Fuller and the famous Stone of Galveston

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I think Steve Fuller has had more than enough attention paid to him lately, don't you? There's a new linebacker piling on, though, and I thought this article was such a nice, lucid skewering that I had to bring it to everyone's attention. And it begins with a lovely quote from Black Adder! I'm always a sucker for British comic cynicism.

It's remarkable how association with the ID movement has become such an excellent marker for vacuous, uninformed poseurs. Fuller is just one of the more recent in a long series.

55 Comments

don’t be suprised when you will see more postmodern “intelectuals” defending the ID - they are very noisy show(wo)men. The bad thing is that they teach students sheer nonsense (BTW the situation is much worse in some post-communist countries in Europe where the postmodernism is fashionable)

There’s a word that comes to mind here, and the word is “fluffbunny”. A fluffbunny is one who talks the talk without necessarily walking the walk (and often denying that the walk does in fact exist). A fluffbunny tends to get very irate when asked to show any sort of rigour. As far as I can tell, the word originally appeared in (ironically) Wiccan literature, but it’s such a useful concept when applied to a whole range of issues (my personal favourite being martial arts.

As far as I can tell, the ID supporters are classic fluffbunnies. This article, rather worryingly, suggests that a big chunk of the field of sociology has fallen down the same manhole. Anyone got any suggestions as to how to fix that?

…fallen down the same manhole.

Did you mean “rabbithole”?

I understand this is off-topic, but it’s the top post right now so it’s the most prominent place I can say it:

It’s the end of the year and I’d like to thank the people here. Thanks to Nick Matzke for helping administer a savage beating to the forces of the dark ages. And thanks to Andrea Bottaro, Matthew Brauer, Ed Brayton, Reed Cartwright, Mike Dunford, Wesley Elsberry, Jim Foley, Paul Gross, Richard Hoppe, Burt Humburg, Gary Hurd, Matt Inlay, Jack Krebs, John Lynch, Nick Matzke, Ian Musgrave, PZ Myers, Mark Perakh, Steve Reuland, Jason Rosenhouse, Timothy Sandefur, Jeffrey Shallit, Tara Smith, Dave Thomas, and John Wilkins for making PT such a rewarding place to visit.

All of you have contributed to showing why this cartoon sums it all up:

http://dominionpaper.ca/weblog/img/[…]carnival.gif

The forces of the Enlightenment have much to be proud of, and may 2006 be just as successful and humorous as 2005.

Well, since Steve S took this off topic (for excellent reasons), I’ll continue hacking into the jungle with the machette.

I would like to thank all of the aforementioned people and many others who contributed many specifics to my knowledge of this debate (sorry, that implies there are in fact two rational sides to the debate, but the thesaurus portion of my brain has no coffee in it).

Though relatively new to PT, as a resident of Kansas City, MO, I have involved myself quite a bit in the Kansas BOE silliness. I can’t think of many places I have been–looked to–that have given me more enjoyment, laughs, and hope that, indeed the forces of intelligence and education will prevail than Panda’s Thumb.

Well done; well done.

I find this cartoon offensive as it insults baboons. ~Gary

… and wolves.

… and the sheep didn’t get much of a say in it either.

Bob

Equally I don’t recall the Bible being a primer on basic mathematics, so I’m not convinced that Newton’s tale would be one of the Bible being a sure path to great science.

It turns out that Sir Isaac Newton, the famous seventeenth-century mathematician and scientist who is still hailed as the supreme scientist, a god for the Age of Reason and the initiator of the scientific and the industrial revolutions, was also … an alchemist.

“Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians.” – John Maynard Keynes

One source for the alchemical formulas Newton played with were ancient myths where the elements used are encoded as the names of gods and plots of the stories tell you what to do with those elements.

Now take another look at the Bible, at chapters like “Revelations” or “Numbers.” They are full of numbers and bizarre non-sensical details. There is obviously some coded message there – remember 666, the number of the beast? It’s not the only number in that book. It’s the kind of stuff that drives Bible believers insane as they desperately try to figure out what it means and there are thousands of interpretations – most of which obviously suck.

Newton was probably looking at the Bible the way an alchemist would.

Norman Doering Wrote:

It’s not the only number in that book. It’s the kind of stuff that drives Bible believers insane as they desperately try to figure out what it means and there are thousands of interpretations — most of which obviously suck.

Why not just ask the angels? That’s what Enochian magic is for, after all. And I can’t imagine God could complain about that.

Corkscrew wrote:

Why not just ask the angels?

