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.
----------------------------------------------

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)

BEST VIEWED IN LARGE FONT
Expanded GUIDE TO SITE PURPOSE AND LAYOUT is in the lower blue section at the bottom of every home page.

The Times tries to explain its correction policy

This remarkable piece by Gail Collins was published by the New York Times today ( Sun Oct 2) under the title A Letter From The Editor: It All Goes on the Permanent Record. It struggles to explain that the Times policy towards corrections is now exemplary, but seems to us for various reasons transparent and unconvincing.

(show)

EDITORIAL DESK

A Letter From the Editor: It All Goes on the Permanent Record

By GAIL COLLINS (NYT) 1131 words

Published: October 2, 2005

MOST readers probably presume that those of us who write and edit newspapers hate corrections. That’s not entirely true. If an Op-Ed article or an editorial says James Madison died in 1835 and a reader points out that it was 1836, we will run a correction with a certain satisfaction — the same feeling of painless virtue you get when you tell the grocery cashier that yes indeed, your 53 cents in change can be donated to the March Against Diabetes.

Admittedly, we’re sometimes a bit taken aback by the note of triumph in a reader’s voice when he or she calls to point out that — to cite one recent example — an Op-Ed article about events that occurred in 1955 referred to the United States Postal Service when back then it was called the United States Post Office Department. And errors in minor factoids are, unfortunately, only one category of corrections. There is, in addition, the medium-size dumb error — the kind of mistake that causes the author to beat his or her head against a desk and seriously consider switching to the growing field of air-conditioner repair. I once wrote an editorial about Senator Bill Nelson of Florida in which I referred to him as Ben Nelson of Nebraska. An editorial about subway service in Manhattan mixed up the proposed Second Avenue subway with the century-old No.2 line, which runs down the other side of the island and which, as our correction noted, a number of us ride to work every day.

We correct all errors, from heart-stoppingly egregious to sublimely insignificant, because we believe that The Times should take its reputation for accuracy seriously. It’s also an important discipline. We want to cultivate the reflex that automatically fixes any inaccuracy, without whining. But mistakes of significance are much more urgent than minor ones. They need to be corrected quickly, and in a way that guarantees the fix is seen by as many people who read the original piece as possible.

The most important motive for correcting the minor glitches is history. These days, everything we publish is stored not only in the Times archives and commercially available archives, but in the files of an army of search engines. We don’t want a college student of 2050 to come up with the wrong year for James Madison’s death because of our error — particularly not when we have the means to amend the record. The news section of the paper publishes this kind of corrections in a separate For-the-Record listing. That seems like a good idea — particularly because it makes it easier for readers to notice the other kind of corrections, which really make a difference. Those shouldn’t get lost amid the misspelled names and miscalculated dates.

From now on, we’re going to use a similar system. A ”For the Record” column of errata will run under the editorials whenever it’s appropriate. The first one appears today. It corrects several misstatements about when Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA director, met his successor, Michael Brown, now legendary as a disaster in his own right. Although there have been multitudinous references throughout the media to the two as former college chums or college roommates, they in fact went to different schools. A spokeswoman for Mr. Allbaugh says that while they have been close pals for a long time, they met after graduation. Obviously, if we’re debating the serious issue of allegations about cronyism at FEMA, a friend is a friend whether the relationship was born off campus or on. That’s what makes this one perfect grist for ”For the Record.”

There is another, Godzilla from hell kind of correction that generally requires lengthy explanation and often appears under the heading of Editor’s Note. Sometimes these involve serious errors that require a full and somber dialogue with the readers. Sometimes they’re much less important, but so complicated that unraveling the story requires an explanation that threatens to rival ”Bleak House” in length.

The Op-Ed columnists, most of whom are limited to just over 700 words twice a week, have a particular problem with the Moby Dick genre of corrections since they eat up so much of their space. Nevertheless, in the four years that I’ve edited these pages I’ve never had a columnist refuse to make a correction, no matter how complicated. (To set yet another record straight, Frank Rich made a good faith effort to correct his FEMA-friendship error within a subsequent column but was castigated for failing to follow procedure and put the fix at the bottom of his piece, following the word CORRECTION. Frank, who never hesitates to amend errors, was writing for another part of the paper when we clarified, publicized and chiseled into stone the current policy. He should have been briefed when he returned. He wasn’t.)

A classic case of correction run amok involved a column that Paul Krugman wrote on Aug. 19 about the Florida recount in 2000 in which he said that two different news media groups reviewed the ballots and found that ”a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.” That was incorrect. Paul tried to clarify things in his next column, but the public editor, Byron Calame, objected that since nothing in the second column was labeled a correction, the original error would survive in the permanent record.

