Tag: science

Must science be testable?

Source: Aeon.co

Author:Massimo Pigliucci

emphasis mine

The general theory of relativity is sound science; ‘theories’ of psychoanalysis, as well as Marxist accounts of the unfolding of historical events, are pseudoscience. This was the conclusion reached a number of decades ago by Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of science. Popper was interested in what he called the ‘demarcation problem’, or how to make sense of the difference between science and non-science, and in particular science and pseudoscience. He thought long and hard about it and proposed a simple criterion: falsifiability. For a notion to be considered scientific it would have to be shown that, at the least in principle, it could be demonstrated to be false, if it were, in fact false.

Popper was impressed by Einstein’s theory because it had recently been spectacularly confirmed during the 1919 total eclipse of the Sun, so he proposed it as a paradigmatic example of good science. Here is how in Conjectures and Refutations (1963) he differentiated among Einstein on one side, and Freud, Adler and Marx on the other:

Einstein’s theory of gravitation clearly satisfied the criterion of falsifiability. Even if our measuring instruments at the time did not allow us to pronounce on the results of the tests with complete assurance, there was clearly a possibility of refuting the theory.

The Marxist theory of history, in spite of the serious efforts of some of its founders and followers, ultimately adopted [a] soothsaying practice. In some of its earlier formulations … their predictions were testable, and in fact falsified. Yet instead of accepting the refutations the followers of Marx re-interpreted both the theory and the evidence in order to make them agree. In this way they rescued the theory from refutation … They thus gave a ‘conventionalist twist’ to the theory; and by this stratagem they destroyed its much advertised claim to scientific status.

The two psycho-analytic theories were in a different class. They were simply non-testable, irrefutable. There was no conceivable human behaviour which could contradict them … I personally do not doubt that much of what they say is of considerable importance, and may well play its part one day in a psychological science which is testable. But it does mean that those ‘clinical observations’ which analysts naively believe confirm their theory cannot do this any more than the daily confirmations which astrologers find in their practice.

As it turns out, Popper’s high regard for the crucial experiment of 1919 may have been a bit optimistic: when we look at the historical details we discover that the earlier formulation of Einstein’s theory actually contained a mathematical error that predicted twice as much bending of light by large gravitational masses like the Sun – the very thing that was tested during the eclipse. And if the theory had been tested in 1914 (as was originally planned), it would have been (apparently) falsified. Moreover, there were some significant errors in the 1919 observations, and one of the leading astronomers who conducted the test, Arthur Eddington, may actually have cherry picked his data to make them look like the cleanest possible confirmation of Einstein. Life, and science, are complicated.

This is all good and well, but why should something written near the beginning of last century by a philosopher – however prominent – be of interest today? Well, you might have heard of string theory. It’s something that the fundamental physics community has been playing around with for a few decades now, in their pursuit of what Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg grandly called ‘a theory of everything’. It isn’t really a theory of everything, and in fact, technically, string theory isn’t even a theory, not if by that name one means mature conceptual constructions, such as the theory of evolution, or that of continental drift. In fact, string theory is better described as a general framework – the most mathematically sophisticated one available at the moment – to resolve a fundamental problem in modern physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics are highly successful scientific theories, and yet, when they are applied to certain problems, like the physics of black holes, or that of the singularity that gave origin to the universe, they give us sharply contrasting predictions.

Physicists agree that this means that either theory, or both, are therefore wrong or incomplete. String theory is one attempt at reconciling the two by subsuming both into a broader theoretical framework. There is only one problem: while some in the fundamental physics community confidently argue that string theory is not only a very promising scientific theory, but pretty much ‘the only game in town,’ others scornfully respond that it isn’t even science, since it doesn’t make contact with the empirical evidence: vibrating superstrings, multiple, folded, dimensions of space-time and other features of the theory are impossible to test experimentally, and they are the mathematical equivalent of metaphysical speculation. And metaphysics isn’t a complimentary word in the lingo of scientists. Surprisingly, the ongoing, increasingly public and acerbic diatribe often centres on the ideas of one Karl Popper. What, exactly, is going on?

I had a front row seat at one round of such, shall we say, frank discussions last year, when I was invited to Munich to participate in a workshop on the status of fundamental physics, and particularly on what some refer to as ‘the string wars’. The organiser, Richard Dawid, of the University of Stockholm, is a philosopher of science with a strong background in theoretical physics. He is also a proponent of a highly speculative, if innovative, type of epistemology that supports the efforts of string theorists and aims at shielding them from the accusation of engaging in flights of mathematical fancy decoupled from any real science. My role there was to make sure that participants – an eclectic mix of scientists and philosophers, with a Nobel winner thrown in the mix – were clear on something I teach in my introductory course in philosophy of science: what exactly Popper said and why, since some of those physicists had hurled accusations at their critical colleagues, loudly advocating the ejection of the very idea of falsification from scientific practice.

In the months preceding the workshop, a number of high profile players in the field had been using all sorts of means – from manifesto-type articles in the prestigious Nature magazine to Twitter – to pursue a no-holds-barred public relations campaign to wrestle, or retain, control of the soul of contemporary fundamental physics. Let me give you a taste of the exchange, to set the mood: ‘The fear is that it would become difficult to separate such ‘science’ from New Age thinking, or science fiction,’ said George Ellis, chastising the pro-string party; to which Sabine Hossenfelder added: ‘Post-empirical science is an oxymoron.’ Peter Galison made crystal clear what the stakes are when he wrote: ‘This is a debate about the nature of physical knowledge.’ On the other side, however, cosmologist Sean Carroll tweeted:

My real problem with the falsifiability police is: we don’t get to demand ahead of time what kind of theory correctly describes the world,’ adding ‘[Falsifiability is] just a simple motto that non-philosophically-trained scientists have latched onto.’ Finally (but there is more, much more, out there), Leonard Susskind mockingly introduced the neologism ‘Popperazzi’ to label an extremely naive (in his view) way of thinking about how science works.

