RE: The story-telling ape (was virus: Logic)

chardin (
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 09:13:03 CST+6CDT

> Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 15:55:09 -0600
> To:
> From: David McFadzean <>
> Subject: RE: The story-telling ape (was virus: Logic)
> Reply-to:

> At 12:33 PM 10/16/97 CST+6CDT, chardin wrote:
> >the contrary. Thus, I conclude with the same assertions I was
> >making when I first signed on. Science will be the better if you
> >all stop treating it like a Holy Cow.
> I wonder if you noticed that each and every criticism that you
> leveled at science was actually due to its practitioners failing to
> live up to the ideals of science. Isn't that a bit like saying
> Christianity is terrible because all these so-called Christians went
> around breaking the ten commandments? -- David McFadzean
Glad you asked. In fact, it was Dawkins who asserted in his
paper that people who believe in religion are "infected with a virus"
whereas the man of science is a rational creature who put that
ridiculous non-rational disease aiside.

My point, and that of the authors of "Betrayers of the Truth", is
that all disciplines are made up of people and subject to the same
sorts of fallacies that people as humans bring to their trade.
Dawkings goes no further than the church house door in his
criticisms, which is what I was attempting to take him to task for.

When a person makes a religious assertion, you want to know
why he believes it. Where does he get his authority, right? The
scriptures? The Church at Rome? The Koran? This gives you some idea
of placing his beliefs in a framework.

Ideal #1: When scientists make an assertion, you pretty much believe it is true
because you have this notion of peer-review, replication, and the
structure of science keeping it all neat and clean (i.e., did he not
follow the Scientific Method?)

But the authors of this book assert, and I obviously agree,
that REAL science doesn't work that way at all.
Like the ideal Christianity you mentioned bove,
Science, too, is an Ideal--a construct of philosophy. It doesn't exist as a "scientific
method." The authors of the book I quoted were trying to make this
point--philosophers, sociologists and historians of science have
given science an impossible task: the truth, the whole truth and
nothing but the truth--not influenced by personalities, organizations
or places. In fact, can't be and never was. Science is influenced
by all those things. It is fallible because it is a human
institution. Science as it exists is a human enterprise. My point
is that the the ideals cannot be met. One can attempt to be as unbiased, as objective as
possible, but the fact that the scientist is human and brings that
humanity with him to the bench, he can NEVER met the ideals of
science. We would be better off if we realize therefore that most of
the things we take for granted about science are not so. A lot of
the time scientists get a hunch and investigate it. Only afterwards
do they go back and formulate a hypothesis, etc. --they are rather
like the high school student who writes his English paper and then
goes back and does an outline for the teacher's sake. It doesn't
make his paper any less the interesting, but he did not follow the
ideal. If he wrote down the true process at arriving at his
hypothesis, the scientist might be laughed to scorn. Therefore, he composes his
"objective" description of the experiment.

Ideal#2: Science is an objective enterprise, devoid of human emotion,
greed, etc. and the Scientist is in it for the love of the truth:

the scientists may indeed have gone into his work for the love
the truth, but he finds out very quickly that he had better produce
something worth writing about. The truth is a very fine thing but it
will not always get you research grants. And what about theory X. I
have believed in theory X for 10 years now and invested a great deal
of my career in it. Shall I not sink by teeth into it and hold on
firmly? Who is that young upstart Jones who has criticized my
theory. All of that he is maintaining is rubbish! Sheer rubbish!
I'll call Handley over at the J. of Scientific Know-It-All. He'll
see that none of this stuff gets into print. Did I not endorse him for
the Academy of Prestigious Scientists when he wanted to become
amember of that esteemed body--he will remember. He will be doing
us all a favor to not muddy the water with such garbage. It is
socially irresponsible for the journal to even consider such a paper.
The least he can do is send the Jones paper to Dr. Y and Dr. Z--I know they
are strong proponents of my theory. They will reject the paper when
they see how absurd the ideas are. (End example.)

I am just saying that the ideals are extremely hard to meet and
sometimes impossible given the constraints placed on scientists who
are human beings. Therefore, realize that most scientific data
cannot be objective. You can achieve this ideal closest in the hard
sciences; however, in the medical field it is almost impossible because when
dealing with complex life forms such as human beings there are simply
too many variables to take into account. If the studies aren't done
in the absence of biases, I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock in
them. Which bring me back to who paid for it? Who has an interest
in the outcome? etc.

In addition, you ought to take each assertion, no matter how credible
you believe it to be with a grain of salt. Have a healthy skepticism
toward science because "science" is work done by scientists. Take
that same criticism mechanism which you apply to religion and apply
it to science. Hold science to at least its own standards.

Realize also, as the authors point out, that this field is not the
keeper of the keys of rationality. There are other fields and other
desciplines in which the truth is being pursued. They, too, use
rationality in their search.

Realize that "science" is an ideal and that we need to rethink how
well it's so-called built in safeguards actually work. If we do
that, I think we can approach Science with a healthy skepticism and
not become infected with the virus that leads us to believe that
the descipline of science is somehow above the rest of intellectual
enterprises. It is not. C. Hardin