Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Anti-Scientia Salon

A major theme of this blog is to expose anti-science ideas, especially when they come from universities and research institutions in the name of science. I do not bother with dubious religious claims or the Flat Earth Society, or even academic postmodernists. I leave them for the professional skeptics. I focus on respectable nonsense that is seriously contrary to the modern scientific pursuit of truth. For example, my last post on geocentrism focused on what scientists say, not Bible scholars.

A source of anti-science philosophy is Scientia Salon, a philosophy-driven site that claims to tell scientists what science is all about. It recently restricted its essays to academics who are more in line with the moderator's desire to promote academic philosophy. I have been allowed to post comments there, but usually with a moderator note that I am wrong or a threat to block my message or ban me from the site.

I previously posted disagreements on causality, realism, and reductionism.

Now the site has essays by Marko Vojinovic against science reductionism, in Part I and
Part II.

I left several critical comments, including this:
Here is yet another philosophical essay that claims that physicists do not know what they are doing. The core of your argument is 2 claims.

I. If you define the Second Law in a way that makes it false, then it is not reducible to things that are true.
II. If you define a theory of everything to include ZFC, then it includes well-known paradoxes of ZFC.

You blame belief in scientific reductionism on a “lack of education in mathematical logic”. The consequences of Goedel’s theorems have been well-understood for 80 years. Goedel would not agree with you, and neither would those who actually have an education in math logic, as far as I can see.

This is like complaining that the equations of general relativity cannot explain cosmology because they contain pi, and pi is irrational. Yes, the irrationality of pi may seem paradoxical to people who first learn it, but it has almost nothing to do with scientific reductionism. It will only cause a problem if you give some completely artificial requirement that pi must be reduced to rational numbers.

This is the first essay with SciSal’s new policy of restricting to academics. I expected to see philosophers explaining what they have published. Instead we have someone with training in relativity who makes an anti-science argument that has nothing to do with his training. ...

I say anti-science because Marko’s arguments, in his own words, “stand in sharp contrast to the popular opinion among scientifically-oriented people”. I do not question his expertise in relativity, but his essay is about philosophy, emergence, and math logic, not relativity.

I do not know why you keep threatening to ban me. I am expressing mainstream science views. If an essay makes claims that are contrary to standard science textbook knowledge, then someone should call the author out on those points. What else are the comments for?

Questioning reductionism like this is a little like talking creationism. If Marko wanted to argue that dark matter might be new form of matter that only emerges at a galactic level and cannot be reduced to some microscopic theory, then I would let it pass as a legitimate intellectual possibility. But it would be a little like saying that dark matter is supernatural stuff that God put there in order for the galaxies to form. My objection is that he claims to have disproved reductionism with his examples and his Goedel argument. ...

Daniel, anyone who talks about science progressing by paradigm shifts is anti-science also. The paradigm shift is defined to be a change in views that has no rational or measurable advantages. It is an idea that is popular among philosophers, but not scientists. You only hear a scientist talking about paradigm shifts when he is promoting an idea that has no evidentiary support.
And this:
I use the term “anti-science” just to mean going against the scientific establishment, for reasons other than scientific evidence.

I agree that occasionally someone like Chomsky is right, and that his insights were valuable even if they are wrong. He would be a fine example of someone who can be brilliantly wrong.

I just heard a radio talk show caller say that he does not believe in global warming because the theory depends on computer climate models, and they are just garbage in garbage out. I regard this as an anti-science argument, because scientists nearly all believe that there is at least some validity to the data and models, and the caller has not identified any specific flaws.

Kuhn’s paradigm shift theory is similarly anti-science. It is a direct attack on what most scientists believe about science. You say that his thesis is meant to be a descriptive view, but that is a common misconception about Kuhn. He did write descriptions of science, such as a whole book on the early history of quantum theory, but he was never able to relate those descriptions to his paradigm thesis. Quantum theory had many rational and measurable advantages that everyone else recognized.

We are getting a little off-topic here, but this site seems to have a theme where scientists somehow got science all wrong on issues like reductionism, realism, free will, causality, positivism, unity, infinity, axiomatic math, paradigms, emergence, and empiricism. Maybe it should be renamed Anti-Scientia Salon. Okay, I sometimes think that the conventional wisdom is wrong also.
Vojinovic responded to some comments, but did not address any of my criticisms.

His argument is to say that popular scientist ideas about what science can do are all wrong, because he has some misunderstandings of some elementary paradoxes that are properly explained on the Wikipedia pages for Second law of thermodynamics and Goedels incompleteness theorem.

Of course there are plenty of crackpots saying stupid things about entropy and Goedel. Those two subjects are very well understood, and yet they seem to invite people to misunderstand them and say crazy things.

Moderator SciSal (aka Massimo Pigliucci) responds:
Your own example of climate change denialism is a good one: that definitely is anti-science, for the reasons you mentioned. But Marko has been engaging in a philosophical discussion based on the available science, and he has taken positions that are compatible with the established science. Nothing to do with “anti-science.” Second, Kuhn was a physicist and historian of science. He described what he saw as a historical pattern. Since scientists don’t do history of science, it is pretty much irrelevant whether what Kuhn said did or did not go along with the opinions of most scientists: even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be anti-science.
I am going to post another essay, just on his attitude about how philosophers know what science is about better than scientists.

But no, all of that is wrong. Marko has not engaged in a philosophical discussion, because he refuses to address my points. He has taken positions on entropy and Goedel that are contrary to textbook knowledge. Kuhn never found a historical pattern to back up his paradigm shift theory. Kuhn certain was anti-science when he argued that science works by jumping on fads, without rational or measurable evidence.

What all this philosophical arguments have in common is that they are attacks on the idea that math and scientific methods can give us truth about the world.

All this academic philosophy of science is like listening to a Marxist professor. He will babble on and on about how 19th century trends prove the merits of a Marxist revolution. If you try to tell him that history does not back up his theories and his objectives are not desirable anyway, he will say that he is the professional historian and his Marxist colleagues agree with him.

Modern philosophy of science is like Marxism. It ignores history of the last century, it misunderstands history before that, it distorts everything for ideological purposes, and it is dominated by crackpots.

Update: I may post separately on how Goedel's theorem is widely misunderstood, even by academic philosophers who should know better. The theorem is well-explained on Wikipedia and elsewhere, so there is no excuse for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment