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    • The Nobel Prize in Science has been given to Tasuku Honjo and Jim Allison for a discovery that was considered bogus science until their discovery.

      Back in the early 20th century, Modernistic thought was not focused on the idea that majority opinion played a role in Science. It is true that funding tended to follow majority opinion but it was well accepted that discoveries in Science often blindside the scientific community.

      Fast forward to the days of the science fanboys. Postmodernism has produced a very strange and unscientific view of Science. Science is now being treated as something which is determined by majority rule and scientists are now viewed as celebrities. Groupies tend to flock to popular science theories and these non-scientists are vociferous in their attacks on anyone who goes against what is perceived as majority opinion.

      However, today I have read two articles which follow a pattern which I have seen repeated over and over again during my lifetime. Majority opinion in Science is often disproved. (The other article mentioned how the discovery of 3200 Phaeton in 1983 changed an accepted theory of astronomy.)

      For a long time the idea of Cancer Immunology was considered a crackpot idea. An idea based on an outdated view of cancer. But Honjo and Allison discovered the reason that the immune system does not fight cancer and also provided insight into the research path necessary to find how to use immune therapy to fight against cancer.

      Anytime someone starts blabbing on about "settled science" point out to them the frequency in which new discoveries blow a hole in so-called "settled science." And anytime someone starts talking about what the majority of Scientists think on any subject. Ask them how opinion proves anything.

    • Max Planck, founder of quantum physics, has loosely been quoted as saying, "science advances one funeral at a time." Like all other endeavors, science is subject to peer pressure, which can influence publication reviews, academic appointments and grant approvals. But there's no such thing as settled science. Paradigm shifts do occur, as described by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Unlike postmodernism, science is based on objective experimentation and verification. No reputable scientist will ever claim to be in possession of eternal truth--it's a process more than an end result. Still, the consensus of practicing scientists (when there is one) is more likely to approximate reality than the wild musings of an Internet troll who--without evidence--claims that his latest theory will change everything.

    • science is based on objective experimentation and verification.

      That is exactly right.

      Much of today's politics and social reform is based on the subjectivity of individuals and to a lesser degree the subjectivity of perceived groups or reactions to perceived groups.

      When it began I do not know, but the modern idea of "race" is less than 2000 years old.

      This article in the New Yorker discusses the fact that the ancient Greeks and Romans were not obsessed by skin color:

      It is true that ethnic prejudice existed among both the greeks and the romans, but that prejudice was based on other criteria not skin coloration.

      Objectively, from a hard science viewpoint, "race" does not exist.

      This is not, however, a denial that racism exists nor is it a denial that those who are suppressed by the racism of others are truly affected by a real problem. I used the phrase "hard science" in the previous paragraph, because the problem while real is created by an artificial construct. It is a construct which has been in place for centuries and can not be eliminated by pretending that it does not exist, but it is still created by the combined subjectivity of many humans sharing in the perpetuation of the construct.

      Postmodernism seems to me to be building more artificial constructs than it is eliminating.

    • By the way, Postmodernism is an equal opportunity problem. It is my view that the resurgence in white supremacist rhetoric in the young adult population is fueled by a postmodernistic mode of thinking and that at the same time the resurgence in extreme socialistic thinking is also fueled by a postmodernistic mode of thinking.

    • Somehow I doubt that the guys with the Tiki torches in Charlottesville have read Foucault or Derrida.

      EDIT: OK, that was more snotty than I intended. Fact of the matter is that I haven't read them either--I tried a long time ago but found them impenetrable. But I don't for a moment believe that there's any underlying social theory to racism. You're correct that race is meaningless in biology, and is, in fact, socially constructed, but I don't think that means one can blame white supremacy on postmodernism. Obviously, it's been around a lot longer than that.

    • It is not necessary to read scholarly writings to be influenced by a mode of thinking. When I was a child, my thinking was definitely shaped by the modernism of the society in which I was raised.

      Although I was only indirectly influenced by some of these, yet let me give three examples from the 1960s.

      Sergeant Friday was interested in "Just the facts."

      Lex Luthor, like Dr. Frankenstein, was a scientist.

      The characters of Spock and Bones in the first Star Trek series.

      Now contrast that last example to the cluelessness of the android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Combine that with Deanna Troi's ability to "feel what you feel" making Picard's chief advisor based primarily in subjectivity rather than the objectivity of the vulcan Spock.

      The point of this reply is that the racism of the Alt-right does not have to come out of textbooks or the writings of scholars to be postmodernistic in its thought processes.

