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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How angry is the Brit god of science? - pretty angry, it seems ...

Following up on the USA Today fantasy: All is well in Britain between faith and science ... scientists holler for Jesus in pulpits ...

In case anyone wonders how angry the angry god of British science is - against anyone who believes in the existence of another God - read on:

In "Blinded by a divine light" (Guardian, September 28, 2008), Harry Kroto, a 1996 Nobelist and part of a cabal who went after sinner Michael Reiss explained,
I do not have a particularly big problem with scientists who may have some personal mystical beliefs – for all I know the President of the Royal Society may be religious. However, I, and many of my Royal Society colleagues, do have a problem with an ordained minister as Director of Science Education – this is a totally different matter. An ordained minister must have accepted that there was a creator (presumably more intelligent than he is?) thus many of us (maybe 90% of FRSs) cannot see how such a person can pontificate on how to tackle this fundamentally unresolvable conflict at the science/religion interface. Reiss cannot have his religious cake in church and eat the scientific one in the classroom. This is where the intellectual integrity issue arises – and it is the crucial issue in the Reiss affair.
I have had numerous reasons over the years for thinking that "theistic evolutionists" like Michael Reiss are mostly the well-meaning useful idiots of a political church, Soviet-style, but his career ruin surely makes that clear.

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USA Today fantasy: All is well in Britain between faith and science ... scientists holler for Jesus in pulpits ...

Here's a textbook example of spin in the legacy media:

We are told on the USA Today blog that in Britain all is well in "faith and science" due to "theistic evolution":

While impossible to quantify, a surprising number of prominent British researchers at the pinnacle of their fields, with worldwide reputations in the physical and biological sciences, proclaim their evangelical Christian faith. And they are not perfunctory adherents, merely showing up for Sunday worship; they believe in acting on their beliefs. Some have taken up weekend pulpits.

Their roster includes Sir John Houghton, former head of the United Kingdom's Meteorological Office; Sir John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist, Anglican priest and author of numerous books on science and religion; Sir Brian Heap, a biologist; geologist Robert W. White and paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris. I asked these scientists the sources of their belief, and the answers they gave me were intriguing to someone who for years has been more immersed in the world of American evangelicals, where I frequently found that hostility toward science seemed to be the norm in public controversies. These Brits cited a disparate mixture of empirical scientific evidence and the veracity of Scripture for their Christianity, based equally on science and faith.

I have only two words to respond to this rubbish: Michael Reiss

(Yes, he’s the Church of England Darwin-booster who got dumped by the Royal Society merely because he thought that kids should be told words like “intelligent design” in order to explain why ID is wrong, wrong, wrong and Darwin is right, right, right. The very use of the word was fatal to his career.)

That’s the REAL state of things in Britain. And if that's good, aren't we all better off with bad?

Oh, and also the fact that Britain's Royal Society is considering casting God out of its charter.

Look, USA Today proves that you don't have to kill trees to be legacy media. You just have to inherit the spin.


Science and society: The assured results of modern forensic science ... ?

We've all seen the detective films where the forensic scientist is always a source of useful information about the crime, right? I'm a great fan of such films myself, Brit lit P.D. James being one of my favourite mystery stars. For psychological insight, she is rarely matched.

However, in real life, if you are accused of a crime to which forensic evidence is relevant, things may be quite different. If you know you are innocent, you might be well advised to pray hard that the forensic team is any help.

In "C.S.Oy" in Slate (August 12, 2008) Radley Balko and Roger Koppl reveal,

A study of the first 86 DNA exonerations garnered by the Innocence Project estimated that faulty forensic science played a role in more than 50 percent of the wrongful convictions.
Here are two of their recommendations for reform:

Expert independence. Crime labs, DNA labs, and medical examiners shouldn't serve under the same bureaucracy as district attorneys and police agencies. If these experts must work for the government, they should report to an independent state agency, if not the courts themselves. There should be a wall of separation between analysis and interpretation. Thus, an independent medical examiner would, for instance, perform and videotape the actual procedure in an autopsy. The prosecution and defense would then each bring in their own experts to interpret the results in court. When the same expert performs both the analysis and interpretation, defense experts are often at a disadvantage, having to rely on the notes and photos of the same expert whose testimony they're disputing.

