Friday, November 23, 2012

 

I Doan Understanz Scienz ...


This is an amusing aftermath of Nate Silver denialism:
I've already written a couple of meandering posts on the topic of why I was never a Nate Silver skeptic but nevertheless found Nate Silver skepticism a respectable position. ... But the occasion of his elevation to sainthood by liberals over the last 48 hours, combined with their usual, empty, ritualistic signification of "math!" and "science!" in celebration of him, leaves me with one more thing to say. ...

[T]he crap that Silver took from a lot of conservatives being held up as evidence of the supposed mass delusion and anti-empiricism of the Right makes little sense. I think a lot of conservatives with humanities degrees (myself included) instinctively thought that all the decimal places were too cute by half – just like a lot of liberals with humanities degrees instinctively thought every additional decimal place meant MOAR SCIENCE. (Aside: This is a longstanding bugaboo of mine. The "I Swear to Science!" and "Science Bless You! Haha Lolz" crowd are often in the same epistemic position vis-à-vis statements they take on bald authority as are cult members. The fact that journalists writing dire warnings about global warming, or activists campaigning against intelligent design could learn about long-term climate modeling or the mechanisms of natural selection if they wanted to doesn't change the fact most of them don't.)

- Daniel Foster, "On the Beatification of Nate Silver," National Review Online, November 8, 2012
Riiight! Your instinctive distrust of decimal points, from a statistician no less, would be a "respectable" ground for skepticism of Silver's results. And please give a list of the people who thought that, just because Silver gave decimal points, his model was more scientific, as opposed to the rather extensive discussion he gave over months of what his model was doing.

And are people who listen to the scientific consensus on a technical scientific issue really in the same epistemic position as someone who accepts the bald authority of a single person or book? Do I really need to be an expert in climate change or evolutionary theory to investigate the broad outlines of those subjects, to learn what the majority of scientists who are experts in those subjects think and to make a judgment superior to some layman who "learns" by blundering about (sans the education and expertise of those who have spent a significant part of their life studying the subject) the technical literature?

Rationally accepting the expertise of a broad base of experts is epistemologically far superior to listening to people whose arguments are based on "feelings" and "impressions."

Comments:
I've already written a couple of meandering posts on the topic...

...practice makes perfect
 
Sometimes I think, "you don't understand science!" means "I refuse to accept the science that you understand perfectly well!"


 
It also means "My cat has a better understanding of science than you!"
 
I think it goes deeper than that. It's the assertion that science (math/reason/etc.) are something that is individual rather than communal. A dufus like Foster feels he is justified in denying science/math/reason because he, in his ignorance, is confident that everyone else, individually or collectively, are as ignorant as he is.
 
Okay, massive snarky sloppy generalization of the morning (have only had Cup 1 of Pot 1 of coffee): We have writerly conservative types who assert that science/math/reasoning is individual and that it is right to resist what they cast as liberal groupthink.

And yet writerly conservative types are also the ones who howl about the evils of relativism when it comes to those who challenge their pet moral positions.

-- pew "freedom of conscience, anyone?" sitter
 
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