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Science writing: There are not – repeat, NOT – two sides to the story

Particle physicist Lawrence M. Krauss* addressed the gathering at the Canadian Science Writers’ Association conference at Science North in Sudbury, May 24, 2009.

I made some notes of his remarks in a darkened cave, the Inco Cave at Science North, though I do not have a transcript.

His talk was billed Star Trek Physics, and the PowerPoint revealed physics bloopers spotted in Star Trek, the X-files, and other film resources.

It was certainly entertaining, but not riveting, at least for me. Anyone who gets their physics from sources clearly labelled science fiction or UFOlogy, well …

But Dr. Krauss had advice for science communicators:

1. Don’t assume your audience is interested. “Don’t expect interest, create it.”

2. Science is dull, hard, and unrelated to the real world. Communicators must work against that. (“Remember how boring science can seem.”)

3. “Most people perceive themselves as fundamentally uninterested in science.”

4. Confront misconceptions: it’s the only way people remember.

Now, I have reservations about career academic scientists advising journalists how to communicate, or high school science teachers how to teach. They tend to emit platitudes that are too general to be put into practice, and therefore too general to fail.

Take the advice offered above, for example:

Few journalists doubt that we must create interest. (If we doubted, our editors would swiftly correct us.) Our readers typically do hard and boring jobs all day, so the idea that jobs in science are hard and boring would not – in principle – surprise them. However, in my experience, most readers are interested in science when they see its relevance to their lives. Yes, confronting misconceptions can be useful, but much of the time, huge gaps in our knowledge are a bigger problem than misconceptions – and we cannot easily fill in those gaps, either.

Dr. Krauss went on to say that there is an innate tension between journalism and science. The problem is, “journalists think there are two sides to every story.” According to him, this is not true: “Most times, one side is simply wrong.”

Oh well, that’s all right then. Having been informed that one side is simply wrong, the journalist can forget about getting a range of opinion and simply act as a shill for the approved view.

The beauty of that strategy is that if there are problems with the approved view, the journalist is guaranteed never to find out, so she will always be sure she and her sources are right.

Dr. Krauss later conceded that “The editors are the bad guys.” Yes, indeed, in the sense that editors often come up with additional people for us writers to interview, people who offer additional perspectives. They, like us, see most stories as having many sides, not just one, so they are guilty of multiple sins, and we are complicit (when we are doing our job, that is).

He also told us that fear of science is growing in Canada. I have lived here all my life, and I cannot confirm that. This is the home of the Canadarm and the Blackberry, after all. In fact, one of the very interesting presentations that same day was on Canada’s proposed contribution to plans to mine the moon for moon base supplies, but more on that later. Canadians are – in my view, understandably, in these times – skeptical of high-budget schemes and far-fetched ideas. They want to know what the payload is. But that is a different matter.

While insisting that science doesn’t undermine religion in principle (who said it did?), Dr. Krauss made clear that “In many ways I hope it does” and his talk was full of asides making very clear his views on political, religious, and social issues – which entirely belied his claims. Also, like many visiting United States residents I have listened to, he assumed that everyone here cares what he thinks about US politics. Not only do I not care who he voted for in the last US election, I imagine he does not care who I voted for to be mayor of Toronto. I did not seek anyone out to tell them, and would be pleased if he would do the same.

Much of the latter part of Dr. Krauss’s talk was dedicated to the proposition that he knows exactly how the universe began and how it will end, and that Earth is entirely insignificant.

(The fact that Earth is the only known home of life of any kind – and of intelligent life – must apparently not be significant, though the reason why not was never made clear.)

In Dr. Krauss’s view, the only reasonable view of the universe is that it is flat, and there are only a few little details to be ironed out. It was there that I wondered whether my colleagues – mostly salaried science bureaucrats, I suspect, not freelancers – had caught on. Many scientists don’t think that the universe is flat. Are they also people whose side of the story journalists should not cover?

I asked Dr. Krauss during the question period about string theory, which he opposes. Of course he spoke dismissively of it. I don’t get string theory either, but I don’t plan on deciding that there is only one side of the story there either.

Walking back to my hotel, I was sure that Dr. Krauss reminded me of something, and later realized what it was:

In science, small, persistent effects cannot be ignored. Sometimes they force a revision of major paradigms. For example, Lord Kelvin remarked in 1900 that there were just “two little dark clouds” on the horizon of Newtonian classical physics of the day, namely, Michelson and Morley’s measurements of the velocity of light and the phenomenon of blackbody radiation. Kelvin was certain that these troubling little clouds would be blown away shortly.149 Yet all of modern physics—relativity and quantum mechanics—derives from these two little dark clouds. (The Spiritual Brain, p. 173)

It’s always those little things that trip us up.

