Reality check: I’m putting together a book in order to make points that could be listed on 1 page. Is there any chance anyone who doesn’t see the truth in the list is going to see the truth when I pound it in with another 40-50K words? I don’t know, which means – I’m writing as therapy? Icky.
Today, I’m getting twitchy about all the fiction I’m not writing. Need to set aside the Science book soon, just to keep the other stuff moving. In the meantime, I’m getting close to 10K words. Are they 10K good words worth saying, calling for another 40-50K more words? Stay tuned. So far, writing this is – motivating.
Also also, I could put together a page and a half of Feynman and Crichton quotations that say everything I want to say, and have the advantage of often being pithy, witty, and from the mouths of much smarter men. Here, let’s do it:
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
“Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, “Is it reasonable?””
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
“We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know.””
“Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.”
“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and legendary Cal Tech teacher. These and many other Feynman quotations can be found here.
And now Crichton:
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.
In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.
Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.Michael Crichton, Author and MD. From his Caltech Michelin Lecture – January 17, 2003, which can be found here.
One more long thing from Crichton that really drives it home, from the same source:
In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of.
Let’s review a few cases.
In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth . One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweis demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.
There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger
demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor—southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result—despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.
The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.