Angels don’t talk to me… Do they talk to you?

Corkscrew Wrote:

This article, rather worryingly, suggests that a big chunk of the field of sociology has fallen down the same manhole. Anyone got any suggestions as to how to fix that?

This appears to be a general problem in the humanities, as shown by the Sokal hoax.

In the end, only self-policing will do the job; new faculty should have the mathematical, logical, statistical and scientific training to see through such nonsense.  One difficulty is that a large segment of the existing faculty at some institutions seems to have an interest in preventing that.  It may be necessary to close departments which have an antithetical culture.

The guy with greek symbols in his name Wrote:

In the end, only self-policing will do the job; new faculty should have the mathematical, logical, statistical and scientific training to see through such nonsense. One difficulty is that a large segment of the existing faculty at some institutions seems to have an interest in preventing that. It may be necessary to close departments which have an antithetical culture.

One thing I did consider was some kind of “cross-fertilisation” student-swapping program whereby sociology types would get hands-on experience of what rigour looks like. The hope being that it would become a habit and that not too much damage would be done to the science students on the other end of the swap.

Corkscrew wrote:

… “cross-fertilisation” student-swapping program whereby sociology types would get hands-on experience of what rigour looks like. The hope being that it would become a habit and that not too much damage would be done to the science students on the other end of the swap.

Maybe a better approach would be expanding biology into sociology and taking over? Rigor only remains when it produces notably better results. One can be rigourous about utter nonsense (like Newton’s Alchemey).

Philosopher wrote:

The bad thing is that they teach students sheer nonsense (BTW the situation is much worse in some post-communist countries in Europe where the postmodernism is fashionable)

news!

can you document that? It would be interesting to see the patterns.

Now take another look at the Bible, at chapters like “Revelations” or “Numbers.” They are full of numbers and bizarre non-sensical details. There is obviously some coded message there — remember 666, the number of the beast? It’s not the only number in that book. It’s the kind of stuff that drives Bible believers insane as they desperately try to figure out what it means and there are thousands of interpretations — most of which obviously suck.

that reminds me, isn’t the Davinci Code coming to theaters soon?

Sir_Toejam asked:

…that reminds me, isn’t the Davinci Code coming to theaters soon?

I don’t know, you’ll have to google it because I’m not bothering to go.

But that reminds me of a Newton quote:

“It is the temper of the hot and superstitious art of mankind in matters of religion ever to be fond of mysteries, and for that reason to like best what they understand least.”

That supposedly comes from “A Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture” by Isaac Newton. Got it from a website I didn’t keep the link for.

Yea, Ike, they’re just like you – they can’t leave riddles alone.

“It is the temper of the hot and superstitious art of mankind in matters of religion ever to be fond of mysteries, and for that reason to like best what they understand least.”

that does appear just as astute today as it did then.

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As someone who trained in Cult. Anth., the circle jerk going on here among the righteous, true scientists appears embarrassingly juvenile. Of course, no “real” scientist has ever gone beyond the evidence, twisted facts to conform to expectations, etc., etc., etc. And all the evil dome in Christ’s name should never count against Christianity. Scientists did do (and still do) bad things, and often for bad, selfish, stupid, unscientific reasons.

With all due respect, let’s cut the smears against the social sciences. At least direct them against the (few, noisy) abusers of what are much younger, less amenable to objective experiment, sciences.

limpidense: I’m not even a scientist here (maths forever! woo!) so I’m reasonably impartial. The worry isn’t that social scientists are unethical layabouts (insert alternative slurs of choice) - the worry is that it’s harder to pick them up on it when they are because, as you point out, social sciences are less amenable to objective experiment. This means it’s presumably easier for cranks to ply their trade, with occasionally humorous results such as the abovementioned Sokal hoax.

The thing that really gets us, and probably isn’t too much fun for you either, is the question: at what point do social sciences drop below the “objectivity threshold” that leads to them being overrun by glorified arts students? This definitely hasn’t happened at my university, but that’s mostly because they apparently go to prodigious lengths to prevent it from happening.

(Incidentally, I’m a couple of bottles of wine in, so please take the above with the requisite pinch of salt)

(Incidentally, I’m a couple of bottles of wine in, so please take the above with the requisite pinch of salt

I hope you brought enough for the rest of the class…

limpidense: I’m not even a scientist here (maths forever! woo!) so I’m reasonably impartial. The worry isn’t that social scientists are unethical layabouts (insert alternative slurs of choice) - the worry is that it’s harder to pick them up on it when they are because, as you point out, social sciences are less amenable to objective experiment. This means it’s presumably easier for cranks to ply their trade, with occasionally humorous results such as the abovementioned Sokal hoax.

