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Monday, January 25, 2021

"Knowledge is good."

LOL. But, seriously, my latest hardcopy issue of Science Magazine arrived. Book review therein.

"What is the scientific method, and what makes it the most efficient approach for generating insight? In The Knowledge Machine, Michael Strevens argues that to answer this question, we must acknowledge the role played by the undisciplined and emotional nature of the humans who carry it out. The book takes readers on a whirlwind tour through the history of science, rendering Arthur Eddington, Louis Pasteur, G. G. Simpson, Lord Kelvin, and many others as “warm-blooded organisms, whose enthusiasms, hopes, and fears mold their thinking far below the threshold of awareness.”

When asked what science is and how it functions, researchers offer a range of conflicting responses, notes Strevens. “Some scientists say that the essence of science is controlled or repeatable experiment, forgetting that experiments are of relatively little importance in cosmology or evolutionary biology. Some say advanced mathematical techniques are crucial, forgetting that the discoverers of genetics, for example, had no use for sophisticated math.”

Strevens argues that an objective scientific method cannot exist, as all predictions from hypotheses rely on auxiliary assumptions such as the functioning of instruments, whose reliability must be evaluated subjectively. He proposes that the distinguishing feature of science is a procedural agreement, which he refers to as the “iron rule of explanation.” This rule holds that differences in scientific opinion must be settled by empirical testing alone. Thus, a scientist cannot argue for one hypothesis over another because it is more beautiful or more appealing philosophically or because it is better aligned with “God's plan.” The iron rule applies only to official communications. Outside of such venues, scientists may think and believe as they wish…"
Indeed. Of course, I bought the book forthwith and have begun my study. Wonderfully written. Goes to my numerous riffs in support of "Science." (See also my posts "Why trust science?" and "Deliberation Science?")
Stay tuned. Be interesting to see if/how and to what extent it might cohere with this book (below) I've studied and cited.

I finished the Michael Strevens book. Beautifully written, a motherload of quotable, eloquent passages. I'll just cite his close.
THE KNOWLEDGE MACHINE opened in the darkness of prehistory. Civilization’s sun rose, bringing literature and law, temple domes and proscenium arches, and the more abstract pleasures of mathematics and philosophy. Science’s sun, meanwhile, remained deep below the horizon. To one surveying the cultures of the ancient world, there was no glimmer to suggest that anything like modern science would arise. So it continued for centuries, millennia. Empires came and went; each left its enduring aesthetic and intellectual gifts to humankind, but there was no science.

At a stroke, the Scientific Revolution changed everything. Science’s sun seemed to have appeared, not on the horizon, but at its zenith, as the fierce genius of Newton and his lieutenants glistered in the heavens. It burned far hotter than had even the sun of civilization. Our sultry, teeming, denatured planet is its consequence—as are our increasingly long, comfortable, amusing lives.

Galileo yearned to know the nature of light. “I had always felt so unable to understand what light is,” he wrote to a friend, “that I would gladly have spent all my life in jail, fed with bread and water, if only I was assured that I would eventually attain that longed-for understanding.” Less than four hundred years later, thanks to Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein—along with many others—we have that knowledge. The light of science calls out for the same understanding. In The Knowledge Machine, I have given you the truth as I see it.

Science is not light; it is not promulgated by a star. Nor is it a golem, a glass slipper, a neurasthenic bird, or a coral reef. It is not, indeed, a machine. It is a social institution. It could not be brought into existence by a celestial body or by a magical incantation. Inquirers had to give the rule that constitutes the scientific institution to themselves. But the iron rule is a peculiar mix of power and perversity. Logically, it is beyond the pale. It would take an exceedingly long time for social, political, and moral conditions to twine themselves into a perspective from which the rule would seem to be an acceptable idea, fit to enter the halls of inquiry. Now we know. And because of the iron rule, we can go on knowing, more and more. Let us hope that knowledge saves us.

Strevens, Michael. The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science (pp. 289-290). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
More to come...

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"Cleanup on Aisle 45"

ME We the People.
 12:01 pm, January 20th, 2021.
The End of an Error.

At the conclusion of his one-term-twice-impeached tenure, in the wake of a seemingly endless onslaught of belligerent threats and denial — capped by a brazen, overt incitement of a ghastly lethal insurrection on January 6th at the Capitol— Tough Guy Trump feebly collapsed like a worn-out, cheap picnic folding chair. Good riddance.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

This American Carnage

I've been transcribing daily US Covid-19 "incidence" data (daily confirmed new cases) from the Hopkins site since Q4-2020. Yesterday I added an Excel tab for daily US deaths commencing January 1st, 2021. More than 46,000 fatalities across the first 15 days of the month. Total US Covid mortality since the pandemic ensued is today about 390,000.
3.5 million new US cases across January through the 15th. We're going to easily lose more than a half million people. 

Recapping, the US comprises 4.3% of world population, and about 25% of the Covid cases and 20% of deaths.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Is THIS what we've come to?

Are we heading toward widespread violent anarchy?
Click the image.
Not what I want to be posting about. But, we now have the most exigent of circumstances. If we fail to abate and reverse this growing sociopolitical psychosis, not much else will matter.

Buckle up, America.

apropos, see my Feb 2020 post "For Sama." Anyone who thinks civil war would be fun is crazy.

Meanwhile the Covid19 pandemic continues to surge.
2.4 million new US cases across the first 10 days of January. 3-4,000 US deaths per day, hospitals running out of space. Total US Covid deaths now approaching 400k. Vaccine distribution and inoculations still way behind the curve.
Click the image.

Again, click the image.

A reflection on our debacle posted on Facebook the other day.
WHAT BROUGHT US TO THIS POINT? There were 5 principal conditions that led to the events of January 6th in the U.S. Capitol.

