examples of “far-out” ideas that have been accepted and incorporated into the scientific mainstream.”

    True, but it took generations for it to happen. When they were first proposed the scientific establishment balked.

    Of course they did. Because there wasn’t enough evidence to accept them yet. That’s a good thing.

    The very thing you’re complaining about is what makes science rigorous.

    And dogs are descended from animals that, in the wild, range over hundreds of miles of territory. What’s to explain?

    As to UFOs, again, most of them have been explained. There’s really not much mystery there.

  130. Craig

    I agree partly with this op ed. Chopra does not understand what he is talking about. However, saying that science and reality win every time is a very problematic statement. I do not think that any philosopher of science since Comte would agree with that. What is Plait’s view of “proper” scientific method? Falsification? Even this is problematic and has been unequivocally shown by Feyerabend to be inhibitory to scientific progress if used solely (in the small subset of things included under the scientific name that are teleological). I think that Plait needs to do some research into formal academic texts within the subjects of the History of Science and the Philosophy of Science before he goes making, frankly ignorant, ex cathedra statements. It takes an investigator that is not only educated in science but also in Logic, Epistemology, History, and Anthropology to be able explain what is really happening when people do science.

  131. If Craig’s post (#132) is an example of what someone educated in Logic, Epistemoogy, History, and Anthropology would produce to make a simple point, I’m glad Dr. BA is a mere scientist.

    What, exactly, is problematic about saying science and reality win over woo-woo nonsense?

  132. Gavin Flower

    I had been writing down rules I had been implicitly following, a few days before I saw this post – so I thought they may be relevant here.

    I would be interested on people’s comments on them.

    DRAFT: Friday 15-JUl-2011

    Rules Of Discussion
    ===================
    (Spare the R.O.D. and spoil the child!)

    The important thing about discussing topics, especially controversial topics, is to observe proper rules of discussion. So that all parties can share and learn safely. This assumes that the people are seeking to understand one another, or to understand the topic better – rather than insisting that their own point of view is correct, irrespective of reality.

    First I will list the rules, then later I will expand on each one

    1. Respect others even when they appear to disagree with you

    2. Remember that if someone says something that you disagree with, that does not mean that they are wrong, nor does it mean they are right

    3. Do not use emotional manipulation, nor threat of violence, to force your point of view

    4. Remember drama, speaking authoritatively, or quoting authorities, is no substitute for a valid argument

    5. Note that a firm belief does not automatically confer on it the status of truth

    6. If someone says something you do not understand, seek to clarify

    7. Do not knowingly present fallacious arguments, so check your own arguments carefully before you present them, as you should check the arguments of others

    8. If someone points out a valid flaw in your argument accept it with good grace – if it is not a flaw, explain why it is not a flaw graciously.

    9. Never misquote someone, nor distort their intended meaning

    10. Understand technical terms before you use them, like ‘theory’, and the contexts in which they are appropriate – as the meanings of technical terms are often context dependent

    ///////////////////// To be continued… /////////////////////////

    Copyright Gavin C.Flower 2010-2011

  133. Craig Alan Knox

    @ Kuhnigget: I hope you are not taking your name from Thomas Kuhn. Regardless you might want to look up the term “naive realism” before you go on thinking that you have direct access to reality.

  134. Craig

    @ Kuhnigget: I hope you are not taking your name from Thomas Kuhn. Regardless you might want to look up the term “naive realism” before you go on thinking that you have direct access to reality.

  135. @ Craig:

    Screen name hint: I might be a silly English person.

  136. HvP

    Bernie Mooney,

    Funding in all areas of human endeavor (including science) tends to be directed towards endeavors that have either (1) an established record for producing results or (2) a reward potential that outweighs potential risks.

    Examples of the former include all of what you would consider mainstream science. So there’s why that gets most funding. Examples of the latter include areas in which there is some realistic expectation of potential reward for the risk of expenditure. There are few ways to succeed and millions of ways to fail. How do you believe that science can be improved by devoting significant resources towards dead-end endeavors?

    I can propose that we could solve the world’s energy problems by investing $$$ into perpetual motion machines. Do you believe that this is a reasonable use of university/taxpayer/investor dollars?

    If not, why not?
    If so, I have an investment proposal for you!
    (or do you really believe what you say you do)

  137. HvP

    Craig, RE: kuhnigget

    Run away!!!!

  138. I won’t take that personally, HvP!

  139. Craig

    When that holy hand grenade explodes are you seeing a real representation of the colors of the spectrum or one that is mediated by your rods and cones? Case and point. PS. Do look up Thomas Kuhn he is the most important historian of science in the 20th century.

  140. @ Craig:

    I seem to remember having this exchange with you or your twin several months ago. See above, #57.

    It matters not one whit, so long as we all agree upon the shared experience. What the likes of Mr. Chopra and Co. put forth is not in agreement with what everyone else’s rods and cones are picking up, so to speak. It may be “reality” to him, but if it isn’t shared by any one else it doesn’t really matter.

    Unless human beings can find a way to merge their minds into one, that’s just the compromise we have to live with.

    And science goes on its merry way…

  141. @ 15. Becky Blanton:

    “…300 word bites that no one agrees is particularly insightful or accurate.”

    Well, you got that part right at least.

  142. Mark Schaffer

    Has anyone considered that small d “david” and “Bernie Mooney” are…not well?

    P.S. kuhnigget…Monty who?

  143. Craig

    kuhnigget: You are failing to realize you are performing science within culture and language. Plus you are doing so using your faulty senses (which you are giving epistemological power through language games and family resemblance but not calling it this). To say science goes on its merry way is like saying science is pealing an artichoke to find the real artichoke in the middle. It is not giving you unmediated access to the phenomenal world. It is giving you explanations for phenomena that only make sense in a specific temporocultural context. Look up positivism and logical positivism and see why these paradigms are dead. Your simplistic view of science is, frankly insulting, to (likely) anyone who as done a formal investigation into its history and philosophy. These are old arguments and you are spouting tired old refuted rhetoric.

  144. ScepticsBane

    Picture of some Homeopathy skeptics discussing directions…..

    http://photos1.blogger.com/photoInclude/blogger/6417/1630/1600/chooks31.jpg

  145. Ut

    You know, Craig, it’s a lot more educational for you to actually refute “these … old arguments”, rather than simply say ‘you’re blind and dumb, go look and see;. Remember that you have an audience larger than just kuhnigget, and right now this particular subset of that audience isn’t seeing anything but a contrarian guffaw in your posts.

    You may have a valid point hidden in there somewhere, but you’re not expressing it in a way that’s particularly useful or that encourages third parties to actually pursue your command to ‘look it up if you don’t believe me’. To be quite frank, what you’re actually encouraging people to do is write you off.

  146. Craig

    Ut: I do not have the time or energy to give remedial lessons in the Philosophy of Science. I am passionate about my subject but it is too much work to start from the beginning. At least check out Karl Popper then contrast his work to Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. They will change how you view science if you have the patience to work your way through their books and your mind is opened enough to critically think about the arguments they present.

  147. I believe Craig is the poster referred to above. If not, he is closely related. He chose a subject to study that few people seem to care about, and this angers him.

    In any case, it’s the same line from months ago. You can argue (or declare) about the philosophical definition of things until the metaphoric cows come home. Meanwhile, the people who actually do science will keep on doing what they do and sharing the results. Knowledge (compromise that it is) will grow, technology (“real” enough to matter) based on that knowledge will continue to flourish, and society will move forward, happy in their delusion.

    And the philosophers will continue to be irrelevant to it all. (Though possibly relevant to other human endeavors, which I’ll try to think of as I contemplate whether or not the hangnail on my toe is real or not.)

  148. Craig

    @kuhnigget: The Philosophy of Science is not Metaphysics, Ethics, or Aesthetics. It is formal Logic and Epistemology. The Philosophy of Science is science and is absolutely relevant to scientific progress. If it were not for Russell, Wittgenstein, and Turing there would be no computers. Could you imagine physics without set theory? I am not hostile to science I am simply skeptical about claims that it is directly describing reality as it is, that it is timeless, that it is progressive in its entirety, and that it has one easy to use methodology.

    What troubles me more is that you think society is actually progressing as if there is some golden road for the human race to march down. This is a strikingly ignorant claim. Society is non-teleological. There is no progress. There is change. Social evolution and biological evolution have a similar outcome despite vastly different mechanisms. An organism is never perfected. It simply is made good enough to reproduce in its environment at any given time. The same goes for society. Humanity isn’t going anywhere. Social change simply reflects prevailing ideology. You need to read some Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Foucault as well as the philosophers of science I previously mentioned. Going through life with a biased grade school understanding of philosophy is no way to live. Seriously, your revulsion to it is like trying to feed broccoli to a finicky child.

  149. Craig

    Kuhnigget: I am not angry that my major is not popular and I am not taking it out on anyone. I am not a philosophy undergrad. I actually have an advanced degree in Evolutionary Biology and am currently pursing another one in Science Studies. I am interested in the big picture of what science does and how it works. Philosophy is integral to this pursuit. Many scientists at the top of their fields have agreed, notably Mach, Einstein, Salk, and Gould.

  150. Hmm…trying to post a comment here. Not letting me…damn boolean logic and the philosophers who invented it….

  151. Well, I dunno what’s going on. I guess I exceeded my blather content for the day.

  152. Okay, well, rats. You’ll just have to trust me, my arguments were brilliant.

    But I have to ask a question, what is the point of “science studies”? Does it help you do better science? Power to you, if so.

  153. Okay, I’ll try them piecemeal.

    I do not react with revulsion when I encounter philosophy. I do, however, get somewhat cranky when philosophers try to overstate the importance of their own work. Case in point: I can most certainly imagine a computer sans Wittgenstein. I believe it was called an abacus. Grossly simplified? Of course, but no less so than the statement that computers would not exist without philosophers. They might not function the same, but that’s a different thing, isn’t it? Russell…uh, dredging up old college courses….hm…hmm…processors working….type theory, right? Another form or improvement upon set theory? Yeah, I buy that one. Turing? Well, he wouldn’t be calling himself a philosopher, would he? Mathematician and technologist would be my guess. And brutally repressed, as I recall.

  154. But getting back to the original article you commented upon, and (finally!) a reference in one of your posts that seems to more clearly identify your beef with it…

    I am not hostile to science I am simply skeptical about claims that it is directly describing reality as it is, that it is timeless, that it is progressive in its entirety, and that it has one easy to use methodology.

    And here we have the heart of the issue between you and I. You seem to think that it matters that “reality” is only our conscious impression of…something, I’m not sure what…and thus, anything goes. Is this correct? I have to ask, because none of your posts to date have actually clearly stated your point, as others pointed out above.

    If that is in fact what you’re saying, I have to heartily disagree. Whether our perception of reality is “real” or not (avoiding the definitions entirely), like it or not we all muddle along with our agreed-upon standard of real/not real and base our scientific inquiries on that standard. This is the compromise I mentioned above. You can try and make it more complicated than it is, but that doesn’t change the way the rest of the world works. We agree on what to call real and unreal, and “real” is something that we can measure, or observe, or infer based on the reaction of something else. Again, grossly simplified, I’m sure, to someone of your bent, but hey, I’m not a philosopher.

    When Mr. Chopra and his ilk get into trouble is when they start stating that other stuff is “real” without having any of the agreed-upon measurements, observations, or inferences to back themselves up. They basically just make stuff up. Are products of their imagination “real?” Well, yeah, in a way, I suppose. The same as Harry Potter is “real.” But it’s not real in the scientific way, that agreed-upon compromise that has served us so well for so long.

  155. What troubles me more is that you think society is actually progressing as if there is some golden road for the human race to march down.

    Now you making a couple of serious mistakes. First, you suggesting that society isn’t progressing. Back to that in a second. Next, you are equating “progress” with some sort of pre-programmed “path” that we blindly follow by design, your blessed teleology. This is a gross twisting of the word’s definition as accepted by pretty much any other human on the planet. “Progress,” as most of us accept it, is very simple: life gets better, easier, healthier, more free, less controlled by others, with greater and greater opportunities for expression and exploration and invention. I think you have to be fairly well stuck in a mud pit of woe-is-me to think that human society has not “progressed” in the past couple of centuries. Is life perfect? Heck no. Is there still suffering? Heck yes. But are more people more happy and well off? I would suggest the evidence strongly points to that conclusion.

  156. Okay, trying for the last one, but it’s not letting me. I’ll shut up after this, promise.

  157. Craig

    I have given you the tools to investigate this further and have not made explicit points other than all is not fine and well with methodology. Is it not enough to just point this out? Do I have to offer some sort of alternative?

    I am not interested in empty rhetoric and I will not even attempt to distill the corpus of the history and philosophy of science into a small comment on a pop science blog. It would be ridiculous to even think this could be successfully done. Again I reiterate read Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and try to do so with an open mind.

    The ideas of social progress and telos go hand in hand. That is the point of enlightenment thought. Since then both have been rejected (unless you are a Kantian or Hegelian). The public on the other hand largely sees direction with social change. I am trying to combat this. Read Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” and see just how stuck we are in a quagmire called progress.

    For the record Chopra is an idiot. He only serves to rabble-rouse people who have a mystical mindset into an anti-science frenzy. Science fans likewise are not much better. Neither have the grounding in science, history, anthropology, logic, and epistemology necessary for a rigorous analysis of science and its interaction with culture and the phenomenal world. The fact that such an eclectic array of education is needed for analysis prevents interlocution with the public and is detrimental towards popularization…as the saying goes no pain no gain. I simply am too adverse to pain to want to attempt doing this through the particular medium we are using.

  158. truthspeaker

    Craig Says:
    July 21st, 2011 at 9:07 am

    @kuhnigget: The Philosophy of Science is not Metaphysics, Ethics, or Aesthetics. It is formal Logic and Epistemology. The Philosophy of Science is science and is absolutely relevant to scientific progress. If it were not for Russell, Wittgenstein, and Turing there would be no computers. Could you imagine physics without set theory? I am not hostile to science I am simply skeptical about claims that it is directly describing reality as it is, that it is timeless, that it is progressive in its entirety, and that it has one easy to use methodology.

    Good thing nobody has ever claimed that.

    The epistomology you’re talking about is just a formalization of what most people figure out when they’re toddlers. It’s sort of interesting but from an intellectual standpoint it’s trivial.

  159. @ Craig:

    I have given you the tools to investigate this further and have not made explicit points other than all is not fine and well with methodology.

    Well, other than explicit points comparing progress with determinism, and denying progress (as most of the world would define it) in general. ;)

    The fact that such an eclectic array of education is needed for analysis prevents interlocution with the public and is detrimental towards popularization.

    And that statement brings me right back to my original comment regarding your first post. In other words, I’m glad it’s people such as the good doctor BA doing the popularization, and not you.

    I suspect our interlocution is at an impasse.

  160. Craig

    Truthsayer…Epistemology is one of the most exciting areas of philosophy to work in. The interaction between language and the creation of systems of knowledge is anything but intuitive.

    I differentiated the Philosophy of Science from other areas of philosophy in order to make a point that it is not counting the angels on the head of a pin like kuhnigget would do as he picks hangnails. In fact analytic philosophy is at times nearly indistinguishable from pure mathematics. That is why I was speaking of Russell, Wittgenstein, and Turing. Russell taught Wittgenstein who then lectured for Turing. Science, mathematics, and philosophy are tied together whether people like it or not.

  161. Craig

    Kuhnigget: I am not trying to be popular or even likable. I am interested in rigorous formal analysis. Which to a person with a scientific mindset should speak for itself. Since you have yet to mention even a wikipedia version of Popper’s, Kuhn’s or Feyerabend’s arguments. It begs the question that perhaps you don’t enjoy reading or critical analysis. If so shame on you.

    Asking me to explain every point I am trying to make without appealing towards an outside reference would be like asking you to teach me organic chemistry in the comments section of this blog complete with experimental proofs and refutations. I too think our interlocution is at an impasse. I only hope that I have challenged your ideology somewhat or provoked enough interest for you (or anyone else) to actually see what academia has to say about this debate. Deepak Chopra is not a representative of academia. Don’t let his fever dreams about science prevent you from investigating it.

  162. Scott Nopp

    18. Ubi Dubium Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    @ Scott Sigler

    “All I know is that this is as close as I will ever get to my dream of seeing Phil Plait in a nudie mag.”

    He was in the Skepchick calendar once, standing behind a carefully positioned telescope. Is that close enough for you?

    @ Scott – My FDO If Phil was standing naked behind the telescope … I am thinking of the view an alien would get looking down into the telescope – WOW, no wonder they don’t attack, that would scare the crap out of me.

    New idea – Limb, Woo, applying to get funding —->
    1) Put forth the argument and evidence that persuades me that it is worth my time, attention, $$.
    2) I will compare what is presented to what is already “known” (think of a court case where the defendant is the current state – convince change is warranted)
    3) Evaluation (Judge/Jury) – evaluate merits of the case. This includes looking at how much confidence you can put in the presented evidence – past history (anything Wakefield did/does is questionable at best). Reputation – if a scientist was a convicted child molester does that affect his findings, not unless there is a connection . Would I choose to fund a shady researcher? No, not because of the science – would not want the bad press by association. Does Tiger Wood’s affairs ruin his place in golf history? No, but I would be wary of having him endorse my product. If the concept is valid somebody else will pursue it. If the person has a history of being out there … reputation problem. Then again, Linus Pauling’s claims about Vit. C didn’t get the scrutiny because of his reputation.

    The extraordinaire burden is that the “new” stuff is up against a very strong case.

    If someone makes a clam that until 1974 (or 1984) that the model of the solar system had the Sun revolving around Earth. I think they had better have a LOT of really good evidence to go against the case that would refute that. (textbooks, scientific publications, models, that we went to the Moon & back, …)

  163. Scott Nopp

    @ Craig – If I was describing the possible mechanism of a bio-chemical reaction – Yes, you would need to have an understanding of organic chemistry. The deeper and more complicated the reaction or proposed mechanism would require a stronger background. But, most things in science can be simplified to get the point across. To evaluate the validity of the claim or get answers to questions that may come up — that may take getting the background. I often say to students (HS and 7ry old daughter) This is the simplified version… it will take many more years of science classes until you could understand the most detailed explanation.
    I always said that quarks are the stuff that make up proton, neutrons, & electrons – and when they ask about what makes a quark or about the different kinds — That requires a lot more Science than (9th grade) this class will cover – It is not something most of you will ever need to know and for the ones of you who will — you will have taken many more years of Science before you need to know about that level. It is kind of an “out” – but, how deep down the rabbit hole do you go?

  164. Joseph G

    Phil said: But what makes me really unhappy — yes, even angry — is that he’s shortchanging the Universe. His Universe is small and scary and unexplainable. The real Universe is huge and magnificent and artistic and understandable using math and science.

    Perhaps, in the end, that’s what motivates me to do all this. I want people to see just how grand the real Universe is. We’re a part of it, and we can understand it. And that’s just about the most magnificent thing I can imagine.

    Hear, hear!
    For some reason this reminds me very much of Discovery Channel’s “I Love the World” campaign, which I think is one of the most brilliant ads ever put on TV. Evar. It may just be an ad, but I think it brilliantly captures the joy of learning about how amazing the actual universe is (and not just some boring fairy-tale).