This surprisingly blunt – and very public – talk from prestigious academics is what happens when scientists help themselves to, or conversely categorically reject, philosophical notions that they plainly have not given sufficient thought to. In this case, it was Popper’s philosophy of science and its application to the demarcation problem. What makes this particularly ironic for someone like me, who started his academic career as a scientist (evolutionary biology) and eventually moved to philosophy after a constructive midlife crisis, is that a good number of scientists nowadays – and especially physicists – don’t seem to hold philosophy in particularly high regard. Just in the last few years Stephen Hawking has declared philosophy dead, Lawrence Krauss has quipped that philosophy reminds him of that old Woody Allen joke, ‘those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym,’ and science popularisers Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye have both wondered loudly why any young man would decide to ‘waste’ his time studying philosophy in college.

Loud debates on social media and in the popular science outlets define how much of the public perceives physics.

This is a rather novel, and by no means universal, attitude among physicists. Compare the above contemptuousness with what Einstein himself wrote to his friend Robert Thorton in 1944 on the same subject: ‘I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today – and even professional scientists – seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is – in my opinion – the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.’ By Einstein’s standard then, there are a lot of artisans but comparatively few seekers of truth among contemporary physicists!

To put things in perspective, of course, Einstein’s opinion of philosophy may not have been representative even then, and certainly modern string theorists are a small group within the physics community, and string theorists on Twitter are an ever smaller, possibly more voluble subset within that group. The philosophical noise they make is likely not representative of what physicists in general think and say, but it matters all the same precisely because they are so prominent; those loud debates on social media and in the popular science outlets define how much of the public perceives physics, and even how many physicists perceive the big issues of their field.

That said, the publicly visible portion of the physics community nowadays seems split between people who are openly dismissive of philosophy and those who think they got the pertinent philosophy right but their ideological opponents haven’t. At stake isn’t just the usually tiny academic pie, but public appreciation of and respect for both the humanities and the sciences, not to mention millions of dollars in research grants (for the physicists, not the philosophers). Time, therefore, to take a more serious look at the meaning of Popper’s philosophy and why it is still very much relevant to science, when properly understood.

As we have seen, Popper’s message is deceptively simple, and – when repackaged in a tweet – has in fact deceived many a smart commentator in underestimating the sophistication of the underlying philosophy. If one were to turn that philosophy into a bumper sticker slogan it would read something like: ‘If it ain’t falsifiable, it ain’t science, stop wasting your time and money.’

But good philosophy doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker summaries, so one cannot stop there and pretend that there is nothing more to say. Popper himself changed his mind throughout his career about a number of issues related to falsification and demarcation, as any thoughtful thinker would do when exposed to criticisms and counterexamples from his colleagues. For instance, he initially rejected any role for verification in establishing scientific theories, thinking that it was far too easy to ‘verify’ a notion if one were actively looking for confirmatory evidence. Sure enough, modern psychologists have a name for this tendency, common to laypeople as well as scientists: confirmation bias.

Nonetheless, later on Popper conceded that verification – especially of very daring and novel predictions – is part of a sound scientific approach. After all, the reason Einstein became a scientific celebrity overnight after the 1919 total eclipse is precisely because astronomers had verified the predictions of his theory all over the planet and found them in satisfactory agreement with the empirical data. For Popper this did not mean that the theory of general relativity was ‘true,’ but only that it survived to fight another day. Indeed, nowadays we don’t think the theory is true, because of the above mentioned conflicts, in certain domains, with quantum mechanics. But it has withstood a very good number of high stakes challenges over the intervening century, and its most recent confirmation came just a few months ago, with the first detection of gravitational waves.

Scientific hypotheses need to be tested repeatedly and under a variety of conditions before we can be reasonably confident of the results.

Popper also changed his mind about the potential, at the least, for a viable Marxist theory of history (and about the status of the Darwinian theory of evolution, concerning which he was initially skeptical, thinking – erroneously – that the idea was based on a tautology). He conceded that even the best scientific theories are often somewhat shielded from falsification because of their connection to ancillary hypotheses and background assumptions. When one tests Einstein’s theory using telescopes and photographic plates directed at the Sun, one is really simultaneously putting to the test the focal theory, plus the theory of optics that goes into designing the telescopes, plus the assumptions behind the mathematical calculations needed to analyse the data, plus a lot of other things that scientists simply take for granted and assume to be true in the background, while their attention is trained on the main theory. But if something goes wrong and there is a mismatch between the theory of interest and the pertinent observations, this isn’t enough to immediately rule out the theory, since a failure in one of the ancillary assumptions might be to blame instead. That is why scientific hypotheses need to be tested repeatedly and under a variety of conditions before we can be reasonably confident of the results.

