Class Dismissed

I belatedly added a couple of blogs to the select few in Links yesterday: The Panda’s Thumb and Pharyngula. I’ve been meaning to add both for awhile, and finally got around to it yesterday. I’m very picky about blogs in Links, partly because my colleague doesn’t like blogs to begin with, and much more because I think the longer such lists are the less useful they are. There are lots of interesting, entertaining, well-written etc blogs out there, as well as lots of the other kind, but they’re on subjects that are not all that relevant to B&W, so I don’t include them. Thus you can assume that if a blog is in Links, it is [clears throat grandly] On Topic. Now I’m going to add another, also belatedly – in fact I should have added this one months ago, but kept forgetting. But having just found two excellent stories linked on Black Triangle I realized the time had come. If you don’t know about Black Triangle, check it out; the guy does terrific work. Same goes for Pharyngula and Panda’s Thumb.

The article by Max Steuer is on a subject we’ve seen a fair bit of. Pretend science, nonsense masquerading as science, claims that knowledge is old hat and now we have discourse instead.

a growing proportion of social science departments are not doing social science at all. Many are actively opposed to science in any form, especially when it comes to studying social matters. Instead, they engage in what they think of as literary or philosophical activity, but it is practised at a level so pitifully low that it would not be tolerated in any serious department of philosophy or literature…Science in all its forms is just another discourse, so they maintain. Being unwilling to undertake the demanding work that is science, they assert that one opinion is as good as another.

That last bit doesn’t get pointed out often enough, I think. It is a hell of a lot easier to learn to call everything a discourse and leave it at that than it is to learn actual physics or biology. That’s why I don’t know any physics or biology myself! I’m as lazy as the next swine if not more so, but I try not to pretend my laziness is either a virtue or a new and improved kind of insight.

A university education should involve learning how to think more effectively. It should involve the ability to sift sense from nonsense. It should encourage the ability to question, and to know when one understands something, and when not. A certain humility and the willingness to recognise one might be wrong does not go amiss. Education can be sheer pleasure. It also should include an appreciation of the need for sustained effort. Those social science departments afflicted with the modern disease encourage exactly the opposite of what an education should provide. Students learn to be dismissive. The ability to discriminate is weakened, along with the ability to follow an argument. Fancy style is what matters.

Learning to be dismissive – just so. There are more valuable and far more interesting things to learn.

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