Monday, June 11, 2007

How can one reject skepticism while embracing science?

` Here's the post some people have been waiting (over two weeks) for!

` I've noticed that some people are all for science, but they abhor skepticism. (Myself as a teenager, for example.) But this is quite an impossible thing to do:

` First of all, skepticism is the underlying mechanism of science, and in fact it is the reason that science makes any progress at all. (Otherwise, it wouldn't be science, it would be speculation.) In other words, the process of skepticism is part and parcel of the scientific method.
` However, some people don't understand that, and would rather that science do away with skepticism.
` Now, I've written about the definition of science and skepticism several times in my blogging ventures, in several different ways. Surely it wouldn't kill me to do a recap:

` A skeptic holds that nothing can be entirely certain. There are only different amounts of certainty from near-zero to almost surely. The reason is because one mind is but one small vantage point - and hundreds are considerably better but not perfect - we can always be wrong about things.
` Therefore, when something is discovered, you can't rely on one person; other people need to be able to verify that discovery by 'discovering' it separately themselves. Consensus allows facts to be observed more objectively, and the need for objectivity is the reason for all that arguing done by scientists.
` When one scientist discovers some kind of pattern or phenomenon, there is always a chance that this was wrong; other scientists are needed to pick apart the ways in which it was discovered, to see if there are any other explanations. This is basically the same both for experiments and new hypotheses, no matter how established the subject.
` Quite often some kind of result or idea is questionable due to the fact that it could be explained in another way; indeed most new data and hypotheses are discredited this way and many observations are found to be accounted for by something other than what is proposted. And so, this is a very valuable process which helps to keep scientists from making mistakes - any scientist trying to introduce something new must dedicate a lot of work. If it turns out to be verified by others, it will eventually be accepted.
` If it weren't for the extensive protocols and methods to keep science as objective as possible, it would be a dogmatic belief system rather than a dynamic, ever-changing world of facts and ideas. (In other words, scientific ideas are sometimes rejected when a more accurate explanation is found.)

` This is why, when new territory is being explored, 'I don't know' is often the best answer. (Not very dogmatic, is it?) To reduce the reasons for 'I don't know', much careful experimental design is needed.` When I was young, however, I didn't understand the significance of these things. I thought that 'skeptics' were just people who were closed-minded and were slowing down scientific progress by ignoring very real research about, say, the reality of psychic powers.
` In short, I used to see these things the way Rupert Sheldrake does in this article. He says:
Parapsychology has been under a kind of taboo for decades. I think this is because psychic phenomena became classified as superstition by Enlightenment rationalists, who wanted to move beyond superstition and religion, to a new era of science and reason. Unfortunately this hope has hardened into dogma and ironically, people who defend these taboos become very unscientific and very unreasonable.
` Okay, for reasons of simplicity let's examine Sheldrake's 'psychic staring' experiments, in which people simply guessed whether or not they were being stared at from behind. His experiments showed that indeed, these people were correct more than 50% of the time. But why? Enter the scientific process.
` According to two comparison experiments by Colwell, Schroder and Sladen in 2000, the reason this occurred is that the Sheldrake's experiments were inadvertently designed to cue people into following patterns. (In other words, his rate of chance was not 50-50 like it would need to be for this experiment to be valid.)
` Here's what they did: Seven men and five women (all whom believed in the staring effect) were led into a room by themselves where they sat with a one-way mirror to their backs. Meanwhile, someone else was behind the mirror, staring at them, or not, according to the 'staring'-'not staring' sequences that Sheldrake used and encourages others to use.
` The participant was given a button to press, in order to indicate whether or not they felt like they were being stared at. For the first 60 trials, they were given no feedback as to how accurate their responses were, though for the latter 180 trials, they were shown the words 'correct' or 'false', depending on their outcome.
` In the no-feedback trials, everything went as predicted - the average guess fell almost exactly on the mean chance expectation. However, in the trials with feedback, they were a little more accurate.
` Why? What they found was that Sheldrake's sequences were not random and that with feedback, people can (if subconsciously) catch onto the pattern. (This is a very basic ability that is observed all the time in animals.) Indeed, people are known to learn the probabilities of events and use that information to adapt to a situation without even realizing it!
` This is further supported by the fact that the first sixty trials had no significance whatsoever (29.92 with the expected chance being at 30), while the next sixty had a slight improvement (30.92), the next sixty had a .002 statistical significance (33.08) and the last sixty was more accurate (34.67) at .001 statistical significance.
` Indeed, Sheldrake's sequences were far from random - the participants actually had a .39 chance of repetition instead of a 50-50 chance. For example, when all the 'trios' (three trials in a row) were compared, it was found that there was a lot more alternation than there is in random sequences.
` So, in other words there was a lot of 'stare, no stare, stare' (SNS) and 'no stare, stare, no stare' (NSN). In a random sequence, they would be found in the same quantities as the trios SSN, NNS, SSS and NNN.
` In fact, these 'trios' had about a .001 deviation from randomness. (This is just as statistically significant as the result of the last 60 trials!) What does that tell you? The simplest explanation is that the people learned to switch their guesses more to 'not staring' after they had just been told the previous trial was 'staring' (whether they guessed it correctly or not), and vice-versa.
` Of course, a believer in Sheldrake could easily say that the real (and least simple) reason for this effect in improvement is simply due to increases in sensitivity to the staring effect. Fair enough. So, then the researchers then took some random sequences, analyzed them to make sure they were really random, and then tried those out on the participants.
` In this experiment, all of the trials included feedback, to maximize chances of learning a pattern. But with no pattern to learn, the subjects were unable to do better than chance!

` So, there we go. With a pattern to go on, people can guess better than 50-50 chance. But with either no feedback or feedback with no pattern, there is no statistical significance at all. Tell me, how is that unscientific or unreasonable?

` More on the scientific method

` I was just reading the beginning of a book by Adam Zeman called Consciousness: a user's guide. I really like his artful description of science after he contrasts perspectives of subjective experiences in the mind and objective experiences in the brain:
Scientific description involves a meticulous effort to eliminate subjectivity, to achieve a reproducible, 'impersonal' description of the world, and account on which all disinterested observers can agree.
` So, basically, 2+2=4. Gravity draws things to one another and its intensity depends on the amount of mass involved, and therefore black holes would be really destructive. Humans can figure these things out, and so could any intelligent life form, because these things can be observed.
The effort to achieve this leads away from the ordinary language of experience, into a technical vocabulary which is usually inaccessible to outsiders. This obscurity is justified by one astounding property of successful science: in making reliable predictions it provides control over the world. This kind of knowledge, in Francis Bacon's phrase, 'is power'.
` If you understand gravity, you can use it to make spacecraft that can escape earth's gravity, navigate the solar system without deviating from the intended direction, and even 'slingshot' around Jupiter!
` Knowing about the way the world works allows us to make what we make - aircraft, computers, chemicals, etc. - because the principles they operate on are 'out there', not in the mind. Conclusive evidence comes from the fact that anyone could manipulate the world in the same ways under the same circumstances, regardless of their belief in whether it would work or not.
` This next part builds on what I've said earlier:
...First-person accounts evoke a single point of view, while scientific accounts abstract features of the world common to all points of view. First-person accounts matter to us because we are interested in each other's thoughts and feelings; scientific accounts matter because we need to master our physical surroundings.
` ...There are two good reasons, though, for trying to hold it in check.
` In the first place scientific knowledge is always provisional: it is uncertain which beliefs will stand and which will fall during the constant process of revision. As the Oxford physician Sir William Osler warned a group of newly qualified doctors at the turn of the century: 'Gentlemen, I must tell you that half of what you have been taught is wrong, and we don't know which half.'
` As I said, scientists try to avoid dogma, so they are constantly having to change their views. All they need is a good reason. Despite the fact that the scientific method, with its philosophy of 'better to be doubtful than convinced and mistaken' is the best way of discovery, it is not perfect.
...We will never quite arrive at a 'view from nowhere'. It is just as true of the highly disciplined form of description achieved by science as of the first-person account that if there were no subject there would be nothing to report.
` But hey, actively reducing the errors of perception is certainly much better than not trying to. And yet, humbleness is still key. As a psychology student I am cautioned not to generalize anecdotes into a larger pattern, and to not be afraid to say "I don't know." That is skepticism.
` As a journalism student, I am encouraged to back up (falsify/verify) sources - failure to do so results in some pretty embarrassing mistakes. For example, one reporter from the Detroit Free Press wrote an obituary for a Dr. Rogers Fair. When Fair himself later called the newspaper, it was obvious that a huge mistake had been made.
` It turns out, Fair said, that the sole source of information for the obituary was from a woman who was obsessed with him, that is, vandalizing his property and threatening to plant bombs because she couldn't have him. Her report of his death was merely another one of her shenanigans.
` This is what happens when you get all your information from one source without checking to verify it. The reporter could have called the morgue, funeral home, other family members, but did not. And so, mistakes can be that simple.
` In science, you have to check with other scientists to make sure your methods are sound. If they aren't, or if your ideas don't make any sense when you consider all the facts, they will demand why you think your data should matter.