    If you haven’t seen ‘em, check:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Love_the_World

    One version of several on Youtube

  165. Since you have yet to mention even a wikipedia version of Popper’s, Kuhn’s or Feyerabend’s arguments. It begs the question that perhaps you don’t enjoy reading or critical analysis. If so shame on you.

    Not in the least. It’s just that name-dropping authorities without even bothering (in fact, making a point of not bothering), is classic crank behavior. If these arguments are so important and powerful that you feel they prove your point, then the least you can do is present them, at least in a greatly summarized form. You don’t have to “teach me organic chemistry” – once was enough – but for someone to come in with as strong a statement as you have and then not back it up with anything but names is just…well…poor “interlocution.”

    Have a nice day.

  166. Craig

    Who would have thought that on a science blog one would find anti-intellectualism running rampant?

    …but what does my opinion matter. Apparently I am a crank for pointing someone towards research instead of paraphrasing it to the point that it would be completely superficial. For that matter some of these works are famous enough not to have to be explained. Ever use the term paradigm shift? Its from “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

    This is a blog you twit. It is not the place where I should have to present a dissertation just to make the obvious point that the History of Science in addition to the Philosophy of Science offer important insight into scientific epistemology and which differs from the accounts of many practicing scientists and the undergrad version taught to most science fans not to mention quack mystics like Chopra.

  167. Not here, Craig. Anti-pompous full of yourselfism, definitely. Got a lot of that. Though admitedly, I’m the only one who actually runs rampant with it. Preferably naked. Through fields of lotus blossoms.

  168. Craig

    Kuhnigget: Maybe I should write a jingle about their work instead. It may be easier for you to digest that way.

  169. Nope, just simple English would be fine, such as you read in most of the BA’s posts.

    Whop! Volley back to you.

  170. Craig

    I have no desire to teach a derisive person who has no desire to learn. This is something you will have to seek out of your own volition.

  171. Ah, but there, you see, your intellectualism is getting the best of you. I LOVE to learn. I make it my business as a matter of fact, and do quite well at it.

    What I do dislike is being lectured at by pompous people who mistake name-dropping for discourse, who engage in “interlocution” instead of conversation, and who get their knickers in knots when people challenge them on their pedantic proclamations.

    Again, have a nice day. :)

  172. Gary Ansorge

    ,,,and I declare a WIN for kuhnigget,,,( I just have to get in the last word)

    Gary 7

  173. JJ (the other one)

    There’s something really funny about an arrogant know-it-all misusing “begs the question”.

  174. Craig

    How did he win? This was not a competition. Why should discourse be competitive?

    Of course due to the nature of this blog my opinions will be unpopular with its audience. I still wrote them regardless of what others may think. I do not wish to “win” anything. I would be happy if just one person here became interested enough to put down Discover Magazine and pic up a copy of Kuhn or perhaps even Isis instead. (http://www.jstor.org/page/journal/isis/about.html)

    This thread reminds me of Fox News viewers having their own ideology paraded in front of their eyes then patting themselves on the back for shutting out anything that does not fit within their sad tired narrative.

    JJ: I am sorry that I do not have a proofreader for my blog comments.

  175. Joseph G

    @175 Gary A: I agree. I award one Internets to kuhnigget.

    @176: I was going to say that, but was afraid it’d tarnish my anti-intellectual credentials :D

    @Craig: As you so succinctly put it, “This is a blog, you twit”. People don’t come here for interlocution or dialectics on epistemology or ontology. Phil’s mission is to bring science to everyone, whereas your aim seems to be to obfuscate it, to hide it away from those who don’t choose to take your verbose, postmodern approach to history and logic.
    In all honest (and I say this sincerely with no malice intended), you’re not doing much to allay the stereotype of the windy, pretentious philosopher. It only seems to ring truer, and I say that as someone who has a best friend who has unfortunately taken it upon himself to attempt to read every philosophy text on the planet; I’ve heard this stuff before.

  176. Craig

    @ Joseph G: Do interlocution, dialectics, epistemology, and ontology not matter to science? I think that without addressing issues in the philosophy of science its democratization and ultimately its social usage will suffer. Chopra is a symptom of this as is the rabid often ethnocentric science fan.

  177. Joseph G

    @179 Craig: Certainly, these things all matter to science. But you shouldn’t be terribly surprised at the reaction you’re getting, considering the situation: you’re moving from a blog post about a very specific topic (Chopra’s interview) and moving to a much, much larger set of topics, so large that it can be said to encompass several academic disciplines. You obviously have some sort of expertise in this field, and yet you say you can’t be bothered to attempt to summarize any of it, even knowing full well that even an experienced scientist may not be terribly familiar with the landmarks of this, this meta-science.
    To many here, it sounds like you’re saying “Hey, let’s talk about this much larger issue that’s only tangentially related to the topic at hand. What do you mean, you want me to be more specific? Do your own research! No, I can’t help you. Anyway, I know more then you do.”

  178. Joseph G

    @179 Craig:
    And not to open a whole new can of worms, but do youu really think that dismissing Chopra’s ranting is ethnoentric? I mean, it’s not like he’s pushing Ayurveda, or a similar “science” that is at least internally consistant and grounded in a given culture. As far as I can tell, he’s just taking quantum terminology and making this stuff up out of whole cloth.

  179. Craig

    I chose to comment on this because I see Chopra’s interview as dangerous to the acceptance by scientists of arguments from the history and philosophy of science. I was hoping to show that not all relativist approaches are nonsensical…however, to someone steeped in positivism they may prima fascia appear to be so.

    I was also hoping to avoid paraphrase since, to me at least, if something is deemed important enough to be a formal academic discipline found in every major university and someone from within that discipline happened to recommend an academic text on a topic that I had passion for (either pro or con) I would at least check it out.

  180. Craig

    @ at Joseph: My ethnocentrism remark was not against critiques of Chopra stemming from his misappropriation of quantum mechanics terminology. It was aimed at behavior I have seen in many scientists and science fans who reject all knowledge claims regardless of cultural origin that do not bear the scientific tag. For instance, it is a very tenuous to claim that investigation into society or culture can be scientific in a reductionist sense…

  181. Nigel Depledge

    Dear BA, you’ve triggered one of my pet peeves:

    The BA said:

    And I also see an audience comprised of people of all ages. . .

    That would either be “. . . an audience composed of people of all ages . . .” or “. . . an audience comprising people of all ages . . .”

    “Comprise” behaves like “contain”, not like “consist”.

  182. Nigel Depledge

    Ah, it’s “kick the troll” time . . .

    Becky Blanton (15) said:

    Wait a minute. This is the same science that ruins people’s careers for even thinking the word, “Intelligent Design,” let alone speaking, writing or discussing it, right?

    In a word, no. Science never ruined the career of any “cdesign proponentsist”.

    Mike Behe, for example, ruined his own career by clinging onto a failed idea and failing to acknowledge that, if you take the mystic mumbo-jumbo out of ID, all you have left are a load of logical fallacies.

    The same science who insists on blindly suckling at the crotch of Darwin’s poor logic regarding evolution?

    Wow, what a startling image!

    In a word, no. Evolution has earned its place in modern science by having what we scientists call merit. It is logical. It is supported by all the evidence. It makes predictions that have been found to be correct millions of times (every new fossil unearthed is a test of evolutionary theory). And, perhaps most important of all, it does a better job of explaining the facts that any other explanation that has ever been proposed.

    This is the same science who insists on throwing out the baby with the bathwater if the bathwater is tainted with even a hint of religion. Yeah. Got it. Science is SO superior.

    Wrong again. That’s three strikes.

    When there is any evidence to support religion, then it will be a part of reality and therefore open to scientific investigation. Until that day, religion is irrelevant to science. Whether it is correct or not does not matter because many aspects of religion are untestable. And, in fact, those aspects of religion that are testable have been tested and shown to be false. For example, intercessory prayer has been shown to make no difference to healing.

    Deepak and the Dali Lama have made their millions fueling the imaginations of those who failed high school algebra and test tubes 101, but does it really matter if they can’t tell a particle from a wave (inside ha ha to those who grok the Copenhagen interpretation)?

    It depends. Do you consider fraud to be a crime?

    I mean really – Deepak and the Dali Lama are pushing world peace and love, woowoo and feel good philosophy/spirituality,

    And there ther resemblance ends. Chopra uses scientific-sounding words and phrases to bamboozle his marks – er, I mean followers. I’ve never heard of the Dalai (note the spelling, BTW) Lama doing the same.

    not hyper-space and the origin of time – at least not in a configuration you could wire to a flux capacitor on a DeLoran.

    But Chopra is trying to fool people into thinking that he does have answers to such questions. And that his particular brand of woo-woo is explicable and validated by the terminology of QM (which it ain’t).

    I don’t blame you for being pissed off, or simply skeptical about non-scientists talking about science. They probably feel the same way about science commenting on religion, soul travel, crystals and a hot rock massage.

    But science has a huge advantage over any other way of finding stuff out. Science insists that new explanations be testable, and that new findings be verifiable, and that theories be logical. A critical part of this process is open criticism, mostly through the media of conferences and the literature. Chopra knows he will fail in this crucible, so does not participate.

    I’m a journalist,

    And a thoroughly biased one, judging by your opening paragraph. And a rather poor one, judging by your inability to spell “Dalai”.

    so everything fascinates me because I don’t understand anything well enough to talk or write about it in more than 300 word bites that no one agrees is particularly insightful or accurate.

    There are too many words in this sentence. You should have stopped after the word “anything”.

    I can still appreciate the beauty of the Milky Way, and the elegance of crop circles without understanding the significance of Pi and advanced math as interplanetary language.

