Respectful Insolence

That’s the message that Ben Stein has been pushing lately, namely not just the hated “Darwinism” but science itself inevitably leads to political philosophies such as Nazi-ism and Stalinism (but especially Nazi-ism, given its emphasis on racial hygiene and eugenics), including the mass murder that resulted from them. As a result, Stein has been correctly and deservedly excoriated not just by science bloggers, but even by fellow conservatives such as Instapundit, who characterized Stein as “totally having lost it,” and John Derbyshire, who correctly characterized Stein’s lies as a blood libel on our civilization. I didn’t think there was anyone out there other than religious nuts who would try to defend Stein’s vile thesis. So, it was much to my surprise that I somehow came across this gem of idiocy in which a blogger going by the ‘nym ctl blogging at Dean’s World, while trying to sound rational and reason-based, has unintentionally offered perhaps the dumbest, most incoherent defense of Ben Stein that I’ve seen. It’s serves up a neuron-apoptosing panoply of of stereotypes about scientists, bad arguments, and straw men. Truly, ctl owes me some of my dead neurons back. At least if I have a glass or two of wine and it kills a few neurons I get some pleasure out of the deal. Not so here, which is perhaps the reason I felt compelled to offer up a much-deserved dose of not-so-Respectful Insolence™ on this tripe.

The piece starts out in the gutter and descends from there:

Of course science leads you to killing people. It’s generally not scientists who do the killing, of course. As a group, scientists (being academics) are probably among the most physically cowardly of our species, and are therefore among the most gentle. While it’s true that politicians who start wars rarely themselves fire shots in anger in those wars, science doesn’t generally lead to killing in a direct manner, such as by proposing a theory that someone needs to die.

Science leads you to killing people because the scientific method is inherently amoral (note: amoral, not immoral). In itself, that’s fine. Many activities, if not most, are inherently amoral. The problem is that science is like candy. Candy doesn’t normally contain anything really bad for you, and certainly sugar is a necessary part of the human diet. Candy becomes bad for you when it pushes out all of the other foods that you might eat, and then it’s only bad for you because you’re not eating anything else.


Just about the only thing ctl gets right is that the scientific method is amoral. Unfortunately he (or she; I have no idea who ctl is, presuming it’s not Dean or one of his other named cobloggers) then takes this aspect of science and runs with it straight into a wall of stupid. First, let me just take a moment to point out that ctl apparently got his view of scientists from 1950s science fiction movies, Weird Science, or any of a number of stereotypical presentations of geeky, nerdy scientists. Apparently ctl understands as little about scientists as he understands about science. There may indeed be a bit more nerdiness in science than in other professions, but to use such a stereotype as part of the basis of an argument that science leads to killing people is in essence a nonsequitur and strikes me as more of a gratuitous swipe at scientists than anything else.

Let’s see what ctl thinks that this amorality of the scientific method leads to:

Science is not an ethical system. Science is a method for discovering truths about the world we live in. When science is held above all else, though, it is necessarily held above ethical systems. You can see this mechanic clearly in the people who are exasperated at restrictions on killing embryos in order to perform embryonic stem cell research. They wail that religion shouldn’t get in the way of science.

Which is a fine position, but it’s pretty funny to hear the same people complain when we point out that they don’t want religion in the way of science. Because “thou shalt not kill” is a religious edict, not a scientific one. It’s true that there are non-religious arguments for why a person shouldn’t murder another person, but I’ve never met a man who’s gullible enough to believe them.

What a massive straw man! Who says that science is an ethical system? Not even Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myers says that. ctl also seems to be confusing “truths” with “facts” or “predictable behaviors of nature.” Science is not–I repeat, not–a method for finding out the “truth” about anything. Without going into a great deal of detail, I would characterize science as a methodology that allows us to test our beliefs about how nature behaves with how nature actually behaves and to derive laws and theories with useful predictive power that allow us to predict how nature will behave under certain conditions. In fact, it could well be argued that science is a method of testing hypotheses, refuting them, and through that process coming up with hypotheses that better explain how nature works. For example, Newton’s Laws of Motion predict with a high degree of accuracy how objects move in response to forces, so precisely that they were adequate for sending space ships and space probes to their destinations. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity built upon that and allowed more precise predictions than Newton’s Laws could make. Similarly, the theory of evolution, as the best scientific theories do, describes how the diversity of life came about and makes predictions that allow us to have a good understanding of, for example, how bacterial resistance to antibiotics comes about and what strategies scientists and physicians can undertake to try to minimize the development of resistance.

The second point that needs to be refuted is that “thou shalt not kill” is a religious edict. (Actually, the correct translation of that particular commandment is probably “thou shalt not murder,” to distinguish murder from other, possibly acceptable kinds of killing.) The proscription against murder is most definitely not a religious edict. It existed long before the Ten Commandments and is found in virtually all human societies, regardless of religion. The reason is not hard to understand. Murder is socially disruptive. No human society could permit murder without dire consequences in terms of its cohesivity, which makes its taboo nature quite understandable and which makes the reasons that state-sanctioned forms of killing, such as executions or killing in war are not covered by this Commandment. Even ctl seems to recognize that this moral principle does not derive from religion (although virtually all religions have it in one form or another) but rather tries to dismiss this realization and blame science for leading to killing. Why? Apparently because science can lead to conflict with religion:

Non-religious people usually refrain from murder for the same reason that religious people usually do: murder is repugnant to human nature. But people can be trained into just about any sort of behavior you please, if they have no reasons for resisting. The nanotechnology researcher is never going to murder anyone. The danger is that when the nanotech researcher gives a lecture that religion shouldn’t get in the way of his research, a less gentle man might attend and conclude that the same principle means that religion shouldn’t get in the way of his being a murdering dictator.

What?

Once again, ctl seems to be equating religion with morality. Once again, the two are not the same thing, as morality does not depend upon religion. I could just as easily say that the religious young man who follows Islam is never going to murder anyone; that is, until he hears his Imam give a sermon about how the infidel cannot be tolerated, how he is an affront to Allah, and how Allah commands that he suffer the penalty of death. The same with a Christian until he hears his preacher tell him that abortionists are murderers who must die. Or any other of a number of religions until he hears his religion tell him that killing is acceptable in the name of his god or gods under certain circumstances.

ctl does have one other point but abuses it badly: People can indeed be trained into just about any sort of behavior if it is encouraged by a group with which he or she identifies strongly (and few groups identify so strongly with each other as religious groups). Examples can be easily produced for virtually every religion. Science doesn’t tell anyone to kill; religion frequently does, no matter how much its apologists try to deny it. Here the amorality of the scientific method actually strikes me as less likely to lead humans into acts of murder than religion. After this, though, ctl proceeds to go completely off the deep end:

The researcher who gave the lecture will complain that he never meant that, and that the dictator is abusing what he said. But the abuse is only in the trivial sense that the dictator is correctly applying the principles that the scientist expounded towards a goal which the scientist doesn’t want him to. At the end of the day, the biologist who says that he’s only doing research on clumps of cells has no consistent answer when the man in charge of the firing squad says that he’s only propelling little bits of metal at high speeds towards a clump of cells.

The biologist wouldn’t murder anyone. The biologists friends wouldn’t murder anyone. But they’re not the only people in the world. When you open Pandora’s box, the evils will still fly out even if you were only trying to satisfy your curiosity. No scientist will ever believe it, though. After all, he only meant good for the world.

The stupid, it sears my poor, suffering neurons!

Basically, ctl appears to be admitting that the source of evil is not science itself but the misuse of science by evil people who use it to further a goal that scientists don’t want them to. Sadly, that doesn’t stop him from going right on to blame science for evil because it “opens Pandora’s box” and” lets the evils fly out.” In fact, ctl even seems to realize the ridiculousness of this argument. In an addendum, he says this:

…I’m not talking about science as simply a system for investigating theories. I’m talking about science as it’s actually practiced in the world by human beings. The science which recommends that people avoid saturated fat (and later discovers that the trans fats they pushed people to are far worse) and pushes for treaties like the Kyoto protocol. The science which is a multi-billion dollar industry filled with very imperfect people.

Once again, people who don’t like or understand science frequently confuse the conclusions that science tells us and what we should do about the conclusions that science tells us. The two may or may not be the same. That, for instance, climate scientists tell us that the earth is warming and that human activity is a major cause of it is not the same thing as dictating the policies that should be adopted to try to forestall the dire outcomes predicted. Another example is secondhand smoke. Science may tell us that secondhand smoke is a health hazard and how much of a health hazard it is, but what to do about it is in the realm of policy and thus largely not in the realm of science. I could also even give him the out for the counterargument by saying that the counterargument is talking about religion as practiced in the world by human beings, and it would not alleviate the stupidity of his arguments.

ctl then says:

… I’m not trying to argue that science is itself responsible for the abuses of it, even for relatively mild cases. You can’t blame Newton for Richard Dawkins or for Adolf Hitler (the inclusion of both parties is meant to indicate a range, not an equivalence). You can’t blame the gun maker for the ways in which their guns are abused. But it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that guns do kill people. (I know, I know, guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people.) You can’t hold auto-manufacturers responsible for the tens of thousands of people killed in auto-accidents each year. But it would be absurd to deny that the auto industry leads people to kill each other. That’s not saying that the auto industry should be shut down, it’s only recognizing that there are costs as well as benefits.

That’s just incredibly silly. In essence, ctl has scaled back his argument to the utterly trivial. That something can be used to do harm, ctl seems to be arguing, doesn’t mean that you can necessarily hold the makers of that something responsible but that that something is responsible and thus the makers are responsible…oh, I give up! I can’t tell what ctl is trying to say. Perhaps one of my smarter readers can explain it to me. (Orac never could understand such total illogic, as any fan of Blake’s 7 knows.) The reason ctl’s argument is so trivial is obvious. It’s because his whole premise is fallacious. The premise seems to go as follows: Science produces a conclusion. Someone misunderstands, misapplies, or misuses that conclusion to do something really, really bad. Therefore science is responsible for that really, really bad something that results from a misunderstanding, misuse, or misapplication of science.

Bullshit.

Of course it’s worse than that for evolution. Eugenics and social Darwinism, both of which were major contributors to racial hygiene, the “science” (actually pseudoscience) that Nazis used to justify their race policies were perversions of what Darwin’s theory says. According to ctl, it would appear, Darwin should be blamed for the perversions of his theory that social Darwinists, eugenicists, and, yes, the racial hygienists of Nazi Germany used to justify their mass murder. Of course, if I were to apply the same standard to religion, I bet ctl would go ballistic. To demonstrate what I mean, let me recast one of ctl’s paragraphs a bit:

The preacher wouldn’t murder anyone. The preacher’s friends wouldn’t murder anyone. But they’re not the only people in the world. When you open Pandora’s box, the evils will still fly out even if you were only trying to do your best to serve your God. No preacher will ever believe it, though. After all, he only meant good for the world.

I trust I’ve made my point. People did evil long before science existed. No doubt they found rationalizations for that evil. Nazis did great evil and tried to wrap their murderous ways in the mantle of science. That they misunderstood Darwin and twisted his theory to justify doing what they wanted to do anyway does not mean that Darwin was responsible, nor does it mean that science naturally leads to killing people. The point is that people will find ways to rationalize the evil that they do and that they will pick whatever will to them best rationalize what they had planned to do anyway. DarkSyde put as well as any way I can think of to put it:

Religion and science are different species of course. But one thing they share in common is both can be used for great good or nightmarish evil. Particle physicists developed the theories underpinning everything from PET/CAT scans to the device you are reading this post on. They also brought us the hydrogen bomb. Biochemists developed antibiotics, saving the lives and limbs of countless millions of suffering people. The same science produced Zyklon B, a substance used by the Third Reich to economically exterminate families by the trainload.

