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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Independent Thinking: The Dangers of Protesting a Wee bit Much

Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as independent thinkers? Perhaps those who more value obedience to authority, I suppose, but many pride themselves on their individualism, and this is not necessarily a bad thing but also not a good thing when done without integrity and introspection. 

For we are often tempted to congratulate ourselves overmuch, and some of us protest a bit much about what wonderful independent thinkers we are in discussions with others. No one is immune to being taken by charlatans and frauds, especially those we are prone to agree with for their pandering to our biases and values.

I identify as a skeptic, and this means I hold certain intellectual virtues as worthwhile to cultivate and improve upon. I do not here, and have never on this blog or any other venue claimed to be especially rational or objective, and certainly not a stranger to deceptive ploys. There are times I’ve been fooled, and those were times when weaknesses in my skepticism were in play. These have been valuable lessons for the future. I find no reason to laud myself overmuch on skeptical thinking as this opens the gates to deception by myself and others. I must always consider that I can be fooled.

Independent thinking, when it’s actually being exercised, is a wonderful and valuable thing in my culture. It is hardly at work, however, when you believe everything you are told by those who agree with you along partisan lines, simply because what they say is prefaced or appended by the incantation of the magical phrase, “check my facts.” 

There’s a bit of a rhetorical trick with that phrase, and it is meant to preempt skepticism and actually bothering to check the facts. Its utterance renders the speaker more seemingly trustworthy, making us vulnerable to credulity and exploitation, particularly by partisan media outlets which have been polishing their technique and manipulating their audiences for decades since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine during the 1980s.

That goes for all partisan ideologies.
And “checking the facts” does little good if you only check them on sources that you’ve been manipulated for years into trusting because you’ve told that only they speak the truth. Or when you’ve been told again and again that those guys on the “other team” can’t be trusted and are out to get your money, or your vote, your children, your rights, your guns, your bibles, or otherwise ruin the country for their own nefarious purposes.

*twirls mustache* *cackles diabolically*

That’s the problem with “Team Spirit” ideologies of any sort, and when it comes into play one’s status as a smart, self-actualized thinker is in danger, if not compromised beyond hope. 

Hubris, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and gullibility along ideological lines is dangerous. Glomming a bit too much on what a wonderful and great independent thinker you are sets you up for a fall. None of us thinks of ourselves as extremist, even and especially when inclined to think that more of any partisan leaning is actually a virtue. We almost all of us think ourselves the moderates, the sensible ones.

We must acknowledge our biases, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities, understand them as best we can, and take real steps to offset them, seriously considering when those who enjoin us to trust and believe them, as they have for years on our favorite media outlets, might not have our best interests in mind, just our ad revenues, our ratings, our corporate sponsorships, our votes in the next election, and sometimes, our lives.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

[Review] Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future, by Donald R. Prothero

I've recently finished this book, and found it extremely helpful in understanding the process and evolution of antiscience. Yes, even creationism evolves, as does any antiscience movement, but the tactics and strategies have the same objectives: to cast doubt on established science for vested interests, emotions, ideology, and personal gain.

O  On to the review!

As a skeptic, I've an interest in pseudoscientific claims in general, and in those of it's evil clone from an alternate universe of anti-reality, science and history denialism.

Why the concern? Because denial of scientific facts that gets expressed as public policy is dangerous, especially in the case of modern medicine rejection, or denial of and inaction on environmental hazards.

Reality Check goes in-depth into antiscience in general, as well as specific varieties of science-rejection.

Prothero's book begins a discussion of antiscience, its strategies and its tactics, moving to a description of science and it's fundamental importance in our modern world, insights into its process and thinking, and then an expose of scientists who've betrayed professional integrity as paid shills of those with a vested interest in attacking science on financial and political grounds.

 Next are the antiscience movements involved in discrediting concern for and action on environmental hazards, anthropogenic climate change, followed by the problems, rampant here in the United States of creationism, intelligent design, and evolution denial in general, and their well-funded connection with fundamentalist religion and business interests.

 Also dealt with in some detail is denial of modern medical science, as with the dangers of AIDS denial, anti-vaccination hysteria, and the rejection of evidence-based medicine through unproven and disproven 'alternative' treatments, themselves often quite invasive and dangerous.

It then moves to astrology, peak oil denialism and it's promotion by scientifically naive economists, and lastly to the threat of overpopulation on a world with finite resources and rapidly increasing human demands.

Finally, there is a warning of how science denial in a world depending utterly on science and technology poses a threat to our very survival as a species -- Oh, sure, the planet and its life may survive in some form, but likely without us if we favor denial over skepticism, and ideology or emotion over facts.

The Author Online: Donald Prothero

"Donald R. Prothero is a Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy...." see full text at http://www.donaldprothero.com/

 Donald Prothero on Wikipedia

 Donald Prothero on Skepticblog

Donald Prothero's Amazon.com page
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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fiction: A Most Unusual Finding Indeed: Part III

On the final leg of our journey from our expedition, we settle into orbit around the Damendas system's mainworld, used for an orbital military installation for the Exarchate and a munitions testing ground, the perfect place to take our findings.

We've discovered ways to better handle the relics, these 'hypershards' as Ranan calls them, and to access their control systems, using brain-machine interfaces.

Ranan.

He's...highly capable...in our more intimate moments, hardly the stuffy academic I first thought him to be. Our relationship has become our little secret, as it would be ethically unacceptable in University circles. But secret it must remain. I've already been forced to duel a fellow student, Embael Maaga for threatening to report us, 'accidentally' putting her into a coma with a well-placed blow before she could go public with what she found out. That rabid bloodferret had it coming anyway!

I must make sure I show more discretion in future nightly encounters... At least my honor remains unsullied for the time being.

It turned out to be fortuitous, for Embael's comatose brain proved the perfect interface with the relics after we ran a few tests. Or so we thought. The hypershards ghostly quasi-matter will with little resistance pass through flesh and bone into the brain itself, and we are able to set up a means of controlling the relics remotely, sending signals into a 'shard which then controls the brain, which then accesses the 'shard's functions.

Like weaponry. Whatever these things were meant to do, they make powerful weapons, as we suspected the day we found them. They have incredible defensive and offensive systems, and would be perfectly suited for a new breed of elite soldiers.

"Emisse maatan porangas, Embael Maaga" -- "Embael Maaga, in service even in endless sleep"
About an hour into testing, poor Embael's brain had burned out from apparent sensory overload and a power surge caused by a faulty connection in brain wiring.

Dead because her brain wasn't so perfect after all... Oh well. At least she still proved useful.
There must be something maddening about getting raw sensory data along ten or more spacetime axes, even in a permanent dreaming state.

Surely there's a solution...

Our time at the outpost, Warstation 43758, has still been productive, and we've learned much of the relics. While we were together last night, I ran the idea past Ranan of using aliens for the 'shard receptacles, other species of humans, specifically a new daughter species we've discovered on Sacred Terra.

A nascent species, on the Motherworld of us All, with just the right brain architecture to handle the relic's input and energy levels without burning out, according to computer models. There are only three we've found and identified, all of them relatively young, and all unaware of their status.

We call them 'Wavetouched,' and they are special indeed, for they are what the Terrans may yet evolve into. Not that silly 'ladder of evolution' fallacy, just a new sidebranch on the tree of human descent, which may or may not supplant their parent species in time.

They have potential...the potential to become gods...gods of Terra. They must be watched...watched and controlled.

I must close this journal file. Ranan is on his way to see me, he says for something *special* tonight.

No one must see what I've recorded.

[quantum file encryption complete: eyes-only log saved as ordered]

To be continued...

Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Quote