Too late for the stake

Happy Heretics,
This amazing piece of scientific clarity is now “going viral” around the world’s best scientific-method-based science blogs (no, many are not).
“Be of good courage, brother Ridley, and play the man; for we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Matt Ridley has set himself up for the stake, but it maybe too late 🙂 The tide appears to have turned with Enlightenment ideals resurging again. It seems that the beginning of the 21st Century could go down in history as the age when humans finally shrugged off the statist and mental chains to free and rational scientific thought. The end of the battle? No. But possibly the end of the beginning.
Star Trek Enterprise Intro     Faith of the Heart – Rod Stewart
an enchanting song of the possibilities of human achievement…
It’s been a long road, Getting from there to here
It’s been a long time, But my time is finally near
And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing’s in my way, And they’re not gonna hold me down no more
No they’re not gonna hold me back
I can do anything, I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend nor break me, I can reach any star
It’s been a long night, Trying to find my way
Been through the darkness, Now I finally have my day
And I will see my dreams come alive at last, I will touch the sky
I’ve known a wind so cold and seen the darkest days
But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change
I’ve been through the fire and I’ve been through the rain, But I’ll be fine.
Here are some stirring words:
What sustains pseudoscience is confirmation bias. We look for and welcome the evidence that fits our pet theory; we ignore or question the evidence that contradicts it. We all do this all the time. It’s not, as we often assume, something that only our opponents indulge in. I do it, you do it, it takes a superhuman effort not to do it. That is what keeps myths alive, sustains conspiracy theories and keeps whole populations in thrall to strange superstitions.

Lesson 6. Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future. Experts are worth listening to about the past, but not the future. Futurology is pseudoscience.

Handing the reins of power to pseudoscience has an unhappy history. Remember eugenics. Around 1910 the vast majority of scientists and other intellectuals agreed that nationalizing reproductive decisions so as to stop poor, disabled and stupid people from having babies was not just a practical but a moral imperative of great urgency.

Or remember Trofim Lysenko*, a pseudoscientific crank with a strange idea that crops could be trained to do what you wanted and that Mendelian genetics was bunk. His ideas became the official scientific religion of the Soviet Union and killed millions; his critics, such as the geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, ended up dead in prison.

The irony of course is that much of the green movement began as heretical dissent. Greenpeace went from demanding that the orthodox view of genetically modified crops be challenged, and that the Royal Society was not to be trusted, to demanding that heresy on climate change be ignored and the Royal Society could not be wrong.

By contrast scientists and most mainstream journalists risk their careers if they take a skeptical line, so dogmatic is the consensus view. It is left to the blogosphere to keep the flame of heresy alive and do the investigative reporting the media has forgotten how to do.

In conclusion, I’ve spent a lot of time on climate, but it could have been dietary fat, or nature and nurture. My argument is that like religion, science as an institution is and always has been plagued by the temptations of confirmation bias. With alarming ease it morphs into pseudoscience even – perhaps especially – in the hands of elite experts and especially when predicting the future and when there’s lavish funding at stake. It needs heretics.

Well said Matt! 🙂

Happy Heretic Brady

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