Only an exceptionally stupid asshole, or an intentionally dishonest creep, would blame chemistry for Auschwitz, and that asshole would be roundly laughed off the world stage — assuming they somehow finagled a spot on it in the first place. Unfortunately, when it comes to biology, modern day Intelligent Design Creationists and their old fashioned fire and brimstone Young Earth Creationist ancestors are precisely those kinds of assholes. And they’re not shameless in the least, quite the contrary: they’re proud of it.

For some reason, propositions that would be considered ridiculous for any other science (blaming Auschwitz on chemistry itself or the atomic bomb on physics), for example) are the norm for evolutionary biology. The reason is obvious: Evolution conflicts with fundamentalist religious beliefs about how life came about and how humans were created. Period. There’s no other reason. Were it not for that, blaming the Holocaust on evolutionary biology would be as obviously ridiculous as blaming Auschwitz on the chemical theory behind the reactions used to produce cyanide in mass quantities just because the Nazis used Zyklon-B to gas Jews. It would be as ridiculous as blaming immunology for the Holocaust because a deluded and evil mass-murdering dictator likened his victims to germs and cited inspiration from Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    May 5, 2008

    Well, I have to say, that I am all in favor of eliminating this poster from the gene pool. I am not a “Scientist”, so I think ctl would be okay with that. Bye Bye ctl. Thanks for playing. Here’s some lovely parting gifts for you.

  2. #2 Sigmund
    May 5, 2008

    Quite frankly I welcome the widening of this Luddite attack on science. Why should it just be just us biologists who must put up with this inanity? I want the physicists, chemists and engineers to be similarly accused of moral degradation by creepy wierdos who long for a time when they can fly up to heaven while the other 99% of the population is consigned to hellish torture for eternity.
    I work in cancer research and use evolutionary theory every day in my work. The fields of modern genomics, genetics, proteomics and functional cell biology would fall apart without the underpinnings of evolution that tie everything together. The creationists cannot end progress in science despite their worst efforts – it is ongoing in laboratories all around the world – but they can seriously undermine US science and that is something that needs to be impressed upon the US public (hopefully by physicists and chemists as well as ‘evilution beleevin’ biologists).
    How would astronomers feel if the Hubble repair mission was in danger because 50% of the US population didn’t believe in light coming from further than 6000 light years away?
    Thats the level of stupidity that biologists have to put up with and I think its about time we got to share our pain with the rest of the scientific community.

  3. #3 Zoo Knudsen
    May 5, 2008

    Oops, I thought it was Though shall Kill. I better go clean out my basement.

  4. #4 Christophe Thill
    May 5, 2008

    No scientific authority ever asked someone to sacrifice their only son. And if it happened, said authority would be quickly kicked out and lose its authority status. And if the guy took a long knife and started to obey, nobody ever would applaud his virtue and his wonderful willingness to follow orders coming from above.

  5. #5 Jesse
    May 5, 2008

    the scientific method is inherently amoral (note: amoral, not immoral).

    Right, because truth and honesty are in no way whatsoever part of ‘morality’.

    The Stupid, it is causing my retinas to detach.

  6. #6 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    I think what you’re seeing is the backlash of the anti-religion fad of the past decade. It might have been hoped that the reaction to the backlash would be a bit more reflective and careful in its thinking but that seems to be rather a faint hope. You are not going to fight religious fundamentalism by indulging the romance of scientism. Doing that is is gratifying for some in the sciences, since it elevates their profession into a realm of irrational adulation, as well as high income. But I’m not as worried about most scientists, many of whom are very level-headed about their field. I’m more worried about the sci-jocks of the kind that infest the blogs, many of whom are entirely innocent of math, never mind science. They are the ones, along with their demi-gods some of whom used to have a sort of career in science, who have the biggest, stupidest mouths and so are concentrated on by the lazy, corrupt media.

    No scientific authority ever asked someone to sacrifice their only son.

    Oh, really. I could just point out the people who worked in Marie Curie’s lab or many who worked in the nuclear industry, at the behest of scientists and those who hired them. You can add those who work in the chemical industry, the foods industry, petroleum industries, etc. You might not like it, but scientists who are willing to overlook the collateral damage of their activities and advice are just as much scientists as the most corrupt Elmer Gantry clone is a figure that religion has to answer for. No one who doesn’t do that in science should be answerable for the guilty, but that is a rule that applies to everyone, if fairness and justice are important to you.

    By the way, didn’t you get to the end of the story where God sent an angel to stop Abraham’s hand? You do have to know the whole story before you can understand the point of it.

  7. #7 Ranson
    May 5, 2008

    I would agree that science is “amoral”; it operates the same regardless of culturally authoritarian pronouncements on “right” and “wrong”. Science, though, can easily be “ethical”; it can operate equitably and responsibly in order to do as little harm as possible while uncovering and using the facts that it uncovers. I’ve debated with other people quite a bit on the difference between the two. I’ll readily admit to being “amoral”; I don’t subscribe to an external arbiter or right and wrong. I do believe I act ethically, in doing my best to minimize harm I do to others.

    While those may not be the standard definitions, they are the ones that I’ve hashed out over lengthy debate, and I think they work here.

  8. #8 Ranson
    May 5, 2008

    Gah, typo. “I don’t subscribe to an external arbiter OF right and wrong”

  9. #9 Jesse
    May 5, 2008

    No scientific authority ever asked someone to sacrifice their only son.

    Oh, really. I could just point out the people who worked in Marie Curie’s lab or many who worked in the nuclear industry, at the behest of scientists and those who hired them.

    Can you tell me exactly whom asked people to willingly sacrifice their only son, then? DO you have some special supersecret notebooks wherein people discuss their plans to ask other scientists to make human sacrificies?

    As usual, You just. Don’t. Get it.

  10. #10 Interrobang
    May 5, 2008

    I’m reading something completely else in what’s passing for ctl’s argument:

    P1: Embryos are people.
    P2: Stem cell research destroys embryos.
    C1: Therefore, stem cell research leads to killing people.

    P3: Stem cell research leads to killing people.
    P4: Stem cell research is science.
    C2: Therefore, science leads to killing people.

    What you have there is essentially a false premise and a composition fallacy with a lot of distractionary rhetoric around it.

  11. #11 Karl Withakay
    May 5, 2008

    “By the way, didn’t you get to the end of the story where God sent an angel to stop Abraham’s hand? You do have to know the whole story before you can understand the point of it.”

    Yes, that totally makes it not a screwed up story.

    Since God is all knowing, God already knew that Abraham would do whatever God asked and therefore did not require a test, so why screw with Abraham’s mind that way? (rhetorical question, please do not try to make logic out of bible stories)

  12. #12 mikmik
    May 5, 2008

    Science is learning by trial error(experiment).
    Every single person learns by trial and error/cause and effect.

    Every single person (and possibly animal) practices science.

  13. #13 Monimonika
    May 5, 2008

    Some commenter on some other forum (sorry, I can’t remember who or where) pointed out that there are similar stories around the world of gods/dieties/authorities testing the loyalty of their followers by asking them to do reprehensible acts.
    According to this commenter, the unique thing about the Abraham-Isaac story is that the wrong conclusion was rewarded. In the other stories, the followers that refused to follow the orders were the ones who were rewarded for knowing right from wrong.

  14. #14 jre
    May 5, 2008

    Criminey, Orac — first Vox Day, and now Dean’s World? My hat’s off you you for even tolerating the stupid long enough to read all of it. It must be the neuron-hardening effect of sustained stupid-exposure that makes it even possible. If I were you, though, I’d do a routine check of the old CPU for residual stupidium level — that stuff can build up over time.

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    May 5, 2008

    Amazingly stupid.

    Science leads people nowhere. Science is a *discipline*. Of course it is amoral; morals are beside the point. You can use science to study morals, and even to help decide which to adopt. But the discipline itself is amoral. You can use science to work out the more efficient way to kill a million people — or the most efficient way to feed and clothe a million people. Science is not about telling you what is right and what is wrong, though you can use it to analyze things on ethical grounds. It merely gives you the tools to understand the world around you more accurately.

    Religion leads people — that is it’s overt goal. It is not the only thing that leads people. Governments lead people. Schools lead people. Career paths lead people. Families lead people. Cultures lead people. People even lead themselves. That’s where we get our morality. That’s where we get our understanding of right and wrong. That’s where we decide the limits of ethics. Any one of these things can lead us to heaven or to hell, so to speak. How can anyone know that their religion is telling them the right thing about morals? How do you know you’re listening to God and not the serpent? Well, critical thinking can help. Instead of just blindly following along, we can think for ourselves.

    Far from leading to murder, I think science is actually our best defense against evil.

    Note to any religious types who may have taken offense: I am not an atheist, nor am I suggesting that being religious means not thinking for yourself. I am myself a fervent Christian. But great evil has been done in the name of Christ; only if we think for ourselves can we prevent that from happening again. If science can be blamed for the Holocaust, at whose doorstep lies the Spanish Inquisition? Or the Albigensian Crusade? Or any of the other atrocities committed in Christ’s name? I haven’t even touched on the atrocities committed by those of other faiths, and there are many. This is why science is important, and why religion and state must be kept separate.

  16. #16 SteveM
    May 5, 2008

    seems to me ctl is inappropriately focusing on the use of the word “leads” in the phrase “science leads to killing”. Whereas we see Stein using it to mean “causes”, ctl is trying to use it i much more “passive” sense. The key is when he says:

    But it would be absurd to deny that the auto industry leads people to kill each other.

    Ford makes cars, cars kill people (or people are killed by cars), therefore manufacturing cars leads to killing people. See? if there were no cars then cars could not kill anyone. Its not that mars cause anyone to kill, it just gives them a means to kill and so “leads” to killing. If there were no science, no one could be killed by science. Therefore Science leads to killing.

    This is purely a word game to try to find a definition of “leads” that will change Stein’s statement to something completely harmless, when in fact it is pretty clearly what Stein really meant.

  17. #17 SteveM
    May 5, 2008

    Its not that mars cause anyone to kill,…

    “mars” is, of course, a contraction of “manufacturing cars” :-), not the Roman god of war, nor the planet nor the candy company. :) and yes I know I lost an apostophe in there. :0

  18. #18 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    Karl Withakay | May 5, 2008 11:33 AM

    Since I don’t believe the story of Abraham and Issac was more than an explanatory fable, I read it as a rather dramatic story making the point that the tradition of Abraham didn’t systematically include the practice human sacrifice, unlike other religions of the time.

    As usual, You just. Don’t. Get it. Jesse

    About the only thing I didn’t get till I had posted the comment is that Issac wasn’t Abraham’s “only son”, the story of whom makes better anti-religious invective than the one in which God prevented the sacrifice of Issac. The points you guys don’t get by knowing this stuff.

    Can you tell me exactly whom asked people to willingly sacrifice their only son, then?
    Oh, so it’s all right as long as it’s not “their only son” that they’re sacrificing in the name of “science” aka, “my lunch ticket”. Remember to pass that on to the next member of the noble profession of science who gets hauled up to testify in front of a congressional committee. Maybe that’s what the Bush science shills who cover up stuff should use as an excuse.

    DO you have some special supersecret notebooks wherein people discuss their plans to ask other scientists to make human sacrificies?
    Now you’re just being silly. How about the scientists who develop the weapons that the US and other countries rain down on civilian populations. They don’t get kicked out of the science when they do that, they’re paid the really big bucks. I’m sure their work would be a rather large area of agreement between science, Ben Stein and those who hire him to spout his crap.

  19. #19 Julie Stahlhut
    May 5, 2008

    As a group, scientists (being academics) are probably among the most physically cowardly of our species, and are therefore among the most gentle.