Later, I was embarrassed to overhear an animated conversation by two colleagues, one of whom claimed to see “some value” in religion, as long as it just makes you feel good and tricks you into behaving better and makes no truth claims. The perfect upper, right? Whereas any speculation is okay if it is called “science” and advanced with a great deal of assurance, and warnings against thinking that there could be two sides to the story.

(Note: Go here for update.)

*Note: At his site, Dr. Krauss describes himself as follows:

an internationally known theoretical physicist
a bestselling author
a frequent editorialist
a sought-after lecturer
a radio commentator
moderately photogenic
a profiled persona
and much more…

Ipse dixit. (He said it himself.)

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36 Responses to Science writing: There are not – repeat, NOT – two sides to the story

  1. Nice post. I conclude that scientists are intellectual gangsters. They are defending their turf like everyone else.

  2. Krauss is a critic of ID and has said that it is an interesting question (theory?) apriori but not aposterori. I think for people like him who see the world as not the stage of a super intellects design but only an ineffable exponent of multiverse theory- that science in this case is more dull indeed. I never get bored listening to Stephen Meyer for example talk about ID and the cell. He appreciates exquisite design. It was exquisite design that inspired Newton- that is the design of the solar system he called “this most beautiful system.”

    Part of the academic ID argument is that ID beings excitement and intrigue back to science by making it seem more heuristically fruitful- which for me is not merely a belief, but a belief i think is ultimately true.

  3. Well, I’d agree that one “side” will be wrong in science– actually, I’d say that “of the many theories, a maximum of one will be entirely correct”– but that really doesn’t do any better than pointing out that in a jury trial, at the very least one side is wrong.

    Just because someone is wrong doesn’t mean that the folks writing for the paper have a chance in heck to figure out which one it is!

  4. Mapou,

    There is a culture war today between government and free enterprise. Throughout history there has always been this struggle. Our president is using government to facilitate false notions of equity and equality to keep his people happy but effectively this is growing the government. As the government grows more and more people see it as in their interest to support it over its rival which is free enterprise. For example teachers don’t want ID in the classroom because it opens tot he door to religious beliefs and questions which go outside of public education and often into privet schooling. People who are for the government want it to have the power and ID points to a power higher than the state. It is really this simple. They don’t want people questioning their monopoly- or arguing for objective morality and ethics- Scientists today are fighting for their own money and jobs- that is totally selfish reasons- but at the cost of free thought, speech and the search for truth. Sadly though in the end we will not be richer. It is liberal attitudes that allowed Einsteinian Physics to be respected here in the US that helped us win WW2- while the Nazi’s rejected it because it was “Jewish science”- their religious bigotry – which was for the sake of their political hegemony- cost them in the end.

    The press always get it wrong too because they seek to appeal to the largest audience as they are made up of private business-

    The formula of the press is to appeal to the poor and uneducated by supporting governemnt actions which claim to “make things better or more equal”- like raising taxes on the rich- and run stupid unimportant stories about people who have tragic lives- like the killing of a young female etc.

    To keep the educated interested the News pretends to be covering important stories – like political stories and trumped up stories about flues and diseases (everything is a pandemic).

    Then poltically they do stories about corperations so as to give info and minipulate stock trading (which keeps the business crowed watching some)- and for the governemnt employees they run stories about global warming, health care and education always with a slant towards why the government needs t od omore.

    IN all cases they are inventing news. There is little to no objective ethics guiding the important or truth of their coverage.

    The best thing we can do is not watch the news- or read news papers etc- I have been doing it for years and haven’t noticed any impact to my life except less stress and more happiness. I also have an uncle in North Carolina who owns a plasma TV but never opened it. He reads the paper a little but hasn’t had an operational TV in 6 years. He is a very smart guy too.

  5. 5
    SaintMartinoftheFields

    Well said Mr. Frost.

  6. Frost,

    The best thing we can do is not watch the news- or read news papers etc- I have been doing it for years and haven’t noticed any impact to my life except less stress and more happiness.

    I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that would be my #1 recommendation for getting this country back on its feet again.

  7. 7

    RV did you want to discuss science? I hadn’t noticed from your post.

    Would you like to discuss the physically inert symbol systems at the core of the transcription and translation of nucleotides?

