Science & Society

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Epistemology / Reality /
c. late 1990s

Science: the acquisition of reliable knowledge about the world
Jared Diamond

Society puts on disguises. We were never able to get along without them. …

Science takes off disguises. It’s the most revealing, the most penetrating tool we have. …

Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond, real scientist
thanx abc

Kleptocracy and society are not coextensive: the sub-set may engulf the set, but it is not the set, can become the set only by making a new and far worse species. Kleptocracy magnifies human faults until a change of magnitude becomes a change of identity: a chuck on the chin is a far cry from a nuclear holocaust: though both may example aggression. Science, as we are familiar with it, is strictly an artifact of kleptocracy: only Hitler could marshal the resources for the V2, only Roosevelt for the A bomb. Otherwise science has to hide: like a cockroach: the money is for the magicians’ allies. …

In society, especially in kleptocratic society, meanings change to suit the society’s agendas: and most societies have the (sensible) agenda of assuring its own survival: not the survival of its members, its heroes, its manhood, its motherhood, but its own survival. The saint sacrifices his life for the god, the soldier for the state, the bureaucrat his soul for the executive … Words like “freedom” come to mean “constraint”; “education,” “indoctrination”; “science,” technology,” mere “know-how” …

The young of a society are taught the heroic sacrifices and selected martyrs of the past: Socrates, Attis, Jesus, Luther … Any complex society may in fact house multiple societies so that one group pushes the Socrates, another the Jesus. One group might delete the Attis (calling him “myth”), another might delete the Luther (calling him “heretic”). Nested within the society are groups that promote heroes rejected by other groups as “superstition.” The “superstitious” groups can return the favor and reject the “Einstein, Newton, Darwin …” of other groups, calling them “superstition.”

All of the groups will offer “reasons” for their selections and their deletions. Some few of those groups will call themselves “scientific,” make sure that the “Einstein” and the “Darwin” are included in their syllabus. …

Here’s my question: do any of them openly permit falsification of their claim? (If they don’t, it ain’t science; it’s superstition.) Now wait: don’t be too quick to answer that question. Any magician will seem to have let some responsible person examine the evidence; but how many will really let anyone examine it?

As conceded elsewhere at, if Johnson finds Lucy’s bones, and Johnson or his university, or the city museum, let’s anyone handle the unique and irreplaceable evidence freely and without responsibility or accountability, then Lucy’s bones won’t remain valuable (or trustworthy) very long. Why should the defendant trust what the police did with its evidence once that evidence is controlled exclusively by the (priesthood of) cops? Why should the anti-Humanist “skeptics” among the religious trust what the “scientists” do with their “evidence” once it’s under lock and key? How does anyone know the “evidence” wasn’t planted in the first place? Nearly anyone can contrive a bone, bury it somewhere, then go and “discover” it.

In simple, a science can be no more trustworthy than the society that hosts it.

OK, I can (and have) go (gone) on and on about this. Here I have to emphasize one (already elsewhere much emphasized) thing:

Don’t trust the words used by the group. Any state has a justice department. Everyone within the power of the group will call it a “justice” department, say that it produces “justice”; that the “science” department produces “science” … What would an informed (not brainwashed) outsider say? Did the hippies agree that Bobby Seele got justice? Did the Irish agree that Michael Collins got justice? Did Darwin agree that the burning of Reich’s books was science?

Notice: we live in what we call a “democracy.” The Soviets lived in what they called a “Communist state.” “Christians” live in what they call a “Christian” society” … Is any of it true? What mechanisms are in place to allow anyone (provided they can prove accountability) (if I ruin or corrupt Lucy’s bones, I’ve got another find just as ancient) to falsify the claim?

What? In human society? I must be kidding.

Notice: all our institutions, from police to (funded) science, whatever they say about themselves, however “free” their “constitution,” are structured according to kleptocratic, feudal structures. Our universities, our “democracy,” are structured along medieval lines: hierarchical, top down: always with a core of “authorities” at the “top.”

I’m sorry. That structure and “science” are utterly incompatible.

To return (as usual) to my personal illustrations: I offered an original thesis on Shakespeare at NYU. I offered it for years without any significant part of its core coming back to me as heard and understood. I don’t mean my papers weren’t graded: they were. I don’t mean they weren’t praised: I guess a bunch of “A”s is praise. But praise isn’t good enough. What I needed was understanding!

If Bird blows a fast eight, it means nothing if you say, “Oh, wow, man, hot.” If Miles answers with a counter eight, it matters nothing if you say, “Oh, wow, man, cool.” What matters is if you can take command of the piano and contribute. Then … any number of things can happen. Maybe the audience goes right on applauding. Maybe they do, but John Hammond gets up and walks out. Maybe Miles turns toward you and blows a counter harmony, but jives the melody line so it sounds like Nyah, Nyah. What does Bird do?

Nearly forty years later, I’m offering the “same” theory, fibered up by my three plus additional decades of learning science. The Graduate English Department never resonated at what I said or wrote: they never added a solo that I recognized as “contributing.” Now I offer my theory to the (ahem) “scientific community” and to the (ahem) “public” (at Macroinformation). Well, I’ve gotten a very few responses that I recognize as harmonizing with what I said: but (next to) none from the top-down authorities of the “scientific” (ahem) “community.”