    By this logic, bullies are the bravest people on the planet.

    What a maroon.

  20. #20 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    Oh, yes. On the off chance someone here can call me on it. Just remembered, there is the story of Jeptha’s daughter. That was hardly typical, though. I wonder what relation it has to poor Iphigenia’s sad fate.

  21. #21 SteveM
    May 5, 2008

    By the way, didn’t you get to the end of the story where God sent an angel to stop Abraham’s hand? You do have to know the whole story before you can understand the point of it.

    Doesn’t matter. God asked him to do it, and expected him to do it, and Abram was perfectly willing to do it. Did Abram know God was going to stop him? Did he even show any faith that God would stop him. No, God told him to do it so he obeyed. God rewarded him for his obedience, not his faith.

  22. #22 DLC
    May 5, 2008

    Yup, plenty of stupid there. I lost neurons just reading your excerpts. However, I have to pause a moment and remind you that Hitler also justified his atrocities using religion.

    Also, as to whether science is “amoral” :
    Science as a process does not distinguish between
    the finer points of morality, because it is a process, and not a person. People have morals or ethics. Saying science is amoral is like saying cheese doesn’t come with fuel injection.

  23. #23 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    SteveM, well, the weapons manufactuers and military tell their scientists what they want, weapons that kill more people in ever more ingenious ways. They fully expect them to produce weapons that kill more people and their scientists fully expect them to be made and used. And no one stops them, resulting in many, many thousands of people being killed in this fully commonplace application of science. They often even come up with new science in the process of creating ever more murderous weapons.

    As I pointed out, the use of science to produce arms for the military is science fully acceptable to both science and the Ben Steins of the world. Not irony, just a shared value between opposing camps.

    The that Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son is valid, the part about El asking him to do it is also valid, but it leaves out the rather important part that he told Abraham not to do it in the end and would have known that Abraham would have followed that command as well as the first one.

    As I said above, I believe the story is a fable to discourage human sacrifice, it certainly seems to have had some effect in keeping it to a relative minimum in the Abrahamic religions, not the effect that the neo-atheists pretend it has had.

  24. #24 mwb
    May 5, 2008

    The short version is that the scientific process creates ever-more efficacious models of how nature works. It has probably been the most empowering force for humans since the development of agriculture.

    Ultimately, the notion that science leads to killing people adds nothing to the notion that eating leads to killing people. It may be discarded with extreme prejudice. No matter how long they search, short of erasing history, they will never find a way to pin the antisocial evils of tribalism on what is little more than a means of developing understanding.

  25. #25 Scott
    May 5, 2008

    I had to stop reading the post when ctl said that scientists are “physically cowardly” and “gentle.” My brain was about to ooze out through my nostrils to end its suffering.

    Has this guy/girl ever even been around a group of scientists before? I wish I had a hard time believing that ctl was actually being serious here, but sadly that’s probably the case.

  26. #26 Davis
    May 5, 2008

    Oh, really. I could just point out the people who worked in Marie Curie’s lab or many who worked in the nuclear industry, at the behest of scientists and those who hired them. You can add those who work in the chemical industry, the foods industry, petroleum industries, etc.

    Are you actually claiming that Curie’s lab, or scientists in those industries, knowingly endangered workers?

  27. #27 vlad
    May 5, 2008

    “Maybe that’s what the Bush science shills who cover up stuff should use as an excuse.” Off topic and I’ll get back to the point shortly. The Jesus freaks elected Bush for moral reasons (pro-life) so don’t blame us heathens for that one.

    “How about the scientists who develop the weapons that the US and other countries rain down on civilian populations.” Raining down munition takes very little science. You get the bomb up to a certain height, which can still be done with a catapult no need for much science then let it fall. Fill it with a crude explosive and make the damn thing huge. This would quickly and cheaply be used to wipe out civilian populations. Now if you want to be able to pin point target and kill armed enemy combatants not all non-allied civilians thats when science comes in. It takes many more scientists (and engineers) to design GPS and laser guided systems than to make big bomb that levels the whole area.

    Also before you start with the Atomic bomb and evil scientists remember two things. 1) Those who developed it wanted it to be dropped on Germany for obvious personal reasons. 2) It was either 2 cities obliterated (yeah we could have easily gotten away with one but that’s more politics not science) or a complete ground assault taking Japan inch by inch in a brutal meat grinder.

  28. #28 SteveM
    May 5, 2008

    …the weapons manufactuers and military tell their scientists what they want, weapons that kill more people in ever more ingenious ways.

    No one disputes that that science is a tool used to develop new methods of killing. But that is very different than “science leads to killing” which is stating that killing is a result of science. It is like saying hammers lead to houses. Hammers don’t cause houses, people build houses using hammers. If you are going to use “leads to” in that way then you should also include that science leads to saving countless lives, of extending lifespans by decades, of enabling a world population of over 6 billion, etc. Science “leads to” a myriad of things, some good, some bad, it is how people choose to use it that is important, and that is what Stein is intentionally obscuring by emphasizing “killing people”. And it is clear that his point is not that science just provides the means to kill, but that it removes the inhibition to kill. That getting “high on science” kills one’s belief in God and so inevitibly leads to Virginia Tech style shootings by individuals and genocidal rampages by governments.

  29. #29 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    “raining down munitions takes very little science”, Vlad, that might be the stupidest thing I’ve read about science this month, and I’ve read some of what Ben Stein had to say about science this month. This goes beyond willful blindness to telling one of the biggest lies imaginable. You think all those munitions and delivery systems spontaeneously generated out of spare watch parts provided by nature or something?

    SteveM, I didn’t say science leads to killing but that science had as dirty hands as the rest of humanity, more than many fields.

    I’ve got to get used to stop expecting that people here can distinguish between what I actually said and the easily blown apart absurdities they would like me to have said. Not that I don’t think you guys could, but that you often don’t.

    Davis, I’m saying that it took a heck of a lot longer for them to catch on, face up to facts and protect people working with radioactive materials than it should have. And that scientists have been cutting corners when it was convenient ever since.

  30. #30 t-guy
    May 5, 2008

    Religion is pretty amoral too, at least as practiced by protestant Christians. Their beliefs tell them the single criterion for getting into heaven is being born again. There is no requirement to do good and evil is forgiven as long as you’re sorry afterward.

    So, you have serial killers and child molesters who are going to heaven because they are born again. Conversely, you have philanthropists, war heroes, and plain old decent folks who are going to hell because they aren’t.

    In other words, moral choices and actions make no difference. That pretty much defines amoral.

  31. #31 vlad
    May 5, 2008

    “You think all those munitions and delivery systems spontaeneously generated out of spare watch parts provided by nature or something?” Now you are being intentionally dense. No I said no such thing. The act of, to quote you “rain down on civilian populations” has been done for millennium and can be done with very little science, hence the catapult example since no one is currently investigating catapults in the US beyond hobbies. Science in recent years has reduced said casualties to civilian populations. Had we have conducted the war with older munitions (the ones that scientists haven’t touched in 50 years) all of Iraq would be leveled and there would be no civilians left.

    “SteveM, I didn’t say science leads to killing but that science had as dirty hands as the rest of humanity, more than many fields.” But the most blood, especially innocent blood is on the hands of the church not science. Science, while in part is responsible for killing more people than other fields it’s also responsible for saving more people than any other field.

  32. #32 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    But the most blood, especially innocent blood is on the hands of the church not science.

    Not this century, not this country. Not too often elsewhere in modern times. Name the major religious wars of the past two centuries. Name those specifically started by religious authorities, name one which was begun by the followers of a liberal religious tradition. You say “the church” as if that was one thing. Anyone who hadn’t learned everything from Harris and Dawkins would know that. Does “the church” include the Mennonites? Church of the Brethren?

    As for science saving more people, let me know when it’s saved the planet from itself. Let me know when scientists aren’t working on nuclear weapons of the future, further oil and gas production at enormous environmental cost, the production of chemical pollutants, and the other science-based means which could kill us all. I’ll be happy to acknowledge you got that one right when that is true.

  33. #33 Brendan S
    May 5, 2008

    If we’re talking about Science as a whole, can we sort of count total lives? Because life expactancy continues to go up, and population is exploding around the world, mostly through advances in Science.

    We’re in a 5 year war where people (rightly) believe it’s horrible that around 4,000 people died. 70 years ago this may have been the total for a month in a war.

    Scientists do bad things. PEOPLE do bad things. Humans do bad things.

    P.S. Everyone involves in the Science vs. Religion debate should read:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is-ought_problem

  34. #34 Karl Withakay
    May 5, 2008

    Anthony-
    I studied the Bible and Christian religion every day in Christian school from Kindergarten through all my years of high school, not to mention all the Sunday school thrown in there to boot. I’ve read the bible cover to cover several times. I’ve heard dozens of sermons based on the story in question. Never once has it been suggested that the point of the story where God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only (legitimate) son had anything to do with discouraging human sacrifice or pointing out that the Hebrew religion didn’t practice human sacrifice. The story has always been used as an example of the strength of Abraham’s supreme, unquestioning faith in God.

    Also many Christian denominations view the entire bible as literal truth, the Abraham and Issac story included.

    ____________________________________________________

    “Not this century, not this country. Not too often elsewhere in modern times. Name the major religious wars of the past two centuries. Name those specifically started by religious authorities, name one which was begun by the followers of a liberal religious tradition. You say “the church” as if that was one thing. Anyone who hadn’t learned everything from Harris and Dawkins would know that. Does “the church” include the Mennonites? Church of the Brethren?”

    You seem to be holding “the church” and “science” to totally different standards here. How is science responsible for perversions committed in its name that it does not advocate, but “the church” gets a free pass for perversions committed in its name that it may not have advocated? Actually, you can find far more of a basis for the holocaust in the writings of Martin Luther than you can Darwin.

  35. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    Karl Withakay, first, biblical literalism is hardly the dominant form of Christianity, though you would never know that from the media depiction in the United States where liberal Christianity is blacklisted from mention. Sort of like it is among the devotees of pop-scientism. If you suffered under biblical literalists, I’m sorry but it is no one’s fault who didn’t do it to you.

    What you take from the story of Abraham and Issac is certainly not what I took from it nor what I was taught about it when I was a child, but I wasn’t brought up in a fundamentalist atmosphere. I would be surprised if most of the serious discussion of the story didn’t go into the rejection of human sacrifice more than implied in the story, something of an innovation in the area.

    Darwin died fifty years before Hitler came to power, he couldn’t have been responsible for the Holocaust anymore than anyone else who didn’t participate in it. I had the fight over his definite associations with eugenics here last week, those are through his son and his close colleague and cousin Francis Galton, both of whom cited Charles Darwin as the inspiration of their eugenics. I have looked and not found any contemporary condemnation for Galton and Leonard Darwin’s citing Charles Darwin as the source of their eugenics, certainly not from anyone as intimately associated with him as those two. Leonard Darwin has a lot to answer for in his associations up to and including the years that the Nazis were in power. As do many in the sciences and in religion.

    While Martin Luther wrote an anti-Semitic diatribe and has the guilt for it, during the Nazi regime Lutherans produced a number of opponents of Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer one of the most famous. No one who was not guilty of supporting or collaborating with the Nazis has any guilt for what they did.

    I hold scientists to exactly the same standard I do every other person, which is a novelty here, apparently. Being even-handed in the matter is taken as persecution of science.

    There are ScienceBlog, sci-jocks who have advocated drumming “theists” out of the roll call of scientists. Since they would, by their own figures, drive two-fifths of scientists out of the profession with that kind of McCarthyism, they’re the ones who are genuinely anti-science. Funny, just about no one in the Sciblog universe seems to notice that.