    Or, is the the ability to organize chemical sight by means of a process that repeats maximum uncertainty?

    The fossil record?

    Your move Skippy.

  8. I can’t discuss ‘science’ with you ‘Upright’, you would wipe the floor with me, as you well know. Your ability to ‘out jargon’ me would be plain. Rather, can you explain to a lay-man, such as I, your theory, plain and simple.

    “Descent with modification”, over billions of years, without magical interferance I can grasp, and am fully cognitive of; your idea of ‘magical interferance’ is somewhat baren, and very difficult to follow; ie. you have no evidence!
    But, I do follow your suppositions, “specified complexity”, “irreducible complexity” and wonder why, on such a small scale you pursue them. Sounds like trying to justify to a French court, that “Scientology” really is a religion.

  9. 9

    RV,

    I can’t discuss ’science’ with you ‘Upright’, you would wipe the floor with me, as you well know. Your ability to ‘out jargon’ me would be plain. Rather, can you explain to a lay-man, such as I, your theory, plain and simple.

    I have no idea why you think that I could or would “wipe the floor” with you. In fact, there is nothing particularly difficult about understanding what is at issue. The only difficulty seems to be in remembering what is not at issue (namely evolution, politics, religion, teaching standards, supernatural events, social implications, metaphysics or (S)cience)

    You want it in a nutshell?

    The information in DNA is physically inert… meaning it is not the product of chance and physical law. The information is transcribed and translated by a system of symbols (a language) that is also physically inert. If I holdup a red fruit that is white on the inside and has little black seeds and you say “apple”, then we only understand each other because we agree before hand that “apple” is the word that is the symbol for the fruit – not because you and I are physically connected or ruled by law.

    There is nothing in the physical laws of this Universe that says the information that organizes inanimate matter into living tissue has to exist the way it does, in fact, as far as the physical laws of the Universe are concerned, it doesn’t even have to exist at all. In other words, there is absolutely nothing in the physical laws that makes it exists – but it exists anyway, without physical laws to explain it.

    This leaves only pure random chance to explain how these non-physically-caused instructions and language came to be written into a physical object. This is like asking random chance to explain any other written language or instructions – it simply can’t. Nowhere in the history of the Universe can science demonstrate that random chance created a language or formulated instructions in any material object whatsoever. As far as anyone knows, it has never happened, and there is no scientific reason to believe it ever has, or ever will.

    Also, there is nothing in the combination of physical law and chance that can explain this evidence. The two acting together cannot even begin to explain the factual existence of complex algorithmic instructions written in a linear digital code. In fact, the data suggest multiple codes, creating a compression of data. These instructions contain the information necessary to organize inanimate matter into living tissue. This “informed” living tissue knows how to metabolize energy, process information, regulate growth, control internal functions, inform behavior, and record its continued existence in DNA.

    So then, what is at issue is that chance cannot create this information, and the physical laws of nature have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it exist.

    In other words, if you could follow your existence back through time you could conceivably explain every permutation of your material existence until you reached a certain point. At that moment you could go no further. That is the point where information, meaning, and language exist in nature.

    It is the point where material explanations do not lead from one step to the next. It falsifies the materialist paradigm by means of empirical observation.

  10. “The information in DNA is physically inert..”
    If this so, why am I different from my father, and am not an exact copy? If my DNA is “physically inert” surely there would be no differance between us?

  11. 11

    If I may just repeat an earlier post:

    a red plastic ball is a physically inert object. Certainly all of the hydrocarbons contained in the ball are obeying the physical laws that govern this Universe, but there is nothing in those physical laws that says “dye yourself red and form a sphere”. That requires a physically inert something else – a result beyond what the molecules must do themselves.

    No one is questioning that organisms change over time, just as no one says that when DNA is copied from one organism to the next there are not errors in the copy, or that mutations do not accur.

    Simply put, we are not talking about the same thing, but the issues we are talking about are not mutually exclusive.

    - – - – - – - –

    Here are two well-written papers from the Internation Journal of Molecular Sciences that will help define the issue:

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.g.....obtype=pdf

    http://mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/pdf

  12. 12

    …And this is the earlier post I referenced:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-319068

  13. “No one is questioning that organisims change over time..”
    That lovely Turk that Denise is enamoured of might disagree, as I suggest a former poster here (now sadly fled because of the more open, less edited format) “Borneagain”, would.
    I’m very skeptical that even you really believe, ‘organisms change over time’, for if you do, then why don’t you make the next logical step?

  14. 14

    I am quite certain that ID proponents recognize that organisms change over time. It would be quite difficult to explain events such as antibiotic resistance if that were not the case, and I think most have seen a dog before.

    However, your comment suggests that you enjoy scoring trivial points on side issues, more so than dealing with the science at hand.

    I trust you enjoyed that one, but I am not the one you want to have that conversation with.

    Regards…

  15. 15

    rvb8 wrote,

    “‘magical interferance’ is somewhat baren, and very difficult to follow; ie. you have no evidence!”

    This is no issue with ID having to show “how” the designer did the designing. It is the concept of purposive design that we are exploring and testing for. So there is nothing magical about looking up at Mount Rushmore and realizing the patterns are designed by an intelligence. The actions of mind are meditated then put into action. It is this easily graspable presently acting cause that is applied to things like biology that ID is concerned with. IS DNA they product of a premeditated mind? One can ask the same questions about other aspects of nature such as the Fibonacci Sequence. Is that simply a random event that has a natural explanation or is it the result of an intelligence capable of conceiving and putting it into action.

    I would also add that the debate of whether mid or matter makes up true reality- that is metaphysics vs materialism- is an age old debate. So to explain the mind, specified complexity and the symmetry of the universe is merely materialistic reductionist terms is unwarranted and requires an apriori commitment – that is a personal belief- in materialism.

    Now there is nothing wrong with holding a personal beleif and letting it guide your work. ID only wants other explanations to be heard and understood as well. Beliefs have consequences on how one goes about doing science. Newton used creation and his own personal understanding of transcendent design to guide his magnificent work and discoveries- ID is not merely about putting science into the bible as many simple opponents would like to have everyone else believe.

    The flaws within evolutionary theory as so problematic that Berlinski has accurately argued that there is no theory of evolution. You have a concept lineage of universal common ancestry- a very questionable and fuzzy framework of origin of life- and a completely contradictory theory of first causation- that is the big bang is allowed to explain itself.

    One of histories greatest mathematicians was an evolution skeptic.

    “The formation in geological time of the human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of similar nature), starting from a random distribution of elementary particles and the field is as unlikely as the separation of the atmosphere into its components. The complexity of the living things has to be present within the material [from which they are derived] or in the laws [governing their formation]”

    Kurt Godel.

    We use to think that proofs could exist anywhere. Then later we realized proofs only exist in mathematics and court rooms. Godel then showed that even formal mathematical proofs are suspect.

    I have even read an argument that said all of the books ever written eventually are discarded as wrong and incomplete and replaced with other theories sometimes totally contradictory. So whether ID can ultimately prove that intelligence has played a role is not as important as if it can be shewn as a rational, not perfect but rational, and useful scientific theory.

    But as it stands now there has been a political war aged against it- conflating it with 6 day creationism when the terminologies and commitments of the two positions are almost nothing alike.

    Einstein too faced opposition when the National Socialist German Workers Party decided that Jewish science should not be allowed. Einstein would later remark,

    “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

  16. Science is about explaining. Forensics (agency detection), whether criminal or archeological, rely upon hypotheses being testable. It is not enough to say “it was,” but also “how.” Show the how of ID–oh wait, ID doesn’t care about how…

  17. 17

    Eli, you cannot show “how” any more than anyone else – yet you have already made a conclusion anyway.

    On what grounds then, do you make your conclusion…given that you do not know the “how” part? And please, do tell us how your conclusion then does not rise above the evidence.

    And, what do you do with the mountain of evidence that contradicts your pre-ordained conclusion? ID seeks to voice a conclusion based on all the evidence, while you want to ignore it (for ideological reasons).

    In other words, when you attempt condescending sarcasm, you might try to have your ducks in a row

  18. Upright:

    Would you like to discuss the physically inert symbol systems at the core of the transcription and translation of nucleotides?

    I would rather discuss extramolecular hypercombinatorial proto-substance, but I suppose we could talk about physically inert symbol systems.

    First of all, is there anywhere that I can read about the concept other than in Abel’s work? I have serious problems with Abel’s habitual overloading of terms, his unfulfilled promises of rigorous definitions, his categorical mixing of abstract and concrete concepts, his unsupported assertions, etc.

    Second, you say:

    a red plastic ball is a physically inert object. Certainly all of the hydrocarbons contained in the ball are obeying the physical laws that govern this Universe, but there is nothing in those physical laws that says “dye yourself red and form a sphere”. That requires a physically inert something else – a result beyond what the molecules must do themselves.