    What have crop circles to do with anything? They’re a medium of human art, not a part of the natural world (except insofar as humans are a part of nature).

    Do I need to?

    That depends. Are you prepared to accept the word of experts, many of whom have spent 3 or 4 decades acquiring that expertise? Judging by your opening tirade, it looks like you are not. If you venture into the realm of criticising science and scientists, then the very least you should do is go to the trouble of understanding the work you are attempting to criticise. To do less is lazy, disingenuous and disrespectful.

    Ultimately it all comes down to what happened at Roswell in July 1947 though right? Earth conspiracy or aliens?

    Oh, I get it. It’s a Poe.

  183. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (183) said:

    . . . behavior I have seen in many scientists and science fans who reject all knowledge claims regardless of cultural origin that do not bear the scientific tag.

    Have you ever asked yourself what it means to “know” something?

    The further a phenomenon is from our everyday experiences, the less useful are our senses and instincts in interpreting and understanding it. The process of science gives us a means whereby we can say “am I mistaken?” and verify that what we think is correct (or not, as the case may be).

    So, if I want to know the score of a football match, I will generally trust the newspapers to get it right. “Common sense” eorks well enough in this kind of circumstance. If I want to know whether or not red wine can reduce my risk of having cancer, I will try to find an authoritative medical text that references the primary literature. “Common sense” is completely useless in such a case.

    However, many people try to apply their “common sense” to phenomena that are way outside the realm of things to which “common sense” is applicable.

    For instance, it is a very tenuous to claim that investigation into society or culture can be scientific in a reductionist sense…

    No. This is not tenuous. Social science has progressed in the last 20 years. Experiments have been devised and carried out to demonstrate various aspects of human behaviour that certainly pertain to society and culture. Supermarkets use scientific research every day, in the way they place goods on their shelves. Advertising and marketing agencies likewise apply the findings of social studies on a day-to-day basis. This is not tenuous. This is the application of science.

  184. Nigel Depledge

    CWorthington (25) said:

    I stopped sharing my love of the beauty around me a long time ago. I kept getting people asking me why I don’t acknowledge that beauty as a proof of the existence of god. It is proof of the existence of probability, not some imagined power that explains away the unknown. I have an education that helps understanding in all things biological. I love the plants and animals and fungi even more with greater knowledge of how they work. I love the stars and want to learn more about them. I love physics and geology, aeronautics, robotics, and logistics. I love it all. It is all beautiful knowledge. But it is limited. We don’t know everything. We don’t have the technology to discover it. We don’t have the knowledge to even think of a way to discover it.

    Yes! This!

    And just one addendum: we may not have the tech to discover some things now, but there is every reason to suppose that we will one day.

    There is no woo woo in my understanding of the universe. There is no place for it. All I see are things I know and things I have yet to understand. Is there a place for the soul to go after the body dies?

    More fundamentally, is there actually such a thing as a “soul”?

    [snip]

    I can understand someone wanting to say they know all about the spiritual side of the universe. It is human to try to gain power. But I do not agree with Chopra. He attempts to inform the public that he has this overwhelming sense and knowledge of science that allows him to know the spiritual side of the universe far better than anyone else. And he does it wrong. I agree with Plait and many other skeptics in shooting him down about his use of science. If you don’t know, learn. If you can not learn, then do not assume you know. At least, this is my philosophy. Some of the ideas Chopra has may be worth investigating. But they have to be investigated. It has not been shown that these ideas are valid. It is still merely a hypothesis. Merely a thought.

    I would not even dignify Chopra’s ramblings with such terms, because they do not logically rest on stuff that is already known. But otherwise, I agree.

  185. Nigel Depledge

    W Scott Whitlock (27) said:

    As a philosopher, it makes me even more angry when scientists, trained solely in their discipline and in the scientific method, think they are philosophers. As atrocious as Deepak Chopra’s science is, Philip Plait’s philosophy is much much worse.

    I disagree.

    Science contains a single central assumption – that what we observe, measure and experience correlates directly with a reality that is external to the self. Building on this assumption, one can indeed suggest that science informs us about reality. Without this assumption, no-one would ever do anything.

    Picking the low-hanging fruit here: Science and Reality are two different things and should not be conflated.

    True, but not necessarily important. Science is a process whereby we learn about reality.

    Science is a method for knowing certain reproducible aspects of the world and nature,

    Why only certain aspects? Are you saying that some things are completely unknowable through science? If so, what things?

    through the mostly reliable scientific method. It has a very specific scope, and it is an epistemology (a way of knowing) and a methodology (a way of collecting knowledge), not an ontology (a worldview, metanarrative, metaphysics, etc.).

    True, but there is only one ontology that flows logically from what sicence has told us about the universe.

    Reality is an ontological question, the circle than encircles everything. Reality includes both science as a subset and all the things that aren’t science, things seen and unseen, known and unknown.

    You seem to be conflating science and knowledge. Science is a process, the process of learning about reality without deluding oneself. Knowledge is the output of science. While it is true that some things can be known without applying science (for example, the score of a football match), this does not mean that those things are not accessible to science.

    Theology is the study of reality,

    No, it isn’t. Theology is the study of ancient texts, and associated activities (e.g. dissection of meaning, interpretation and so on). Reality enters into the picture here and there, but there is no way that theology is intrinsically a study of reality.

    as is philosophy.

    Again, I disagree. Philosophy is more a study of reasoning processes and of thought than it is of reality. After all, philosophically, Descartes said it all in just three words (Cogito ergo sum).

    The problem with the Dawkins (and the Plaits) of the world is, although they are brilliant scientists, they are mediocre and under-read philosophers, who don’t understand that science is not equipped to have a worldview (because it is simply, at best, an epistemology but even more specifically a methodology).

    You seem to have missed the point here. No-one claims that sicence is a worldview, except you and others who wish to condemn science for claiming what it cannot deliver. That is a strawman argument.

    People like Dawkins (who is certainly more well-read than you give him credit for) understand that science does not supply an ontology. However, it tells us enough about the world to know that all of the ontologies supplied from orther sources are suspect. Then the application of a little logic (as a philosopher you must be familiar with the principle of parsimony) leads inevitably to a single ontology, that what we see and measure and observe is most probably all there is.

    Never forget, a true sceptic always reserves the right to change their mind in light of new information.

  186. Nigel Depledge

    David (28) said:

    I’m pretty sure a lot of science is based on our best guess as to how things are based on our knowledge of other things, like physics.

    Not really.

    Sure, there are some parts of science where we are a lot more or less confident about what we know than others, but that’s OK. Very often, scientists will consider how confident they can justify being in a measurement or an inference before using it to draw a conclusion.

    That doesn’t mean that science is full of guesswork, as you seem to be implying.

    So both sides are convinced their side is right and based on “facts” (although really that’s a scientific word, the other side uses “beliefs”)

    I don’t know what you mean here. How can a fact determined from observation of reality be analogous to “received wisdom”?

    , but most of the time its all based on inference.

    So what if a conclusion is based on inference? Logical inference from hard data is perfectly acceptable as a route to get to a conclusion. Inference is not a leap of faith.

    It was a fact that the sun traveled around the earth, until it wasn’t.

    No, it was an assumption.

    It was a fact that the atom was the smallest particle, until it wasn’t.

    No, it was an hypothesis.

    Enjoy your “facts” while they last…

    You seem not to understand what is meant by a fact.

  187. Nigel Depledge

    David (39) said:

    well, my buddy @Jeff Koegh [33] seemed to be angry. or maybe just mean.

    Neither. He was merely calling a spade a spade.

    Edit – I stand corrected, Jeff was angry. But his anger was not a valid conclusion from comment #33 alone.

  188. Nigel Depledge

    David (53) said:

    But believing in a theory on either side strongly enough doesn’t make it a fact. Both sides are guilty of preaching their cause as if it were fact, one in the name of science and one in the name of faith. But ultimately, it comes down to what you believe.

    It doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else, believes. It only matters what I, or anyone else, can show to be so.

    Therein lies the difference between science and woo. Practitioners like Chopra care not for evidence, proof, or logic. In science, however, conclusions are only allowed if they follow through logical reasoning from demonstrated facts. A theory is a special kind of conclusion that also explains the how or the why of the phenomenon under investigation.

  189. Craig

    @ Nigel…Placing supermarket goods on shelves is not a good example of progress in social science. Sure you can measure their effect on revenues but to say that a certain placement of an advertisement appeals to the unconscious better than another one based on revenue is tenuous as is the conclusion that this yields a better understanding of culture or psychology. You might want to reread Freud then his nephew Bernays (who invented american PR). Many aspects of their psychology are metaphysical and are still at the root of so-called scientific psychology. Just because something can be mathematized does not mean that it is scientific. You may want to look up the term “reification fallacy.” I think you are conflating theory with reality.

    Also, it is strikingly ignorant of internal debates withing sociology, anthropology, and psychology to say that there is real progress being made in the social sciences. Large camps of researchers in these disciplines have rejected sociocutural progress. I do think neuroscience is giving us a baseline for human behavior. However, the study of culture is much more robust than simple biological determinism can explain. You may also want to look up sociobiology and see why it is out of favor.

  190. Nigel Depledge

    David (58) said:

    I think there are a lot of things that are being sold or misrepresented of fact that are probably really sound theories based on our knowledge of the universe. If you lived in 1974 before science proved the earth traveled around the sun, I’m pretty sure more people accepted as fact that the sun went around the earth.

    WTF???

    Seriously!

    It’s been known for about 300 – 350 years that the heliocentric solar system model (with elliptcal orbits) is more accurate than all the geocentric models (except for those that are simply coordinate transformations of a heliocentric system). The heliocentric model has therefore been known to be a better approximation to reality than geocentric models for all that time.