Popper’s initial work pretty much single-handedly put the demarcation problem on the map, prompting philosophers to work on the development of a philosophically sound account of both what science is and is not. That lasted until 1983, when Larry Laudan published a highly influential paper entitled ‘The demise of the demarcation problem,’ in which he argued that demarcation projects were actually a waste of time for philosophers, since – among other reasons – it is unlikely to the highest degree that anyone will ever be able to come up with small sets of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions to define ‘science,’ ‘pseudoscience’ and the like. And without such sets, Laudan argued, the quest for any principled distinction between those activities is hopelessly Quixotic.

‘Necessary and jointly sufficient’ is logical-philosophical jargon, but it is important to see what Laudan meant. He thought that Popper and others had been trying to provide precise definitions of science and pseudoscience, similar to the definitions used in elementary geometry: a triangle, for instance, is whatever geometrical figure has the internal sum of its angles equal to 180 degrees. Having that property is both necessary (because without it the figure in question is not a triangle) and sufficient (because that’s all we need to know in order to confirm that we are, indeed, dealing with a triangle). Laudan argued – correctly – that no such solution is ever going to be found to the demarcation problem, simply because concepts like ‘science’ and ‘pseudoscience’ are complex, multidimensional, and inherently fuzzy, not admitting of sharp boundaries. In a sense, physicists complaining about ‘the Popperazzi’ are making the same charge as Laudan: Popper’s criterion of falsification appears to be far too blunt an instrument not only to discriminate between science and pseudoscience (which ought to be relatively easy), but a fortiori to separate sound from unsound science within an advanced field like theoretical physics.

Yet Popper wasn’t quite as naive as Laudan, Carroll, Susskind, and others make him out to be. Nor is the demarcation problem quite as hopeless as all that. Which is why a number of authors – including myself and my longtime collaborator, Maarten Boudry – have more recently maintained that Laudan was too quick to dismiss the demarcation problem, and that perhaps Twitter isn’t the best place for nuanced discussions in the philosophy of science.

The idea is that there are pathways forward in the study of demarcation that become available if one abandons the requirement for necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, which was never strictly enforced even by Popper. What, then, is the alternative? To treat science, pseudoscience, etc. as Wittgensteinian ‘family resemblance’ concepts instead. Ludwig Wittgenstein was another highly influential 20th century philosopher, who hailed, like Popper himself, from Vienna, though the two could not have been more different in terms of socio-economic background, temperament, and philosophical interests. (If you want to know just how different, check out the delightful Wittgenstein’s Poker (2001) by journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow.)

Wittgenstein never wrote about philosophy of science, let alone fundamental physics (or even Marxist theories of history). But he was very much interested in language, its logic, and its uses. He pointed out that there are many concepts that we seem to be able to use effectively, and that yet are not amenable to the sort of clear definition that Laudan was looking for. His favorite example was the deceptively simple concept of ‘game.’ If you try to arrive at a definition of games of the kind that works for triangles, your effort will be endlessly frustrated (try it out, it makes for a nice parlour, ahem, game). Wittgenstein wrote: ‘How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: ‘This and similar things are called games.’ And do we know any more about it ourselves? Is it only other people whom we cannot tell exactly what a game is? […] But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries because none have been drawn […] We can draw a boundary for a special purpose. Does it take that to make the concept usable? Not at all!’

The point is that in a lot of cases we don’t discover pre-existing boundaries, as if games and scientific disciplines were Platonic ideal forms that existed in a timeless metaphysical dimension. We make up boundaries for specific purposes and then we test whether the boundaries are actually useful for whatever purposes we drew them. In the case of the distinction between science and pseudoscience, we think there are important differences, so we try to draw tentative borders in order to highlight them. Surely one would give up too much, as either a scientist or a philosopher, if one were to reject the strongly intuitive idea that there is something fundamentally different between, say, astrology and astronomy. The question is where, approximately, the difference lies?  But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries because none have been drawn […] We can draw a boundary for a special purpose. Does it take that to make the concept usable? Not at all!’

Rather than laying into each other in the crude terms, scientists should work together not just to forge a better science, but to counter true pseudoscience.

Similarly, many of the participants in the Munich workshop, and the ‘string wars’ more generally, did feel that there is an important distinction between fundamental physics as it is commonly conceived and what string theorists are proposing. Richard Dawid objects to the (admittedly easily derisible) term ‘post-empirical science,’ preferring instead ‘non-empirical theory assessment’, but whatever one calls it, he is aware that he and his fellow travellers are proposing a major departure from the way we have done science since the time of Galileo. True, the Italian physicist himself largely engaged in theoretical arguments and thought experiments (he likely never did drop balls from the leaning tower of Pisa), but his ideas were certainly falsifiable and have been, over and over, subjected to experimental tests (most spectacularly by David Scott on the Apollo 15 Moon landing).

The broader question then is: are we on the verge of developing a whole new science, or is this going to be regarded by future historians as a temporary stalling of scientific progress? Alternatively, is it possible that fundamental physics is reaching an end not because we’ve figured out everything we wanted to figure out, but because we have come to the limits of what our brains and technologies can possibly do? These are serious questions that ought to be of interest not just to scientists and philosophers, but to the public at large (the very same public that funds research in fundamental physics, among other things).

What is weird about the string wars and the concomitant use and misuse of philosophy of science is that both scientists and philosophers have bigger targets to jointly address for the sake of society, if only they could stop squabbling and focus on what their joint intellectual forces may accomplish. Rather than laying into each other in the crude terms sketched above, they should work together not just to forge a better science, but to counter true pseudoscience: homeopaths and psychics, just to mention a couple of obvious examples, keep making tons of money by fooling people, and damaging their physical and mental health. Those are worthy targets of critical analysis and discourse, and it is the moral responsibility of a public intellectual or academic – be they a scientist or a philosopher – to do their best to improve as much as possible the very same society that affords them the luxury of discussing esoteric points of epistemology or fundamental physics.