    Of course, physical laws don’t tell sandstone to form itself into a beautiful canyon either, so that also is “a result beyond what the molecules must do themselves”. Does the categorical difference between plastic balls and canyons lie in the question of whether the “something else” that forms them is itself physically inert?

    Humans make plastic balls. How do we empirically determine that this behavior is physically inert? Is it sufficient to note that human behavior cannot tractably be described in terms of physical laws?

  19. 19

    Rob,

    1) Abel’s work is loaded? How so exactly? Please be specific.

    2) No, my dear friend, you are incorrect. The physical laws of the Universe actually DO form sandstone. They do not form red plastic balls.

    3) By our own observation we conclude that they do not form without a volitional act. How do we emperically determine we created the Internet?

    4) Yes, that’s a good start. But try not to rely on human observation. Information and language was animating life long before we were here to observe it.

  20. But try not to rely on human observation.

    What other means of observing the world do we have at our disposal?

  21. 21

    Alan, for the contextually challenged (or otherwise) perhaps I can be more clear…

    “because we observe it does not change that it is what it is”

  22. Alan, for the contextually challenged (or otherwise) perhaps I can be more clear…

    If that is an answer to “What other means of observing the world do we have at our disposal?” than human observation, then it’s a fail.

  23. Upright:

    Abel’s work is loaded? How so exactly? Please be specific.

    I didn’t say Abel’s work is loaded. I said he overloads terms. For example: system, organization, algorithmic, physically inert, etc.

    No, my dear friend, you are incorrect. The physical laws of the Universe actually DO form sandstone. They do not form red plastic balls.

    I didn’t say anything about whether physical laws form sandstone. I said that sandstone doesn’t form itself into a canyon, so the canyon is “a result beyond what the molecules must do themselves”.

    And of course, saying that physical laws don’t form red plastic balls begs the question of whether human behavior is manifestation of physical laws, which you address thusly:

    By our own observation we conclude that they do not form without a volitional act.

    Yes, but what observation informs us that volitional acts are not a result of physical laws acting on material configurations?

    How do we emperically determine we created the Internet?

    Whether humans create things (we do), and whether we can inductively recognize human creations (we can), is not the question. The question is how we can determine whether human behavior, including creating things, is “physically inert”, according to Abel’s usage of the term.

    Yes, that’s a good start.

    Is this in response to my question: “Is it sufficient to note that human behavior cannot tractably be described in terms of physical laws?” If not, to what question is it responding?

    If so, why should we introduce a new ontological category in response to intractability?

    Or is Abel’s concept of formality even a new ontological category? He speaks of abstractions as if they have existence independent of the physical, and yet their existence can be empirically detected. His metaphysic seems a very shifty foundation on which to build his arguments, which is just one reason why I would bet my life savings on his ideas never gaining traction.

  24. Mr R0b,

    I’ve tried to understand some of what Mr BiPed is talking about by going through the first Abel paper, tracing the use of the word “inert”. As near as I can tell, “physically inert” is the same as “dynamically inert”, which Abel picks up from Rocha, and eventually, HH Pattee. Pattee, and even Abel, say that this just means “arbitrary”.

    It seems that Pattee in particular is concerned with how the first subject/object distinctions could arise. I’m not sure what, if any, response he has to self splicing RNA, where this distinction dissolves.

  25. Thanks Nakashima. The concept of “physically inert” seems simple enough — a configuration or state is not determined by physical laws. Abel offers the example of a horizontal switch, where gravity doesn’t bias the switch one way or the other. Of course, gravity isn’t the only physical influence, so that raises the question of what counts as a physical influence and what does not. I don’t know if Abel has tried to provide a scientific answer to this question or not, but if he has, I’d be interested to know what it is.

  26. BTW, Nakashima, thanks for the pointer to Pattee. Seeing the provenance of at least some of Abel’s concepts and terms is helpful.

  27. 27

    R0b

    – –”I didn’t say Abel’s work is loaded. I said he overloads terms. For example: system, organization, algorithmic, physically inert, etc.”

    Fine. So be specific how the word “system” and the others are overloaded. Your feelings don’t matter, but the specifics do.

    – –”I didn’t say anything about whether physical laws form sandstone. I said that sandstone doesn’t form itself into a canyon, so the canyon is “a result beyond what the molecules must do themselves”.”