The thing that really gets us, and probably isn’t too much fun for you either, is the question: at what point do social sciences drop below the “objectivity threshold” that leads to them being overrun by glorified arts students? This definitely hasn’t happened at my university, but that’s mostly because they apparently go to prodigious lengths to prevent it from happening.

(Incidentally, I’m a couple of bottles of wine in, so please take the above with the requisite pinch of salt)

limpidense: I’m not even a scientist here (maths forever! woo!) so I’m reasonably impartial. The worry isn’t that social scientists are unethical layabouts (insert alternative slurs of choice) - the worry is that it’s harder to pick them up on it when they are because, as you point out, social sciences are less amenable to objective experiment. This means it’s presumably easier for cranks to ply their trade, with occasionally humorous results such as the abovementioned Sokal hoax.

The thing that really gets us, and probably isn’t too much fun for you either, is the question: at what point do social sciences drop below the “objectivity threshold” that leads to them being overrun by glorified arts students? This definitely hasn’t happened at my university, but that’s mostly because they apparently go to prodigious lengths to prevent it from happening.

(Incidentally, I’m a couple of bottles of wine in, so please take the above with the requisite pinch of salt)

Gah. That double-posting wasn’t even the fault of the alcohol. What’s causing the technical hitches and how do we kill it (thus ensuring evolutionary pressure in favour of working forum software)?

It’s dang tough, but think about how limited your actual knowledge of these very large fields of study seems to be. Recall the state of any science after its first hundred, two hundred years and count the charlatans and abusers. But, c’mon!, are you that much more knowledgeable about what the typical sociologist or anthropologist, or philosopher for that matter, does - what is studied and published in the real journals - than the average “casual” creationist is about the ToE?

I don’t tolerate, much less excuse, the bullshit that this Steve Fuller (but who ever heard of this minor shit of Sociology before he whored himself in the service of I.D.oc? And who will ever, in Fuller’s own field, credit him as anything but a sell-out, like Behe, from this point on?) has served up. I laughed (at Sokal; also the “Gilligan’s Island parody of post-mod) and cried (at Sokal, and also possibly that the current amoral “philosophical” technique has been adapted to evil by the “neocons”) at the abuses of post-modernism, but it is a valuable philosophical movement.

Honesty. Daring. Humor. Perspective. Gentleness. In no particular order.

ya know, you do have an excellent opportunity here to educate folks on the current state of sociological research and publications.

Could you perhaps provide links to prominent sociology journals, etc?

And all the evil [done] in Christ’s name should never count against Christianity.

I’m curious; would you also grant that all the evil done in Muhammed’s name should never count against Islam?

Fuller is a sociologist? I thought he was a philosopher of science.

Even if he is, the attacks on sociology on this thread are totally unprovoked. One example proves nothing. Fuller’s argument is a wrong one, and to a certain extent a dispicable one, but it is not a postmodern one.

Fuller’s argument is a wrong one, and to a certain extent a dispicable one, but it is not a postmodern one.

Who cares?

Fuller is a moron whose lips flap like barn doors in a hurricane. He makes up facts as he goes along.

limpidense:

Of course, no “real” scientist has ever gone beyond the evidence, twisted facts to conform to expectations, etc., etc., etc.

Here’s the difference: 99.99% of science articles published have zero potential for abuse by propagandists and religio-political power seekers trying to peddle their ideologies.

Is the same true for articles in the “social sciences”?

Bill G.,

Are you having a mis-reading day, or making a lame joke?

My Lard Cheeses! I’d explain and qualify it in detail, but it would involve treating you like a five-year-old, and I’d like to give you credit for being more sophisticated than that.

Registered User,

You are writing like a surly drunk.

“99.99% of science articles…” Feet, size EEE! What vain nonsense!

As W.A. suggested, “He’s a genius, and she’s a genius. You outta get out and meet some stupid people for a change: you might learn something.”

I’ll rejoin the threads when your hangovers wear off.

Limpidense… if you are going to make accusations of being surly and/or drunk, perhaps you should put a little bit more effort into making sense yourself. “Feet, size EEE!”?

You know, just for the record… what *is* the Stone of Galveston? The only Galveston I know is in Texas… which according to wikipedia was named for an explorer named “de Galvez” from the late 1700s. Which Blackadder series was the quote from?

