How to deal with pseudoscience ?

Friday, 31 October, Year 6 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

First off, to get a methodological point out of the way : beliefs, feelings, more generally speaking mental processes without a concrete reference can nevertheless still be mistaken, and provably so.

One could for instance believe that the number five was given to him by God personally, as a gift. This belief is neither here nor there should that same one propose that 5 + 6 = 7. While his belief as to the source of the number five may be true or false and in any case does not interest us, his proposition about adding five and six is nevertheless wrong.

Another could put forth his imagination of "dragons, superb beings made out of pure energy", and again, this nonsense is neither here nor there - if it interests it would principally be for either aesthetic or psychiatric reasons. However, should that another also propose that his dragons (superb beings made of energy purée) heated a cup of water to boiling while expending no energy whatsoever, that another would be mistaken. Pure and simple, his dragons don't enter in the discussion of water and its heating.

The common way in which naive bystanders fail in evaluating these types of claims is some variation of "if broken once she's a slut", which is to say : if we've already granted that something unlikely may exist, then any further such requests should be granted by default. Plainly stated, the idiocy involved is obvious. Seriously, if you've ever bought a woman lunch you're now to buy all lunches she ever eats ? If you borrow from a bank once they might as well give you the keys to the vaults ? If you've bought a stick of gum from a store six weeks ago you now own that store ? Good luck with all this heh.

Even if requested specifically, one has to bear in mind that the grant creates a difference. Suppose one were to say "God gave me the number five as a personal gift, and this five that he gave me added with six yields eight". Clearly, the thing God gave him, while apparently called "five" in their relationship is in fact what the rest of us knows as two. So, the proper restatement in third voice of that proposition would be that "God gave him two as a personal gift and for some reason called it five". Equivocating between "five" and "the two God gave away and for some reason called five" is obviously improper, and if driven by a profit motive plain and quite prosecutable fraud. Similarly, should the another have specifically requested, "and in the magical land where they live water boils or cools without exchange of energy", then clearly that "water" is in no proper sense water, and while the name may be used, it is used metaphorically, not properly. That "water" is in fact no more water than electromagnetic "bottles" are bottles. You could arguably fill one such "bottle" with fermions of the same "aroma", but you definitely could neither crash it against the bar nor taste the contents. In all such metaphoric contexts, the question is meaningful "you mean the water before the grant, or after ?" or directed at any one ambiguous instance, "which kind of water is this ?". Equivocating between the two is just bad reasoning, of course, except if driven by a profit motive it is, again, mere fraud.

That out of the way, the historical accident needs to be discussed where for the past fifty or so years, the intellectually broken and practically bankrupt approach to thought championed by the USG and followed by its scanti vassals and satellites has been a Ford-isation of sorts, creating perverse incentives across the board towards the publication of mere words, meaninglessly fashioned together into strings of specified lengths, without further consideration. Originally this worked acceptably for actual scienceii, but it was disastrous for humanities, which were readily refashioned into simple pseudoscience.iii

Arguably this effect was an unavoidable result of the destructuring of society following WW2, because humanities can only exist as the fruits of the superiority of the socially superior ; may not exist (indeed, may not even be meaningfully defined) in flat societies ; and in all intermediate cases their quality and general development serves well as a proxy for the hierarchy of society : the sharper the angle at the peak of the social pyramid, the more advanced the humanities it can support. Nevertheless, avoidable or not, three decades later the poisonous creatures came home to roost, and the pseudoscientific pursuits that used to be humanities infected otherwise respectable science to the degree that we're now stuck cutting out all of the "Earth science" and large swaths of medicine and biology, not to mention all the economy penned after 1940, because it's cheaper to throw out pasta in which someone's taken a dump and re-make it than to attempt and remove all the fecal matter.

Which brings us to the point of our discussion today. When confronted with pseudoscience, which is to say any text purporting to discuss scienceiv, written after 1940, either in English or by any author living in a vassal or satellite state (NATO is the name of this particular Warsaw pact) the proper approach is not to proscribe, but to ignore.

Specifically what I mean is, one shouldn't attempt to further interact with all that shitpile, for instance by trying to create lists of banned expressions, or otherwise some sort of crude implementation of a Bayesian filter or another. One should simply ignore the whole matter wholesale, and then allow the proponents to either introduce their ideas de novo, in the original manner such is handled, or otherwise work themselves dry of spittle and wither away.