    And still you are wrong. Physical laws are all that is needed to explain the process by which sandstone is formed and canyons are created. To my knowledge, there is no information being passed between the granuals of sand DNA telling them what to do. You may have some additional ideas about this.

    – –”Yes, but what observation informs us that volitional acts are not a result of physical laws acting on material configurations?”

    Perhaps nothing but our entire history of human experience (being sentient individuals who act independent of the molecules in the universe, yet well within the laws that govern those molecules). If we cannot make any assumptions whatsoever, then we cannot know anything. If we cannot know anything, then what matters? And if anything does matter, then why is that so?

    Truly, I have always found it rather odd that metaphysical materialists like yourself must appeal to the possible invalidation of all material knowledge just in order to flank our very human experience as individuals who act on our own volition.

    I would personally wonder why anyone should be expected to consider such a bankrupt idea.

    – –”Whether humans create things (we do), and whether we can inductively recognize human creations (we can), is not the question. The question is how we can determine whether human behavior, including creating things, is “physically inert”, according to Abel’s usage of the term”

    You are partially correct, the question is: Does mankind’s understanding of the physcial world (through observation and testing of theories) lead us to the reasonable conclusion that 1) nucleotides spontaneously sequence themselves in patterns only associated with agency involvement, and 2) create a rather stunning discontinuity in what our observation of chance and physical law are measured to accomplish.

    The answer is “no”.

    – –”Is this in response to my question: “Is it sufficient to note that human behavior cannot tractably be described in terms of physical laws?” If not, to what question is it responding?”

    Yes it was. My question is why should empirical measurement and observation (of what physical laws, chance, and volitional acts are able to accomplish) cause you to suggest a new ontological category?

    Is it the very act of scientists making the observation that you find offensive, or is it the potential results of those observations?

    Since there is nothing inherent in the act of measurement and observation that is offensive in terms of being an act of scientific study, then I can only conclude it is the latter that offends you.

    To which I may ask, should anyone trying to understand the natural world (through observation and testing of theories) be concerned with what personally offends you?

    If the answer is no, then can you tell me if there is anything in particular you wish to accomplish by bringing it up?

  28. 28

    Nakashima, nice to see you again.

    I noticed that in our last conversion you eventually conceded the validity of biological information being physically inert.

    You may also want to go ahead and concede that the system by which that information is transcribed and translated is physically inert as well.

    I have no doubt about this myself – having already been persuaded by materialists on this site that codon re-assignment experiments have falsified the contrary view.

    – - – - -

    I am off. I’ll catch back up to this thread later.

  29. I was very surprised to read the blog regarding my lecture, which was full of inaccuracies and distortions.

    It is very unfortunate to see the kind of emotional reaction that ms o’leary had to a talk that was meant to describe what we are learning about the universe. She seems so fixated on religion that she cannot seem to focus on the science. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with science, and nothing to do with my talk. If she could honestly report the facts she would do herself and her readers a great service. I am very surprised and disappointed as I had assumed that all of the people at the meeting were science communicators.. namely interested in science communication, and I spent a fair amount of time trying to specifically discuss inherent tensions in science reporting, and then explain what he have been learning about the universe.. and even pointed out the key things we don’t understand.. I had not met ms o’leary before but she does a disservice to journalism by her reporting.

    L. Krauss

  30. Upright:

    So be specific how the word “system” and the others are overloaded. Your feelings don’t matter, but the specifics do.

    Abel: It is not surprising, therefore, that chaos and such phenomena as weather fronts are referred to as systems with no eyebrows raised. Bona fide systems require organizational controls. True systems are cybernetic.

    Where did Abel get his definition of “system” from? From systems theory? (BTW, where is Abel’s promised rigorous definition?) Likewise with the other terms mentioned.

    – –”I didn’t say anything about whether physical laws form sandstone. I said that sandstone doesn’t form itself into a canyon, so the canyon is “a result beyond what the molecules must do themselves”.”

    And still you are wrong.

    You seem pretty adamant that I’m wrong on this, so I’ll relent. You’re right. Sandstone, unlike plastic, forms itself into shapes. No external erosive force is needed.

    Perhaps nothing but our entire history of human experience (being sentient individuals who act independent of the molecules in the universe, yet well within the laws that govern those molecules).

    That’s not a very specific answer. And your assertion that we’re “sentient individuals who act independent of the molecules in the universe” again begs the question. Have you observed this independence of our actions from material phenomena? If not, then whence the assertion?

    If we cannot make any assumptions whatsoever, then we cannot know anything.

