Is Academic Chauvinism As Dangerous As Climate Disruption Denial

The following appeared in my hometown paper today.
I wondered what all of you might have to say about it.
I typed it all out but please remember the title was created by the editor not the letter writer.

Not all ‘science’ is equal

EDITOR: The word science has been bastardized. Its common usage does not distinguish between the hard, soft and historical sciences.

Among the hard sciences, namely physics, chemistry and some aspects of biology, e.g., microbiology, genetics, etc., one relies on experiments that generate mathematical theories that make definite predictions that can be experimentally verified, and thus to theories that can definitely be falsified. The hard sciences deal with only the physical aspect of nature, where purely physical devices can be used to collect relevant data.

Among the soft sciences — social sciences, psychology, etc., — studies are rarely based on mathematical descriptions, and so definite predictions are elusive and pregnant with complicated assumptions. Here one is dealing with humans, and as such with essentially the nonphysical, e.g., issues of the human mind, and the supernatural aspects of nature, owing to humans being spiritual beings.

Finally, among the historical sciences, such as evolutionary theory, climate change, etc., studies are more akin to forensic science, where extant data is used to extrapolate and make tentative predictions. There is no single, well-defined theory that makes predictions that can be experimentally tested, and thus falsify the theory. Here one is certainly dealing with the whole of reality — the physical/nonphysical/supernatural aspect of nature.

It was written by a PhD. of Physics and my personal take is that it represents professional chauvinism.
As a side note the author is also a creationist though I don’t know if an Old or Young Earth creationist.

26 thoughts on “Is Academic Chauvinism As Dangerous As Climate Disruption Denial”

  1. GlenDavidson

    No bias there, the soft sciences deal with the nonphysical and supernatural. That said, surely there’s something to the fact that psychology and sociology aren’t exactly like physics. There’s good work done in both, but I think that sometimes flim-flam gets a pass in both in a way that wouldn’t happen in physics.

    I don’t see how forensics is at all inferior, or even necessarily softer, than other sciences. Clearly it’s bullshit to claim that there is no single, well-defined theory that makes predictions that can be experimentally tested, as non-magical common descent with modification has rather stringent predictions regarding phylogenetic patterns, and transitional fossils have to appear within fairly small windows of time (persistence of earlier forms can be confusing, but generally the transitionals appear around when they should).

    Fortunes live or die on the predictions of geologists, some of which depend on evolutionary facts (index fossils).

    There’s simply nothing magical about mathematics (not that evolutionary theory is without it, but obviously it’s not as mathematical as quantum physics), rather it’s all about the evidence. Some sciences are more mathematical, but if they’re not based on the evidence, who cares? String theory is very mathematical, but until it has evidence it’s just a possibility.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Neil Rickert

    It was written by a PhD. of Physics and my personal take is that it represents professional chauvinism.

    I am more inclined to see it as representing gross ignorance.

    As a side note the author is also a creationist …

    Yes, that shows.

  3. Tom EnglishTom English

    Ironically, the author‘s doctorate is in theoretical physics.

    GlenDavidson: That said, surely there’s something to the fact that psychology and sociology aren’t exactly like physics. There’s good work done in both, …

    The soft sciences are harder to do well than the hard sciences.

    … but I think that sometimes flim-flam gets a pass in both in a way that wouldn’t happen in physics.

    Plenty of physicists believe that string theory and some cosmological theories shouldn’t happen in physics. [ETA: But the way they happen is different. Make your math elegant, and connect it somehow to existing physics, and you’ve got a “model,” irrespective of whether it stands any chance of being tested in the coming century.]

  4. John HarshmanJohn Harshman

    I wonder if the author realizes that astrophysics is also a historical science that can’t be verified by experiment.

    I’m pretty sure he (almost certainly “he”) doesn’t realize that an experiment is nothing more than the arrangement of conditions under which particular observations are made more likely, and that all science is just inference from observations, however gathered.

