Monday, June 15, 2015

Highly successful scientists are many things --- but being a scientist often isn't one of them

How scientific are scientists-as-a-collective - are they ever scientific ?

I mean on the really really big scientific issues - not as individual scientists dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s along the day to day edges - they do that job perfectly well.

I mean why do they collectively so often badly mis-interpret widely known and widely accepted evidence - or when the evidence isn't known, why do they so often ignore the more probable answer for one much less probable ?

argue this is because the most successful scientists are not those were are good scientists or even good accountants but rather those who are truly great poets ; those with a real gift for crafting metaphors that describes existing scientific data in such a way that best flatters their paymasters.

The most successful scientists are those who are best as singing for their supper, best at singing whatever tune is currently most popular in the society that funds them and fames them.

For my example, let us look back at the scientific claims for evolution displaying a steady linear progress to ever greater complexity.

There never was any real evidence to support this audacious claim, usually submitted as a simple 'fact' during the Era of Progress, or that civilized white European males were its current glorious culmination.

They generally began by positing what they felt was the exact opposite of both "Today" and "Man" ---- bacteria who first saw life 3 billion years ago.

These microbes were and are incredibly tiny compared to Man, incredibly simple physically compared to Man, incredibly slow compared to Man --- so collectively scientists seemed to feel confident in claiming they came from the 'childhood of life'*.

(*Just as the aboriginal peoples of Australia were said, by the same scientists, to be from the 'childhood of Man'. This meant that they represented an older way of life than European civilization.

All this was an insightful twisting of the scientists' own normal use of 'age' logic.

Because they had otherwise tended to call people old in years "elders" ; as people who represented the collective gathered wisdom of society, not representing the behavior of infants.

In fact, this same normal age logic was why the heads of university science departments were more likely to be nearer the age of sixty than the age of twenty.)

But on the physical evidence available during the Age of Progress, were not the many legged octopus and centipede more complex physically than Man ?

Was not the whale bigger, the tortoise capable of living longer, the elephant heavier, the cheetah faster ?

Did not fishes swim faster, badgers burrow faster, bird fly ?

Could not scorpions live in hotter drier climates, penguins in colder climates ?

Did beavers and termites not build fabulous homes too, did not wasps make paper (and made it first ?)

On and on ---- oh yes Man did dream like dogs and made tools like apes but did so with much greater complexity.

But then Man made use of these cognitive skills to write beautiful music (at least we humans thought it was beautiful - but that is hardly a scientifically objective test !) and to wage horribly brutal war.

Call that a draw then, in terms of evidence of greater 'progress'.

And even at the turn of the last century there was plenty of hard evidence that microbes were often better chemists than Man - breaking open and reassembling complex molecules very rapidly, at normal temperature and normal pressure - feats Man couldn't duplicate in huge and hugely expensive refractory vessels.

In successfully filling their own peculiar niche, all living things seemed to have possessed peculiar and unique skills - so scientists were really reduced to comparing between diverse skills by seeking some overarching criteria to better judge winners and losers in biology.

Interestingly, Darwin had said Evolution was all about (and only about) success ---- success as defined as the numbers of viable offspring over time.

When one new lifeform became a thousand species, filling niches all over the world, in huge numbers and for long periods of time, they are an evolutionary success.

One such lifeform (the dinosaurs), as big and physically complex as Man, was so successful --- for a long time.

But then they disappeared. This suggests that the length of time of a lifeform's existence was at least as important as the number of viable offspring, both as sheer individuals and numbers of different but related species.

Enter the bacteria : a lifeform that seems physically simple but chemically complex, that has been around for 3.8 billion years, filled every possible niche with hundreds of thousands of different species and trillions upon trillions of individual members.

Scientists in 1900 knew all this - and this is the very reason they chose to call their era the Age of Progress, not an Age of Success --- this despite living in a success-obsessed period !

Telling your white european upper class male paymasters that they were far less biologically successful than the tiny, immobile, simple, ancient, microbes (here feel free to substitute Negro, Jew, Oriental, female or working class) was no way to secure well paid endowed university chairs or become knighted and feted.

Like authors and book reviewers seeking to be paid, scientists who speak for pay, sing for their supper - consciously and unconsciously flattering their expected customers.

Which why I deliberately choose to be a blockheaded pamphleteer in pjs....

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