Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Scientific knowledge is mostly 'hidden in plain sight' - or worse

A couple of years ago I published an editorial which, amongst other things, noted that the history of IQ research showed how the subject had been 'hidden in plain sight' since about the mid-1960s -

http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2008/09/pioneering-studies-of-iq.html

I said: "It seems that even in modern times, and in a liberal democratic society such as the UK where information is freely and easily accessible, scientific knowledge can apparently be ‘disappeared’ when it comes into conflict with the dominant socio-political agenda: can become, as it were, ‘hidden in plain sight’."

My conclusion was:

"Since this area of science [IQ research] has so been comprehensively ‘disappeared’ from public consciousness in the face of socio-political pressure, it seems probable that other similarly solid and vital domains of scientific knowledge may also be hidden in plain sight."

***

Taking on board this lesson has been a slow process for me. But the implications of what I know happened to IQ cuts at the very root of the pretentions of liberal democracy.

It really is inconceivable that IQ is an unique exception; rather I would now regard the IQ story as typical of the relation between 'science' and general, public knowledge and public policy.

The IQ story shows that no amount of relevant evidence is ever going to be enough to change people's minds when they do not want their minds to be changed; and this resistance to evidence is the case for even some of the wisest and most intelligent of people - given that some very decent and smart people are able to write-off reams of IQ research without a blink, and believe what they want instead.

The IQ story is doubly important since the IQ literature largely conforms with traditional wisdom, common observation and spontaneous belief. So it ought to be pushing at an open door.

Yet it looks very much as if since at least the mid-1960s our society's much vaunted scientific basis has been a sham. In other words, the more modern, rational and scientific we believed ourselves to be in The West - the less true this really was.

***

'Influential' science, science that is linked to policy and supposedly drives policy (e.g. 'climate science', or 'evidence based medicine'}, is now - and long has been - constructed by policy: the tail of politics is wagging the dog of science.

Yet even influential science is only apparently influential, since it is wholly driven by policy needs, and if one person does not do it then another will - or it will be conjured up from pre-existing material, or something or somewhere... The climate science story demonstrates that it is now facile to construct a truly vast and all-pervasive yet utterly fake-science from dullards, errors, lies and rumors to rationalize political demands.

***

Influential scientists are servants, albeit well paid servants, they are not masters. This can be seen by the fact that they write and speak only what is acceptable to their masters (or else they stop being influential). The mismatch between what everybody knows and what can be published or even mentioned get larger with each passing year.

Real science, truth seeking science, where it exists, has been since about 1965 (probably earlier) a free-spinning cog, a group hobby - albeit perhaps a well-funded hobby - when it conflicts with the needs of policy.

Just think – whole research units, dotted round the world, headed-up by professors and assisted by armies of technicians, well-funded, publishing and discussing stuff that solid knowledge, is disseminated in the media – yet utterly ineffectual, beyond the pale of policy.

There but not there. Whole lives of delusion. Occupational therapy for intellectuals.

We are living in an age where politics controls science just as much as it did in the remote ‘medieval’ past. The autonomy of science - such as it is - is a sham, in the sense that autonomy comes at the price of disarticulation from the rest of life.

If the IQ story is typical rather than exceptional, does this imply that the scientific discourse and literature is basically worthless, a fraud in its relation to human belief and behaviour? It does begin to look that way, as a generalization.

But that seems too much even to bear contemplating.

16 comments:

dearieme said...

It's trickier to fight now - there's more than one Pope, one Inquisition.

bgc said...

wrt The Inquisition - I came across the following recently:

"According to calculations by specialists, based on the most precise objective statistics, in prerevolutionary Russia, during the 80 years
before the revolution - years of the revolutionary movement when there were attempts on the Tsar's
life, assassination of a Tsar, revolution - during these years about 17 persons a year were executed.

"The famous Spanish Inquisition, during the decades when it was at the height of its persecution, destroyed perhaps 10 persons a month.

"In the Archipelago - I cite a book which was published by the Cheka in 1920, proudly reporting on its revolutionary work in 1918 and 1919 and apologizing that its data were not quite complete - in 1918 and 1919 the Cheka executed, without trial, more than a thousand persons a month!(...)

"At the height of Stalin's terror in 1937-38, if we divide the number of persons executed by the
number of months, we get more than 40,000 persons shot per month!

"Here are the figures: 17 a year, 10 a month, more than 1,000 a month, more than 40,000 a month!"

Aleksandr I.Solzhenitsyn. Words of Warning to the Western World - http://lib.ru/PROZA/SOLZHENICYN/s_word_engl.txt

aliialiacensent said...