  36. #36 mwb
    May 5, 2008

    The engineering of weapons does not fall at the feet of science. The desire for weapons does motivate research, but blaming science for weapons is reversing cause and effect. The desire to control and to resist control, the need for resources, and xenophobia motivate the engineering of weapons.

    Why this needs to be contrasted with religion escapes me. Religion is incapable of inoculating humans against these problems, because it is in the “believing, deeply, things for no reason” business, and as such is vulnerable to irreconcilable schisms. If anything it contributes to the tribalism that underpins genocide, but to what extent I cannot say.

    If there is a way of understanding why cooperation among humans breaks down, and how to do something about it, it will come from scientific inquiry and human ingenuity. It won’t “save the world” in the long run. Nothing will. It would be much more productive for us to focus on making life for humans better; both now, and for the generations that shall follow us.

  37. #37 Shiritai
    May 5, 2008

    Anthony,

    It’s hard for me to make out from your writing what your major claims are, and what you think supports them. If you could sum up the thrust of your arguement in one or two sentences, it would be a great help to me and, I think, a lot of other people.

    Secondly, who “advocated drumming “theists” out of the roll call of scientists?” As far as I know, no one has said anything remotely close to this on this blog.

  38. #38 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    The engineering of weapons does not fall at the feet of science.

    Oh, for crying out loud. You mean all those physicists and chemists who were employed by the Manhattan Project were just collecting a paycheck? That their counterparts in the Soviet Union were just figureheads? That those geologists who were bidding on stretches of the arctic last winter were just working for the oil corporations because they couldn’t find a job in geology. Or are you claiming that geology isn’t a branch of science?

    This is what is known as a dodge. A transparent dodge. If I was indulging in that kind of thing I would say something about stuff like this putting the “load” in the “reload” command.

    Lying in the name of science. Let’s see how the romantics of scientism handle this one.

  39. #39 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    Secondly, who “advocated drumming “theists” out of the roll call of scientists?”

    Ever been to PZ’s blog?

    My major claim is that science is an entirely human activity, that it isn’t the only means to find the truth, that it isn’t the one and only beacon of enlightenment and all things true and good but just another means to do the things it can do. Also that there are many things it can’t do.

    Also, that scientists can be paragons of virtue or total swine, that they are either of those or that they fall somewhere in between quite separate from the quality of their science and that the worst scum that have ever worked in the sciences don’t generally get excommunicated from science due to their crimes, at least not while they’ve still got influence. If religion is going to be answerable for crimes committed in its name, science has to have the same rules applied to it. You would think that with it’s assertions of rigor and dispassionate seeking of the truth that science would be the first to admit to the crimes committed with science instead of objecting to when those are mentioned. Being wrong that way often has more serious consequences than publishing a faulty scientific finding.

  40. #40 mwb
    May 5, 2008

    I must say that your maligning of my character is undeserved. You have confused cause and effect, and it is as simple as that. Your malicious attribution of culpability is no better than Stein’s or any other that conflates scholarship with depravity. Science is a method humans have devised for understanding how nature appears to work and nothing else–of obvious value to those that seek to build tools. It is not responsible for the ills of the human psyche and no one should make the mistake of engaging you on such unfounded ground. You have called out rigor as responsible for human failings, and that anyone would suffer such foolishness to debate the number of dead due to knowledge is lamentable.

    Scientists have the same motives and failings as any other humans. If you want to know why you will have much further to travel than just scapegoating science.

  41. #41 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    You have called out rigor as responsible for human failings

    I have not. I asserted surprise that people who advertise their own rigor, and congratulate themselves on it so vigorously. would be so eager to avoid having it applied to a review of the behavior of their kind. I’d have thought that was an endorsement of rigor. I’ve been accused of it, myself.

    As for “scapgoating” – ironic choice of term – I’m for exactly the opposite, for the guilty being assigned their guilt and not people who happen to either be scientists or religious observers having guilt not theirs given to them. Though my insisting on a single standard instead of a double standard might have caused the confusion.

  42. #42 Ian Musgrave
    May 5, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    No scientific authority ever asked someone to sacrifice their only son.

    Oh, really. I could just point out the people who worked in Marie Curie’s lab or many who worked in the nuclear industry, at the behest of scientists and those who hired them. You can add those who work in the chemical industry, the foods industry, petroleum industries, etc.

    Marie Curie didn’t ask anyone to sacrifice their lives, at the time of her work, no one had the foggiest idea that radioactivity was hazardous (there were even advertisements for spa water claiming that particular waters were healthier as they were more radioactive). Marie Curie herself did the large majority of the work and died of aplastic anaemia that was probably induced by the radioactivity she worked with. The long induction times for cancers made it hard to associate exposure to disease (as well, the nature and diagnosis of cancer was not anywhere near as sophisticated as it is today)

    Similarly, in the chemical industry it was the research chemists themselves that were more likely to be at risk than their assistants (back in the day chemists used to taste the substances they made, at least one chemist died because of a taste test).

    Again, no one was being consciously sacrificed, people just didn’t know then what we do now about either short of long term toxicity of substances (also, you need to compare apple with apples, compared to a lot of other industries, the chemical industry was fairly safe, being a tanner wasn’t much fun until chemists came up with better tanning agents, life in the iron smelting industry was pretty miserable too).

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Davis, I’m saying that it took a heck of a lot longer for them to catch on, face up to facts and protect people working with radioactive materials than it should have.

    You can say that with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. These things were not at all obvious at the time, and it took a lot of painstaking work to sort out toxicity and exposure routes. Especially since the cancer that radiation produces can take up to 20 years to develop, this makes it hard to associate exposure and doses over the short term. It is hard to see, even with 20/20 hindsight, how we could have been much faster in organising protection for people.

    That said, hazard reduction can be a bit overprotective these days, I have a bottle of washed sea sand that recommends I use it wearing a respirator to avoid cancer (sheesh).

  43. #43 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2008

    Ian Musgrave, short of going to the library and looking for the source of the idea, that Marie Curie was rather slow to notice people she worked with, and herself, dying from exposure to radium, I’ll just have to say we differ on that point. You might be right that she shouldn’t be faulted for not realizing the danger of radium earlier, I’d think she might have noticed faster if she didn’t have so much investment in her discovery. Perhaps she was a bit like Edward Teller in that, though only a little. He would, of course, make a better example of people willing to make human sacrifices to science, as long as it wasn’t any skin off of his nose.

    I’m willing to put up with some of the absurd hazard notices, enjoying some of the absurd ones when I see them, if it means that ones that aren’t a joke are put up. Consider the ones that don’t get posted.

  44. #44 CanadianChick
    May 5, 2008

    Anthony, unsurprisingly you seem to be missing the point.

    SCIENCE doesn’t do anything. SCIENCE doesn’t lead to anything other than maybe, more science.

    SCIENTISTS on the other hand, being human, can make mistakes. POLITICIANS can take the results of scientific research and so some horrible things with it, being human. Ordinary people can do the same thing.

    If scientists hadn’t invented guns, people would be jabbing each other with pointed sticks or fresh fruit or something.

    Because they’re human.

    Oh, and even my ultra-liberal left-leaning childhood church taught that the story of Isaac’s Sacrifice was meant to teach us about Abraham’s complete and utter faith in and devotion to his god. Got that idea from the Jews, I guess.

  45. #45 Blind Squirrel FCD
    May 5, 2008

    On a positive note, ctl got the part about sugar right:)

    I was bible-beaten for 18 years; never was the story of Abraham presented any other way than to illustrate the strength of A’s faith. Anthony McCarthy, you are making shit up as you go along, and not doing a very good job of it either. There were over 500 protestant chaplains captured in the aftermath of the battle of Stalingrad. There was one Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One, Anthony. Can you see the single finger I am holding up?

  46. #46 Phoenix Woman
    May 5, 2008

    There are those who would engage the trolls, and that is good. There are those who would rather not see the trolls’ comments, and for you folk I have three words:

    Firefox. Greasemonkey. Killfile.

    Makes my life a lot more peaceful.

  47. #47 Shiritai
    May 5, 2008

    Anthony,
    “My major claim is that science is an entirely human activity, that it isn’t the only means to find the truth, that it isn’t the one and only beacon of enlightenment and all things true and good but just another means to do the things it can do. Also that there are many things it can’t do.”

    Thanks a lot for clarifying your position for me. This is sortof what I thought you were saying, but I was convinced I was missing something since, to me, this is a noncontraversial statement, and I couldn’t quite figure out what was causing so much debate. I think pretty much everyone here would agree with the above quote, and the only arguements on your position are about the evidence you think backs this up. I don’t really see the point of arguing the specifics if everyone agrees that science isn’t the be-all and end-all.

  48. #48 Dan S.
    May 6, 2008

    short of going to the library and looking for the source of the idea, that Marie Curie was rather slow to notice people she worked with, and herself, dying from exposure to radium, I’ll just have to say we differ on that point.

    Of course, you could also go to the library, since presumably you would agree that the truth (at least, as close as we can come to it) is important?

    You might be right that she shouldn’t be faulted for not realizing the danger of radium earlier, I’d think she might have noticed faster if she didn’t have so much investment in her discovery.” (non-emphasis added)

    That’s an interesting choice of words, perhaps implying (although not exclusively) a merely monetary and greed-laden experience – that she refrained from noticing for profit. This is certainly not useless as a general principle (people do act this way) and may very well apply here in the broader sense of personal (emotional, affective) investment. However, given her decision to refrain from patenting the method of isolating radium (at least according to wikipedia), the narrower sense (re: $) seems perhaps less plausible.

    Taken together with your musings, in an earlier thread here, about how you’ve

    . . . wondered if a scientist discovered that the earth was going to be vaporized in two days if he would make his short lived, world wide fame or if he would keep it to himself so people might not have two days of horrible experiences. My guess would be most would opt for the fame, though I hope I’m wrong about that.”

    it all suggests – well, the simple version is that you really dislike scientists and have some sorta grudge against them in general. (It’s possible that you merely think people are often petty and crappy, and just happen to be currently speaking of humans who do science (as you sorta suggest above) but that’s not the impression I get.)

    Anyway, given that Marie Curie’s death almost certainly resulted from exposure to radiation, the comparison you were attempting to draw – in which evil scientists gleefully (or worse, dispassionately) demand the sacrifices of others for their own selfish benefit – looks a little silly, and suggests you weren’t aware of the facts in this case. Which is a bit of a shame, because it certainly is correct that one can find scientists who are rather crappy to others, what with the whole being human thing.

    >>Secondly, who “advocated drumming “theists” out of the roll call of scientists?”
    Ever been to PZ’s blog?

    This is where links would come in handy, y’know. After all, if PZ’s advocating a purge of theistic scientists – for religious believers in science fields to lose opportunities, advantages, jobs (perhaps even their property, freedom, or life!), people should be informed. My recollection is that he’s advocated no such thing (although he seems unable to grasp the basics of compartmentalization) , but I’ll be the first to admit that my memory’s not so great. So, link?

    biblical literalism is hardly the dominant form of Christianity, though you would never know that from the media depiction in the United States where liberal Christianity is blacklisted from mention.

    According to a 2007 Gallup report, 1/3 of adult Americans believe that the bible “is absolutely accurate and that it should be taken literally word for word“. So not the dominant form of Christianity – that would be “ the Bible is the inspired word of God, but not literally so,” at 47% – it’s certainly a dominant form of U.S. Christianity, esp. in the South, where it commands 41% of the population, only slightly fewer than the 43% holding an “inspired” view.

    When it comes to the percentage of the population that even is aware of, let along holds sophisticated religious studies/’high’ theology ideas (like understanding the story of Abraham and Isaac in the context of historical (human) sacrifice – well . . .

    (though of course that’s not the same as “liberal Christianity”. And oddly enough, Gallup doesn’t seem to recognize any non-Christian religious people, although perhaps that’s left out of the overview.