  5. Tom EnglishTom English

    Alexanian, M. 2002. Physical and Nonphysical Aspects of Nature. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Letter). 54:287-288.
    Alexanian, M. 2002. Seven More Views on Intelligent Design. Physics Today (Letter). 55:10-11. [Note: There are seven letters under one title]
    Alexanian, M. 2002. Humans and Consciousness. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Letter). 54:65-65. [signup required]
    Alexanian, M. 2001. The Last Word on Science, Religion and Creationists. May APS News. [Note: Various short responses under one title]
    Alexanian, M. 2001. APS News Readers Respond to “Creationism Versus Physical Science.” January APS News.
    Alexanian, M. 2000. Teaching, Propaganda, and the Middle Ground. Physics Today (Letter). 53:80-80.
    Alexanian, M. 1999. Readers question “What is Science?” October APS News.
    Alexanian, M. 1997. The Mbone’s connected to the school zone. Physics Today. 50:15-15.

    I’m bored. Someone else can produce the remaining links, if interested. I noticed that Salvador Cordova featured Alexanian at UD, back in 2007, and indicated that he’s a “Dissent from Darwin” signatory.

  6. Tom EnglishTom English

    John Harshman: I wonder if the author realizes that astrophysics is also a historical science that can’t be verified by experiment.

    I’m pretty sure he (almost certainly “he”) doesn’t realize that an experiment is nothing more than the arrangement of conditions under which particular observations are made more likely, and that all science is just inference from observations, however gathered.

    Here’s a good sample of what he’s saying:

    Scientists, philosophers, and theologians accumulate knowledge when analyzing different aspects of reality and search for particular hypotheses or models to fit their respective subject matters. Of course, a main goal is to integrate these kinds of knowledge into an all-encompassing worldview.

    Religious concepts and beliefs are based on the notion of divinity, so one must posit the existence of the supernatural, which transcends nature but may contain all or part of it. The overwhelming majority of Americans subscribe to the existence of such a realm.

    A first, reasonable, and useful definition of science is the study of the physical aspect of nature, and its subject matter is data that can be collected, in principle, by purely physical devices. Therefore, the laws of experimental science are generalizations of historical propositions—that is, experimental data. Note that consciousness and rationality are purely nonphysical, since purely physical devices cannot detect them. In addition, life cannot be reduced to the purely physical, so living beings are both physical and nonphysical.

    Human rationality develops formal logic and creates mathematics to summarize data into laws of nature that lead to theoretical models covering a wide range of phenomena. However, scientists deal with secondary causes. First causes involve metaphysical (ontological) questions, which regulate science. Without the ontological, neither the generalizations nor the historical propositions of the experimental sciences would be possible.

    Read the rest here.

  7. Tom EnglishTom English

    Seemingly irrelevant remark: When people talk about “academic freedom” in public secondary schools, tell them that you strongly advocate a course in philosophy and comparative religion.

  8. DNA_Jock

    The author has collapsed a cartesian plane (hard — soft orthogonal to experimental — historical) into three (not even four! wtf?) buckets, or baramins…

    Tom English: The soft sciences are harder to do well than the hard sciences.

    Very true. That’s why the flim-flam artistes end up there (e.g. Rupert Sheldrake). Experimental psychology was the toughest intellectual challenge I ever faced. Physics and chemistry are a doddle in comparison.

    John Harshman: all science is just inference from observations, however gathered

    Also true.

    Which leads me to conclude that the author is more stupid than chauvinist. “Never attribute to malice” and all that…

  9. John HarshmanJohn Harshman

    DNA_Jock: Which leads me to conclude that the author is more stupid than chauvinist. “Never attribute to malice” and all that…

    There’s a simpler explanation. Everything he says is standard creationist talking point. His creationism explains it all. You could argue that stupidity causes creationism, but that’s another argument.

  10. AcartiaAcartia

    Mung@10. Brilliant.

    Where did I see these two words juxtapositioned like this before? Could it possibly be at one of those other sites that pay homage to gross ignorance?

  11. stcordova

    Not all ‘science’ is equal

    Evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne agrees. He said:

    In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to [the pseudoscience of] phrenology than to physics

    — Jerry Coyne

    There you have it from a evolutionary biologist, not a physicist.

  12. Robert Byers

    The writer makes great points. Forensic “science” is not like real sciences. Psych etc is worthless as even a claim on science.
    Hard sciences rely on here and now facts. Evolutionism etc relies not on here and now facts. Its about presumptions or lines of reasoning.
    Forensics is fine if the presumptions are right. in evolution the presumptions are not the result of hard science and so using presumptions means the whole investigation is not hard science.
    Thats why it escape scrutiny as a science. Its conclusions, only now, are attacked by using hard science.