Mask the evidence. A 2006 U.K. study by researchers at the University of Southampton found that the error rate of fingerprint analysts doubled when they were first told the circumstances of the case they were working on. Crime lab technicians and medical examiners should never be permitted to consult with police or prosecutors before performing their analysis. A dramatic child murder case, for example, may induce a greater subconscious bias to find a match than a burglary case. To the extent that it's possible, evidence should be stripped of all context before being sent to the lab...
Incompetent or corrupt investigators can pervert the course of justice by definition, but Balko and Koppl reveal a deeper, more serious problem: Well-meaning and competent investigators who are influenced by their bosses' views or cultural assumptions may be far more damaging in the long run because ... everyone believes them!

After all, science is modern society's source of truth! And they are hey are sincere and competent, and not corrupt ...

But they may not recognize their own cognitive biases. Nor might others.

Balko and Koppl add

Every other scientific field properly requires peer review, statistical analysis, and redundancy to ensure quality and accuracy. It's past time we applied the same quality-control measures to criminal forensics, particularly given the fundamental nature of what's at stake.
I myself would place more confidence in statistical analysis and redundancy than in peer review (who are the peers?) but it is all worth a try, in principle.


Intellectual freedom as freedom from criticism or challenge ...

One question: When Brit cleric Michael Reiss, the sinner in the hands of an angry god, got the boot from his Royal Society job for accidental blasphemy against Darwin*, some expressed regret. I wonder how many of those same people would feel anything other than satisfaction at the fate of the Expelled scientists?

Few probably, because, as the Reiss affair demonstrates, it is no longer possible for Darwin's devotees to think about his theory in a rational way. Words uttered against it cannot be entertained in any context; however, one is still permitted to modestly regret the fate of accidental blasphemers like Reiss.

That attitude becomes characteristic, after a while, of people whose viewpoint none dare challenge. Intellectual freedom means, essentially, their freedom from criticism or challenge.

There was an interesting case of that very thing in Toronto recently - unrelated but instructive:

As Toronto broadcaster and columnist Michael Coren recounts, Heather Mallick, a "largely anonymous journalist, a legend in her own lunchtime",
... is now the subject of controversy because she called American Republicans "white trash," said Sarah Palin looked like a porn actress and made repugnant personal comments about the governor of Alaska's family. She did all this on the CBC website, paid for by public dollars. The content of the diatribe is less Oscar Wilde and more Oscar the Grouch, but it's become major news in the United States.

... None of this matters very much; what does matter is that once again the Canadian public is obliged to fund this nonsense. (Toronto Sun, 27th September 2008)
Mallick is, in her own humble way, a counterpart of the Brit toffs. She belongs to the unassailable, tax supported "arts" sector of society, just as they belong to the unassailable, tax supported "science"sector. Neither she nor they are accountable, as are ordinary mortals.

Now Mallick claimed the protection of "freedom of speech," which is quite fair except for one thing. As Coren goes on to tell us,
Beyond the abuse of public money, however, is hypocrisy. Last year I was approached by the editor of a newspaper called The Women's Post and asked if I would write a column for her, providing what publisher Sarah Thomson called "a conservative voice." She explained that she already had plenty of liberal writers but wanted some balance.**

One of those left-wing writers employed by The Women's Post was Mallick. When she heard about me being offered a column she became extraordinarily angry and threatened to resign. The good people at The Women's Post called the enraged journalist's bluff and it was goodbye to our control freak comrade. So when Mallick's defenders cry about unfettered expression and the right to offend they ought to know of whom they speak.
It is interesting to see a basic attitude represented in both arts and sciences. What Brit science needs right now is a Sarah Thomson. Guess they better hurry up with those adult human cloning experiments.

(*accidental blasphemy: Devoted Darwinist Reiss thought teachers should mention creationism and intelligent design expressly in order to indoctrinate students against them, but that means speaking Forbidden Words. It was accidental but it was still blasphemy.
**Ah, thereby a mystery is solved at last! - I had always wondered why Michael Coren, who is very much on the outs with Canada's left-lib media establishment, was allowed to write for Women's Post. Imagine, someone there has guts! )


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