` It's brutal, I know.

` So, getting one's facts straight is crucial for a scientist. Otherwise, how could they do their jobs?
And yet, some people have the view that science could be devoid of skepticism as opposed to being driven by it.
` That seems to be because these anti-skeptic people believe skepticism to be nothing more than confining, cynical naysaying - which is how most people naively misuse the word - and therefore don't know how to tell one apart from the other.

` Therefore, when they hear that someone is skeptical of something they personally hold to be true, they think "what a close-minded fool" instead of "hm, maybe there's something more to this" (which is what skeptics generally do).
` And so, they believe what they believe about what science is, and are easily taken in by pseudoscience. ("Oh, an idea is being repressed! That's not fair!" Well, hey, science doesn't care about what an individual believes, only what the individual can demonstrate.)
` ...And what is pseudoscience? I believe I've written a great deal about the subject in the blogosphere, but for a short answer I have collected various web definitions:
Research that has the appearance of science but does not follow the scientific method, usually lacking peer review and repetition of observations by independent researchers.
` Hopefully, the significance of this definition is clear by now. Also, I could add that many pseudoscientific experiments tend to have built-in flaws which fail to isolate that which is being studied, and when these flaws are corrected for by anyone trying to replicate the experiment, the result is often quite different. (As with Sheldrake and other psychical researchers.)
` Another definition of pseudoscience:
Scientifically testable ideas that are taken on faith, even if tested and shown to be false.
` Denial is not just a river in Egypt! What else is pseudoscience?
A set of ideas based upon theories put forth as scientific whether they are or not; based upon an authorative text rather than observation or empirical investigation.
` What exists still exists, even if someone or some book says it doesn't. Yet another definition:
A set or system of beliefs claiming to be "scientific" without the benefit of the scientific method used to make further inquiries that might suggest that the belief system is wrong in any particular way.
` Pretending to be curious while instead afraid to try to falsify a claim (because falsifying is how science is done) is not science, no matter what you call it.
` In fact, when a scientist tests out some hypothesis or another, usually it fails very quickly because the human mind is very tiny and cannot usually come up with the right prediction for the results of some observation or test.
` But when the hypothesis is tested again and again and it does not fail, that means the data support it! If the hypothesis still does not fail and only blossoms into something more complex and explanatory for a phenomenon, it becomes a theory.
` So, in other words, pseudoscience is about trying (intentionally or not) to make the world look like how you want it to look like. Science is about not being afraid of what the world does look like.
` As if I need to further clarify what I say (and sometimes I do!), I thought I'd add another beautiful rendition of the scientific process, this one from the Science of Gender and Science (emphases mine):
Scientists debate continually, and reality is the check. They may have egos as large as those possessed by the iconic figures of the academic humanities, but they handle their hubris in a very different way. They can be moved by arguments,
because they work in an empirical world of facts, a world based on reality.
There are no fixed, unalterable positions. They are both the creators and
the critics of their shared enterprise. Ideas come from them and they also criticize one another's ideas.

Through the process of creativity and criticism and debates, they decide which ideas get weeded out and which become part of the consensus that leads to the next level of discovery.
` Does that not drive the concept home? Is that not a summary of what I've been writing on and on about?

` A few more tiny details

` An important point I probably need to make explicitly is that the first thing a skeptic knows is that they do not know. Who cares what the skeptic may believe? So, the scientific method is called for to hopefully remove the influence of personal bias.
` Now, because scientific knowledge is tentative, you cannot prove anything once and for all with the scientific method - the only way to figure out what makes the most sense is to try disproving it. Does that sound confusing?
` This is why an example of a scientific claim would have to be; 'there is no such thing as psychic powers'; it can be disproven if psychic powers are discovered! So there, the 'knowledge' can change! On the other hand, if you say 'there is such thing as psychic powers, please prove me wrong!' you cannot falsify it because you cannot prove anything doesn't exist. (Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. 'Tis the skeptical way.)
` What I'm saying that in declaring 'prove it doesn't exist', the 'knowledge' cannot change! It is forever fixed. It is dogma.
` Like I said, disproving something means that some particular thing has been shown to be wrong. Therefore we know it isn't right, so it's back to the drawing board. However, failure to disprove something lends credence to it - it is like proving a grain of truth. Repeatedly attempting to disprove something in many different ways and still failing to do so is almost as good as proving that thing.
` This is why the scientific method has the bottom line; try not to come to a conclusion until you can be certain about it. Since this is usually very difficult (or impossible), you have to make due with fairly conclusive evidence.
` Take the fact there isn't any 'proof' at all that smoking causes cancer, but the evidence for this theory is fairly compelling:
` Correlational studies showing that people who smoke are more likely to have lung cancer than other people, and experiments that show cigarette smoke can give animals cancer is conclusive enough. It isn't a 'smoking gun' (no pun intended), because we can't do human studies that force people to smoke until they get cancer.
` Therefore, after all this research has been conducted, it is a skeptical position to conclude that smoking must cause cancer in humans, even though there is no proof.

` Some responses to a Fortean

` Back when I started writing this article (April of last year), I found this random article in the Talking Dog which bashes a very highly distorted representation of what skepticism is.
` ...It's also full of paragraphs that make me feel as if I am from another planet. Take this, for example:
...You know, like EM fields, which were considered impossible until quite recently. But to be completely fair, they were only considered perinormal, rather than paranormal. The difference being: scientists deny them both, but are more adamant in their denial of paranormal phenomena.
` First of all, EM (electromagnetic) fields were discovered in the 1800s! We use them for everything from radios to cell phones. They are in fact everywhere and can be measured in any building and many places outdoors. I'm guessing something else was meant, but I'm not quite sure in what way.
` And as far as 'perinormal' phenomena go, these are those phenomena which have not clearly been demonstrated to be real, though one can claim some evidence for their existence. With further skeptical/scientific investigation, some perinormal phenomena have been demonstrated to be real, especially various bizarre medical conditions.
` Paranormal phenomena are those things which have not shown themselves to scientific inquiry. While they may be tempting to believe in, a scientist or skeptic must not profess that something is real unless there is some degree of certainty (like, more than perinormal phenomena). Got it?
` This paragraph also confuses me:
Mainstream Zoology insists that manta rays have only one type of body marking. Dr. Karl Shuker on the other hand has photographic and first hand written documentation dating back to 1934 to suggest otherwise. Yet over 70 years later, they still cling to the one body pattern dogma. Why? I mean, what does it matter if they have white stripes, patches or blotches?
` I figured that something kind of weird must be going on. So, I took to surfing the internet, came across a site called World of the Exotic and found this entry.
Striped Manta Rays

