RE: virus:Logic

chardin (
Tue, 7 Oct 1997 15:40:06 CST+6CDT

> From: "Gifford, Nate F" <>
> To: "" <>, chardin
> <>
> Subject: RE: virus:Logic
> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 1997 13:38:45 -0400

> chardin wrote:
> >----------
> I have a good friend who is an atheist who nonetheless looks to science,
> in my opinion, >as a religion. He gives great credence to anything
> published in scientific
> >journals.
> This is not necessarily faith based. The journal articles report two
> things: experimental results and a hypothesis for the results. The results
> are credible as far as they are reproducible. Your friend must be a very
> confused scientific theist if he believes every hypothesis ... as they can
> be quite divergent ... see the Denning/Gould post from a couple of days
> ago.
> >Science has become so technical today and the jargon so
> >alien to normal vocabular, that one might as well say the mass is
> >given in Latin.
> I find this objectionable since I am quite capable of reading and
> understanding most (< 50%) of the journal articles in the local college
> library. These results are based on helping two girlfriends <an engineer
> and a chemist> do research for undergraduate papers.

Nate, did you say <50%? There is a lot of knowledge zipping past you.
Be that as it may, I have a colleague who is an immunologist, and I
am trying to sort out some information about viral isolation. Even
though she is a Ph.D. and nobody's fool, she cannot explain to me
the technique of viral isolation in question--why? Because she is an
immunologist and not a virologist. Please do not think I mean to
insult you by asserting that the mass is in Latin. When two
virologists bicker over whether or not true viral isolation has taken
place, what is a non-virologist to do but to read as best he can and
go with the one that is the most plausible. My immunologist
colleague is not a sap--she recognizes that this is out of her field.
Therefore the expertise must reach the level (almost) of
shamanism--though, of course, I do not attribute any mystical powers
to those keepers of the knowledge. If I truly believed them to be
shamans I would not risk insulting them by questioning them--else
they might let loose their dark powers on me. When I have brought
this fact up in the past, I am usually given the argument that "more
reputable scientists believe this to be the case" as though numbers
are supposed to impress me. Bertrand Russell said something to the
effect that because a great majority hold an opinion it is the more
likely to be wrong.

You mentioned statistical analysis--my Gawwd, now there is another
cup of tea. While I have to admit ignorance in this field, again, it
seems that you have to look at the data very carefully to see if it
really shows what is being asserted. Most people have neither the
expertise nor the time to do this. For example, some geneticists
claim that some women may carry the "breast cancer gene" and upon the
"scientific" evidence that this is so, they are encouraged to have a
surgeon whack off a breast or two. If I am a woman presented with
that alternative, what am I to do? Will I discover down the road
that the breast cancer gene routine is little more than the
hysterectomy hysteria of a few years ago. Will I be reading down the
road headlines that say "Doctors Now Believe Unneccesary Breast
Surgery Performed Out of Ignorance and/or Greed? Breast surgery pays
pretty good you know. Or will I, in fact, be dead from a "breast
cancer gene" which may or may not exist? How am I to determine if it
is so? Or should I take a pill which is the magic cure for this or
that disorder. Afterall controlled clinical trials (usually paid for
by the pharmaceutical company that makes the pill) says that it has
good clinical efficacy.

Am I making the claim that salt is bad for you or that your friend is
not allergic to MSG--of course not. However, many doctors have put
their patients on strict salt intake diets and have caused, among
other problems, heart attacks. Medical science forgets the "happy
medium" rule.

Dawkin's article appeared to assert that the problems of illogic,
hype, dishonesty and other ills were confined to the religious
institutions. My point is that in any human institution, be it the
church or the halls of science, humans will be human and bring all of
those foibles with them. The scientific method is good as I asserted
in my last communication--the problem is when scientists stray from
the method into metaphysics. Then they are trespassing on the
philosopher's turf.

Science has benefitted me. It has provided vaccinations against
childhood illness and antibiotics for infectious organisms. It has also
split the atom which might eventually make this entire discussion which case, religious beliefs might or might not benefit you more.

> >When you press him for particulars about a particular
> >methodology in science,
> What methodology do you mean ... or is he nebulous on the statistical
> significance of results?
> >he admits that he does not understand himself but has "faith" in those who
> do >understand it, namely, the guys in white coats(the new priestly garb).
> His basis for >doing this is that of "peer review."
> At least this is a self-correcting criteria. Religions makes claims for
> geologic time. What scientific beliefs have stood uncorrected for longer
> then 50 years? 100 years? Since their inception? The proof of the
> "truth" of the scientific method is immediately in front of you ... Your
> Cathode Ray Tube, or Your Laser Printout, or even Your Dot Matrix printout
> are all based on technology ... which is science for the less imaginative.
> <As a technologist and I can put my group down.>
> >There again, he puts faith in this method of keeping the boys/girls in
> white honest. I, >on the other hand, as a skeptic and observer of the
> system, see potential for "ole boys >club" and collusion or if you prefer
> the ole "scratch-my-back-
> >and-I'll-scratch yours-routine.
> For how long? Would you care to give examples of this? AK Dewdney has a
> book out on bad science that provides several examples of the scientific
> method eventually crushing the type of science you describe above. I don't
> contend that it doesn't happen ... just that the "truths" resulting from
> science of this type don't last. Compare Dewdney's book to a history of
> religion ... it seems to me that all religions seem to start with a
> charismatic wacko and then get legitimized for political reasons.
> >Granted, on the surface it does seem like the system ought to work and
> many times it >no doubt does, yet it still leaves a lot of room for error.
> I think it did work in the
> >infamous Cold Fusion case, but that was a hard science issue that
> >could be proved false or true by experimentation--rather quickly. In
> >medical science, for example, I don't think it can work as well as
> >there are too many variables and conducting human trials are more
> >difficult. This leads to all the wild claims--salt is bad for you,
> I don't believe that the claim is that salt is bad for you ... The claim is
> that sodium at certain levels of intake raises a certain percentage of
> people's blood pressure. I've seen this work for a friend with high blood
> pressure at chinese restaurants. She always orders her food without MSG
> ... but sometimes the kitchen gives it to her anyway. When they do her
> fingers noticeably swell.
> >cholesterol values have meaning (good and bad),
> Are you arguing that people with a percentage of "bad" cholesterol higher
> then average have more heart problems?
> >milk probably causes "hardening of the arteries." etc. etc. etc.
> I haven't heard this ... but on the other hand exactly what nutrients do
> you think you are getting from milk?
> >The point I disliked about Dawkins article "Viruses of the
> >Mind" was his continual thumping of the table to show that if only all
> >these sick religious people would think critically, objectively, etc.
> >as scientists, then the world would be better.
> Yeah, I really want my kid to be taught that the stories in Genesis are as
> valid an explanation for fossils as paleontology. Noone cares what sick
> religious people think until they inflict their delusions on the population
> in general.
> >The truth of the matter is that scientists, as human creatures, fall
> victum to all
> >those same evils that afflict others, i.e., excessive ego, greed,
> >power grab, etc.
> Lets compare apples to apples here ... I contend that these evils are more
> prevalent in the church. Exactly what benefits do churches provide the
> people who don't attend the church? Compare that to science ... unless
> you're an old-order Amish person I think science is benefiting you more
> than religion is benefiting me.
> >The publish or perish syndrome, the race for grants,
> >the funding of the pharmaceutical industry, the desire for patent
> >rights, all of these affect science so that "pure" science is
> >difficult to find.
> Promise Keepers, The Right To Lifers, Marriage For Gays, Tax Exemptions
> For Church Businesses , The whole "Family Values" new-right agenda ... The
> idea of a "pure" religion is impossible by definition....although Zen
> probably comes closest. I recommend you empty your cup and read the
> Dawkins article again.