  49. #49 Dan S.
    May 6, 2008

    Oh, and even my ultra-liberal left-leaning childhood church taught that the story of Isaac’s Sacrifice was meant to teach us about Abraham’s complete and utter faith in and devotion to his god.

    Over the years I’ve picked up the idea that much of the Bible is about wrong choices – failures to take responsibility, to show maturity and independence, etc. Adam and Eve hiding in shame and each blaming another – ‘the woman made me do it! the snake made me do it! – after eating the fruit*, Abraham slavishly preparing to kill his own son when ordered to do so, and so on. Not I believe that this was an original intent** when folks were telling, writing and compiling it, but it works surprisingly well.

    * There’s a very short story about a lonely, weary God who – after countless failed creations – finally has things turn out right . . . but not in the way one might assume.

    ** Granted, there are some bits where it clearly was, but that often seem easy to tell . . .

  50. #50 Magpie
    May 6, 2008

    We’re in a 5 year war where people (rightly) believe it’s horrible that around 4,000 people died. 70 years ago this may have been the total for a month in a war.

    Uh, that is the monthly death toll. You do know that Iraqis are people, too, right?

  51. #51 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2008

    “Oh, and even my ultra-liberal left-leaning childhood church taught that the story of Isaac’s Sacrifice was meant to teach us about Abraham’s complete and utter faith in and devotion to his god.”

    The idea that Abraham was rewarded for obedience wasn’t unusual in religion at the time, it was commonly accepted that the gods might reward you for obedience. What was more unusual was that El, the god of Abraham, didn’t require him to go through with a human sacrifice, that El didn’t require human sacrifice, or, given what comes after in the tradition, that El didn’t want it. In any case, Issac was spared in the end. This is a fable you know.

    There were over 500 protestant chaplains captured in the aftermath of the battle of Stalingrad. There was one Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    There were quite a number of scientists and doctors wanted for crimes against humanity after the Nazis fell. Are other scientists and doctors answerable for their crimes? Should the profession of medicine be held responsible for what Dr. Heim did? There were quite a number of religious people murdered by the Nazis, quite a few for resistance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just one of the most famous ones.

    One, Anthony. Can you see the single finger I am holding up? Posted by: Blind Squirrel FCD

    I guess this is supposed to be clever?

    this is a noncontraversial statement

    Were that that was true, Shiritai. I do think that most scientists know the real limits of science, though a lot of them don’t seem to. The sci-blog wannabees seem to be just about uniformly unaware of those limits and get worked up when you mention them.

    Phoenix Woman, considering I used to cite your blog favorably, commending Charles on his excellent coverage of the Mexican elections, and much more, I’m kind of surprised that you can’t see the difference between intellectual engagement and trolling. If I seem aggressive, it’s hardly unknown to be the dominant tone at the ScienceBlogs. I’ve tried a less aggressive style here but when I get jumped I don’t roll over and say uncle.

  52. #52 Ian Musgrave
    May 6, 2008

    Ian Musgrave, short of going to the library and looking for the source of the idea, that Marie Curie was rather slow to notice people she worked with, and herself, dying from exposure to radium, I’ll just have to say we differ on that point.

    You should have gone to the library first, as this is all standard history. Mme Curie died at the age of 67, 31 years after the massive exposure to radiation that occurred during the isolation of polonium and radium. The aplastic anaemia which claimed her life was only apparent in the last 2 years of her life. So no, Marie Curie would not have “noticed herself dying” during the time of her isolation work and even the decades immediately after. I will also bet you cannot identify one of her assistants who died of radiation exposure either.

    There is no basis in fact to your claims.

  53. #53 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2008

    Ian, as I recall there were those who sort of noticed something wrong in her lab during her life. Though it’s been a long time since I read any books about Curie.

    As for identifying her assistants who died of radium exposure, short of digging them up and testing them, it would be kind of difficult to nail it down. Are you asserting that it isn’t a possibility that the close proximity to radium known to have taken place might not have killed people? Though I might have gone a bit farther in making the point about scientists who don’t mind people getting killed for the greater glory of their names in science, or a large salary, I don’t think it was all that far.

    As I recall some people suspect it could have had something to do with why poor Pierre succumbed to his accident. Though being killed by traffic was known to happen to others also.

  54. #54 Blaidd Drwg
    May 6, 2008

    “Uh, that is the monthly death toll. You do know that Iraqis are people, too, right?”

    Well said, Magpie. I’ve heard, over and over, that we should ‘pray for our troops’. Has anyone EVER heard an American preacher suggest that we should pray for Iraqi civilians, much less the Iraqi troops?

    I’ve heard that ‘God put GWB in office, He (God) places all leaders in their position of authority’. Therefore, does it not logically follow, that God put OBL in his position, for God’s purposes? By opposing OBL, are we not working against God’s plan?

    I’ve heard preachers suggest that we pray for GWB, I wonder, will they be so quick to call for prayers if Obama is elected this November? I don’t recall many prayers for Bill Clinton when he was in office (other than praying to have him removed, of course).

    I accidentally turned to the Mike Savage show a few months ago, and heard a guest host (I don’t recall who it was, and I couldn’t stand listening long enough to find out) ridiculing the stance of some people who had the audacity to suggest that we care about the Iraqi people because they were ‘peeeeopleeee’ (imagine sneering, derisive tone here).

  55. #55 GDwarf
    May 6, 2008

    Anthony,

    Marie Curie had no idea what the radiation was doing to her. Researchers knew that it could cause burns that took a long time to heal, but that’s about it.

    Also, I really want to know what your point is. You seem to be arguing that people can be evil. This is true. However, for some reason, your phrasing implies that you feel that either only scientists can be evil, or that being a scientist drives you to be evil. If this is not what you’re saying, then you may want to work on your clarity next time.

  56. #56 Coldspire
    May 6, 2008

    Somewhat related:

    Esmay’s site has a bright-red button in the left-hand navigation bar, under the We Support heading. Clicking through that hyperlinked image loads up an article that’s part of the “AIDS Wiki,” a community for AIDS denialists (or as the euphemism on the wiki’s front page says, “AIDS Rethinkers”).

    Ack.

  57. #57 Orac
    May 6, 2008

    Yes, I know.

    Esmay’s an über-crank HIV/AIDS denialist who practically worships Duesberg. He’s also a cancer crank, being inordinately impressed with Duesberg’s chromosomal aneuploidy hypothesis of cancer, launching tirades against peer review, and falling for some rather obvious dubious arguments about the state of cancer research.

  58. #58 Coldspire
    May 6, 2008

    Ah, I figured that might’ve been discussed previously, but it was new to me, besides being vaguely apropos to the topic. Obviously I have a little catching-up to do.

    Day late and a dollar short, maybe, but I’m not nearly as poor as Esmay’s critical-thinking faculties.

  59. #59 Jesse
    May 6, 2008

    As usual, Anthony McCarthy fails to answer any questions and fails to make an iota of sense.

    No evidence to back up the absurdity, no logical arguments construed from empirical evidence just ridiculous straw men arguments and the biggest personal vendetta against science that has ever existed.

    Is that why you hate science/scientists so much? Because of your utter failure to make scientific arguments? Kind of like the guy who gets turned down on one too many dates and becomes a woman-hating misogynist?

  60. #60 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy “There were quite a number of scientists and doctors wanted for crimes against humanity after the Nazis fell.”
    …and there were numerous Catholics (some in high positions) who supported the regime to the point that they helped them escape after the war and give them new lives, (relatively) free from the fear that they’d see trial for war crimes.
    There was more than enough bloody hands to go around. Lots of people who should’ve been punished weren’t (whether they did science or worked for Jesus). That’s unfortunate. Sadly, the justice we make in this world is imperfect (while the justice in the next, if the stories are true, required redefining the word “justice”).

    “There were quite a number of religious people murdered by the Nazis, quite a few for resistance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just one of the most famous ones.”
    …and there were quite a lot of scientists, too. From the murdered (Jewish, for the most part), to those that fled (also Jewish) and helped to defeat the Nazis, (lots of whom ended up leaving family behind to suffer under their heel).

    “One, Anthony. Can you see the single finger I am holding up? Posted by: Blind Squirrel FCD”
    “I guess this is supposed to be clever?”
    Small, indiviual displays of resistance don’t add up to much when the Church itself (German Protestant and RC) is either silent on, or actively siding with the Nazis. In a game of Rock-Bonhoeffer-Pope, Pope wins.

  61. #61 Jesse
    May 6, 2008

    As for science saving more people, let me know when it’s saved the planet from itself.

    The Stupid, It burns deeply and wantonly.

    So despite the scientific, medical advances that have helped to save people, everything from taking an aspirin to stave of a heart attack, to the ability to perform in utero surgery to save the life of a mother and unborn child, this doesn’t matter because it hasn’t ‘saved the planet from itself’? You are beyond a moron. You are simply a biased imbecile who has such a strong vendetta that you’re willing to lie and ignore simple, empirical truths.

  62. #62 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Science isn’t bad. Neither is religion. It’s what you do with them that matters. The same scientific method that gave us the bomb gave us nuclear medicine and energy. The same religion that gave us love thine neighbour (and the mindset behind that) also gave us Left Behind (and the mindset behind that).
    Religion can’t cure cancer, while science can’t do whatever it is that religion pretends to do (like, in some cases, pretending to cure cancer, or pretending that dying isn’t really dying, or pretending that we really know what God’s will is).

  63. #63 phantomreader42
    May 6, 2008

    Jesse:

    So despite the scientific, medical advances that have helped to save people, everything from taking an aspirin to stave of a heart attack, to the ability to perform in utero surgery to save the life of a mother and unborn child, this doesn’t matter because it hasn’t ‘saved the planet from itself’? You are beyond a moron. You are simply a biased imbecile who has such a strong vendetta that you’re willing to lie and ignore simple, empirical truths.

    There is no end to the demands of the anti-science dolts. Nothing will ever satisfy them. No amount of evidence will make them see reality. Anything science acheives, they just move the goalposts.

    Note that they don’t have these same high standards for their religious or political leaders. In fact, for them they have NO STANDARDS AT ALL. If science doesn’t provide infinite supplies of delicious food for every person in the world until the end of time, they count that as proof science is worthless (and even success at this impossible task wouldn’t satisfy them). If their imaginary god fails to lift a finger to feed any of the starving children they claim to care so much about, then it’s the kids’ fault for not praying hard enough. There simply is no reasoning with these people. Their brains just fundamentally do not work.

  64. #64 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2008

    Modusoperandi, phantomreader42, Jesse, shoes pinch?

    I’m saving this thread for reference, so much silly scientism in one place.

    How do you type without knowing how to read?

  65. #65 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy “Modusoperandi, phantomreader42, Jesse, shoes pinch? I’m saving this thread for reference, so much silly scientism in one place. How do you type without knowing how to read?”
    Scientism? I don’t know if I’d call myself a scientismist. I don’t mind philosophy (although it would be nice if they could come to consensus), and I don’t mind religion (same qualm). The advantage of science is that it works, however imperfectly. The disadvantage of it is that its “truth” is of the temporary, true-until-proven-otherwise kind (this is opposed to the religious big T Truth, which is True no matter how badly it conflicts with the data. At least more liberal members are willing to reinterpret the Truth so that it’s metaphor rather than literally true. How a literal Jesus dying, in part, for the original sin of a metaphorical Adam works, I don’t know).
    Scientists, given the same data, tend to eventually come to the same conclusions (and new data leads to common new conclusions). Other “methods of knowing” suffer the opposite (how many philosophical schools and religions/sects/denominations are there now?).

    How do you type without learning how to think?

    I don’t care what others may say about, I still love you. Just make sure not to covet my wife.