@dearieme

It seems that the body that is composed of scientists is its own inquisitor! Being honest about race or IQ will unleash the wrath of scientists *upon* scientists!

The IQ story is damn disgrace and those involved should be ashamed of themselves.

I may be wrong but my everyday experience indicates that only academics and those who have come into contact with academia (most liberals it seems) have a problem with IQ research and educating people by ability (for example), whereas ordinary people, untainted by the modern academic mind-set, would be quite happy to change social policy to accord with what is now known about intelligence.

Race research is also suppressed - written off as "racist".

One thing that bothers me no end is race denial. For those who don't know it is now common to deny the existence of human races. The mantra goes: "Science has proven that there are no human races". And academics will construct ludicrous arguments in an attempt to buttress the assertion. They also like to claim that most biologists agree that there are no human races which is a bare-faced lie (as is the claim that there are no human races). The "scientists" involved will say anything, they publish papers and textbooks containing total rubbish (knowingly!). Encyclopaedias also contain this rubbish. Those involved are a damn disgrace and should be deeply ashamed.

I sometimes feel that no scientific literature can be trusted.

dearieme said...

"I sometimes feel that no scientific literature can be trusted." Forgive me for repeating myself, but "All medical research is rubbish" is a better approximation to the truth than almost all medical research.

Dennis Mangan said...

Much of the problem here originates in the mass media and those who control it. Psychometricians have their own journals and conferences, and IQ issues are happily written about, discussed, and published. But the results are distorted or lied about when the media reports it. So I'd say that there's not a lot wrong with "science" here - it's the media and other academics who want this knowledge suppressed.

bgc said...

@Dennis

"Psychometricians have their own journals and conferences, and IQ issues are happily written about, discussed, and published. But the results are distorted or lied about when the media reports it."

[and, I would add, when it comes to making public policy]

Exactly my point - for all the difference it makes, IQ research is merely a state funded-hobby, occupational therapy for intellectuals...

dearieme said...

Stephen Schneider has died, apparently. His obits will claim that he was a scientist. But he said "On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

Bill said...

Our host said . . .
Yet even influential science is only apparently influential, since it is wholly driven by policy needs

Yes, for a long time I could not understand the striving for policy relevant scholarship as a way of seeking political influence. It's obvious that if you do policy relevant scholarship which comes to the wrong conclusions, you promptly lose influence. So, what are these guys doing? I now think they just like to be around power.

Our host says . . .
We are living in an age where politics controls science just as much as it did in the remote ‘medieval’ past.

Boo! Hiss! (Assuming, with dearieme, that this is an oblique reference to Galileo) The Church did not discipline Galileo because he was telling uncomfortable truths. Rather, he was using not-very-impressive arguments specifically as a way to attack the Church's authority. At the time of his run-in with the Inquisition, geocentrism was still the best theory. The Ptolemaic view provided a better match to data than did the Copernican view, and the Keplerian geocentric model was the best.

Once Kepler seized on heliocentrism + eliptical orbits (i.e. got things conspicuously right), the Church pretty quickly gave up on maintaining geocentrism via coercive means.

The Galileo myth is just a piece of Protestant/Enlightenment propaganda, like the Inquisition myth more generally. As to the Middle Ages, the Church was, of course, a great sponsor of scholarship, and steady intellectual, scientific, and technological progress happened during this period.

A much better comparison is with Lysenkoism, since this is an example of the left, in power, specifically persecuting clearly known scientific truth in the service of politics and ideology.

Dennis Mangan says . . .
So I'd say that there's not a lot wrong with "science" here - it's the media and other academics who want this knowledge suppressed.

Dennis made this claim in the context of IQ research, and I don't dispute it there. But in the context of physical anthropology, it is clearly false. For example, Luigi Cavalli-Sforza in (I think) _Genes, Peoples & Language_ goes on in the introduction about how race is only skin deep / socially constructed / blah blah. Then the whole flipping book is a demonstration of the falsity of this claim.

Bill said...

Our host said . . .
Yet even influential science is only apparently influential, since it is wholly driven by policy needs

Yes, for a long time I could not understand the striving for policy relevant scholarship as a way of seeking political influence. It's obvious that if you do policy relevant scholarship which comes to the wrong conclusions, you promptly lose influence. So, what are these guys doing? I now think they just like to be around power.

Our host says . . .
We are living in an age where politics controls science just as much as it did in the remote ‘medieval’ past.

