A. Several of you, my deeply appreciated readers, have sent me comments on A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be A Gullible Rabbit (I like that title better). If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, it’s because your input a) required actual thought; b) is long; or c) both. Maybe later today.
On the actual text, not counting notes, I’m up to about
6,500 7,200 more or less usable words. Thinking about starting each chapter with a Feynman quotation and a story from science history. For example:
It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and well-known Cal Tech professor
Then, maybe, tell a story – bloodletting, say, how it was the accepted treatment for a dazzling array of medical problems until the end of the 19th century – how it was the “consensus science,” how few dared to question its efficacy, how it probably killed (or at least, hastened the death of) George Washington, a true believer in bloodletting. It only took a CENTURY OR SO for the medical profession to accept the growing pile of counter evidence.
What’s occurred to me, in writing this, is illustrated by another Feynman quotation:
We have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know.
With this in mind, I’ve been working on an opening chapter that dedcribes why anyone should care – why is it not OK to just do as we’re told. File this as yet another item under: things that are obvious to me but clearly not so obvious to very many other people.
B. A major point, perhaps not emphasized enough: it’s OK, in fact, it’s preferred, to simply not have an opinion. If the science is really, truly, over your head, then why do you even have an opinion on it? Perhaps it is a consequence of the way voting is done here in America: we are made to vote for people we couldn’t possibly know, who talk about issues we hardly, if at all, understand. Yet, we seem to be embarrassed not to have an opinion on these people and policies.
Let’s say we humbly recognize that the base science is simply over our heads. What we might do, instead, is talk about the big picture. The obvious example: it would have been nice if, from the beginning, a cost/benefit analysis had been presented on the lockdowns. Clearly, before 2020, everybody, including the CDC, were very adverse to lockdowns, because the cost is so obviously high. Short of Black Death level event, it’s should be fairly obvious that lockdowns should be used very sparingly and only as a last resort.
So, say, instead of incessant panic-mongering based on supposed science way over out little heads, we instead demanded regular updates on the costs in lives, health, and money, of the lockdowns, to be compared to the presumed benefits. I’m imagining it would have been a different discussion. I imagine that’s why it never took place.
Anyway, on most science, it’s meet and just to simply not have an opinion. Evolution – who cares? Some geneticists and biologists, I suppose, but, for the rest of us, it’s simply immaterial. Yet, ‘belief’ in evolution is used as some sort of touchstone. We need to see that for what it is: an attempt to force people into line for the sake of having them in line. Same goes for absolutely everything in cosmology and astrophysics – who cares? Why should people even have an opinion on whether the earth orbits the sun, let alone the red shift and dark matter and so on? It just doesn’t matter.
I’m saying this as someone who loves this stuff. It’s just odd that, socially, you’ll be judged a lot harsher for for expressing any doubt that the earth (despite all appearances) is whipping through space and spinning like a top than you will for walking out on your spouse and kids. The balance here is wildly, insanely off.
C. So, on the chapters, here’s the problem: there are counterarguments (some made by readers – thanks again!) to some of the major points I’m making. For example, scientific consensus is a real thing, with a real purpose. It’s just not evidence. Putting it in somewhat more technical terms: under Kuhn’s distinction between normal and revolutionary science, a scientific consensus is an aid to those doing normal science, but that’s all it is. These normal scientists (who might more properly be called technicians) are working out theories or discoveries they no longer question. The revolutionary scientists – scientists in the fullest sense – are working on stuff that isn’t already understood, on the ragged edges and in the holes of accepted science. The first group, it is supposed, form consensuses around evidence. If this is true, then for us laymen the thing we want to see is that evidence.
Again, the real problems are caused when the idea of ‘scientific consensus’ is used as a blunt instrument to silence us little people and force us into conformity. Sure, some theories we might like as amateurs have been beaten to death by the pros, and so they consider even bringing them up bad form. So? Is that really a problem in real life? Rather, we are lied to to shut us up: it’s the scientific consensus that, unless you panic as we tell you, and do what we tell you, and hand over the power we demand, we’re all going to die!
And so on. Similar issues arise with some of the other points I’m trying to make.
D. We’re into year 3 since I was forced out my job. Good riddance, frankly, it was death by a thousand cuts. Fortunately, for few years there, I did pretty well, so, it’s not the disaster for us it would be for most people. At some point, fairly soon, I need to figure it out. I could semi-retire, teach some school (alternative/home-school co-op, that sort of thing) and write some books. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting. But if I’m doing that, then it would be good to move someplace much cheaper than the Bay Area, perhaps some place a little less azure, a little more crimson? There are probably cantons in China less azure than certain neighborhoods out here… Texas or Tennessee I could handle. Florida – God-forsaken paved-over swamp with weather that makes Texas’s look good. Montana and Wyoming look nice, but kind of flat and cold. Idaho, I hear, has already had it with its ongoing Californication.
Poland or Uruguay might be better, but I’m not that adventurous (although far short of a worse-case scenario might make me wish I were). If I were to dump our suburban Bay Area house, I could maybe get some serious acres and build a 4,000 sq ft house on them – and break even. Depending, of course, and going completely wild/rural. Mamma was from East Texas, and Daddy from Claremore, OK, so shouldn’t I get more the coming home treatment than the damn Californian reception? Please?
I’m imagining aging gracefully on our new family spread, with enough room for the kids and their kids, if things get bad enough for them out here. Big enough house for them all to stay in, and room for them to build their own if the want. Piano room, big greenhouse, garden. My only luxury (the music room is NOT a luxury! Absolutely essential!) would be a nice kitchen. My standards for a decent kitchen are unfortunately high…. Everything else can be standard suburban quality. Enough insulation and air conditioning to ride out the 90% of the time I’m going to look outside and miss California….
E. Went on YouTube, watched a couple videos, and fixed our power mower. I am da MAN!