Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


More irregular verbs

Jun 4th, 2010 11:29 am | By

Jason Rosenhouse has an excellent post on the science ‘n’ faith panel at the World Science Festival.

He notes that Chad Orzel says, “The simple fact is that people with fixed and absolute views do not make for an interesting conversation,” and comments

Right, because it’s only New Atheists that have fixed and absolute viewpoints. When someone like Francisco Ayala writes,

I contend that both — scientists denying religion and believers rejecting science — are wrong. Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters.

there is nothing fixed or absolute in his views? To declare bluntly that any conception of the science and religious dispute different from his own is an improper (as opposed to merely different) view is every bit as absolute as anything the New Atheists say.

And he gets to say it louder than most of us, thanks to the Templeton Prize. Not because he wrote a book that appealed to a lot of people, as several of the New Atheists did, but because Templeton gave him its prize. Templeton gave him its prize because he could be relied on to say things that Templeton wants said – in other words, because his view is pretty fixed and absolute.



The modes of inquiry are, to be sure, very different

Jun 3rd, 2010 12:29 pm | By

The World Science Festival is offering a “Faith and Science” panel, funded by the Templeton Foundation, of course. Chad Orzel disagrees with Jerry Coyne and Sean Carroll on the wrong-headedness of this. Sean points out

there is a somewhat obvious omission of a certain viewpoint: those of us who think that science and religion are not compatible. And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right. A panel like this does a true disservice to people who are curious about these questions and could benefit from a rigorous airing of the issues, rather than a whitewash where everyone mumbles pleasantly about how we should all just get along.

To which Orzel responds

I’m not convinced you need anyone on the panel to make the case that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible…The interesting subject of conversation is not so much the absolute compatibility or not of science and religion– given that neither side is really going to budge on that– but rather how it is that religious scientists reconcile the supposedly incompatible sides of the issue.

He doesn’t know that “neither side is really going to budge on that” and therefore he doesn’t really know that a discussion of it would be immovable and uninteresting. It’s true that it’s unlikely that either side will budge as a side and as a result of being on the panel, but what individuals including those attending the panel will do is much less obvious. His dismissal is, as so often with accommodationists, flippant and dogmatic at once.

Josh Rosenau thinks it’s good stuff though – in fact better than that: he says Orzel is absolutely right.

Someone like Dawkins would stop the World Science Festival panel cold. The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had. Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having. And that wouldn’t inform anyone.

Why wouldn’t that inform anyone? Rosenau doesn’t say. Why should there be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having at a science fest? It’s certainly not obvious to me, given that science and “faith” operate in rather different ways. It’s also not obvious to me that, or why, an explanation of that fact would not be interesting.

Larry Moran comments on Orzel and Rosenau.



Don’t mess with the Vatican

Jun 2nd, 2010 12:28 pm | By

Okay, I give up – why is the Obama administration siding with the Vatican against people who think it should be accountable for its many crimes?

Faced with a number of court cases in the United States that have named the pope himself as a defendant in the enabling and covering up of many rapes, the Vatican has evolved the strategy of claiming that the Holy See is in effect a sovereign state and thus possessed of immunity from prosecution. It has now been announced that the Obama administration will be advising the Supreme Court to adopt this view of the matter.

Why? What’s the thinking? Why should a church be declared a sovereign state? Why especially should the Obama admin be taking that view at the very time when there is a push to prosecute that church for protecting child-rapists for decades?

[T]he State Department is required by Congress to make an annual report on the human rights record of every government with which we have relations. Yet there is no annual human rights report on the Vatican—or Vatican City or the Holy See, if you prefer. When questioned on this rather glaring lacuna, officials at Foggy Bottom say that for human rights purposes, the Vatican is not a state.

So it gets to be a state when that is convenient for it, and it gets to be not a state when that is convenient for it. Why? Why is the catholic church alone among religious outfits given such special privileges? Why is the rule of law not more important than the Vatican’s desire to escape any form of accountability for its cowardly self-regarding cruelty-perpetuating actions?



Another bit of postmodernist irony from the Vatican

Jun 2nd, 2010 11:12 am | By

You have to admire the Vatican for sheer effrontery. Which archbishops did it choose to send on an ‘apostolic visit’ to Ireland to look into the way Catholic priests and nuns have been tormenting Irish children for generations? Why, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who decided

in 1985, when he was bishop of Arundel and Brighton, to move the priest Fr Michael Hill to a chaplaincy at Gatwick airport. Eighteen months previously the cardinal had removed Hill from ministry because of child abuse allegations but then allowed him back to work at the airport where Hill abused a child. Hill was jailed in 2002.