Boo! Hiss! (Assuming, with dearieme, that this is an oblique reference to Galileo) The Church did not discipline Galileo because he was telling uncomfortable truths. Rather, he was using not-very-impressive arguments specifically as a way to attack the Church's authority. At the time of his run-in with the Inquisition, geocentrism was still the best theory. The Ptolemaic view provided a better match to data than did the Copernican view, and the Keplerian geocentric model was the best.

Once Kepler seized on heliocentrism + eliptical orbits (i.e. got things conspicuously right), the Church pretty quickly gave up on maintaining geocentrism via coercive means.

The Galilleo myth is just a piece of Protestant/Enlightenment propaganda, like the Inquisition myth more generally. As to the Middle Ages, the Church was, of course, a great sponsor of scholarship, and steady intellectual, scientific, and technological progress happened during this period.

A much better comparison is with Lysenkoism, since this is an example of the left, in power, specifically persecuting clearly known scientific truth in the service of politics and ideology.

Dennis Mangan says . . .
So I'd say that there's not a lot wrong with "science" here - it's the media and other academics who want this knowledge suppressed.

Dennis made this claim in the context of IQ research, and I don't dispute it there. But in the context of physical anthropology, it is clearly false. For example, Luigi Cavalli-Sforza in (I think) _Genes, Peoples & Language_ goes on in the introduction about how race is only skin deep / socially constructed/ blah blah. Then the whole flipping book is a demonstration of the falsity of this claim.

Bill said...

Our host said . . .
Yet even influential science is only apparently influential, since it is wholly driven by policy needs

Yes, for a long time I could not understand the striving for policy relevant scholarship as a way of seeking political influence. It's obvious that if you do policy relevant scholarship which comes to the wrong conclusions, you promptly lose influence. So, what are these guys doing? I now think they just like to be around power.

Our host says . . .
We are living in an age where politics controls science just as much as it did in the remote ‘medieval’ past.

Boo! Hiss! (Assuming, with dearieme, that this is an oblique reference to Galileo) The Church did not discipline Galileo because he was telling uncomfortable truths. Rather, he was using not-very-impressive arguments specifically as a way to attack the Church's authority. At the time of his run-in with the Inquisition, geocentrism was still the best theory. The Ptolemaic view provided a better match to data than did the Copernican view, and the Keplerian geocentric model was the best.

Once Kepler seized on heliocentrism + eliptical orbits (i.e. got things conspicuously right), the Church pretty quickly gave up on maintaining geocentrism via coercive means.

The Galilleo myth is just a piece of Protestant/Enlightenment propaganda, like the Inquisition myth more generally. As to the Middle Ages, the Church was, of course, a great sponsor of scholarship, and steady intellectual, scientific, and technological progress happened during this period.

A much better comparison is with Lysenkoism, since this is an example of the left, in power, specifically persecuting clearly known scientific truth in the service of politics and ideology.

Bill said...

Dennis Mangan says . . .
So I'd say that there's not a lot wrong with "science" here - it's the media and other academics who want this knowledge suppressed.

Dennis made this claim in the context of IQ research, and I don't dispute it there. But in the context of physical anthropology, it is clearly false. For example, Luigi Cavalli-Sforza in (I think) _Genes, Peoples & Language_ goes on in the introduction about how race is only skin deep / socially constructed/ blah blah. Then the whole flipping book is a demonstration of the falsity of this claim.

a Finn said...

The management of scientists is limited by the complexity of their fields, which limits the scope of their power.

Ultimately the power of humans is limited by their inadequate intellectual, emotional and instinctual capacities in large and complex modern societies.

All the functions of the brains are radical simplifications of reality; without *selective* observations, emotional attachments, concentration of energies and attentions, etc. humans would be unable to function. These functions are calibrated to suit for small scale living. People have the capacity to know well about 150 people, hence these 150 people can be in the fullest sense real. People also understand adequately the interactions of those 150 people. People's mental universes are limited by their small practical living environments. Even if they travel widely they have wide, but largely very thin mental universes, thus their mental universes are still small. In micro scale e.g. normal human eye can see about seven million different hues, but if humans would start to consciously process all of the hue differences they see when moving in the environment, it would take all their time, and these are only part of what the eyes see. Other senses add to the information processing overload.