    I’m pretty sure that, somewhere along the line, and well before the start of the 20th century, the heliocentric model came to be accepted as fact.

  191. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (192) said:

    @ Nigel…Placing supermarket goods on shelves is not a good example of progress in social science. Sure you can measure their effect on revenues but to say that a certain placement of an advertisement appeals to the unconscious better than another one based on revenue is tenuous as is the conclusion that this yields a better understanding of culture or psychology.

    I think you missed my point.

    Studies have proven that certain placements attract our attention more than others. I’m not sure there’s any convincing theory behind this, but my point is that such things have been shown reproducibly by experiment. That’s what makes it solid science. Not any links to preceding dodgy psychology.

  192. Nigel Depledge

    David (60) said:

    Clarifying my initial comment, science is really great at what it does…science. Today’s facts are tomorrows theories, and today’s theories are tomorrows facts.

    This betrays a deep ignorance of what science actualy does.

    Facts are what we observe, measure and record.

    Theories are how we explain those facts, and relationships between them.

    Facts never cease to be so. Theories can be disproven, but there comes a point where a theory has been tested so thoroughly that it is unreasonable to doubt its validity.

    Granted, that’s probably happening a lot less because of how far we’ve advanced, but we’ve never touched a black hole, or a nebula, or dark matter (although I might have missed that episode of The Universe). While we have a pretty good idea that this stuff exists using other knowledge we have, we’re really only inferring it to be true.

    This is wrong.

    We don’t need to touch a black hole to know that such objects exist, because the term “black hole” is our label for a widespread phenomenon that (1) is massive enough that stars orbit around it; (2) emits little or no visible light; and (3) shines immensely brightly in X-rays. Our theories predicted that the coress of very massive stars will, when the star dies in a supernova, undergo gravitational collapse to form a spacetime singularity that has all of the properties required to be called a black hole.

    Similarly, we know that nebulae exist because we can see them. We can measure their spectra and determine of what they are made.

    Again, we know that dark matter exists, because of its gravitational influence on matter that we can see. We just don’t know what dark matter is. (Some say that we should instead modify our theory of gravity, but that theory has passed every single test we can devise for it so it’s hard to see what better theory of gravity could possibly replace it.)

    So, by inference from measurements and observations that we can make, we infer the existence of such phenomena. And these inferences are just as good as anything you can touch (after all, what is your sense of touch but a load of electrical signals in your nervous system?). Your use of the phrase “only inferring” implies some lesser status, but any logical inference made from solid data is just as solid as the data from which it is made.

    Hence, theory.

    No. Fact.

    You seem to conflate “theory” and “hypothesis”. Black holes were predicted by general relativity (and some heavy-duty number-crunching), and were thus hypothetical, until sufficient data of actual astronomical objects that simply could not be anything else had been collected. (And before you start to argue that it could be something else, remember that our label “black hole” goes with the set of properties that an object must have to be called a black hole, so anything that does those three things is, by definition, a black hole.)

    And science is cool. Not cool enough to get you laid unless it’s chemistry, but it’s still pretty cool , but I digress…

    Weird. In most universities it’s biology that is deemed cooler.

    But I look elsewhere when I want to learn about how to live my life. Some of Deepak’s thoughts in that area are intriguing, and that’s more of what I meant when I said I take nuggets from difference places.

    You said this previously in such a way that it looked like you’d take Chopra’s ideas over any science if you agreed with Chopra and disagreed with the science.

    Science is not really telling you how to live your life (except perhaps in some peripheral way).

    Just because I don’t agree on his views of the universe, doesn’t mean I have to disagree with him about everything.

    True, but not really important. Phil’s comments are about Chopra’s statements about the universe, and about Chopra’s misuse of sciency-sounding terms to scam the uninformed.

    I’m reasonably certain that there were some great scientists that did some horrible things in the name of science, and we still benefit and acknowledge their contribution.

    This is true, but I fail to see how it is relevant. Science is good or bad according to its methodology, not according to its ethics. Pavlov’s experiments on dogs would today be considered unethical, for example. Choprta would not know good science if it bit him.

    There are some things that science isn’t meant to measure with data.

    What the hell is this supposed to mean? “Meant” by whom? And what things? What areas of investigation are there in which science will never help us find answers?

  193. Nigel Depledge

    David (62) said:

    @Hoku Science also brought us Rebecca Black, so I wouldn’t brag too much…

    In what way is this a response to Hoku’s comment?

    Also, you may find that actually Rebecca Black is not a product of science but was born in the usual way.

  194. Nigel Depledge

    Liath (75) said:

    Two of my current pet peeves are scientists who do not check their math, and plagiarism. I am amazed at how often I come across both. Check your math before you submit your paper, and don’t plagiarize.

    Heh. One of mine in the scienctific literature was authors not checking that they’ve cited a paper correctly in their “references” section. This drove me nuts when I was a postgrad student, even though I got fairly good at working out whether they’d misquoted the year, volume or page number.

  195. Nigel Depledge

    Kuhnigget (81) said:

    @ goblog

    Really, it’s time for writers to stop doing this wrong.

    Wrongly?

    Yes, gogblog should have used an adverb there. And I see that Sod’s Law has struck you in your typing of that comment.

  196. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (86) said:

    As much as I think he’s a new age dolt, I think you guys are even worse. He talks about “going out on a limb,” and I think I agree with that. I have a huge problem with the “science people” who can’t think beyond the currently “provable.”

    What’s the point of having new ideas if you cannot test them to find out if they’re any good?

    Also, Chopra’s not “going out on a limb” – he’s provably wrong.

    As we have seen throughout science history, paradigms change.

    So what? This means that we now have a better grasp of how reality works than we did before. It doesn’t in any way undermine what is regarded as current scientific knowledge.

    What was impossible one hundred years ago is now common. Who was it that said science advances one funeral at a time? Or something like that.

    Did you have a point?

    There is loony, but there is “ah we don’t know” as well. Being smart, many of you, *Phil* should know that.

    This is correct, but most of us here can tell the difference. Chopra is indeed completely loony in what he claims about the universe. And his mumbo-jumbo about quantum physics is just so much mumbo-jumbo with some sciencey terms thrown in for window dressing.

    The “scientismists” ( i just coined a term!) can’t think beyond the current paradigm.

    And who would these people be (come on, name names!)? Or are you saying that anyone who suggests that some particular piece of mumbo-jumbo is so much horse hooey comes into this category? No matter how wrong the mumbo-jumbo happens to be?

    And I think that science would be eons ahead of where we are if that hadn’t been the stance for hundreds of years. You guys play it safe. You only accept what is provable and known…right now. Look beyond that and consider what might be.

    Have you never heard of String Theory? No? M-theory? Electrosonochemistry? No?

    Scientists are coming up with stuff that would blow your mind, should you but take the time to find out about it. Unfortunately for you, science has this demanding set of criteria – anything you come up with has to be logical, it has to be consistent with what is already firmly established, and it has to be testable (i.e. it has to make predictions that could in principle be shown to be wrong).

    I keep hearing from the science fascists, yeah fascists, that science is something that evolves, yet you treat the current paradigms as “it.”

    Do you have any idea how many individual pieces of evidence support – for example – quantum electrodynamics? I have no idea either, but it must be billions. At least. And how many contradict it? None at all.

    There comes a point where the preponderance of evidence is so overwhelming that the only reasonable course of action is to accept something as true. This does not mean that you take that theory to be the be all and end all. It just means that you accept that – even if it’s wrong here or there – we can confidently state that it is at the very least a good approximation to reality.

    If anything comes along that challenges that status quo you knee jerk against it.

    Who has done this without a good reason to do so?

    Well, what is it? Is science settled or does it evolve?

    Both, idiot.

    Science at the cutting edge evolves daily. At its core, however, is a set of theories that are so firmly supported by huge great mountains of evidence that they are accepted as either true or very good approximations to reality.

    Is it possible that things can change and they will be found to not be what we thought they were? Oh, that never happened in science, has it?

    Thousands of times.

    My favourite example is when GR replaced Newtonian gravitational theory (NGT). It turned out that NGT was a special case of GR. But NGT is still a good enough approximation that we can use it to get a space probe from here to Saturn.

    I think the scientific community is the biggest threat to scientific advancement.

    Why should anyone here care what you think? You clearly have not the slightest idea what is really going on in science, and you have not even attempted to assemble an argument to support your bare assertions.

  197. ND

    Bernie Mooney:

    “I’m not trying to discredit the scientific community, only point out what I think is a serious flaw, a flaw that impedes the progress of science. I didn’t make up my belief out of whole cloth. I came to it honestly after years of reading how mainstream science has been, in too many instances, acting in the manner I’m talking about. I guess fascist is too strong a word, but I don’t really know how else to describe it. Herd mentality? Authoritarianism?”

    Translation: Ok forget the word fascist and let me use some other strong words that convey the same contempt I feel towards the scientific community.

    The scientific community is discredited in your mind, but without really understanding scientists and how science is done.

    You’re showing a common reaction by those who have a very strong believe in non-mainstream ideas with little or no evidence behind them. These ideas are not accepted by the mainstream community and thus assume that there must be something wrong with the community.

    “Well, yeah. I nnow what you’re going to say, but I find Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments interesting.”

    Do you have the scientific and statistical background to look at Sheldrake’s experiments and conclusions critically? I think the answer is no.

    “In fact Wiseman replicated his telepathic dog thing and got essentially the same results then tried to deny it. I mean, how do you explain all the stories of animals finding their way home from hundreds of miles away?”

    The lack of a mundane explanation, now, does not mean one will not be found and that you should default to telepathy or other extraordinary phenomenon as an explanation.

