Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

HONOR ROLL OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHSEEKERS

Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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The emotional politics of facts

John Stossel lobs a grenade into the minds of feminists all over America tonight (May 27 Fri) with a provocative little segment on 20/20, presenting Warren Farrell and his book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap—and What Women Can Do About It.

Farrell is the original Man Who Loves Women. Years ago he hobnobbed with blonde archfeminist Gloria Steinem, appearing at rallies for the cause of women’s rights and female equality of opportunity. He used to wear a 59c button in honor of the outrageous injustice that women earn less than two thirds of men’s pay in the same job, a statistic which is still true even today, according to current wisdom.

Or not. As Warren points out in his book, maybe not in fact. Perhaps women do earn less on average than men, but according to his research it is because they are less willing to put up with certain disadvantages—long commuting, wind and weather, danger, long hours, travel—especially those that keep them away from their family.

So they avoid certain jobs, which are highly paid or paid more than the average because they are physically unpleasant, risky or they take away time from home life.

Warren became curious about the facts of the matter he says, because he was willing to think about it, and it didnÂ’t make sense to him. After all, if women did the same job for less, then anyone could beat the competition by starting a company and hiring just women. He or she would soon drive all the companies preferring males out of business, because their labor costs would be a third higher.

Any businessman willing to hire women can only pray that his or her competitors are stupid enough to be sexist, according to Farrell. Their costs will be much higher for the same product.

When John Stossel points out to Farrell that his new book explaining all this will likely get him in Dutch with his old feminist friends, he agrees cheerfully. “Yes, I am the bad guy”, he says, having. Like Stossel, who when he introduced the segment said he expected a torrent of feminist mail.

Turns out that FarrellÂ’s research proves his logic flawless, or so it appears. The true situation is that men don’t get paid more than women in the same job, it seems. Once again, a myth is punctured by finding out new facts, which undermine it far more effectively than reason.

Reason seems not to have had much influence in this debate. Warren’s plain and simple business logic has evidently not counted for much over the years. We all swallowed what was essentially an absurd idea. How silly. After all, it must have occurred to most people that hiring all women would be the obvious choice if women really were willing to do the same job for less money. But obviously that was not happening, and the statement didn’t make sense.

Shades of AIDS, where reason quickly indicates that so much doesnÂ’t make sense yet, and probably never will. But likewise, the ship sails on without sinking, even though it has so many holes in its hull. This is not to trivialize the issue of AIDS and its cause, which is a global issue involving life and death, and a scientific debate where the reasoning as well as the evidence has run the gauntlet of strict and often hostile peer review.

As far as the pay issue goes, it is easy to predict that toppling the conventional belief will encounter resistance, since the belief that women get paid less is a fact is imbued with a strong sense of injustice, and support for women against injustice.

Not unlike the AIDS discussion. Once again we meet the problem with so much public debate in all-too-human society: beliefs are deeply rooted in emotions as well as facts, and if the facts are challenged, the emotions rush to defend them much faster than logic can move out of the way. So reason takes a back seat in all but the best educated circles.

AIDS of course is no different in this respect than any other hot issue. Except that the range of emotions involved is so huge. A full list would include fear of death, tribal fears, hopes of succor, anxiety caused by lack of knowledge, loyalty to peers, fear and loathing of subgroups , disgust at the symptoms, shame at the stigma, pride in science, love of money and power, appetite for attention, delight in public recognition and awards, religious fervor and God knows what else sloshing around in AIDS’ emotional bloodbath.

The ideas of AIDS are the most highly charged in the health arena, and this is shown by the great success AIDS advocates have scored in attracting attention and funds away from dealing with much larger and fiercer health dragons such as cancer and heart attacks.

All in all, these many highly charged feelings attached to the scientific AIDS debate go a long way towards explaining why simple logic seems to have very little influence in its resolution, even though the list of anomalies and inconsistencies in the theory is unprecedented in science. What happens is that emotions freeze the mind and stop reason dead in its tracks.

But hold on. Maybe there is another, paradoxical lesson in Warren Farrell’s book, and John Stossel’s segment swallowing its thesis whole, which is that reason is a subtle process and those who do think very often don’t think enough. Perhaps Farrell’s common sense logic isn’t good enough.

After all, isn’t there a giant hole in Farrell’s thesis? Doesn’t it overlook the complicating factor that the behavior of business people that the feminists complain about is exactly UNreasonable and illogical. That is, employers in their prejudice may believe that men are better suited to a particular job than women are, so they may prefer to hire men to do the job rather than women, and never find out that women could do the same job as well as men or better.

This is the prejudice that feminists are fighting, with good reason. The issue is equal opportunity, not whether women get equal pay in the same job. Economics would indeed dictate that ceteris parabus, women and men in the same job doing just as well as each other would get the same pay.

The real issue, however, is whether the women are offered the job.

In the larger, and higher stakes issue of AIDS, the same problem of driving reason to its logical conclusion applies. We need to apply reason to the faith of the many, to see if it holds up. It is not merely a question of facts, but whether those facts are correctly arrived at, and the interpretation of facts.

The highly charged political and psychological emotions running rampant in AIDS have defeated the careful analysis in the scientific literature which appears to prove it completely false. The faithful accuse doubters of being “dangerous” at every opportunity, without being ever called to order.

The real danger lies in discussions which generate heat rather than light, diverting attention away from reason and evidence and allowing mob prejudice to bloom against anyone who wants to review the peer-validated objections.

All of it is highly suggestive that the ruling defenders are driven to such tactics because they are scientifically empty handed. The mark of a scientist with a good case he or she believes in is being open to review, and being happy to debate.

Outsiders in AIDS who are trying to decide who is right might take note of this, just as they can note also that the famous Durban declaration of faith in HIV as the cause of AIDS was also a sign of the weakness of the paradigm.

Scientific statements that have been widely adopted on the basis of good reason and evidence are not in need of statements of religious faith.

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