The Atlantic giant manta ray (Manta birostris) is the largest known ray in the world. American naturalist William Beebe saw a striped manta ray off Tower Island, in the Galapagos Islands, Ecaudor, however, even to this day, cannot be identified. Beebe included his sighting in Galapagos:World's End (1924). He was on the ship Noma (Apr. 27, 1923) and he spied a manta with a ten-foot (3 m) "fin-span" collide with Noma.
[It was] of somewhat the usual manta or devil-fish shape, except that the wings not noticeably concave behind, and the lateral angles were not acute. The cephalic horn-like structures were conspicuous and more straight then in-curved. In general the back was dark brown, faintly mottled, while the most conspicuous character was a pair of of broad, pure white bands extending halfway down the back from each side of the head. The wing tips also shaded abruptly into pure white.
In 1976 a photograph was taken of one around New Caledonia shows it fits the description above. On December 28, 1989 Sharks: Hunters of the Seas, a German television programme, caught one on film off Cabo San Lucas, at Mexico's Baja California's southern tip.
` Why on earth would this be considered impossible by scientists, as Talking Dog is apparently implying? So (assuming these are real sightings), perhaps people have been seeing some kind of rare manta ray or a mutation of an existing species. Perfectly plausible. This kind of thing happens all the time.
` But we don't know what species it is, and it would be foolhardy to make an assumption and declare it as truth! So, because marine biologists wouldn't know exactly where to place these sightings among what is already known about manta rays, how could they possibly be expected to say anything about it?
` To further illustrate, I moved onto another page on the same website called unusual mammals, and all that was odd about them was their markings. That's perfectly unremarkable as such mutations happen all the time.
` For example, it highlights the brown and white panda. Now, I've seen a wild brown and white panda on television before. Because it is displayed as a cryptid on this site, does that mean scientists don't believe it exists? No; it is a normal panda bear with a mutation that dilutes its pigment. In fact, much was made of the death of the brown and white captive panda, Dan Dan.
` Despite this, do you think typical descriptions of pandas are going to include brown and white? Most of the ones I've seen 'cling to the one body pattern dogma' of pandas being black and white. Therefore, is it any surprise that, since striped manta rays have apparently not even been studied, and we have no idea what species a striped manta ray may belong to, that nobody is going to say "this species of manta ray can also be striped"?
` Of course not; that would be highly speculative and thus unscientific to present as fact. Someone would need to catch and study at least one ray before we can say just what species they belong to. Am I missing something?
` I sure as hell feel like it. Seriously....
Another fringe notion that has crossed over into the mainstream is in the field of archeology. The idea of Archeoastology was once relegated to the peyote-eating hippies of the 1960’s. But over the last 30 years this field has gained academic respectability through patient and honest scientific inquiry.
` Huh? What's the Dog Talking about? My guess is Archaeoastrology, which is the study of ancient cultures' astrology beliefs (example).
` It is similar to Archaeoastronomy, which is the study of ancient cultures' beliefs about the skies, and is almost as old as archaeology. Why would that stuff be considered unscientific to begin with? Perhaps relatively unimportant and difficult to verify, but it is still an interesting topic (and yes, though it is loaded with speculation, the speculation is not meant to be taken as fact).

` Of course, this post also blatantly derides skepticism for rejecting tests that supposedly demonstrate psychic abilities.
` ...And if any kind of leak-proof 'psychic test' was designed, that is, one that actually gets rid of the chances for cueing, one that uses double-blinding, one that randomizes correctly, uses relevant statistical procedures and is judged by someone with no bias, that alone would get me excited.
` I'm insinuating, of course, that this is usually not the case. But discouragingly enough, when such a test does arise, it does not demonstrate psychic abilities. At the most, it demonstrates how easily the human mind could be fooled.
` In other words, it's not the results of the tests that mainstream scientists have a problem with; it's the incredible sloppiness of what psi believers try to pass off as a scientific (= carefully controlled) experiment.
Let’s turn to parapsychology and your claim that no scientific evidence has been found supporting it: At the Koestler Foundation in Edinburg at British University, under Chair Bob Morris between 1993 and 2003, six of 9 major experimental studies produced statistically significant results. Targ’s work on Remote Viewing in California also produced consistent statistically significant results. And like the Sanford Research Institute noted further down, BU had stage magicians helping them guard against possible trickery.
` Okay... kudos to the idea of having magicians being present, but experimenters like Targ (and Puthoff) were physicists, not psychologists. They didn't know how to test for mental occurrences properly. As a result, their tests were so badly constructed that they have become famous for being one of many 'classic' examples of how counterproductive one's research can be if one does not know how to conduct it!
` As for Morris, he wound up being more careful than Puthoff and Targ after much criticism of his experimental designs, though his results were still never conclusive. Spurious evidence still isn't really any better than no evidence at all.
When asked if he personally believed in telepathy, Morris replied that he was just a researcher. Adding that there was accumulating evidence that it does occur.
` Well, tons of people (in any field) are just researchers and they're usually wrong about things! That's why it's so exciting when they actually seem to be on the right track! Sometimes, they are still wrong and can easily delude themselves. That's life.
This has been suggested by a number of studies and authors. Like Dean Radin who wrote The Conscious Universe.
` Oh yeah, I remember when I believed in that book. But then I learned a little about physics and quantum mechanics and realized that the book and similar ones was talking about something entirely different; a very specific interpretation of selected facts taken out of context, mixed with misinterpretations of what the scientists they quote actually have found and what they think about it, with some flawed experiments, etc. That kind of thing.
` Pure and simple pseudoscience. If I had the book with me, oh the posts I could write! But I don't.
[Radin] says that scientific evidence for telepathy has been accruing for decades. Radin notes that a meta-analysis of all ganzfeld telepathy experiments up to 1997 reveal a probability of a MILLION BILLION to 1. That’s somewhat less that Bush’s contribution to the national debt, but I’m sure you can’t argue that it is insignificant.
` There's a very simple explanation for that (it would make Ockham proud): In this research, what did and did not constitute a 'hit' was not specified first (unlike real scientific research)! Even more significantly, the pictures being used were not random - they usually had a Western theme.
` For example, if a picture of a U.S. president was used, then 'Washington D.C.' would count as an answer. The same answer would also hit a variety of other pictures, such as government buildings. That's no good!
` In other words, the experiment was like this: "Let's see how close these people can guess from a certain selection of related pictures. Hmmm... now how can we make this fit the answer? They're all close enough in subject matter, so it ought to be easy."
` You see how self-defeating that is? Anyone could get enough 'hits', without even trying! Sorry guys, you need to be a little more careful than that!

` In conclusion, what does the Talking Dog say about skepticism?
In my opinion skeptics are much too dogmatic.
` ...And yet the point of skepticism is to go out of your way to protect yourself from dogma.
` Really, if anything, science needs more skepticism. After all, if a scientific concept goes unscrutinized for a while, and people start to suspect it may be wrong, then what breaks up the 'wall of dogma'? Skepticism!
As Nietzsche suggested: 'There is no better soporific and sedative than skepticism.' Skeptics work very, very hard to prove somebody wrong, instead of keeping an open mind about what the person may have discovered that potentially has some merit.
` 1: Wrong: Skepticism is deliberately about having an open mind! That's why they try to prove themselves wrong. Failing to do so means that there may well be onto something.
` 2: The quote seems to be a bit 'off'. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche said in 1890; "Do not allow yourselves to be deceived: Great Minds are Skeptical. ... There is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value.
` This absolute will to truth: what is it? Is it the will to not allow ourselves to be deceived? Is it the will not to deceive? ... One does not want to be deceived, under the supposition that it is injurious, dangerous, or fatal to be deceived."
` He also said; "Belief in the truth commences with the doubting of all those 'truths' we once believed," in (1879, Truth Will Have No Other Gods Alongside It)
` So, if Nietzsche was against skepticism, why would he say that skepticism is a strong sedative? As far as I can tell, he was warning against excessive doubtfulness. After all, this constant battering that scientists go through usually delays the 'real deal' from being realized (the benefit is that the 'chaff' is gotten rid of). They want to know for sure, you know? Truth is more important than wishes.
` Usually, this is no big deal - eventually, any errors are resolved and life goes on. On the other hand, take the hypothesis that washing one's hands wards off disease. Because there was not enough evidence to support this idea for a while, lots of hospital patients died. But, the idea eventually took hold when it was finally conclusively demonstrated. So, it did get through because it was seen to be true.
` Science is a brutal process, yes, and scientists are often influenced by culture, yes; therein lies the importance of the constant arguments from different points of view. Each proponent has his own bias, but the righteous are eventually revealed by reality, not by popularity. So, if something goes against one's preconceived notions, they can't prove it wrong on that basis.
` Because of that, pro-psychic researchers should be able to prove that such abilities exist if they are real. They just haven't. This is why the awaiting skeptics are so amused by their methodological screw-ups - it's an established pattern.
` Will they ever break that pattern? Will they ever make any progress? That's what those who aren't 'of the faith' of psychic phenomena are waiting for.
However, as I hope I have proved, I don’t just accept everything with an absolutely open mind and at face value. I am a Fortean. Like a skeptic, but with an actual ability to think critically and the self-awareness that I don’t and can’t know absolutely everything.
` I'm not sure that's quite accurate: A Fortean is someone who as a rule suspends judgment (like a skeptic) accepts ideas as if they are not necessarily true (like a skeptic) and still tends to question existing ideas (like a skeptic).
` The difference between Forteans and skeptics is that Forteans don't believe that knowledge is attainable. Skeptics have a slightly different perspective; that knowledge can be attained. Though scientific theories are tentative and subject to change, Fort himself seemed to miss the fact that scientists considered that some theories are more certain than others - it's not an all-or-nothing thing.
` Thus, well-proven theories and ones that are far from even being 'on the map' apparently share equal footing in Fort's philosophy. I don't think that makes any sense.
` After all, principles of physics and biology, etc, can be used to manipulate the world. If they were not true, how could they be used? Can we use psychics to, say, solve mysteries? Their failure to do so has resulted in their rejection from the government and police forces.
` And so, skeptics currently have their probability bar down low on the scale. My psychology textbook says to keep an open mind about ESP because one day something might prove them to be true. The same applies to the reverse; it is just as open-minded to maintain that psychic phenomena may not exist.
` Indeed, ESP believers tend to be among the many who do not have an open mind. My psychology textbook (Understanding Psychology, Fourth Edition) explains some of the obstacles to critical thinking such as:
Obstacle 1: The Belief-Bias Effect