 

See: https://aeon.co/essays/the-string-theory-wars-show-us-how-science-needs-philosophy?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=eba5a1d6e4-Daily_Newsletter_10_August_20168_10_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-eba5a1d6e4-68915721

Lawrence Krauss: ‘All Scientists Should Be Atheists’

kraussscience1Source: Patheos

Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

“Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world.” – Lawrence Krauss.

In an essay for The New Yorker titled All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists Lawrence Krauss makes a powerful argument for science and against the urge to protect religious superstition from scrutiny.

The essay, published last September, begins with a discussion concerning conservative culture warrior Kim Davis using her Christian religious beliefs to deny wedding licenses to gays and lesbians in Kentucky. Commenting on the controversy, Krauss notes:

The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals.

Krauss dismisses the demand that many make for respecting religious superstitions by noting the obvious:

The problem, obviously, is that what is sacred to one person can be meaningless (or repugnant) to another.

Krauss is correct. What is a sacred commandment or belief for one is another’s moral abomination. One need only be reminded of the sexism and misogyny woven into the fabric of all three of the Abrahamic religions to understand why many would find the supposedly sacred to be morally repugnant. The refusal by Kim Davis to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians is another example, and there are of course many more.

Krauss goes on to move from a discussion of Davis to a discussion of science, opining:

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise.

Krauss observes that science is inherently dangerous to religion because scientific understanding often draws people away from religion:

Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion.

Yet the uncomfortable fact that science often has the effect of exposing religious superstitions as irrational and ultimately untenable beliefs about the world means that the culture of science often panders to the faithful by sugar coating the truth about the natural world:

Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preexisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine.

Krauss rejects the misleading fabrication that science and religious dogma are compatible, at one point declaring:

Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world.

In concluding, Krauss sees a direct link “between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life.” Arguing that honesty should take priority over religious dogma, Krauss says “we owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass” to those “that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered ‘sacred.’”

Bottom line: Krauss is right, all scientists, and all thinking people, should be atheists.

Lawrence Krauss is a physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is also the author of The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.

See:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/07/lawrence-krauss-all-scientists-should-be-atheists/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=progressivesecularhumanist_071416UTC010701_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=51829285&spUserID=MTIxNzQwMzMwMDkyS0&spJobID=961932578&spReportId=OTYxOTMyNTc4S0

Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith

Source: Whyevolutionistrue

Author: Jerry Coyne

Emphasis Mine

I guess it was too much for me to hope that my 2013 Slate essay, “No faith in science,would once and for all dispel the claim that science is just like religion in depending on faith. My point was simple: what “faith” means in science is “confidence based on experience,” while the same term in religion means “belief without enough evidence to convince most rational people.” It’s the same word, but with two different meanings. Yet religious people mix up those meanings regularly—and, I expect, deliberately. I wish they’d read my goddam essay.

So someone’s done it again: Matt Emerson, a Catholic whose blog says, “I teach theology and direct the advancement office at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.” He’s also written the book Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, to be published by Paulist Press this May; it apparently aims to help people maintain and understand faith.

At any rate, Emerson published a short essay in the March 3 Wall Street Journal—”At its heart, science is faith-based too“—that, as usual, conflates the meaning of “faith” as applied to science (but we scientists avoid that word!) versus as applied to religion. Rather than go into detail, I’d recommend you read my Slate piece, and Emerson should have, too!  Here’s a bit of his conflation:

The scientists who made the gravitational-wave discovery, [Italian physicist Carl Rovelli] wrote, were pursuing a “dream based on faith in reason: that the logical deductions of Einstein and his mathematics would be reliable.”

Mr. Rovelli was not referring to religious faith. And scientists generally deem even faith scrubbed of theological meaning to be something unrelated to their endeavors. Yet the relationship between faith and science is far closer than many assume….

Wrong. Scientists don’t have “faith in reason.” As I noted in Slate:

What about faith in reason? Wrong again. Reason—the habit of being critical, logical, and of learning from experience—is not an a priori assumption but a tool that’s been shown to work. It’s what produced antibiotics, computers, and our ability to sequence DNA. We don’t have faith in reason; we use reason because, unlike revelation, it produces results and understanding. Even discussing why we should use reason employs reason!

Here’s an old canard from Emerson and physicist/accommodationist Paul Davies:

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies has noted that the work of science depends upon beliefs—that the hidden architecture of the universe, all the constants and laws of nature that sustain the scientific enterprise, will hold. As he wrote in his book “The Mind ofGod: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”: “Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.”

Well, we can’t be 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I dealt with this in Slate as well:

You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.

I’d bet $100,000 that the sun will rise tomorrow (i.e., day will break, for it might be cloudy!), but I wouldn’t bet $5 that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The dependable regularities of nature are, unlike the tenets of theology, not acts of faith, but observations that we accept as holding widely, because they always have. This is simply confidence based on experience!

Why do people like Emerson mix up these uses of faith? It’s obvious: accommodationism—and also a mushbrained attempt to do down science by saying, “See, you’re just like us!” (Implication: “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”):

Recognizing the existence of this kind of faith is an important step in bridging the artificial divide between science and religion, a divide that is taken for granted in schools, the media and in the culture. People often assume that science is the realm of certainty and verifiability, while religion is the place of reasonless belief. But the work of Messrs. Davies and Rovelli and others, including Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” demonstrates that religion and science sit within a similar intellectual framework.