    • James

      Reply to your edit.

      Oh I was not claiming that either racism or socialism originated with postmodernism.

      I was speaking of a resurgence. Historically both were on the wane in the 1980s but now they are both on the increase.

    • It is not necessary to read scholarly writings to be influenced by a mode of thinking.

      Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as an example, is considered one of the most popular books on philosophy outside of "scholarly" domain. And philosophy underpins most of science.

      I have also found that for at least some people who were fearless enough to follow my recommendations to read Neal Stephenson's System of the World books (three volumes of about a thousand pages each), many interesting avenues of thought have opened and their world view has been significantly altered. Even though those books are fiction!

      And personally, I find myself rereading the diaries of Marcus Aurelius, usually referred to as Meditations, with great enjoyment and always some new insights about myself and my relationship with the world and people in it.

    • I had a professor at Stanford who discovered continental drift and paleomagnetism, a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences who probably would have won a Nobel Prize if they had one for geophysics. He had a strong opinion on this subject that is not far from yours.

      He felt that majority opinion, or panels of experts, were like a bell-shaped curve. They could recognize bad science and throw it out. They could recognize good science that advances current theory and let it be published. But where they had trouble was with big advances that overturn existing theory. To them it often looks like bad science because it's so far from current beliefs.

      He himself had to endure 20 years of ridicule for his observations that continents drifted and the earth's magnetic field has reversed direction in the past.

      I think of him whenever someone makes a truly big breakthrough, like the two scientists in Australia who discovered that ulcers are caused by bacteria.

    • Those are two very good examples, Chris. Thanks.

      I was aware of the paradigm shift that occurred when it was discovered that ulcers are the result of microorganisms, but I did not know about the resistance to continental drift. I'm pretty sure that I was taught about plate tectonics and continental drift while I was in school, so did this discovery occur before the mid-70s?

    • Yes, it was 20 years of data collection and experimentation before the mid 70s that revealed that continents had drifted and the earth's magnetic field had reversed. Allan had many setbacks, the worst being the lack of explanations on how the earth's magnetic field could possibly have reversed.

    • I think Carl Sagan first coined the saying "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." This seems like a reasonable requirement. It is to be expected that a radical departure from current thinking in science will be met with skepticism at first, but as the above examples show, the scientific method will eventually lead scientists to adopt new thinking when supported by proof.

      There's a great recent example of how the process works at its best. In 2011, physicists at CERN obtained data showing neutrinos traveling faster than light, a violation of the bedrock of special relativity. They checked and rechecked but they kept getting the same result at a very high degree of precision. They released their results to the scientific community, but here's the thing: rather than seeking "Einstein Proved Wrong" headlines, they framed it as a call for help. Basically they said, "We've observed an anomaly and can't figure out why; please help us." Of course, the popular press picked up the story with the expected clickbait headlines, speculation about time travel, etc., but that wasn't CERN's fault. Attempts to replicate the finding by other research facilities failed. In the end, the anomaly was traced to an equipment failure (it's always the cable) and science carried on as usual.

    • What are we to make of topics where majority scientific opinion is firmly on one side and a very passionate and large group of people are on an opposing side? For example, vaccinations.

    • Note that you didn't say a large group of scientists. That makes it easy for me--they may be passionate, but they don't offer proof. The scientists do, in this case. It's a harder call when scientists disagree among themselves. In that case, I think the sensible thing to do is suspend judgment and say we don't know for sure yet. An example might be the question of whether there's a link between cell phone radiation and cancer. The majority of studies show no link, but there are some exceptions. I'm still using mine, but I do wonder about our ability to model the long-term dangers. I suppose I have enough confidence in the scientific community to think that they'll sound the alarm when the evidence justifies it. Of course, there are huge financial interests that want the answer to be no, but that was also true about tobacco. Dunno.

    • The point of this conversation is not anti-science but rather an understanding of the difference between real science and an ignorant adoration of a concept of science.

      The vaccination issue is not driven by that which is objective but rather subjective.

      Anecdotal accounts are given without a realization that correlation does not establish causation.

      These anecdotes produce fear in the minds of the uninformed.

      These fears become exacerbated by discussions with other fearful people producing an echo chamber effect.

      This is different from what occurs when there is a conflict between fundamental worldview differences which are based on an objective standard.

      Institutions which shift and change their positions based on changes within society are not objective standards but rather subjective based on the individual's who set the policies of the institution.