Every year publishers publish books. Every year some committee gives prizes, named after standard bearers named “Nobel” and “Pulitzer.” Every year some professor adds one of the new books to his quorum of “classics.” But where’s the budget for scouring the thousands of rejected manuscripts to “prove” that the new winner has no censored peers (or superiors)?

Science is the only human enterprise not routinely rigged so that certain truths are excluded:
contrast church, state, academe, family, the press, law …

President Bush (II) is waging a war to wage a war “on terrorism. He is not out to abolish “weapons of mass destruction”; he’s out to promote his monopoly on the weapons of mass destruction. How dare we Boohoo about the World Trade Center when we shed so few tears at the café in Lebanon that our money somehow supported blowing up? What about Boohooing the kids (and adults) (and animals) that every day get a leg blown off by Claymores we’ve left lying around half the world? “Science” is a preposterous concept in such a world.

I remember with special fondness the reactions of Roman Catholic religious when I daily campaigned for one of their own (recent) heroes: Ivan Illich. Catholic priest Illich wrote books and gave speeches showing how to defuse kleptocracy. The Church threw him out. I approached some of the remaining priests for aid in advancing his fight. They thought he was speaking in metaphors! Metaphors needed no support. When I argued in public, someone in the circle around me would always interrupt and argue some holy-sounding irrelevance. I finally confronted one interrupter with the question, “What are you doing?” “I’m being a gadfly,” he answered. Then I’d learn that he was a Jesuit in civvies.

The Church always assigned the gadfly role to some priest. In the process toward canonization, the nominated saint had to be torn down by a “Devil’s Advocate”: except for one thing: the Devil hadn’t hired the advocate, the Church had assigned him! That’s like the State both prosecuting you and defending you at the same time: from related budgets! Preposterous.

What was really happening was that the Church was making sure that real gadfly’s couldn’t complete a single point because the Church wanted to be both Authority and Challenger. I wasn’t in the Church: I couldn’t challenge. Illich was in the Church: they got rid of him!

What I never understood was how this man could ever have had any connection to the Church in the first place? (Alright: in the second place: if he was sent to Church as a boy, he couldn’t exactly help it.)

Science & Society Scrapbook

2003 03 17 I point for later development: metaphor, analogy:

Politics and science are incompatible. Politics and society are inseparable. Gangs of big-brained, camouflaged, primate-predators will always appoint themselves competent to govern things without falsifying (proving) the claim. If proof is needed, magicians, illusionists, will be hired, authorized, to further blind the already illusion-saturated polity. Thus Churches parade as though they’re competent to represent god, Priests are hired to perform impossible miracles as matters of routine … States parade as competent to represent … Oh, the People, the Right, the Truth … And Universities, all-too-ordinary human institutions, stage themselves as competent to manage Science!!!

Haughty in blindness

Science is rare. It cannot be conjured by bureaucrats. I’m not saying it’s impossible: clearly Newton, Einstein, Reed … had moments of science. (Is there anyone who hasn’t had a least a mere moment of honesty in which old prejudices suspend?)

I love Tom Wolfe’s approach to sacred cows like art (such as in The Painted Word) where he portrays guys pin-striping choppers in the shed as more akin to Van Gogh than guys wearing paint-spattered overalls in SO-HO.

I don’t trust my society one inch. (I don’t trust Illich three inches.) (I don’t trust Jesus five inches.) (I don’t trust Darwin ten inches.) (I don’t even trust Bateson or Prigogine more than a mile or two each.)

2006 09 08 I quote from Time, Science section, 2006 08 07, Stem Cells: Hope, Hype:

It’s the nature of science to mix hope with hedging. It’s the nature of politics to overpromise and mop up later.

Cute. I agree with part two of that statement. At least I agree with part of part two; I don’t see how politics ever mops up anything, very well. But the overpromising part, there I agree in spades, as  ubiquitously shows.

But a quote the passage here to address the science statement: “It’s the nature of science to mix hope with hedging.” If it said that it’s the nature of science to seek to test hypotheses I would agree wholeheartedly: provided it was added that test must include efforts at falsification. If it said that science subjected hypotheses both to review against experience and to review against existing ideas I would agree. We takes notes on experience and map them against a set of tautologies. But It’s the nature of science to promise …? It’s the nature of science to hedge …?

No, no. Science neither promises nor hedges. People do that.

The mistake is one of the many errors that comes with the common synecdoche of naming individuals or groups for beloved abstractions. Science is a process, a method, a set of ideas, a set of cautions, a recipe … a collection of recipes. Science is not a man. Science is not men. Neither is science a woman or women.

We associate Jesus with God. A sect of us started saying that he was God. Then that sect started murdering everyone not of that sect.

But something worse is going on. Not only is science being confused with individual humans, or with groups of humans, science is being confused with some bureaucracy. Like confusing the magic attributed to the god to the priest who successfully associated himself with the god.

Now politicians do this all the time, deliberately as well as unconsciously. Note: Time can almost be considered an extension of kleptocracy in the ubiquity with which it palms and passes the confusion.

2008 08 10 I stumbled last evening onto a documentary on Edward O. Wilson. Now we have more stories to tell about Harvard persecuting its innovative professors. He’s still at Harvard, he’s not in jail, he hasn’t been murdered; but he got water poured on his head, his ideas were not calmly discussed.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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