And Seán O’Malley:

in his diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, the district attorney in 2002 was so disturbed at Cardinal O’Malley’s failure to inform the public of sexual offenders that he himself went public with a list of names of accused priests.

And Timothy Dolan, who

let a priest sue his accuser in St Louis and fought against reforming Wisconsin child sex abuse laws.

Dolan is also the fella who wrote that nauseating self-pitying “they do it too!” blog post last March, the one that showed with such piercing clarity that church officials are incapable of even perceiving the wrong they have done to other people, much less giving a shit about it.

And these three mafiosi are the enforcers the Vatican has picked to go to Ireland and look into the matter. It simply boggles the mind.



Nothing decisive to say

Jun 1st, 2010 4:15 pm | By

Ayala does the NOMA dance.

Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another. Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral; nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose.

Notice how quickly he moves from an emphatic absolute in the first sentence – no business whatsoever – to a qualified one in the second – nothing decisive to say. As Susan Haack says, there’s the bit where he says it and the bit where he takes it back. Science may have nothing decisive to say about values, but that’s not the same thing as having nothing to say at all, and of course science has a lot to contribute to inquiry into values economic, aesthetic and moral. (No, it’s not clear what he means by economic values, but never mind.)

Science has nothing to say, either, about religious beliefs, except when these beliefs transcend the proper scope of religion and make assertions about the natural world that contradict scientific knowledge.

But those beliefs nearly always do, of course. Ayala wants us to think that god-talk is not about the natural world, but of course it is unless the god is so Elsewhere that it makes no difference to anything (and nobody knows its name is god).

People of faith need not be troubled that science is materialistic. The materialism of science asserts its limits, not its universality. The methods and scope of science remain within the world of matter. It cannot make assertions beyond that world.

Whereas ‘people of faith’ can, because they have permission to just make stuff up? Okay…if that’s what you want.

Religion concerns the meaning and purpose of the world and human life, the proper relation of people to their Creator and to each other, the moral values that inspire and govern their lives.

See? There he goes – that’s an assertion about the natural world. If we have a ‘Creator’ then it created us, and that makes it part of the natural world. It can’t be radically separate from the natural world but still create something that is thoroughly embedded in the natural world. What would it do? Mail the blueprint from wherever it is to some agent in the natural world? But even then it would at some point come into contact with the natural world; if it didn’t the mail would never get picked up.

But of course Ayala won the enormous bulging Templeton Prize, and I did not, so he must be right



Defining ‘badness’

Jun 1st, 2010 11:58 am | By

Robert Lambert and Jonathan Githens-Mazer tell worried Guardian readers about “Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence” as if they’re roughly the same thing rather than being very different things. Dislike of a belief-system is a very different thing from violence against people.

[M]embers of the EDL are echoing sentiments about Muslims they have adopted from sections of the mainstream media and the BNP. It is no coincidence that Nick Griffin has been peddling exactly the same hatred towards Muslims for the last decade. Similarly, a cursory examination of the records of Islamophobia Watch over the last five years provides a sense of the extent of Islamophobia in the mainstream media.

Islamophobia Watch! As if that were a respectable and reliable source! Bob Pitt notoriously sees any kind of disagreement with or criticism of Islam or Islamism as hatred of Muslims, which he labels “Islamophobia” as if that word meant hatred of Muslims, thus helping the MCB and the other “leaders of the Muslim community” to treat Islam and Muslims as interchangeable – yet here are two academics citing Pitt’s vicious blog as if it were an impartial record.

[W]e find a long list of politicians who have sought to define and embrace “good Muslims” while attacking “bad Muslims”. If these “bad Muslims” were limited to the al-Qaida inspired terrorists who bombed London on 7/7 and the extremist members of al-Muhajiroun it might at least be an accurate categorisation. Instead, the concept of “bad Muslim” has come to demonise thousands of ordinary Muslims who do not wish to compromise their religious or political principles.

In other words, the only “badness” is bombing; anything short of bombing is not badness, it is “ordinary Muslims” (which should be understood to mean Muslim men, but of course they don’t say that) not wanting to compromise their religious or political principles. Not wanting to compromise their religious or political principles, of course, means not wanting to stop taking their daughters out of school and forcing them to marry older cousins; it means wanting to go on forcing women to wear hijab, to kill them if they go out with the “wrong” man or get a job or go to university or otherwise act like independent human beings. That kind of thing, because it is not bombing, must not be called badness, and Muslims (Muslim men) who go in for it must not be considered “bad.”

