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Restore reality-based government
February 5, 2007 3:38 PM   Subscribe

How Congress can safeguard science from distortion, something of which both parties are historically guilty. An op-ed on politics and science by author Chris Mooney and physics professor Alan Sokal, the man behind the infamous Sokal Hoax.
posted by homunculus (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Infamous?
posted by grobstein at 4:40 PM on February 5, 2007


That was meant tongue-in-cheek.
posted by homunculus at 5:17 PM on February 5, 2007


Thanks for posting. That was a well-written editorial.

I remember reading an op-ed a few months ago describing Bush as a "Platonist" regarding truth (this was just after no WMD were discovered in Iraq): that for him, what the facts suggest are related to truth, but not truth itself. That truth resides in the ideas about reality, not in its observable qualities (which is what Colbert is riffing on when he talks about 'truthiness').

It makes me wonder if the major political division in this country isn't liberal / conservative or religious / atheist, but reality-oriented / non-reality-oriented. Or put another way, empiricist / idealist.

Because I think that, while lots of the proponents of bad science that Mooney/Sokal point out are conscious frauds and propagandists, I'm not sure everyone involved is. There are plenty of people who prefer to see the world in a certain way, and so internally make it so, even when it contradicts the facts. A critical mass of people thinking that way is what makes propaganda possible.

So I'm inclined to think that the problems this op-ed piece bemoans aren't primarily political, but philosophical, and only a philosophical change (IMO, a return to Enlightenment epistemology) is going to fix it.
posted by molybdenum at 6:04 PM on February 5, 2007


something of which both parties are historically guilty.

Funny, when I read the article all the examples of the Democrats distorting science had been rendered invisible, probably as a result of a conspiracy funded by George Soros or something...

The L. A. Times they are achanging, folks. I'd bet the authors (Mooney and Sokal) had nothing to do with writing that headline and are not too happy about it.
posted by jamjam at 6:10 PM on February 5, 2007


Comparing a bunch of tenure track humanities professors to the bush administration is idiotic. There is nothing wrong with criticism of science from a humanistic standpoint, but there is something wrong with the government actually suppressing science, which is what the bush administration has done.

The article never says that both parties are "guilty" only that Republicans claimed to be science based. In fact the string "democrat" only appears twice.

The democratic party may have been anti-science at one point, but the article never says how, it only indicts postmodernist wankers for getting punk'd decades ago. Those pomo people probably voted Green or something anyway.
posted by delmoi at 6:29 PM on February 5, 2007


The L. A. Times they are achanging, folks. I'd bet the authors (Mooney and Sokal) had nothing to do with writing that headline and are not too happy about it.

You're probably right. Headlines are not normally written by the authors.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 PM on February 5, 2007


I'd never heard of the Soakal Hoax, but now that I have, I think it's awesome.
posted by serazin at 6:49 PM on February 5, 2007


The L. A. Times they are achanging, folks.

They fired Robert Scheer and hired Jonah Goldberg. That says a lot.

OTOH, I was surprised when they printed Scahill's piece on Blackwater, and now this one. I'm not sure what's going on over there now.
posted by homunculus at 7:32 PM on February 5, 2007


First off, although I agree with Sokal's assertions, I find his method of proving them very unattractive. So no tongue-in-cheek for me. Sokal (who is a very good physicist) realized that himself and toned down his statements. I believe this was the reason he decided to publish a book with Bricmont, where he is still very argumentative but in a constructive way. I have heard him make this comment in public (a talk at NYU) and I remember reading it somewhere. Sorry google fails me now.

My experience with the WH (or NASA administration rather) trying to silence Jim Hansen is that mid-to-top officials in the government have been gradually replaced by those overzealous individuals (in this case a 25 year old intern George Deutsch) who are crusading for what they think their supervisors will be happy with. Of course, that does not, by any means, absolve anyone from their responsibilities, but shows how far down skepticism (or whatever else you want to call it) permeates this administration. This is eroding the very structure of major academic and research institutes in a way that may prove detrimental even after the current administration waves goodbye.

Finally, kudos and many cheers to Mr Mooney for not falling for the tornadoes-global warming connection. There might or might not be a link. We do not know that (yet?) because we are not able to resolve numerically but also physically (theoretically)what is going on at these small scales. We average over them in ways consistent with what real world measurements show, but no, we cannot say we know about tornadoes. IPCC-AR4 IMveryhumbleO was overly certain on some issues (e.g. hurricanes) yet chickened out with that overall 90% certainty. Argh.
posted by carmina at 9:09 PM on February 5, 2007


Gag, not this again. As delmoi pointed out, conflating writings by humanities scholars with politicians and corporations twisting science for their aims is disingenuous. Sokal imagined these lefty-pomo barbarians-at-the-gates-of-Science from the beginning.

The response to the whole affair from the editors of Social Text is instructive as a well-written, smart, and thorough piece, unlike the crap that Sokal himself spews. [pdf]

/OTT rancor
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:49 AM on February 6, 2007


Reactions to Mooney-Sokal (Or, Sign Up Now for the Battle of the Five Armies)
posted by homunculus at 1:24 PM on February 7, 2007


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