  198. PlayBoyish

    An excuse to buy Playboy magazine for geeks now. ;)

  199. JJ (the other one)

    Nigel said “JJ: I am sorry that I do not have a proofreader for my blog comments.”

    Following your style, this is where you would point out the distinction between general editing, copy editing and actual proofreading. Except doing so by naming a bunch of authorities on these subjects and acting like it’s below you to actually spell out said distinctions.

  200. Craig

    Nigel…Show me the non-refuted experiments that support certain advertisements and arrays of item placement that work across the board. When I first started graduate school I had a university job that looked at this sort of thing. They do not hold up cross-culturally. They are incredibly context specific. I am very wary to call supermarket advertisement placement and many other things in the social sciences (applied or otherwise) “scientific” in the same way that kinetics or glycolysis are. They are vastly different beasts. As Foucault adroitly wrote in “What is an Author”

    “Reexamination of Galileo’s text may well change our understanding of the history of mechanics, but it will never be able to change mechanics itself. On the other hand, reexamining Freud’s texts modifies psychoanalysis itself, just as a reexamination of Marx’s would modify Marxism.”

    This is the main difference between the hard and soft sciences. The trouble is separating them. Untangling them is a horrific Gordian knot.

    Here is a lighthearted song that sums up my thoughts on the subject. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX5II-BJ8hI

  201. JJ (the other one)

    JJ (the other one) said: “Nigel said…”

    Er, hang on, Nigel said nothing of the sort, that annoying Craig fellow did.

    I guess I need an editor here of some description. I hope I don’t put down the wrong kind, though, that would be embarrassing.

  202. Craig

    JJ: So people that you do not agree with are annoying? You are a boor.

    This is why most people in both the sciences and the humanities shun direct interaction with the public. Especially in the US. Ever wonder why there is not a US cognate to the College de France? Here is why. When you say something the public does not like the circus starts and you are either wrote of as a crank or publicly ridiculed.

  203. @ JJ:

    Perhaps you should study Strunk & White. You DO know who they are, don’t you? If not, I can’t be bothered to elucidate their contributions. Suffice it to say, without them, modern textual interpolation wouldn’t exist. If anything can be said to exist, of course.
    :P

  204. @ Craig:

    Sigh, dear boy. I’ll spell it out in plain English. The jokes you inspire are not based on your opinions, but on the verbose way that you state them. If we had images to go with our screen names, yours would be of a stereotypical longhair wearing an oxford jacket and smoking a briar of Old Scotsman.

    And yes, I know what you think my photograph would look like, and trust me, I’m not that limber.

  205. Craig

    @ Kuhnigget: Pascal said “kneel and pray, and then you will believe.” The performativity of academic discourse instills the belief that it is the best and natural way to communicate. Think this lesson has any applicability to science?

  206. Craig

    @Kuhnigget: Ever hear of linguistics? How about J. L. Austin? Performativity refers to performative utterances . I hate to reference Wikipedia but this write up is introductory enough for my purpose. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performativity

    Educate yourself at the original source if you would rather. (http://www.stanford.edu/class/ihum54/Austin_on_speech_acts.htm)

  207. JJ (the other one)

    Gosh, Craig, I’m not sure what to say to that. Not because it’s especially profound, disturbing, enlightening or anything of the sort.

    Rather, it’s because you’re talking about the things I didn’t say, not the things I did.

  208. Craig

    I can see that reading between the lines is not your forte. You criticized me for my writing style. I retorted that academic writing has naturalized it for me and then proposed that scientific determinism may be a symptom of scientific praxis. You then ridiculed me for using the word perfomativity which I then showed is a real academic term and not something I made up, like a perceived crank may.

    How am I putting words in your mouth? If I mistook any of this then I retract it. Keep in mind that you have not done the same for me when you have mistook my comments. You have just used it as fuel to metaphorically burn me (and the liberal arts by proxy) in effigy.

    Since when is eloquence (along with playing with style and rhetoric) a negative trait? You have a strange moral economy revolving around accepted language in this blog. I have been trying to write to you and others as peers. I think it is worse to be talked down to and have every novel idea presented in basic format than it is to have a new idea pass over my head at first. If I don’t understand something I look it up instead of blaming and then making fun of the person who wrote it.

  209. Craig, it may very well be that you are trying to “write to you and others as peers,” but can you trust me when I tell you that’s not how it’s coming across? The tone in which you write and your tendency to use academic jargon where simple (note: that word does not mean the same as simplistic) words would do, paints you as a pedant.

    You talk of “accepted langauge,” yet have you noticed that yours is the only line of comments that has been targeted for this type of satire? This is a popular science blog. The good doctor BA specifically targets a popular audience. In your very first post you took him to task for essentially being populist, yet that is specifically his mission. That you and your fellows have a lingo of your own that you find useful in your own studies isn’t necessarily relevant to Phil’s blog or the discussions that follow.

    And I’m sorry, but the pedantic use of jargon is not the same as eloquence. If you think you’ve been eloquent, may I suggest you think again? Before you do, read Sagan. Read Bronkowski. Read Clarke, Gould, Dawkins or Darwin. All of them are extremely eloquent, at their best even poetic, yet their styles are not laced with academese, nor do they talk down to their audience, rather they use the language that is appropriate for achieving their goals: to explain complex scientific concepts to a wide audience.

    Again, as I mentioned above, I’m not ridiculing your positions (though I seem to disagree with quite a few of them, those that I can decipher), but I AM making fun of the way in which you’ve been expressing them. And for the record, I DID have to look up “performativity,” and afterwards I added a second and third smiley face to my post!

  210. Craig

    I am not trying to please a popular audience with my word choice which has been honed to succeed in academia. Try getting in the journals and cited without using disciplinary jargon. I enjoy new words and concepts. I find Discover and its blogs useful to look at the big picture including the state of science and how it is publicly perceived. I do not wish to write for it. If I made a few converts or even sparked people to check out the formal history and philosophy of science then I think my intervention was successful. ;)

  211. Joseph G

    Ack. Unfortunately, mobile Firefox has no copy/paste function (I know!)
    Anyway, Kuhnigget, thank you! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who envisioned the jacket and briar pipe ;)

    And Craig, earlier you mentioned something about not having a proofreader? It’s a bit late, but I’d like to volunteer my services. How’s this for an accessible abstract of your position on this thread?
    “Chopra is a douche, full stop. However, I do hope that no one here confuses Chopra’s brand of ridiculous anti-science with the legitimate critiques of the contemporary scientific establishment that have come from the field of philosophy of science (my own field). Unfortunately, my academic background (and the peculiarly intense literary requirements that come with it) has made me pretty much incapable of offering the sort of concise summary of these issues that most would expect in this forum. So I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’ll try to google some examples and post them shortly.”

    See, if you’d just said that at the beginning, we could have avoided several kilobytes of bickering :-P

  212. See, if you’d just said that at the beginning, we could have avoided several kilobytes of bickering

    But where’s the fun in that? ./.

  213. Craig

    @ Joseph G: Spot on.

    @kuhnigget: I agree a good bicker can be fun…in a somewhat frustrating way.

  214. Craig

    Its not that I am unable to offer an introduction to the academic critique of science. I am simply unwilling. This is partially due to not wanting to put forward the considerable effort that it would require and secondly because I feel that a blog-appropriate length introduction would be so superficial that it would be either useless or so incomplete that it would be detrimental to fostering interest. I do not think this is due to my academic background. It is just the nature of the subject.

  215. Nigel Depledge

    JJ (the other one)(202) said:

    Nigel said “JJ: I am sorry that I do not have a proofreader for my blog comments.”

    Following your style, this is where you would point out the distinction between general editing, copy editing and actual proofreading. Except doing so by naming a bunch of authorities on these subjects and acting like it’s below you to actually spell out said distinctions.

    I don’t think this was me. I have not seen another Nigel in this thread (but have not yet read all comments). What comment number are you referring to here?

  216. Nigel Depledge

    JJ (the other one)(204) said:

    JJ (the other one) said: “Nigel said…”

    Er, hang on, Nigel said nothing of the sort, that annoying Craig fellow did.

    I guess I need an editor here of some description. I hope I don’t put down the wrong kind, though, that would be embarrassing.

    OK, got it.

  217. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (203) said:

    Nigel…Show me the non-refuted experiments that support certain advertisements and arrays of item placement that work across the board.

    No, sorry, I don’t have the references. I was paraphrasing from an article I read 3 or 4 years ago.

    When I first started graduate school I had a university job that looked at this sort of thing. They do not hold up cross-culturally. They are incredibly context specific.

    This may be true, but that does not change the fact that supermarkets, advertisers, marketing folks and so on have become adept at manipulating their customers (or their clients’ customers, as appropriate).

    I am very wary to call supermarket advertisement placement and many other things in the social sciences (applied or otherwise) “scientific” in the same way that kinetics or glycolysis are. They are vastly different beasts. As Foucault adroitly wrote in “What is an Author”

    And yet supermarkets have enough evidence that they can squeeze lower prices from their suppliers if they place that supplier’s products on the “premium” shelves (typically just below eye-level). It is quantifiable and reproducible enough that I would call it science.

    Now, I’m not going to claim that it is on a par with kinetics or glycolysis, which have both evidence and theory, but it is certainly as good as (for example) Natural History before evolution came along to explain everything.

    “Reexamination of Galileo’s text may well change our understanding of the history of mechanics, but it will never be able to change mechanics itself. On the other hand, reexamining Freud’s texts modifies psychoanalysis itself, just as a reexamination of Marx’s would modify Marxism.”

    True, but I don’t see how relevant it is here. I’m not talking about wishy-washy theories based as much on supposition as anything else. I’m talking about effects that have been measured and quantified.