In other words Lambert and Githens-Mazer are perfectly happy for Muslim women to have no rights, and they dress this up as generous protectiveness toward “Muslims.”

We’ve encountered them before. Lambert is a former cop; he headed the Muslim Contact Unit in the Metropolitan Police; he did lots of reaching out to “the leaders” of “the Muslim community” via the MCB and similar all-male Islamist organizations. Then he went off to get a PhD.

I did a comment on their post:

It sounds grand and brave to talk of not wishing “to compromise their religious or political principles,” but in reality not all religious or political principles are good or desirable or fair to others. Some religious or political principles stink. Fascist principles stink, and so do Islamist principles.

This sly evasive paltering with words is contemptible. Lambert and Githens-Mazer should at least have the decency to spell out what it is they’re defending. They cite, of all things, IslamophobiaWatch as evidence of hatred of Muslims; IslamophobiaWatch notoriously treats all criticism of Islam as “Islamophobia” as if there simply cannot be such a thing as reasoned criticism of Islam.

Bad Guardian. Bad newspaper. No cookie.



Checking the compass

Jun 1st, 2010 10:52 am | By

Thomas Jones says in the Telegraph (reviewing Hitchens’s memoir):

The drift from left to right is hardly unusual, and the causes for his disillusionment with socialism and attraction to liberalism – the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, visits to Cuba and Poland under Communism, the pleasures and freedoms of life in the United States – are made plain enough.

I’m not sure that really is a move (or drift) from left to right. That would make displeasure and unfreedom left, and I don’t think that’s accurate. I know, the idea is more that some coercion is worth the price for the sake of more pleasure and freedom (or more something) for everyone, and that does describe part of the left. But still – the right is the party of tradition, and authority, and custom, and religion, and monarchy, and hierarchy. Let’s not forget that. The right is not necessarily or always the party of freedom. In some ways, and not trivial or obscure ones, liberalism is to the left of coercive brands of socialism. Let’s not be “framing” liberalism as right-wing or support for liberalism a move to the right.



“Good job, mullah sir”

May 31st, 2010 12:08 pm | By

[T]he girls, ages 13 and 14, had been fleeing for two days along rutted roads and over mountain passes to escape their illegal, forced marriages to much older men, and now they had made it to relatively liberal Herat Province.

But a cop spotted them, and far from protecting them, he sent them back home. “There they were publicly and viciously flogged for daring to run away from their husbands.” Or rather their “husbands” who were more like rapist slaveowners than anything we in the less thuggish part of the world would consider “husbands.”

Forced into a so-called marriage exchange, where each girl was given to an elderly man in the other’s family, Khadija and Basgol later complained that their husbands beat them when they tried to resist [being raped]…

In the video, the mullah, under Mr. Khan’s approving eye, administers the punishment with a leather strap, which he appears to wield with as much force as possible, striking each girl in turn on her legs and buttocks with a loud crack each time. Their heavy red winter chadors are pulled over their heads so only their skirts protect them from the blows.

The spectators are mostly armed men wearing camouflage uniforms, and at least three of them openly videotape the floggings. No women are present.

The mullah, whose name is not known, strikes the girls so hard that at one point he appears to have hurt his wrist and hands the strap to another man.

That’s how it always is with these things – a whole crowd of grown men, many of them heavily armed, combining forces to hit women or even young girls as hard as they possibly can. Bullying at its purest and its starkest freedom from shame. The girls are treated like objects that exist to squeeze penises, and if the objects decline to squeeze their alloted penises, they are treated as sentient for just long enough to be flogged with leather straps.

On Saturday, at the Women for Afghan Women shelter, at a secret location in Kabul, there were four fugitive child brides. All had been beaten, and most wept as they recounted their experiences.

Yes I daresay they did.



Fresh deep boundaries

May 31st, 2010 11:02 am | By

Andrew Brown spots another opportunity to piss on “the new atheism” and pounces on it with his usual cheerful malice.

…the new atheism, with its constant use of “religion” as a term which means something (nasty) is an attempt at social construction. In particular it’s an attempt to make fresh deep boundaries between ingroup and outgroup.

Yes, in some senses, and partly. But one could say the same thing about the civil rights movement; about science; about feminism; about scholarship; about liberalism; about conservatism; about any human endeavor with actual specific articulated ideas or truth-claims. And it might and should occur to Brown that religion too is very often an attempt to make fresh deep boundaries between ingroup and outgroup, but for worse reasons and with less warrant. But Brown is much too hostile to atheism to give that sort of thought any space in his head.