  13. MungMung

    John Harshman: Will you never get tired of quote-mining?

    Is that somehow worse than telling a just so story about avian flight and then putting on ignore the person who called you on your just so story?

  14. OMagain

    Mung: Is that somehow worse than telling a just so story about avian flight and then putting on ignore the person who called you on your just so story?

    Link. I want to see what you call a “just so story” given your entire philosophy and worldview is exactly that.

  15. OMagain

    Mung: Fits right in here at TSZ then!

    Look, I’ve been asking you and yours for years for the slightest detail in your position. I’ve pitted you against each other in an attempt to try and get some single agreed fact you can agree on.

    Why don’t you demonstrate a few examples of this “gross ignorance” that is so prevalent here? Unless, of course, you were in fact referencing yourself, phoodoo et al? Then I would of course agree!

    Also interesting you admit you are a quote miner and then justify it by asking it’s it’s worse then putting someone on ignore. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

  16. Adapa

    OMagain: Look, I’ve been asking you and yours for years for the slightest detail in your position. I’ve pitted you against each other in an attempt to try and get some single agreed fact you can agree on.

    Why don’t you demonstrate a few examples of this “gross ignorance” that is so prevalent here? Unless, of course, you were in fact referencing yourself, phoodoo et al? Then I would of course agree!

    Also interesting you admit you are a quote miner and then justify it by asking it’s it’s worse then putting someone on ignore. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

    You realize Mung’s just trolling again, right? Once an asshat always an asshat.

  17. newton

    stcordova: Evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne agrees.He said:

    There you have it from a evolutionary biologist, not a physicist.

    Since you have endorsed Coyne’s expertise on the matter :

    In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history’s inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike “harder” scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.”

    “Every day, hundreds of observations and experiments pour into the hopper of the scientific literature. Many of them don’t have much to do with evolution – they’re observations about the details of physiology, biochemistry, development, and so on – but many of them do. And every fact that has something to do with evolution confirms its truth. Every fossil that we find, every DNA molecule that we sequence, every organ system that we dissect, supports the idea that species evolved from common ancestors. Despite innumerable possible observations that could prove evolution untrue, we don’t have a single one. We don’t find mammals in Precambrian rocks, humans in the same layers as dinosaurs, or any other fossils out of evolutionary order. DNA sequencing supports the evolutionary relationships of species originally deduced from the fossil record. And, as natural selection predicts, we find no species with adaptations that only benefit a different species. We do find dead genes and vestigial organs, incomprehensible under the idea of special creation. Despite a million chances to be wrong, evolution always comes up right. That is as close as we can get to a scientific truth.”

  18. waltowalto

    I was gonna put my two cents in on this OP before reading the comments. Glen said everything I wanted to say in the first comment. (Except he said it better than I would have.)

  19. petrushka

    Tom English:
    Seemingly irrelevant remark: When people talk about “academic freedom” in public secondary schools, tell them that you strongly advocate a course in philosophy and comparative religion.

    Theory of Knowledge is a required course in the high school IB program.

  20. RoyLT

    newton,

    Thank you for posting the full passage. I have not seen many more blatant or shameful quote-mining attempts than that in my life.

  21. Tom EnglishTom English

    RoyLT: Thank you for posting the full passage. I have not seen many more blatant or shameful quote-mining attempts than that in my life.

    To fully appreciate the spectacle, you have to understand that Our Salvador treats the Bible similarly.

  22. RoyLT

    Tom English: To fully appreciate the spectacle, you have to understand that Our Salvador treats the Bible similarly.

    Wait, do you mean that there are people who don’t partially quote Scriptural verses utterly out of context to support their preconceived ideological positions?

  23. Neil Rickert

    RoyLT: Wait, do you mean that there are people who don’t partially quote Scriptural verses utterly out of context to support their preconceived ideological positions?

    Yes, there are. Such people are often called “atheists”.

  24. newton

    RoyLT:
    newton,

    Thank you for posting the full passage.I have not seen many more blatant or shameful quote-mining attempts than that in my life.

    One has to break eggs to make an omelette

Leave a Reply