    This is the main difference between the hard and soft sciences. The trouble is separating them. Untangling them is a horrific Gordian knot.

    Agreed.

  218. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (205) said:

    JJ: So people that you do not agree with are annoying? You are a boor.

    From my perspective, it is not the fact that you disgaree, but that you cannot articulate adequate grounds for disagreeing.

    You have pontificated on the state of science and the behaviour of scientists, but without any substantive justification for so doing. (Caveat – I haven’t read all of the comments yet, so apologies if you’ve done just this in a post I haven’t got to yet).

    This is why most people in both the sciences and the humanities shun direct interaction with the public.

    I have never yet met a scientist who does not relish every opportunity to talk about their work. Perhaps what you really mean is that most scientists have trouble articulating their work in terms that the uneducated may easily grasp. That is a completely different issue. Or maybe two issues (one of the communication skills of the scientist, and one of the poor status of science education in our western culture).

    Especially in the US. Ever wonder why there is not a US cognate to the College de France? Here is why. When you say something the public does not like the circus starts and you are either wrote of as a crank or publicly ridiculed.

    Gosh, and here I was thinking it was because the French hate USAians! ;-)

    [yes, just kidding, folks!]

  219. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (212) said, responding to JJ:

    I can see that reading between the lines is not your forte. You criticized me for my writing style. I retorted that academic writing has naturalized it for me and then proposed that scientific determinism may be a symptom of scientific praxis.

    It seems that the scientists you presume to criticise are not the only folks who need to brush up their communication skills.

    Are you hiding behind jargon because you cannot articulate your point in more everyday language or because it makes you feel superior?

    You then ridiculed me for using the word perfomativity

    No-one has done this.

    Kuhnigget (not JJ), questioned the term. It seemed to me that this was intended to elicit an explanation of the term, not to cast ridicule on its user. Still, while I’m at it, why is it that you either cannot or choose not to explain the meaning of “performativity” in your own words?

    which I then showed is a real academic term and not something I made up, like a perceived crank may.

    I didn’t see anyone questioning whether or not it is a real term, just an attempt to find out what it means.

  220. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (212) said:

    Since when is eloquence (along with playing with style and rhetoric) a negative trait?

    Eloquence is wholly positive, and would make a refreshing change on the t’internet.

    Use of impenetrable jargon, however, is not eloquence. I have a pretty high standard of education, and a pretty good knowledge of English, and I had never before encountered the term “performativity” (for example). And the way you use it does not give me sufficient clues to decipher a meaning. Having said that, I do have access to a dictionary and could look it up.

    [Takes dictionary off shelf, looks up "performativity"]

    OK, in a dictionary with over 220,000 definitions, “performativity” does not rate an entry. So, it’s either a very new term (my dictionary is over 10 years old), or a very obscure one, or a technical term.

  221. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (214) said:

    I am not trying to please a popular audience with my word choice which has been honed to succeed in academia.

    Erm … did you notice you are commenting on a popular-science blog?

    Try getting in the journals and cited without using disciplinary jargon.

    Irrelevant.

    I enjoy new words and concepts.

    As, I am sure, do many of us here. However, I fail to see how this explains your use of densely-academic text in your comments to a popular-science blog post.

    I find Discover and its blogs useful to look at the big picture including the state of science and how it is publicly perceived. I do not wish to write for it.

    Fair enough, but can you at least see how you are writing for a different audience than is Phil? I strongly suspect that many of the people who might normally read through the comments would give up on even trying to understand yours, not because of the intrinsic difficulty of the concepts, but because of the linguistic style and choice of terms you display.

  222. Nigel Depledge

    @ Joseph G (215) -

    Oh. I get it now. :-)

  223. Nigel Depledge

    Craig (218) said:

    Its not that I am unable to offer an introduction to the academic critique of science. I am simply unwilling. This is partially due to not wanting to put forward the considerable effort that it would require and secondly because I feel that a blog-appropriate length introduction would be so superficial that it would be either useless or so incomplete that it would be detrimental to fostering interest. I do not think this is due to my academic background. It is just the nature of the subject.

    I know what you mean. Exactly the same could be said, for example, of enzyme kinetics. (But I may one day find I have the urge to try.)

    Philosophy of science is a whole area of study that is not taught in most undergraduate science courses. Most scientists are aware of its existence to some extent, but I suspect that the day-to-day processes of doing science generally cause the acquisition of a deeper understanding of it to regularly fall to the bottom of the “to do” list.

  224. Nigel Depledge

    David (98) said:

    Aww man you guys kept it going! What fun! I really do appreciate the, um, enlightenment.

    Hmmm … your tone makes it clear that you have not understood. Still, since you are clearly so entrenched and closed-minded in your opinion about science, this is not for you. This is for readers of this thread.

    You insistence on calling something you don’t deem necessary “voodoo” is hi-larious.

    Chopra’s nonsense isn’t merely “unnecessary”. It’s wrong.

    And oh boy, it must be a lot if work breaking down these posts in to bullet lists that you can refute.

    No, refuting your comments is really easy.

    Its a lot of work defending your faith, I’m sure!

    Since I don’t have any faith in much of anything really, this is not relevant. What is it that you thought you were referring to?

    But the fact is (I’m sorry, can I use the word “fact” here?) is that is this sort of one sided, close minded dogma that really, really makes me sad for our future.

    Fine. Cease to apply your closed-minded attitude, then. That should help to cheer you up. Just because science (or scientists) disagrees with you, doesn’t mean science is wrong.

    Great, science will take us yo the stars…where we can measure stuff, pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for how right we are.

    No. Where we can learn lots of new stuff.

    Call it science, call it skepticism, but your faith (it’s ok, it’s not a dirty word) doesn’t have all the answers either, but reading the comments here, I’m pretty sure this is yet another organized religion that I’m not interested in.

    Which just goes to show that your reading comprehension is at fault, not the blog and its comments.

    You are the one claiming that we have “faith”, but you do not make an argument to support this claim. You are the one claiming that scientists are “close-minded” (me, I keep my mind close by me all the time – or did you mean to say “closed-minded”? which means something altogether different), but you do not make any kind of case to show that this is so. You liken scepticism to a religion but you have not even attempted to demonstrate the likeness.

    In other words, your comments are nothing but hot air and rhetoric.

    And yes, I actually believe we figured out we revolved around the sun in 1974. (ok, not really. I meant 1984.)

    More fool you, then. Have you never heard of the concept of looking stuff up? Or was this last paragraph an attempt at satire?

  225. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (107) said:

    There is cutting edge science out there and it’s being time by what I call the “young turks.”

    No, don’t just allude to them and move on. Who are these people?

    They are looking beyond current pardigms.

    This is glib and easy to say, but what does it mean in this context? What do you consider the “current par[a]digms” to be, and how is it that mainstream science is not looking beyond them?

    By their own admissions they are pretty much working outside the mainstream. I have to admit I’m a big fan of outsiders in any field.

    Then could it be that this is skewing your view?

    What is the benefit to working outside the mainstream, and what potential disadvantages might there be?

    Innovation and progress don’t come from the mainstream, they come from the fringes. They come from people who look in new directions.

    This assertion comes with the implicit assumtion that no-one in mainstream science is looking in new directions, or is innovating.

    What poppycock!

    Look up M-theory. Look up supersymmetry. Look up loop quantum gravity. These are all recent ideas being investigated by mainstream scientists in various attempts to unify quantum mechanics with gravity, and / or to extend or replace the Standard Model of particle physics.

    I’ve read of mainstream physicists who hope that the LHC finds something completely unexpected, because this would be more interesting to them than mere confirmation of the Standard Model.

    If we expand the scope back about 30 or 40 years, there’s so much innovation in mainstream science that it is hard to know where to start. Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould spring to mind, as does Stephen Hawking.

    “And make sure the examples you share are true cases where someone’s groundbreaking science was ignored because it went against prevailing opinion and not because it lacked convincing evidence to back it up, or the interpretation of that evidence was debatable.”

    First, if the evidence rises to the point of being ‘debatable, then I submit that it is worth exploring.

    Maybe so, but that does not make it worth announcing.

    Space considerations preclude a comprehensive list, so I’ll just list a few. Probably the most famous one is Semelweis.

    This example is from quite some time ago. The scientific establishment that existed in 19th-century Europe has long since ceased to be. This hardly supports your thesis that mainstream science is being stifled by a lack of innovation.

    More recent we have Carles Townes and lasers. Even after it lasers were considered “a solution in search of a problem.”

    This is exactly true, but you seem to think it supports your case. Lasers really were a solution in search of a problem : no-one knew how they could be applied in any practical or investigative sense. Not even Townes. In what way does this imply that innovation was stifled?

    The scanning tunneling microscope (the names I forget) which when it was demonstrated the audience still ridiculed it.

    I don’t recall STM being ridiculed. Instead, my memory is one of excitement when this was publicised.

    Lynn Margulis was turned down for funding by the National Science Foundation because her idea broke all the rules of biology. She went outside and continued her research and 8 years after she was turned down she won the Nobel Prize for her work.

    No, her idea did not break “all the rules of biology”, and it was not hers originally. The idea had been around for over 100 years when she started working on it. What Margulis did was collect the evidence to convince everyone that mitochondria and chloroplasts arose through endosymbiosis.

    Given that her key work was carried out in the 1960s, I think it is just as likely that she was refused funding because there was either too little money for too many applications (this is always the case in science) or because she was a woman (yes, in the 1960s there was a substantial bias against women in science – they had to be twice as good as the men to get the same level of respect).