  66. #66 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy “Modusoperandi, phantomreader42, Jesse, shoes pinch? I’m saving this thread for reference, so much silly scientism in one place. How do you type without knowing how to read?”
    Scientism? I don’t know if I’d call myself a scientismist. I don’t mind philosophy (although it would be nice if they could come to consensus), and I don’t mind religion (same qualm). The advantage of science is that it works, however imperfectly. The disadvantage of it is that its “truth” is of the temporary, true-until-proven-otherwise kind (this is opposed to the religious big T Truth, which is True no matter how badly it conflicts with the data. At least more liberal members are willing to reinterpret the Truth so that it’s metaphor rather than literally true. How a literal Jesus dying, in part, for the original sin of a metaphorical Adam works, I don’t know).
    Scientists, given the same data, tend to eventually come to the same conclusions (and new data leads to common new conclusions). Other “methods of knowing” suffer the opposite (how many philosophical schools and religions/sects/denominations are there now?).

    How do you type without learning how to think?

    I don’t care what others say about, I still love you. If you pass out on my lawn one more time, however, you’re off my Christmas card list.

  67. #67 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Crap. That’s two times. Two times is one time too much.

    My apologies.

  68. #68 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Also, Anthony McCarthy, I don’t see scientism in my posts. At most, I see a healthy disrespect for people who say they have answers for things that they don’t have, who say they know what they don’t know (there’s a difference between knowledge and belief; a conflation that’s fairly rare in men in science, but endemic to men with religion).

  69. #69 Ian Musgrave
    May 6, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:
    Ian, as I recall there were those who sort of noticed something wrong in her lab during her life. Though it’s been a long time since I read any books about Curie.

    So, because you sort of remembered someone said there was “something wrong” in her lab at some unspecific time, you conflate this with Mme Cure knowingly exposing lab assistants to lethal conditions resulting in their deaths.

    As for identifying her assistants who died of radium exposure, short of digging them up and testing them, it would be kind of difficult to nail it down. Are you asserting that it isn’t a possibility that the close proximity to radium known to have taken place might not have killed people?

    In other words, you have no evidence at all, and are just making stuff up.

  70. #70 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2008

    In other words, you have no evidence at all, and are just making stuff up.
    Ian Musgrave

    Oh, I don’t know about that, Ian. If I had the time I’d go to the library and look up what I’ve read in the past. Maybe I will and write a post sometime in the next few weeks. Googling just now I came up with this.

    MEDICAL PROBLEMS BEGAN TO AFFLICT Curie in 1920, when she learned that she had a double cataract. Today we know that exposure to radiation can cause this disease, in which the lens of the eye becomes clouded. Her vision became so impaired that she had to write her lecture notes in huge letters and have her daughters guide her around. Only after four operations was she able again to carry out exacting lab procedures and drive a car.
    Curie, like other researchers and industrialists of the day, was unclear about the health effects of exposure to radioactivity. In 1925 she participated in a commission of the French Academy of Medicine that recommended the use of lead screens and periodic tests of the blood cells of workers in industrial labs where radioactive materials were prepared.

    Although she did not believe that researchers were exposed to the same dangers as industrial workers, she required the Radium Institute staff to have their blood counts checked regularly. She also advised staff members to get regular exercise and fresh air, as if these precautions would protect them from radiation’s harmful effects.

    “Perhaps radium has something to do with these troubles, but it cannot be affirmed with certainty.” –letter from Curie to her sister Bronya, November 1920

    http://www.aip.org/history/curie/radinst3.htm

    You wonder if maybe she was reluctant to think her discovery was more dangerous than she would have liked it to be. Or that she felt badly about exposing her co-workers to the danger out of ignorance. Odder things have been known to happen.

    I’m unclear. Are you contending there was no reason to suspect that she and the others in her lab would have suffered no ill health effects from their handling of radium?

    Modus, so that would be a “yes” on the shoes question. You are silly. I do not happen to be a Christian so you and most of the other sci-rangers here are barking up the wrong tree.

  71. #71 Jesse
    May 6, 2008

    so much silly scientism in one place.

    So we’re making up words now since the present level of vocabulary and verbiage in the English language is insufficient to describe your complete intellectual bankruptcy?

    You’re tragic. For the sake of our race, I hope you have not procreated.

    Phantomreader42: You are 100% correct. You could spend years pointing out the benefits of science and the everyday conveniences that luddites like Anthony use to make their lives better, safer, easier, and healthier and they’d still parrot completely unfounded, dishonest dreck.

  72. #72 D Johnston
    May 6, 2008

    OK, jumping in on this one a bit late but here we go. Anthony, you’re all over the map on what you believe. You seem to believe that the people here are defending scientists as infallible or superior when no one really has. You also seem to be supporting the argument laid out by ctl, which suggests that you too believe that science is evil. And despite your protestations that you only want equal standards, you seem to be arguing for radically different standards for religion and science. So, to clarify things, I’d like you to answer a few questions for everyone’s benefit (and yes, I’m quite serious about this):

    1.) Do you believe that science is inherently evil?
    2.) If the above was no, do you believe that science is a net evil?
    3.) Do you believe that scientists are evil?
    4.) If the above was no, do you believe that scientists are more inclined than other people to be evil?
    5.) Do you believe that science is a religion, or close enough to be comparable to a religion?

  73. #73 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2008

    D. Johnston.

    1.) Do you believe that science is inherently evil?

    No, and I never said it was.

    2.) If the above was no, do you believe that science is a net evil?

    I wouldn’t know how to do that calculation, I doubt anyone could. I’d say that scientists should be a lot better about condemning the activities their colleagues are involved in that get large numbers of people killed and which are destroying the environment. They’re not alone in that, though I’ve never seen any profession that was good at policing itself or calling its members on the evil they do.

    3.) Do you believe that scientists are evil?

    Probably not in any larger percentage than any other identifiable group of people, though they tend to get better paid for doing rotten things than many other groups. Since I’ve got several close relatives and many friends who are working scientists, that would be a rather strange thing for me to believe. If you never have, you should hear them dish on each other.

    4.) If the above was no, do you believe that scientists are more inclined than other people to be evil?

    No, just that their knowledge makes them better at being evil when so inclined. Science tends to be efficacious.

    5.) Do you believe that science is a religion, or close enough to be comparable to a religion?

    Science is not a religion, it is a bunch of methods to come to conclusions about the physical universe that are more reliable than other means. I think what you really want to ask me about is scientism, which is a rather bizarre, completely unscientific and quite widespread superstition. Maybe I should call it a form of “woo” when here. A lot of sci-rangers can’t seem to figure out the difference between science and scientism, they tend to go nuts.

    You know, some of that scatter effect is due to having to answer so many different people who didn’t bother reading what I’d already said. It gets kind of tiresome when they think that bible baiting is going to bother me.

    eg. So we’re making up words now since the present level of vocabulary and verbiage in the English language is insufficient to describe your complete intellectual bankruptcy? Jesse

    Jesse, since my 9th edition of Websters’ Collegiate gives the first use of “scientism” as 1877, old as I am, I assure you I wasn’t there to make up the word. You did try google before you made this stupid assertion, didn’t you?

    Orac, you see what happens when you guys think you have the power to control the English language?

  74. #74 Dan S.
    May 6, 2008

    Orac, you see what happens when you guys think you have the power to control the English language?

    Anthony, please stop. Folks suggested you stop going on and on and on about “darwinism”, since it’s in various ways a bit like a) somebody going on about “suffragism” (inaccurate), b) some liberal insisting on calling a tax on large inherited estates the “death tax,” despite pleas by less naive people, and also some other things that I’m too tired to come up with analogies for. One of two of these folks, I must admit, weren’t very well informed about this issue, and appeared to assume that the term was either a creationist coinage or entirely (rather than largely and increasingly) abandoned by pro-science folks. (A bit like the commenter here, who just hadn’t previously heard the somewhat obscure and specialized term “scientism”, and mistakenly credited you with inventing it).

    Of course, for anyone familiar with the fight for actual science education can tell you, that is the overwhelming impression one gets from even a very brief time in the metaphorical trenches. Nor is this like a mere accident, any more than rightwingers just happened to keep talking about the “death tax”. As Wittgenstein said, in our language a whole mythology is laid down, and creationist use of “darwinism” and similar terms encapsulates many of the same claims which appear in Expelled and similar crap; it’s also simply and rather badly misleading to folks who aren’t particularly familiar with the details of modern biology.

    This was discussed with you many times. Unfortunately, your reactions left something to be desired: you kept insisting that Huxley had given “darwinism” its ‘modern definition’ (misleading, irrelevant, and also suggesting a weirdly creationistic view of language as fixed and immutable)*, yelled about how you were being bullied by “Sci-Jocks” who think they have the power to control the English language etc. etc. etc., (no comment), and stubbornly defended creationists as merely using a perfectly good English word that they have every right to (literally true, but also suggesting that you’re being – genuinely or perhaps intentionally – extremely politically naive about this issue. As you’ve been spending the last few months intermittently lecturing us about your superior knowledge of science-related culture-war politics and how stupid we’re being (in fact, specifically that we should distance ourselves from Darwin, which is what rejection of the “darwinism” mis-label does) – this makes it all rather annoying.

    It’s ironic that you’ve previously mentioned how distressed you are by the whole (admittedly quite depressing) Scienceblogs framing debacle, since in some ways you’re doing some of the same things Nisbet, et al did – there seem to be some pretty good points somewhere in there, but they’re so lathered in an unappealing mixture of at least apparent lack of understanding of on-ground reality, a nevertheless smug sense of one’s superior understanding, and passive-aggressive (or just aggressive) rhetoric that lots of folks just spit the whole thing out before ever getting to the chewy center. Although I admit you add some extra ingredients, such as the apparent willingness to stretch for (or uncertainly remember) the worst possible interpretation of someone’s actions if they’re a scientist. **

    * interestingly, this seems to echo the kind of misguided claim that both you and creationists are pushing – that “darwinists” have a cult of personality or worship around Charles Darwin, viewing him as kind of prophet or deity who handed down the sacred scriptures of evolution (and thus his apostle Huxley has handed down to us the sacred meaning of “darwinism” or some cackhanded crackbrainedness like that)

    ** I’d guess that a fair number of folks have experienced a rough equivalent in their personal lives – when someone, occasionally or even constantly, just seems to be going out of their way to put the worst possible interpretation on one’s actions, motives, etc. – whether parents, teachers, SO’s, pretty much all teenage kids re: their parents, etc.. . . .

    ——-

    Re “scientism”: here’s a piece from http://www.naturalism.org about The Specter of Scientism. (Basically rather than a scary ghost, it’s a silly strawman, but naturalism can help support progressive causes). I;m not sure I end up in exactly the same places; what I would say (answering a somewhat different and nonpolitical question from the article) is that “scientism” captures certain real and not un-problematic things – despite being rather vague and confused, and lumping together different attitudes, and labeling as bad icky ideology some perfectly good philosophical stances – but that for all the folks screaming about what a horrible and destructive epidemic it is, in all but the most serious (and quite possibly anecdotal) cases it’s at worst just is a mild case of sniffles.

  75. #75 Modusoperandi
    May 6, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy, I’m sorry. Generally when someone throws around terms like “scientism”, they’re about to broach “other methods of knowing” (or already have), as a method superior to science for, um, knowing. That other method is generally of the special revelation kind. You can see why I made this error.

  76. #76 Colugo
    May 7, 2008

    There is a history of people with scientific training claiming authority outside of their expertise. There is also a history of ideologues claiming the authority of science, sometimes abetted and encouraged by scientists.