ORLY? How, exactly, do the “findings” of religion resemble those of science? After all, Emerson may believe that Jesus was not only part of God, but also God’s son, was crucified and resurrected, and that we’ll find salvation through accepting that. But if you’re a Muslim, you could be killed for professing such blasphemy, and Jews, of course, don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. There are millions of conflicting “truths” in religion, but although there are some disputes in science, there’s general agreement that, say, DNA is a double helix, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that a benzene molecule has six carbon atoms. Theology can offer us NO truths so well established.

But Emerson claims it can, and his claim is laughable:

But just as faith is indispensable to science, so is reason essential to religion. Many find themselves relating to God in a way analogous to the scientists searching for gravitational waves. These seekers of religious truth are persuaded by preliminary evidence and compelled by the testimony of those who have previously studied the matter; they are striving for a personal encounter with the realities so often talked about, yet so mysterious.

In such a context, it isn’t blind belief that fuels the search, any more than scientists blindly pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory. Rather, it’s a belief informed by credible reasons, nurtured by patient trust, open to revision. When I profess my belief in God, for example, I rely upon not only the help of the Holy Spirit. I also rely upon the Einsteins of theology, thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, whose use of reason to express and synthesize theological truths remains one of the great achievements in Western civilization. Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is a LIGO for the Christian faith.

Open to revision? Only if science disproves religion’s claims, and even in that case 40% of Americans still reject evolution in favor of the fairy tales of Genesis. And what, exactly, are the “theological truths” of Aquinas and his coreligionists? Can we please just have a list of five or six? Please?

And here’s the kicker—and Emerson’s conclusion:

To be sure, religion and science are different. But many religious believers, like scientists, continue to search for confirmation, continue to fine-tune their lives and expand their knowledge to experience a reality that is elusive, but which, when met, changes life forever. And if the combination of faith and reason can deliver the sound of two black holes colliding over a billion light years away, confirming a theory first expressed in 1915—what is so unthinkable about the possibility that this same combination could yield the insight that God became man?

There’s a difference between searching for confirmation and searching for truth; religion does the former, science the latter. If Emerson can give us evidence—and not just from the Bible—that “God became man”, then I might take his truth claims seriously. Absent that, we need accept his verities no more than we accept those of Scientology, Mormonism, or, for that matter, Beowulf.

It’s a travesty that the Wall Street Journal publishes tripe like this. Are they that desperate for copy? I doubt that they’d even entertain a piece like the one you just read here.

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/another-misguided-believer-claims-that-science-is-based-on-faith/

Neil deGrasse Tyson: You Can’t Bend Science to Suit Religious or Cultural Mores

Source: AlterNet

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Emphasis Mine

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy.

Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world. Science especially enhances our health, wealth and security, which is greater today for more people on Earth than at any other time in human history.

The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity:

Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.

This approach to knowing did not take root until early in the 17th century, shortly after the inventions of both the microscope and the telescope. The astronomer Galileo and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon agreed: conduct experiments to test your hypothesis and allocate your confidence in proportion to the strength of your evidence. Since then, we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.

This code of conduct carries remarkable consequences. There’s no law against publishing wrong or biased results. But the cost to you for doing so is high. If your research is re-checked by colleagues, and nobody can duplicate your findings, the integrity of your future research will be held suspect. If you commit outright fraud, such as knowingly faking data, and subsequent researchers on the subject uncover this, the revelation will end your career.

It’s that simple.

This internal, self-regulating system within science may be unique among professions, and it does not require the public or the press or politicians to make it work. But watching the machinery operate may nonetheless fascinate you. Just observe the flow of research papers that grace the pages of peer reviewed scientific journals. This breeding ground of discovery is also, on occasion, a battlefield where scientific controversy is laid bare.

Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. The press, in an effort to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as “the truth,” perhaps also touting the academic pedigree of the authors. In fact, when drawn from the moving frontier, the truth has not yet been established, so research can land all over the place until experiments converge in one direction or another — or in no direction, itself usually indicating no phenomenon at all.

Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false. We will not be revisiting the question of whether Earth is round; whether the sun is hot; whether humans and chimps share more than 98 percent identical DNA; or whether the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen.

The era of “modern physics,” born with the quantum revolution of the early 20th century and the relativity revolution of around the same time, did not discard Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. What it did was describe deeper realities of nature, made visible by ever-greater methods and tools of inquiry. Modern physics enclosed classical physics as a special case of these larger truths. So the only times science cannot assure objective truths is on the pre-consensus frontier of research, and the only time it couldn’t was before the 17th century, when our senses — inadequate and biased — were the only tools at our disposal to inform us of what was and was not true in our world.

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E= m c 2; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases.

These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.

Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions. Is Jesus your savior? Is Mohammad God’s last prophet on Earth? Should the government support poor people? Is Beyoncé a cultural queen? Kirk or Picard? Differences in opinion define the cultural diversity of a nation, and should be cherished in any free society. You don’t have to like gay marriage. Nobody will ever force you to gay-marry. But to create a law preventing fellow citizens from doing so is to force your personal truths on others. Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships.

Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery.

In 1863, a year when he clearly had more pressing matters to attend to, Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican president — signed into existence the National Academy of Sciences, based on an Act of Congress. This august body would provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters relating to science and technology.