    Even if her application was refused funding because her idea went against the mainstream, so what? The NSF is only one funding body out of many. I think you’ll find that most of her contemporaries went elsewhere for funding when they had a grant application turned down by the NSF too. I know of scientists in the UK who have a set of preferred funding bodies (such as, for exmaple, the BBSRC, the MRC and the Wellcome Foundation) to which they turn with more or less every application they make. You make it sound as if something unusual was occurring.

    More recently, in the 2000s, Barry Marshall’s link between gastric ulcers and bacterial infections. In his Nobel acceptance speech he said, “”Before finishing I want to acknowledge all those scientists who failed to recognize HP…Without them I would have had a very different career.”

    Again, he was hardly non-mainstream. It is true that few others accepted his hypothesis, but that was a combination of established medical practice (please note that medical practice and the practice of science are not the same thing) and the fact that his initial evidence was circumstantial. Once his evidence was genuinely convincing, everyone accepted it.

    Now, many will point and say,”See, these are examples of science correcting itself. Yeah, but it only corrects itself after being dragged kicking and screaming.

    No. Not “kicking and screaming”. Requiring firm evidence to change the established view. In each of your examples, the practitioners did obtain convincing evidence and it turned out that they were right.

    Now, consider in the same light Fleischman and Pons and their work on “cold fusion”. By making a grandiose claim that exceeded the support that their evidence could provide, and then by refusing to accept correction when it was proposed, they destroyed their own credibility as scientists. When they first announced their “discovery”, their evidence was very much on a par with that available to (for example) Margulis or Marshall at the beginning of their respective journeys. But what Margulis and Marshall did that Fleischman and Pons didn’t do was to obtain better evidence.

    So far you have offered nothing that suggests that innovation is the exclusive province of scientific mavericks.

    Here’s a counter-example for you: herpesviruses encode a gene of which the function, in the 1980s, was unknown. They were termed pseudoproteases, because it was assumed that they had a protease-like function (based purely on sequence analysis). However, around 1990, McGeoch showed that these genes (and the proteins they encode) were a type of dUTPase. They had the five characteristic sequence motifs. But, they were too large to be dUTPases (dUTPase, from human to E. coli is active as a homotrimer) and they wouldn’t form trimers. McGeoch was able to show that the herpesvirus dUTPase gene had arisen through a duplication of the protein-coding sequence, forming a double-length dUTPase protein. Instead of having three active sites (one each junction between subunits of the trimer), it had only one. And instead of the dUTPase motifs contributing to different active sites, all 5 contributed to the one active site. However, their positions within the peptide sequence matched the corresponding positions of the human and bacterial proteins.

    This is innovation, working within the scientific mainstream. True, it was no paradigm shift, but that expression gets abused so often it has almost lost its meaning. (It could be argued that the paradigm was “dUTPase is active as a homotrimer”, and that this was indeed overturned, but I don’t agree with that).

  226. Nigel Depledge

    Aw, Kuhnigget (111) beat me to it.

  227. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (114) said:

    The problem is many people, some of whom I noted in my one comment have provided evidence, but even when that evidence is presented, they are rebuffed. I’ve read plenty of stories of the many scientists, later proven right, who were ridiculed by their colleagues and threatened with loss of funding. There were actual symposiums convened to debunk Wegener’s theory of continental drift.

    I was not going to mention Wegener, because his evidence for continental drift wasn’t convincing enough.

    To suggest as he did that the continents float about the surface of the Earth was too radical for most geologists of the time to accept. Within the context of the time, it was an extraordinary claim. His evidence, however, was not extraordinary. It was not until the 1950s, when magnetometry readings of the Atlantic seabed showed that the two halves of the Atlantic sea floor mirrored one another, that the idea was taken seriously. Those new data could not be explained without continental drift.

  228. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (114) said:

    And since we’re on an astronomy site, what about the travails of Louis A. Frank and Clayne Yeates and their discovery of “ice comets? They actually changed the standards of proof for them. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong but from what I read, the standard of proof is two images. Yeates provided a journal with two. Then they said it wasn’t enough. He needed three. In fact, he had six sets of images.

    I remember reading comments on that discovery and man were they vicious. Some called him nuts and a fraud. One guy blasted NASA for their willingness to allow him to place cameras on some spaceshot to take images saying NASA had lost all credibility. Astronomer’s said, “If these things exist, we would have seen them.”

    Frank himself said, soon after his discovery created controversy, “For the past two years I paid the price for being wrong. Now I’ll pay an equal price for being right. After all, you can’t just tip the scientific world askew and expect everyone to cheer.”

    This is just normal. Every branch of science has debates that rage fiercely about whether such-and-such is correct or not. The scientific literature, and conferences, are arenas for the harshest of criticism. It is through this process of criticism that we arrive at a better understanding of the world.

    And it seems that because I have a problem with what I perceive to be a huge problem in mainstream science, I get dismissed as some woo guy or a troll or anti-science because you can’t question the behavior of the scientific community.

    No, you were supporting Chopra (or at least seemed to be).

    You suggested that no innovation occurs in mainstream science.

    You suggested that fringe “science” was the only area where innovation occurs.

    This is why you have been jumped on.

    However, your examples of “fringe” innovation have mostly been anything but fringe. Your examples simply illustrate how severe is the criticism through which any new idea must pass to be accepted as true (or probably true). No-one is saying this is perfect, and a fairly convincing argument can be made that older scientists tend to cling onto their ideas and reject innovation, and have a disproportionate influence over the scientific world, but this is different from what you were claiming.

    So, unless you have done this in a comment I have not yet read (no, I still have not read all the comments), you have not supported your suggestion that mainstream science stifles innovation, nor your suggestion that innovation only happens in fringe “science” areas. You have implicitly supported Chopra because he is outside the mainstream, but you have failed to acknowledge that his ideas and statements about the universe are plain old wrong.

  229. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (114) said:

    I’m not in science, but I like science and read enough to know that science, like pretty much any other field, refuses to entertain new ideas that shake up the status quo.

    You have failed to make a convincing case that this is so.

    And I think it is a worse thing in science since science is the main field that helps us progress as a society.

    Perhaps so.

    I still stand by my belief that science stands in its own way.

    But you have not explained why you hold this belief. Instead, your comments show a lack of understanding of what is happening in modern science, and your examples of “fringe science” that turned out to be correct are simply unconvincing.

    Think about how far science could have advanced; where we would be progress-wise if there wasn’t a vigorous defense of the status quo that dismisses anything that challenges it.

    Again, you make this statement on the assumption that your thesis is proven, but it is not. Where is there a “vigorous defnece of the status quo” in modern science? And I mean this in relation to ideas that have genuine merit, rather than outright woo like that which Chopra peddles.

    What I have seen in science in the last 20 years is a whole heap of discoveries that confounded expectations (how about Dark Energy? No-one wanted it, no-one likes it, and no-one knows what it might be, but it seems to exist). I also see vigorous efforts to find new theories to replace those that we know to be incomplete (viz, the Standard Model, BBT and quantum gravity). I see efforts to test established theories (Gravity Probe B, for instance) and I see the search for new physics (the LHC).

  230. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (121) said:

    That’s not what I am saying. I am saying they dismiss it outright without even entertaing the thought. And I’m not talking about the crackpot guys with no evidence. I’m talking about the people who have evidence that should at least get people to say, “Hmmm…this looks interesting.”

    Such as who, then?

    There is a difference between someone saying “oh, look, here’s something interesting, it might mean such-and-such”, and someone saying “here’s something interesting, we investigated further and have shown that it means such-and-such”. The first will likely get dismissed, while the second will get a hearing. See if you can guess why.

  231. You’re late to the party, Nigel!

    And for the record, I WAS making fun of the word “performativity.” I don’t care how useful it is in an academic journal, it’s a silly word in common, everyday “interlocution.” (Snicker!)

  232. Nigel Depledge

    @ Kuhnigget (235) -
    Yeah, stupid time zones.

    Over here in Europe we often come late to these exchanges.

    Or too early.

  233. Nigel Depledge

    OK, I know this has probably already been addressed, but still . . .

    Bernie Mooney (121) said:

    Ah, but is the definition of extraordinary quite often subjective?

    Not to people working in a field of inquiry, no.

    What exactly constitutes an extraordinary claim?

    More or less anything that isn’t a straightforward extension of what is already known.

    . . . Why the need to demand more proof from one guy as opposed to another?

    It’s not a question of demanding more evidence from one researcher than another. It’s a question of demanding more evidence for one claim than another.

  234. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (121) said:

    I never said they appear out of a vacuum and I never said mainstream science was boring. The mainstream is by its very nature, well, mainstream. And the innovations come from people who take that mainstream and turn it upside down. It’s like Picasso. he had to know the basics of painting before he could veer off and create his own thing.

    You do a grave disservice to all those whose work is in the scientific mainstream and who are innovative and creative experimenters.

  235. Nigel Depledge

    Bernie Mooney (129) said:

    “Established science is simply what has already been accepted. That doesn’t stop people from researching seemingly outlandish hypotheses.”

    It does if you can’t get funding.

    But if your idea is seemingly outlandish and you have data to indicate that it’s a real phenomenon, and if it stems logically from what is already firmly established, then there is no bar to getting funding.

    Or did you fail to grasp HvP’s analogy about the tree?

  236. @ Craig:

    @kuhnigget: I agree a good bicker can be fun…in a somewhat frustrating way.

    Stick around for when the UFO nutters show up if you want a real lesson in frustration.

  237. Jeffersonian

    Chopra/nutshell:

    Blah blah blah Quantum Mechanics blah blah blah Synchrodestiny blah blah blah Conciousness blah blah blah Seeking blah blah Essence…

  238. Fred Cline

    In what way is the universe “artistic”? Who’s unique personal vision and expression would it be? What sort of designer, do you propose, arranged it into something with aesthetic merit? Aren’t you sounding just a bit “Chopra-esque”?

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