This flat, unyielding ignorance-as-the-forerunner-of-oblivion is both perfectly safev and exactly the adequate pill for the poison in dicussion, because it expends very little productive effort on the part of the productive members of society, while at the same time forcing upon the unproductive the exact Gordian knot they've been trying to talk their way around (and plenty, no doubt, hoped they had succeeded). That knot is of course practice, which is to say : if I were to declare I am ignoring "all that Einstein jazz", all physics penned after 1900 or so, and then built a cathodic tube television that worked just fine without accounting for quantum effects, the trashing and bashing of Einstein fans would be all in vain : I'll just shrug my shoulders, keep building and selling my television sets and care not on whit of whatever they may Eventually they'll run out of ink, because unlike the productive system of making things, the grant seeking system relies on outside inputs to function.vii

While it's true that most objects produced and consumed in a sufficiently advanced society are ideal objects, and while it's true that most people in a socialist/welfarist society are patent idiots (who have no use for ideal objects, and so could be made to value any list of ideal objects in any arbitrary order, just like the primitive minds of the original red skins could be convinced to value the fruits of industry pretty much randomly, and in any case divorcedly from their actual market value), it still doesn't stand that the producers of worthless drivel may create a system where they may thrive that's also stable.

So, this is what is meant when one says Bitcoin is revolutionary : that the ideas it embodies, and its exact workings, the precise manner in which it wages an attrition war it can't lose against fiat currency, and the welfare state dependent upon that fiat currency, can be readily expanded to other fields. You can wage an attrition war on public idiocy on the same exact paradigm, and obtain - just as definitely and just as certainly - the same exact results : the complete, utter and unavoidable ruin of the pile of nonsense. Without any possible recourse.

PS. If the idea of throwing out 60 years' worth of pseudoscience masquerading as science seems to you unprecedented, consider that this is merely a result of your very sheltered existence. I have lived it, personally, once before, I'm not discussing imaginations and projections into the future here but mere history. Lived history. Specifically, I still remember the piles of trampled pages, knee thick, in front of various Romanian Universitary libraries, pages that before one winter made perfectly good "science", on Marxism-Leninism and Socialist Economy and Socialist Philosophy (aka Dialectic Materialism) and Socialist-everything. Then after that winter they were pulp, or more properly said, they were officially seen as the pulp that they had always been. And I remember the surprised face of one particular parasite who thought himself a "professor", being thrown out of a second floor window.

Contrary to what you may imagine, cutting off warts - while woefuly deadly to the actual wart - nevertheless does no harm to the healthy body the wart is dragging towards the grave. Romania did a lot better in twenty years after having squished this lice than in the sixty years prior, and so will you. History repeats itself, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

Generally speaking, the sooner the when, the lower the pain.

  1. Yes, I am aware you believe this constitutes "the entire world". This belief is descriptive of you, not of the world. []
  2. In the sense that pretty much any policy works about as well for actual science, as that's a process driven by individuals not policies and as such evolves for purely individual, entirely un-politic reasons. []
  3. There is absolutely no difference between the US school of political science and astrology, today, except for sheer complexity and volume, proxies for the ammount of money poured into it. This stands all across the board, the only difference between US pseudoeconomics and US pseudo-theatrical-studies is the money thoroughput, and if you switched that around soon enough the theatre would be "well developed" in the sense of completely empty, meaningless complexity. []
  4. As opposed to fiction, which is entirely broken too but perhaps for different reasons, in different ways and in any case not our concern here. []
  5. Since there's no actual value in the subject matter ignored, ignoring it is not unlike ignoring the firm convictions of the mentally ill. Such things exist, people in an asylum somewhere could go on about them at length, what difference does it make ? []
  6. Incidentally, this is exactly how Bitcoin has in point of fact worked. In other words, it's not a speculative discussion, but merely a recounting of actual history. []
  7. Here's a thought for all the "sustainability" scholars, jetting here and there to eat catered meals and sleep in hotels they don't own and can't afford to pay for: when are you going to come up with a "sustainable sustainability research" paradigm ? One where you manage to pay for what you yourselves, personally, consume, out of the value you yourselves personally produce ? No, finding a[nother] sugar Daddy does not count. No, no matter how you disguise it. No, it's not true that "everyone lives off a sugar Daddy. Ready for the most challenging challenge ever ?