The belief-bias effect occurs when people accept only the evidence that conforms to their belief, rejecting or ignoring any evidence that does not. For example, in a classic study conducted by Warren Jones and Dan Russel (1980), ESP believers and ESP disbelievers watched two attempts at telepathic communication. In each attempt a "receiver" tried to indicate what card the "sender" was holding.
` In reality, both attempts were rigged. One attempt was designed to appear to be a successful demonstration of telepathy, with a significant number of accurate responses. The other attempt was designed to convincingly demonstrate failure. In this case, the number of accurate guesses was no more than chance and could be produced by simple random guessing.
` Following the demonstration, the participants were asked what they believed had taken place. Both believers and disbelievers indicated that ESP has occurred in the successful attempt. But only the believers said that ESP had also taken place in the clearly unsuccessful attempt. In other words, the ESP believers ignored or discounted the evidence in the failed attempt. This is the essence of the belief-bias effect.
` Yeah, I used to do stuff like that. Thing is, I thought that belief in psychic phenomena was the most open-minded thing to do. But that doesn't make any sense: As I've said, this belief cannot change in response to scientific experiments that repeatedly demonstrate otherwise. It does not rest on reality but rather subjectivity. So, it is dogma. Very un-Fortean-like when you think about it!
...Simply dismissing an idea as impossible shuts out the consideration of evidence for new and potentially promising ideas or phenomena. At one time, for example, scientists thought it impossible that rocks could fall from the sky (Hines, 2003).
` On the other hand, the obstacles described here underscore the importance of choosing ways to gather and think about evidence that will help us avoid unwarranted beliefs and self-deception.
` If this is what scientists are taught, to have an open mind and think critically (skepticism), then where's the dogma?
` Look at it this way: I used to think that psychic phenomena were real (including my own alleged powers), until I was open-minded enough to realize that they can be more simply explained by other things. It just didn't seem like it to me because I was 'locked in' my perception and didn't know any other way to interpret things.
` So, being a skeptic is about not being afraid to change one's mind. If I, being a skeptic, did nothing but argue against things, then why would I have responded the way I did to this comment about my post on facilitated communication?

Hey, no hard feelings, but you're just wrong about autism, FC and the science! I replied in nauseating detail at my blog, here.
best regards,
jim [acujames]

S E E Quine said...

` As my computer has been down for several days now, I'm finally using a school computer to check up on (a little of) my email, and I'm finding a lot of flack about this post.
` For example:

Until you have made the effort to communicate with people with autism using facilitated communication, you have done nothing more than slam the door shut in the faces of people who can thinking critically far better than you will ever be able to........I know, because I've been there and I've had those conversations and I know that they are real.

I expect that you will mature in time and realize how foolish you have been.

` Normally, I would say, "Lady, stop using your emotions!"

` But then I read acujames' blog post about some such patients who used facilitated communication to learn how to type, etc.
` Indeed, since I wrote this post, I have found bits of evidence like this saying that perhaps [or rather, occasionally] there is something to it after all.
` But then, if that is so, why does the American Psychological Association describe it as "a controversial and unproved communicative procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy" because "Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that facilitated communication is not a scientifically valid technique for individuals with autism or mental retardation"?
` I don't think that uncommunicative patients are necessarily mentally retarded, so it would be no surprise that it could be proven that they weren't.
` What seems to be going on is that FC really does work with some individuals, while this is not the case for the vast majority. It is just hard to tell, and facilitators are usually very shocked to find that their own thoughts were being communicated instead of the patient's.

` My suggestion; test each case, one by one. If a facilitator cannot help a patient communicate something only the patient knows, there is good reason to be suspect.

acujames said...

S E E Quine, my hat's off to you on your open-mindedness about looking at evidence. I completely agree with your caveats stated in the preceding reply. Any responsible person would as well, imo. Undoubtedly some folks out there are approaching FC pseudoscientifically (and giving it a bad name), but fortunately the FC people at Syracuse advocate a set of "best practices" that take into account the issues raised by the research.

On the APA statement (archive version here; currently inaccessible at APA's site), I think there are several factors. The most obvious one is that the statement was published in 1994, prior to the publication of the controlled studies showing instances of valid FC (e.g. this one). Additionally, some FC supporters (e.g. Wade Hitzing) suggest that the APA statement may have reflected a behaviorist bias that tended to discount autistic intelligence. The latter topic has been the subject of recent research (e.g. Goldberg Edelson and Dawson et. al.) and seems ripe for the sort of revolution that has transpired in the past with regard to the abilities of the deaf-blind, people with cerebral palsy, and others. Finally, it should be said that controlling the variables involved in the communication of autistic people is no easy task (cf. the amusing term "physics envy"), and there is debate on all sides regarding the design of controlled studies on FC.

As a scientist, not to mention a pragmatist who knows that some people still dismiss FC outright, I do my best to (a) encourage my son's independent communication and (b) validate that his FC-ing is real. There are various ways I've approached verifying his FC objectively, and that's a subject for a whole nuther blog post. I've generally heeded the "best practices" linked above, and as well as the approach described in this fascinating case study (pdf file).

Again, kudos to you for blending skepticism with an open mind.

(And sorry I got so link-happy in my reply; I cross-posted the above at my blog, just to keep them at hand. Cheers!)

S E E Quine said...

S E E Quine, my hat's off to you on your open-mindedness about looking at evidence....

` Well, of course; that's the way skeptics are supposed to be! Thanks for the links - although for some reason they're not loading for me. (I don't know why; I think it's my computer or something.)

...Again, kudos to you for blending skepticism with an open mind.

` Why would anyone think skepticism and open-mindedness are contradictory? In a way, skepticism is the most open-minded you can be (without, of course, your brains falling out!).

acujames said...

` Why would anyone think skepticism and open-mindedness are contradictory? In a way, skepticism is the most open-minded you can be (without, of course, your brains falling out!).

.... it must just be the skeptics I've met that have been close-minded ignorant buffoons. That and egotistic Psychologists with a self assumed power trip (as they can "supposedly" assess others intelligence). get a freakin life. Drop the superiority complex - and shrivel up in the corner you belong in. The world must be pretty sad in black in white.

` Indeed, labeling yourself a 'skeptic' is hazardous because most people just don't understand what it means (plus, there are many dogmatic charlatans). My point in this dialogue was that FC is a widespread practice, yet it almost always turns out to be an illusion.
` Therefore, it's not very productive nor efficient to go around spreading it over the four corners of the world without question! It will be a massive undertaking if people are to straighten it out.

` Anyway, I think I've made some kind of point. Off to the laundromat!