    Likewise if we can make any assumptions whatsoever.

    Truly, I have always found it rather odd that metaphysical materialists like yourself must appeal to the possible invalidation of all material knowledge just in order to flank our very human experience as individuals who act on our own volition.

    Not that it matters to the discussion, but your assumptions regarding my personal beliefs are incorrect. But I realize why you would have that impression of me.

    …create a rather stunning discontinuity in what our observation of chance and physical law are measured to accomplish.

    The answer is “no”.

    This assumes that we have a fairly good grasp of what “chance and physical law are measured to accomplish”. Earlier you seemed to agree with the intractability of describing complex systems like humans in terms of physical laws. (This intractability is independent of the question of whether humans are solely physical.) Have you changed your mind?

    My question is why should empirical measurement and observation (of what physical laws, chance, and volitional acts are able to accomplish) cause you to suggest a new ontological category?

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say I’m suggesting a new ontological category. But regardless, what empirical measurements have been made of what physical laws, chance, and volitional acts are able to accomplish? References to data would be much appreciated.

    Is it the very act of scientists making the observation that you find offensive, or is it the potential results of those observations?

    Since there is nothing inherent in the act of measurement and observation that is offensive in terms of being an act of scientific study, then I can only conclude it is the latter that offends you.

    Again, your conclusion is wrong. Why would you think that I’m offended?

    To which I may ask, should anyone trying to understand the natural world (through observation and testing of theories) be concerned with what personally offends you?

    Of course not. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an ID opponent who thinks that IDists should not test their theories. Quite the opposite.

    If the answer is no, then can you tell me if there is anything in particular you wish to accomplish by bringing it up?

    You offered to talk about Abel’s science. I don’t think it’s science, but rather an ill-defined metaphysic. What I hope to accomplish is to learn that I’m wrong about this.

  31. 31

    lawkrauss,

    Regarding the reporting done by Denyse, I did not attend the lecture, but I’m willing to state that her reporting is accurate and her analysis sound on other grounds and in general, and does not do any disservice to journalism.

  32. 32

    R0b

    Abel: It is not surprising, therefore, that chaos and such phenomena as weather fronts are referred to as systems with no eyebrows raised. Bona fide systems require organizational controls. True systems are cybernetic.

    Where did Abel get his definition of “system” from? From systems theory? (BTW, where is Abel’s promised rigorous definition?) Likewise with the other terms mentioned.

    It is hard to imagine that this is what is bothering you.

    I feel my IQ dwindling just by saying so, but I will quote Wiki:

    “Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to control theory and systems theory. Both in its origins and in its evolution in the second-half of the 20th century, cybernetics is equally applicable to physical and social (that is, language-based) systems.

    Cybernetics is preeminent when the system under scrutiny is involved in a closed signal loop, where action by the system in an environment causes some change in the environment and that change is manifest to the system via information / feedback that causes the system to adapt to new conditions: the system changes its behaviour. This “circular causal” relationship is necessary and sufficient for a cybernetic perspective.

    Example of cybernetic thinking. On the one hand a company is approached as a system in an environment. On the other hand cybernetic factory can be modeled as a control system. Contemporary cybernetics began as an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mechanical engineering, logic modeling, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and psychology in the 1940s, often attributed to the Macy Conferences.”

    As I said, I find it hard to believe that this is so troubling. I suggest using terms in context.

    You seem pretty adamant that I’m wrong on this, so I’ll relent. You’re right. Sandstone, unlike plastic, forms itself into shapes. No external erosive force is needed.

    The external erosive force in building of canyons of sandstone is part of the natural environment, requiring no agency involvement in order to form a rational explanation. In the case of the plastic ball, the external force is agency – and it is required to in order the form a rational explanation.

    That’s not a very specific answer. And your assertion that we’re “sentient individuals who act independent of the molecules in the universe” again begs the question. Have you observed this independence of our actions from material phenomena? If not, then whence the assertion?

    We have now moved from circular answers to circular questions. Honestly R0b, why should you need to threaten all human knowledge in order to form an assumption about man and his environment? In order to answer the question you propose, man would have to move outside of the Universe, take a look, and see what’s up. I am almost certain this will not happen. (…and I thought it was ID that was supposed to be the science stopper).

    Is your seeming disdain for any reasonable inference to a volitional act in the natural world so personally stagnating that this is the end to which you must go? Do yourself a favor. Give it a rest.