Why even bother to ask

May 31st, 2010 9:01 am | By

Of course. I posted a link to that interview with David Sloan Wilson and wondered if he gets Templeton money, so googled his name and Templeton. Well of course he does. Silly question. Barrels of it, apparently – Google turns up a whole raft of items.



A tinkling cymbal

May 30th, 2010 8:28 am | By

Is your stomach strong enough for more vulgar malice and abuse from that impressive Anglican priest George Pitcher?

He starts with mere stupidity, attributing every good thing in the world apart from coffee and the internet to theology. Yes really: theology. Theology did democracy, the abolition of slavery, education, the family, marriage, our judicial system – everything. Then he goes on to rail at Terry Sanderson, but, quickly bored with that, he returns to his real voodoo doll: Evan Harris.

The NSS (in which, never let it be forgotten, ousted Lib Dem MP Evan Harris is a leading light) likes to go on about opposing religious privilege, freedom for non-believers (as if they haven’t got it) and tolerance. But note that if the likes of Mr Sanderson ever came to power (and the likes of Mr Sanderson include the wall-eyed Harris, who might have a seat in government now if he hadn’t lost his seat – so who says there isn’t a God?) they would withdraw all funding from the teaching of theology, whence all education derives, in favour of what he and his friends have unilaterally decided is “real education”. That is extremist policy that has more in common with totalitarian regimes than with our parliamentary democracy.

Completely random arbitrary abuse of Evan Harris coupled with the imbecilic claim that all education derives from theology; modern Anglicanism at its finest.



Another embattled religious “freedom”

May 29th, 2010 12:07 pm | By

And speaking of tensions between religious freedom and other rights – Helen Ukpabio is another who is attempting to use the law to make her “religious rights” trump other rights.

Since “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” was first shown in Britain, in 2008, Mr. Itauma’s home state has adopted a law against accusing children of witchcraft. But Ms. Ukpabio went on the offensive by suing the state government, Mr. Foxcroft, Mr. Itauma and Leo Igwe, a Nigerian antisuperstition activist.

In the lawsuit, Ms. Ukpabio alleges that the state law infringes on her freedom of religion. She seeks 2 billion naira (about $13 million) in damages, as well as “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents” from interfering with or otherwise denouncing her church’s “right to practice their religion and the Christian religious belief in the existence of God, Jesus Christ, Satan, sin, witchcraft, heaven and hellfire.”

In other words, in the name of religious freedom, Ms. Ukpabio seeks a gag order on anyone who disagrees with her.

Anyone who disagrees with her and who wants to protect children from accusations of “witchcraft” and the resulting abandonment and/or torture and possibly death. She wants the “freedom” to tell people that some children are witches and that she can detect them.

Ukpabio’s critics say her teachings have contributed to the torture or abandonment of thousands of Nigerian children — including infants and toddlers — suspected of being witches and warlocks. Her culpability is a central contention of “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” a documentary that will make its American debut Wednesday on HBO2.

Those disturbed by the needless immiseration of innocent children should beware. “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” follows Gary Foxcroft, founder of the charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, as he travels the rural state of Akwa Ibom, rescuing children abused during horrific “exorcisms” — splashed with acid, buried alive, dipped in fire — or abandoned roadside, cast out of their villages because some itinerant preacher called them possessed.

A freedom too far.



A shabby pretext

May 29th, 2010 11:23 am | By

Inayat Bunglawala is pondering (in a rather inconclusive and unproductive way, which I suppose in his case is probably just as well) the tensions between religious freedom and other kinds of freedom, religious rights and other kinds of rights. One thing he mentions needs more second-guessing than it usually gets.

Professor Roger Trigg kicked off last night’s discussion by pointing out that Article 9 of the European convention on human rights guarantees that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to … manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” However, Professor Trigg argued that, in reality, a number of recent cases showed that this religious freedom was being trumped by other human rights.

He cited the case of a registrar in the London borough of Islington who had objections to conducting civil partnership ceremonies. The registrar happened to be a Christian and “could not reconcile her faith with taking an active part in enabling same sex unions to be formed”. This was a case where the freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs in practice appeared to come into direct conflict with the right not to be discriminated against due to one’s sexual orientation.

Here’s what I think needs closer examination: in what sense is it really part of the registrar’s religious beliefs that gay people shouldn’t get married?

Is that something Jesus is quoted as saying? Is it a central Christian belief? Is it a religious belief at all?