Not Talking Dog said...

Hi Spoony,

"By the way, I wanted to mention that a dog's sense of smell is not paranormal."

By the way, I'd like to mention that you are obviously a literalist idiot.

I realize that a dog's sense of smell is entirely natural, which was part of the very obvious point that you missed; either through sheer obstinacy, lack of comprehension skills or by the aforementioned idiocy.

Let me use very small words and very simple ideas to make my point. That way, you might be able to comprehend my intent.

I was not trying to infer the existence of psi by using a dog’s sense of smell as an example.

I was using it to explain why scientific fundamentalism doesn't allow for psychic ability as an option; because they don't have a machine or a test to detect it.

They also don't have machines that can detect what a dog's nose can. And for years, science denied that dogs could smell cancer. Until they figured out a way to "prove" it was possible through double blind tests.

The lack of ability to prove a phenomenon does not mean it does not or cannot exist. It simply means one cannot prove it at this point with the testing protocols at hand.

In terms of your criticism of my VERY on-the-fly writing regarding EM fields (and the rest of that post from which you also quote other items wildly out of context) , I was admittedly unclear about what I was trying to say.

But then, you seem to excel at taking snippets of writing out of context and distorting them as you did earlier regarding a dogs sense smell. It is becoming increasingly obvious that your ability to read and comprehend is suspect.

I was actually talking about the rather protracted and heated debate over their potentially harmful qualities of EM fields, which continues to this day. Some studies find them to be problematic, some don't. I don't have examples of the studies in question on hand. And I frankly don't care at this point.

And yes, Archeoastrology was intended to be Archeoastronomy. Again, taking snippets out of context. Perhaps you are a high functioning autistic or someone with Asperger’s who has no sense of the subtleties of language or metaphor or even good old heat-of-the-moment slips of the tongue.

"..And if any kind of leak-proof 'psychic test' was designed, that is, one that actually gets rid of the chances for cueing, one that uses double-blinding, one that randomizes correctly, uses relevant statistical procedures and is judged by someone with no bias, that alone would get me excited."

You need to learn to edit for clarity. This quote seems to be attributed to me, but it is not my writing. And, frankly, this doesn't just apply to your lack of critical structure in the text of your blog. Speaking as someone who designs images for a living, your multi-font, multi-color, multi-formatting speaks to a rather unthinking and messy mind.

As for Nietzsche, here is a fuller reading of the text (and yes, he is maligning skeptics), from "Beyond Good and Evil" :

"When a philosopher nowadays makes known that he is not a skeptic--I hope that has been gathered from the foregoing description of the objective spirit?--people all hear it impatiently; they regard him on that account with some apprehension, they would like to ask so many, many questions . . . indeed among timid hearers, of whom there are now so many, he is henceforth said to be dangerous. With his repudiation of skepticism, it seems to them as if they heard some evil- threatening sound in the distance, as if a new kind of explosive were being tried somewhere, a dynamite of the spirit, perhaps a newly discovered Russian NIHILINE, a pessimism BONAE VOLUNTATIS, that not only denies, means denial, but-dreadful thought! PRACTISES denial. Against this kind of "good-will"--a will to the veritable, actual negation of life--there is, as is generally acknowledged nowadays, no better soporific and sedative than skepticism, the mild, pleasing, lulling poppy of skepticism; and Hamlet himself is now prescribed by the doctors of the day as an antidote to the "spirit," and its underground noises. "Are not our ears already full of bad sounds?" say the skeptics, as lovers of repose, and almost as a kind of safety police; "this subterranean Nay is terrible! Be still, ye pessimistic moles!" The skeptic, in effect, that delicate creature, is far too easily frightened; his conscience is schooled so as to start at every Nay, and even at that sharp, decided Yea, and feels something like a bite thereby. Yea! and Nay!--they seem to him opposed to morality; he loves, on the contrary, to make a festival to his virtue by a noble aloofness, while perhaps he says with Montaigne: "What do I know?" Or with Socrates: "I know that I know nothing." Or: "Here I do not trust myself, no door is open to me." Or: "Even if the door were open, why should I enter immediately?" Or: "What is the use of any hasty hypotheses? It might quite well be in good taste to make no hypotheses at all. Are you absolutely obliged to straighten at once what is crooked? to stuff every hole with some kind of oakum? Is there not time enough for that? Has not the time leisure? Oh, ye demons, can ye not at all WAIT? The uncertain also has its charms, the Sphinx, too, is a Circe, and Circe, too, was a philosopher."--Thus does a skeptic console himself; and in truth he needs some consolation. For skepticism is the most spiritual expression of a certain many-sided physiological temperament, which in ordinary language is called nervous debility and sickliness; it arises whenever races or classes which have been long separated, decisively and suddenly blend with one another. In the new generation, which has inherited as it were different standards and valuations in its blood, everything is disquiet, derangement, doubt, and tentativeness; the best powers operate restrictively, the very virtues prevent each other growing and becoming strong, equilibrium, ballast, and perpendicular stability are lacking in body and soul. That, however, which is most diseased and degenerated in such nondescripts is the WILL; they are no longer familiar with independence of decision, or the courageous feeling of pleasure in willing--they are doubtful of the "freedom of the will" even in their dreams Our present-day Europe, the scene of a senseless, precipitate attempt at a radical blending of classes, and CONSEQUENTLY of races, is therefore skeptical in all its heights and depths, sometimes exhibiting the mobile skepticism which springs impatiently and wantonly from branch to branch, sometimes with gloomy aspect, like a cloud over-charged with interrogative signs--and often sick unto death of its will! Paralysis of will, where do we not find this cripple sitting nowadays! And yet how bedecked oftentimes' How seductively ornamented! There are the finest gala dresses and disguises for this disease, and that, for instance, most of what places itself nowadays in the show-cases as "objectiveness," "the scientific spirit," "L'ART POUR L'ART," and "pure voluntary knowledge," is only decked-out skepticism and paralysis of will..."

And I do wholeheartedly agree with your last line....You have made some kind of point.

Absence of a Loquacious Canine said...

Science: religion in a "rationalists" clothing.

Until the late 19th Century most scientists were adamant that there were no such things as meteors or meteorites. The earth's atmosphere, they claimed, was impenetrable, otherwise the planet could not survive solar winds, radiations and etc.

When people claimed that hot rocks or chunks or rocks fell from the sky, scientist would counter that:

1) The person was mistaken. (yes, they did that THEN too)

2) The rock did, indeed, fall from the sky (aka: fafrotsky the Fortean term for it)but was merely ejecta from an active volcano somewhere on the planet that was carried by the jet stream, or what ever mechanism they chose, and dropped it in the person's path.

There are volumes of strange occurrences on this planet; some of them explainable by way of rare, but natural occurrences. Some are misperceptions or honest mistakes by well meaning people. But there is a sturdy batch which remains wholly unexplainable and/or unexplained. And they may remain so. Because scientists who stray to far from the strict fundamentalist dogma that is scientific enquiry are often banished to the fringes.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries a scientist could study natural science and alchemy (outside the purview of the Church of course) and still have his ideas considered to be seriously by other scientists. No longer. Now scientists cannot evince one shred of interest in a "fringe" or Fortean subject.

I, for one, think science needs to yank it's bunched up panties out of it's collective crack and lighten up a bit. I'm not saying present the supernatural and psychic phenomena as mainstream science or even good science. I'm saying offer it as an exploration of an idea and let peer review do it's damnedest.

san arfy said...

This is the most fun I've had in years.... aren't you glad you looked me up?

--For all Spoony’s beleaguered friends who take homeopathic remedies:

Scientism is defined by Habermas as, “science’s belief in itself; that is the conviction that we can no longer understand science as one form of possible knowledge, but rather must identify knowledge with science.”