    Science as an ideal is a methodology of inquiry. It is also a human activity in the real world, subject to all of the biases, delusions, and errors that human beings are prone to. Even this imperfect real world practice of science (as opposed to the idealized algorithm) is highly effective in generating ever-more complete models of phenomena, which allows for more powerful technologies.

    With philistines like Ben Stein and company some circling of the wagons is perfectly natural. It is understandable that we get defensive. The Dark Ages threaten to rise again not only in fundamentalist America and Muslim world but also in New Age Europe. Perhaps in such a sociopolitical climate we don’t feel that we have the luxury of perhaps painful self-examination.

    Eugenics is perhaps the single most relevant case study of scientism gone wrong. It was not a fringe political movement that happened to gain power, driven by a handful of cranks acting on right wing Christian impulses. Never mind Darwin and his circle. Among the architects of international eugenics were the leading biologists of their time. Charles Davenport helped introduce Mendelism and biometrics to the American scientific community. Eugenics was part of the Progressive Era, an applied science (not generally regarded as a pseudoscience until later) championed across the political spectrum. It wasn’t just a Nazi antirationalist madness, even though it reached its most malign expression – by far – in Nazi Germany. It is a crucial historical fact that a foundational text of the Nazi racial hygiene program was also a standard human genetics text in America.

    On the topic of scientism, there is a movement today that seeks to reshape the human genome not just to cure disease but to improve the stock of future generations. Some of them promise a Utopian tomorrow of genetically and cybernetically augmented humans. If some (how many?) fetuses and infants are malformed or rendered nonviable by these experiments, it will be worth it – better for all mankind – in the long run. Some major bioethicists think this is a good idea. With these developing technologies, we can finally transcend the limitations of biology itself. In fact, Julian Huxley, the coiner of the name of this movement – transhumanism – was himself an old-school eugenicist.

  77. #77 Davis
    May 7, 2008

    I’m unclear. Are you contending there was no reason to suspect that she and the others in her lab would have suffered no ill health effects from their handling of radium?

    You’ve backed off so far from your original claim, that Curie’s lab was an example of a scientific authority asking someone “to sacrifice their only son,” as to render your argument unintelligible. It’s becoming clear that your tendency to elicit such negative reactions is due to this sort of incoherent argument (the more you post, the less clear your position is), and not because your respondents are blinded by scientism.

  78. #78 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2008

    You’ve backed off so far from your original claim, that Curie’s lab was an example of a scientific authority asking someone “to sacrifice their only son,”

    Well, Davis, you might have caught me red handed at assuming that negligence up to and including getting someone killed who wasn’t an “only son” would count as something worth considering in the discussion. I will admit that the distinction isn’t one that means much to me, perhaps it’s because I wasn’t an “only son”. Or, maybe there are other “other sons” and those who care about them who consider their lives to be worth more than the professional glory of science. The fastening on to the “only son” idea at a sci-blog seems kind of, oh, I don’t know, maybe “biblical” would be the right word, for this crowd. I didn’t make the claim that Marie Curie sacrificed anyone’s “only son”, if you are resorting to holding me to that, however, since the original point I was answering referred to the fable of Abraham and Issac, making the inaccurate assertion that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his “only son” to him, poor Ishamel never gets any respect, the inaccuracy was borrowed by me to begin with.

    You know, life tends to be kind of complicated. I don’t feel under any obligation to simplify problems that don’t go away by reductionism just because some people are too lazy to keep up. But then I tend to be really critical of the social sciences for just that reason. I’ve noticed that most of the hard core adherents of scientism tend to spring from the social sciences or resort to the methods the worst of those guys get away with. I’d thought you were the detail guys and comprehensive thinkers, isn’t that included in the higher practice of science?

    Dan S. I think Orac’s a big enough boy to stand a bit of ribbing. It was a very mild tease, you’ve seen me go a lot farther than that with people I don’t like. I couldn’t resist.

  79. #79 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2008

    Dan S. I looked at your link to naturalism.org. I’d rate that as a pretty self-serving view of things.

    Susan Blackmore? Give me a break. Do yourself a favor before you bring her into a discussion. Go review her PhD work, see the quality of her, *um*, ‘science’, including the use of infants as subjects. Go look at what her idea of what constitutes science – and apparently those who granted her degree. If I had time I’d go look up some of the others who constitute this group, the only other one I’m familiar with is that fat-head Daniel Dennett who might rate as the most bizarre exponent of Darwinism who has ever existed. I believe he calls his ideology that himself, or used to before the effort to suppress the word began, before you flip out over the use of a word you don’t like.

    You might want to do some research and see that critics of scientism predate the Kurtz cults attention span and research methods. This group could fit into easily into the Kurtz cult. Some of the critics of scientism have been what Kurtz and Blackmore have never been, scientists, by the way. And even if they hadn’t been, anyone can make a valid point.

  80. #80 phantomreader42
    May 7, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy, lying luddite lunatic:

    Curie, like other researchers and industrialists of the day, was unclear about the health effects of exposure to radioactivity. In 1925 she participated in a commission of the French Academy of Medicine that recommended the use of lead screens and periodic tests of the blood cells of workers in industrial labs where radioactive materials were prepared.
    Although she did not believe that researchers were exposed to the same dangers as industrial workers, she required the Radium Institute staff to have their blood counts checked regularly. She also advised staff members to get regular exercise and fresh air, as if these precautions would protect them from radiation’s harmful effects.

    So, this is your evidence of your absurd claim that Madam Curie knowingly and deliberately exposed her workers to danger? Accodring to YOUR OWN SOURCE:

    1. Curie was not fully aware of the danger, at that time no one was.
    2. She took reasonable safety precautions.

    Is this the best you can do to slander science? Accuse a dead woman of not being able to see into the future? Do you hold everyone to this insane standard, or do you just pull it out when you need an impossible hurdle?

    This is what I was talking about. You hold scientists to a standard you know is impossible. Do you hold yourself to anything even remotely as stringent? No, of course not. You’re allowed to just make shit up, with no consequences at all.

  81. #81 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2008

    You hold scientists to a standard you know is impossible.

    phantomreader42, passing up the question of how long it took you to come up with a stream of alliteration running to three words, you are silly.

    Notice that Curie noticed that something was wrong at least from the time she wrote to her sister and that she showed signs of denial in the letter. I’ve been looking for her husband’s paper on the physiological effects of radium but haven’t found it, I suspect it’s been translated into English so if I find it I’ll let you know what he said. Notice that Marie Curie had experienced some of those effects herself, burns on her fingers. Though I’m hardly well versed in the knowledge of the physiological damage of radiation in the first decades of the last century, I’m finding what I’m reading interesting. I’m beginning to suspect that they must have noticed problems before 1920 but that it isn’t readily available online. I’m wondering how they could have missed it due to the crude levels of safety they had back then. Here’s something interesting, though I don’t know when these earliest problems would have been written up.

    http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/radevents/radaccidents.html

    Got to teach the rest of the week and won’t get to the library before the weekend, at the earliest, though I do have much more important things to research and write about than the posthumous reputation of yet another figure in science, like a Democrat winning the election.

  82. #82 Davis
    May 7, 2008

    Well, Davis, you might have caught me red handed at assuming that negligence up to and including getting someone killed who wasn’t an “only son” would count as something worth considering in the discussion. I will admit that the distinction isn’t one that means much to me, perhaps it’s because I wasn’t an “only son”.

    Apparently I was being too charitable. The “only son” bit is not the point. The “asking someone to sacrifice” is. Fact: Curie did not know the actual danger present in her lab. Therefore, she was not asking anyone to sacrifice anything. Even if your supposition (provided without evidence, I might add) that she really should have known were true, this still does not entail her asking a sacrifice of anyone. That requires knowledge.

    You’re really good at sanctimony, I’ll give you that.

  83. #83 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2008

    Actually, Davis, I’m good at giving arrogant jerks back a taste of their own stuff. You guys aren’t exactly self-effacing and modest. If you weren’t being jerks I’d go back to my usual preference of dealing only with evidence and reasonable conclusions.

    The “asking someone to sacrifice” is. Fact: Curie did not know the actual danger present in her lab.

    Oh, that’s a fact? I’m looking and finding out that it might not have been such a “fact” as you would like it to be. See the link I gave above from “The Radium Institute”. It might be difficult to show that she should have known earlier the dangers that radium posed to the people working under her might pose or that she ignored problems, but to say she was entirely unaware of the potential danger is untrue. You know that if I hadn’t read about this to begin with I’d have conceded the point to Ian, but the position you have isn’t “fact”. I’d imagine you have researched the question and found that no one she could have known about had reservations about the safety of radiation up to the point where the evidence shows she knew about that in 1920.

    You certainly can’t deny that the many scientists working in the nuclear weapons industry, the so-called nuclear power industry, the British and Soviet nuclear dumping industries were unaware of the dangers plutonium and other nuclear substances posed as they made their livings damaging the environment and peoples’ lives. That, Davis, is the real point, that scientists are not immune from getting people killed with their work.

  84. #84 Davis
    May 7, 2008

    If you weren’t being jerks I’d go back to my usual preference of dealing only with evidence and reasonable conclusions.

    Has it occurred to you that people are “being jerks” because you’re not dealing with evidence and reasonable conclusions?

    …to say she was entirely unaware of the potential danger is untrue. You know that if I hadn’t read about this to begin with I’d have conceded the point to Ian, but the position you have isn’t “fact”. I’d imagine you have researched the question and found that no one she could have known about had reservations about the safety of radiation up to the point where the evidence shows she knew about that in 1920.

    In direct contradiction to your claims of knowledge, the very link you provided states “Curie, like other researchers and industrialists of the day, was unclear about the health effects of exposure to radioactivity.” She also took what were considered reasonable precautions at the time: “Although she did not believe that researchers were exposed to the same dangers as industrial workers, she required the Radium Institute staff to have their blood counts checked regularly.”

    Having suspicions is not the same as having knowledge. Having suggestive evidence is not the same as knowledge. Yet for some reason, you keep insisting that she actually did know that the radiation would be life-threatening. Apparently you could have seen that radiation was very dangerous, so she must have known — nevermind the fact that you have yet to provide evidence that she actually knew. This is a fallacy composed of hindsight and mind-projection.

    Incidentally, do you have any evidence that anyone in her lab, aside from Curie, died as a result of their work there?

  85. #85 LanceR
    May 7, 2008

    Earlier comment:

    well, the weapons manufactuers and military tell their scientists what they want, weapons that kill more people in ever more ingenious ways. They fully expect them to produce weapons that kill more people and their scientists fully expect them to be made and used. And no one stops them, resulting in many, many thousands of people being killed in this fully commonplace application of science. They often even come up with new science in the process of creating ever more murderous weapons.

    Your current “position”:

    That, Davis, is the real point, that scientists are not immune from getting people killed with their work.

    Anyone with any job, anywhere, is not immune to getting people killed. The janitor at the office may spill floor wax near the stairs. So what? That is not the same as implying that Science Kills People!!!11!!eleven!

    Definitely a troll… possibly a specimin of troglodytus luddita

  86. #86 LanceR
    May 7, 2008

    specimin –> specimen. Not enough coffee…

  87. #87 Ian Musgrave
    May 7, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:Today we know that exposure to radiation can cause this disease, in which the lens of the eye becomes clouded.

    So your claim that Mme Curie deliberately exposed her assistants to conditions she knew to be lethal rests of her getting cataracts nearly 20 years after the main work on radioactivity, cataracts that only in modern times we can link to radiation exposure.

    Yes, you are just making stuff up.

  88. #88 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2008

    Ian Musgrave, you know I’ve had problems with sci-jocks who don’t understand about quoting cited materials before.

    Here, try clicking on this. I assure you I have no connections to The Radium Institute other than this link.

    http://www.aip.org/history/curie/radinst3.htm

    How old are you? Don’t they teach about citations anymore? Because that would explain a lot.

