“Believe the Science”

Can’t find it now, but earlier today I read a social media post somewhere to the effect of: “Believe the science” is not science, that’s not how science works. 

Social media being social media, this was followed by a hundred or more comments of varying degrees of conversational intensity, falling largely into the following categories:

  • Non-content-adding amens;
  • Non-content-adding dismissals;
  • Concurrence from those in scientific fields;
  • Demurral from others in scientific fields;
  • Huffy replies from those who wholly missed the point;
  • Sneering replies from those who willfully ignored the point;
  • Pedantic performatism from those harping on a tangential (but oh so smart!) point;
  • Reductionism from capital-A Atheists trampling the point astride their hobby horses.

None of which adequately addressed what I saw as the point of the original post: the phrase “believe the science” (and “trust the science”) in the context in which the public is familiar with it is in fact a method of social and political manipulation.

It’s little more than an Appeal to Authority in a lab coat.

The phrase is not infamous for its use by honest scientific professionals, after all (who might rightly refer to e.g. the provisional acceptance of research results), but as a rhetorical tactic by politicized scientists and the politicians and technocrats they serve. It uses the public prestige built up by real science* in order to imply a finality of knowledge about the subject in question, and a certainty of the practical (even moral) rightness of the approved narrative and the inescapable truth of specific policies and actions derived from it.

The tell is how it’s used not only against the uneducated hicks and faith-based hayseeds who lack the smarts to even begin to understand the Eternally True Science™ of the Moment, but against specialists in the same or adjacent fields, often those with equal or superior credentials, who dissent from an approved narrative.

When one must “believe the science”, those who question it are heathens and heretics.


* — I see this prestige as attributable less to abstract scientific research they probably never encounter and more to the practical applications of real science via engineering, since engineering is the “science” that the public interacts with daily. Being an engineer, I am of course biased in that regard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

 

 

 

Silas Hudson on the Obsolescence of Technocracy

Technocratic managerialism conditioned its subjects to crave accurate and reliable guidance, while leaving that craving unfulfilled. Its experts were compromised by their biases, ambitions, and wishful thinking in ways that sim ints could not be – and could not be reliably programmed to replicate.

Sim ints quickly came to do a better job of providing accurate and viewpoint-neutral information than human experts. The itch technocracy had created found a superior scratch, one that made technocracy itself obsolete.

— Silas Hudson

We Went to Olympus Mons on a Dare, But it Turned Out Completely Boring

I plotted out a Dispatch involving the first men to summit Olympus Mons, which originally included a dramatic scene on the summit ridge on the rim of the caldera.

Which, further research revealed, is not where the summit actually is.

It turned out to be difficult to find the actual summit location, but in Google Mars (no, the one in Google Earth Pro) it appeared to be on the north rim of Pangboche. Great, I thought: I simply have to move the sequence a bit south, and the descriptions of the ridge still work just fine!

Well, no.

After more research, I finally discovered the summit is likely some 15km to the east of Pangboche. In the middle of a rolling plain.

Like this, but redder.

Well. That complicates things a bit. It’s not exactly the kind of terrain where dramatic, death-defying challenges happen. Unless, of course, there are unexpected dangers lurking in those knolls…


*- Title stolen from this, which I need to re-read. I liked it a lot more than the reviewer, and picked up on a lot more subtextual commentary than she apparently did (or than was intended, maybe), but I can see her points. 

Silas Hudson on Shiny Utopian Futures

Perhaps the most effective persuasion against technocracy was its own literature, especially science fiction depicting futures of pure reason and socialist brotherhood. These bright imaginary utopias of endless scientific progress stood in embarrassing contrast to the drab and stultifying reality that emerged from every attempt to implement in the real world the means by which these new orders were to be established.

— Silas Hudson

Reading Analog, May/June 2024 Issue

Which would be this one:

If you’ve seen Analog covers from 1960-65, you understand why this hurts to look at.

So far, it’s reminded me very clearly why I cancelled my subscription in 2008 (and stopped actually reading the issues I received sometime around 2002).

Continue reading “Reading Analog, May/June 2024 Issue”

Silas Hudson on Thinking Outside the Box

There is often merit in ‘thinking outside the box’ for new and improved ideas and options. But when doing so is framed as ‘setting aside old perceptions and conventions’, or ‘moving beyond old ideas’, or ’embracing progress’ as ends in themselves – throwing away the old because it is old, in favor of the new because it is new – that is cause for caution.

It is often observable in such cases that what is presently known, though useful and effective otherwise, is ‘bad’ precisely because it doesn’t give those seeking to dispose of it the predetermined outcome that they desire, or merely fails to flatter their desired self-image as intelligent and insightful.

It’s a cheap shortcut to a self-interested paradigm shift. Denigrating the existing reality-congruent paradigm as backward, stagnant, or regressive opens the door to replacing it with their new, ego-flattering and ideologically-congruent paradigm without having to refute the old on its merits.

— Silas Hudson