--From that rag of ill repute: The New Scientist:

“It is a chance discovery so unexpected it defies belief and threatens to reignite debate about whether there is a scientific basis for thinking homeopathic medicines really work.
A team in South Korea has discovered a whole new dimension to just about the simplest chemical reaction in the book - what happens when you dissolve a substance in water and then add more water.
Conventional wisdom says that the dissolved molecules simply spread further and further apart as a solution is diluted. But two chemists have found that some do the opposite: they clump together, first as clusters of molecules, then as bigger aggregates of those clusters. Far from drifting apart from their neighbours, they got closer together.
The discovery has stunned chemists, and could provide the first scientific insight into how some homeopathic remedies work. Homeopaths repeatedly dilute medications, believing that the higher the dilution, the more potent the remedy becomes.
Some dilute to "infinity" until no molecules of the remedy remain. They believe that water holds a memory, or "imprint" of the active ingredient which is more potent than the ingredient itself. But others use less dilute solutions - often diluting a remedy six-fold. The Korean findings might at last go some way to reconciling the potency of these less dilute solutions with orthodox science.
Completely counterintuitive
German chemist Kurt Geckeler and his colleague Shashadhar Samal stumbled on the effect while investigating fullerenes at their lab in the Kwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea. They found that the football-shaped buckyball molecules kept forming untidy aggregates in solution, and Geckler asked Samal to look for ways to control how these clumps formed.
What he discovered was a phenomenon new to chemistry. "When he diluted the solution, the size of the fullerene particles increased," says Geckeler. "It was completely counterintuitive," he says.
Further work showed it was no fluke. To make the otherwise insoluble buckyball dissolve in water, the chemists had mixed it with a circular sugar-like molecule called a cyclodextrin. When they did the same experiments with just cyclodextrin molecules, they found they behaved the same way. So did the organic molecule sodium guanosine monophosphate, DNA and plain old sodium chloride.
Dilution typically made the molecules cluster into aggregates five to 10 times as big as those in the original solutions. The growth was not linear, and it depended on the concentration of the original.
"The history of the solution is important. The more dilute it starts, the larger the aggregates," says Geckeler. Also, it only worked in polar solvents like water, in which one end of the molecule has a pronounced positive charge while the other end is negative.
Biologically active
But the finding may provide a mechanism for how some homeopathic medicines work - something that has defied scientific explanation till now. Diluting a remedy may increase the size of the particles to the point when they become biologically active.
It also echoes the controversial claims of French immunologist Jacques Benveniste. In 1988, Benveniste claimed in a Nature paper that a solution that had once contained antibodies still activated human white blood cells. Benveniste claimed the solution still worked because it contained ghostly "imprints" in the water structure where the antibodies had been.
Other researchers failed to reproduce Benveniste's experiments, but homeopaths still believe he may have been onto something. Benveniste himself does not think the new findings explain his results because the solutions were not dilute enough. "This [phenomenon] cannot apply to high dilution," he says.
Fred Pearce of University College London, who tried to repeat Benveniste's experiments, agrees. But it could offer some clues as to why other less dilute homeopathic remedies work, he says. Large clusters and aggregates might interact more easily with biological tissue.”

--And I want her to explain, exactly how this study fails to qualify as rigorous science. (other than the fact that it is done on some thing as “unscientific” as homeopathy) And yes, I understand that this is a very small sample. I do actually understand the concept of good research.

Authors: Gibson, Robin G; Gibson, Sheila L. M; MacNeill, A. D; Buchanan, W. Watson

Title: Homoeopathic therapy in rheumatoid arthritis: evaluation by double-blind clinical therapeutic trial

Journal: Br. homoeopath. j;75(3):148-56, jul. 1986. tab.

1 Twenty-three patients with rheumatoid arthritis on orthodox first-line anti-inflammatory treatment plus homoeopathy were compared with a similar group of twenty-three patients on orthodox first-line treatment plus an inert preparation.

2 There was a significant improvement in subjective pain, articular index, stiffness and grip strength in those patients receiving homoeopathic remedies whereas there was no significant change in the patients who received placebo.

3 Two physicians were involved in prescribing for the patients and there were no significant differences in the results they obtained.

4 No side effects were observed with the homoeopathic remedies

--Or this?

And before you point out that this study was not blinded, any good scientist knows that chemistry experiments are not generally blinded.

And poor Dr Benveniste (quoted in this article) a molecular biologist who was head of research at France's National Institute for Health & Medical Research, and an international expert on immunology until he did something heretical and suggested that there might be something to this homeopathy thing. Subsequent attempts to repeat his findings have not been conclusive.

Then he was banished forever to the dark side where he became a New Age hippy and hugged trees all day until he died. But he did succeed in converting a “skeptic” into a “believer”.

“Despite my reservations against the science of homoeopathy, the results compel me to suspend my disbelief and to start searching for a rational explanation for our findings." Madeline Ennis


--From the Conclusion:
“Among these, sets of studies compare homeopathic vs allopathic medicines. These trials were conducted in accordance with Helsinki Declaration on the therapeutic efficacy.
Most of the best studies relate to the branch of homeopathy known as homotoxicology which, with its pragmatic attitude and rejection of therapeutic extremism, seems to meet current demand for integrated medicine most effectively.
These studies demonstrate that the effect of homeopathic medicines may be at least similar to that of the allopathic reference drug used for the same disorder.
They also confirm that homeopathic medicines, unlike allopathic drugs, rarely produce side effects. Finally, they show that homeopathic remedies are usually cheaper, and in some cases much cheaper, than the corresponding conventional treatment.
Everybody is entitled to his own opinion and can deny the evidence, even when faced with the clearest proof. But who hold public and institutional offices and responsibilities have the duty to analyse actively all the body of information that may improve the patient’s quality of life.”

--Or how ‘bout that unscrupulous Dutch Government?

“Homeopathy is widely practiced in Holland and the Dutch government came under pressure from adherents to make homeopathic remedies available under the Dutch National Health Service. Dutch skeptics vocally opposed any such use of public funds on what they regarded as quackery.
To settle the question, the Dutch government commissioned a study of clinical trials of homeopathy by medical scientists at the department of epidemiology and health care at Limburg. Their task was to analyze clinical trials that had been done on homeopathy and say whether the investment of public money was justified by the evidence.
The team analyzed 105 published studies. They found that 81 trials demonstrated positive results compared to a placebo, while 24 showed no positive effects, and concluded that 'there is a legitimate case for further evaluation of homeopathy, but only by means of well-performed trials.'”

--And here is where I’ll end it. Because there is an assessment I can actually agree with: an open-minded evaluation by a means of well-performed trials. Not the blind faith of scientism.

David said...

S E E Quine:

Normally I avoid blogs and the like for their general undisciplined composition, but your comments arrived via a Google alert in an unrelated category and thought I would peruse your comments. I must admit that you are mostly correct in your observations regarding science and skepticism for an understanding of the functions of science [the parameters of its methodologies] for an accurate source of epistemology. [NOTE: It is not the whole source of knowledge of the universe for there are elusive and indefinable circumstances. And, an entirely empirical epistemology of the universe may be unwanted and impossible.] Not long ago I was the senior moderator of forums at a physics website and one of the members initiated a question concerning the origin of science. That is not a simple question to answer. Most wrote that it began in the 19th Century but that is a somewhat circumspect perspective and a bit shallow and is nevertheless somewhat short sighted and enamored by a Newton and ignores the forerunners of the most misunderstood group of alchemists and the like of the true science of Nicholas Flammel. I suppose the answer can be divided into two sections: The occurrence of specific events and the more philosophical root analysis of what "science" is. Most of the responses focused on "events" and drove the source back to that of astronomy for purely practical purposes of water and terrestrial navigation, agriculture, gender fecundity of animal husbandry and human fertility, and religion. But you have correctly identified and champion the crux of "doing science" and that is the exercise of skepticism or more precisely "doubt"--the feature of always challenging. This can be best expressed in the philosophy of "critical realism" and philosophy of Karl Popper.

You have an interesting site and I will check back now and then and invite you to preview a site my colleague and I have established called "Worthy Science Sources" [ ]. I also invite you to submit quality material to be published at the site. We are always looking for academic material and interaction between similar souls.


David Petersen, MA

Gareth said...

Ummmm is there any room left for other comments on this post do ya think? :P
I understand what you are saying about science and skepticism. One feeds of the other. If skeptical theories didn't exist then science wouldn't evolve and take new concepts and ideas onboard.
Science exists to break down the barriers between fact and a possible probability and skepticism exists to increase those barriers ...... in my humble opinion ;)

Galtron said...

