Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Peggy Noonan against Science

July 20, 2006

Sometimes I wonder how apparently dumb people get to be in positions of such influence.  Take, for example, this column by Peggy Noonan, an editor at the Wall Street Journal:

During the past week’s heat wave–it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday–I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world’s greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened? Also, if global warning is real, what must–must–the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?

You would think the world’s greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can’t. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized.

This is a sickening attack on science and the human intellect. 

There is no great scientist who is not also completely honest and rigorous.  Intellectual honesty is at the core of science; you cannot have one without the other.  Richard Feynman, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, talked about this at Caltech in 1974:

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

To paraphrase a similar idea from the same speech: science is essentially the long history of humans learning not to fool themselves.  Politics, on the other hand, is something approaching the exact opposite.

Science is just facts.  It doesn’t have an ideology.  It’s you, Ms. Noonan, who have become politicized.

How long of a straw does Dr. Hawking need?

July 10, 2006

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at this conference:

[LAWRENCE KRAUSS:] I just returned from the Virgin Islands, from a delightful event — a conference in St. Thomas — that I organized with 21 physicists. I like small events, and I got to hand-pick the people. The topic of the meeting was “Confronting Gravity. ” I wanted to have a meeting where people would look forward to the key issues facing fundamental physics and cosmology.

…Stephen Hawking came; we had three Nobel laureates, Gerard ‘tHooft, David Gross, Frank Wilczek; well-known cosmologists and physicists such as Jim Peebles at Princeton, Alan Guth at MIT, Kip Thorne at Caltech, Lisa Randall at Harvard; experimentalists, such as Barry Barish of LIGO, the gravitational wave observatory; we had observational cosmologists, people looking at the cosmic microwave background; we had Maria Spiropulu from CERN… 

Most of it would have been way over my head, but I’d have been happy to fetch them daiquiris and catch snippets of the discussion over the roar of the blender.

[via slashdot via feedwhip]