These inadequacies in people's small mental universes is some extent offset by their understanding of these inadequacies. They have knowledge about time, attention, concentration, energy, ability, capacity etc. limitations and scarcities, so they allocate and regulate their actions accordingly. These together with practical and real social and community restrictions serve as checks and balances in people's psychology. But if something exceeds these small mental universes, say a world government, people don't have real understanding of this, so they don't perceive almost any inadequacies in connection with it. Hence, together with the lack of real social and community restrictions, they don't have checks and balances in their thinking, emotions and propensities at the world level. Outside people's small mental universes all kinds of stupidities, contradictions, wishful thinkings, monstrosities, manipulations, happy, "benevolent" and "generous" imaginations, predations, exploitations, etc. live in "harmony" in people's minds. Because the people and the world outside mental capacities are not in any sense real, they are imagined, the default position towards which people converge is utility; how to utilize these imagined people maximally and to neutralize any threats to this utilization. Thus there is no contradiction between "benevolent" communist ideology and Stalinist mass murders or between "benevolent" liberal ideologies and the badly covered exploitations, predations and destructiveness of liberal policies. Imagined people are nothing so you can do anything you can with them.

Continued ...

a Finn said...

Part 2.

Christianity can serve as a check and balance to leaders in two ways; by regulating the mental universe of leaders and as a counterweight to the leaders. If leaders bypass, neglect or dissimulate Christianity, people can check from the Bible and see that their leaders are evil. Leaders may try to forge Bibles, but people have older Bibles and this lie eventually just increases the opposition. Bible can't be manipulated as easily as and in the same way than science, media, politics, public spaces, authorities etc. can be manipulated. In matter of fact people still can and should take away from the Bible the manipulations and distortions that have accrued to it during Christianity's life time. E.g the ten commandments were originally protections "to thy neighbor ... the children of thy people, the sons of your own people ...", but Roman leaders omitted this to make Bible suit better to their universal ruling policies (Hartung, 1995). Despite distortions Bible and Christianity still are clearly and healthily ethnocentric and community oriented to those who can understand it. To be more precise, Christianity is universal ethnocentrism and community orientation and it has guidelines to interaction with outsiders.

Back to science and it's relation to power. It is typical that scientists' don't understand even proximate and directly related science fields, e.g. evolutionary biologists mostly don't understand social psychology, let alone more distant science fields. Power means to weave together numerous parts in large complex societies, so it requires thin large range knowledge, punctuated with more thorough special knowledge e.g. economy, political science, political psychology, sociology etc. Monetary calculation is the highest ruling principle in liberal societies. Scientists are generally too specialized and concentrated to thin sectors to become rulers, although some scientists become rulers when they leave science. Thus generally non-scientists rule and organize scientists at the societal level. Scientists are paid and willing (sometimes unwilling) tools of the rulers, used as managers of the system. Scientists and intellectuals have dreams to be alone the collective bureaucratic rulers of the society. This would mean even more totalitarian, dictatorial, inadequate, micro-managing and inept rule than what exist now. Productive and functioning power of system requires freedom and nature like development of it's parts and their interaction. Scientists' often have goals to ultimately direct and manage everything that happens in the system, and to develop never ending rationalities to scientists' resource predation, like equality; in practice it means to smother and deplete the system to death. Single scientists might be good or evil, but in bureaucratic collectives they have a tendency to develop towards evil.

Syd said...

bcg:

This post begs the question: do you have other specific candidates for scientific knowledge that is hidden in plain sight? Things that, ten or fifty years from now, we'll look back on and say, How could we not see this?

a Finn said...

These might give additional information about functions of power in the Usa in particular and in the Western countries in general in concise form. The first is a simple and slightly liberal lecture (divided into nine parts) by Damon Vrabel, who has studied in Harvard and worked in the Wall Street. The second is an excellent article about the Usa state's ruling class by emeritus professor Angelo M. Codevilla. These two powers are the two main aspects/ steering medias of liberal power.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l37RhdFGVsM

http://spectator.org/archives/2010/07/16/americas-ruling-class-and-the/print

bgc said...

@Syd

"This post begs the question: do you have other specific candidates for scientific knowledge that is hidden in plain sight? Things that, ten or fifty years from now, we'll look back on and say, How could we not see this?"

It's a reasonable challenge - but when you say that we will look back in ten or fifty years and recognize our error, then that is precisely what I think will *not* happen - because science is broken along with our society.

If you read the psychologist Hans J Eysenck from the mid 1960s, where he summarized and argued pretty much everything that we know about intelligence and personality; he was stunned by the rise of irrational leftism.

Despite being one of the most prestigious psychologists in the world, Eysenck was vilified in the media, and physically attacked in public, for saying what we would now recognize as non-PC comments: one of the earliest victims of the foundational dishonesty of the New Left.

But I think Eysenck never imagined that forty-plus years later the situation would be even worse; and most of what was known (and had been built up over many decades) would be suppressed in favour of fabricated PC nonsense.

That is what it must have been like during the collapse of any complex civilization - people kept assuming that irrationalities were a temporary 'blip' and would be sorted-out in the course of time, sooner or later; but they weren't...