*crawls out of bomb shelter*

Wow. Just wow, Spoony. No wonder this was a long time in the making. It was almost overkill for teh win.
Looks like it backfired though, which is why I'm crawling back into my bomb shelter --I know you're going to one heckuva massive reply to that!

S E E Quine said...

` Yes, Galtron, and it would have been sooner if my first one hadn't been erased. Let me start afresh:

` Not Talking Dog:

` I apologize for giving you an unwanted moniker - I didn't know what to call you because I couldn't find a name on your blog and I guess I got carried away.

"By the way, I wanted to mention that a dog's sense of smell is not paranormal."

By the way, I'd like to mention that you are obviously a literalist idiot.

` My point was that a dog's sense of smell can be used by humans, but psychic abilities apparently cannot;
` A dog can detect things with its sense of smell, which is evident, but whenever humans are tested for psychic ability, they are as accurate as if they had guessed.
` Therefore, how can one use psychic abilities if they are effectively no different from guessing? Even if they are using psychic abilities these abilities must evidently be leading the people astray, so one might as well just guess, right?
` It would only make sense to use psychic abilities if they prove to be more accurate than guessing! It has nothing to do with what stupid machines can or cannot do.

The lack of ability to prove a phenomenon does not mean it does not or cannot exist. It simply means one cannot prove it at this point with the testing protocols at hand.

` That being a familiar tenant of skepticism and science, you don't need to tell me!
` ...But is this a reason to have faith that something exists, just because you personally like the idea?
` Skeptics generally don't care whether or not psychic abilities exist (although, many want them to exist!); they only care whether or not they can be used (which would incidentally mean they do exist).

` Do you understand now? Or do you think I'm still obviously an idiot?

I was actually talking about the rather protracted and heated debate over their potentially harmful qualities of EM fields, which continues to this day.

` Thanks for clearing that up.

"..And if any kind of leak-proof 'psychic test' was designed, that is, one that actually gets rid of the chances for cueing, one that uses double-blinding, one that randomizes correctly, uses relevant statistical procedures and is judged by someone with no bias, that alone would get me excited."

You need to learn to edit for clarity. This quote seems to be attributed to me, but it is not my writing.And, frankly, this doesn't just apply to your lack of critical structure in the text of your blog. Speaking as someone who designs images for a living, your multi-font, multi-color, multi-formatting speaks to a rather unthinking and messy mind.

` The point for all the short paragraphs and formatting is for organizational purposes (ease of the eye).
` Certain paragraphs are highlighted as a frame of reference so one doesn't get lost while reading. (I often have this problem when reading scientific literature.)
` The only parts I attribute to you are the ones in blockquote with 'plain' font. Everything I say is in Georgia font and not in blockquote (because, obviously, I'm not quoting anyone).

As for Nietzsche, here is a fuller reading of the text (and yes, he is maligning skeptics), from "Beyond Good and Evil" :

` While I was reading this all, I was thinking to myself; 'he is not talking about skeptics at all - he is talking about some sort of crazy fanaticism!'
` So, I did a little digging, and I think I've found the source of our confusion:
` When Nietzsche speaks of skepticism, he is talking about some kind of weird, passive way of life, now called Pyrrhonism, which I've never even heard of before!
` Apparently, Pyrrhonists were (are?) people who say 'oh, forget about figuring anything out, there is no answer' and this makes them somehow feel better ('the lulling poppy' effect).
` At least I think that's how it goes.
` But Nietzsche, from what I have heard, liked to challenge dogma (traditional morals, religion, etc.) through honest inquiry, and he thought that reality was more important than things which we cannot even tell if they exist or not.
` In other words, it seems to be along the same vein as modern skepticism!

` As for the UnMuseum page, I don't see what the problem is:

Scientists learned to put aside their personal beliefs to observe the natural world as it actually existed. While this advanced astronomy, chemistry and mathematics, the study of meteorites suffered. Why? The fall of a rock from the sky was so rare that the chances of a scientist being there in person to observe it was very small. Also, reports of rocks falling from the sky had always been associated with evil omens or stories of disaster. This made accounts of meteorite falls that came in from the countryside easy to dismiss as folklore.

` But then in 1790, when science (per se) was still new, the evidence became obvious with the advent of stones falling from the sky in view of hundreds of people.
` Therefore, meteorites were accepted, integrated into scientific theories, and that's what scientists are supposed to do when confronted with good evidence.
` Is there something wrong with that?

I'm not saying present the supernatural and psychic phenomena as mainstream science or even good science. I'm saying offer it as an exploration of an idea and let peer review do it's damnedest.

` Hey, I don’t have any problem with that either! That’s the way science is supposed to work!

` As for the homeopathic study you cite, it is not new to me. There is, however, a problem with the way it's being interpreted.
` As I recall, the original experiment was not meant to have anything to do with homeopathic principles (it was merely being interpreted that way by homeopathy enthusiasts), and second, it’s a stretch to say that it has anything to do with homeopathy, because this deals with fullerenes (special geometric all-carbon formations), not other types of molecules.
` Third of all, and most importantly, there's nary any conclusive evidence for the effectiveness for homeopathy:
` Most careful homeopathic research does not find positive results, and because of this, those few positive results could statistically be flukes. (This is a normal, unbiased interpretation in all medical research.)
` So, taking all the most stringent studies into consideration has resulted in murkiness, at best. (I included some of this in this post.)
` Amusingly, I also did an 'experiment' of my own, but it backfired and resulted in my being subjected to ongoing homeopathic treatment for a couple of months, the result of which was not better health, but instead merely the giving of hundreds and hundreds of dollars to 'the famous' Steve Olsen, homeopath extraordinaire.
` In this case, taking on a challenge = near-bankruptcy.
` Needless to say, I was glad when it was over with.
` I am thankfully less aggressive now than I was then (much less a year ago, which was actually when I wrote about your blog post).
` I don't stir up too much trouble anymore (except for maybe with total wackos, like in this hilarious instance), but I figure that'll change as I get better at challenging dogma and blind faith.

...there is an assessment I can actually agree with: an open-minded evaluation by a means of well-performed trials.

` That's what science/skepticism is about! However, you could have a wrong interpretation of what happened in Holland. After all, the only place on the internet I can find that information comes from the same source, one anti-skeptic's book review (which I was amused to see was even posted on a skeptic's website for entertainment value).
` As a skeptic, I would prefer to be able to verify what happened in Holland, not just one person's view on it.

` I think I ought to stop for now because I have a lot of homework to get done before finals.

` David, thank you so much for speaking up! I needed it after slogging through all that! have correctly identified and champion the crux of "doing science" and that is the exercise of skepticism or more precisely "doubt"--the feature of always challenging. This can be best expressed in the philosophy of "critical realism" and philosophy of Karl Popper.

` Indeed, I think 'San Arfy' could stand to take a closer look at Popper's critical realism, as well as some other things.
` And, I like your website as well. Can't wait to take a closer look!

` Gareth, your assessment is somewhat confusing, but I will continue to try to understand it. ;)

Gareth said...

Why was it confusing?

Charles said...

Hi S,
I found you through g-man's blog. Although I haven't read your entire blog, it looks interesting. I like that you believe in the scientific method, I like that you don't trust everything you're told. Its wise.

I also like that you believe in introspection. You'll end up a better person than most.

Have a good week.

S E E Quine said...

` Gareth, I think it was confusing because my brain was fried from all the analysis! :D

` Thanks, Charles. You know, for me there is no real 'belief in' the scientific method, as I think it is self-evident enough. But I guess ideologically, I 'believe in' using it, for that reason.
` Hmm... the English language is so odd that way....

G-Man said...

You know whats sad about this whole thing?
Whatever happened to the 'Independant Variable'? Damn I miss that aspect of the Scientific Method!!
Jeez Sequin, I almost thought there for a minute, that you might be believing in Sasquatch for a brief second....
Nice post.....

Lucas said...

