“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

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

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

Back to the Quote Mines

Holidays are over, family has gone home, and I’ve handed off the time-consuming part of my job to a new hire – time to pick up where I left off.

Easing back into things, I spent a half hour or so every day this past week extracting from my commonplace books anything that could serve as a Silas Hudson quote. The original idea was to publish it as a standalone piece akin to Heinlein’s Notebooks of Lazarus Long.*

Whether or not that happens, it will at least be a useful background resource. Much of the material ascribable to Hudson concerns technocracy, a personal hobbyhorse and one of the themes of Book 2 and especially Book 3.

The unexpected part of this side project is discovering that I have plenty of material to do the same for both Aaron Jacobsen and Martin Beech and the themes they represent. It’s an imposing amount of material to sift through: 30+ commonplace books and 1800+ index cards. And then there are all the books with margin notes…

* – Looking at the fulltext on the Baen website, I see I’m going to have to fisk it at some point. Long’s “wisdom” seemed a lot wiser when I was lot naiver.

Managerialism: Where the MDA is Headed

In a nutshell, a managerial state, implemented (enforced) via MAs: The China Convergence.

I haven’t finished the article yet, but the first several pages neatly summarize my thinking on where the MDA is headed in the second and third books, based on my reading of Burnham, Reimann, Orwell, Wells, Scott, and others.

This managerial system developed into several overlapping, interlinked sectors that can be roughly divided into and categorized as: the managerial state, the managerial economy, the managerial intelligentsia, the managerial mass media, and managerial philanthropy. Each of these five sectors features its own slightly unique species of managerial elite, each with its own roles and interests. But each commonly acts out of its own interest to reinforce and protect the interests of the other sectors, and the system as a whole. All of the sectors are bound together by a shared interest in the expansion of technical and mass organizations, the proliferation of managers, and the marginalization of  nonmanagerial elements.

Interesting that art is imitating life here for a change.

My own imagined version of this based on reading Burnham is a managerial system so integrated that the sectors defined by Lyons are indistinguishable, having been systematically dismantled and rebuilt as a seamless whole.

The catch in implementing any totalitarian state has always been achieving the total part: total control requires total legibility and total ‘actionability’. If you are obliged to carry an electronic communications device in your pocket at all times, and you use it in some capacity (even just its passive presence) in every interaction with another human, it’s trivial for the state in question to harvest all the data about your thoughts and actions they could ever need. And with a machine simulacrum of intelligence to analyze it, to find subtle actions and interventions it can take to achieve its goals and eliminate dissent before it can become a problem – indeed, before the dissenters even become aware of their dissent.

Of what use are crude tools of surveillance and control like the gulag, Gestapo, Stasi, Pitešti, Room 101, struggle sessions, brainwashing, social credit, etc. when you have technology through which you can precisely spot the patterns and trends in an individual’s thoughts early, even before he does, and nudge him in a safer (for you) and more productive (for your interests) direction without his awareness?

A system of this kind, implemented objectively and with the right overall goals, could indeed be a utopia – all discontent headed off by the right incentives and disincentives applied automatically at the right moment, all personal potential optimized with targeted opportunities and constructive interferences appearing at the right moments, etc. Each subject might see himself as the luckiest man in the world as he reflects on his unbroken string of good fortune and near-misses…as if there is someone watching out for him.

But, humans being humans, we all know a system of this kind could not and would not be implemented in such a way. As we see with things like the Google algorithm, biases, pettiness, misanthropy, ideology, etc. would prevent an objective implementation. It would be impossible for anyone capable of implementing such a system to allow it to apply positive nudges to people they see as undeserving, e.g. giving a frustrated young antisemite an art-school scholarship so as to focus his energies on something rewarding and constructive – and equally impossible to avoid programming it to sadistically apply negative nudges to those they feel deserve them.

H.G. Wells on…Puppies?

“Very much of the Fiction of the Future pretty frankly abandons the prophetic altogether, and becomes polemical, cautionary, or idealistic, and a mere footnote and commentary to our present discontents.”

-H.G. Wells, Anticipations

This is a prophetic observation indeed, having been written over a century before the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies foofaraw, whose core complaint was that mainstream science fiction as a genre had been co-opted by the totalizing left as just another conduit for its political propaganda and grievance-mongery and wasn’t fun, exciting, thought-provoking, or inspiring any more.

And yes, it’s ironic to have Wells complaining about that when he later in the same book advocates subverting all human activity and institutions to indoctrinate the public with his “global commonweal” idea. I guess when its his own “future technocratic utopia” instead of the mere “present discontents” of others, using absolutely every literary product for propaganda is peachy.

Coming Soon: Dispatches from Mars

In addition to the full draft of Ghosts of Tharsis, we have several stories in the works, more Dispatches from Mars by freelance journalist Calvin Lake, author of “Anatomy of a Disaster”. While that story was written tongue-in-cheek as a satire of several “sci-fi” tropes (notably the fiery redhead stock character and the annoying cat-fetishism of SF writers, indulged in by hacks and masters alike), it was the first use of Lake and his Dispatches as a framing device through which we could explore elements of the Ares Project universe that wouldn’t fit into one of the novels. We have at least ten of them outlined, with two substantially completed and one now finished and out for review. I’ll throw in a bonus description of a fourth story that has a full detailed outline, because I’m generous like that.