Today, other government agencies with scientific missions serve similar purpose, including NASA, which explores space and aeronautics; NIST, which explores standards of scientific measurement, on which all other measurements are based; DOE, which explores energy in all usable forms; and NOAA, which explores Earth’s weather and climate.

These centers of research, as well as other trusted sources of published science, can empower politicians in ways that lead to enlightened and informed governance. But this won’t happen until the people in charge, and the people who vote for them, come to understand how and why science works.

See:http://www.alternet.org/culture/neil-degrasse-tyson-you-cant-bend-science-suit-religious-or-cultural-mores?akid=13692.123424.cyif-s&rd=1&src=newsletter1046163&t=14

 

All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists

Source: New Yorker

Author:Lawrence M. Krauss

Emphasis Mine 

A a physicist, I do a lot of writing and public speaking about the remarkable nature of our cosmos, primarily because I think science is a key part of our cultural heritage and needs to be shared more broadly. Sometimes, I refer to the fact that religion and science are often in conflict; from time to time, I ridicule religious dogma. When I do, I sometimes get accused in public of being a “militant atheist.” Even a surprising number of my colleagues politely ask if it wouldn’t be better to avoid alienating religious people. Shouldn’t we respect religious sensibilities, masking potential conflicts and building common ground with religious groups so as to create a better, more equitable world?

I found myself thinking about those questions this week as I followed the story of Kim Davis, the country clerk in Kentucky who directly disobeyed a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and, as a result, was jailed for contempt of court. (She was released earlier today.) Davis’s supporters, including the Kentucky senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul, are protesting what they believe to be an affront to her religious freedom. It is “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties,” Paul said, on CNN.

The Kim Davis story raises a basic question: To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it? It’s possible to take that question to an extreme that even Senator Paul might find absurd: imagine, for example, a jihadist whose interpretation of the Koran suggested that he should be allowed to behead infidels and apostates. Should he be allowed to break the law? Or—to consider a less extreme case—imagine an Islamic-fundamentalist county clerk who would not let unmarried men and women enter the courthouse together, or grant marriage licenses to unveiled women. For Rand Paul, what separates these cases from Kim Davis’s? The biggest difference, I suspect, is that Senator Paul agrees with Kim Davis’s religious views but disagrees with those of the hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist.

The problem, obviously, is that what is sacred to one person can be meaningless (or repugnant) to another. That’s one of the reasons why a modern secular society generally legislates against actions, not ideas. No idea or belief should be illegal; conversely, no idea should be so sacred that it legally justifies actions that would otherwise be illegal. Davis is free to believe whatever she wants, just as the jihadist is free to believe whatever he wants; in both cases, the law constrains not what they believe but what they do.

In recent years, this territory has grown murkier. Under the banner of religious freedom, individuals, states, and even—in the case of Hobby Lobby—corporations have been arguing that they should be exempt from the law on religious grounds. (The laws from which they wish to claim exemption do not focus on religion; instead, they have to do with social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.) The government has a compelling interest in insuring that all citizens are treated equally. But “religious freedom” advocates argue that religious ideals should be elevated above all others as a rationale for action. In a secular society, this is inappropriate.  

The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals. Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them, but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one. In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.

Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion. The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems. Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world. Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preëxisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine. It’s a strange inconsistency, since scientists often happily disagree with other kinds of beliefs. Astronomers have no problem ridiculing the claims of astrologists, even though a significant fraction of the public believes these claims. Doctors have no problem condemning the actions of anti-vaccine activists who endanger children. And yet, for reasons of decorum, many scientists worry that ridiculing certain religious claims alienates the public from science. When they do so, they are being condescending at best and hypocritical at worst.

This reticence can have significant consequences. Consider the example of Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers are calling for a government shutdown unless federal funds for Planned Parenthood are stripped from spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1st. Why? Because Planned Parenthood provides fetal tissue samples from abortions to scientific researchers hoping to cure diseases, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. (Storing and safeguarding that tissue requires resources, and Planned Parenthood charges researchers for the costs.) It’s clear that many of the people protesting Planned Parenthood are opposed to abortion on religious grounds and are, to varying degrees, anti-science. Should this cause scientists to clam up at the risk of further offending or alienating them? Or should we speak out loudly to point out that, independent of one’s beliefs about what is sacred, this tissue would otherwise be thrown away , even though it could help improve and save lives?   Ultimately, when we hesitate to openly question beliefs because we don’t want to risk offense, questioning itself becomes taboo. It is here that the imperative for scientists to speak out seems to me to be most urgent. As a result of speaking out on issues of science and religion, I have heard from many young people about the shame and ostracism they experience after merely questioning their family’s faith. Sometimes, they find themselves denied rights and privileges because their actions confront the faith of others. Scientists need to be prepared to demonstrate by example that questioning perceived truth, especially “sacred truth,” is an essential part of living in a free country.

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments—totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic—that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred.” Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

If that is what causes someone to be called a militant atheist, then no scientist should be ashamed of the label.

See: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/all-scientists-should-be-militant-atheists?intcid=mod-latest

Good news from Oz: parents fight back against Christian proselytizing in public schools

Source: Why Evolution is True

Author: Jerry Coyne

Emphasis Mine

This morning we have some good news and some bad news about religion. First the good news: reader John sent me a photo and this link to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. Apparently, at least in the state of New South Wales, “Special Religious Education” (SRE) is offered to students in many public schools, and it’s an education in Christianity (“General Religious Education”, GRE, is also offered). I thought that parents can opt out of either, but the report below suggests this isn’t the case. I’m a bit confused, and perhaps readers from Australia can enlighten us. Here’s part of the report:

Parents concerned about religious evangelism in public schools will launch a campaign urging families to opt out of scripture classes as a high profile minister calls for a “quality general religious education program” to replace instruction in specific denominations.