Paul published a correction in his next column. Unfortunately, the correction was based on information published in The Miami Herald that was wrong and had never been formally fixed. Paul appended another correction to the Web version of his column, but asked if he could refrain from revisiting the subject yet again in print.

I agreed, feeling we had reached the point of cruelty to readers. But I was wrong. The correction should have run in the same newspaper where the original error and all its little offspring had appeared. Here it is:

CORRECTION

In describing the results of the ballot study by the group led by The Miami Herald in his column of Aug. 26, Paul Krugman relied on the Herald report, which listed only three hypothetical statewide recounts, two of which went to Al Gore. There was, however, a fourth recount, which would have gone to George W. Bush. In this case, the two stricter-standard recounts went to Mr. Bush. A later study, by a group that included The New York Times, used two methods to count ballots: relying on the judgment of a majority of those examining each ballot, or requiring unanimity. Mr. Gore lost one hypothetical recount on the unanimity basis. GAIL COLLINS

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Privacy Policy | Home | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top

In the light of Serge Lang’s strenuous efforts to get prominent people and journals of various kinds to correct their public errors, it is interesting to contemplate this as the last word, or latest word anyway, of the Times on its painful but apparently determined effort to admit mistakes, post Jayson Blair.

Apparently Gail Collins is trying to use humor a little ponderously to deflect the arrows of accusation and the barbs of conscience, but there is still enough of a whiff of resistance in the old Grey Lady of Times Square to undressing in public discernible in this labored piece to alert one that there is considerable politics in every admission of error larger than a spelling mistake.

The most telling paragraph comes at the end when Gail is telling of the error made by Paul Krugman who wrote in his column on August 19th about the Florida recount of 2000 and said that “a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.” This was a mistake and we happen to know from personal experience that it lives on as a fact in at least one political mind that we met since.

Krugman apparently tried to weasel out of making a flat correction labeled as such by clarifying in his next column, but the public editor Byron Calame wouldn’t let him get away with it. He had to publish a correction in his next column. Unfortunately that was based on an error in the Miami Herald which had never been fixed and while Paul corrected his Web column he begged to be forgiven from revisiting the subject in his print column.

Apparently Gail Collin said he could be released from that, “feeling we had reached the point of cruelty with the readers.” Now she has seen the error of her ways and ends her column with the kind of full correction she says should have been made.

Let’s note two things.

First, it was hardly cruelty to readers that she was worried about, it was surely cruelty to the hapless Paul Krugman, who was beginning to look like an idiot.

Secondly, what kind of language is this that we read in this supposedly exemplary correction? It is hardly intelligible in the ins and outs of its examples and reasoning. Without reading it at least seven times carefully, we cannot even say what the true fact is supposed to be.


CORRECTION

In describing the results of the ballot study by the group led by The Miami Herald in his column of Aug. 26, Paul Krugman relied on the Herald report, which listed only three hypothetical statewide recounts, two of which went to Al Gore. There was, however, a fourth recount, which would have gone to George W. Bush. In this case, the two stricter-standard recounts went to Mr. Bush. A later study, by a group that included The New York Times, used two methods to count ballots: relying on the judgment of a majority of those examining each ballot, or requiring unanimity. Mr. Gore lost one hypothetical recount on the unanimity basis. GAIL COLLINS

We challenge any ordinary reader to make any sense of this in less than three readings.

We take this inability to make the correction clear to demonstrate that the Times continues to feel the same basic reluctance to make corrections of any significance that all newspapers and magazines seem to share, notwithstanding Collins’ long and rather tortuous try at claiming all that is behind the Times now.

After all, Gail in her own words describes corrections that require lengthy explanations as “Godzilla from hell” monsters which she clearly has no appetite for dealing with at all.


There is another, Godzilla from hell kind of correction that generally requires lengthy explanation and often appears under the heading of Editor’s Note. Sometimes these involve serious errors that require a full and somber dialogue with the readers. Sometimes they’re much less important, but so complicated that unraveling the story requires an explanation that threatens to rival ”Bleak House” in length.

Some people might enjoy the careful though tortuous correction of a misundertanding or error simply because they are cleaning up the river of social discourse, and preventing many people from polluting the entire downstream with the same error.

But not Gail. Apparently, she is too embarrassed by the exposure of the Times’ fallibility to want to spend too much time correcting its work. She would rather let errors drift downstream, it seems, despite what she writes in her policy review.

Surely the paper of record should profess a more enthusiastic attitude towards making sure that its readers are not misled.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Bad Behavior has blocked 144 access attempts in the last 7 days.