    Didn't think so. Now stfu. []

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25 Responses

  1. > One where you manage to pay for what you yourselves, personally, consume, out of the value you yourselves personally produce ? No, finding a[nother] sugar Daddy does not count.

    This is where we smack against the frailty of meat. Specifically, e.g., George Boole would have run into some problems living off the 'value personally produced' by Boolean algebra, on account of his inconveniently short lifespan.

    'And so on, day after day, month after month, year after year -- sometimes, all through life. Sometimes the life of the inventor is not long enough, and other inventors must pick up the problem and continue to search for a solution. 'What if we do it this way?' asks the next inventor.' ('And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared', Altshuller (Eng. translation by L. Shulyak.) W4r3z copy on #b-a somewhere in the logs.)

    Some very essential things are only possible with obscenely long 'time horizon' for computed ROI. And time horizons tend to get guillotined just as reliably as necks in historical upheavals. Ask the Russian physicists driving cabs in NYC. I don't expect they're especially thrilled with the fact of being doomed to compete with former professional climatistas in the cab business. (Compete they will.)

    AFAIK there is no general-case solution (as discussed in an early English piece on this site, concerning Dooglus.) Known attempts at solutions include 'patron king' (no references needed) and 'monastic order' (as fictionalized in Stephenson's 'Anathem').

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 31 October 2014
    One where you manage to pay for what you yourselves, personally, consume, out of the value you yourselves personally produce ? No, finding a[nother] sugar Daddy does not count.

    This is where we smack against the frailty of meat. Specifically, e.g., George Boole would have run into some problems living off the ‘value personally produced’ by Boolean algebra, on account of his inconveniently short lifespan.

    But you see, Boole did not pretend he is a scientist of "sustainability", did he ? He did not go around sprouting nonsense about how "for a more perfect produciton of nonsense, "we" need to trade carbon credits", did he ? So no, he's not an example in this discussion.

  3. Boole did, however, announce his algebra as 'finally I have developed a branch of mathematics with no practical use whatsoever!' or the like.

  4. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 31 October 2014

    That is perfectly fine. In discussion is not research without [obvious] practical utility, but merely pseudoscientific discussions as to how "better" arrange the political affairs. As long as the useless stay out of the political, they retain their intellectual legitimacy and may be financed by whosoever feels inclined. Once they step that threshold however, they can no longer be.

  5. Pediwikia has following conclusions about Boole:

    > Boole's work and that of later logicians initially appeared to have no engineering uses.

    > Combining his interests in mathematics and theology, he compared the Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with the three dimensions of space, and was attracted to the Hebrew conception of God as an absolute unity.

    Regardless of whether they are factually true in this case, it's true that many scientists in that age mixed into their work a life force and other "for greater glory" philosophical concepts. In many cases it was only their followers that separated pseudoscience from real science. We can easily presume this is how it works even today, if using other concepts and some magnitudes bigger and messier.

    So I really don't see how fight against socialism and bitcoin relates to this.

  6. Consider the tree in my front yard (or any other green growing thing) that ever grows in the direction of available sunlight, only to be ruthlessly trimmed by cable maintenance crew each year.

    At my local uni, a few years ago, just about all of the faculty working in genuinely-physical or pure-mathematical fields were administratively herded into a 'college of physical and mathematical sciences.' (I.e., there is no longer a separate 'department of mathematics' with own funding pool, bureaucratic trappings, etc.) And no prizes for guessing who - weren't. The sinecures are untouchable, and can only die when the entire thing goes south as a going concern. Ending with the expected plethora of newly-minted cabbies.

    When the king pays for Boole - we get Boole. When the king pays for climatistas - ditto.

  7. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 31 October 2014

    @Jurov On the other side, I don't see how

    Combining his interests in mathematics and theology, he compared the Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with the three dimensions of space, and was attracted to the Hebrew conception of God as an absolute unity.

    even were it to be accepted as factual and discussion worthy (which it is not, on either count) could then lead to

    many scientists in that age mixed into their work a life force and other “for greater glory” philosophical concepts

    Seems akin to saying "MP wrote Runcible Doom" so therefore his Bitcoin writings were "mixed" and it was upon the brazen posteriority to oh so valuably "separate" these, which is patent nonsense. If we're going to do that route may as well say things like "Newton fucked his wife and MP beat his slavegirls, so clearly they had no fucking idea".