The parent-run lobby group, Fairness in Religions in Schools, has paid for a billboard attacking Special Religious Eduction classes in public schools, to be erected at a busy intersection in Liverpool on Monday.

Fairness in Religions in Schools chief executive Lara Wood said the billboard was in response to what the group sees as evangelism in public schools which they claim is poorly regulated by the NSW government.

“Scripture classes push messages about sin, death, suicide, sexuality and female submission onto children without the knowledge of their parents,” she said.

“The Department of Education has no control over the program and it is time these classes were removed or at least regulated by the government.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it works with scripture class providers to ensure the material is “sensitive, age appropriate and of a high standard.”

Screw that; this stuff doesn’t belong in public schools, whether or not it’s optional. What’s the educational point of teaching Christianity in such schools? Leave the proselytizing in the churches where it belongs.

Meanwhile, here’s the billboard designed by the parents, and it’s a good one.

Capture

See: whyevolutionistrue

Ideology Subsumes Empiricism in Pope’s Climate Encyclical

Source: Scientific American

Author: Lawrence Krauss

Emphasis Mine

Religion and science are at best strange bedfellows, as the Catholic Church has found since the time of its unfortunate experience with Galileo. So it is significant that Pope Francis, who has shown great appetite for departing from some of the harsh rhetoric and methods of his predecessors, is issuing an encyclical on the environment at a time when the world’s leaders are once again considering a global approach to dealing with climate change.

Whenever religious figures enter into a debate on policy issues that have a strong scientific basis there is a slippery interplay between the desire to do good by addressing real problems, and the constraints that ideology and dogma impose upon the ability to do so objectively. Pope Francis’s encyclical follows this pattern.

Laden with detail, it is perhaps the most scientific document to come out of the Vatican since John Paul II discussed evolution in 1996. As a result, many in the environmental community have praised the encyclical, which affirms that human activity causes climate change and delineates many of the impacts, especially the disproportionate impact it is likely to have on the world’s poor. While calling on people of all religions to take action, however, the pope rejects, on a purely theological basis, some of the most propitious solutions on the table.

The evidence-based discussion of climate change in the encyclical resulted in part from prolonged interaction with the scientific community. The language in many places reads like a treatise from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Consider, for example, this excerpt:

There is a very consistent scientific consensus indicating that we are in the presence of a disturbing heating of the climate system. In recent decades, this warming was accompanied by the constant rising of the sea level, and it is also hard not to relate it with the rise in extreme weather events… It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, the changes in the orbit and the axis of the Earth, the solar cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming in recent decades it is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) mainly emitted due to human activity. Their concentration in the atmosphere prevents the heat of the solar rays reflected from the Earth to be dispersed in space. This is especially enhanced by the model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the center of the global energy system. It is also affected by the increase of the practice of changing land use, mainly by deforestation for agricultural purposes.

The synopsis of the impacts of climate change is equally empirical:

… the heating has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious cycle which aggravates the situation even more and which will affect the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in the hottest areas, and will result in the extinction of a part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting of polar and high altitude ice threaten the leakage of methane gas which carries high risks, and the decomposition of frozen organic matter could further accentuate the emission of carbon dioxide. In turn, the loss of tropical forests makes things worse, since these help to mitigate the climate change. The pollution produced by carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the oceans and affects the marine food chain.

Perhaps of most importance to the Pope himself, who has always expressed solidarity with the poor, the document makes it clear that the impacts of climate change are disproportionate, with the poorest countries likely to bear the largest burden. It castigates climate-change deniers in wealthy nations who “seem to focus especially on masking the problems or hiding the symptoms”.

These are timely and welcome remarks by someone who is viewed as a spiritual guide by billions of Catholics. An encyclical wouldn’t be an encyclical without theology however, and that is where problems arise. In a chapter entitled “Gospel of Creation” Francis ruminates poetically on the nature of man, the mystery of the cosmos (my own area of study) and the special duty Christians have to respect nature, humanity and the environment. It’s beautifully presented and sounds good in principle. However, his biblical analysis leads to the false conclusion that contraception and population control are not appropriate strategies to help a planet with limited resources.

Here, ideology subsumes empiricism, and the inevitable conflict between science and religion comes to the fore. One can argue until one is blue in the face that God has a preordained plan for every zygote, but the simple fact is that if one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale population is a problem. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level in which all humans have adequate food, water, medicine and security. Moreover, as this pope should particularly appreciate, the environmental problems that overpopulation creates also disproportionately afflict those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited. Ultimately, the surest road out of poverty is to empower women to control their own fertility. Doing so allows them to better provide for themselves and their children, improves access to education and healthcare and, eventually, creates incentives for environmental sustainability.The problem with basing a public policy framework on outmoded ideas that predate modern science and medicine is that one inevitably proposes bad policies.