    This assumes that we have a fairly good grasp of what “chance and physical law are measured to accomplish”. Earlier you seemed to agree with the intractability of describing complex systems like humans in terms of physical laws. (This intractability is independent of the question of whether humans are solely physical.) Have you changed your mind?

    This paragraph will unfortunately have to be parsed apart a bit. Let’s start with our grasp of chance and necessity:

    I looked around the web for the NASA Department of Discontinuities in Space and Time. I haven’t found one. I also looked to see if 3M or Schering-Plough, or perhaps NTT Research had any kind of similar organization, perhaps in their Quantum Physics Group. I didn’t find one there either. I did however come across a story about how we landed a spacecraft on an 8 x 20mi. asteroid located 200 million miles from Earth. And, last time I checked (which is not so often) we were able to count the number of quarks in nucleons, and even “weight” them. It would seem (as mere mortal men and women) that we have a fairly useful grasp of how chance and necessity operate.

    But perhaps this stands to reason. We, along with the rabbits and the worms, have been negotiating our way through a world of chance and necessity for a very long time.

    Earlier you seemed to agree with the intractability of describing complex systems like humans in terms of physical laws…have you changed your mind?

    Uh, I believe agents that act out of their own volition are intractably described by only physical laws.

    …what empirical measurements have been made of what physical laws, chance, and volitional acts are able to accomplish? References to data would be much appreciated.

    Surely you are not asking me to produce the entirety of human knowledge of physical properties on this website are you? (All of which describe what chance and necessity accomplish). And surely you’re not asking me to generate a listing of all known agency interactions with nature are you? (All of which are accomplished by the acts of agents).

    You ask for too much, particularly in light of your dismissal of just a single paper (specifically devoted to the topic). If you find David Abel’s analysis of the mechanisms of chance and physical law so grossly in error, then I suggest you contact the peer-review director at the International Journal of Molecular Science, PubMed, MDPI, and the U.S. National Institute of Health and file a complaint.

    …I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an ID opponent who thinks that IDists should not test their theories.

    And, finally we agree. But not for long…

    You offered to talk about Abel’s science. I don’t think it’s science, but rather an ill-defined metaphysic. What I hope to accomplish is to learn that I’m wrong about this.

    We shall see… but is rather difficult to give you that much credit. Learning has its own requirments. Some are practical, others ask something of the person.

  33. 33

    Lawrence, I find your comments on the edge of hilarity. I have attendend your presentations.

    When it comes to science, it seems almost completely beyond you personally to not hit the science/religion debate. You do it without question, and you never address the counter arguments.

    I didn’t attend this particular lecture, but please don’t feign yourself off as to be at a loss for religious combat.

    The one thing I will give you is this: you were very polite the last time I crossed your path. You seemed to be genuinely moved that the religiously-minded organizers (that you scoffed at in debate) treated you with such genuine respect.

    I can at least applaud you for that.

  34. upright biped – Please don’t try to mimic Denyse – you will only hurt yourself.

    You said: “I didn’t attend this particular lecture, but please don’t feign yourself off as to be at a loss for religious combat.”

    If you don’t know how to use a word – like “feign” – don’t use it. Save this kind of thing for the professionals, like Denyse.

  35. 35

    You, of course, are right.

    I am an IDiot.

    Larry…don’t act as if you are insulted by the idea of religious combat (or being pegged as a materialist bigot)

  36. Clive 31,

    Thanks for backing me up in saying that I practise my craft in a competent way.

    I didn’t get to the half of all that Dr. Krauss said (it was most interesting and revealing) – but it is hard to make notes in a simulated cave.

    However, I had listened to a presentation earlier in the day by a SNOLAB physicist on much the same themes as Dr. Krauss addressed – but without the fanatical certainty and irrelevant religion and politics.

    (I had also done background reading on neutrinos, etc., as it was a privilege to be allowed into SNOLAB and SNOLAB PLUS (under construction)).

    Dr. Krauss does not – in my view – clearly understand that journalism is the first draft of history.

    No one who practises the craft should start out knowing exactly who is right and who is wrong. It is never as simple as that, and approaching it that way is a good way to be wrong.

    And the more things one is absolutely certain of, the more likely one is to be wrong.

    I focused on the ID controversy because I noticed that the news funnel was inverted. (A major shift!)

    Every pundit said it was dying, but it was obviously growing, if you go by the wide end of the funnel (increase in news stories).

    So I opened independent news desks and just started ruddy well covering the stories no one else was. That is all one can really do in such a case.

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