When the Democrats under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson allied with the civil rights movement, southern Democrats began leaving the party. Republican Richard Nixon then deliberately used race as a wedge issue to split the Democrats and appeal to white working people. The Republican Party has continued to exploit racial politics since then.

2. ECONOMIC CHANGE. The short period in the 1950s-60s in which the U.S. working class was doing well economically was an aberration in the history of capitalism. Shared economic prosperity in the U.S. was a result of World War II: economic spinoffs from massive government investment for the war and the war’s destruction of economic competition from Europe and Japan. These conditions changed by the 1970s as Europe and Japan began to recover and compete again. To maintain profits, the investing class instituted a program of neo-liberalism: reducing the power of unions; cutting taxes, regulations and social welfare programs; and advancing a global financial system. The economic conditions of working people in the U.S. began a decades-long decline. First the Republican Party under Reagan and then the Democratic Party under Clinton adopted the neo-liberal program.

Racial resentments and the economic decline of white working people fueled the growth of the white supremacy movement. It attracted military veterans from the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. These veterans felt betrayed and abandoned by the government for sending them to wars that did not succeed; they also had military training and the capability for violence.
U.S. election laws support a two-party system in which voters have nowhere to go if the two dominant parties don’t seem to be responding to their needs. The economic frustrations of working people opened the opportunity for a political outsider to seek their votes. In the 1990s Ross Perot tapped this pool of voters in an unsuccessful independent run for the Presidency. Plurality elections in the Republican Presidential primary of 2016 (the candidate with the most votes, not necessarily a majority of the votes, wins) allowed Trump to attract enough of these voters to emerge as a front-runner when the other candidates split the majority of Republican votes between them. This opened the floodgates for more of these voters to support him.

5. EMERGENCE OF A DEMAGOGUE. President Trump has followed a classic fascist playbook of weakening democratic norms, encouraging extra-government militias, and using “big lies” to divide and confuse the public. These tactics all came together in his attempt to incite a mob of his supporters, likely led by white supremacist militias, to invade the U.S. Congress in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Alan is a friend. I invariably call him my favorite graduate school professor (UNLV Institute for Ethics and Policy Studies, 1994-1998). A standout among a standout faculty. He and his family now live in Oregon. I asked his permission to re-post his remarks.

I am the offspring of a World War II Gold Star family. My late dad left a leg behind in Italy fighting nazis and fascists. He and all four of his brothers served for the duration. Only Pop and my uncle Warren survived the war years.

My late parents went on to be patriotic conservative Goldwater Republicans. I have subsequently been a ticket-splitting centrist independent, voting Republican as often as Democrat across my 74 years. When I retired and moved back to California in 2013, I registered as a Democrat, to be able to vote Democratic primaries.

Because I am now a “registered Democrat,“ I am told I am actually a “Communist.“

Because I am a middle-class white guy now living in Baltimore with a “Black Lives Matter” poster on my front door I am told that I should be killed.

Kiss my NY Irish ass.
Yes, this IS what we've come to.
I've been to our nation's capital many times. A couple of months ago most recently. Cheryl and I loaded up the dogs to do a quick get-outa-the-house day trip from Baltimore to DC, just to cruise around and maybe park and walk a bit.
I found it creepy this time. Concrete barriers everywhere, idling police cruisers with red and blue lights flashing, dump trucks blocking off streets... Mere portents.


January 15th, concertina wire Capitol.
Important, if dispiriting reading.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

"A Republic, if you can keep it"

A grotesque day in DC.

President Trump has now cemented his sordid legacy. And, at least four participants in his Jan 6th paroxysm of mass mindlessness have paid with their lives for acting on his incendiary exhortations.
We have promoted democracy in our movies and books. We speak of democracy in our speeches and lectures. We even sing about democracy, from sea to shining sea, in our national songs. We have entire government bureaus devoted to thinking about how we can help other countries become and remain democratic. We fund institutions that do the same.

And yet by far the most important weapon that the United States of America has ever wielded—in defense of democracy, in defense of political liberty, in defense of universal rights, in defense of the rule of law—was the power of example. In the end, it wasn’t our words, our songs, our diplomacy, or even our money or our military power that mattered. It was rather the things we had achieved: the two and a half centuries of peaceful transitions of power, the slow but massive expansion of the franchise, and the long, seemingly solid traditions of civilized debate…

Over the past four years, that example has been badly damaged. We elected a president who refused to recognize the democratic process. We stood by while some members of Donald Trump’s party cynically colluded with him, helping him break laws and rules designed to restrain him. We indulged his cheerleading “media”—professional liars who pretended to believe the president’s stories, including his invented claims of massive voter fraud. Then came the denouement: an awkward, cack-handed invasion of the Capitol by the president’s supporters, some dressed in strange costumes, others sporting Nazi symbols or waving Confederate flags. They achieved the president’s goal: They brought the official certification of the Electoral College vote to a halt. House and Senate members and Vice President Mike Pence were escorted out of the legislative chambers. Their staff members were told to shelter in place. A woman was shot to death…
Click the image, read all of it.

Click the image.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Our #Covid19 "Dark Winter" ensues

Continuing my Excel chart.

Above, Q4-2020 through Jan 3rd 2021. The increased episodic recent inter-day +/- incidence volatility is mainly a function of Nov-Dec holidays' time off for testing personnel.

US Covid19 deaths have now surpassed 350,000. We could easily see 500,000 or more before too long. Dark Winter, indeed.

I'm as frustrated as anyone. Still lying way low.
Stay safe and well. Get vaxxed as soon as it's available.

And, let's hope we still have a functioning Constitutional Democracy (a "Republic," yeah, I know) after January 6th. A dicey week, on multiple fronts.