Not that I know of. As far as I know, it’s just a traditional entrenched customary belief – a “Yuk” belief, to borrow from Leon Kass and Jonathan Haidt. It doesn’t really have any strictly religious content. Yet it gets called a religious belief. Why? Partly to make it seem more respectable, and partly precisely to take advantage of the rights that Bunglawala mentions. A mere stupid bit of bigoted dislike doesn’t deserve or get the dignity of a right, but if you say it’s a religious belief – oh well that’s different. Only it isn’t. But a lot of people say it is. It’s mostly a con, and should be treated as such.



An exciting breakthrough

May 28th, 2010 3:51 pm | By

Okay this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in awhile. On Facebook at least. Salman Rushdie learned from a Facebook friend how to find various “interesting characters” to “add to one’s ✍ writing.” So now he gets to spark up his famously dull prose with little pointing hands ☛, umbrellas ☂, telephones, and other tiny symbols. One wag remarked

oooh! can’t wait for
☀☃✗✈✖☺☆by Salman Rushdie – Published by Random House

Hahahahahahaha.



In philosophy ‘certainty’ has a specific meaning

May 28th, 2010 12:17 pm | By

Jim at Apple Eaters sees Pessin’s ‘paradox’ the way I do.

Man, there is so much sloppiness here that I want to bite something. First, in philosophy “certainty” has a specific meaning, and it means that there is no doubt. If that’s not what Pessin has in mind, he should define the term. The point there is that, even if I recognize that I am fallible and capable of mistakes, I likely am not certain that I have made some mistake in my reasoning. Were that the case, I would be going over that reasoning carefully to find the error. Rather, I just see that it is possible that I made a mistake, but that is nothing like having certainty about it.

Just what I say. If he doesn’t really mean ‘certain’ then he should say so – he shouldn’t pretend he means ‘certain’ in order to pretend there’s a paradox but then treat the certainty as actually just a possibility. That’s [Jon Stewartian high-pitched squeal] cheating.

Accepting contradictions is not a way to accomplish anything except confusion. Being sloppy in your definitions only spreads confusion. Confusion is not peace. In fact, confusion is often the origin of conflict. Pessin is the kind of philosopher who gives the rest of us a bad name.

Just what I say.



C and not-C

May 27th, 2010 5:45 pm | By

And then there is this fella Andrew Pessin, who says you can be certain and also uncertain and that way all shall win, all shall have prizes. You do it using the Paradox of the Preface.

Imagine an author writing something like this as a preface to her work:

I am certain, of each and every sentence in this work, that it is true, on the basis of various considerations including the careful arguments and use of evidence which led me to it. And yet I recognize that I am a fallible human being, likely to have made some error(s) in the course of this long work. Thus I am also quite certain that I have made some such error somewhere, even if I cannot say where.

I could buy that if he had made it “I am sure, of each and every sentence” and so on. I could buy it if he had made it I am convinced, or I strongly believe, or I really really think. But by making it “I am certain” he turns the whole thing into gibberish. If you are already quite certain that you have made a mistake somewhere, then you can’t also be certain that you haven’t – you can’t be certain that every sentence is true.

Maybe he meant a kind of colloquial version of ‘certain’ which is like the colloquial version of ‘literal’ in that it doesn’t mean what the word means. I have noticed that a lot of people use the word to refer to claims that they can’t possibly be certain of, and wondered if they actually think it is an exact synonym of ‘sure’ or ‘convinced.’ But if he did…that’s kind of stupid, frankly, since the whole piece depends on that word, and he used it sloppily. You can’t be certain that you have made no mistakes and at the same time certain that you have made a mistake.
Anyway, I avoid this kind of tangle by simply never being certain or even sure that I have made no mistakes.



The usual stupid way of time and the masses

May 27th, 2010 5:11 pm | By

And while I’m at it, allow me to pause over Grayling’s comment, too.

An equally bad thing about the Dalai Lama’s article is that he calls Buddhism a religion‚ and indeed in the superstitious demon-ridden polytheistic Tibetan version of it that he leads, that is what it is. But original Buddhism is a philosophy, without gods or supernatural beings—all such explicitly rejected by Siddhartha Gautama in offering a quietist ethical teaching; but he has of course been subjected to the Brian’s Sandal phenomenon in the usual stupid way of time and the masses.