    LanceR, well, the difference between a janitor and a scientist is that it’s a scientist’s job to know the implications of their work. Though I’ve known janitors who had more on the ball than some of the people in the sciences I’ve read about. I’m actually more of an imp than a troll, and I bite.

    Davis, In direct contradiction to your claims of knowledge, the very link you provided states “Curie, like other researchers and industrialists of the day, was unclear about the health effects of exposure to radioactivity.”

    Well, since the citation included a part of a letter she wrote to her sister mentioning the possibility that the exposure was dangerous she definitely knew it was possible. Her being “unclear” about it would not be the same thing as having absolutely no idea that it might be dangerous. That kind of “unclear” stuff is what the Bush junta sci-shills have been saying about global warming for the past eight years. It’s been a constant line in the nuclear industries all along. Curie might not have been aware in the beginning that radium was dangerous but her own experience must have indicated that it wasn’t innocuous.

  89. #89 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2008

    This is certainly interesting:

    Les rayons X ont ét é découverts par Roentgen en décembre 1895 et dès avril 1896, donc 4 mois après leur découverte, on commençait à observer des radiodermites , lésions de la peau, causées par les rayons X . L’origine de ces lésions était simple : pour rechercher s’il y avait émission de rayons X e t régler le générateur, les expérimentateurs plaçaient la main dans l a trajectoire du faisceau de rayons X et examinaient l’image du sque- lette sur l’écran . Dès 1902, le premier cas de cancer de la peau provo – qué par les rayons X était décrit . Donc, il y a maintenant plus d e 85 ans . Historique. Enquêtes. Conclusions. La radioactivité naturelle a été découverte par Becquerel , à quelques pas d’ici, en 1896 .

    Becquerel était très lié avec Pierre Curie et ils ont ensemble étudié les effets biologiques des rayonne- ments émis par les corps radioactifs . La première communication sur les effets biologiques des rayonnements émis par les radioélément s a été faite par eux . L’anecdote mérite d’être racontée . Curie et Bec- querel travaillaient ensemble mais leurs laboratoires étaient séparés par quelques centaines de mètres, aussi pour transporter la pastill e radioactive, ils la plaçaient souvent dans le gousset du gilet . Un jour, Becquerel allant faire une conférence à Londres sur l a radioactivité, a tout naturellement placé une pastille radioactive dans l e gousset de son gilet où elle est restée pendant 4 jours . Quelques temps après son retour, il a aperçu une petite tache rouge en regar d du gousset . Il en a parlé à Curie et ils se sont demandés si ce n’étai t pas dû à l’émission radioactive . Curie a suggéré à Becquerel de mettr e la pastille dans l’autre poche du gilet, ce qui fut fait pendant 4 jours et effectivement, il apparut une tache rouge . Mais Curie étai t méthodique et méfiant . Il mit à son tour la pastille dans la poche droite puis dans la poche gauche du gilet . Le résultat était concluant . Ils firent ensemble une communication à l’Académie des Sciences rela- tant le résultat de ces quatre expositions . Ainsi ont été décrit s pour la première fois, il y a environ 90 ans, les effets des rayonne- ments émis par les radioéléments naturels .

    http://irevues.inist.fr/bitstream/2042/8180/1/MURS_1988_11_31.pdf

    Don’t know why it didn’t occur to the two Curies that it might have been a wee bit dangerous, once burned twice shy times two. It’s getting more interesting as I read more.

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2008

    And there is this, note the passages from Pierre Curie’s Nobel speech:

    Pierre Curie s’intéressa très tôt aux effets biologiques des rayonnements en collaborant avec des médecins. ” Enfin dans les sciences biologiques les rayons du radium et son émanation produisent des effets intéressants que l’on étudie actuellement. Les rayons du radium ont été utilisés dans le traitement de certaines maladies (lupus, cancer, maladies nerveuses). Dans certains cas leur action peut devenir dangereuse.” indique-t-il dans son discours de réception du prix Nobel. La conclusion de ce dernier illustre l’ampleur de ses vues et une extraordinaire prescience. “On peut concevoir encore que dans des mains criminelles le radium puisse devenir très dangereux et ici on peut se demander si l’humanité a avantage à connaître les secrets de la nature, si elle est mûre pour en profiter ou si cette connaissance ne lui sera pas nuisible. L’exemple des découvertes de Nobel est caractéristique, les explosifs puissants ont permis aux hommes de faire des travaux admirables. Ils sont aussi un moyen terrible de destruction entre les mains des grands criminels qui entraînent les peuples vers la guerre. Je suis de ceux qui pensent avec Nobel que l’humanité tirera plus de bien que de mal des découvertes nouvelles.”

    “In certain cases the effects of [radioactive emanations] can be dangerous,” the comparison to the work of Nobel and its dangers in the hands of criminals as well as its possible benefits. You would have to believe that Marie Curie hadn’t read her own husband, teacher and colleagues, work and his Nobel speech to claim that she had no idea about the dangers of radium and the other substances her lab handled.

    It’s not reasonable to claim that Marie Curie was unaware of the risks of exposure to radium, she had to have known but ignored them. I think in her case it was a tragic failure to admit the real danger of her discovery which she so obviously wanted to be a great good. Her subsequent activities, which were, in large part, to assert noble and heroic uses for radium aren’t the actions of someone with criminal intent. I think her irresponsibility was tragic, whereas that of someone like Edward Teller was self-serving and opportunistic. Marie Curie certainly should have known better but I don’t think she could bear the developing truth about the danger of her discovery and, maybe, even the folly of some of its applications. Even her idealistic refusal to patent her process turned out to have tragic consequences. I doubt she would have let those go into the public domain if she understood the dangers of radium mixed with profit motives and the lack of workers protections. I’m certain that she must have been horrified by the “radium girls” story as it developed.

    I hadn’t known until last night that, as with Darwin’s association to eugenics, this is also known and part of fundamentalist “christian” propaganda. They are, apparently, using it as an attack on feminism, primarily, which is pretty dishonest since the men around Curie were just as much in denial as she was and had more power to prevent the problems that developed. This, as well as the fight last week over the romantic myth of another demigod of scientism, should be a lesson to people who insist on the romantic view of science. Their ignorance of the history of its heroes, their human weakness and, when it’s clearly true, the really rotten aspects of their activities, aren’t shared by their enemies. They will look at the historical record and use what they find there, sometimes in a much more politically sophisticated way than the romantics of scientism seem to suspect is possible. The enemies of science and of liberalism aren’t stupid, they’re dishonest and they’re clever. They don’t care about science and they don’t care about history and they certainly don’t care about the welfare of people or the environment but they certainly know how to use PR to get what they really do care about, political power, and using it to get their way. Feeling good by covering up the truth and pretending your enemies are too stupid to find information in the public domain is monumentally stupid since it proves you are too arrogant to see what’s going on around you now.

  91. #92 Dan S.
    May 8, 2008

    I hadn’t known until last night that . . . this is also known and part of fundamentalist “christian” propaganda.

    Huh. I didn’t know that either. Thanks. Good to know.

    But, to be fair, I don’t think anyone was arguing that Curie was a wonderful, perfect, flawless demigoddess (as opposed to a smart and pretty cool scientist, but also human). IIRC, the debate was over whether Curie was one example of scientists cooly and with full knowledge sacrificing other people to their selfish, greedy ends. (more or less).

    Anyway, re: the politically driven attack on science: Kevin Drum, talking about former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson’s attack on the idea of a Republican War on Science, mentions that Gerson

    chooses to ignore all these genuine issues because his goal isn’t to talk about science at all. What he really wants to talk about is a conservative trial balloon of fairly recent vintage: namely that liberal support of abortion rights and genetic screening constitutes a “new eugenics” in which science trumps morality and Dr. Mengele has the last laugh on all of us. Liberals’ blind support of science über alles, he concludes ominously, is leading them into a “war on equality.”

    Have to run; more later?

  92. #93 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2008

    Dan, Kevin Drum is right about some of it, he’s wrong to think this effort is of recent vintage, the right has been using these issues in political propaganda and organizing for most of the past century. Their methods have been remarkably successful for most of the past thirty years, in the United States, but also elsewhere. Meanwhile the scientists stubbornly see the problem of “educating the pubic”, and those are the most realistic of them. Most of the activity on places like the ScienceBlogs seem to see it as an opportunity for the sci-rangers to get together to talk about how much smarter they are than the majority of the population, bashing them for their stupidity and ignorance and superstition. As if that was a brilliant strategy for dealing with it. I think the problem is that they refuse to see it for what it is, a political fight that has little to do with the facts of science. If you read Richard Lewontin’s review of Sagan’s book I recommended to you, you would see that is also his analysis of the problem. So you see there are some actual scientists who have a clue about the real nature of the problem.

    I don’t think the activities springing from the Kurtz cult or, now, from it’s cousin, the ScienceBlogs are doing much but making matters worse. I seem to recall that even in one of Kurtz’s own magazines someone published an article talking about the failures of CSICOP about fifteen or so years ago. You would think that the record of the failure of snooty invective and nastiness would have made some impact on those who claim to want to protect the public teaching and funding of science. As it is, a reasonable witness might conclude that isn’t their real purpose, vainglory and competitive sci-frat one-ups-manship are.

    The anti-religion fad? That is a complete non-starter in public relations. It is just proof of the stupidity and arrogance of those engaged in it. And they don’t get much stupider and arrogant than the sci-jocks on the sci-blogs.

  93. #94 Colugo
    May 8, 2008

    Anthony McCarthy: You actually have a valid point or two. But you submerge them in a curious fixation on discrediting scientists like Darwin and Curie based on the premise that they had cryptic sinister beliefs, when you could – with much more historical support – point to the errors of their disciples. And using odd terms like “Kurtz cult” and “sci-jocks” doesn’t help your case.

    Gerson is using “new eugenics” much too loosely; the real new eugenics is transhumanism, not reproductive technologies per se. Eugenics or not, the use of these and emerging technologies raises difficult issues. Most would agree that the massive reduction in Down Syndrome live births due to prenatal testing and selective abortion is not a bad thing. But what about a similar elimination of various forms of dwarfism using the same methods? Or Asperger’s? Or alleles associated with social anxiety, or shortness within the normal range of stature? Not to mention direct germline manipulation to ensure traits desired by the parents. These scenarios are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction to the real world.

  94. #95 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2008

    curious fixation on discrediting scientists like Darwin and Curie based on the premise that they had cryptic sinister beliefs

    I’d call it facing the fact that they aren’t the myths that pop-science insists even as the far-right uses them effectively in their propaganda. Insisting that the scientists didn’t leave a record and trail that includes some pretty unattractive stuff doesn’t make it go away. Since this thread of back and forth began with an implication that science has a clean record as opposed to “religion” what I was insisting on was a single standard be applied across the board. I suspected that the sci-rangers wouldn’t like having their double-standard challenged, most every time I get into these things that is what is at the base of it. But, and I don’t take this as unfortunate, most people will refuse to hold scientists to a different standard of moral evaluation. As we have seen the double standard as applied to clergy diminish, at last, the one the adherents of scientism would like to retain will also give way. This is especially good because, as mentioned above, science tends to be efficacious and it has an irrationally high level of repute these days. The combination make mistakes and worse by scientists potentially more deadly.

    You know that the desire by some who believe in intelligent design is a sign of the reputability of science. Irrationally mistaking methods of studying the physical universe as possibly lending credence to belief in the supernatural diminishes the concept of the supernatural. Taking the “super” from the supernatural lowers it to the same level as the subject of science. You would think that trying to shoe-horn ID into science would be an act of desecration.

    Hope the sci-jocks don’t get too worked up over that, it’s rather a simple observation.

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