  • “True Crime” (working title)
    • Lake investigates an incident at Redlands Automation (makers of, among other things, the science pins mentioned in In the Shadow of Ares and “He Has Walled Me In”). When celebrity science popularizer Silas Hudson and his producer are murdered while visiting the settlement, order threatens to dissolve into mob violence as the settlers improvise justice for the killer. Eyewitnesses recount the murders and the dangerous days that followed – but are any of them telling the truth?
    • The story tackles a surprising number of themes for a 22,000 word short story, including:
      • The nature of science popularizers like Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Silas Hudson is their inverse, in that he’s actually brilliant in his own area of expertise and has learned through embarrassing experience to consult with experts in other fields before talking out his ass. He’s philosophical, he’s engaging, he shares credit with other experts, he’s earnestly curious about the way the universe works, he’s everything you could ever want in a science popularizer (apart from being dead).
      • The problems of civic order and justice in a frontier settlement where there is no established law and order. This theme is meant to be explored in depth in a different Dispatch and in the third novel, but here you get a glimpse at what can happen when there are no formal methods for dealing with serious crimes.
      • The invisible threat of “the crowd” in small, isolated populations like space settlements. We draw on Charles Mackay and Gustave le Bon to show how “extraordinary popular delusions” can spread as a social contagion and grow rapidly out of control and out of all contact with reality.
      • The unreliability of personal accounts of crimes and other dramatic events.
      • The value of sticking to the truth over taking the easy route of lying, which can be dismayingly tempting even to scrupulously honest people under certain circumstances – one seemingly small lie can snowball into tragedy.
      • A variety of recurring themes in our stories, such as the “baby taboo”, immigration on bond/contract, the protection of scenic places, commercial development, the practical operations of a Martian settlement, “facers”, etc.
    • This story is complete and out to our test readers for review and feedback. I expect we’ll have it published in the next 3-5 weeks.
  • “Pipeline”
    • Lake shows us the single largest development project on Mars undertaken to-date, and the colorful businessman behind it. His attempt at obtaining an interview with Jedediah Thoreson leads to an unexpected journey through Thoreson’s past and Mars’ future.
    • There are a few parallels to Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” here, but the development and outcome of the story are very different.
    • The main themes here are free markets vs. anti-business zealotry camouflaged as environmentalism and humanitarianism, the importance of a clear vision to a large project, how large projects might be organized and funded on Mars or the moon, industrial development and future industrial technologies, and how people aren’t always who or what they seem to be.
    • Despite our original intention that “Anatomy of a Disaster” be non-canonical given its farcical nature (remember that it was first published on the blog as an April Fool’s joke), there is a cameo appearance by one of the characters from that story, and Thoreson Polar Water itself is mentioned in that story as a reference to this (future) Dispatch.
    • I especially like the narrative substructure of this story. Describing it here would reveal a lot of spoilers, unfortunately, so readers will just have to uncover it for themselves.
    • This story is around 80% written out from the detailed outline.
  • “Marineris”
    • This Dispatch describes the First British Trans-Marineris Expedition. An eleventh-hour leadership change initiates an escalating spiral of bad decision-making. Initial successes despite bad choices lead to hubris and eventually catastrophe.
    • The feel and certain elements of the story are modeled on the exploration missions of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and specifically Mawson’s account in Home of the Blizzard. While none of these real-world expeditions went awry for the reasons shown in “Marineris”, those reasons are exaggerations of various leadership and mission planning flaws those early explorers experienced mixed with the authors’ own real-life leadership experiences.
    • The main themes in “Marineris” are of course leadership and the planning and conduct of complex missions. In particular, why you don’t put gamma males in charge of anything, ever, and the importance of sticking to a plan, preparing for contingencies, and not overextending yourself. Other themes include the practical elements of such a mission (i.e.: an architecture by which settlers on Mars might pull it off), the stultifying dead-end of technocratic socialism, team dynamics under reckless and incompetent leadership, the thrill of discovery, and the majesty of wild nature (even when it seems to want to kill you).
    • This Dispatch introduces a special-purpose hopper which will figure prominently in both Ghosts of Tharsis and “The Olympian Race”, and shows the origin of its name (it being the only named hopper in the MDA fleet). It also ties in to an unnamed Dispatch in which Lake buys a second-hand rover and runs into unexpected company on his way back to Port Lowell.
    • This one is currently about 70% written from the outline.
  • “The Olympian Race” (detailed outline complete and ready to write)
    • Lake relates the dramatic true story of two “gentlemen explorers” vying to be the first man to reach the top of Olympus Mons. Each thinks he has an insurmountable head-start over the other, only for their rivalry to converge at the end in a deadly all-out race to the summit.
    • This Dispatch is more an action story than a big-theme story. It’s a character-driven mixture of extreme sports and crime caper (remember that the MDA forbids all unapproved access to the Wilds, i.e. the lands outside of the settlement tract, which includes Olympus Mons and all approaches to it).
    • For crossovers, it’s the only Dispatch we’ve outlined so far in which The Green makes an appearance, and as noted above, it features the special purpose hopper from “Marineris” (as well as another key piece of hardware used on that Expedition).