Listen you dumb cunt, it is one thing to try and argue with my girlfriends superior logic and scientific reason, but when you insult some one with a 160 I.Q. in such a manner you elicit the dramatic ire of her violent and overprotective BF, who is also absurdly intelligent. The fact that you would ever use the term "scientific fundamentalism" indicates how truly pathetic and ignorant you really are. I wonder why she bothers, but I don't bug her about it because she is very good at what she does, and is almost always right. You are, in effect, a tiny pathetic bug on her intellectual windshield. Normally, however, other people don't resort to such pathetic insults; that is where I step in. Not that I'll stop either you or her, but you, my pathetic cunt dropping, are so stupid that you pissed me off. PLEASE, chop off your stupid ignorant head. If you were here, in person, it would not have gotten this far. Lord help us if your stupid shit eating self is in charge of anything or anyone. Lucas
P.S. Yes, all the other people who frequent her blog probably are laughing at you in the same manner, I mean come on..."scientific fundamentalism?" what an ignorant joke, did you pull that out of your God blessed ass hole. (two syllables on blessed)so please shut the fuck up, dumbass, I don't even bother with you pathetic shits because your brains, clearly, do not function.

Lucas said...

I have been discussing this with my Sweet Love Spoony, and I think I have reduced my emotions down to the point where I have really identified why I am so mad, and here it is: Ignorant One, you think you know something, but you don't. You obviously are active and do things. You also probably act and do things that are motivated or based upon your knowledge or thinking. But wait, you are ignorant and wrong, so your actions, especially in regards to the afore discussed topics, are wrong. All of us intelligent, non-ignorant folk, have to defend the world against ignorant folk such as you. You go on and on, thinking you are smart, and right, etc, but you are actually the opposite of smart and right, and your actions are harmful. They are evil. In the struggle of Good against Evil, the good people fight against people like you. Let me say that again. In the fight of Good VS Evil, the Good side fights against people like you. It's not all about good and evil, it is about the horrible damage ignorant stupid people do when they think they are right, and even worse, in charge of things or people. I know it took a while to say, and yes, you might say I am a paranoid freak, but trust me, ignorance and stupidity are the very nature of evil, and I shudder the think of the damage you are capable of, so please, chop off your stupid fucking head. Lucas

S E E Quine said...

` I think I ought to mention that Lucas here is angry because he is pained by your 'profound ignorance' and says that you should stick to what you're good at - and whatever that is, it is most definitely not understanding skepticism and such things.
` He says that you should not pretend to know what scientific logic is, because you don't.
` If you were to be in charge of, say, schoolchildren and tell them these lies about science, you could really screw them up.
` He isn't going to try to explain why you're wrong because it's a given. No, this isn't a dismissal, it's just that we're skeptics, therefore we know what skepticism is, and your description of skepticism is almost the polar opposite of how we think.
` The motivation for his anger is that the most horrible things in the world have tended to come from good intentions. You know, like Hitler's ridding the world of 'the weak'.
` "It doesn't matter what your intentions are," he says "ignorance is ignorance."
` And he really believes that you, and people like you, are the face and cause of evil.
` You say skeptics are dogmatic, Lucas says you are evil. Take a hint.

` Of course, if you hadn't been impolite by outright insulting me, he never would have said anything.

` ...And, he adds, perhaps you are inferring your own dogmatic beliefs on us because you yourself are dogmatic and don't know any other perspective!

` Actually, during our discussions we found a Fortean website where you might have gotten your definition of skepticism:

Most so-called 'Skeptics,' on the other hand, at least of the CSICOP variety, are also true believers - in the nonexistence or nonprobability of the paranormal. (And usually doctrines like humanism, materialism, and logical postivism.)

` Lucas started laughing because that's just wrong. These people may often not think paranormal things are necessarily likely, but not because there's any evidence for them to ignore.
` This would change, of course, as soon as evidence was discovered, because of the skeptical tenant of 'knowledge is not set in stone'.
` I should add that Lucas has come up with a mechanism that would help explain real ESP, if it should be found, or could be made. ...Though, he doesn't believe ESP itself exists. (This does not mean he believes it doesn't exist, because that is belief, rather than suspension of belief. See how that works?)
` Also, humanism, materialism and logical positivism are not doctrines. They are just ideas that these people tend to hold true (and not even all of them). Many others hold them as well, and don't know what to call themselves. These are mostly just a consequence of both atheism (or agnosticism, whatever you want to call it) and optimism.

They can be dogmatic in their defense of science, the closure of knowledge, or the impossibility of certain phenomena.

` Lucas says; "Is that because they're describing facts? Just as people are dogmatic about the fact that the sun shining when the sun is shining?"
` I say; If anyone actually read their publications they would see that the skeptics reiterate the skeptical/scientific tenants that knowledge is tentative, that it must be able to change.
` Of course, this is not contradictory - any fact in science/skepticism is held with a degree of certainty.
` That is one thing that Fort did not understand about science/skepticism.
` Some, like the fact that zebras have stripes, are taken as if true, and others, like the ideas about why zebras have stripes, are less certain and thus extremely subject to change. (That's why hypotheses have it so tough in science.)

They have decided, a priori, that any things not explained by science will soon be.

` That isn't really accurate, although they do tend to mention the fact that mysteries are explained all the time.
` Why? Because simply saying that "no, it's impossible to explain this, or how it works" is just pessimism.
` This pessimism is also behind things like 'The God of the Gaps' argument, which states that because science cannot explain something, it must mean, necessarily, that God specifically has performed a miracle! (And then the thing is explained and the creationists retreat further and further, etc.)
` The real issue in skepticism is establishing whether something exists before you go off making wild speculations!
` That is, unless it the thing is a new mechanism like a hypothetical particle that explains the existence of something else, which is in itself already evidence of something's existence.
` After all, if you can't define something, then how could you make any sense of what it does?
` If you can't find something and it seems to do nothing, then why would you expect that the thing exists to begin with? Like an elephant that doesn't interact with anything (matter, light, gravity, etc) whatsoever. Who cares if it exists or not?
` The thing and the function go hand-in-hand.

Doubting science puts their faith - in science - in jeopardy.

` Uh, science works! Without science we wouldn't have technology, and that is pretty conclusive evidence of the validity (practicality) of scientific theories in itself.

Their duty is not impartial investigation, but instead 'debunking' and propagandizing.

` Whoever wrote that has obviously never tried it before. They also have missed the many occasions in which skeptics discuss the fact that any impartial investigations to paranormal phenomena simply lead to debunking.
` It's not something they planned, not something they made happen, though since they are used to it, that's what they expect.
` Oh, I'm sorry, that must be part of their propaganda, and they're lying to Lucas and I about how what skepticism is!
` Oh no! We just think that they're open-minded critical thinkers just like we are, but they're really just pretenders whose purpose is to trick us to 'take their side'!

This often results in a "New Inquisition" of heretical scientific thinkers.

` Heretical scientific thinkers? How does that work? When knowledge is tentative, how can there be heresy?

A Fortean is more properly a 'zetetic' - when it comes to paranormal phenomenon 'X,' they neither believe in X nor believe in not-X. Rather, they choose to suspend belief altogether.

` No, that's a skeptic!! The only difference is that, since some things can be verified (or fail to be falsified), skeptics take those things to be considerably more likely to exist than other things.
` They don't give up in their quest for some amount of truth, so of course they don't think everything is equally probable.
` Here's why:
` Theories of aerodynamics and gravity and such things are most probable (though perhaps incomplete) because we make functioning aircraft based on those theories.
` If there was not any truth to them, aircraft could not fly!
` Therefore it is not equally probable that these theories are also totally wrong, because if that were so we would have to look elsewhere for aircraft designs!
` Does that make sense? I hope you have at least a little understanding of where we're coming from.

` And if you don't, Lucas says to please cut your head off and stop thinking you know what skepticism is.

Gareth said...

Nice one Lucas. I got your back :)
Morning SQ. Have a good day!

S E E Quine said...

` Morning, Gareth - though technically it's afternoon now. I guess I've been having a more or less good day.
` Got my Journalism final done this morning and I've been screwing off on campus all afternoon until my counselor appointment.
` Apparently I can't get any school money until about a month into the quarter, so I'll be poor for a while.
` Figured I'd finally drop in and say hi.

` I hope the NTD does come back. I did send a very polite MySpace message....
` Well, there's a very large tortoise behind me and I think I'm going to go pet it....

Galtron said...

A Galapagos Tortoise?

weight loss said...

I agree skepticism and science feed off each other.