Sad, isn’t it. Time and the masses can’t leave a very good and interesting ethical teaching alone, no, they have to stuff superstition and demons into it, to make it more exciting and colorful and photogenic and thrilling. They have to sex it up, in short. But wouldn’t it be nice if time and the masses could learn to sex things up in other, better ways – with sex, perhaps, or lashings of bright color and embroidery and tinkling bells, or food, or music. Demons are fine for stories, but you don’t want to go taking them seriously.



Secrets of the Dalai Lama

May 27th, 2010 4:57 pm | By

Here’s a useful item lifted from a comment on Jerry Coyne’s post on Anthony Grayling on the Dalai Lama. The comment is by Michael Kingsford Gray, who has been making sweeping and wrong generalizations about philosophers at Jerry’s, but all due credit to him for the useful item:

1) Who told a press conference in 1997 that men to men sex and woman to woman sex is sexual misconduct?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

2) Who told a Swiss magazine in 2001, that sexual organs were created for the reproduction of the male element and the female element, and anything that deviates from this is not acceptable?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

3) An anti-abortion lobby group called “Consistent life” was given a huge boost after on of the world’s most prominent religious leaders offered his endorsement?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

4) Who published a collection of religious teachings declaring that masturbation is forbidden?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

5) Who declared that oral sex is not acceptable, even between a husband and wife?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

6) Who published a collection of religious teachings in 1996 declaring that anal sex is not acceptable, even between a husband and wife?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

7) Who said that having sex during the day is sexual misconduct?
The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

Of course, every single answer is: The Dalai Lama.
That usually throw these happy-go-lucky Buddhist wanna be for a six!
(Especially the ban on daytime sex.
The Pope is far more liberal on many of these issues)

_________________
References:
1. San Francisco Chronicle, 11 June 1997
2. Dimanche magazine, Jan 2001
3. Reuters, 22 Jan 2001
4, 5, 6 & 7. “Beyond Dogma (The challenge of the modern world)” by the Dalai Lama (1996)**



Dissent

May 26th, 2010 11:55 am | By

For the record – the (critical but reasonable) comment I tried to post on Chris Mooney’s post on science and communication yesterday has now been deleted. Yesterday it was showing up (for me only) as being held in moderation, and today it’s gone.

It is possible of course to think that no matter how reasonable one particular comment may be, the person behind it is not. Mooney doesn’t delete all dissent on his posts, so clearly he does think something along those lines – that I am myself inherently unreasonable and unallowable, even if I do manage to fake up a reasonably mild comment at some particular moment.

I think he’s wrong. I can easily see why he would resent my criticisms, but the fact remains, I think he’s wrong. I think I’m not so unreasonable as all that. I think I’m a more honest and forthright disputant than he is.



Hau tu komyewnikate

May 25th, 2010 4:40 pm | By

Chris Mooney has explained about the need for science communication, or as he calls it, Sci Comm Training.

Science needs both to create new knowledge and also to disseminate it effectively so that that knowledge has an impact–so that it changes the world in a positive way. Why on earth would these two important ends be set in opposition to each other?

Yes of course it does, but disseminating knowledge is not necessarily the same thing as “framing,” nor does it necessarily need to know about “framing.” Framing is more closely related to public relations and political campaigning than it is to education, and that’s one major reason scientists and fans of science don’t all think Mooney is the ideal person to give “boot camps” in how to disseminate scientific knowledge.

I said something like that, and a bit more, in a comment that I tried to make at The Intersection, thinking perhaps after all this time the ban on me had expired, or rusted, or been lifted. I thought I would see, at any rate. But my comment has not been posted, so clearly the ban is still fresh and vigorous. So I’ll drop it off here.

The problem continues in this post – the “communication” here includes misdescribing at least some of the disagreements around all this.

I, for one, have nothing against “science communication” as such. I do however have doubts that you are the right person to teach science communication, Chris, for the simple reason that you’re not very good at it yourself. That’s not meant as an insult – it’s not a crime not to be good at a particular thing.

One part of being good at communication is surely an ability to predict the effect of your communications on your audience. You don’t seem to have that: you were surprised by the reactions to your “civility” post a year ago. You were surprised by my reaction, for instance – you may remember we had a (reasonably friendly) email exchange about it. It’s odd that you were surprised, and the fact that you were surprised hints to me that you don’t have full control of your communications – you don’t entirely know what you’re doing. This would seem to be a disqualifier for teaching the subject.

You don’t seem to be able to grasp why the concept of “framing” is not welcomed with cries of delight by people whose vocation it is to try to get at the truth. That to me seems to be another disqualifier for teaching communications. Your overall refusal to engage with critics seems like another.