Limpy-dimpy: here’s your New’s Eve Party assignment: flip through the last 10,000 articles published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and tell me how you’d go about using ten of those articles to advocate social change.

Then I’ll adjust my statement to 99.9% which is being really generous because, all things considered, JBC is a relatively socially relevant journal as science journals go (because humans are biological organisms).

And fyi: I wish I was drunk and typically on a New Years Eve about now I’d be pouring myself a nice glass of Suisse Absinthe. This year, sadly, I’m on antibiotics for a frigging ear ailment and I’m bone dry.

I don’t get surly when I’m drunk, in any event. I get horny.

And all the evil [done] in Christ’s name should never count against Christianity.

I’m curious; would you also grant that all the evil done in Muhammed’s name should never count against Islam?

Excuse me sir, only my religion can be exempted. Yours (whatever it may be) must bore the burden of history.

As a sociologist, I sort of feel like my field has been unfairly maligned here. For all those who would attack sociological studies of scientific practice, I’d like to note a couple things. First of all, we treat scientists the same way we treat everyone–as social actors, people embedded within networks that have particular ways of doing things. We study the ways they do things. Beyond that, though, in looking at the social processes of scientific knowledge production, we face a particular problem. Our methods give us no way of assessing the truth claims scientists make. We treat them as social products because we’re looking at social processes. Where troubles may arise is when sociologists claim that these processes are the only things going on, and I know very few sociologists who would make such a claim.

We’ve got an additional problem that many “hard” scientists don’t: we can’t get the same kind of control over our research subjects. When you can control temperature, pressure, volume, mass, etc., research becomes a bit more predictable than when the ethical standards your field has developed won’t allow you to impose the same levels of control over the lives of your research subjects.

Just a few defenses of my particular field of study.

I think that much of the maligning you feel stems from the last consideration. The humanities operate with huge uncertainties, but that is very rarely acknowledged. When a physicist looks at an economic model, he sees an edifice supported by only the flimsiest of evidence. That’s a simple fact of life, and of course shouldn’t prevent people from studying economics. On the other hand, it would be advisable for economists to show a little more - ah - humility vis-a-vis their data (or lack thereof).

In the ‘hard-science’ community the amount of data available to - say - economists seems appallingly minute. If somebody published an experimental physics paper with so few data points in it, they would couch their conclusions in disclaimers and warnings that the results were were preliminary and covered a strictly limited window. We see and hear every other day, however, economists and psychologists pronounce conclusions based on equally flimsy data as if those conclusions carried the same accuracy and reliability as the Theory of Gravity. Worse, we have lawmakers and courts who rely blindly upon them as if they had the gravity (pun sort of intended) of aforementioned law.

Of course decisions sometimes have to be made based on limited data. However there is an absolute upper limit on how far from the experimental setup your logic can take you before you might as well flip a coin - and that upper limit is set by the abundance and reliability of your data. Even if your model has every effect exactly right in the experimental setup, it is possible - actually probable - that deviations from the experimental setup will introduce effects your model fails to consider and/or shuffle the weight of different effects around. And the more thoroughly documented your model is, the farther you can go without running a significant risk of leaving your prediction envelope.

It is these trivially simple facts that all too many lawmakers and courts forget. Whether that’s because the social scientists who made the models failed to inform them (or even consider the problem) or because the politicians are too stupid and incompetent to understand the significance of the warnings they’ve been given is - of course - an open question. I suspect a little of both.

Toning down the slurs would, of course, be a good idea. But that is a two-way street. If I had a € for every time I’ve heard a humanities puke denigrate math or physics - without even bothering to study it - I’d almost be able to pay for a waterfront apartment. In Copenhagen. In cash.

- JS

Economics can be an empiracal science. The problem is setting the limiting conditions - it is just impossible for economists to have a lab.

For example, if I drop a $100 note in the middle of a busy street in New York, the note will not be there when I come back in 5 mins. The success rate of this experiment is as close to 100% as any empirical experiment in any field of science. Economics has a theory that can explain this phenomenon - Law of supply and demand. Under a clearly defined limiting conditions, this law has not been observed wrong yet.

But in most cases it is very difficult for economists to set the limiting conditions as clear cut as this. Hence a lot of their theory can not be backup by experiments and difficult to verify.

As JS pointed out law makers often overlook this, and that has lead to great many humanity disasters.