No one can fault Pope Francis’s intentions, which are clearly praiseworthy, but his call for action on climate change is compromised by his adherence to doctrines that are based on revelation and not evidence. The Catholic Church and its leaders can never be truly objective and useful arbiters of human behavior until they are willing to dispense with doctrine that can thwart real progress. In this sense, the latest encyclical took several steps forward, and then a leap back.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

See: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/ideology-subsumes-empiricism-in-pope-s-climate-encyclical/

Atheism 101: The anti-intellectualism of religion

Source: Examiner

Author: Staks Rosch

Emphasis Mine

As an atheist, one of my biggest issues with the Abrahamic religions is that they perpetuate a culture of anti-intellectualism. It isn’t hard to miss. For example, it is no surprise that the large numbers of evangelical Christians in America are ignorant and proud. The fact that one of the most idiotic President in our nation’s history (George W. Bush) was elected mainly because of the support of Christian fundamentalists speaks volumes. Not to mention that within the Republican Party there is continually a race to the intellectual bottom with most candidates and politicians touting their religious beliefs and conviction.

A quick look back at history also shows that the Church and various organized religions have done everything they could to restrict science and knowledge. At every stage of scientific achievement, fervent religious believers were always there persecuting those who wished to expand human knowledge and human progress. One of the humanities biggest loses came pretty early on too. In 415 CE a Christian mob brutally murdered Hypatia of Alexandria. I would go into more details about the brutality of that murder, but it is a bit graphic. Needless to say, it was much more brutal than what Christians often describe as the “Passion of Christ.” She was one of the bright lights of science in her time. Even today, almost half of Christians in America stand against the scientific theories of evolution, the big bang, and global climate change. Many religious believers even oppose scientific medical advances like stem cell research, vaccines, and blood transfusions.

The fact is, that the more religious someone is the less value they tend to place on science and education. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 93% of scientists express disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal deity. 72% outright disbelieve in a personified deity. These are among the brightest minds on Earth. Both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking (widely considered the two smartest men who every lived) had issue with the personified deity of the Abrahamic religions. These men joined the company of many of the most intellectual founding fathers such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, among other.

The concept of “faith” is a slap in the face to science and intellectual curiosity. Faith stops questions while science encourages questions. Faith provides dishonest, unsupportable, and unquestioned certainty while science leaves every conclusion open to re-evaluation with additional evidence and discoveries. With faith, no education is necessary. In fact, education seems to often be a determent to faith. This is one of the biggest reasons why Christian fundamentalists are so keen on homeschooling so that they can control the information their children are exposed to. Even in the Bible, the character of Jesus elevates blind faith above intellectual rigor, reason, and evidence.

This is not the only instance in which the Bible attacks the intellect. Corinthians is full of such examples. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” – 1 Corinthians 1:27 and “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:5. There are many more examples where those came from. Just pick up your Bible and read it for yourself.

Science, reason, and intellectualism support the concepts of continued questioning, education, and human curiosity. Through the scientific method, the rules of logic, and the thirst to understand, people of reason are continually pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and helping to make life better and longer for us all. Yet, example after example, the Bible and the Abrahamic religions stand against the intellect and continue to propagate ignorance, fear, and unreason. Between the Creation Museum and the absolute unquestioning certainty of a divine deity, religion remains one of the biggest oppositions to human progress and the greatest threat to intellectualism and humanity’s continued survival on this planet.

Religion often starts with the conclusion and then tries to find justifications for that conclusion. Science and intellectualism on the other hand start with curiosity and then form conclusions based on the evidence and even those conclusions can be re-evaluated if new evidence comes to light.

 

see:http://www.examiner.com/article/atheism-101-the-anti-intellectualism-of-religion

Paul Dirac on Religion:

now
now

” I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards—in heaven if not on earth—all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.” Paul Dirac, via Heisenberg.

Conspiracy Theorists Fooled by Even the Most Obvious Anti-science Trolling: Study

Source: awStory via AlterNet

Author: Travis Gettys

Emphasis Mine

Anti-science conspiracy theorists are so credulous they can’t determine when they’re being purposefully duped, according to a new study.

A team of Italian and American researchers tested the social media biases feeding belief in conspiracy theories such as chemtrailsshape-shifting reptilian overlords, and the Illuminatireported Motherboard.

The researchers found that adherents to conspiracy theories are highly receptive to claims that support their views and rarely engage with social media pages that question their beliefs.  The ongoing measles outbreak linked to unvaccinated children has exposed one danger posed by hostility toward science, which is promoted in large part through social media.

The World Economic Forum last year identified “digital misinformation” alongside terrorism, cyber attacks, and global governmental failure as threats to modern society.

Social media allows this misinformation to be transmitted and amplified as users gather around shared beliefs, interests, and worldviews – whether or not factual evidence supports those belief systems.

The researchers examined social media patterns for 1.2 million Facebook users and found that nearly 92 percent of those who engage with Italian conspiracy theory pages interact almost exclusively with conspiracy theory pages.

The study also found that conspiracy theory posts are much more likely to be shared and liked by Facebook users.

The researchers then tested the strength of these users’ biases by posting “troll information” – or sarcastic comments parodying anti-science views – on Facebook.

“These posts are clearly unsubstantiated claims, like the undisclosed news that infinite energy has been finally discovered, or that a new lamp made of actinides (e.g. plutonium and uranium) might solve problems of energy gathering with less impact on the environment, or that the chemical analysis revealed that chemtrails contains sildenafil citratum (the active ingredient of Viagra),” the researchers said.

They found that 78 percent of those who “liked” these 4,709 troll posts interacted primarily with conspiracy theory pages, as were 81 percent of those who commented on them.

The researchers also noted that anti-conspiracy theorists often wasted “cognitive resources” pushing back against these unscientific “troll” claims, even when they were “satirical imitation of false claims.”

 

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See: