Rash of good thinking about the nature of science provoked by Bill Nye and the March for Science

(Though not really in the way either had intended.)

Below, find links to a flurry of articles I didn’t want to lose, along with brief excerpts or summaries.  Several of these are very long pieces and I do recommend reading them, rather than stopping with my little note.  No point in trying to repeat them here!  I especially recommend #7 and #8.

1. Bill Nye, Progressive Science, and the Threat of Nature

Nice long piece by Alistair Roberts (who only knows how to write long pieces) on how we say we can’t derive morality from nature, and yet clearly we also can’t get nature out of our heads, hence many unscientific attempts to “justify” moral positions by an appeal to “Science”.

The appeal to nature fallacy is the claim that something is good and morally binding because it is natural. The inverse fallacy, the fallacy that is increasingly popular among progressives, insists that, because something is deemed by society to be good, it must be regarded as every bit as natural as anything else.

2. Bill Nye Spends Most of His New Netflix Show Yelling at the Audience

Instead, we watched for an excruciating five minutes as Nye pitted Jacobson against another of his round table guests, energy and environment reporter Richard Martin, to explain at a ten-year-old level why Martin is like, totally wrong and dumb for thinking nuclear power should be part of our energy future, too. The entire exchange was apparently intended to bolster the (not exactly scientific) viewpoint Nye interjected throughout the segment, that “nobody wants nuclear power.”

This, unfortunately, is quintessential of the show—a small amount of information packaged to promote a cartoon-caricature understanding of a complex science issue, slanted to the POV of an unabashedly political science comedian.

Which is also the problem with a tremendous amount of the “Science” bandied about in public these days.  To just quote something I said on FB:

It can hardly be overstated that good science takes place in the details of the data, in careful definition of terms, in precise and clear reasoning… in short, it’s hard work, as my own students could certainly tell you. Maybe this is just the teacher in me talking, but it ought to be far more important to teach people that, to teach people how to think well, than it is to teach them the right answers. Because bad thinking and speaking is legion in America today, including in the hallways of academia where I observe it daily. We say we want to teach critical thinking, but we seem to be willing to overlook quite a bit (and engage in quite a bit of sloppy work ourselves) if the “answers” are “right”.

3. The Real “Anti-Science”

Conflating “science” with ethics and morality: Science is amoral. It is very effective at deriving knowledge and learning facts, but it can’t tell us right from wrong, good from bad, or moral from immoral. Yet self-described science advocates often blur those crucial distinctions by accusing the people with whom they disagree with on an ethical or public policy question of being “anti-science.”

4. Celebrity scientists (and faux-scientists) should leave understanding the person to the humanities

I don’t actually agree with the headline on a literal level – what I would say is, these people should get a real education in philosophy / theology / humanity, and stop dismissing those fields and pretending (and it is just pretend) that their ideas about humanity flow directly from what the Science says.

It’s usually pretty clear when de Grasse Tyson and Nye are in over their heads, but it’s never more painfully obvious than when they try to comment on politics, culture and other things involving a general understanding of human nature. They may know how magnets work and how galaxies move, but they seem to be utterly confused by people.

5. My Sex Junk – Rachel Bloom – Bill Nye Saves The World

I don’t normally subject myself to material everyone says is horrendous, but in this case I had to see for myself.  This is the video from Bill Nye’s new show that was referenced in two of the articles above – if you care to watch it, just a warning that it is extremely crude.  The contrast between who he was (or at least appeared to be) and who he has become could hardly be greater.  Even if you ignore the crudity, much that is said cannot be justified by science in the slightest degree.

On the subject of trusting in Science to tell you what morality should be…:

6. Refusing To Believe Early Progressives Loved Eugenics Will Not Erase The Horrible Truth

If you have spent any time in the conservative or pro-life movements, it is not news to you that the leading lights of progressive opinion a century ago openly embraced eugenics. Eugenics, the theory that social policies must be enacted to cull the “bad genes” from society, was popular among progressives across the developed world, including the United States. What constituted “bad genes” was, according to its proponents, a matter of scientific consensus. Today we would call it racism and classism.

7. The ‘March For Science’ Shows How Carl Sagan Ruined Science

Science has its own unique language and methods: the language of mathematics and a method of systematic observation and experimentation. The reason science tends to be opaque to the public is because it ultimately requires that they understand its language and learn to use its methods. But how do you communicate the history and meaning of science to those who don’t yet speak its language? You turn science into something they can understand. You make it into a narrative, a story.

8. The Problem with the March for Science

Let’s start with my contention that most “pro-science” demonstrators have no idea what they were demonstrating about. Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it. On any given day, many of my most “woke” friends are quick to post and retweet viral content about the latest on what Science (and I’m capitalizing this on purpose) “says,” or what some studies “prove.” But on closer look, much of what gets shared and bandied about is sheer bullshit and is diagnostic of one thing only: The state of science (and science literacy) in this country, and most of the planet for that matter, is woefully bad. For example, the blog IFLScience (IFL stands for “I f—ing love”) seems singularly committed to undermining legitimately good science half the time, while promoting it the other half—which, scientifically speaking, is a problem. Here’s a neat one that relays news about a study that suggested that beer hops may protect against liver disease. I’ll be sure to mention that to the next alcoholic with hepatitis and cirrhosis that I treat. To date that article has been shared 41,600 times. Very few of those readers, I should mention, were mice, though the research was carried out in, you guessed it, mice. (And of course, this type of coverage is not refined to cleverly named blogs.)

By the way, ironically the headline for the next article expressed dismay that Bill Nye’s show wouldn’t even reach the people it needs to convince.  Oh, it reached them all right, they’ve been sharing clips of it for the past week.  They found it a bit less than convincing.  On that point…

9. Scientists Abandon Search for Bill Nye’s Credibility

10. What Can Church History Teach Us About Wolves?

Wait, why is this article here?  Because I thought points #1, 3, and 4 could be easily “secularized” and apply here as well.  Namely:

1. People promoting bad ideas often don’t know they’re promoting bad ideas.  Sure, occasionally sometimes is trying to make a quick buck through a lie.  But quite often, people are very sincere and very mistaken.

3. People promoting bad ideas are often imbalanced, in that they’ve let one idea (quite possibly a good one) too much dominate their own thinking.  Love is good, but it can become an excuse to avoid any uncomfortable moral judgments.  Etc.

4. Bad ideas thrive where precise definition is ignored or disallowed.

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