JS wrote:

I think that much of the maligning you feel stems from the last consideration. The humanities operate with huge uncertainties, but that is very rarely acknowledged. When a physicist looks at an economic model, he sees an edifice supported by only the flimsiest of evidence. That’s a simple fact of life, and of course shouldn’t prevent people from studying economics. On the other hand, it would be advisable for economists to show a little more - ah - humility vis-a-vis their data (or lack thereof).

Well, what I know about economics comes from occasionally reading Paul Krugman in the New York Times, and only before they charged for their popular op eds.

However, there is book called Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know? by Philip E. Tetlock. It says that experts (not only in politics but other areas as well, like economics) are worse judges of what is likely to happen than a reasonably well-informed ordinary citizen.

Experts are likely to have some framework of interpretation to defend, so they force facts into that framework. Second, experts have a gazillion factors to consider when they make predictions, so they get lost in a gazillion plus scenarios and lose track of the obvious.

Result: experts actually come out worse as predictors than what you’d get using dart-throwing monkeys.

In the ‘hard-science’ community the amount of data available to - say - economists seems appallingly minute.

Not quite. The amount of data is overwhelming, but so are the factors influencing it. If it could become an experimental science perhaps – “psychoeconomics” – where you could conduct experiments like Stanley Milgram (remember him?) on people’s economic behavior and tie that to your economic theories.

The other real problem with any science that deals with human behavior is that humans are crazy liars and we forget that.

J.S. You are building a strong description for practically any social reasoning’s [any non objective human ‘sport’-religion,philosophy,politics,art] attack on “hard science”

Eugene Lai wrote:

… if I drop a $100 note in the middle of a busy street in New York, the note will not be there when I come back in 5 mins. The success rate of this experiment is as close to 100% as any empirical experiment in any field of science.

Okay, what do you think would happen if we laid a wallet stuffed full of money in the street and then put a day-glow organe tape circle around it?

I remember seeing an experiment like that on TV… some guy name Brown I think… wish I could find more info or had a better memory… but it stuck in my mind because the results surprised me – people avoided the wallet.

Does anyone know more about that?

The day-glow tape would increasing the cost (“price”) of picking up the wallet, in the form of possible embarrassment, getting caught in a TV gotcha show, etc. This reduces the demand for that wallet on the ground.

As I said, it is all about setting limiting conditions. Just as a ball would not drop to the ground due to gravity if there is a net to catch it.

Norman get hold of a nice thick 1st or 2nd yr Psychology text book there are dozens of interesting experiments there. One of the most interesting new techniques is the “trust brain scan” well known intuitively by propagandists promoting “brands or any world view for that matter”. I suspect this is the only science the DI actually take notice of. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4397269.stm

Here’s the difference: 99.99% of science articles published have zero potential for abuse by propagandists .

lol. don’t ignore history, man.

perhaps you forgot a little sumpin’ - sumpin’ called sociobiology?

try a little experiment, even here on PT:

1. pull up some well written peer reviewed articles on genetics and human behavior and start discussing the implications here on PT.

2. watch the fireworks ensue.

why is that?

because a LOT of folks remember what happened when folks misused and politicized the results of studies like those of EO Wilson.

You’d be AMAZED at what can be misused and politicized, even in the best science.

even if we grant a very conservative number, like 99.9%, that’s still thousands of articles every year that could potentially be abused.

Hell, i even saw it happen with the research my friend and I were doing on White Sharks.

The media in general LOVE to abuse facts to make issues look “sexier”. for example, of the dozens (hundreds?) of popular news articles that were written about various non-profit research i was involved with (especially shark research), i can count on one hand the number of articles that actually correctly and completely reflected what we said in the interviews.

Still there is nothing better than being able to refer back to a peer reviewed article to clarify things, but the general public listens to the media by and large. If they actually bothered to go to the primary literature for their information, what a wonderful world it would be…

k.e.,

I studied psychology in college, took quite a few classes in experimental – worked with rats mostly – and I studied anthropology. But I did not get a degree in either and it was over a decade ago.

There were a lot of fascinating experiments, but only Milgram’s stuck with me as a “wow.”

Eugene Lai Wrote:

And all the evil [done] in Christ’s name should never count against Christianity.

I’m curious; would you also grant that all the evil done in Muhammed’s name should never count against Islam?

Excuse me sir, only my religion can be exempted. Yours (whatever it may be) must bore the burden of history.