    Doesn't work, this approach, especially when you stop and look at what nobodies like Iris Marion Young did other than derpage. No Newtons to be had, in the arid field of US official pseudoscience, and the comparison is unduly flattering.

    @Stanislav Datskovskiy There is no king, so the discussion is moot.

  8. The question, in my mind, is - where is the black hole which swallowed the kings and the Newtons. And, how to get it to cough them back out again. And does it even have a reverse gear. Or do 'we' have to wait for the rise of other civilizations, with gigantic rat kings presiding over cockroach Newtons...

  9. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 31 October 2014

    The disappearance of hard money swallowed them with it, and the resurection of hard money shall in due time bring them back. No further action required.

  10. So all of this has to go?

    1943 – Oswald Avery proves that DNA is the genetic material of the chromosome
    1947 – William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain invent the first transistor
    1948 – Claude Elwood Shannon: 'A mathematical theory of communication' a seminal paper in Information theory.
    1948 – Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Freeman Dyson: Quantum electrodynamics
    1951 – George Otto Gey propagates first cancer cell line, HeLa
    1952 – Jonas Salk: developed and tested first polio vaccine
    1953 – Crick and Watson: helical structure of DNA, basis for molecular biology
    1963 – Lawrence Morley, Fred Vine, and Drummond Matthews: Paleomagnetic stripes in ocean crust as evidence of plate tectonics (Vine-Matthews-Morley hypothesis).
    1964 – Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig: postulates quarks leading to the standard model
    1964 – Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson: detection of CMBR providing experimental evidence for the Big Bang
    1965 – Leonard Hayflick: normal cells divide only a certain number of times: the Hayflick limit
    1967 – Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish discover first pulsar
    1983 – Kary Mullis invents the polymerase chain reaction, a key discovery in molecular biology.
    1986 – Karl Müller and Johannes Bednorz: Discovery of High-temperature superconductivity
    1994 - Andrew Wiles proves Fermat's Last Theorem
    1995 – Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz definitively observe the first extrasolar planet around a main sequence star
    1995 - Eric Cornell, Carl Wieman and Wolfgang Ketterle attained the first Bose-Einstein Condensate with atomic gases, so called fifth state of matter at extremely low temperature.
    1997 – Roslin Institute: Dolly the sheep was cloned.
    1997 – CDF and DØ experiments at Fermilab: Top quark.
    1998 – Gerson Goldhaber and Saul Perlmutter observed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
    2001 – The first draft of the human genome is completed.
    2003 - Grigori Perelman presents proof of the Poincaré Conjecture.
    2006 - Shinya Yamanaka generates first induced pluripotent stem cells
    2010 – J. Craig Venter Institute creates the first synthetic genome for a bacterial cell.[5]
    2010 - The Neanderthal Genome Project presented preliminary genetic evidence that interbreeding did likely take place and that a small but significant portion of Neanderthal admixture is present in modern non-African populations.[citation needed]
    2012 - Higgs boson is discovered at CERN (confirmed to 99.999% certainty)
    2012 - Photonic molecules are discovered at MIT
    2014 - Inflation theory is being proved by Gravitational waves
    2014 - Exotic hadrons are discovered at the LHCb

  11. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 3 November 2014

    Clearly, you have a strong point. It is sadly weakened significantly because it outrageously includes stuff such as... Perelman of all people ?! Seriously ?

    If you can claim Perelman by the same token I can claim you never said anything.

  12. I think many people simply don't want to think about all the actual work the blood and tears type of work that goes into making science... They want science to be an objective transcendent not something people make, and fuck up more often than they make by orders of magnitude...

  13. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 2 February 2015

    Obviously. When your sleepy provincial French town doubles in population on account of a bunch of African immigrants, you've not really received a bunch of French citizens, and your institutions will migrate from what you'd like to see to closer resemble what they've "come to expect", or in any case what they can mentally carry.

    Similarly, if you put up "science" as the "vaniquisher of religion" you won't get a bunch more scientists. You'll get just as many scientists as before, who now have to swim in a river of religious zealots worshipping Sciencehweh.

  14. What is this blog for or about?

  15. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 17 May 2015


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