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Monday, September 05, 2011


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Bill Fleming

Well, there are certainly a number of paradoxes in that reasoning, KB, not the least of which is that if it takes "means" to pursue rational thought, then those with means would appear to be the "authority," not science.

The other is the relationship between math (theory) and science (experiment). There is actually a process here, whereby (typically) math makes the predictions and science attempts to disprove them. I think it's this check and balance system that people tend to trust, although, especially in the US we seem to still have a significant majority who derive their beliefs neither from math nor science, but rather via persuasion from those with "means."

For a great read on all this and how it relates to the "God Problem" see Mario Livio's "Is God a Mathematician."


Ken Blanchard

Bill: I respectively disagree on both points. Philosophy and science require time and time requires means. It also helps if you have a functioning toilet or latrine. That doesn't make the means or the toilet any kind of authority. Lots of scientists and other scholars regularly bite the hand that feeds them.

It is great source of status for mathematics that it is necessary in both science and technology. That utility, however, doesn't verify any truth of math. The latter truths are verified entirely within the practice of math by entirely rational work.

Donald Pay

There's a bit too much simplicity involved with some of the assumed beliefs here. Regarding the delisting of the Gray Wolf, these issues have gotten complicated because of scientific studies which have resulted in recent changes to the understanding of the taxonomy of various wolf subspecies. Some subspecies have been elevated into species. In taxonomy these sorts of splitting/lumping arguments are common, but they have implications for endangered species decisions.


Second, the assumption that liberals are more likely than conservatives to be vaccination deniers is not proved by polling data.


Third, grassroots conservatives (as opposed to those whose think tanks receive funding from corporate ag) are nearly as opposed to GMOs as liberals and independents.


Bill Fleming

So Ken, you're disagreeing with me that your observations are paradoxical? Pretty funny.


So many things wrong here... Ken must have tied his mind in knots and had the blinders on to produce this!

Donald Pay

"E. O. Wilson was viciously attacked for suggesting that human behavior could be interpreted by biologists. His persecutors (that is the right term) included many scientists. All of them were attacking from the left. That was in the 1970's. Today the discipline he gave birth to, sociobiology, flourishes on college campuses and research centers across the modern world."

Sociobiology is a very broad subject and includes much more than human behavior. None of the controversy over sociobiology involved Wilson's framing of the subject regarding animal behavior, which was very well received, partly because it was mostly just a small step from ethology to the genetic component Wilson added.

In his original work, Wilson's chapters on human behavior are fairly weak and more speculative. It was both more tentative and less established and at the same time a fairly audacious and bold postulate. There were valid scientific arguments against extending sociobiology to humans. As a grad student in ecology at the time, I attended many discussions on sociobiology. Sociobiology always had nearly unanimous support in biology departments. Anthropology departments were split as were genetics departments. There were vehement arguments against the various aspects of extending sociobiology studies to humans. The major issue involved a b.s. argument about what percent of human behavior could be accounted for by genetics and how much from environment. The scientific controversy lasted about two years. Studies started to come in, which bolstered sociobiology, and everyone moderated their views.

Ken Blanchard

Donald: that was a very interesting comment. I had no idea that you had an interest in this subject. You are wrong to say that the controversy lasted "two years." It went on for decades. It still goes on. Lawrence Summers lost his post as President of Harvard for suggesting that biology might be relevant to the distribution of men and women in the hard sciences. His remarks were perfectly reasonable, but they made one of his colleagues ill.

There is some opposition to sociobiology from the right. The left, however, has been much more effectively hostile.

Donald Pay

No. The scientific controversy is pretty well settled. Summers statement was half cocked and not backed up with data. It was more of a hypothesis. The data in IQ and aptitude indicate no difference in averages, maybe a bit more variability in males. The problem is he was wrong, not that sociobiology was being attacked.


Steve Hayward (quoted here) at Powerline states that "Conservatives have a symmetrical view" and questions whether liberals would be opposed to GM if the government rather than the private sector were producing it...

3 questions...
1: Do conservative (corporatist) favor GM?
2: Would conservatives (corporatist) support GM if it were being promoted and marketed by a "government lab"?
3: That being the case, why does Ken use this idiot as a resource for this somewhat confusing piece?

Ken Blanchard

Donald: Summers wasn't forced from the Harvard Presidency for being wrong. He didn't make any substantive claims. He suggested that biological differences between men and women might be one reason why women are under-represented in the hard sciences and that knowing this might be useful precisely if we want to redress the imbalance. A reasonable person might disagree, but it was a reasonable proposal. You don't fire someone for being wrong.

Summers was forced out because he violated a taboo. He said something that his colleagues did not want to hear. The animosity toward biological explanations for human behavior is still very much alive.

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