Bore? Or bear? Actually, I quite like both possibilities, if for very different reasons. :-)

Bob

It turns out that Sir Isaac Newton, the famous seventeenth-century mathematician and scientist who is still hailed as the supreme scientist, a god for the Age of Reason and the initiator of the scientific and the industrial revolutions, was also … an alchemist.

Yes indeed. In fact Newton was known as the William Dembksi of alchemy.

Yes indeed. In fact Newton was known as the William Dembksi of alchemy.

But at least Newton had a job in a real university.

No science can have more order than the objects it studies. Physics and chemistry are neat and convincing because they study elementary forces, atomic energy levels, and elements that have relatively simple and unchanging relationships and structures. Meanwhile, the poor sociologists have to try to make sense out of human cultures and societies, complicated contraptions that incorporate a lot more arbitrary noise than the periodic table. Lots of hard scientists, assuming that the problem with the human sciences is methodological, have figured that they’d do better if they were in charge; but the problem is you can’t discover a there when there’s no there there. I used to know an expert on the physiology of the sense of smell who decided to try his hand at social psychology. Even though his other speciality was experimental design, he couldn’t get any more decisive results from his research than anybody else. That doesn’t mean that sociology is futile, but it does mean that you can’t expect it to yield natural science-like results.

It only means that sociologists should be hedging their claims instead of stating broad certainties, no?  Were that standard practice, I don’t think anyone would object.

JS:

If I had a [Euro] for every time I’ve heard a humanities puke denigrate math or physics - without even bothering to study it - I’d almost be able to pay for a waterfront apartment. In Copenhagen. In cash.

Though you’d convert them to Kroner first, right? :)

Jim Harrison Wrote:

No science can have more order than the objects it studies. … Meanwhile, the poor sociologists have to try to make sense out of human cultures and societies, complicated contraptions that incorporate a lot more arbitrary noise than the periodic table. … That doesn’t mean that sociology is futile, but it does mean that you can’t expect it to yield natural science-like results.

Difficulties in sociological studies is no excuse to start talking Fuller-like nonsense. Just say: we can’t get any valid results - that would be at least honest. Instead of that, I hear post-sociologists and post-philosophers talking smth about relative interpretations, about all the beliefs on the same epistemological footing, etc. etc. Ridiculous.

A bit off topic, but for those who miss the closed religious war thread it seems Sam Harris over at the Huffington Post has started his own religious war:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-h[…]b_13153.html

I really wish CERTAIN people would stop the bullshit about “post-mod” this/that when it’s clear they have read (and thought) about Philosophy and the social sciences in what very much appears to be the same way someone like GoP has read about science. (The Groucho Marx comment about insults would be appropriate here.)

Y’know, it sometimes even sounds like a few of them are hinting that “practicing scientists” are somehow better, in general, than any other sort of thoughtful, reasonable people: as if it isn’t easy to find that many scientists, today and before, LIKE ANY OTHER GROUP OF PEOPLE, can’t be prejudiced, selfish, greedy, short-sighted jerks, OCCASIONALLY.

JS - Most, if not all, of the economists whose papers I regularly read and review work with the appropriate caveats around uncertainties in their model etc. that you find in ‘hard’ science papers. Perhaps the problem is that the public perception and interpretation is not based on the actual published evidence, but on the interpretation of that evidence that is presented for public consumption. Many ideas from the social sciences are presented to the public/policy makers in a form that the average person can understand, meaning that what is genuinely uncertain in the minds of experts becomes gospel truth in the minds of the lay person.

This occurs all the time in the hard sciences as well, where a journalist who is incapable of interpreting evidence writes an inaccurate story of some ‘breakthrough’. Look at the MMR debate in the British press as an example of this. The lay person might say to themselves that science can’t tell us anything about this problem based on populist (for lack of better word) sources, and wouldn’t have the understanding to read the technical papers to get to the actual truth of what is claimed. Another example is homeopathy - not a shred of evidence to support the theories, but many scientists in the media claiming it works based on flawed trials and weak data.

To say that a physicist looking at economic model will only see flimsy evidence may be true, but good social scientists will highlight that uncertainty, and at least in the case of economics, do appropriate sensitivity analysis to explore it. Saying all of that, I work in a micro-economics field - things maybe different on the macro side, where I don’t read nearly as many papers. There are bad scientists in all fields, but it’s the dishonest ones that we should be concerned with, regardless if they are sociologists or bio-chemists.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on December 31, 2005 10:30 AM.

What a Crock was the previous entry in this blog.

On Not Admitting You Are Wrong, or What Dembski and Wolfram Have in Common is the next entry in this blog.

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