    • I studied science history and social influence on technology and science in university (starting about 18 years ago) and I've never heard of the majory rules science idea you're talking about. I'd like to know who postulated and promotes that view. Karl Popper's (then Kuhn's) paradigm shift idea has been around for a long time now and he rightly pointed out how mainstream science theories or understandings are often overturned by the minority or non mainstream scientist or small group of their supporters. This is not new news to me and those who study science history and science epistimology.

    • This usually occurs frequently among non-Scientists who love Science but don't really understand it, but both Chris and I have already cited a few examples of it occurring in science research. Chris cited 20 years of resistance to plate tectonics. The original article upon which this conversation began was about Scientists rejecting the idea of Cancer Immunology as bogus science, and yet now a nobel prize has been given for it. The question of whether Climate Change is primarily driven by human activity is another case where polls of Scientists and funding for science projects is majority opinion driven. In the case of Goodenough's new battery project, there are those who are speaking against his efforts without having access to the research. In other words, prejudice based on what has previously been accepted by the majority.

      We are taught that Science is objective but in the world of Science research, prejudice is a real problem.

    • Foucault's writing is attrocious (I had to read it for an MA level women's studies course) and postmodernism doesn't have must to contribute to the modern conversation and development of knowledge. I agree with what you've said.

    • It's common in Canadian schools to teach about the challenges Alfred Wegener experienced when arguing for continental drift. I certainly teach it but it's also in our text books.

    • Okay that helped clear up your arguments a bit more. What is taught in the sociology of science or the history of science supports the idea that there is a resistance to changing the paradigm of the day among scientists. It's my feeling that this is not in and of itself a bad thing. What these scientists are saying often goes against a very very large amount of scientific study and findings. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In other words if you want to overcome the main theory of the day then you better have all of your ducks in a row and a heck of a lot of evidence to back your claim. (and that was one of the problems with Wegener's claim - he didn't have a mechanism to support his idea that the continents drifted. Yes I know he was also an outsider...) We can't have any old researcher who has a counter view simply overriding the mainstream because they are the minority and their ideas sound cool. We also have a lot of cranks out there who have seemingly 'radical' scientific theories who are not really scientists but scam artists who work on the fringes of science merely to take advantage of the ignorant. It can be hard to distinguish between a crank and a revolutionary thinker but it's usually the evidence they present (or fail to have) that decides. Even a bit of evidence to support their view is not enough, nor should it be. Yes I'm well aware of the reality that it sometimes requires the death of a big mainstream scientist or generation of scientists to allow the growth of a new paradigm but again that's not the death nell for science but rather a part of the human mind and it's inherent biases. Finally I'll say that most of science and technology makes progress as small incrimental steps forward and not nearly as many revolutionary leaps. The examples such as that of Wegener are fairly minimal and I would know because I spent a few years studying just that. (I did my masters thesis on a very closely related topic.) It could be possible that what is understood or accepted in academia (by me) is different from the prevailing lay person's view.

    • As scientific fields of research mature, it is often the case that theories that replace the established mainstream do not necessarily totally displace the theory that came before it. Consider Einstein's work. It didn't stop Newtonian physics from being useful. Likewise a future replacement for Einstein's findings won't make his theories useless.

    • Part of the problem is that there is a cultivated representation of "the scientist" in modern media which explicitly defines them out of behaving "like human beings." They are a cut above, unconcerned with such petty concerns as our day-to-day lives, their own existence is purely an abstraction and absorb wholly with their field of study.

      Or, more shortly, absolute crap.

      Anyone who has ever actually associated with scientists, doctors, or other members of what we are presented as the intellectual elite, knows that they are just as human with vulnerability to human foible and failure as anyone else.

      That's a problem if you imagine the world can and should and possibly is run by an elite technocracy who are manifestly superior to everyone else at every turn.

      Science, as a philosophy and as a process, is intended to be driven by human beings โ€“ flawed, individual human beings who can fail in a multitude of ways. The process is supposed to account for that by replication, by the demand for documentation, by an unflinching view of recognizing that error bars exist, and by making careful claims based only on the available evidence.

      Of course, it is enacted and viewed by mere human beings, which represents not a failure with the process but a failure in existence.

    • Thanks, lextenebris, and welcome to Cake. ๐Ÿ˜

      I was once listening to NPR as they interviewed some apparently famous scientist, I wasn't sure who because I tuned in part way, and Terry Gross asked what he thought the greatest advance in science was. He answered, "the double-blind test." It speaks to the biases we all have, even trained scientists.

      I've never been able to find that quote. ๐Ÿ˜ข

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